Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The death of an icon

I reported yesterday about the loss of the beloved Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by an arrogant American dentist from Minnesota (one Walter Palmer, may his name live in shame for eternity).
Fortunately, he’s being vilified in the media and hopefully he will suffer legal and financial consequences that will curtail his ability to visit more death upon innocent animals unable to defend themselves from his coward attacks.
Unfortunately, I also found this out today:
“The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho, will most likely kill all Cecil’s cubs so that he can insert his own bloodline into the females.”
This story just keeps getting sadder and sadder.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Shame! Shame! Shame!

Any Game of Thrones fan will recognize that to be the call, repeated over and over, that follows Queen Cersei back to the Red Keep for her penitence.

I propose that kind of treatment for this insensitive, immoral, and appallingly inhuman individual:

A Minnesota dentist has taken down his website after a British newspaper identified him as the American hunter who killed Zimbabwe’s most famous lion.

Walter Palmer, a trophy hunter who operates River Bluffs Dental in Bloomington, is believed to have paid about $55,000 to bribe wildlife guards July 1 at Hwange National Park, reported The Telegraph.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force confirmed that Palmer — who has been previously fined for illegal hunts — spotted Cecil the lion at night and tied a dead animal to his vehicle to lure the famed cat out of the park.

That tactic is known as “baiting” and is used by big-game hunters to justify their killings as legal.

Investigators said Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, and he and a companion found the wounded and suffering cat the following morning and killed it.

Palmer then removed the cat’s skin and head and left its carcass near the outskirts of the park — where hunting is prohibited.

“He never bothered anybody,” said Johnny Rodrigues, the head of Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. “He was one of the most beautiful animals to look at.”

The 13-year-old big cat was known to the park’s visitors and seemingly enjoyed human contact, according to reports.

The 55-year-old Palmer, of Eden Prairie, said the reports were inaccurate.

Sure they were.  SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!

From Rawstory.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Vogue’s 25th Anniversary

Just typing that header gave me pause.  Madonna’s Vogue is one of my favorite songs of all time and its accompanying video might just be the best I’ve ever seen.  I just can’t believe I was 18 years old when this song came out!!

Now, a previously unreleased collection of outtakes from that shoot opens a window onto a mysterious world that we rarely get to see.

Whether you like Madonna or are a music video fan in general, this is a must-see.  For me it was an eye-opener mostly for the amount of work, tenacity, stamina, creativity, passion, and talent that goes into these 4-5 minute videos that quickly come and go even when a song is successful.

I mean, think about it.  A movie or even a television show, in which the same kind of work goes into, when they’re good, they become classics featured on end-of-the-year top movie lists à la Citizen Kane, they get re-released in theaters à la Star Wars, they get extended cuts and anniversary editions, or they go in syndication.

A music video, especially now that MTV isn’t what it used to be anymore, can find a lot of play while a song is fresh, but after that, even if the song itself is included in countless compilations, the video tapers off, only to be occasionally replayed by some hard-core fan or a newbie.

Just seeing how many times a scene had to be repeated, always giving it your all, always acting the required part, always hitting the same notes and moves, was humbling.  Especially for the star of the video, who doesn’t get as much downtime as the rest of the crew because she’s literally in every scene.  That’s who people want to see.

We only get to see the finished videos, and they always seem effortlessly made.  They might look like they cost a lot, but one has no idea of the amount of planning, time, and work that went into the shoot.

Anyway, I know it’s long, but it’s worth it.  Take a look.

And here’s the final, impeccably polished product, which was directed, a fact I wasn’t aware of, by David Fincher, who’s become one of my favorite movie directors.

Via Towleroad.

The Worsening Climate

Rawstory reports on a Telegraph article about the likelihood of an upcoming Maunder minimum between 2030 and 2040, which might result in something like a Little Ice Age for the northern hemisphere:

A study by researchers at Great Britain’s Northumbria University say that competing physical cycles within our sun will cancel each other out in the next solar cycle, resulting in a “mini Ice Age” like one that gripped the Northern Hemisphere from 1645 to 1715.


