"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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Superheroes in the Movies

Marvel has announced its development schedule for the next few years,and everyone's very excited:

May 6, 2016 — “Captain America: Civil War”
Nov. 4, 2016 — “Doctor Strange”
May 5, 2017 — “Guardians of the Galaxy 2″
July 28, 2017 — “Thor: Ragnarok”
Nov. 3, 2017 — “Black Panther”
May 4, 2018 — “Avengers: Infinity War Part I”
July 6, 2018 — “Captain Marvel”
Nov. 2, 2018 — “Inhumans”
May 3, 2019 — “Avengers: Infinity War Part II”

Part of the excitement, at least in certain quarters, is the fact that Marvel will be headlining two superheroes who are, as this article at HuffPo puts it, not white males.

On Tuesday, you likely saw Twitter freak out when Marvel announced its upcoming development schedule. “What are all of these nerds so excited about?” you maybe asked. “Who is this Carol everyone is tweeting about?" Well, here's the answer: the next five years of our lives will include not one but two non-white-male superheroes, Black Panther and Captain Marvel (aka Carol Danvers). The solidified plans are an impressive contrast to DC's speculative releases, and because it’s about time a genre about otherness started representing superheroes who aren't straight white males.

The discussion surrounding minority superheroes usually boils down to a variation on this: "Who cares about diversity? Everyone will go see these movies anyway." That's why this locked-down Marvel schedule is such awesome news. Sure, DC made its stab at expanding the comic-book universe, but it's not the same. The studio set “Wonder Woman” for release some time in 2017, but didn't provide any specifics; it also cast Ray Fisher as Cyborg, who will make his debut during the face-off of "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice" before coming to a theater near you on his own ... in 2020. (It's a release date so far in the future, Cyborg might actually exist at the point.) Also, does anyone actually give a crap about Cyborg? While we'll have to wait for a solid Apollo and Midnighter film, Tuesday's announcement is a step in the right direction.

There's a good point here -- gods know it's time we started seeing women and minorities in superhero films in other than supporting roles. (And a side note: it's interesting that the second G.I. Joe movie, Retaliation, starred Dwayne Johnson, who took over after they killed off Channing Tatum. Granted, the Joes are not, strictly speaking, superheroes -- their "abilities" come largely from technology -- but lumping them all together into the category "action/adventure with special abilities," it works for me. And that film is not the only one in that super-genre to star a black actor, by a long shot.)

I think, though, the article, and a lot of the reactions, miss a point: There's something to be said for the literal representation of minorities as heroes, but there's a larger message, especially in the Marvel Universe, which came out most obviously in the X-Men movies, was alluded to in The Avengers, and forms a subtext in most of Marvel's superhero films (so far). It was brought home to me in a wonderful scene in Jim Heinberg's Young Avengers comics, in which Billy Kaplan (Wiccan) comes out to his parents as a superhero -- or tries to. Teddy (Hulkling) is there, and Billy's mother jumps to the conclusion that he's finally confessing to being gay, passing out hugs all around while Billy's father welcomes Teddy to the family. The obvious point is that it's OK to be gay, but being a superhero (read "mutant")? Not so much. Or, short answer: these are stories about outsiders.

(By the way, why isn't someone doing a Young Avengers movie? Would beat the hell out of the Twilight spin-offs that have been cluttering up movie screens.)

I suppose, though, that for the movie-going public, some things have to be really, really obvious. And sometimes Hollywood needs a kick in the butt: it seems they can make a movie about minorities, but absorbing them into "mainstream" fare is still a bit of a reach.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Today's Must-Read

This post at Mahablog, on -- well, the best I can summarize is "ideology vs. the economy." She quotes from this commentary by Paul Krugman:

Never mind that the economic models underlying such assertions have failed dramatically in practice, that the people who say such things have been predicting runaway inflation and soaring interest rates year after year and keep being wrong; these aren’t the kind of people who reconsider their views in the light of evidence. Never mind the obvious point that the private sector doesn’t and won’t supply most kinds of infrastructure, from local roads to sewer systems; such distinctions have been lost amid the chants of private sector good, government bad.

I might point out that we're dealing with a mindset that prioritizes faith over evidence, that reveres authority, no matter how unqualified, and that is impervious to facts.

Maha makes a telling point:

I can never tell how much they believe their own crap, but basically we’re dealing with people who are long on ideological theory and short on experience. Unfortunately, you can say the same thing for most of our Captains of Industry, most of whom have no idea how the products they are selling actually get made.

It’s like a perfect storm of derp. The people in charge of things, public and private, have no idea how stuff gets done and no idea what stuff needs to get done. And the country is at their capricious and greedy mercy.

It became obvious to me long ago that major Republican "economic policy wonk" Paul Ryan had no idea what he was talking about. Unfortunately, he's not alone, and these people are in control of the country.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about how the equivalent philosophy plays out in the corporate sector, here's the example that blows all that to hell:

The madness of the holiday shopping season has come to this: It's no longer notable when a retailer says it will stay open on Thanksgiving Day. Instead, it makes headlines when one says it's going to close.

Warehouse chain Costco recently confirmed just that, explaining the decision as a thank-you to its workers. "Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families," a spokesperson told the Web site ThinkProgress. "Nothing more complicated than that."

The decision is in keeping with the ethos at Costco, which has long shrugged off Wall Street's complaints about how well it pays its retail workers (Costco even gave raises during the recession). A 2013 report put the company's average hourly wage at $20.89, far above the minimum wage. It showers employees with good benefits, from low health-insurance premiums to matching and profit-sharing contributions in their 401(k) plans.

Note to WalMart and friends: You can pay your employees a living wage, give them good benefits, and still make money. That's the way the country used to run, and it worked just fine.

