"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

Monday, March 31, 2014

Marriage News Watch, March 31, 2014

It never stops.


A couple of new pages over in the sidebar, "Epinions Reviews: Books: Fiction and Poetry," which is just what it says, and "Epinions Reviews: Other," which is all the oddball stuff (frying pans, telephones) and a number of essays.

You're welcome to browse.

Quote of the Day

From Richard Mayhew at Balloon Juice:
A friend observes: “I give my 2 year old a nutritious food he hasn’t had before and he smells it, squishes it in his hand and then rubs it in his hair. But when he finds a rusty nail on the ground, he without hesitation tries to eat it. How did our species survive this long?”

See previous post.

Some People's Priorities

are really screwed up.

An eight-year-old South Carolina girl’s drive to have the woolly mammoth designated at the state’s ‘official fossil’ has been thwarted by two state senators who want the bill to be amended to give credit to God for creating the earth and the mammoth. . . .

The third grader wrote a letter to her state representatives, Rep. Robert Ridgeway (D) and Sen. Kevin Johnson (D), pointing out that one of the earliest discoveries of a fossil in North America was the teeth of a woolly mammoth, dug up by slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1725.

Ridgeway and Johnson proceeded to introduce a bill to amend the state’s code to include the Columbian Mammoth as the official state fossil of South Carolina, which the state House passed 94-3.

Seems fairly straightforward, even routine, doesn't it? But this is South Carolina:

Upon arrival in the state Senate, Sen. Kevin Bryant (R), a self-described ‘born-again Christian,’ proposed to amend the bill by inserting three verses from the Book of Genesis detailing God’s creation of the Earth and all of its living inhabitants — including mammoths.

I strongly suspect that the constitution of South Carolina, like those of all the other states, contains a provision forbidding establishment of religion -- ah, yes, Article I, section 2:

The General Assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government or any department thereof for a redress of grievances.

Sound familiar? But wait, it gets better:

Because Bryant’s proposed amendment introduced a new subject, it was ruled out of order by Lt. Governor Glenn McConnell (R).

In response to the lieutenant governor’s ruling, Sen. Mike Fair (R), whose district includes the fundamentalist Bob Jones University, placed an objection on the bill.

This is all possible, of course, because South Carolina has no real problems for the legislature to address.

If I made this up, no one would believe it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

New Page

If you gaze raptly at the sidebar, you'll notice that there's a new page: "Epinions Reviews: Film." I've actually been working on the other pages, mostly books, and as you might imagine, there's a lot of book reviews.

They're coming along nicely. Patience.

Reviews in Brief: Glen Cook’s “Annals of the Black Company”

Annals of the Black Company is undoubtedly Glen Cook’s best-known and most popular series, and one that I have been reading as new books came out for a good long time. Having been housebound for a couple of weeks recently, I sat down and did a Black Company marathon: all ten books, one after another, in the recent omnibus editions coming from Tor.

A quick sketch: the story opens with the Black Company, the last of the Free Companies of Khatovar, in service to the Syndic of Beryl. Whatever its original purpose, the Company has become a mercenary outfit, with a reputation for deception, misdirection, general trickiness, and avoiding fighting whenever possible. And a long string of successes. Enter Soulcatcher, one of the Ten Who Were Taken: potent wizards now serving the Lady, an even more potent wizard who is building an empire in the north. The Company enters Soulcatcher’s service, the Syndic having somehow departed the realms of the living, and the Company’s contract with him therefore void.

The methods of the Company carry over into the methods of the storytelling. Almost all of the books are first-person narratives, which gives us a couple of things to note: the narrators, first Croaker, Company physician and annalist, then Lady, Murgen, and Sleepy, succeeding annalists, are not always reliable. Sometimes they don’t know what’s happening elsewhere; sometimes, like Croaker, they just don’t want to tell us what’s going on; and other times, as in Lady’s case, there’s some vanity involved. The result is a narrative that doesn’t always wind up in the place where it seems to be going.

The second thing of note is the way Cook uses the diction: it changes from narrator to narrator, so there is no mistaking the somewhat abrupt and cryptic Croaker for the more fluid and thoughtful Sleepy.

