Saturday, January 24, 2015

Moment of Zen: Equality



With yesterday's federal court ruling, with it being an almost foregone conclusion, Alabama is one step closer.

Friday, January 23, 2015

BREAKING NEWS



MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A federal judge has ruled that the State of Alabama's "Sanctity of Marriage Amendment" and the "Alabama Marriage Protection Act" are unconstitutional because they violate the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment.

The judge effectively declared Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage unlawful.

“We are disappointed and are reviewing the Federal District Court's decision. We expect to ask for a stay of the court's judgment pending the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling which will ultimately decide this case," said Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange's spokesperson Mike Lewis in an emailed statement.

Gov. Robert Bentley's office has also released a statement saying the governor is disappointment.

"The people of Alabama voted in a constitutional amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman. The Governor is disappointed with the ruling today, and we will review the decision to decide the next steps," the governor's spokesperson Jennifer Ardis said in an emailed statement.

Another powerful state politician, Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) is speaking out, promising an appeal issuing a statement that reads:

"It is outrageous when a single unelected and unaccountable federal judge can overturn the will of millions of Alabamians who stand in firm support of the Sanctity of Marriage Act. The Legislature will encourage a vigorous appeals process, and we will continue defending the Christian conservative values that make Alabama a special place to live."

The Southern Poverty Law Center called the ruling a victory for families and children of same-sex couples in Alabama. David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center's LGBT Rights Project, released the following statement:

“This historic ruling is a giant step toward full equality for LGBT people in Alabama and does not harm anyone. It is a victory for Alabama families and the children of same-sex couples whose lives will have more stability and certainty now that they are afforded the same rights and privileges as other married couples."

“Yet, more work remains on behalf of LGBT people. They still face discrimination in the Deep South, including formal discrimination enshrined in the law. It is still a felony in Alabama for LGBT people to have sex. Teachers in Alabama are still required to teach that homosexuality is immoral and illegal. And, of course, there is the private discrimination that LGBT people face every day, but the law fails to prevent.”

The ruling came after two Mobile women, Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand, filed a federal lawsuit to force the State of Alabama to recognize their out-of-state marriage in order for them to both become legal parents to their 8-year-old son. The suit said Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage and its refusal to recognize legal, valid marriages from other states violated their constitutional rights. 

Searcy and McKeand have been a couple for more than 14 years. They were married in California in 2008 but have lived in Mobile since 2011.

The Human Rights Campaign, which says it is America's largest civil rights organization working for gay and transgender equality, praised the ruling by Judge Callie Granade, an appointee to the federal bench by President George W. Bush.

"Judge Granade's ruling today affirms what we already know to be true – that all loving, committed Alabama couples should have the right to marry,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a landmark case on marriage equality, today's ruling joins the dozens and dozens of others that have recognized that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples deserve equal treatment under the law.”

There is currently no stay on Judge Granade's ruling, meaning gay and lesbian couples could begin applying for marriage licenses when county clerks offices open on Monday.

Judicial Review



Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee disputed what he called the "notion of judicial supremacy" on Tuesday, arguing states would have the final say on gay marriage regardless of whether the Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The idea of nullification has been tried over and over.  Courts at the state and federal level, including the U.S. Supreme Court, repeatedly have rejected the theory of nullification. The courts have decided that under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, federal law is superior to state law, and that under Article III of the Constitution, the federal judiciary has the final power to interpret the Constitution. Therefore, the power to make final decisions about the constitutionality of federal laws lies with the federal courts, not the states, and the states do not have the power to nullify federal laws.