(A footnote: I gleaned from somewhere this morning that Macy's, after facing blowback last year for opening on Thanksgiving evening, will open earlier this year. I avoid Macy's in Chicago -- it used to be Marshall Field's, which was the best department store anywhere, not only in quality of goods but in customer service. My sister suggested I check them out when I was looking at TVs, because I might be able to score a deal if they had something good on sale. The State Street store, which used to be Field's flagship, doesn't even carry TVs. Sic transit gloria.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why Is It

that the only place I can find any good news lately is on the gay sites?

(Yes, I've been surfing and catching up on the news. I may just stop -- permanently. But I'm afraid I'll turn into a teabagger, or the independent equivalent. Yes, I'm a registered independent, even though I've been voting Democratic since the Republican party went insane.)

I can't even find any funny cat videos this morning.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Together -- We Are Stronger

Something positive for today:

From the official description:
A few months ago we asked our users to take part in the exciting #GaySelfie global video. We were amazed to receive more than 100,000 Selfies entries shared on Moovz feed.

This proves how united we are :)

Here's more background from Joe.My.God.

Monday, October 27, 2014

And Here It Is!

With the perennially delicious Matt Baume:
The number of states with marriage has gone up yet again this week. Only a handful of states are stil trying to defend their marriage bans, and they're quickly running out of ways to delay their inevitable loss. A straight couple in Kansas has filed a new anti-gay lawsuit, and it's nuts. A federal judge just ruled against the freedom to marry, but his decision has virtually no chance of being upheld. Plus, there's a powerful new lawsuit in Mississippi.

Here's the story on those nutballs in Kansas who are afraid of their marriage being stolen.

Marriage News Watch, October 27, 2014

AFER hasn't posted its video yet -- I'll pop it in here as soon as I run across it -- but I wanted to plug in these two bits:

First, an interview with Ted Olson:

"I do not believe that the United States Supreme Court could rule that all of those laws prohibiting marriage are suddenly constitutional after all these individuals have gotten married and their rights have changed," he said in an interview on Capital Download. "To have that snatched away, it seems to me, would be inhuman; it would be cruel; and it would be inconsistent with what the Supreme Court has said about these issues in the cases that it has rendered."

Blogger won't accept the embed code for the video, so click through for the complete interview.

And for the Giggle du Jour, Westboro Baptist Church has filed a motion to intervene in Kansas' appeal of the 10th Circuit's ruling on SSM:
It is no small matter for a nation to accept the sin of sodomy, and the lifestyle or agenda that it entails. The description of the utter annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah and three nearby cities is stark, and directly tied to homosexuality. This historical event described in Genesis 19:1-28, Holy Bible, must be considered at this hour, in all its graphic glory, and can be found at Addendum 2 for ready reference. Every adult, child, suckling and animal – utterly destroyed. (Most likely amidst a lot of talk about committed loving relationships and dignity and respect.) Sodom is held as an example in the New Testament, for instance: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."

My immediate reaction was that Kansas already has Sam Brownback -- how can it get worse?

The complete filing is here, but I recommend you cover your keyboard before reading.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


I don't know if I will make this a department here, but this morning I'm running into a bunch of things that deserve note, even if I don't have any real commentary to go with them.

First, the Tony Perkins Award for bald-face lies goes to Megyn Kelly at Fox News. Here's Rachel Maddow with the story:

Yep -- they just made it up.

(Digby also has some comments on the right-wing "voter fraud" hysteria.

And there's always something on the "traditional values" front. Here's a nice little story about traditional family values. The punch line, after the parents threw their son out:

This kid has no car because he sold it to help out his parents a few months back when they needed money. Ah, gotta love the ones with 'real' family values. Mom and Dad, you can go back to watching Fox now. Your work is done.

He should demand his money back.

And more nonsense from the "traditional values" crowd. I think this one deserves a Through the Looking Glass Award for the "history lesson."

A former aide to President Ronald Reagan is calling for southern states to secede from the union and form a new conservative nation called "Reagan" where citizens wouldn't be forced to compromise on "traditional values" like marriage.

I wonder if anyone's ever pointed out to this jerk that democracies work on compromise.

And finally, a story with an upside: Family Circle, the venerable "woman's magazine," published a story on two gay dads and their daughters. Given the readership, while there was a lot of positive response, the conservative backlash was tremendous. To the magazine's credit, they weren't having it.
Vice President and Editor-in-Chief Linda Fears has also responded to backlash saying: 'We are certainly not the first magazine or media brand to share the story of gay parents. But we will also publish stories on single parents, multi-racial couples, and unmarried couples with kids. People may not like those either, but they are all representative of American family life today.'

Here's the original Family Circle story, with reader comments.

Had enough? Well, I have.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"My Rights Are Bigger Than Your Rights"

Digby noted something that started the old synapses firing:

I've been writing for quite a while about how the gun proliferation movement was essentially nullifying everyone elses freedoms. You might recall the final graph of this piece of mine at Salon which got a whole lot of comments:

All of this is allegedly being done to protect our freedoms. But it’s only the “freedom” of the person wearing a firearm that matters. Those parents who want their kids to feel safe in a public park aren’t free to tell a man waving a gun around to leave them alone, are they? Patrons and employees of Starbucks aren’t free to express their opinion of open carry laws when one of these demonstrations are taking place in the store. Those Jack in the Box employees aren’t free to refuse service to armed customers. Sure, they are all theoretically free to do those things. It’s their constitutional right just like it’s the constitutional right of these people to carry a gun. But in the real world, sane people do not confront armed men and women. They don’t argue with them over politics. They certainly do not put their kids in harm’s way in order to make a point. So when it comes right down to it, when you are in the presence of one of these armed citizens, you don’t really have any rights at all.

Now think about the "religious freedom" arguments used by "Christians" against having to have any associated with gays in any context. This is only the latest variation:

Since marriage equality’s arrival in North Carolina this month, at least two magistrates have resigned from their roles in the state judicial system to avoid having to officiate marriages for same-sex couples. This week, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) said he will introduce legislation that allows officiants to refuse to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs.