Ten volumes is a lot to deal with in brief, but I’ve reviewed the full series at Green Man Review. Those reviews are:

The Chronicles of the Black Company (The Black Company, Shadows Linger, The White Rose)
The Books of the South (Shadow Games, Dreams of Steel, The Silver Spike)
The Return of the Black Company (Bleak Seasons, She Is the Darkness)
The Many Deaths of the Black Company (Water Sleeps, Soldiers Live)

And a footnote: I am wildly enthusiastic about the cover art for the reissues, done by Raymond Swanland. It fits the mood of the stories perfectly.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Science: Yes, Crows Can Think

More specifically, they understand cause and effect (which a lot of humans don't).

Crows understand water displacement at the level of a small child.
Credit: Sarah Jelbert; CC-BY
New Caledonian crows may understand how to displace water to receive a reward, with the causal understanding level of a 5-7 year-old child, according to results published March 26, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Sarah Jelbert from University of Auckland and colleagues.

Understanding causal relationships between actions is a key feature of human cognition. However, the extent to which non-human animals are capable of understanding causal relationships is not well understood. Scientists used the Aesop's fable riddle -- in which subjects drop stones into water to raise the water level and obtain an out-of reach-reward -- to assess New Caledonian crows' causal understanding of water displacement. These crows are known for their intelligence and innovation, as they are the only non-primate species able to make tools, such as prodding sticks and hooks. Six wild crows were tested after a brief training period for six experiments, during which the authors noted rapid learning (although not all the crows completed every experiment). The authors note that these tasks did not test insightful problem solving, but were directed at the birds' understanding of volume displacement.

I think I've probably noted this before, but it bears repeating: We tend to underestimate the intelligence and capabilities of the so-called "lower animals." About as much as we overestimate our own.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Image of the Week

This guy turned out to be a wonderful model.

His body lent itself to all kinds of different ideas.

It turned out to be one of those times when once I had him in front of the camera, my mind just went into overdrive. It was a good shoot. A couple more images:

"Jesus Christ Superstore"

John Stewart on the Hobby Lobby case:

It's not his most incisive commentary, but then, the mere fact that this case made it to the Supreme Court is a satire on the American judicial system.

It's another attempt to establish "Christian" supremacy as the law of the land.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Marriage News Watch, March 24, 2014

Oops -- completely forgot to post this yesterday:

(Well, it was a screwed up day.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Faith-Based Reality: The News Media At Work

Here's an article that points up a major failing of the news media in this country. The subject is the reporting on the controversy around the birth-control mandate of the ACA, but the problem extends to just about everything the media touches:
When it comes to women’s health issues like contraception and abortion, why does the press so often present opinion and fact side by side? Recent pieces in Reuters, the New York Times and SCOTUSblog, to name just a few, made an attempt at “balance” by presenting what they see as “both sides of the issue” on contraception. But do facts have two sides? When reporting on medical issues, weighing a religious belief as equal to scientific and medical evidence is disingenuous and confusing to the reader.

The Reuters piece is egregious, but what can you expect from a piece titled "U.S. top court case highlights unsettled science in contraception"? As Lin-Wang Fang points out in the main article, the science is very clear:
FACT: The ACA requires new health insurance plans to cover the full spectrum of FDA-approved forms of birth control. It does not require coverage of abortion or abortifacients.

FACT: No FDA-approved forms of birth control – including emergency contraception pills or the IUD – cause abortions. Emergency contraception pills and IUDs prevent pregnancy, not disrupt pregnancy.

FACT: Pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants into the uterine lining. After implantation, that’s when a pregnancy test turns positive. Even among women not on birth control, not every fertilized egg implants. Therefore, the possibility that the copper IUD could inhibit implantation does not make it an abortifacient. This is not an opinion. This is the shared consensus of the medical and scientific community, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In light of the facts, it's worth taking a look at the NYT piece, which is really an op ed by the director of a "pro-life" organization -- the comments really rake her over the coals.

