Judge Strikes Down Virginia’s Ban On Gay Marriage, Ruling STAYED

The Virginia ruling today that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional is mandatory reading for everyone. The decision is stayed pending appeal, but it’s a thing of beauty: it starts out with a quote from Mildred Loving, plaintiff in the 1967 case that took down all bans on interracial marriage in the U.S., and just gets better from there.

Some choice quotes:

“Our nation’s uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: we the people. “We the People” have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined.”

“Counsel for Intervenor-Defendant McQuigg proclaimed at oral argument that “[P]laintiffs are asking this court to . . . strike down the marriage laws that have existed now for 400 years… and make a policy in this state that mothers and fathers [do not] matter.” …This is a profound distortion of what Plaintiffs seek. Plaintiffs honor, and yearn for, the sacred values and dignity that other individuals celebrate when they enter into marital vows in Virginia, and they ask to no longer be deprived of the opportunity to share these fundamental rights.”

“Almost one hundred and fifty four years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending of our nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his own life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: “It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just… the same thing — fairness, and fairness only. This so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.”

“The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court’s power, they and all others shall have.”

Seriously, go read it. It’s very happy-making, coming from a judge that totally, TOTALLY gets it: she destroys the “for the children” argument and the “traditional marriage” argument, which were the ones put forth by the state.

Virginia has not only a state Constitutional Amendment that declares marriage only to be between a man and a woman (the same type of amendment MN defeated in 2012), it goes even further: it has laws that declare that ANY type of civil union or contract or domestic partnership that even looks like marriage is illegal. Both of these have been declared unconstitutional.

As a side note, the U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Wright Allen on May 11, 2011 in a 96–0 vote. She was nominated by President Obama.


MN Caucus Time!

Minnesota friends and AU members: find your caucus.  Attend.

The major party caucuses are tomorrow, Tuesday Feb 4th, and there are fewer better ways to participate in your democratic form of government than attending… other than actually, you know, *voting*.  It’s where the agenda for the parties is set at the local level.

To provide further incentive, we have received 3 emails today from right-wing fundamentalist groups urging their members to attend in order to push their major agenda items for this year, and all of them call for passing resolutions to reduce church and state separation, including:

  • Gutting the Safe Schools bill by allowing bullying if the bully is “expressing a sincerely-held religious belief”
  • Pushing through laws that allow people to deny services to same-sex couples (or anyone else) based on religious objections to their lifestyles
  • Pushing laws that make abortions harder or impossible to get in MN, regardless of the impact on women’s health, the viability of the fetus or exceptions for abuse and rape, thanks to religious definitions

Does that sound like an agenda you want to see promoted, or given to your local politicians as the supposed will of the people they represent?  Then please attend your local caucus, and make sure the agendas YOU want to see, those that support separation of Church and State, are the ones that are represented.

Instead of the above, let’s have conversations and resolutions about:

– The minimum wage
– Closing racial and economic gaps
– Reforming the criminal justice system to improve equal treatment
– Single payer healthcare
– Making sure the right to vote is maintained (no voter ID, and keep same-day registration)
– Improving access to life-long education

Find your local caucus at this link.

See you there.

Authors, intent and interpretation

Religion Stencil

Religion Stencil (Photo credit: murdelta)

An interesting summary of current biblical scholarship. Not from atheist scientists intent on destroying Christianity, but from the historical theologians within the religious traditions who are experts in these matters.

“The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure, Jesus Christ, to confirm the faith of their communities.”

That’s the mainstream religious scholarly view, mind: not the secular unbeliever scholarly view.

By all means: take the moral lessons, parables and teachings of the Bible and extract the ones that are good and make sense to you, and use them in your life. There are some good ones in there. But there are some pretty terrible ones too, and every reader parses them through their own worldview, cherry-picking what your morality already agrees with and discarding what it does not. It’s why the Bible was used for centuries to justify slavery, and at the same time was eventually one of the texts use to justify emancipation.

Just don’t take it as gospel (pun definitely intended). Since we lack the original texts (we only have copies of copies of copies, with each subsequent copier changing the text, introducing errors, adding clarifications so that their personal religious opinion issued forth from the mouths of the apostles in order to give them historical weight they didn’t deserve), we aren’t even really certain what they first said.

