Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Next Battle

Now that the Supreme Court has made marriage equality the law of the land, what’s next?  Paul Waldman at the Washington Post says it’s going to be the “religious liberty” issue.

While there’s a political calculation at work and a lot of the rhetoric travels into the territory of the absurd, there are also some legitimate legal questions that have to be worked out.

First, let’s place this in context. For some time now, conservative Christians have told themselves a story of their own oppression, one that testifies to their courage in holding to their faith when hostile forces would rip it from them and send them cowering to the shadows. This is in large part a reaction to the diversification of our society, in which the proportion of Americans who are Christian is indeed declining. As a result of that change, many of the features of civil and commercial life have changed as well, so that instead of being the only religion expressed, Christianity is one among many. Some Christians would obviously prefer it if their particular faith had a monopoly on government expressions and things like signs in department stores, and are genuinely horrified when they see a sign reading “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Since those Christians are mostly Republicans, and evangelicals are particularly numerous in the state of Iowa, GOP presidential candidates almost inevitably echo those sentiments back to the voters, repeating the narrative of oppression. “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian,” said Rick Perry in a famous ad from his presidential run four years ago. So brave, to admit that! “But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”

For the record, people still celebrate Christmas pretty openly last time I checked, and every kid is free to pray in school; what’s forbidden (in most but not all cases) is prayers sponsored and organized by the public school itself.

In any case, the gay marriage decision is easy to turn into a story of Christians oppressed, like the baker who doesn’t want to bake a cake for a gay couple. Conservatives have successfully expanded the realm of the religious beyond things like rituals, worship, and sacraments into other realms like commerce, and if they’re feeling despondent over the Court decision, they should remember that this Supreme Court has agreed with them, holding in the Hobby Lobby case that a corporation can have its own religious beliefs and thus excuse itself from laws it doesn’t find congenial.

The course from there is pretty obvious: the Religious Right and their political allies running for president will use their vast lung power and internet reach to grift money from the foolish and the weak.  Every victory scored by the Radical Homosexuals (which sounds like an ’80’s heavy metal band) will generate e-mail blasts with pleas for money.

The conventional wisdom is that the ruling on marriage equality was greeted privately by the GOP and the Religious Right with, if not joy, at least relief.  For the Republicans, it removes it from the immediacy of the campaign and into the abstract (see Huckabee, Mike, and his plans to fight “judicial tyranny” with tyranny).  For the Religious Right, now they have a whole new flock of pigeons to pluck in the name of fighting non-existent persecution.

Monday, July 6, 2015

What’s Love Got To Do With It

It sounds like Mike Huckabee thinks there’s too much love in marriage.

Huckabee said this modern, emotional definition of love will destroy all marriages, not just same-sex marriage.

Sounds like he and the missus have some issues to work out.  Or perhaps he’d rather get back to the real traditional marriage where women were sold off to the highest bidder and the parents sealed the deal with twenty goats and a gift certificate from Golden Corral.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Short Takes

Grecian Turn: Another attempt at getting out debt is proposed.

Six predominately black churches have burned in the last two weeks.

The government is investigating whether major airlines colluded on keeping prices high.

A federal judge in Alabama has ordered judges to issue marriage licenses to all comers.

R.I.P Nicholas Winton, 106, a Briton who saved nearly 700 children from the Nazis.

The Tigers lost 9-3 to the Pirates.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Roberts Rules: You’ll Never Be Equal

Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges was, compared to the rants of Justices Thomas and Scalia, “measured,” but it still embraced a chilling view of the gay community, basically telling us “Okay, you can have your marriages and we’ll smile politely and indulge you, but you will never be equal to the straight world because you had to go to court to force us to accept you.  If you had just waited for us to come around, everything would have been fine.  But no, you had to go and spoil it all by making some of us rule in your favor.”

I find it disturbing that the Chief Justice would take such a petulant and patronizing tone.  Suppose he said the same about blacks wanting desegregated schools or women wanting to vote: Just wait, we’ll get to you.  That’s not how it works, Your Honor.  Injustice doesn’t go away by itself.

Footnote: There’s a remarkable bit of irony in one of Justice Roberts’ sentences: “Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”  Funny, that’s what we said about Bush v. Gore.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Reading

Ten Days in June — David Remmick in The New Yorker on the days that changed America.

What a series of days in American life, full of savage mayhem, uncommon forgiveness, resistance to forgiveness, furious debate, mourning, and, finally, justice and grace. As President Obama led thousands of mourners in Charleston, South Carolina, in “Amazing Grace,” I thought about late 2013 and early 2014. Obama’s Presidency was surely dwindling, if not finished. His mood was sombre, philosophical—which is good if you are a philosopher; if not, not.

Obama described himself to me then in terms of his limits—as “a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids, and that river is history.” More than a few columnists believed that Obama was now resigned to small victories, at best. But pause to think of what has happened, the scale of recent events.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court (despite an apocalyptic dissent about “pure applesauce” and “interpretive jiggery-pokery” by Justice Scalia) put an end to years of court cases and congressional attacks against the Affordable Care Act, which means that millions of Americans will no longer live in a state of perpetual anxiety about health costs.

On Friday, the Supreme Court (despite a curiously ill-informed dissent about Kalahari, Aztec, and Han mating rites by Chief Justice Roberts) legalized same-sex marriage nationally—a colossal (and joyous) landmark moment in the liberation of gay men and lesbians.