Nullification has never succeeded in United States history, and will not succeed this time despite the rantings of Huckabee.  Andrew Jackson is the only President to openly defy the Supreme Court, and he has been vilified in history for doing so.  In the 1832 U.S. Supreme Court decision Worcester v. Georgia, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, in writing for the court, ruled that Georgia could not impose its laws upon Cherokee tribal lands. Jackson is frequently attributed as responding to this decision by remarking, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it."  Georgia refused to accept the Supreme Court's decision. President Andrew Jackson did not believe Georgia had the right to nullify federal law, but was sympathetic to Georgia's goal of forcing the Cherokees to relocate to the west. He took no immediate action against Georgia. Before the Supreme Court could hear a request for an order enforcing its judgment, the Nullification Crisis arose in South Carolina. Jackson wanted to avoid a confrontation with Georgia over states' rights. A compromise was brokered under which Georgia repealed the law at issue in Worcester. Despite the Court's decision finding Georgia's actions unconstitutional, Georgia continued to enforce other laws regulating the Cherokees. Ultimately the Cherokees were forced to agree to a treaty of relocation, leading to the Trail of Tears.

However, Cherokee removal occurred in the 1830, when the Supreme Court was a relatively weak branch of the government.  Since the 1830s, the power of the Supreme Court has grown to become an equal branch of government alongside the executive and legislative branches.  Nullification and interposition resurfaced in the 1950s as southern states attempted to preserve racial segregation in their schools. In Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decided that segregated schools were unconstitutional. At least ten southern states passed nullification or interposition measures attempting to preserve segregated schools and refusing to follow the Brown decision. The advocates of these nullification and interposition measures argued that the Brown decision was an unconstitutional infringement on states' rights, and that the states had the power to prevent that decision from being enforced within their borders.  The Supreme Court explicitly rejected nullification in the case of Cooper v. Aaron (1958), which directly held that states may not nullify federal law.

Huckabee, a conservative evangelical and potential 2016 presidential candidate, said a Supreme Court ruling, expected this year, would ultimately be moot because "one branch of government does not overrule the other two."  He could not be more wrong and needs a basic government lesson about checks and balances.  Huckabee went on to say, "One thing I am angry about though ... is this notion of judicial supremacy, where if the court makes a decision, I hear governors and even some aspirants to the presidency say, 'Well that's settled, it's the law of the land.' No, it's not the law of the land."  Huckabee obviously does not understand judicial review. 

"Constitutionally, the courts cannot make a law, they can interpret one and then the legislature has to create enabling legislation and the executive has to sign it and has to enforce it," Huckabee added.  While the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly define a "power" of judicial review (which is not making law), the authority for judicial review in the United States has been inferred from the structure, provisions, and history of the Constitution.  In 1803, Marbury v. Madison was the first Supreme Court case where the Court asserted its authority for judicial review to strike down a law as unconstitutional. At the end of his opinion in this decision, Chief Justice John Marshall maintained that the Supreme Court's responsibility to overturn unconstitutional legislation was a necessary consequence of their sworn oath of office to uphold the Constitution as instructed in Article Six of the Constitution.

A ruling from the high court, however, would not "make law," but rather would invalidate existing bans on gay marriage as unconstitutional. State legislatures would need no additional law to recognize same-sex marriages. Similar appellate court decisions have already done so in 36 states and the District of Columbia -- all of which now recognize same-sex marriages.

This isn't the first time Huckabee has flirted with the theory of nullification. The comments place him on the far right of his party -- even more so than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a potential rival in the race for the White House.  There are few things I can think of more disastrous than Mike Huckabee becoming president do the United States, however, I believe that idea is a moot point.  Huckabee doesn't stand a chance in an election. Just like many of the Republicans who have hinted at running, he has a bad problem of putting his foot in his mouth and coming across as just plain stupid.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Homophobic?



On Sunday, while promoting his new FX show "The Comedians" at a Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour panel, Billy Crystal was asked about playing a gay role on the ABC show "Soap" in the late '70s and how television has changed since that time.

In his response, the comedian talked about being uncomfortable with how sexualized some shows have become and, in doing so, employed a few phrases like "a little too far for my tastes" and "shove it in our face" that always trip my homophobia sensors and make me want to protest by grabbing every man in sight by whatever appendage is handiest and dragging them into a studio to stage a gay sex telethon that will be broadcast into the living rooms of every family in the world.