Another group that is constantly trying to conflate religious belief with scientific evidence is the creationist contingent:

Creationists are accusing astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson's reboot of "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" of being scientifically unbalanced because it doesn't represent their beliefs.

Right Wing Watch posted audio of Danny Faulkner of Answers In Genesis and the Creation Museum speaking Thursday on "The Janet Mefford Show,” in which he blasted deGrasse Tyson for ignoring the creationist point of view.

"Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them, they wouldn’t even consider us plausible at all," Faulkner told host Janet Mefford.

"But when you have so many scientists who simply do not accept Darwinian evolution, it seems to me that that might be something to throw in there," Mefford said. "You know, the old, ‘some scientists say this, others disagree and think this,’ but that’s not even allowed."

OK, it's Janet Mefferd's show, so we know we're dealing with the fringe, but notice the bald assertion that "there are so many scientists who simply do not accept Darwinian evolution." That's at best a misrepresentation -- I have no doubt that Mefferd is including engineers, mathematicians, what-have-you as scientists. They have no chops when it comes to evolutionary theory.

And it's the "equal time" mantra again, and of course, the real question is Why should a program devoted to science be including religious belief? RightWing Watch sums it up:

Arguing that evolution, the foundation of modern biology, and one of many theological beliefs on human creation are simply “two sides” that merit competing time on a science program is much like the equally absurd argument Creationists use when trying to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools.

But you won't find the mainstream news media pointing that out. Blame Fox News, with its specious "fair and balanced" meme, which it seems just about everyone has bought into. News flash: "balanced" is not necessarily "fair," and these days it's seldom accurate.

Footnote: It's worth looking again at Judge Bernard Friedman's take-down of Mark Regnerus' "study" in the Michigan marriage ban trial. That's called "critical thinking" and it's another thing that the religious nuts want to do away with -- for good reason.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Science: Footprints of the Big Bang

This is probably one of the most important scientific discoveries ever -- actual evidence of the Big Bang that created the universe:
Almost 14 billion years ago, the universe we inhabit burst into existence in an extraordinary event that initiated the Big Bang. In the first fleeting fraction of a second, the universe expanded exponentially, stretching far beyond the view of our best telescopes. All this, of course, was just theory.

Researchers from the BICEP2 collaboration today announced the first direct evidence for this cosmic inflation. Their data also represent the first images of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time. These waves have been described as the "first tremors of the Big Bang." Finally, the data confirm a deep connection between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

Gravitational waves from inflation generate a faint but distinctive twisting pattern in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background, known as a "curl" or B-mode pattern. For the density fluctuations that generate most of the polarization of the CMB, this part of the primordial pattern is exactly zero. Shown here is the actual B-mode pattern observed with the BICEP2 telescope, which is consistent with the pattern predicted for primordial gravitational waves. The line segments show the polarization strength and orientation at different spots on the sky. The red and blue shading shows the degree of clockwise and anti-clockwise twisting of this B-mode pattern.
Credit: BICEP2 Collaboration

For an explanation of the diagram and caption, read the article -- I'm not about to try to summarize it here.

All right, so I'm still a geeky kid at heart, but this sort of thing fascinates me.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Michigan Marriage Ban Is Unconstitutional

The decision by Judge Bernard Friedman was delivered just after 5 p.m. today, EST.

Plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse (“plaintiffs”) challenge a November 2004voter-approved amendment to the Michigan Constitution that prohibits same-sex marriage(hereinafter the “Michigan Marriage Amendment” or “MMA”), Mich. Const. Art. I, § 25. The Michigan Marriage Amendment states: “To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.” Plaintiffs maintain that the MMA violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and they seek to enjoin state and county officials from enforcing the provision and its implementing statutes.

After reviewing the evidence presented at the trial, including the testimony of various expert witnesses, the exhibits, and stipulations, and after considering all of the legal issues involved, the Court concludes that the MMA is unconstitutional and will enjoin its enforcement.