This is not some florist or baker he's talking about -- these are government officials. (Do I smell a violation of the Establishment Clause? You bet I do. Look at the court rulings on teacher-led prayer in schools.) This is a step above the "license to discriminate" laws vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer in Arizona, but passed and signed in Mississippi. (And look for more of those.) It's just a way of making certain religious beliefs paramount, the way the ammosexuals want to make the Second Amendment paramount.

Digby's post also triggered memories of reading a series of stories on the black pastors opposing equal rights for gays, especially marriage, on the ground that gay rights are not "civil rights":

In the brief, the coalition calls for a reversal of Friedman's decision. They argue that the marriage equality movement is inaccurately equated with the civil rights struggle, and that such comparison ignores the acute suffering of blacks throughout American history.

"The fact that American media or other factions erroneously characterize the traditional meaning of 'marriage' as being on par with the civil rights deprivations of Black Americans does not make it so," the brief states. "Comparing the dilemmas of same-sex couples to the centuries of discrimination faced by Black Americans is a distortion of our country’s cultural and legal history."

Excuse me? Where have you been for the last few hundred years? Oh, right -- pretending that only white people are gay.

The trend is obvious. It looks to me like the ungodly hybrid child of conservative insularity -- shrinking the idea of "us/other" rather than expanding it, an authoritarian mindset (also a conservative trait, mostly, reinforced by an authoritarian theology), greed, and fear, aided and abetted by the efforts of the right-wing noise machine. Yes, it's conservatives -- you won't find a lot of liberals running around in support of these ideas, because liberals tend to understand one of the basic tenets of insuring an orderly society: all rights have limits.

To conservatives, only other people's right have limits.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Today In Disgusting People

This one's making the rounds. You should be careful what you write to advice columnists -- they publish things, you know. From "Dear Prudence":

Dear Prudence,

I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets— mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?

—Halloween for the 99 Percent

Any response to this I can think of pales beside those from John Cole and Digby. Cole's post is wonderful:
At any rate, you sociopath, the reason you feel terrible is because you are a terrible person. But don’t worry, you just momentarily had a bit of self-awareness, and I’m sure that will soon pass. The burden of being aware that you are a horrible person will go back to the rest of us who have to deal with you as you obliviously run red lights in your Mercedes coupe and do other obnoxious things.

Click through to read the full post -- I like the way he deals with the same issue.

And Digby is short, sweet, and to the point:

You ARE a terrible person and if there is such a thing as karma you will get yours.

I can't really think of anything to add to that.

The owner of the house I used to live in would turn off the lights and pretend not to be home on Halloween. He wasn't what you'd call a generous soul, except in certain tightly defined circumstances. I now live in a large building in one of "those" neighborhoods -- lots of retirees and immigrants, racially and ethnically mixed, and nowhere near upper middle class, much less 1% -- so I don't expect trick-or-treaters. I may lay in some supplies, though, just in case.

Mostly, though, my observation will be to light a candle in the window to guide the spirits on their way.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Movie Note: Avengers: The Age of Ultron

The first trailer is out. Even without the trailer, of course this one's on my "must see" list.

Coming in May, 2015.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Idiot du Jour

This guy's really sort of -- well, how about immature and self-centered?

[State Sen. Steve Vick] said he expects the state legislature to address the issue, and he’s exploring two possible options.

“One is to try to re-establish the standing of those who have deeply held religious convictions,” Vick said. “Another potential avenue that I’m exploring is just eliminating marriage licenses in Idaho.”

He’s discussed the elimination of state sanctioning of marriage with just a few people, Vick said, but so far the response has been very positive.

“I don’t have a bill drafted or anything, (but) I have discussed it at some of the town halls I’ve been at – (and) actually seems to be fairly well-received,” Vick said. “In my opinion, if we’re not allowed to determine the standards for a marriage license, then maybe we should just not issue them.”

As well as being terminally ignorant:
“I believe the next step will be to say that churches themselves cannot discriminate,” he said. “They cannot discriminate, and the church will have to marry same-sex couples and not be allowed to say anything. Clearly they’re going after the freedom of the church’s speech through the hate-speech statutes.”

"Hate speech statutes"? What hate speech statutes? We don't have those in this country. If we did, the whole Christian right would be in jail.

Sadly, this is the sort of reaction we've come to expect from conservative "Christians," and it only points up one thing that I've noticed about them in general: they really are arrogant, self-absorbed, and authoritarian.

Oh, and the "standing of those who have deeply held religious convictions" refers to the Knapps, who own The Hitching Post, a for-profit marriage chapel and are pre-emptively suing the city of Coeur d'Alene to avoid having to accommodate same-sex couples. It turns out the whole thing is a set-up: they used to accommodate non-Christian and civil marriages but recently changed their business structure and website to emphasize their "Christian" standing. How very "Christian" of them.

I have one thing to say to people like that: Matthew 25:40.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Marriage News Watch, October 20, 2014

From the official description:

We just picked up more states with the freedom to marry, and the number could continue increasing over the course of this week. But in several states, officials are blocking the start of marriage despite courts ruling against their bans. We'll have the details on how couples are fighting back. Plus, more bad news for the National Organization for Marriage. This time it's a ruling in Virginia that means they'll lose out on over half a million dollars.

And just to make it all very graphic:

The Universe Is A Crapshoot

Which is the way I normally state the position taken in this post by Tom Sullivan at Hullabaloo. He starts off:

Psychologists at the Yale Mind and Development Lab explore the human tendency to believe that "everything happens for a reason."

We look for causes. I don't really know if this is hard-wired or the results of millennia of conditioning, but we do. From the article he cites:

This tendency to see meaning in life events seems to reflect a more general aspect of human nature: our powerful drive to reason in psychological terms, to make sense of events and situations by appealing to goals, desires and intentions. This drive serves us well when we think about the actions of other people, who actually possess these psychological states, because it helps us figure out why people behave as they do and to respond appropriately. But it can lead us into error when we overextend it, causing us to infer psychological states even when none exist. This fosters the illusion that the world itself is full of purpose and design.

