Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Silver Linings

The Volokh Conspiracy - The hardest day of the cruelest month

Dale Carpenter is, as usual, quick and spot-on in his analysis of today's ruling from Washington that the ban on same-sex marriage in that state is constitutional. Lest the ruling tempt gays and lesbians to despair after a month that has seen setbacks to the marriage cause in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Georgia, Carpenter finds a passage in it that seems to indicate that, while it does not wish to call it marriage, the Washington Supreme Court is concerned with the very real hardships that face couples that are denied legal protections associated with marriage:

We do not dispute that same-sex couples raise children or that the demographics of "family" have changed significantly over the past decades. We recognize that same-sex couples enter significant, committed relationships that include children, whether adopted, conceived through assisted reproduction, or brought within the family of the same-sex couple after the end of a heterosexual relationship. We do not doubt that times have changed and are changing, and that courts and legislatures are increasingly faced with the need to answer significant legal questions regarding the families and property of same-sex couples. (Citations omitted).

We are also acutely aware, from the records in these cases and the briefing by the plaintiffs and the amici supporting them, that many day-to- day decisions that are routine for married couples are more complex, more agonizing, and more costly for same-sex couples. A married person may be entitled to health care and other benefits through a spouse. A married person's property may pass to the other upon death through intestacy laws or under community property laws or agreements. Married couples may execute community property agreements and durable powers of attorney for medical emergencies without fear they will not be honored on the basis the couple is of the same sex and unmarried. Unlike heterosexual couples who automatically have the advantages of such laws upon marriage, whether they have children or not, same-sex couples do not have the same rights with regard to their life partners that facilitate practical day-to-day living, involving such things as medical conditions and emergencies (which may become of more concern with aging), basic property transactions, and devolution of property upon death.

But plaintiffs have affirmatively asked that we not consider any claim regarding statutory benefits and obligations separate from the status of marriage. We thus have no cause for considering whether denial of statutory rights and obligations to same-sex couples, apart from the status of marriage, violates the state or federal constitution. (emphasis added)

In other words, Carpenter says, "To the state legislature, the message seems to be this: 'Get moving on addressing the hardships faced by gay couples and their children, some of which we’ve listed for you. You don’t have to give them marriage and maybe not even all of the rights of marriage, but something needs to be done. If you don’t act, we might.'

To gay-marriage litigants, the message seems to be this: 'Go to the legislature and see what can be done about the sorts of problems you’ve identified and that we agree exist. If the legislature is unresponsive, come back to us not with a claim for the status of marriage, but with a remedial claim for the benefits and protections of marriage for your families.'"

This summer may be remembered not as the summer gay marriage died, but as the one when it realized it couldn't emerge from the cocoon a fully-formed, beautiful butterfly. It looks more and more like there will have to be some intermediate stage--the civil unions of Vermont and Connecticut, the domestic partnerships of California--before we are finally granted full equality. I hope the masterminds of our strategy are paying attention. I want marriage very much. But I care a lot less about the damned word than I do about the legal protection that comes with it. If compromise is the only way to get it, I'd say it's time to compromise.

One More For Our Side

Lance Bass of `N Sync reveals he's gay

Two reactions. First, I knew it! Second, this makes the crush that Laura, one of the page editors on the college paper, had on Lance in college seem much funnier than it did at the time--and it seemed pretty funny then.

Oh, and a third: Do you think Lance--who once wanted to be a cosmonaut--will make a special appearance the next time SNL does its "Gays in Space" skit?

Second Best

Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

The real news this morning out of Washington is bad, but here's some fake news to cheer you up. A sample:
The commemorative page is one of the most detailed on the site, rivaling entries for Firefly and the Treaty Of Algeron for sheer length. Subheadings include "Origins Of Colonial Discontent," "Some Famous Guys In Wigs And Three-Cornered Hats," and "Christmastime In Gettysburg." It also features detailed maps of the original colonies—including Narnia, the central ice deserts, and Westeros—as well as profiles of famous American historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Special Agent Jack Bauer, and Samuel Adams who is also a defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals.
I've always found Wikipedia to be a useful resource, but this article is still hilarious. And it does have a point--just look at the entry in Wikipedia for Westeros! It's longer than the entries for most real places...

