Friday, May 24, 2013

The BSA takes it's first step into the 21rst Century....

Click to enlarge
This is a first step,  (Okay,  it's an imperfect, legally problematic and contextually offensive first step that basically says;  a 17 years, and 364 day old gay person is just fine, but  24 hours later that same person is now a threat to kids..?! )   

But it IS a step FORWARD none the less. Because of the decision made today the policy on banning gay adult Scouters will very likely collapse under the weight of its own stupidity in next few years. I heard from a number of people who were "in the room" during the vote, and the fact that it passed with 61% is telling where attitudes of the BSA Membership is heading.

 I know advocates for equality would rather have had  a full victory rather than a partial one here, but the BSA was at a true crossroads yesterday, and despite hiking at a slow pace, they overwhelmingly chose the path that goes forward. No small thing, that.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bernard Waber Beloved Author Of ' Lyle the Crocodile' Dies At 91

I was saddened to read of  Waber's passing.  Lyle the Loveable Crocodile was one my favorite bedtime stories when I was a child.  
(via the Associated Press)
NEW YORK — Bernard Waber, the author of such children's favorites as "The House on East 88th Street" and "Lyle, Lyle Crocodile," has died.
Waber died May 16 at his Long Island home after a long illness, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced Monday. He was 91.
Waber's "warmth, energy, artfulness, elegance, and abiding respect for children were epitomized in his books," Houghton's senior vice president and publisher of books for young readers, Betsy Groban, said in a statement. His 33 books have sold 1.75 million copies, the publishing company said.
Waber debuted as an author in 1962 with "The House on East 88th Street," which introduced readers to the loveable Lyle, first spotted in a bathtub in an Upper East Side brownstone. Lyle's story continued in "Lyle Finds His Mother," "Lyle and the Birthday Party" and other works. Waber also wrote many non-Lyle books, such as "Ira Sleeps Over," in which a boy fears he'll be teased for bringing a favorite stuffed teddy bear to a friend's house.
Waber was a native of Philadelphia and a graduate of what was then known as the Philadelphia College of Art.
He is survived by his brother, three children and four grandchildren. His final book, "Lyle Walks the Dog," was a 2010 collaboration with his daughter, Paulis.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Funny Odd Film Review - Star Trek Into Darkness

In 2009  director JJ Abrams confidently  strolled into a cultural  lions den, by re-imagining  one of the most iconic  franchises  in not just science fiction,  but  in popular culture as a whole, with his "reboot" of Star Trek.

The film worked,  and it worked  really really well.  Yes,  hard core fans (of which it can be said, I am one...)   had our  nit-picky issues  with  the film, but  overall most  "trekkers"  accepted  that  this was something  NEW,  and  as such would be  very different  from  everything that came before.   And it worked,  it showed us characters and  concepts we thought we  knew by heart,  in a brand new context and gave Star Trek, a totally new  story arc.

 It also gave  Abrams and his team the  ultimate come back to  the criticisms of  uber-nerds  who  were horrified  at the changes. "It's a whole new timeline,  everything you are complaining about never happened in this universe, so get over it!" 

Like most Star Trek fans, I embraced it, and was eager to see where JJ Abrams would take us next. SPOILER WARNING- The following review will contain key plot points from the new movie, so if you haven't seen it and don't want to know what happens, don't read any further. Otherwise read on....

Star Trek Into Darkness,  is a  really  good  sci-fi action movie.   It is (mostly) well acted,  well directed and  visually  stunning.    I know you are  hearing  the  "but...."  that  is about to come, so before  we go there,  let me tell you  what  I really liked about this movie.

The Cast.  Most of  the  core cast  have  grown  into their characters  and  turn in strong and  believable performances.   Chris Pine's  Jim Kirk is   heroic,  human and  believable.   Likewise  Zac Quinto's Spock wonderfully takes  the elements we know and love from Leonard Nimoy's Spock, and combines that with the journey this "new" Spock  has taken  since the  destruction of  his home and family in the last movie.    Zoe Saldona kicks ass,  in a major way   giving  Uhura  the gravitas  and  depth  that  must  be  making  Nichelle Nichols  very  proud.  