I take this as the basis of our tendency to personify animals and objects, to ascribe meanings and motivations that may or may not there. (In the case of animals, probably, although we may not really understand their motivations, which is one reason birds fascinate me: they're sometimes fairly inscrutable, such as when a whole flock just suddenly takes wing for no apparent reason. And cats are the masters of inscrutability. Objects? Not so much.) Ultimately, it's the basis of religion: natural phenomena become persons of great power and sometimes inscrutable motives -- gods and spirits. (The article notes that many people believe this tendency is the result of religious belief. It's actually the other way around.)

The consequences can be devastating:
Whatever the origin of our belief in life’s meaning, it might seem to be a blessing. Some people find it reassuring to think that there really are no accidents, that what happens to us — including the most terrible of events — reflects an unfolding plan. But the belief also has some ugly consequences. It tilts us toward the view that the world is a fundamentally fair place, where goodness is rewarded and badness punished. It can lead us to blame those who suffer from disease and who are victims of crimes, and it can motivate a reflexive bias in favor of the status quo — seeing poverty, inequality and oppression as reflecting the workings of a deep and meaningful plan.

I'm not sure that these are the best examples -- poverty, inequality, and oppression are not random events: there are human actors involved somewhere along the line. (Just think about the increase in poverty and the steady decline in the standard of living for most of us in the richest country on earth. Sorry, that didn't just happen.) But for victims of natural disasters and just plain old accidents, the conclusion can hold true. In Sullivan's words,"$#!+ happens." For a religious believer, "It's God's will," whatever variety of god you happen to believe in.

There. That should be something to chew on for a while. And do click through and read Sullivan's post. It's not terribly long, but it's incisive.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Today in "Liars for Jesus"


Well, it's Bryan Fischer, so you know there's no point of contact with reality.

What actually happened was that the subpoenas, which were seeking information on the role of pastors and churches in giving instructions for petitioning for a referendum on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, were prepared by outside attorneys.  As filed, they requested a lot more information than that. 
(What exactly the pastors said, and what the collectors knew about the rules, is one of the key issues in pending litigation around whether opponents of the law gathered enough signatures for a referendum.)

"There's no question, the wording was overly broad. But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation on the other side," Parker said at a press conference Wednesday. "The goal is to find out if there were specific instructions given on how the petitions should be accurately filled out. It's not about, 'What did you preach on last Sunday?'"

To reiterate: The mayor's office is not interested in what they preached, or how the pastors feel about Parker or her sexual orientation. (Those things are all well protected under the First Amendment, as they should be.) All officials want to know is what kinds of instructions the pastors gave out with respect to collecting petition signatures, and whether what they said agrees with what they're arguing in court while appealing the referendum.

Needless to say, Anti-Gay, Inc. went ballistic.

In the real world,Mayor Parker and the City Attorney were not aware of the actual wording of the subpoenas until they were issued, and immediately withdrew them to examine and, if necessary, reword them, which was done.


Mission accomplished. And Bryan Fischer gets a twofer today: The Tony Perkins Award for reflexive mendacity, and the Through the Looking Glass Award for his adversarial relationship with reality.

Oh, and about that "Gaystapo" thing: that's an example of Fischer being clever. Seems to be about the best he can do on that score and comparing gays to Nazis is a constant refrain from him, as well as the rest of the anti-gay bigots. One has to wonder, why do they find Nazis so appealing?

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Map As Of Today

The Supreme Court denied Alaska's request for a stay, and a district court for Arizona has issued a decision finding Arizona's marriage law unconstitutional. It is accepting the Ninth Circuit's decision. That's a firm 31 states with marriage equality. An appeal is doubtful, unless NOM or the Liberty Counsel jump into the breach -- and they will be shot down if they try.

marriage 2014

Update: Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne will not appeal the district court ruling:

Image of the Week

Haven't done this for a while. I have thirty years' worth of negatives, but no scanner any more, so I'm having to work with what's already in the computer.

I had started at one point a series called "Earthgods" -- diptychs, really, juxtapositions of some of my landscapes and figure studies. I always liked this one:

Vatican Update

It seems the English translation of the rather unexpectedly controversial preliminary relatio has undergone some revision -- but not the Spanish or French versions, and the original Italian document is, at present, unchanged. Jim Burroway has another good analysis.

Today in Christian "Martyrdom"

I haven't commented on any of Tony Perkins' outrages lately, but this one is too good to pass up. Via Joe.My.God.:

Pasquotank County is hard to pronounce -- but it's not nearly as difficult as pronouncing two women 'wife and wife.' That's how North Carolina Magistrate Gary Littleton felt when a same-sex couple asked him to 'marry' them at a courthouse this week. Unfortunately for Littleton, his constitutional rights are of no concern to local liberals, who insist that the judge should have to check his religious beliefs at the workplace door. Like the overwhelming majority of Tar Heels, Littleton probably voted to define marriage as the union of a man and woman in 2012. Now, two years later, he doesn't believe that a handful of unelected judges should be able to override his vote -- and the vote of 1,317,177 others. Yesterday, the county met to determine if Littleton could face criminal charges for exercising the freedom the First Amendment guarantees. While he and other clerks await their fate, a federal judge has given Speaker of the North Carolina House, Thom Tillis, the right to defend his state's marriage amendment in court. An appeal could kick the issue back to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down Virginia's law.

Let's look at a couple of high points:

Unfortunately for Littleton, his constitutional rights are of no concern to local liberals, who insist that the judge should have to check his religious beliefs at the workplace door.

Actually, it's the Constitution that insists that a judge should have to check his religious beliefs at the workplace door. It's called the Establishment Clause, and it forbids the imposition of sectarian beliefs in civil law.
Like the overwhelming majority of Tar Heels, Littleton probably voted to define marriage as the union of a man and woman in 2012.