Is this a call for everyone to be non-religious? No. I’ve obviously made my choice on that matter, and this is only one of the many factors in my worldview. But what I do hope to get from posting this type of information is a counterpoint to those who center their perspective on major issues (same-sex marriage, bullying, abortion, contraception, the role of women in the church and in society, our role as men in society, what morality is and what it means, how we determine what is right and what is wrong, what is ethical or unethical, or what role ANY religious text should have in determining the laws that govern all of us) on what they believe are firsthand witness accounts of real events that are accepted as historical fact. They are, unfortunately, nothing of the sort: it’s up to you to bring morality to the table and make a case for your position on these issues, independently of what these texts say. They are not, in any sense of the word, definitive; regardless of what religious tradition you belong to, your focus should be on humanity and morality today, not what it was thousands of years ago.

The world and the things we know about it today are orders of magnitude different from what people knew back then. We know that common practices and beliefs from back in those days are today considered completely unacceptable, in some cases even immoral; we also know that no matter which particular one of the thousands of sub-sects of religion you belong to, your practice and beliefs today would be unrecognizable (perhaps even heretical) to people back then. Heck, there wasn’t even a common set of books recognized as part of the New Testament until hundreds of years CE. I’d love to hear someone debate a 3rd century religious believer and explain to them why the gnostic traditions in the Book of Thomas or the Book of Judas no longer apply, especially considering that authorship and provenance of those gospels is no less murky as those of Luke, Matthew or John.

Live a good life. Let others live theirs. Love thy neighbor, treat him/her the way you would like to be treated. Let him who has never sinned cast the first stone, all that good stuff. And accept that your interpretation of your religious texts is very likely quite different from those of members of your religion from a century ago, and completely different from those that were alive two or three or four millennia before that, so don’t get too attached to them as the only possible interpretation of how to live a good life. They are your interpretation, one out of thousands, and just that: nothing more. The odds that they are wrong are far from zero, a fact that we should all accept with vast helpings of humility regarding any perception of unquestioned and unquestionable veracity.

Wages: two approaches

When companies like Walmart pay their employees so little that they require government assistance to survive, that assistance is paid for by your taxes. Therefore, you are subsidizing companies so that they can keep their costs down and raise their profits. I have nothing against a company making money, but I do have an issue when they are doing so by foisting their employee costs onto the taxpayer.

Isn’t the appropriate response to tax the companies whose employees are paid so little they require public assistance, in the proportion to which that assistance is required? Balance is therefore achieved when employees are paid enough of a living wage that they don’t require assistance paid for by your taxes.

1 in 3 bank tellers in New York makes around $14k a year, which means they are eligible for quite a bit of public assistance, to the tune of about $120 million a year, mostly in food stamps and Medicaid. That assistance is paid for out of your taxes.

Instead, we should be taxing those companies that pay less than subsistence wages (in this case, the banks) enough to cover that $120 million, and reduce those taxes as employees’ salaries are raised to the point that they no longer require public assistance. That way you and I don’t pay taxes to subsidize corporate profits.

..or, just raise the minimum wage so that a person working a full time job can actually not live in poverty. Same result, different method, different way of looking at the problem.


O’Reilly riles up the troops

It’s the end of Hannukkah on Thursday, which means the War on Christmas officially begins. Or rather, Bill O’Reilly ranting about the War on Christmas officially kicks into a higher gear for no reason.

The reason I love this particular video is that O’Reilly is reading verbatim from his cue cards, which are displayed so you can read along with him. It’s like an ESL video for the politically uninformed, but I’m guessing it has more to do with trying to hide the fact that O’Reilly *always* moves his lips while reading.

For what it’s worth, AU, the ACLU, the FFRF and the AHA do not want to “remove religion from the public square”: they want the government to stop promoting and favoring specific religions over others. A subtlety that is lost on those who prefer their politics in bumper sticker sizes: “War on Christmas” just sounds catchier than the truth.

Greece v. Galloway: the day after

The transcript of the arguments in the Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court case is posted at the Supreme Court website.  Background and discussion on the case is available at SCotUSblog, and details of AU’s involvement in the case can be found at the au.org website.

My impression from an initial read? Justices Kagan and Ginsburg recognize that sectarian prayer to open governmental events is problematic, Justice Sotomayor focused on the impossibility of defining any prayer as “non-sectarian” and the issue of coercion (as did Kagan later on), and Justices Kennedy and Roberts (!) narrowed in on skepticism about the argument that it was allowed in the Marsh case because it was “historical” or “tradition” (i.e. the prayer/invocation had been done for a long time, therefore it was somehow acceptable?).

And I certainly got the impression that Justice Breyer was indicating he was an atheist, or at least agnostic (see pages 18-19).