Oh, and about those expert witnesses: this is what Judge Friedman had to say about Mark Regnerus' "expert" testimony:

The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration. The evidence adduced at trial demonstrated that his 2012 “study” was hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder, which found it “essential that the necessary data be gathered to settle the question in the forum of public debate about what kinds of family arrangement are best for society” and which “was confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study.” See Pls.’ Motion in limine to Exclude Testimony of Mark Regnerus, Ex. 9. In the funder’s view, “the future of the institution of marriage at this moment is very uncertain” and “proper research” was needed to counter the many studies showing no differences in child outcomes. Id. The funder also stated that “this is a project where time is of the essence.” Id. Time was of the essence at the time of the funder’s comments in April 2011, and when Dr. Regnerus published the NFSS in 2012, because decisions such as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 704 F. Supp. 2d 921 (N.D. Cal. 2010), and Windsor v. United States, 833 F. Supp. 2d 394 (S.D.N.Y. 2012), were threatening the funder’s concept of “the institution of marriage."

While Regnerus maintained that the funding source did not affect his impartiality as a researcher, the Court finds this testimony unbelievable. The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged. Additionally, the NFSS is flawed on its face, as it purported to study “a large, random sample of American young adults (ages 18-39) who were raised indifferent types of family arrangements” (emphasis added), but in fact it did not study this at all, as Regnerus equated being raised by a same-sex couple with having ever lived with a parent who had a “romantic relationship with someone of the same sex” for any length of time. Whatever Regnerus may have found in this “study,” he certainly cannot purport to have undertaken a scholarly research effort to compare the outcomes of children raised by same-sex couples with those of children raised by heterosexual couples. It is no wonder that the NFSS has been widely and severely criticized by other scholars, and that Regnerus’s own sociology department at the University of Texas has distanced itself from the NFSS in particular and Dr. Regnerus’s views in general and reaffirmed the aforementioned APA position statement.

I particularly like the sarcasm quotes around "study."

Attorney General Bill Schuette is, of course, appealing the ruling and has asked for an emergency stay.

Via Joe.My.God.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Letters Home

Namely, a translation of a letter home from a Roman soldier, about 1800 years ago.

“I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf,” Polion wrote. “I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind. But I do my part writing to you always and do not cease bearing you [in mind] and having you in my heart. But you never wrote to me concerning your health, how you are doing. I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you.[. . .]”

Sound familiar?

The papyrus itself has been in storage for about a hundred years -- it's in pretty bad shape, so no one wanted to tackle it. Here's the story:

You can find the complete letter and Adamson's paper here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Culture Break: Philip Glass' "Koyanisqaatsi"

This is the first section of of Philip Glass' soundtrack for Koyanisqaatsi, and I think it's my favorite. I have to confess, I don't know who created the video -- there was no information about it at YouTube -- but it fits the music.

This is a little tardy, but I'm getting back in the swing of things.

Legal Brief du Jour

From Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum, a response brief in Geiger et al. Key passage:

The state defendants in this case recognize that the ban on same-sex marriage serves no rational purpose and harms Oregon citizens. This case presents that rare case in which there simply is no legal argument to be made in support of a state law.

Via Joe.My.God. The full brief is here. The rest of it is just as devastating to the anti-marriage arguments.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Marriage News Watch, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day

And the beat goes on. . . .

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Speaking of "Over-the-Top Drama Queens"

The state of Utah filed its reply brief in Kitchen et al. vs. Gary Herbert et al.

The debate over same-sex marriage presents precisely a "political quandary" best left to individual states and their democratic processes to resolve — an authority enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and upheld in numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions, attorneys for Utah argue in the state’s latest court filing.

To allow the "difficult policy choice" about marriage rights to be made by "judicial fiat" would not be akin to the "narrow" decision that ended bans on interracial marriage, but instead would unleash "an unprincipled judicial wrecking ball hurtling toward an even more important arena of traditional state authority," the state said.

There's more. 103 pages worth. And the only thing that's new about it is the "judicial wrecking ball" metaphor. (That's a good one, actually. Pity it has no basis in reality.) Interestingly enough, the state brings up the 10th Amendment, but avoids the 14th Amendment assiduously, aside from incredulity at the idea that the writers of the latter would have envisioned it being used to "force" same-sex marriage on "unwilling" states.