Meanwhile, throughout the South, governors and legislatures are beginning to lower the racist banner of the Confederate flag. Cruelty on a horrific scale—slaughter committed in the name of racism and its symbols—has made all talk about the valuable “heritage” of such symbols absurd to all but a very few. The endlessly revived “conversation about race” shows signs of turning into something more serious—a debate about institutional racism, and about inequities in the criminal-justice system, in incarceration, in employment, in education. The more Obama leads on this, the more he sheds his tendency toward caution—his deep concern that he will alienate as many as he inspires—the better. The eulogy in Charleston, where he spoke as freely, and as emotionally, as he ever has about race during his Presidency, is a sign, I think—I hope—that he is prepared, between now and his last day in office, to seize the opportunity.

Finally, in recent months Obama has also, through executive action, made solid gains on immigration, wage discrimination, climate change, and foreign-policy issues, including an opening, after more than a half century of Cold War and embargo, to Cuba. These accomplishments—and potential accomplishments, like a rigorous, well-regulated nuclear arrangement with Iran—will help shape the coming election. In no small measure, Obama, and what he has achieved, will determine the parameters of the debate.

The Next Battle: “Religious Liberty” — Zoë Carpenter in The Nation on the next tactic the Religious Right will use to oppress the gay community.

As a jubilant crowd at the Supreme Court celebrated Friday’s 5-4 ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry, moans of impotent fury emanated from conservatives in and out of the Court. “The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie,” Justice Antonin Scalia fumed in his dissenting opinion. In his own dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the Court should not worry about human dignity: “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved,” he wrote. Justice Samuel Alito, also dissenting, fretted that homophobes now “will risk being labeled as bigots.”

Among the field of Republican presidential candidates, the responses ranged from outrage to resignation; none embraced the ruling. Some were quick to throw red meat to the conservative base, ignoring yet another thing the GOP supposedly learned after getting crushed in 2012. But a few of the more serious candidates, who have read the polls and know that aggressive opposition to gay marriage spells trouble in a general election, tried to shift the focus to one of the next issues in the marriage debate, which Nan Hunter explores in detail here—the attempt to frame discrimination as the exercise of “religious liberty.”

“This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision,” squawked Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who recently issued an executive order designed to shield business owners who discriminate against same-sex couples. “The government should not force those who have sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage to participate in these ceremonies,” he argued in his statement.

Though his take was cautious, former Florida governor Jeb Bush also highlighted religious-freedom protections. “Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage. I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision,” Bush said. “In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio was somewhat resigned. “I believe that marriage, as the key to strong family life, is the most important institution in our society and should be between one man and one woman.… While I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law.”

But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker urged opponents of gay marriage to keep fighting. “I believe this Supreme Court decision is a grave mistake,” he said. “As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.”

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum were predictably affronted. Huckabee declared that he would “not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.” Santorum blasted the Court majority for “decid[ing] to redefine the foundational unit that binds together our society without public debate or input.”

[…]

As with the Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, the ruling against gay-marriage bans is really a win for Republican candidates. They can use it to direct attention to the 2016 election, as Rubio, Walker, and former Texas governor Rick Perry did. “As we look ahead,” Rubio said, “it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood.” Perry promised, “as president, I would appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written.” And by taking the basic marriage question off the table, the Court offered candidates an exit from a debate they can’t win. As to who will actually take it—ask the nearest hippie.

Two Friends — Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi talk to Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times about gay pride.

Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi 06-27-15When Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi come sailing down Fifth Avenue in convertibles at the Gay Pride March on Sunday, they will not only be grand marshals at the annual event but also first-time attendees.

So on Thursday morning, these revered British actors, who appear together in the PBS sitcom “Vicious,” were wondering what awaited them beyond an afternoon of waving to fans and onlookers.

“I’m just a sponge for anything that might happen,” said Mr. Jacobi, the soft-spoken star of “I, Claudius” and countless stage productions.

Mr. McKellen, the “Lord of the Rings” and “X-Men” star, whose utterances are either deeply serious or extremely arch, opted for the second. “You may be in for a very, very happy weekend,” he replied.

On a visit to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in the West Village, these two performers, who are both 76 and are gay, had come for a quick education on New York’s Pride events and their significance to the city on a weekend following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage. (At this year’s 46th parade, Mr. Jacobi and Mr. McKellen share grand marshal duties with the artist J. Christopher Neal and Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, a Ugandan activist.)

Along the way, they revisited their personal histories and reflected on the progress they had seen in their often parallel lives.

Even if his and Mr. Jacobi’s principal goal in participating in the parade was simply to have “a lovely time,” Mr. McKellen said that their mere presence in it, as living links between a less progressive era and the present day, made a statement of its own.

“That’s what we’re doing by being here and waving,” he said. “We don’t have to be reading out a long list of demands.”

The two friends, who play a longtime gay couple on “Vicious,” first met as students at the University of Cambridge in the 1950s, where they bonded over their interests in acting, their working-class backgrounds and their sexuality.

“We knew we were both gay,” Mr. Jacobi said, “but we didn’t call it gay.” Euphemisms like “camp” and “queer” were the norm, they explained, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain.

Both men went on to illustrious stage and screen careers, to play Richard III and King Lear, and to receive knighthoods — “We’re pretty much the same person,” Mr. McKellen joked.