“[In the cycle between 2030 and around 2040] the two waves exactly mirror each other — peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the sun,” she explained.

“Their interaction will be disruptive, or they will nearly cancel each other,” she said. “We predict that this will lead to the properties of a ‘Maunder minimum.'”

The Maunder Minimum is the 70-year period from 1645 to 1715 when North America and Europe experienced very cold winters due to lower solar temperatures and minimal sunspot activity.

“In England during this “Little Ice Age,'” wrote the Telegraph’s Dan Hyde, “River Thames frost fairs were held. In the winter of 1683-84 the Thames froze over for seven weeks, during which it was ‘passable by foot,’ according to historical records.”

Check out the link above for a cool video explaining the phenomenon in more detail.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Theory of Evolution

Watch as the always impressively clear and approachable Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the history of the Universe to the common mortals:

Allison Steinberg

A spokeswoman for the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which advocates for LGBT rights and religious liberties, on why the right-to-discriminate bills popping up all over the country, and in the US Capitol, are wrong and unconstitutional:

“Open for business means open for all.  A public serving business owner can’t turn someone away because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, nor should they be allowed to deny someone service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Economic Inequality

Another mind-boggling article from Rawstory, this time about economic inequality and the widening chasm between rich and poor, both in America and the world.

A sampler:

1. In 81 percent of American counties, the median income, about $52,000, is less than it was 15 years ago. This is despite the fact that the economy has grown 83 percent in the past quarter-century and corporate profits have doubled. American workers produce twice the amount of goods and services as 25 years ago, but get less of the pie.

2. The amount of money that was given out in bonuses on Wall Street last year is twice the amount all minimum-wage workers earned in the country combined.

3. The wealthiest 85 people on the planet have more money that the poorest 3.5 billion people combined.

5. Italians, Belgians and Japanese citizens are wealthier than Americans.

6. The poorest half of the Earth’s population owns 1% of the Earth’s wealth. The richest 1% of the Earth’s population owns 46% of the Earth’s wealth.

9. The slice of the national income pie going to the wealthiest 1% of Americans has doubled since 1979.

12. The top 1% of America owns 50% of investment assets (stocks, bonds, mutual funds). The poorest half of America owns just .5% of the investments.

13. The poorest Americans do come out ahead in one statistic: the bottom 90% of America owns 73% of the debt.

14. Tax rates for the middle class have remained essentially unchanged since 1960. Tax rates on the highest earning Americans have plunged from an almost 70% tax rate in 1945 down to around 35% today. Corporate tax rates have dropped from 30 percent in the 1950s to under 10 percent today.

15. Since 1990, CEO compensation has increased by 300%. Corporate profits have doubled. The average worker’s salary has increased 4%. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage has actually decreased.

16. CEOs in 1965 earned about 24 times the amount of the average worker. In 1980 they earned 42 times as much. Today, CEOs earn 325 times the average worker.

18. In a study of 34 developed countries, the United States had the second highest level of income inequality, ahead of only Chile.

20. The average white American’s median wealth is 20 times higher ($113,000) than the average African American ($5,600) and 18 times the Hispanic American ($6,300).

25. Union membership in the US is at an all-time low, about 11% of the workforce. In 1978, 40 percent of blue-collar workers were unionized. With that declining influence has come a concurrent decline in the real value of the minimum wage.

26. Four hundred Americans have more wealth, $2 trillion, than half of all Americans combined. That is approximately the GDP of Russia.

28. Despite massive tax cuts, corporations have not created new jobs in America. The job creators have been small new businesses that have not enjoyed the same huge tax breaks.

29. More than half of the members of the United States Congress, where laws are passed deciding how millionaires are taxed, are millionaires.

30. Twenty five of the largest corporations in America in 2010 paid their CEOs more money than they paid in taxes that year.

34. During the Great Recession, the average wealth of the 1% dropped about 16 percent. Meanwhile the wealth of the 99% dropped 47 percent.

35. Between 1979 and 2007, the wages of the top 1% rose 10 times more than the bottom 90 percent.

Slavery and Racial Discrimination

Rawstory points us to this eye opening illustration of slavery in America and what its connection is to today’s racial inequalities.