This led some gay Americans to ask questions about Crystal's statements.  Was some kind of further context missing? Did you have to be in the room to see his body language or hear the tone of his voice? Was he really separating his displeasure with viewing gay sex scenes from his displeasure with viewing straight sex scenes?

However, in a follow up interview with Xfinity's tv blog, the actor addressed his earlier comments, saying in part:

"First of all, I don't understand why there would be anything offensive that I said. When it gets too far either visually...now, that world exists because it does for the hetero world, it exists, and I don't want to see that either. But when I feel it's a cause, when I feel it's "You're going to like my lifestyle," no matter what it is, I'm going to have a problem and there were a couple of shows I went 'I couldn't watch that with somebody else." That's fine. If whoever writes it or produces it...totally get it. It's all about personal taste."

When I read some of the criticism of Crystal's statement, I had to wonder: is what he saying really homophobic as many pundits are claiming?  I'm not sure that I agree that it is.  He clearly states that sex scenes on television go too far whether they are heterosexual or homosexual.  Furthermore, shows like "Scandal" and "How to Get Away with Murder" produced by Shonda Rhimes, both of which I really enjoy (and the gay sex scenes are a major plus), unabashedly show gay sex in the same context that straight sex is often portrayed on television.  Furthermore, Rhimes has explicitly admitted that she is pushing an agenda to see more equality in sex scenes on television.  Crystal merely said what Rhimes herself has said, but he also said that it was too much for him.  Sometimes the explicit way that straight sex is portrayed on television is too much for me, does that make me heterophobic.  I don't think it does, any more than saying the same makes Crystal homophobic.

We live in a very scary time in many ways. You can't say this, you can't say that, you can't offend this group, that group. As someone who has lived in the Deep South my entire life, I've seen plenty of homophobia and racism.  All across America, and especially in the South, what people say about race is often taken as being racist.  So much of the country believes that if you are white and you have an opinion on race, then that opinion is racist.  People claim that there is no such thing as "reverse" racism, but when you are the minority in your area, whether you are white or black, if the majority discriminates because of your race, it is racism.  People get too easily offended and they take political correctness to the extreme.  That's offensive to me.

The thing is, we should all treat everyone as we wish to be treated.  So if Billy Crystal says that sex on television, and gay sex on television in particular is not something he wants to watch, well that's his right to have that opinion.  If Billy Crystal has a sex scene on television or a movie, I don't want to see him naked either.  My opinion is that we have the right to watch what we want to watch.  If that includes gay sex, or straight sex, or whatever kind of sex, then we had that right, but we also have the right to say, "Look, that's just too much for me.  I don't think I want  to watch that," well that's our prerogative.  And if I don't want to watch something because it has an agenda, then I don't have to watch it.  

Case in point, I will not go to the movie theater to see "Selma."  It's not because of racial tensions or that I'm racist, but because the movie is politically bent to put forth an agenda and skew the history of that event.  The makers of the movie have admitted to that and have admitted to changing certain facts because it fit their artistic vision (i.e. political agenda).  As a historian, I constantly having to fight against how history is portrayed in movies because people take it as fact, when it is fiction.  So for a movie about an event as important as the Selma to Montgomery March to purposefully skew those facts is abhorrent in my opinion.

So I won't be going to see "Selma."  Does that make me a racist?  No, it doesn't, and neither does Billy Crystal saying that he thinks sex on television goes to far when asked about his previous role playing a gay man on television nearly forty years ago and how it compares to gay roles today.  We have our opinions and we have the right to voice those opinions.  We also have a right to call bullshit when someone takes our words out of context because something we said hurt their over sensitive ideas of the need to be political correct 100 percent of the time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Distractions