Unlike their industry forebears, who they said never acknowledged even to confidants that they were gay or bisexual, Mr. McKellen and Mr. Jacobi said actors of their generation could be open about their sexuality with friends and colleagues.

Yet Mr. McKellen did not come out publicly until 1988, at age 49, during a radio broadcast in which he and the conservative journalist Peregrine Worsthorne debated Britain’s so-called Section 28 legislation, which forbade authorities from “promoting homosexuality.”

As Mr. McKellen recalled it, “When he said something particularly nasty about gay people, I said I’m one of them myself.”

Mr. Jacobi, by his own reckoning, did not come out at all. “I kind of oozed out,” he said with a laugh.

While still in college, Mr. Jacobi said he told his mother he was gay, and her reaction was, “Oh, all boys go through this phase.”

Doonesbury — Regrets?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Marriage Equality Wins

From SCOTUSblog:

Marriage Equality 06-26-15

NBC News:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday made marriage for same-sex couples legal nationwide, declaring that refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples violates the Constitution.

The landmark ruling will produce the most significant change in laws governing matrimony since the court struck down state bans on inter-racial marriage almost 50 years ago.

The majority opinion in the 5-4 decision was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

“The constitution promises liberty to all within its reach,” Kennedy wrote.

At long last, I’m a full citizen of the United States.

Update: The final paragraph from Justice Antony Kennedy’s majority opinion:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

That’s all we wanted.

US-JUSTICE-GAY-MARRIAGE

This Could Be The Day 3

Okay, we got Obamacare safely past the Moops invading Spain and Justice Scalia’s argle-bargle, and Fair Housing survived, too.  Today the Supreme Court will hand down more rulings, possibly the Big One on marriage equality.

Knowing what drama queens they can be be, they might hold off the climax until the last possible moment which is next Monday, making the afterglow that much sweeter.  But maybe they’ll announce the ruling today so we can celebrate over the weekend.

Yes, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of marriage equality.  They have already tipped their hand by allowing lower court rulings in marriage equality cases stand, and now 36 states and the District of Columbia allow it.  Those wedding bells cannot be unrung.

The only question will be by how much: 5-4, 6-3, perhaps even 7-2 with the firm dissents coming from Scalia and Thomas, neither of whom seem to have gotten over the fact that gay people are allowed to live and work among them.  I doubt that unlike Brown v. Board of Education, the Chief Justice is not working behind the scenes to make the decision unanimous.

In 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren thought it was important for the Court to render a unanimous ruling on school segregation so that there would be no room for doubt about the Court’s intent.  Even though there were some justices who thought separate but equal was just fine, Justice Warren, who was first a politician — he had been the governor of California before Eisenhower appointed him — knew how to make the case and probably did some dealing to seal the decision 9-0.  He also was able to get the Court to rule unanimously in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia, the case that ended the bans on interracial marriage.

This time around, though, there will be dissent by the two or three because no matter how obvious it may be to the average person, there are those who believe that their infantile obsession with icky gay sex and the specious argument of religious liberty trumps the equal rights clause of the Constitution.

Let them weep and wail and tell us they will not “abide by” the ruling.  Fine, what are they going to do?  Stand outside the weddings and scream?  Not marry their secret f-buddy that they drop in on when they tell their wife they’re going to Home Depot?  They have no standing; they cannot stand in the metaphorical schoolhouse door.

If the ruling doesn’t come down today, we can wait until Monday.  It will be worth it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

This Could Be The Day 2

Keep an eye on the Supreme Court at 10:00 a.m. ET for delivery of opinions on a number of cases, but foremost on the minds of most watchers are King v. Burwell (Obamacare) and Obergefell v. Hodges (marriage equality).

Those in the know say that we’ll probably get Obamacare either today or tomorrow and marriage equality on Monday.

We shall see.

Update: Obamacare is upheld.  Here’s the ruling.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Short Takes

U.S. airstrikes in Libya go after leader of Algerian attack.

Marriage equality comes to Mexico.

Comet lander wakes up after hibernation.

United Airlines passengers get an unscheduled stop in Canada for 20 hours.

Tropical Update: Invest 91L could head towards the Texas Gulf Coast.

The Tigers beat Cleveland 8-1.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Reading

Think of the Children — In the New York Times, Gabriela Herman talks to sons and daughters of gay and lesiban couples to see what marriage equality means to them.

My mom is gay. But it took me a long time to say those words out loud.

She came out nearly 20 years ago when I was in high school. My parents soon separated, and eventually, she married her longtime partner in one of Massachusetts’ first legal unions. It was a raw and difficult time. I hardly spoke to her for a year while I studied abroad. It felt like a fact that needed to be hidden, especially among my prepschool classmates. The topic was taboo even within our otherwise tight-knit family.

Five years ago, at age 29, I embarked on a project to meet, photograph and interview people with a similar story. I had never encountered anyone else raised by a gay parent.

My sister directed me to Colage, an organization that supports people with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parents. Danielle Silber, who has six parents and who had become an organizer for the group, invited me to her East Village apartment one night. Her living room floor was filled with young people each telling their own family’s “coming out” story. Since that night, I’ve documented the stories of dozens of children and met many more. Each portrait and interview has become, in an unexpected way, my own therapy session.

The Supreme Court is set to issue a ruling soon that could make same-sex marriage legal in every state. In the past, when confronting this subject, the justices have pondered the impact on children. In 2013, during oral arguments on same-sex marriage in California, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wondered about the “some 40,000 children in California” who live with same-sex parents.” The justice asked: “The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?”