A must see:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pluto Was Ready for Its Close-Up

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sailed by Pluto on July 13, after travelling 3 billion miles in 9 years, on its way to the Kuiper Belt and its mysteries, but not before relaying back this wonderful image of the dwarf planet among many others:


I love that image so much.  Knowing that Pluto is so far away and all alone at the edges of the Solar System, it just looks so melancholy and beautiful.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Jake Gyllenhall

Incredibly handsome, famous actor, and straight ally of the LGBT community, when asked “if he felt the ‘perceived risk’ of playing a gay role as a leading man in Hollywood has changed since 2004,” the year he played a gay role in Brokeback Mountain:
JG“Oh definitely it’s changed. I think playing a role and living a life are two very different things. I think telling stories, and all different stories, is what makes acting so great. It’s why I was really proud of Brokeback Mountain and everything it had to say. And it was an interesting journey to go on to learn about that world.”
And these are his thoughts about the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality nationwide:
JGBeard“When I heard about the news I thought, wow, how far we’ve come in a decade. And how far we have to go in so many things. But I think hopefully something like that in terms of—the resistance of society and seeing that it’s possible to change was such an amazing thing. I remember thinking, my mom sent me the decision. And how it was written, I thought it was so beautiful. And she said it’s all about love. My brother said to me a few weeks ago, all we leave behind is the wake of our lives, that’s all we have. And to know that [love] wins out sometimes is an inspiration to me.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Title VII Covers Sexual Orientation

That’s what the EEOC (Equal Election Opportunity Commission) ruled last week and it’s a big fraking deal.  From Towleroad (emphasis mine):

The EEOC’s job is to stop employment discrimination and to hold companies accountable when they do discriminate.

On Friday, in a 3-2 party-line ruling, the Commission held that discrimination against gay persons violates Title VII’s ban on discrimination on the basis of sex. This is potentially groundbreaking: until Friday, there was no federal law protecting gay workers if they are discriminated against because they are gay, and although only the Supreme Court can issue a definitive ruling on the subject, the EEOC’s view is given substantial weight by [federal] courts. Plus, the decision may influence state courts on the matter, as well. Still, this huge step forward is unstable: We still have work to do to ensure that sexual orientation discrimination protections are codified in both state and federal laws.

And this is the very simple explanation for the logic behind the ruling:

Title VII, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, bans discrimination “on the basis of sex.” An employer cannot, for example, treat women different than men. Nor can they allow people to behave in a way that creates an environment hostile to women because they are women.

How discrimination “on the basis of sex” also covers discrimination of gays is pretty simple: discrimination against gays only occurs because of the victim’s gender. That is because the status of someone being gay or lesbian is defined relative to the person he or she loves. I am gay because I love a man; if I were a woman, I would be heterosexual and, thus, not the subject of anti-gay discrimination. Consider this example: Sam works for Big Corp. Last Sunday, Sam married Patrick and their announcement was in the New York Times. Today, Sam is fired because Sam is short for Samuel. If Sam were short for Samantha, he wouldn’t be fired. […]

Notably, this interpretation of Title VII is on top of a decades-old interpretation that Title VII bans gender expression discrimination. […]

And since the EEOC is the agency in charge of interpreting and implementing Title VII, the experts in the field, so to speak, its rulings are generally given significant deference by any court of law.

This is very good news and a good start, but it really only applies to federal employees for now, and gays and lesbians can still be discriminated against in areas like housing and education.

What we really still need is comprehensive anti-gay discrimination legislation at the federal level, but with the GOP in control of Congress that won’t happen anytime soon.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

An enlightened young man

Here’s vlogger Joe Santagato’s reaction to the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide and why our opponents are just dead wrong:

Given his sexual orientation (he’s straight – sigh) and his age, it’s easy to understand why our opposition is growing smaller and more desperate with the passage of time.

Equal. At Last.

As anyone not living under a rock knows by now, the US Supreme Court declared on June 26 that gay and lesbian American citizens have a constitutional right to marriage like any other American citizen protected by the US constitution.