Monday, July 24, 2006

From the Deep

Ravinia: July 21, 2006

For reasons unknown to me, there hasn't really been a review of Friday night's Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert at Ravinia. (I'm not counting Andrew Patner's not-so-friendly appraisal of James Conlon's connection with the orchestra as a review, as it only mentions the concert rather than discussing it.)

There ought to be one, though. Maybe it was the rain; maybe it was the somewhat unfamiliar program of Erwin Schulhoff's first piano concerto and Mahler's fourth symphony, which even our Mahler-loving household only purchased earlier this month to prepare for this concert. Something kept the crowds away; the lawn was sparse when we arrived 15 minutes before the baton was lifted and even the Pavilion, while densely populated as usual in the center section, had 10-seat wide streams up either side that were vacant. (We got seats just off center, in the first row behind the boxes, as walk-ups and had no one for two seats on either side of us or directly behind us.)

Despite the lack of a crowd, though, the CSO put on quite a show. After James Conlon addressed the audience and explained his Breaking the Silence project, which presents to audiences the music of composers killed during the Holocaust, soloist Philippe Bianconi gave the ivories an impressive workout as he introduced the Pavilion to Schulhoff's first piano concerto. Was it good? Suffice it to say that I'm ordering it from Amazon and that, given the 3-6 week expected wait time, I'm not including a link lest your order should slow mine. And Schulhoff wrote it at age 19!

After intermission, we heard Mahler 4. We've attended each of the Mahler symphonies at Ravinia since Conlon began his other project, the performance of all of them in a row, last summer. While there may be more to the first three than there is to the fourth--and while I remain of the opinion that, had he only produced the first, Mahler would have achieved enough for a lifetime--the brevity and fun of the fourth were uniquely suited to a cool summer evening outdoors. I would be hard pressed to recall another symphonic performance that so ably handled all the distractions Ravinia provides, from the cicadas to the airplanes to the train roaring by. (A stroke of luck brought the Metra along just as one movement ended, and Conlon cleverly held his head down until the engine's cough had faded.) Soprano Anna Christy, making her Ravinia debut, brought a childlike innocence to the final movement, which the crowd could appreciate thanks to supertitles that revealed the almost preposterous text--a child's vision of heaven, complete with a host of saints preparing dinner--she was singing.

Afterward Conlon returned to the stage, joined by journalist Bill Zwecker, to discuss his love of music. Small plastic cups of wine made their way around the audience as Conlon spoke with passion about his Ravinia projects and his ardent belief in the importance of Breaking the Silence. Those who stayed until the end left, I'm sure, deeply pleased with the performances and confident that, with Conlon at the helm, Ravinia's CSO calendar and performances will remain engaging well into the future.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Still Alive

Wide gap a surprise in race for Senate

The headline refers to two things. First, the hope that the Democrats will retake the Senate remains alive; the open seat that Republicans are targeting the most, that of Sen. Mark Dayton in Minnesota, shows the new Democrat, Amy Klobuchar, whipping the awful Mark Kennedy 50-31. (Sadly, the state's Republican governor, elected during the terrible 2002 sweep, looks like he may survive.)

But the headline is also just to let you know that, despite the lack of blogging, I'm still alive. When James manages four posts in six days and I give you nothing, I start to wonder if I'm still alive.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Heterosexual Instability

The Volokh Conspiracy - Is it rational to exclude gay couples from marriage?

Dale Carpenter offers an interesting discussion of how the New York court explained its decision that barring gay couples from marriage meets the not-very-demanding rational basis standard at The Volokh Conspiracy (which is fast becoming one of my favorite blogs). In case you don't know what the rational basis test is, Carpenter explains: "As I once heard Richard Epstein memorably describe it, the rational basis standard basically asks whether any fool could come up with a stupid reason for a bad policy."