The lawyer defending the ban replied, “On that specific question, Your Honor, there simply is no data.”

The studies may be sparse, but the stories are plentiful.

In my interviews, I met Ilana, whose mom unintentionally came out to everyone at her daughter’s Sweet 16 party. And Zach, who found himself compelled to defend his two moms in front of an Iowa House committee. And Kerry, who was raised as an evangelical Christian and who felt she needed to “save” her mom.

As we talked, we recalled having to juggle silence and isolation. Needing to defend our families on the playground, at church and during holiday gatherings. Some aspect of each story resonated with my experience and helped chip away at my own sense of solitude.

We — the children of gay and lesbian parents — are not hypotheticals. While my experience was difficult, I am hopeful that won’t be the case for the next generation. This inequality will fade, and my future children will wonder what the fuss was about.

Hillary Clinton Goes Populist, Almost — John Cassidy in The New Yorker on Ms. Clinton’s appeal to the people at her launch rally yesterday.

If there was ever any doubt that Hillary Clinton was going to run a populist Presidential campaign, she dispelled it on Saturday with her speech on Roosevelt Island. Seeking to move beyond the controversies surrounding her family’s charitable foundation and her deleted e-mails, she spoke about the great disjuncture in the modern U.S. economy, and portrayed herself as an indefatigable battler for ordinary Americans.

The best part of the speech came toward the end, when Clinton said, “Well, I may not be the youngest candidate in this race. But I will be the youngest woman President in the history of the United States!” According to her staff, it was a line she picked up from someone at a campaign event in South Carolina a couple of weeks ago, and it brought loud cheers from her supporters, some of whom had traveled from as far as California to attend the rally.

But the guts of the address, delivered from a H-shaped stage erected in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, which opened in 2012, came earlier. “You see corporations making record profits, with C.E.O.s making record pay, but your paychecks have barely budged,” Clinton said. “While many of you are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, you see the top twenty-five hedge-fund managers making more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers combined. And often paying a lower tax rate. So, you have to wonder, ‘When does my hard work pay off? When does my family get ahead? When?’ ”

Clinton went on, “Prosperity can’t be just for C.E.O.s and hedge-fund managers. Democracy can’t be just for billionaires and corporations. Prosperity and democracy are part of your basic bargain, too. You brought our country back. Now it’s time—your time—to secure the gains and move ahead.”

Had someone on Clinton’s staff been reading the speeches of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and purloining bits of them? Not necessarily. The line about twenty-five hedge-fund managers making more than all the kindergarten teachers in the country was actually delivered by President Obama a few weeks ago. But, in placing C.E.O.s and hedge-fund managers center stage, and comparing their outsized remuneration and avarice to the tribulations of ordinary working people, Clinton was acknowledging not just the economic realities of modern America but the fact that the center of gravity in her party has shifted.

“I’m running to make our economy work for you and for every American,” she said, singling out “factory workers and food servers who stand on their feet all day … nurses who work the night shift … truckers who drive for hours … small-business owners who took a risk. For everyone who’s ever been knocked down but refused to be knocked out.”

In promising, prior to Saturday’s speech, to end mass incarceration, expand voting rights, and provide a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, Clinton had already shifted to the left on issues that are major concerns to key elements of the modern Democratic coalition. Until now, though, she hadn’t said very much about the issues of wage stagnation, inequality, and corporate piggery, which progressives like Sanders, Warren, and Mayor Bill de Blasio (a conspicuous absentee from Saturday’s rally) have seized upon. Rhetorically, at least, Clinton answered calls for her to make clear where she stood on these issues: the middle of an article by Robert Reich or Joseph Stiglitz, or so it seemed.

“Our country’s challenges didn’t begin with the Great Recession, and they won’t end with the recovery,” she said, continuing,

Advances in technology and the rise of global trade have created whole new areas of economic activity and opened new markets for our exports, but they have also displaced jobs and undercut wages for millions of Americans. The financial industry and many multinational corporations have created huge wealth for a few by focussing too much on short-term profit and too little on long-term value—too much on complex trading schemes and stock buybacks, too little on investments in new businesses, jobs, and fair compensation. Our political system is so paralyzed by gridlock and dysfunction that most Americans have lost confidence that anything can actually get done. And they’ve lost trust in the ability of both government and big business to change course.

There remains, of course, the question of what Clinton intends to do about these evils. She said that she would encourage companies to invest for the long term, change the tax code so that it “rewards hard work and investments here at home, not quick trades or stashing profits overseas,” and “give new incentives to companies that give their employees a fair share of the profits their hard work earns.” All of these may be worthwhile policies, but it’s hard to see them having much impact on the great divide she had just identified.

Open Hailing Frequency — Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic reports that the internet in space is like dial-up.

Outer space has its perks. But super-speedy Internet is, so far, not one of them.Connection speeds from the International Space Station are “worse than what dial-up was like,” the astronaut Scott Kelly said on Twitter. (His colleague, Reid Wiseman, agrees: “We have a very slow internet connection, but reliable email,” he said back in February.)