The article gives a good summary of the filing. It's also worth noting the comments, which range from appalled to deeply embarrassed.

Dangerously Crazy

A couple of notes this morning. First, a rant by Rush Limbaugh. You can listen to the rant here at Crooks and Liars (for some reason, I can't copy the embed code), if your stomach is up to it. Unfortunately, there's no transcript, but let's just take a few points:

He claims that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whom he calls a "potential Democrat [sic] presidential candidate" (which anyone with two brain cells to rub together will find hysterically funny) is going to double property taxes for the state of Illinois. I think the governor and legislature might have something to say about that.

No, neither the State of Illinois nor the City of Chicago are facing bankruptcy because of pension liabilities. We're not facing bankruptcy at all.

But this is the cherry on top:

"...and what are those pensions? Those are payments to people who are not working!"

As Karoli points out at C&L, that's absolutely correct: retirees, by definition, are no longer working. Duh.

Now, I don't think for a minute that Limbaugh is stupid enough not to get it. But it's evident that his listeners -- and I'd guess a fair proportion of them are retirees -- are that stupid. Or at least, have never developed the habit of actually thinking.

There are five retirement pension systems in Illinois; employees of the state university system, public school system, police and firefighters, judges, and members of the General Assembly to not pay into Social Security. Their pension is it. Oh, and they do contribute to their pensions -- it's not a free ride.

Side Note: I've never actually listened to one of Limbaugh's rants before. I had no idea he's such an over-the-top, hysterical drama queen. I'm sort of surprised he didn't drag in the Third Reich, which seems to be the favored comparison by "conservatives" these days. I don't think I even need to link to examples -- well, maybe one or two -- like here, or here. Josh Marshall has a post that provides a good analysis of this phenomenon, featuring one of the right's latest high-visibility tokens, Dr. Ben Carson.

People say lots of crazy stuff. Particularly right-wingers struggling to find analogies that might explain why their present day indignities, would-be oppressions or efforts to be understood place them in the descent of history's inconic victims - enslaved Africans in the Americas, gassed Jews in the Holocaust, to name only the most frequent examples.

I got to thinking about this more after I heard right wing star Dr. Ben Carson claim that 'political correctness' and its paramilitary enforcement arm, "the PC police", have made America "very much like Nazi Germany", so much in fact that we're living in a "Gestapo Age".

It's worth reading the whole thing.

It strikes me that these tactics -- high drama, Nazi comparisons, race baiting -- are the refuge of those who don't have a cogent argument to support their position. Those are all diversionary tactics, meant to obfuscate. It appears that's all the right has.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Science: About That Linguistic Ability

I found this nugget in an article on the evolution of apes and humans, and couldn't help but think of our libertarian friends:

"There are clear adaptive advantages to individuals in societies that have common values, share resources gathered or produced according to individual skills, protect one another, and can rely on others to assist in child care and tuition instead of each individual having to provide entirely for herself, himself, and dependent progeny. At some point, communication systems became vital for coordinating subsistence activities and resolving disputes within and between groups."

Read the full article. It's not very long, and it is pretty interesting.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Words Fail Me

You may know that the series "Cosmos" has been rebooted featuring Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Well, the first segment got a review from none other than Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell. If you've never heard of her, she's a physician -- and a researcher for Answers in Genesis:

A creationist has reviewed the new “Cosmos” reboot, featuring astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and it may come as no surprise that she wasn’t terribly impressed.

“If the first segment is any indication, [“Cosmos”] will attempt to package unconditional blind faith in evolution as scientific literacy in an effort to create interest in science,” said Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, a physician and Answers In Genesis researcher.

She praises some aspects of the program, such as its “colorful” graphics and “charismatic” storytelling, but Mitchell complains that the program spent too much time describing phenomena that contradict biblical teachings.

I don't what to comment on the level of intellectual development involved in liking colorful graphics and charismatic storytelling as opposed to information -- I'll let you draw your own conclusions on that score.

One also has to wonder about the mindset that leads to characterizing acceptance of evidence as "unconditional blind faith."