Actually, it was about 22% of registered voters who voted that way, in a primary election in which there was no Democratic contest. (Not that the Republican-dominated legislature was trying to stack the deck or anything like that.) I couldn't find population figures for 2012, but the 2010 census counted just over 9.5 million; the estimate for 2013 was about 9,850,000. Let's call it 9.7 million in 2012, and then take Perkins' count of the vote in favor of Amendment One, about 1.3 million. That doesn't really strike me as an overwhelming majority of Tar Heels.

Now, two years later, he doesn't believe that a handful of unelected judges should be able to override his vote. . . .

No matter what this newly-minted martyr believes, it is the case that a handful of "unelected" judges (and can you imagine the mess our federal court system would be if judges were elected?) are absolutely able to override his vote when his vote violates individual rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States. That's what the courts do.

And Horrors! The Fourth Circuit might uphold a decision it has already made.

Once again, Tony Perkins gets the Tony Perkins Award for mendacity under fire.

A footnote: Another North Carolina magistrate had the integrity to resign rather than perform same-sex marriages. He's a bigot, but even bigots can have some class, I guess.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Flip. Flop.

You've no doubt read about the Vatican's purported softening of its position on gays (among other things), and the swift backtrack after the predictable outrage from the conservatives.

Jim Burroway has a very good post at Box Turtle Bulletin that offers some insights into the whole process. It's impossible to excerpt intelligibly, so click through and read the whole thing.

My initial reaction was sceptical: I took it as PR/damage control, but, as you can see from Burroway's commentary, it's a bit more nuanced than that. I don't, however, really expect much on this, although I suspect Francis is not above flexing some muscle with the Cardinals, as witness his removal of Cardinal Raymond Burke from his position at the Apostolic Signatura, which position made him the number two man in authority at the Vatican.

It will be interesting to see how this works out, but do keep in mind that this is all preparatory. The big confab is next year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Jaw-Dropper du Jour

They're not only running around loose, they're holding public office:

View image on Twitter 

She says her comment was taken "out of context."

Today's Must-Read

Interesting post by Digby today on something that has become a big flaw in our public discourse, starting with a quote from this interview with Reza Aslan:

... someone like Sam Harris or Bill Maher sees religion as defining people of faith, their values, their motivations, and I see people as defining their religion.

Or, to put in in my own words: You can find something in just about any sacred text to justify what you wanted to do anyway. The glaring example of that, of course, is the self-styled "Christians" who are locked into Leviticus and a genital-based morality.

Digby goes on:

We know too many religious people of different faiths for whom religion is just one part of who they are and who are completely balanced, tolerant, open and often evolving in their interpretation of their faith not to. I also know atheists who take a fundamentalist point of view and are totally intolerant of any challenge to their worldview.

I got into a "discussion," if you want to call it that, in a comment thread with a woman who quickly revealed herself to be about the most fundamental of fundamentalists. She kept throwing out bizarre "arguments," which I answered with facts. She finally resorted to calling me a child of Satan. What was instructive, aside from her lack of general knowledge about the world in general, was her complete inability to entertain the idea that a differing point of view could be valid.

Digby notes that "There is more to human behavior than religions belief." That's undeniably true, and those who rely on religious belief to explain everything are missing a lot. (And, as Digby also points out, this does not excuse atheists, who may not subscribe to religion per se, but too often share the same mindset.) There is a tendency to see the world in black and white, although I'm not ready to ascribe that tendency to a certain group: it's a matter of basic psychology that we first classify things according to stereotypes; it's only as we come to know more that we modify those classifications, add a little nuance to our perceptions. It strikes me that some people don't want to learn more, perhaps because it challenges their assumptions, which makes them uncomfortable. (Alright, it scares the bejeezus out of them.) I guess I can think my lucky stars that I grew up in a family that valued learning and managed to avoid having my innate curiosity educated out of me. (Strangely enough, my sister is one of the least curious people I know.) Hence my basic philosophy: Poke it and see what it does. The beginnings of the scientific method.

Aslan, early on, makes one very important point:
So let’s say you had Bill Maher and Sam Harris as a sort of captive audience in a lecture hall for a half hour, and only a half hour. What would you focus on? What do you want them to hear that you don’t think they’re hearing?

This is going to sound odd to say, but probably nothing, because when you are dealing with that kind of level of certainty, whether you are talking about a religious fundamentalist, or an atheist fundamentalist, which is precisely what someone like Sam Harris is, it’s really a waste of time to try to argue either data points or logical reasoning, because they have already made up their mind and it becomes kind of useless to have that kind of conversation.

See my anecdote above, about the woman who called me a child of Satan.

The interview is a must-read, as are Digby's comments.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Latest Map

This one's nice and clear and gives all the detail that's necessary:

Marriage News Watch, October 13, 2014

Matt Baume summarizes last week's events in the marriage to marriage -- although, as he notes, "by the time you watch this video, more state may have already gained the freedom to marry." (In that regard, see the previous post.)


No, that's not the end of the story. In this case, it's the number of states in which same-sex marriage is now legal, after a surprise decision yesterday afternoon by Judge Tim Burgess on a suit brought by five couples in Alaska. The surprise is not the result -- that was pretty much a given -- but the speed with which the decision was handed down:
U.S. District Court Judge Tim Burgess issued a summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs arguing that Alaska's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, just two days after their case began to be heard in court Friday.

In a 25-page order, Burgess held that the state constitution -- amended by voters in 1998 to define marriage as between a man and a woman -- violates provisions in the U.S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing both due process and equal protection under the law.

Gov. Sean Parnell (who is facing an election) will appeal. Good luck with that -- Alaska is under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit, which threw out Prop 8 and last week threw out marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada.

And of course, Alaska's local AFA/FRC clone is up in arms:

Jim Minnery, the executive director of Alaska Family Action, blasted Sunday's ruling and said it was in defiance of 1998 voters' popular will.