Internet connectivity in space is structured around a network of tracking and data relay satellites—the same fleet of communications satellites that NASA engineers on the ground use to communicate with astronauts on the International Space Station. And it’s not like there’s any shortage of technology aboard. “They have laptop computers, including one in their personal sleeping quarters, which they can use for limited web access—email, tweeting, and news,” David Steitz, a spokesman for NASA, told me. “They also have tablets onboard they can use for various operational tasks, but also video conferences with family and friends on the ground.”

Astronauts first got Internet access five years ago, a move that NASA said would help improve their quality of life and help them feel less isolated in space.

What makes the connection so slow compared with broadband Internet speed on the ground? The easiest way to understand it is to consider the distance that data has to travel. When an astronaut clicks a link on a website in space, that request first travels 22,000 miles away from Earth, to a network of geosynchronous satellites far beyond the relatively close station. The satellites then send the signal down to a receiver on the ground below, which processes the request before returning the response along the same path.

Another way to think about the Internet connection from space is as “remote access to the Internet via a ground computer,” as NASA once explained. Or, as one Redditor put it in a discussion of the Internet connection: “The ping is quite high because of the satellite transmission to earth, but the bandwidth isn’t too terrible.” So the capacity for data transmission is robust, but the time it takes to transmit is—by an Earthling’s standards—pretty slow.

To get online, astronauts are plugging into the same channel that’s used for all kinds of commands to the International Space Station. “It’s the satellite constellation that we use for all of our spacecraft operations,” said Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA. “It’s used for a number of things—not only their Internet access but any telemetry, basically any data from spacecraft systems going up to the station or coming down.”

So when the crew on the International Space Station wants to tweak the thermostat or boost its altitude, all of that work is done by an engineer on the ground. “We use our uplink through these satellites to send those commands,” Huot said, “and using the same channels, basically, we’ve enabled them with Internet access.”

A temperature change is a straightforward enough command that it’s basically “instantaneous,” Huot says. And while Internet speeds may be slower than that, they’re not exactly terrible. “They have decent speeds,” he said. “We have the capability to send up and down large-format video files. We’re sending gigs and gigs and gigs of video every single day just from live downlinks of the crews themselves. […] We have bandwidth to send that down to the ground without overloading the system.”

“In their off-duty time, they do have the capability to watch live television shows, and live sports,” Huot said. Astronauts even watch movies in space, though they aren’t relying on Netflix to do so. “The astronauts can pick, before they fly, anything they want to watch up there,” he said. “They actually have a projector and a screen they can use to watch movies.” (He declined to share which films are on the current rotation, but astronauts said they watchedGravityand Star Wars from space in recent months.) Livestream video is possible on the International Space Station—of course, there are limitations other than connection times. “It’s still basically a work network,” Huot said. “So it’s not totally unfiltered access to the Internet.”

Either way, Internet connectivity is likely to improve for astronauts as NASA makes the switch to laser-based systems. Already, engineers have transmitted a high-definition video from the International Space Station to the ground on a laser beam. It’s a “much faster” way to transmit data, NASA said in a demonstration, and one that hints at the “future of communications to and from space.”

Doonesbury — Secede already.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Quote of the Day

Joseph Farrah in World Net Daily on the prospect of life in America with marriage equality:

I know there are millions of Christians, Jews and others who would pull up stakes and move to another country that honored the institution of marriage as it was designed by God – a union between one man and one woman.

I will happily sign up to drive them to the airport, to the train station, to the sea port, or to the border.  See ya.

Via Joe. My. God. because I don’t link to WND.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Erin Goes Gay

Votes are still being counted in Ireland on the marriage equality question, but it looks like it’s a big win for the Yes side.  From the Associated Press:

DUBLIN (AP) — Leaders on both sides of Ireland’s gay marriage campaign say advocates of legalization have won a resounding victory with the ballot count still underway.

Senior figures from the “no” campaign, who sought to prevent Ireland’s constitution from being amended to permit gay marriage, say the only question Saturday is how large the “yes” side’s margin of victory will be from Friday’s vote.

An Irish Cabinet minister, Leo Varadkar, who came out as gay at the start of the government’s campaign, says Dublin looks to have voted about 70 percent in favor of gay marriage, while most districts outside the capital also were reporting strong “yes” leads. Official results come later Saturday.

Ireland is the first country to legalize marriage equality by popular vote.  All the others have been by legislation.

That makes it tough for the antis to say that it has been “rammed down their throats” (Dr. Freud on line 1) or that when it’s up to the will of the people, they support “traditional” marriage.

rainbow-shamrock

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ireland Votes On Marriage Equality

Via the New York Times:

DUBLIN — In 1993, Ireland was among the last countries in the Western World to decriminalize homosexuality. Some 22 years later, it could become the first to legalize same-sex marriages by popular vote.

With a rapidity that has astonished even proponents, Ireland, a country that rescinded its Victorian-era law governing homosexuality — the same legislation England used in 1895 to imprison Oscar Wilde — only after it had been dragged before the European Court of Human Rights, will go to the polls on Friday to decide on gay marriage rights.

Ireland becomes the latest place — though perhaps a surprising one — to take up the issue, in a global swing that in just the past few years has seen states, countries and people seriously considering expanding marriage to include gays.

We’ll know sometime today if Erin goes gay.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Reading

Not In Service — Gillian B. White in The Atlantic on how our public transportation system advances inequality.

Transportation is about more than just moving people from point A to point B. It’s also a system that can either limit or expand the opportunities available to people based on where they live. In many cities, the areas with the shoddiest access to public transit are the most impoverished—and the lack of investment leaves many Americans without easy access to jobs, goods, and services.