This is undoubtedly one of the best examples I've ever run across of the blinkered mindset of the religious right:
Mitchell said Tyson had overlooked the only relevant source to the universe’s origins by scanning the galaxy and studying its physical properties.

“Drawing correct conclusions about the unobservable past requires evaluating ideas about the past within the framework of the Creator’s history,” she said. “Drawing correct conclusions about our own nature, how we should live our lives, and what will happen to each of us when we die also requires that we get our information from the Word of the Source of life, the One who created the cosmos.”

There you have it -- If you're trying to understand the universe, actually investigating the universe is irrelevant.

There's more in the article that only underscores the self-centered arrogance of the "Christian" right. I just find it astonishing that anyone who's in the least aware of the world outside their own head can come up with comments as patently ridiculous as those.

And this woman's a doctor? Don't want her anywhere near my body.

Footnote: One of the commenters at the article made an astute observation: Doctors aren't scientists, they're engineers.

Some Remodeling

I don't remember if I've mentioned this, but I'll be adding some new pages here. Epinions has closed itself to new reviews, although the old ones will be available. Given the state of the search engine, which is a disaster, and the fact that a lot of my earlier reviews didn't make it into the new catalogue, I'll be adding a group of pages here with links to my Epinions reviews -- all 538 of them. Since I won't be able to get into my account after March 25, it's all going to happen fairly soon.

It also means that the materials I have on hand for Epinions reviews will probably be used for Reviews in Brief here. Once the meds wear off and I can write again.

I have a horrible feeling this may lead to a master index of all my reviews, which number well over a thousand at this point. Oh, well -- a project for rainy weather.

Today In Government Censorship

Granted, its' a sneaky, back-door censorship, but we're talking about "conservatives" here.

The South Carolina House refused Monday to back down from plans to punish two public colleges in the budget for assigning freshmen to read books dealing with homosexuality.

The House rejected multiple attempts to restore $52,000 cut from the College of Charleston in the state budget, and $17,142 cut from the University of South Carolina Upstate. Those are the amounts the universities spent on books assigned to their incoming freshmen last summer. The efforts failed by votes of 69-41, 70-43, 71-40 and 71-38.

Opponents argued the cuts, which reduce what the colleges can spend from their own revenue sources, censor and micromanage college decisions.

When it comes to public colleges, legislators should be debating funding and building construction, not "pushing our own moral agenda on these institutions of higher learning," said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.

The rationales offered are what might be expected:

Rep. Garry Smith, whose subcommittee made the reductions, said he wanted to make a point after college officials declined to give students an option to read something else. He said he wouldn't oppose the books if they were part of an elective course. He called it promotion of a lifestyle.

"Freedom comes with responsibility. These universities did not act responsibly," said Smith, R-Simpsonville.

He made a point, alright, but it had nothing to do with responsibility. As if he knows what the word means. And I'd like to ask Rep. Smith, responsibility by what standard. Seems to me the universities were doing their job, which is to educate students. That necessarily involves exposing them to new ideas and new viewpoints. That's what education is, after all.

This one's choice:

Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, said opponents of the cuts argue for a diversity of ideas but don't want to consider conservatives' viewpoint.

Um -- who is it who's trying to censor the curriculum? I think Rep. Nanney's viewpoint is coming through loud and clear.

It always astonishes me that a group that touts being "real Americans" consistently comes up with attempts to subvert the entire American system.

Via Towleroad.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Marriage News Watch, March 11, 2014


The TImes, They Are A'Changin'

This is a new commercial from Honey Maid, featuring wholsome families:

And as if that's not enough, here's a short documentary on the gay couple and their kids:

Cue the OneMillion(minus 999,999)Moms.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Today in Stupid

There are too many stories like this one floating around, all, for some reason, involving school administrators.

A Minnesota teenager was treated for frostbite after her school found a new way to treat students in a horrific manner. At around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday at Como Park High School in St. Paul, fourteen year old Kayona Hagen-Tietz was swimming in the school’s pool when smoke from a small science experiment caused the fire alarm to go off.