“What has happened with Judge Burgess and across the country really, it's a subversion of the democratic process,” Minnery said. “It's really a shame to see these legally enacted (bans), in many cases upwards of 70, 75 percent of the people, being overruled by a guy in a black robe -- it's sad, but we're far from over on this issue.”

Point: Oh, this issue is over. You just don't like the way it played out.

And second point: Have you noticed how the right tries so hard to ignore the Constitution? Except, of course, for the Second Amendment.

Via Box Turtle Bulletin.

Here's the decision:

3:14-cv-00089 #38 by Equality Case Files

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review in Brief: Arrow, Season One

is the latest variation on DC's Green Arrow, and the writers and directors (of which there are many) have done a creditable job of adapting it.

Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), playboy son of a billionaire, is stranded for five years on a desert island in the North China Sea when his father's yacht goes down in a storm. Before he dies, his father (Jamey Sheridan) tells Oliver that his, the father's, associates have plundered Starling City, their home and asks Oliver to survive, return to Starling City, and right his wrongs.

In spite of what he tells everyone on his return, we learn very soon that Oliver was not alone on the island. We also learn that the "associates" who are plundering the city include his mother, Moira (Susanna Thompson), and Malcom Merlin (John Barrowman), the father of Oliver's best friend, Tommy (Colin Donnell).

Complicating his welcome is that fact that accompanying him on this trip was his girlfriend's (Laurel Lance, played by Katie Cassidy) sister, Sarah (Caity Lotz), who was killed. Not only does Laurel have mixed feelings about Oliver, but her father, Det. Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) actively hates him (not that he ever thought much of Oliver to begin with).

To fulfill his father's dying wish, Oliver disguises himself with a hood and takes a bow and arrow to the bad guys.

As background to his adventures in Starling City, we are given flashbacks to his time on the island, where he was first rescued by a banished Chinese general, Yao Fei (Byron Mann), then by a stranded Australian intelligence agent, Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), both of whom begin his training (by necessity -- he's not only not a fighter, he's a liability), and finally by Yao Fei's daughter, Shado (Celine Jade).

If this sounds complicated, remember it's the set-up for twenty-two episodes -- this description is bare bones. As it plays out, the series is equal parts action/adventure, melodrama, and soap opera. The action sequences are well done, sharp, fast a beautifully choreographed. The melodrama/soap opera sections are an attempt, I think, to give some depth to the characters, and are moderately successful. They would have been more successful, I think, if they hadn't killed the pacing. The same holds true for the bulk of the flashbacks -- there's a lot of talking, not a lot of doing.

However, despite its flaws, I've watched the first season several times and am getting ready for the second, which is finally on Netflix. It's a nice way to kill an hour or two in the evening.

(DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, Berlanti Productions, 2012) For full credits, see the listing at IMDb.

A Quick History Lesson

Courtesy of Gaius Publius (who is now writing for Hullabaloo), here's a fast lesson in Islamic history:

Now you get to look up who all those people were. (I admit it -- as a long-time history buff, I know some of this, but parts of it are completely new to me.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

As of Last Night

From Box Turtle Bulletin:

marriage 2014

Dark purple: Marriage Equality
Light purple: Marriage Equality soon
White: Just you wait

Yes, There Are Decent Cops

This story is a much-needed lift:

On Oct. 4, Officer Ben Hall of Emmett Township, Mich., received a call to investigate a car in which, reportedly, an unsecured child was observed. Alexis DeLorenzo and her daughter were riding in this car with a friend. When Hall pulled them over, things didn't go as expected. When Hall walked over to the car, he saw that DeLorenzo's 5-year-old daughter was wearing a seat belt but was not secured in a booster seat. In Michigan, child safety restraints are required for children under the age of 7. "When I spoke to [DeLorenzo], she was very forthcoming and knew that the child should be in a booster seat," Hall said. He added, "She admitted that she was wrong and that she had recently fallen on hard times."

Hall said DeLorenzo told him that her car had been repossessed that day with her daughter's booster seat in it, and she simply couldn't afford a replacement booster seat. Instead of writing DeLorenzo a ticket, Hall decided to address the problem with, to his mind, a more productive solution. "A ticket doesn't solve the situation," Hall told WXMI-TV. "What solves it is the child being in the booster seat like she should be." Hall instructed DeLorenzo to meet him at the local Walmart. There, instead of writing her a ticket, he purchased a booster seat for her. DeLorenzo was overwhelmed by the officer's understanding and compassion. Hall didn't seem fazed; he said, "It was the easiest 50 bucks I ever spent."

Via Hullabaloo.

Saturday Science: On "Natural Law"

I'm sure that you've all heard of the Catholic doctrine of "natural law," particularly regarding human sexuality. Well, it seems to have nothing to do with nature, as evidence this story about flamingos at the Edinburgh Zoo:

“When the first egg arrived the parenting couple got really excited and accidentally knocked it off the nest – their natural instinct was then to abandon the egg.

“We don’t usually intervene with our flamingo flock but as this was our first egg since 2010, we carefully picked it up and placed it back on the nest.

“Luckily, one of our same-sex male couples went straight onto the nest, fostered the egg and raised it as their own.”

This is not all that rare. We all remember Silo and Roy at the Bronx Zoo, the inspiration for the book And Tango Make Three -- which, incidentally, tops the banned books list regularly.

So, homosexual behavior occurs in nature rather more frequently than the Catholic bishops would like to admit -- it's been observed in over 450 vertebrate species, in everything from mating rituals to pair bonding.

As for raising offspring:

“We’ve been able to utilise these male male bonds and it’s working out fairly well. Male male pairs are equally able to rear youngsters.”

Same-sex animal pairings raising neglected babies is common both in zoos and in the wild.

Earlier this year, a Kent zoo said that a pair of gay penguins who are raising a baby together are doing a much better job than their straight counterparts.