Simon Pegg turns in a much stronger  and less cliche'd performance  as Scotty this time out,   and takes great strides in making the character his own.   I know that for many fans,   plot element of having Scotty  resign and leave the Enterprise , (over the potential risks posed by the new  "photon torpedoes")   is  unbelievable,  and something "Scotty would never do",  but  that's the point.   It is something  Jimmy Doohan's  Scotty would never do.   This Montgomery Scott,  hasn't  lived  that life, or  at least  not yet.   So  Pegg's  reboot of Scotty  works better this time around.

Bruce Greenwood brings a fatherly  presence as  Admiral  Christopher Pike and as the bad guy, "John Harrison"   Benedict Cumberbatch delivers the right balance of fire, ice  and mayhem.   Where you never really  believed   Eric Bana's  Romulan villain in the last movie  was  a serious threat to Kirk & Co.  "Harrison" (yes I know.. I keep putting his name quotes,  we'll get to that in a minute...)  is at the outset, a believable baddie.

So again,  Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun, entertaining, well made  Science Fiction Action movie.  But...   and here comes  the  "but".   This movie  simply does not work as a Star Trek film, even as a JJ Abrams "universe"  Star Trek film .    Abrams himself  said  he didn't make a movie for Star Trek fans, but rather for movie fans, and in that goal he has been very successful, but  as a Star Trek story,  the movie falls flat.  The most generous praise I can muster in this regard is, Into Darkness is to Stark Trek what "Quantum of Solace" was to James Bond.  A well made action movie that when taken in the context of its own cannon, makes absolutely no sense.

The script suffers from  a number of flaws,   John Cho,  Anton Yelchin, and Karl Uban  as  Sulu, Checkov and "Bones" McCoy,  all  try to make the best of what they are given.  Yet they can't seem to  make it work in this film.    Urban particularly  struggles to make his McCoy more than just crotchety,  but never quite gets there.

Then there are the  "Easter eggs".  A Hollywood phrase meaning small plot points or references hidden in the film  to be discovered along the way.  Inside Jokes if you will,  planted there for  Star Trek fans to find, that the average non-trekker  wouldn't  get.   These, while  amusing  for the most part,   come across as more post-it notes stuck on the movie that say "Look!  See!  It's a Star Trek reference! "     The biggest egg of course,  is the fact that  "John Harrison" is in fact  Khan.  Yes, as in "Star Trek II,  The Wrath of Khan ". The problem with this,  (well,  one of the problems, there are several...)  is while Cumberbatch is entirely believable as an ex-star fleet  special ops type hell-bent on revenge, he just is not convincing as Khan.

Which brings us to the  core problem  with this movie.  If you are going to reboot something  like Star Trek,   you have two choices. You either do a complete  re-imagining ,  as was done  with  Battlestar Galactica where  all the characters and their context is completely  changed, while putting them in basic key elements of the original cannon.

 Or,  you do as was done with Doctor Who,  you  totally redesign the look,  the feel, the sound,  but  stay  completely true  to everything that came before.   The problem with Star Trek Into Darkness,  is JJ Abrams is trying to  have it both ways.

The Easter eggs don't work. They come across as a forced rehash of Star Trek II. You can't have all the key characters be entirely recognizable as their original namesakes, and then pull out a villain we all know very very well, and completely re-image him.

 You can't redo the story from the best of the original cast films and expect it to work for Trek fans in this new context.  It feels fake, like the production team sat down and tried to think of things they could  just throw in  that would keep the Trekkers happy, while making a big budget  sci-fi action movie that  would appeal to the average movie-goer. 

Reversing the plot point of having  Kirk "die" from radiation in the engine room instead of Spock was powerfully acted and an emotional moment in the movie.   But  in the context of the story, it  was rendered  silly  when it turns out  all they need to do bring Kirk back from the dead is inject some of Khan's blood into him.  In his cameo as "Spock Prime", (another easter egg that felt forced)  Leonard Nimoy's Spock  tells  his  younger self  that  defeating  Kahn  for him and his shipmates  came at  great  cost. But in this film, while a visual roller coaster,  it all felt  just  too... easy.   

The musical score for the film by Michael Giacchino, continues the themes from the previous movie and works very well and at the end, incorporates the famous  opening bars of  Alexander Courage's  original theme.   The costumes look great, aside from the  ridiculous  dress gray starfleet uniforms with the silly over-sized caps. The Enterprise still looks like the Enterprise,  and we get to see the Klingons in this movie, forehead ridges and all.