To be certain, the aging and inadequate transportation infrastructure is an issue for Americans up and down the economic ladder. Throughout the country highways are crumbling, bridges are in need of repair, and railways remain inadequate. Improvement to public transportation—buses, trains, and safer routes for bicycles—is something that just about everyone who lives in a major metropolitan area has on their wish list. But there’s a difference between preference and necessity: “Public transportation is desired by many but is even more important for lower-income people who can’t afford cars,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard University and author of a new book Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead.

“Without really good public transportation, it’s very difficult to deal with inequality,” Kanter said. Access to just about everything associated with upward mobility and economic progress—jobs, quality food, and goods (at reasonable prices), healthcare, and schooling— relies on the ability to get around in an efficient way, and for an affordable price. A recent study from Harvard found that geographic mobility was indeed linked to economic mobility, and a 2014 study from NYU found a link between poor public-transit access and higher rates of unemployment and decreased income in New York City.

Access to good transit is not merely a question of a system’s geographic reach but also the cost to ride—and the latter is becoming an issue more and more. In the past five years many metro areas including New York, Portland, and St. Louis have seen fare hikes that place additional strain on low-income households. Recent additions to public transportation options, like bike share, should—in theory—make getting around easier and cheaper. But as it’s widely been noted, these programs tend to place their kiosks, at least at first, in more affluent neighborhoods. They also require credit cards for rental, which leaves out poorer populations who tend to not have access to such financial instruments. A recent survey of bike share users in Washington D.C., for example, found that ridership wasn’t particularly reflective of the city’s population: The city has a population that is about 50 percent black but the study found that bike-share ridership was made of up of mostly young, white males, and more than 50 percent of those using the region’s bike share system had incomes of $100,000 or more.

That leaves most low-income households to rely on older transportation methods—and therein lies the problem…

Did George W. Bush Create ISIS? — Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker digs into the quagmire.

The exchange started like this: at the end of Jeb Bush’s town-hall meeting in Reno, Nevada, on Wednesday, a college student named Ivy Ziedrich stood up and said that she had heard Bush blame the growth of ISIS on President Obama, in particular on his decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011. The origins of ISIS, Ziedrich said, lay in the decision by Bush’s brother, in 2003, to disband the Iraqi Army following the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government.

“It was when thirty thousand individuals who were part of the Iraqi military were forced out—they had no employment, they had no income, and they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons.… Your brother created ISIS,’’ she said.

“All right,” Bush said. “Is that a question?”

“You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir,” she said.

“Pedantic? Wow,” Bush said.

Ziedrich finally came forth with her query: “Why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it’s pointless wars, where we send young American men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? Why are you spouting nationalist rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?”

Jeb replied by repeating his earlier criticism of President Obama: that Iraq had been stable until American troops had departed. “When we left Iraq, security had been arranged,” Bush said. The removal of American troops had created a security vacuum that ISIS exploited. “The result was the opposite occurred. Immediately, that void was filled.”

“Your brother created ISIS” is the kind of sound bite that grabs our attention, because it’s obviously false yet oddly rings true. Bush didn’t like it: he offered a retort and then left the stage. Meanwhile, Ziedrich had started a conversation that rippled across Twitter, Facebook, and any number of American dinner tables. Who is actually right?

Here is what happened: In 2003, the U.S. military, on orders of President Bush, invaded Iraq, and nineteen days later threw out Saddam’s government. A few days after that, President Bush or someone in his Administration decreed the dissolution of the Iraqi Army. This decision didn’t throw “thirty thousand individuals” out of a job, as Ziedrich said—the number was closer to ten times that. Overnight, at least two hundred and fifty thousand Iraqi men—armed, angry, and with military training—were suddenly humiliated and out of work.

This was probably the single most catastrophic decision of the American venture in Iraq. In a stroke, the Administration helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency. Bush Administration officials involved in the decision—like Paul Bremer and Walter Slocombe—argued that they were effectively ratifying the reality that the Iraqi Army had already disintegrated.

This was manifestly not true. I talked to American military commanders who told me that leaders of entire Iraqi divisions (a division has roughly ten thousand troops) had come to them for instructions and expressed a willingness to coöperate. In fact, many American commanders argued vehemently at the time that the Iraqi military should be kept intact—that disbanding it would turn too many angry young men against the United States. But the Bush White House went ahead.

Many of those suddenly unemployed Iraqi soldiers took up arms against the United States. We’ll never know for sure how many Iraqis would have stayed in the Iraqi Army—and stayed peaceful—had it remained intact. But the evidence is overwhelming that former Iraqi soldiers formed the foundation of the insurgency.

On this point, although she understated the numbers, Ziedrich was exactly right. But how did the dissolution of the Iraqi Army lead to the creation of ISIS?

During the course of the war, Al Qaeda in Iraq grew to be the most powerful wing of the insurgency, as well as the most violent and the most psychotic. They drove truck bombs into mosques and weddings and beheaded their prisoners. But, by the time the last American soldiers had departed, in 2011, the Islamic State of Iraq, as it was then calling itself, was in a state of near-total defeat. The combination of the Iraqi-led “awakening,” along with persistent American pressure, had decimated the group and pushed them into a handful of enclaves.