That holds true of humans, as well (here's a fairly recent review of the literature in this area, and here's a report from the American Psychological Association). And then there's the recent Australian study (Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families) that indicates that children raised by same-sex couples score higher in general health and happiness.

One other thing about "natural law" -- its conflation of sex and reproduction. Unfortunately for the bishops, people mostly don't have sex to make babies -- they have sex because it feels good.

There's a much politics as science in this, for a good reason: the story about the flamingos hit me about the same time this one did, featuring this quote from Cardinal Raymond Burke:
If homosexual relations are intrinsically disordered, which indeed they are — reason teaches us that and also our faith. . . .

Based on evidence from reality, there's obviously a lot more faith than reason in the Church's teachings on sexuality, which, given its conflation of sex and child-rearing, makes the ability of same-sex parents to successfully raise children a key issue. Oh, and one other thing keeps popping into my head on this topic: Control sex and you control the people.

Not that the Church would ever do that.

Friday, October 10, 2014

And To Finish Off the Week, Two More

Sort of. The Supreme Court has lifted the stay on the Idaho decision, and a federal judge has found North Carolina's anti-marriage amendment unconstitutional, but only for two counties:

U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr., issued his two orders shortly after 5 p.m.
read the order

“Defendants are PERMANENTLY ENJOINED from enforcing such laws to the extent these laws prohibit a person from marrying another person of the same gender, prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully solemnized in other States, Territories, or a District of the United States, or seek to punish in any way clergy or other officiants who solemnize the union of same-sex couples,” Cogburn wrote.

In a separate case, Judge William Osteen has denied requests by the legislature and NOM to intervene, but will not issue a decision until next week.

That brings this week's tally to 9, and the total so far to, I think, 29, while in Kansas, the Attorney General is asking the state supreme courts to stop clerks from issuing licenses to same-sex couples.


I Finally Got Hold of a Person

at Google. Google doesn't want to offer tech support for "free applications" (like Gmail, Blogger, and YouTube) because of "liability concerns." I asked, but the answer was incoherent. But I can now get in to Gmail, Blogger, and YouTube, after deleting not only my Google-related cookies, but my entire browsing history. Which means I'm going to have to re-log in to everything else.

So, in what is undoubtedly one of the most eventful weeks in gay marriage ever, I wasn't able to blog. Here's a couple of posts I did at Live Journal as stop-gaps:

The first:


I usually reserve posts on political events and news stories at my blog, Hunter at Random, but you may have noticed that I don't have access to post there for the past few days, and this is sort of important:  The Supreme Court has refused to grant certoriari in any of the seven cases concerning marriage equality that had been appealed by the states.  The marriage bans had all been found unconsitutional by district courts, decisions that were upheld by panels in the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits.  What the Supreme Court's decision to not hear those appeals means is that in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Utah, same-sex marriage is now the law of the land.  (And marriages havbe begun in all but Wisconsin, which will follow suit shortly.)  Most observers expect that within a few weeks, the remainder of the states within those circuits will have those rulings applied to them as well, which will make same-sex marriage legally recognized in West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming, bringing to total of states with same-sex marriage recognition to thirty.

Timothy Kincaid has a good summary of the state of affairs as of last night at Box Turtle Bulletin, where, if you run down the posts from yesterday, you can get highlights, statements from state Attorneys General and Governors, and whining from the usual suspects.  Also worth checking out on this is Joe.My.God., which also has the news that Colorado, although not directly affected by yesterday's decision, will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.  (And lots of whining and vows of civil disobedience -- how do you do civil disobedience about same-sex marriage, anyway -- refuse to marry someone of the same sex?  No one's asking you to.)  And Towleroad has a some interesting analysis and speculation by Ari Ezra Waldman, as well as news reports.

Two points:  First, Anti-Gay, Inc., is screaming about this being this generation's Roe v. Wade, trying to generate some traction for what most observers see as a losing battle.  That's not going to fly -- there's no similarity in the two cases whatsoever, and public opinion has steadily been trending toward acceptance of same-sex marriage over the past couple of years, with a clear majority of the country in favor.

Second, look for increased attempts to pass "religious freedom" laws at the state level.  These are basically nothing but a license to discriminate; Arizona passed one, which was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, and Mississippi passed one, which is facing backlash from businesses and other organizations in the state.  There will be more of these, giving business owners the right to refuse service to anyone based on "religious belief."  Talk about unintended consequences. 
The second:

"Sex, drugs, and rock and roll."
 That's the money quote from the 9th Circuit's decision striking down marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho, in response to a ridiculous contention by the governor of Idaho, Butch Otter.  (Seriously -- that's his name.)  The full quote, which is footnote 12 on page 21:

He also states, in conclusory fashion, that allowing same-sex marriage will lead opposite-sex couples to abuse alcohol and drugs, engage in extramarital affairs, take on demanding work schedules, and participate in time-consuming hobbies. We seriously doubt that allowing committed same-sex couples to settle down in legally recognized marriages will drive opposite-sex couples to sex, drugs, and   rock-and-roll.

The decision was unanimous.  The full order is here.

A footnote:  At present, all states with marriage bans have had suits filed to overturn them.  The 9th Circuit also includes Alaska, Montana, and Arizona (it also includes Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and California, which already recognize same-sex marriages), so any decisions on those suits are pretty much a foregone conclusion, since it's obvious a decision supporting the bans will not survive appeal.
The third:

"About that stay"
 Jimi Burroway has a good analysis at Box Turtle Bulletin of the screw-up that led Justice Kennedy to stay the implementation of marriages in both Idaho and Utah.  It's been resolved and marriages are once again happening in Nevada, but it wasn't without a few more wrinkles.

Here's the marriage map as of yesterday afternoon:


Purple denotes those states with marriage equality, light blue (lavender? Depends on your monitor, I guess) those that are affected by recent circuit court decisions (i.e., will probably have marriage equality within a few weeks at most), and white those that are still in the Eleventh Century with Rick Santorum.