So what's my verdict?  I really enjoyed  the movie.  It's a fun scifi roller coaster ride and  certainly  worth  going to see in the theatre and in 3D.   Yet  what is clear  from  this movie, is  JJ Abrams  needs to make a choice on which direction  he wants to take  Star Trek, because trying to go both forwards and backwards at the same time  just leaves you stuck.

Star Wars fans should take note.  JJ Abrams is set to take on that reboot next.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Thoughts on Minnesota Marriage

The "impressive clergyman" in the movie "The Princess Bride" put it best when he said "Marwiage is what bwings us togewer ... today!" The irony is, that now more than a decade into the twenty-first century, marriage and all the issues that surround it, are exactly what some folks feel is tearing America apart.

But first… let’s recap.

In the past 9 years there have been dizzying advances in Marriage equality, It started with Massachusetts back in 2004, then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome opened the floodgates on this issue when he began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples in February that same year.
More than 18,000 couples got married between February 12 and March 11, 2004, before the courts stepped in an put a halt to it. 

This eventually led to the passage of and fight against, California Proposition 8. Leading up to the  Perry Case to have it tossed out as Unconstitutional . 

Fast forward to 2013.
Yesterday Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize marriage equality. Joining 11 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage, meaning that about 18 percent of the population of the United States has the option to marry regardless of gender.    So let’s see... none of those 11 states have slid into the sea, burst in hell fire and brimstone, it hasn't rained frogs or locusts and as far as I can tell not one heterosexual marriage has been “destroyed” by any same sex couple getting married.

Kind of makes you wonder what all the fuss is about?

Like many people, when I hear the pundits of talk radio and cable news say that same sex marriage is a “redefinition of marriage." I have to laugh. By that standard interracial marriages was a redefinition. Doing away with polygamy was a redefinition. Not treating women as property was a redefinition. None of these self-proclaimed defenders of marriage would ever tolerate what is the true definition of “traditional marriage

Saying that letting two people of the same gender get married would in any way "redefine" the marriages of heterosexuals, is the same thing as saying that equal rights for racial minorities would "redefine" being white. That argument is a smoke screen and a scare tactic, and not even the real issue, so spare me the stale talking point. It doesn't hold up to even basic fact checking. 

And spare me the tired fear mongering rhetoric that allowing same sex marriage will lead to polygamy, bestiality, pedophile marriages, sunspots and tooth decay. The has ONLY ever been about two and ONLY two consenting adults of no direct family relation. Find me the person who truly wants to marry their dog, and find me the dog who is over 18 years old, and can sign a marriage application and clearly say the words “I do”. 

 If Shaggy and Scooby show up in a Las Vegas chapel, I might take this argument seriously, but otherwise it just makes you look desperate and stupid.

Next we have the idea that opposing Marriage Equality is "defending the very fabric of society." How is the fact that two legal adults of no direct family relation being allowed to live in a stable, monogamous legally protected and, I might add, legally binding relationship in ANY way a threat to society? How is anyone's marriage harmed or even threatened by this? It isn't. You know that, I know that, everyone knows that 

Opponents of Marriage Equality had their day in court where they were asked to prove that marriages of heterosexuals would change if same sex couples were allowed to marry, and they couldn't produce even one shred of evidence to support the claim. So they fall back on “Its about Children!” The insane notion that allowing same sex couples to marry is “denying children a Mother and a Father”. Again, where that truly the case older and infertile couples should also be denied the right to Marry, and divorce should be illegal.

Funny you don’t see Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh banging on that drum….

Then we have the argument that we have to let people vote on whether or not a minority gets equal rights. Well by that logic we would still have slavery. If in 1860 you had put emancipation to a popular vote, it would have failed. If in 1960 you had but integration to a popular vote it would have failed. For that matter if in 1776 you had put independence to a popular vote it would have failed. We are a democratic republic, we elect our government officials to enact laws on our behalf. The idea that the majority gets to vote on the rights of a minority is the most Un-American concept ever. 

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So what is the real issue here? It's the truth. Or the lack of it, in this debate over marriage. First we need to say to those who claim we need to "defend marriage." Fine, let's talk about divorce then. Let's talk about adultery, let's talk about illegitimacy. If opponents to gay marriage are serious about defending this sacred institution, then divorce, a far greater threat to marriage, needs to be much harder to get. Adultery, a far greater threat to marriage needs to punishable by criminal prosecution. Fines and perhaps even jail time. Anyone who makes a child out of wedlock should then by law be forced to marry the other parent. Or if they are already married legally adopt the child.