Indeed, by 2011 the situation in Iraq—as former Governor Bush said—was relatively stable. “Relatively” is the key word here. Iraq was still a violent place, but nowhere near as violent as it had been. The Iraqi government was being run by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a fervent Al Qaeda foe and ostensible American ally.

But, as the last Americans left Iraq, there came the great uprising in Syria that pitted the country’s vast Sunni majority against the ruthless regime of Bashar al-Assad. Syria quickly dissolved into anarchy. Desperate and seeing an opportunity, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, dispatched a handful of soldiers to Syria, where, in a matter of months, they had gathered an army of followers and had begun attacking the Assad regime. Suddenly, Baghdadi’s group—which had been staggering toward the grave only months before—was regaining strength. In 2013, the I.S.I. became the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria. ISIS was born…

The First Lawful Same-Sex Marriage in America — Erick Eckholm in The New York Times finds the couple that did it in 1971.

MINNEAPOLIS — Long before the fight over same-sex marriage began in earnest, long before gay couples began lining up for marriage licenses, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell decided to wed.

The year was 1967. Homosexuality was still classified as a disorder, sodomy was illegal in nearly every state, and most gay men and lesbians lived in fearful secrecy.

But from the age of 14, eyeing young men in his father’s barbershop, Mr. McConnell dreamed of living “happily ever after” with a partner.

So when Mr. Baker proposed moving in together, Mr. McConnell challenged him. “If we’re going to do this,” he replied, “you have to find a way for us to get married.”

Mr. Baker remembers his initial reaction: “I had never heard of such a thing.”

He enrolled in law school to try to make it happen.

In 1970, in Minneapolis, Mr. Baker and Mr. McConnell became the first same-sex couple known to apply for a marriage license. Turned down by Hennepin County, they fought to the United States Supreme Court, where they lost their case in a one-sentence dismissal that has reverberated in federal courts and played an indirect role in pushing same-sex marriage to the high court this year.

The couple, though, did not give up. With some sleight of hand involving a legal change to a gender-neutral name, they obtained a marriage license in another county, and in 1971, in white bell-bottom pantsuits and macramé headbands, they exchanged vows before a Methodist pastor and a dozen guests in a friend’s apartment. Their three-tiered wedding cake was topped by two plastic grooms, which a friend supplied by splitting two bride-and-groom figurines.

Ever since, they have maintained that theirs was the country’s first lawful same-sex wedding. The state and federal governments have yet to grant recognition, but the pastor, Roger W. Lynn, 76, calls theirs “one of my more successful marriages.”

“They are still happily married, and they love each other,” Mr. Lynn said.

The couple, now in their early 70s, spoke this month in a rare interview in the house they share here, nearly half a century after they joined their lives and earned a place in the history of gay rights, helping to make Minnesota an early center of gay activism.

Mr. Baker said he was proud that the Supreme Court this year heard the very same constitutional arguments of equal protection and due process that he had identified as a law student in 1970.

In 2013, when the Minnesota Legislature authorized same-sex marriage and a state senator announced, “Today, love wins,” Mr. McConnell watched, enthralled, from the gallery. But the couple did not join the rush for an undisputed license.

“No,” Mr. Baker said, pounding an oak table in their living room. “To reapply now becomes an admission that what we did was not legal, and I will never admit that.”

Doonesbury — Sign me up.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Summation

Scott Lemieux of LGM writes in The Guardian how weak the opponents of marriage equality were during oral arguments yesterday at the Supreme Court.

It would be premature to declare that the US supreme court will guarantee a right to same-sex marriage in all 50 states, but that’s where the smart money is: [Tuesday’s] oral argument allows supporters of marriage equality to remain optimistic that nationwide legalization is in the not-so-distant future.

[…]

The arguments made by John J Bursch on behalf of the discriminating states were no better than the ones sympathetic justices made on their behalf. Bursch began by arguing that every individual has a “fundamental liberty interest in deciding the meaning of marriage” that would be violated by finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. As Justice Sotomayor explained, the argument is bizarre: individuals would retain the ability to define marriage as they see fit even if states did not discriminate against same-sex couples. At best, the argument seems to be that the “rights” of states to discriminate should trump the rights of individuals to not be discriminated against, which is no more attractive a notion than it was when it was used to justify racial discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries.

And yet, it made sense for Bursch to open with inept, disproven democratic theory, because his other arguments were worse. His attempts to argue that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples would harm child-rearing and heterosexual marriage were so feeble that Justice Scalia intervened at one point to suggest that Bursch didn’t actually have to answer the question.

As anyone who has read the court’s opinion eviscerating the Voting Rights Act knows, however, that the arguments for the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage are terrible doesn’t mean that the court won’t embrace them. So all court-watchers have to look to the swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, for clues.

Kennedy was not particularly active during the oral argument and, in isolation, his questions reflected ambivalence, echoing both the traditionalist concerns of Roberts and suggesting that bans on same-sex marriage undermined the dignity of gays and lesbians.

However, one clue to Kennedy’s eventual vote can perhaps be found in his silence during the second part of oral argument, which focused on the question of whether states could be required to recognize same-sex marriage performed in other states even if their own bans were upheld. The most plausible explanation for Kennedy’s disinterest in the question is that he believes it will be moot because all of the state bans will fall.