Last night, I watched the State of the Union address.  Some of it I found quite interesting, but most of it was merely political nonsense.  Most of the SOTU is merely political posturing.  It would be nice if Congress would sit their quietly and listen instead of clapping and not clapping to make a political statement every five words, then we could listen and the President could finish.  Interruptions aggravate me and I get bored.  My students often love to interrupt me in hopes of getting me off subject, or to cause me to lose my train of thought, resulting in what they think will be less work for them.  They never have caught on that it ends up being more work for them, not less work, but back to the SOTU.  I did like Obama's idea of free community college education.  It should expand the need for more college teaching jobs, which would be good for me and hopefully get me out of teaching high school and back to teaching college.  The thing is, with a Republican Congress, I don't think it will pass.  Republicans seem to be allergic to the word "free."  And I know, it won't actually be free (I just taught in economics the idea of TINSTAAFL--There is no such thing as a free lunch).  The American people will have to be taxed more, and we all know that if Republicans raise taxes it will be on the lower and middle class and not the upper income levels, where I think there should at least be less loopholes if not higher taxes for those who can afford them.

However, the SOTU address was not the major distraction of the night.  I'm not for sure what came up in the SOTU, but something started me googling a topic. Oh, I remeber what it was, they showed Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and I thought how ancient she looks, which made me wonder just how old she actually is, so I googled it.  That lead to me researching Sandra Day O'Connor and other Supreme Court Justices, including Hugo Black from Alabama.  Research and learning is one of my favorite things.  Even as a kid, I used to go pull an encyclopedia off the bookshelf to look something up, and as I was trying to find one thing, I'd see numerous other things I wanted to read about, so I'd mark those with a finger.  I'd read the one I'd started out to read then read the others.  Before I knew it, I'd looked at a dozen or more articles in that volume of the encyclopedia and then I'd have some other interest that I wanted to look up, so I'd put that encyclopedia volume up and get down another.  This could go on for an hour or so until I got tired.

Now with the internet, I can begin searching for something and open numerous tabs in my browser and then read each one.  Often there is a hyperlink or two that I also want to check out, so I open a few more tabs.  It's a lot easier than getting down another volume of the encyclopedia, but it traps me in a vicious cycle of never ending curiosity and research.  Eventually, I exhaust myself or I just can't absorb any more information at that time, so I close my browser.  But like last night, this can last not just and hour but three or four hours.

The biggest problem is that sometimes I get so carried away in reading different things, that I forget what my original plan was for the evening.  Last night, I'd planned on answering about a half a dozen emails that need to be replied to and writing a blog post for today, but then I realized that it was almost 11 pm and I needed to get some sleep.  So the email replies and the blog post I'd originally planned will have to wait until tonight when I will have the time to write them.  Since I will have limited internet access tonight (I'm staying with my grandmother, long story but she asked and since she's my last grandparent, I could hardly say no), I will hopefully get those emails replied to and be able to write the post I'd originally intended for today.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Whitman’s Twenty-Eight Young Men



Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore,
Twenty-eight young men and all so friendly;
Twenty-eight years of womanly life and all so lonesome.
She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank,
She hides handsome and richly drest aft the blinds of the window.
Which of the young men does she like the best?
Ah the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.
Where are you off to, lady? for I see you,
You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room.
Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather,
The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.
The beards of the young men glisten’d with wet, it ran from their long hair,
Little streams pass’d all over their bodies.
An unseen hand also pass’d over their bodies,
It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs.
The young men float on their backs, their white bellies bulge to the sun,
they do not ask who seizes fast to them,
They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch,
They do not think whom they souse with spray.

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, sec 11 in Leaves of Grass bk ii (1855)

In 1887, Renoir painted the "Large Bathers," and in 1885 Eakins painted the "Swimming Hole." There is a good deal connecting these paintings. Both present swimmers in full nudity, testing the prudery of the day (though in a context that was acceptable on the margins). Both have a frank eroticism which could easily have provoked scandal. But then there are also important differences, and among them the fact that Eakins painted men and Renoir women. There is also a sort of national sense of aesthetics. Renoir’s work is undeniably French, and Eakins’s is a masterwork of the American realist school. But Eakins work is more interesting to me. It’s carefully composed but it hopes to be a glimpse of an everyday outing to a favorite swimming hole. It’s drawn, like much of Eakins’s painting, from photographic masters. 