And what stupid reasons did the majority in New York give that could have prompted the legislature to allow straight couples to marry but not gay ones? For one thing, Carpenter notes:
Children need permanence and stability in their lives. Yet the heterosexual relationships that produce them, said the court, “are all too often casual or temporary.” Homosexual couples do not become parents by “accident or impulse”; they must plan ahead and obtain children through adoption, artificial insemination, or some other “technological marvels.” Unstable relationships among heterosexuals therefore “present a greater danger that children will be born into or grow up in unstable homes than is the case with same-sex couples.”
So the gays don't need marriage because we don't need shotgun weddings, choosing to make decisions about when and if to have children in a rational manner that, admittedly, is assisted by the biological fact that we can't conceive children without outside help. That's all well and good--even rational, one might say--but it does lead, as Carpenter notes, to the conclusion that "gay couples are likely to plan more responsibly for the upbringing of their children. We thus have less reason to worry about the children gay couples are raising."

While the court explains a rationale for offering marriage to straight couples, though, Carpenter notes that it never bothers to touch on a rational reason for the exclusion of gay couples. As he says, "The key question left unanswered by the court is, how does the exclusion of gay couples from marriage rationally advance the putative preference for heterosexual couples in child-raising?"

Of course, I find all this focus on children obnoxious; even absent them there are plenty of reasons for a couple to desire marriage and dozens of reasons why it would be rational for the government to allow--indeed, encourage--them to get married. But Carpenter is right when he points out that the New York Court of Appeals, while deciding not to offer marriage to gay couples right now, has left the barn door open for the state legislature. There may be a so-called "rational basis" for a law that allows straight couples to marry but excludes gay ones. But surely the bright minds of the legislature can think of numerous "rational" reasons to offer the same marriage rights to everyone.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Balance Restored

Chris Daughtry signs record deal

Order has returned to the universe. Seeing Taylor Hicks in Ford commercials doesn't work for me, but knowing that Chris will soon have an album out makes me feel a little bit better about the world. When will we hear about Elliott's deal? I fully expect this 3-4 combo to outsell and outshine the weak 1-2 punch of Taylor and Katharine...

Friday, July 07, 2006

Up and Down

For Gay Rights Movement, a Key Setback - New York Times

It's hard to ignore the pain I feel today in the wake of the ruling by the New York Court of Appeals. One state makes gay marriage an anomaly, but two could have meant a trend. And the Court's logic wasn't especially kind. Yes, if you pretend that the sole purpose of marriage today is child-rearing, and harp on the fact that straight couples are always theoretically at risk of having a child whether they want to or not, then there is a "rational basis" for offering marriage only to such couples. But that's quite a stretch.

There is a silver lining, though. If New York had allowed gay marriage through its court system, those who would quash equality in its infancy would have had another example of "activist judges" to harp on during the next election--coincidentally, in the state from which many Democrats expect our next standard-bearer to come. (That worked out well last time, didn't it?) Instead, as many others have already noted, this ruling will force advocates to press for a legislative solution. If New York's legislature approves gay marriage, or civil unions, after Eliot Spitzer becomes governor, and if in 2008 the people of Massachusetts reject the move to end gay marriage there, well, that would make this a whole new ballgame, wouldn't it? A suddenly sizeable chunk of the country would have put gay marriage (or something like it) before the people or their representatives and seen it as a good thing. Remember, California's legislature has already voted for gay equality; we have only Arnold to blame for its not having taken root there. Connecticut's legislature passed civil unions without any judicial prompting. Between those two, Massachusetts, and New York, you've got quite a lot of the nation's population, and a good deal of its financial and cranial power as well.

I still believe that, by the time I retire, I will have the legal option of marrying the man I love, of filing my taxes with him, of knowing that if one of us is in the hospital, the other will be able to visit, and that if one of us should die, the other would inherit everything, collect Social Security as a surviving spouse, and carry out the other's final wishes. Whether yesterday's ruling in New York makes it more likely that this will happen when I'm 42 or 58 is debateable, surely. But it will happen.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Emmy Fever

Academy of Television Arts & Sciences

I was actually excited for today to come, even though I knew it would mean a return to work after a blissful five days off. Why? Because the Emmy nominations were due this morning, and a change in the way they were chosen meant there was sure to be some crazy shit going on.