Justices Alito, Scalia and (to a lesser degree) Roberts then focused on the impossibility of defining a prayer that would be acceptable to all religions (or people of no religion). And that’s certainly the right set of questions to ask: since there’s no way to please everyone’s religion, why not realize that there’s no real point in having an official prayer to open a governmental function, and definitely no requirement at all to do so, therefore just get rid of it? If people want to pray to their personal deity, have them do it in their own personal time. They were certainly asking the right questions, if perhaps being led to different conclusions.

But the rest of the discussion seemed to veer towards showing how when the court meddles in this kind of religious issue everyone seems to get angry and agitated (as Justice Kagan notes), and at that point everyone seemed to agree that they’d prefer that this issue would just go away, but that thanks to Marsh it won’t. I got the impression that several of the Justices really recognized that there is an issue here that has no easy resolution if prayer is allowed in some legislative sessions and perhaps not in others, and no easy way to reconcile various precedents with a consistent approach that sets a strict line. Except of course the clear line of doing the unpopular thing and prohibiting prayer in governmental functions, at which point the same people who constantly complain that children aren’t allowed to pray in public schools (which is untrue) would complain even louder.

Sounds to me like the Justices are going to find a way to rule in the most extremely narrow way possible, to affect this case and only this case, in order to avoid any ruling that could be used as precedent over establishing a formal line on what constitutes “too much” government involvement in religion.

Language, intent and depth

The words “fascist”, “Nazi”, “socialist”, “communism”, “libtard”, and phrases like “don’t tread on me”, “death panels” or “activist judges”, as well as referring to the President as “Barry Soetoro” or “Barack HUSSEIN Obama”.

In political discussions (unless you’re discussing Axis countries in the 1940s), the use of these words and phrases are a clear indication that you are not a serious thinker, and most probably a far-right-leaning one. They also indicate that your political opinions are superficial enough that they would probably fit on a bumper sticker… and inevitably, they do.

They are also usually an indicator that your main form of political interaction is posting GIFs that denote anyone who simply disagrees with your opinion as an idiot.

Any of the above indicators generally lead me to regard someone as not worth having a political discussion with, since they are not willing to allow subtleties or shades of gray into the discussion, or accept that not everyone thinks in lockstep–with them OR against them. My question is: what are the words and phrases that cause people on the right to “switch off” in a similar way when discussing issues with left-leaning people?

I imagine that “gun nut”, “Teatards”, “ReTHUGlicans” are some of those trigger words. What else?

Our goal should be to remove these simplistic (and typically unnecessarily insulting) words from our speech, precisely to avoid that automatic shutdown in conversation. Not in a superficial way (by simply not using the words, while retaining the mindset), but by refining our ways of thinking to avoid simplistic, bumper-sticker philosophies. If the country’s problems could be solved by chanting slogans at each other, they’d be fixed by now.

There are many intelligent, thoughtful and well-meaning Republicans, Libertarians and Democrats in the country. There are mean-spirited, bigoted and destructive ones too: my guess is that they are far fewer, but they do seem to make more noise and attract more attention than they deserve. Words like “DemocRATS” and “ReTHUGlicans” sweep all those differences under the carpet, and paint an entire half of the country with a stereotype that makes discussion impossible: you don’t negotiate or compromise with someone you believe is an idiot. We have seen what this attitude can do, and it’s time to change it.

Start changing yours by not using those stereotyped, insulting trigger words in your speech and online posts. Criticize a person’s actions, attitudes and words if you disagree with them, but do so with substance and without painting an entire demographic with a single brush. Hardly anyone on the Right disagrees with me on every issue, and I don’t share the opinion of every single Democrat. But if the only thing we agree on is that “the other side’ are a bunch of duplicitous, evil morons intent on destroying the country, then we’ll end up with a country not worth saving in the first place.

Nothing new, nothing improved, except the packaging

I’m all for a more open-minded Catholic church led by a more welcoming Pope, but I’m still surprised at the interpretations given to Pope Francis’ recent comments and interviews. To wit, that he is somehow “softening the church’s stance” towards issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, atheists, homosexuality and contraception.  He’s not the liberal-minded reformer some people seem to desperately want to make him out to be.

Let’s be clear: he has done no “softening” of any sort, other than in the delivery. In fact, he mentioned specifically that “the teaching of the church… is clear” on those matters. What he did do in his most recent interview was just decry the fact that people are focusing so much on those particular issues. His complaint is NOT that representatives of the church are misunderstanding or misrepresenting the church’s positions, or that those positions need to change… but that people are talking about them too much, which is bad PR for the church.

Well yes, it is. Exposing these official church positions IS bad PR for them. For good reasons.