It’s popular today to talk about Eakins and his work (and this one more than others) as homoerotic. That may well be. But not necessarily. It follows an obsession that Eakins had with the human body and its movement throughout his life; nearly all of Eakins works are in some way a study of the body, and his most famous works, the two clinic paintings, are studies of studies of the human body. He aspires to show it gracefully and naturally. And he also aims to provoke. He detests the prudishness of the Victorian age; its obsession with tightly fitting and uncomfortable clothing and its sense of shame over the human body. “Eakins was a deep student of life, and with a great love he studied humanity frankly,” said his friend Robert Henri. “He was not afraid of what his study revealed to him.” His entire life was marked by controversy surrounding this point, and students who worked with him noted his preference for nudity—he posed for them and they posed for him. In this painting he presents himself in the right foreground in an almost voyeuristic pose. 

Eakins’s ideas about the human body find an interesting parallel in the poetry of Walt Whitman, and indeed, they may have been acquired from Whitman, at least to a degree. This attachment to Whitman survives from the records of Eakins’s students—they called themselves “the Whitmans.” Eakins admired Walt Whitman tremendously. He painted Whitman’s portrait and developed a rapport with the poet, and Whitman appreciated Eakins extraordinary vision–calling on him to speak at a testimonial dinner and then remembering that Eakins did his speaking through a medium other than words. Eakins was particularly taken by the Song of Myself. The painting "The Swimming Hole" seems unmistakably inspired by the passage quoted above from it, and Eakins himself, referring to it as one of “his Whitmans,” would support this reading. It’s a remarkable example of a poem realized in oil and canvas.

This article was originally published in Harper's Magazine and written by Scott Horton.  I was inspired to use this poem because it was mentioned in the book I am currently reading, Skylar M Cates' The Only Guy.  There is a scene where one man observes another swimming in the lake and watches for a minute while he contemplates joining him.  It's a beautiful scene and the character begins to quote this poem as he looks on at the other man.  I can't wait to review The Only Guy for my readers.





Monday, January 19, 2015

MCM: Jonathan Groff



Last weekend, we received a free preview weekend of HBO and Starz.  Usually during the free preview weekends, they never show anything really great, but the second season of the HBO show 'Looking' premiered last Sunday, so I had the good fortune of getting to see a marathon of the first season of 'Looking.'  If you're not familiar with the show, 'Looking' offers up the unfiltered experiences of three close friends living -- and loving -- in modern-day San Francisco. Friendship may bind them, but each is at a markedly different point in his journey: Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is the 29-year-old video game designer getting back into the dating world in the wake of his ex's engagement; aspiring artist Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), 31, is questioning the idea of monogamy amid a move to domesticate with his boyfriend; and the group's oldest member -- longtime waiter Dom (Murray Bartlett), 39 -- is facing middle age with romantic and professional dreams still unfulfilled.

The trio's stories intertwine and unspool dramatically as they search for happiness and intimacy in an age of unparalleled choices -- and rights -- for gay men. Also important to the ‘Looking' mix is the progressive, unpredictable, sexually open culture of the Bay Area, with real San Francisco locations serving as a backdrop for the group's lives. Rounding out the ‘Looking' world are a bevy of dynamic gay men including Kevin (Russell Tovey), Lynn (Scott Bakula), and Richie (Raul Castillo), as well as a wide-range of supporting characters like Dom's roommate Doris (Lauren Weedman), Agustín's boyfriend Frank (O.T. Fagbenle), and Patrick's co-worker Owen (Andrew Law).

Jonathan Groff who portrays Patrick is so incredibly hot, sexy, and talented. I really love his character, and if it wasn't for Groff, I'm not for sure I'd even really like the show that much.  I did like Murray Bartlett's character Dom, but Frankie J. Alvarez's character Agustín just left me cold.  Overall, I enjoyed the show, and I hope I will get to see the second season.