Sure enough, Emmy has sent a message that those tired of the same old nominees will get new ones, and that shows whose star wanes will be replaced with shows that wax. Desperate Housewives? The name is almost nowhere to be found among the major nods, with only Alfre Woodard rewarded for spending a year on Wisteria Lane and only getting about twenty minutes of screen time to shine. The Sopranos? It's up for best drama, yes, but Tony and Carmela would be having quite an angry conference in the kitchen over their mutual lack of nomination in categories that found room for Denis Leary (Rescue Me) and Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer).

Indeed, the new system denied many past winners even a nomination this time around, among them the aforementioned trio of Gandolfini, Falco, and Huffman; Boston Legal's James Spader, whose portrayal of Alan Shore had been honored both on this show and The Practice; and Will & Grace's Eric McCormack (Will) and Bobby Cannavale, who won a Guest Actor award as Will's boyfriend, Vince. Indeed, the eight main acting categories (best lead and supporting actor and actress in a comedy or drama) feature only three defending champions: Blythe Danner for Huff, Tony Shaloub for Monk, and William Shatner for his delicious portrayal of Denny Crane on Boston Legal. And chances are not all of them will defend their trophies successfully.

A few other tidbits:
  • Last year, House wasn't nominated but House was. This year, it's the other way around. What does Hugh Laurie have to do?
  • Star Trek fans should be pleased. In addition to Shatner's nod for Boston Legal, Patrick Stewart was nominated for best guest actor in a comedy for his one-episode turn on HBO's Extras. And a program called "How William Shatner Changed the World" is up for best non-fiction program!
  • While HBO's Big Love and Rome were shut out of the series and acting categories, they were both honored elsewhere. Rome is up for visual effects, art direction, hair, costumes, makeup, music, and title design, while Big Love is up for directing, casting, and, again, title design. (I hope Big Love wins this one; the credits make me hear "God Only Knows" in a whole new way!)
  • Bill Maher gets a combined four nominations for his HBO show and HBO special!
  • Will, Vince, Rosario, and Leo are apparently the only regulars on Will & Grace who weren't punching in their weight class the final season. Debra Messing (Grace), Sean Hayes (Jack), Megan Mullally (Karen), Leslie Jordan (Beverly Leslie), Alec Baldwin (Malcolm), and Blythe Danner (Will's mother) all got nominations for their roles.
  • Vinick may have lost the battle, but he won the war: Alan Alda and Martin Sheen are both up for Emmys for their roles on The West Wing, but Jimmy Smits was left out in the cold.
  • Tony and Carmela may be crying in their coffee, but Six Feet Under fans can rejoice: Peter Krause (Nate) and Frances Conroy (Ruth) both got nods for the show's final season. Without Edie Falco in the race, Ruth's bravura performance in the finale may just have a chance! (The finale is also up for writing, directing, art direction, prosthetic makeup, and hairstyling, while Ruth's sister [Patricia Clarkson] and Brenda's mom [Joanna Cassidy] will vie for guest actress.)
  • Murphy Brown is back: James Spader may be out, but Candice Bergen is in as the backbone of Boston Legal's fictional Crane, Poole, and Schmidt. Don't be surprised if she bests her two competitors from Grey's Anatomy to take home the best supporting actress trophy!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Wild, Funny, Uneven

  • This review of JPod has also been posted on

    If you have not read Microserfs, stop now. Read it. This book is not exactly a sequel, but it definitely breathes the same air.

    If you have read Microserfs, and if you liked it, you will like this book. It's Coupland at his witty, world-weary best, at least in places. The plot has so many twists and turns, and so many of them are bizarre, that I found myself laughing out loud several times during the not-so-many hours it took me to roar through this--what? Novel? Pastiche? Stolen diary?

    To be sure, the structure of the book is sometimes baffling, and some of the characters are (intentionally?) one-dimensional. Some of the methods of character development are so blatantly obvious (lists of traits, letters that each character writes to Ronald McDonald to woo him) as to be both ludicrous and effective at the same time. Yet just when you think the book is off the rails you'll discover that you've come to care about the members of jPod, and to hope that Coupland the author (and Coupland the character!) will do right by them.

    In short, if you've been waiting for Coupland to write another book like Microserfs--and I know I've been waiting nearly a decade--you're in for a treat!