When combined with Kennedy’s past support for LGBT rights and the near-certainty that the four Democratic nominees will vote to strike down the bans, this suggests that opponents of marriage equality are right to be desperate. The weakness of their arguments suggest that the Supreme Court’s recognition of the same-sex marriage rights is long overdue.

I’m sticking with my prediction of 5-4 in favor of marriage equality, and you can count on fresh outrage and fundraising from the haters.  They’ll find something else to blame on The Gay.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gay Day at the Supreme Court

This morning the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether or not same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married, and whether or not states must recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, including outside the United States.

The outcome of this case will have a very profound effect on millions of people regardless of their orientation or marital status, and it will also signify the state of this nation in terms of the social and civil contract we have with both our government and each other.  I’ve been trying to think of a case that has been heard before the Court in my lifetime that could have a larger impact on me personally, and at the moment, I can’t come up with one.

I don’t have a stake in this case at the moment.  I do not have a partner (hope springs eternal, however), and I am presently living in a state where marriage equality exists by court order.  But the very idea that something as fundamental as the legal and social contract between two people embodied in the idea of marriage, be it blessed by a religious body or simply a contract signed in front of witnesses at a courthouse, should be unavailable to me because my genetic makeup has programmed me to love someone of the same sex goes against everything I believe this nation stands for: the simple idea that all people are equal under the law.  That is the basis of all the other rights and laws enumerated in the Constitution, along with the idea that those rights are not granted by the government but by the people.  If I cannot be treated the same way as everyone else for no other reason than an innate quality such as sexual preference, then the rest of those rights, however noble, are meaningless.

I don’t want to rehash in depth every argument I’ve made about marriage equality since I started writing this blog; that marriage is a contract, not just a religious rite; that churches and organized religious bodies have had the right to refuse their rites to those they don’t embrace long before same-sex marriage came along; that anything less than full recognition is separate-but-equal all over again.  The cases have been made again and again at every level of both legal and social adjudication by people much more versed in the law than me.

As I noted, I do not at present have a need to be granted the right to get married to the man I love.  But there should be nothing to prevent that from happening should I be so fortunate — and blessed — to find myself wanting to avail myself of it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Random Thought

I don’t care if a Republican candidate for president would or would not attend a gay wedding, a gay wedding reception, or send a gift.  Anyone who opposes marriage equality but says they’d attend because they have “gay friends” is a hypocrite, and the gay couple that invites someone like that needs to reconsider their standards of friendship.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

States Rites

Marco Rubio on the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the ban on interracial marriage:

If you wanna change the marriage laws of your state, go to your state legislature and get your legislators to change it. I don’t believe the court system is the appropriate way to do it and I don’t believe Washington and the Supreme Court is the appropriate way to do that.

Oops, my mistake; he’s talking about same-sex marriage.  But he might as well be talking about the miscegenation laws, and if we had left it up to the states, it would still be illegal in America for a white person to marry someone — regardless of gender — who wasn’t.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tough Sell

I’m sure there’s a joke out there about how easy it is to get a lawyer to represent even the most heinous or ridiculous client as long as there’s a chance of a retainer or billable hours; as one of my lawyer friends says, “They’re innocent until indigent.”  But what about taking up the side of a case that has a high profile — say going before the Supreme Court — and is on the unpopular side of a social issue?

Every criminal defendant is entitled to a lawyer who will defend him or her to the best of their ability.  Not so with civil cases, and where the side of history is definitely moving in one direction, it’s getting increasingly hard to find prominent attorneys who will defend the other side.  According to Adam Liptak at the New York Times, that’s what’s happening with marriage equality.

Leading law firms are willing to represent tobacco companies accused of lying about their deadly products, factories that spew pollution, and corporations said to be complicit in torture and murder abroad. But standing up for traditional marriage has turned out to be too much for the elite bar. The arguments have been left to members of lower-profile firms.

In dozens of interviews, lawyers and law professors said the imbalance in legal firepower in the same-sex marriage cases resulted from a conviction among many lawyers that opposition to such unions is bigotry akin to racism. But there were economic calculations, too. Law firms that defend traditional marriage may lose clients and find themselves at a disadvantage in hiring new lawyers.

Conservatives are claiming that attorneys who are anti-gay marriage are being “bullied into silence.”  In reality, the fact is that a good attorney is going to have a rather difficult time coming up with an argument for keeping marriage bans in place that do not rely on Scriptural imprecations — not something that will go over very well in a secular court system — or by invoking some pretzel-logic that states that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause doesn’t apply to gay people.  (Several weeks ago I asked a prominent defense attorney to come up with a reason for denying gay couples the right to marry.  His reply was that the way he would go would be to base it on states’ rights, but he also admitted that that line of reasoning had lost its appeal after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

I also think the attorneys who are shying away from defending anti-gay marriage laws are well aware that they are arguing for the wrong side both in terms of civil rights and history.  And even if they should win, they will still go on the record as being the lawyer for the side that stood in the way of our inevitable movement towards full equality.  That’s probably not something you want to have on your c.v.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Intentionally Obtuse

Kentucky’s brief against marriage equality sounds like it was drafted by a four-year-old kid:

Kentucky’s marriage laws treat homosexuals and heterosexuals the same and are facially neutral. Men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are free to marry persons of the opposite sex under Kentucky law, and men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, cannot marry persons of the same sex under Kentucky law.

Translation: banning gay marriage doesn’t violate equal protection because nobody, gay or straight, is allowed to marry someone of the same sex.  Neener neener.