But lest we think we have now turned some sort of corner and we are witnessing a major change, in the past few days (post-interview!) we have seen:

  • Pope Francis denounce abortion and tell Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them (even when the life of the mother is in danger and the fetus is not viable)
  • The Vatican excommunicate a priest in Melbourne for his support of women priests and gay people (not exactly the loving approach one would expect from the person interviewed a couple of days earlier)
  • A damning report from MPR on how Minneapolis Archdiocese leaders KNEW about inappropriate sexual conduct from one of their priests covering over a DECADE, and yet failed to do anything about it until after the priest had sexually abused several boys. Way to provide moral leadership, Archibishop Nienstadt.

Sounds like same old, same old to me. Just because the Pope doesn’t want to talk about it any more, doesn’t mean he disapproves, and doesn’t mean the church is changing its position. I’m just surprised people are reading so much more into his statements, when it’s been clear in the past that he has not intention of changing church doctrine. It’s a more sugarcoated message than in the past, sure; but our issues have not really been with the delivery of the message: it’s the content itself that concerns me.

I make these apologies of my own free will

There are some occasions in which I make poor choices regarding the words I use to request my first cup of coffee of the day. These choices do not really reflect who I am, my true feelings regarding the employees or the establishment, or even my own personal opinion of when it is appropriate to refer to someone as a “glacier-paced incompetent douchenozzle”. I would also like to extend personal, heartfelt apologies to employee J. Hovian, whose mother I freely admit I do not know, intimately or otherwise: she is probably a lovely woman.

I recognize that this is an personal issue that I need to work on, and I agree to appear before my court-appointed caffeine management therapist on the proscribed schedule. I also understand the requirement to NOT approach coffee store employees outside of their places of work, to NOT follow them home, and to NOT light piles of coffee beans on fire in their front yards. I would also like to state that I respect the opinion of Mr. A. Friedman, who states that urinating the words “THIS IS WHAT YOUR COFFEE TASTES LIKE” on the walls of a commercial building he owns, while technically not illegal, is at best a misuse of First Amendment freedoms that may not have been at the forefront of the Founding Fathers’ minds while enacting said amendment. I disagree, but respect his opinion on the matter.

As a final point, I apologize profusely to former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice, for reasons I am not at liberty to discuss. I repeat my offer to pay for all dry-cleaning costs related to the issue, or to replace the items in question.

This concludes the settlement-required posting. Signed on this day, August 5, 2013, by my hand.

Favorite shows from the MN Fringe

My favorite shows from the ‪Minnesota Fringe 2013 #‎MNFringe‬ (so far):


The story of an unemployed playwright who applies to the Fringe on a whim and gets a slot. The show follows the story of his search for a decent story to tell, and his last-minute decision to tell the story of the search for the story. WARNING: audience responses to the show may be included in subsequent productions.

Good Intentions on the Road to HFL

In this touching autobiographical one-woman show, the author describes her harrowing journey caught between two worlds: the indifference of the cat community, and the rejection and ridicule from traditional Western-medicine doctors after she self-diagnoses with Human Feline Leukemia (HFL) based on a Google search. From her first struggles in getting appointments for treatment, to her tense meetings with the FCLU (Feline Civil Liberties Union), to the endless paperwork from insurance companies who insist there’s no reimbursement code for human feline leukemia because “it’s not a thing”, you will experience first-hand the drama that can be wrought from long unbroken stretches of tedium. Spoken word, delivered in a droning monotone for 50 endless minutes.  TRIGGER WARNING: YARN.


Dance piece.  The audience is alternately sprayed with gluten, MSG, peanut oil, GMO high-fructose corn syrup and lactose for an hour, while strobelights flicker. Presented by Whole Foods and Monsanto.

BANG! An Interactive Murder-Mystery

In the line before the show, a randomly-selected audience member is “murdered”. Over the next 50 minutes, the rest of the audience must piece together the clues until they reach the slowly dawning realization that oh shit that guy really IS dead that wasn’t part of the show AT ALL.

“Most fun I’ve had in years!”
– Audience member (name withheld, currently in witness protection program)

“A Fringe Favorite, Starring Neil Patrick Harris! MUST SEE!”

A one-act study in false advertising and how easily we allow ourselves to be deceived. Free cookies for all audience members!


Mein Summer Kampf

In this whimsical re-imagining of Adolf Hitler’s classic tale, we learn that the Final Solution was originally written as a satirical essay, in the same vein as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. But when the manuscript is stolen while Adolf is spending the summer at Kamp Judenplotz, wacky hijinx inevitably ensue!

Some mild swearing, Holocaust denial, Mel Gibson.