And a note:  apparently those responsible for issuing marriage licenses in South Carolina and Kansas have begun doing so.  (At least, county clerks in Kansas have been ordered to do so by the court.)
And this morning:
"Twenty-seven states and counting."  
Add West Virginia to the list.

The updated map:

marriage 2014
Dark purple – states which have marriage equality
Light purple – states in which the circuit court has ruled for equality but which have not yet been ordered to provide marriage equality

And now that I'm back in the saddle, expect me to resume regular programming.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Culture Break: Kimmo Pohjonen/Kronos Quartet: "Uniko," Part I

This track is titled "Utu" on the album.

I've done a "Culture Break" with Pohjonen and Kronos before. I downloaded this album, and this is the opening track. Perfect for a rainy morning when you're going to have to get moving. (It's raining as I'm writing this, but who knows that the weather will be like when it finally goes up?)

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Review in Brief: Kurt Busiek/Stuart Immonen: Secret Identity

I picked up this trade paper collection on the recommendation of my local comics store guy, and it was a good choice. Busiek has written a sort of "alternate" life for Superman -- who is not really Superman, just a guy named Clark Kent from a small town in Kansas who happens to have superpowers, possibly the result of meteor strikes near his hometown when he was thirteen.

That doesn't really matter. (It's actually a throw-away toward the end of the book.)

What does matter is the story of Clark Kent's life -- enduring the Superman jokes through high-school and into his first job as a writer for The New Yorker (note that's "writer," not "reporter'), meeting Lois Chaudhari (not Lane), and on through a life that turns out to be pretty normal, give or take the superpowers and the side job of rescuing people and averting disasters -- and avoiding the feds, who are very, very interested in this guy, whoever he is. (Lest you think this is purely a feel-good sort of story, be advised that there are a couple of pretty horrific episodes. But we get past them.)

This is a very appealing comic, not least, I think, because it's told mostly in narration, from Clark's journal that he types on an old manual typewriter -- he doesn't want any of this on a computer, because computers can be hacked.

Stuart Immonen's art fits perfectly -- spare, brushy in places, stark in places, sometimes dense but never enough to distract from the visual narrative -- and that narrative is clean and clear throughout.

This one's a winner.

(DC Comics, 2004) Includes Superman: Secret Identity #1-4.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Cheerios Effect

It's a thing. It really is. And it generated this ad:

The official YouTube description:

It seemed like André and Jonathan had it all - great careers, a beautiful home, and their love for one another. Then along came Raphaëlle.

Share your connection story at http://cheerioseffect.ca

And for the background on this, see Joe.My.God.

Finally, some good news.

Breaking: FRC Lies!

As if that's news. Alvin McEwen has dissected the FRC's latest assault on the military over at Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters.
The Family Research Council is clearly implying that it is the Obama Administration's supposed attack on religious liberty and the decision to allow gays to serve openly which led to the survey's negative responses.

That is a lie.

Neither article linked by the Family Research Council (one from Military.com and the other from The Washington Times) mentions anything regarding "religious liberty" or gays serving openly in the military as reasons for the negative responses to the Navy survey.

Yeah, the FRC slander links to articles that don't support its assertions. Guess they're counting on the laziness of their readers. And when even The Washington Times doesn't support an anti-Obama, anti-gay rant, you know you've left reality far, far behind.

Idiot du Jour

Bryan Fischer is, among his other accomplishments, an expert epidemiologist, who knows all about transmission vectors and incubation periods.

Of course, in real life Fischer is a raving rabble-rouser who will say anything that will get him some attention, as well as being an everything denialist. (Denial seems to be as much a part of the Christianist toolbox as projection.)

It's people like him that make me sometimes regret that we have free speech in this country -- but then, unlike Fischer and his ilk, I have no intention of setting myself up as the arbiter of who gets to say what.

I wonder if he realizes how ridiculous he is to sane people.

Via Joe.My.God., where you will also find this article on the origins of HIV. Like, real science.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Culture Break: Béla Bartók: String Quartet No. 4: Allegretto pizzicato

I'm rather fond of Bartók, and always have been. And this seems to fit the mood today:

This is a performance by the Amadeus Quartet.

This Is The Way It's Supposed To Work

According to some. Very good post, if depressing, at Mahablog this morning, based on this article by Joseph Heath at Salon.

The take-away:

The status quo depends on nothing getting fixed, actually. So the status quo will see to it nothing gets fixed. Krugman’s column today says, “Today’s political balance rests on a foundation of ignorance, in which the public has no idea what our society is really like.” And the system is rigged so they can’t find out.

I very reluctantly have come around to thinking that the system is so broken it cannot be returned to anything resembling functionality. The most likely outcome is that the U.S. will continue to decline economically and politically over the next several years until quality of life is so eroded for enough people that something big and nasty and possibly violent will happen to change everything. We may actually have to become a failed state first, though.

Any student of history has seen this coming for a while. Think back to Dwight Eisenhower's warnings about the "military-industrial complex." Guess who's running the government. And our "independent press" is playing along -- the major news outlets are corporations, too.

There is a ray of sunshine, though -- a small one, and it's hard to know how effective it's going to be. From a post by Spocko at Hullabaloo, built around Google severing ties with ALEC:

ALEC and Rush appeal to people's most selfish impulses. They use greed, fear and ignorance to get what they want. They want us to believe that everyone thinks like they do, when in fact it is a self-selected minority that holds these beliefs. They say if you only believe them, you will be among society's winners.

But when we go to the interested third parties and educate them, many of those real winners are disgusted with what they hear. Combining that education with appeals to both personal and stated corporate values systems and you have a solid package to help them decide to walk away.

If you want to convince people within the corporate form to walk away from a right wing media personality or a right wing legislation bill mill, learn who they are, what they say their company is about and ALL the things that they care about.

There are more and more companies that are finding out that being socially conscious is good business. Whether that's enough to offset those who don't give a damn is the big question.