The ruling, hailed by all human beings of sound mind and willing to see the injustice of treating a segment of the population differently for no reasonable cause, was vituperated by the 4 justices in dissent and by those religious fanatics who love to cherry-pick what parts of their religious texts should be followed to the letter and which can be partially or fully ignored.

Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the 4 justices that make up the liberal wing of the Supreme Court and in so doing wrote the last chapter of his legacy regarding the defense and recognition of all gay and lesbian people.

From his ruling:

Kennedy“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. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.”

Read this passage again: “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.”

I cannot see any flaws in his entire logic and I want to thank Justice Kennedy for rallying once more to our defense and giving us, finally, the equality we so desired and deserved.  Thank you Sir.

From Vox:


A few passages from Towleroad’s Ari Waldman:

The Supreme Court’s opinion guaranteeing the freedom to marry for gay persons is a Kennedy-esque take on Mary Bonauto’s brief. It vindicates almost every argument the marriage equality movement has been making for some time and squashes the grasping anti-equality rejoinders. It is a complete victory for the LGBT community, and one that reflects the jurisprudence of the man that is the undisputed leader of gay rights at the Court.

It is not a matter of gays wishing to marry other gays. It is a matter of “a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons … to define and express their identity.”

As Justice Kennedy stated later in the opinion when discussing the history of marriage jurisprudence at the Supreme Court, previous cases were all about marriage, generally:

Loving [v. Virginia] did not ask about a “right to interracial marriage”; Turner [v. Safley] did not ask about a “right of inmates to marry”; and Zablocki [v. Redhail] did not ask about a “right of fathers with unpaid child support duties to marry.” Rather, each case inquired about the right to marry in its comprehensive sense, asking if there was a sufficient justification for excluding the relevant class from the right.

Obergefell was just the next case in that long line of cases that recognized the importance of two persons joining together in a powerful, mutually and socially beneficial enduring union of love.

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.

Gay persons may not have been at the forefront of the Framers’ minds, but the Constitution that they wrote is as applicable to gays as it is to the men of 1789.

The marriage right is fundamental because the two-person marriage union is unique, essential, and “important to committed individuals.” It would be unfair to let the liberty of gay persons stop at Lawrence, which only guaranteed a gay person’s right to express himself intimately with whomever he chooses. That case decriminalized homosexuality in practice, but turned us merely from “outlaws to outcasts,” unable to enjoy the full benefits and liberties guaranteed us under the Constitution as gay persons. Those liberties ensure that we can do more than just have sex with someone of the same sex. They ensure we can marry the one we love.

In teasing out these lessons, Justice Kennedy vindicated almost every substantive argument from the marriage equality side. Marriage, he wrote, was not about children, but rather “through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.” Gay persons are the same as everyone else when it comes to wanting the same fulfillment out of the institution of marriage. And, therefore, preventing gays from marrying is both a violation of a fundamental right to marry–as evident from framing the question in the case as about a “right to marry” and the many Supreme Court cases that followed–and equal protection.

Essentially, Kennedy has erected a form of heightened scrutiny without the group classifications: marriage is a fundamental right under the Due Process Clause; gays are banned from it, but gays are equal in the eyes of the law; there is no justification for discriminating against a similarly situated group on such an important, essential guarantee.

When violations of fundamental rights are at stake, individuals need not wait endlessly for votes and legislatures to deign to grant them the rights the Constitution has always guaranteed them.

Finally, a moving recap of the path to equality from Freedom To Marry:

And the White House reaction:


Thursday, July 09, 2015

Lady Gaga, “Imagine”

Another great, more lyrical, performance by Lady Gaga after her impressive performance earlier this year at the Oscars.

Given that I enjoy vocalists a lot, I appreciate her new artistic choices and the fact that she’s thinking outside the box and stretching herself as an artist.

She’s also proving to the world that she’s a good and talented singer and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that she went down this path to put some distance between her and Madonna, given that she was constantly (and negatively) compared to Her Madgesty.

If that were the case, then she’s achieving her goal I think, because she can clearly hold her own on a stage and because there’s no way Madonna could compete in this arena.