Hagen-Tietz said the first half of her pool class is water aerobics and the second half is “free time.” Other students had cut out of free time to get dressed and had been able to put on dry clothes, while she chose to stay to use the diving board. Hagen-Tietz and another student were rushed out of the school–Kayona in only a bathing suit and towel and barefoot–in negative 5 degree weather (negative 25 when wind chill is factored in). While the other student’s clothes were by the pool, Hagen-Tietz’ were in her locker.

As Kayona stood outside, a teacher eventually gave her a jacket and another student gave her a sweatshirt to wrap around her feet. Despite the oppressive cold, school policy prevented Hagen-Tietz from taking shelter in a faculty member’s car–something that, while normally sensible, deserved an exception under these circumstances.

That's stupid -- and inhumane -- enough, but the school's response is, sadly, all too typical:
The school says that it will review its procedures with the fire marshal.

And these morons are running schools.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Saturday Science: Lotsa Goodies, Cambrian Variety

Paleontologist have struck it rich. I don't know if you've heard of the Burgess Shale, but it's legendary as one of the richest find of Csmbrian fossils ever. Now there's a find that may be even richer:

"Nowhere do we have a better view of exactly what the Cambrian looked like and its relationship to the environment than in the Burgess Shale," [Robert} Gaines told Live Science's Our Amazing Planet.

The new site is also in the Burgess Shale formation, and seems to rival the 1909 original in fossil diversity and preservation, researchers report today (Feb. 11) in the journal Nature Communications. In just two weeks, the research team collected more than 3,000 fossils representing 55 species. Fifteen of these species are new to science. [Gallery: Amazing Cambrian Fossils from Canada's Marble Canyon]

"The rate at which we are finding animals — many of which are new — is astonishing, and there is a high possibility that we'll eventually find more species here than at the original Yoho National Park site, and potentially more than from anywhere else in the world," said Jean-Bernard Caron, lead study author and an invertebrate paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Just one of the cuties they've found:

 A new arthropod species discovered at the Marble Canyon outcrop.
Credit: Jean-Bernard Caron

That's from the gallery -- click through and take a look -- the landscape is as impressive as the specimens.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Today's Grab a Hankie Video

It pretty much speaks for itself. Stay with it through the final minute.

What gets me is the homeless guy's reaction -- he wants to share. Like I keep saying, people are basically good.

Via Crooks and Liars. The post is worth reading.

(Yes, I've been largely absent this week. Under the weather. Hopefully better in a day or two.)

Monday, March 03, 2014


I don't really know any other way to title this post. It's something I've noticed a lot lately in the comments threads on gay blogs, maybe more lately than before. I guess it's true of just about any group, but frankly, it gets on my nerves. Think back, those of you who follow particular gay blogs, to, for example, the reaction to Tom Daley's coming out video, and then the news that the relationship that was making him so happy was with Dustin Lance Black, a man twenty years his senior. Black caught most of the flak, but the pattern is there -- I don't understand what it is with some people who can't seem to refrain from criticizing people they don't know for things that have nothing to do with them. I'm afraid my reaction is fairly simple: Congratulations. Now you sound just like any other bigot. Of course, in their minds they're not bigots -- they're just criticizing people for doing something they don't approve of.

Now it's Jared Leto's turn. His big error? He won an Oscar for his portrayal of a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club. The reaction from some quarters is just about what you'd expect:
Several trans people reacted to Leto winning the Oscar.

‘If you thought Jared Leto's performance was anything other than an exaggerated, stereotyped, cliché damaging to trans people, f off,’ one said on Twitter.

‘One small step for Jared Leto One giant blow for the trans movement,’ another added.

Another Twitter user said: ‘The fact that every trans person on my [timeline] found Jared Leto's portrayal of a trans person offensive makes me not really want to see that film.’

British trans activist Paris Lees, writing in The Independent, said it was not an Oscar-worthy performance as she did not recognize in Rayon any trans woman she knows.

‘For truly accurate portrayals of trans people, cast trans actors, I say,’ she said.

Paris Lees' reaction is probably the most brainless. Excuse me? They're actors. Do you know what that means? They make their living pretending to be other people.

It's not just the trans community, of course. (Although I will say that, having had my own run-ins with trans activists in comment threads, they can be just as rigid and judgmental as anyone else. That was the same site where someone insinuated that I'm a racist, which anyone who actually knows me would find more than ludicrous.) I've noticed it most in what we'll call the LGBT community (which is a term I hate and avoid whenever possible), but if you read the comments on news articles or opinion pieces in "mainstream" publications, you realize that it's a phenomenon you can find anywhere.

But whoever you are who's doing it, rest assured you've earned by contempt.

I haven't seen the film -- it's been on my "maybe"list, but I haven't been to the movies lately. I may this week if it's still playing anywhere local.

Here's Leto's acceptance, which I found quite affecting:

Marriage News Watch, March 3, 2014

And the beat goes on:

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Misunderstood? I don't think so.

David Delmar has some pushback at AmericaBlog against the claim that Arizona's SB1062 was "misrepresented" by critics:

In fact, critics of SB 1062 cut through the facade and exposed its black and beating bigoted heart. In so doing, they captured precisely its essence. The law was an attempt to amend Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to make it apply unambiguously in cases involving private entities (including businesses) who complain that the government has violated their right to free exercise of religion. By making clear that the RFRA applied in this way, SB 1062 would thus have bestowed social and legal legitimacy for, among other things, the “right” to refuse service to gays and lesbians (and, probably, to resist the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate), among others.

The law as written is much worse than that paragraph might lead you to believe. Read the whole post.

And David Neiwert has a deeper analysis of that bill and others at Crooks and Liars:

The legislation universally features language referring to the “substantial burden” imposed on businesses by anti-discrimination laws. That in turn indicates that legislators are tying their hopes to its ultimate success to other cases involving similar principles — in this case, efforts to overturn the mandate on businesses imposed by the Affordable Care Act’s provisions to provide contraception to women. Notably, Hobby Lobby is seeking to overturn that rule on the basis of the claim that it imposes a “substantial burden” on its religious beliefs. . . .

Most of this legislation originates with the same source: the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Scottsdale-based religious-right organization formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, which is ostensibly dedicated to advocating for Christians’ right to “freely live out their faith.” ADF is also active in working to criminalize gay sex in other countries, and played a key role in the recent passage of Uganda’s new laws outlawing homosexuality. It is also active in supporting a number of lawsuits involving conservative Christians’ rights to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

The most problematic aspect of the “religious freedom” legislation that has been proposed so far is how vague its language is and how broadly it can be applied. Indeed, each of the bills so far applies “religious freedom” not just to the issue of providing services to gays and lesbians, but conceivably to every kind of prejudice under the sun. People could refuse to serve interracial couples, for instance, or for that matter anyone of another religion or ethnicity or who has disability.

Neiwert echoes what I've been saying about this phenomenon -- this isn't the end of it, by any means. And it's not just an assault on equal rights for LGBTs -- it's an attempt to roll back anti-discrimination laws in general and enshrine "deeply held religious beiefs" as paramount -- as long as those religious beliefs are evangelical Christian.
One of the laws’ main defenders — paleo-conservative columnist Patrick Buchanan — essentially admitted as much in his column on the debate over Arizona’s law. He offered a simple proposal: “Suppose we repealed the civil rights laws and fired all the bureaucrats enforcing these laws.”

“Does anyone think hotels, motels and restaurants across Dixie, from D.C. to Texas, would stop serving black customers? Does anyone think there would again be signs sprouting up reading ‘whites’ and ‘colored’ on drinking foundations and restrooms?”

Buchanan claimed the civil rights laws of the 1960s have already done their work, saying “the conditions that called for the laws of the 1960s have ceased to exist.” He is not clear how those laws would have ever worked in the first place if they had not been enforced on a broad basis.

I'm reminded that Mississippi abolished slavery in 2012. Virginia is still trying to reinstate its sodomy law ("Save the Children!"). And it's not all that long ago that a justice of the peace -- a government official -- refused to marry an interracial couple in Louisiana ("Save the Children!" again).

So in response to Buchanan, you betcha!

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Saturday Science: A Genius-Level Crow?

Or is it just that animals are smarter than we give them credit for?

Think about it.