Strom Thurmond has never been so lucky to be dead.

Any one who says they  want to "defend marriage" and does not support the provisions I just listed, are not interested in marriage. They just don’t like Gays and Lesbians, and want to deny them equal treatment under the law. Nothing more. Now let’s be clear, as an American you have the RIGHT to dislike anyone you want. You don’t have approve of same sex marriage. If you don’t want gay marriage, it's pretty simple,   don’t get gay-married. 

Yet the same United States Constitution that protects the right to hate who you want to hate, also protects MY right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And the courts have ruled that my rights do not in any way infringe on yours, that means you don’t get to infringe on mine. Yet many on the cultural and political Right in the United States can’t seem to grasp this basic truth of our democracy, and continue to put forward the idea that equal rights for all Americans is somehow an attack on them.

It is time that we call these self-proclaimed defenders of marriage what they are. There is no difference between those who say marriage is sacred and must be defended against "gay attack", and those who said racial integration was a threat to America. Wearing a cross necklace and going on TV to say Gays and Lesbians are unfit to raise children is no different from wearing a white hood, and standing in front of a burning cross and saying "the darkies are coming for your daughters."

Saying America must be defended against a radical gay agenda, saying books like “Heather has Two Mommies” are dangerous, saying the media is controlled by a gay Mafia. This is no different from those who 70 years ago posted signs saying "Germans wake up! Don't buy from Jews!”.

Government saying an entire group of people are a threat to families, government saying who can and cannot get married or raise children, is no different from a Senator waving around a list of names of people who he wanted to government to say couldn't teach, make movies, write books, or work in science, medicine or law.

Attempts to legally create second class citizens are not new. We have seem them before. They had different names though. The inquisition, Jim Crow, “States Rights”, Reich Racial Purity Laws, the blacklist. It is time we call the people who are trying to do  this again, but to gays and lesbians what they really are. They are the inquisitors, they are the brown shirts of Krystalnacht, they are the Klansmen of Mississippi burning, they are the dogs on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they are Joe McArthy's committee. They are an affront to everything our nation has ever stood for.

They are the American Taliban. A small group of even smaller minds, who would seek to take religious beliefs and codify them into civil law, then force them on everyone else. They are completely un-American, and yesterday the great state of Minnesota joined the growing number of places in the United States that have soundly rejected them. 

To people of Minnesota, I say congratulations. To the Dobson’s, Fisher’s, Bachman’s and Brown’s of the world, I say welcome to the 21rst Century, how sad it must be to see your particular brand of snake oil isn’t selling anymore.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Catch Up Blogging....

Okay...  I admit  I have been neglecting  the blog  for  the past  few weeks,  I  don't  really have a good excuse , other than  I just  wanted to take  little break and  see how  the world unfolded  while I wasn't    paying direct attention.   While I've been  away from the keyboard  there are been a few interesting developments...

Delaware, Rhode Island  both legalized  same sex marriage, and as I write this,  the Minnesota State Senate is in it's final debate on the legalization of marriage equality in that state.    Meanwhile  the right wing nuts of the American Taliban  have pretty much slouched in to petulant  depression over  the forward march of the civil rights of people they don't like.  Clinging to the hope that States with anti-gay constitutional amendments will form a firewall for the preservation of bigotry.

Matt Baume in San Francisco  brings us up to date...

Which of course brings us to  the other front in the Marriage equality fight, where pretty much Everyone is in waiting mode...  Waiting for the United States Supreme Court  to  issue  rulings  on two key  cases.  The  Perry Case, which will decide the fate of  California's  anti-gay  Proposition 8, and the Windsor Case, which deals with the constitutionality of  sction 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act  (DOMA).  Both rulings are expected  by the end of June.

All of which has groups fighting for immigration rights  for  bi-national  same sex couples hopeful that the demise of DOMA  will help clear at least one path  for couples like us  to  sponsor our spouses for immigration  to the United States.   The other path is the comprehensive immigration reform effort currently in mark up  with the Senate Judiciary Committee.   The bill  is  intended  to  provide for increased  border security, added  immigration enforcement resources, a pathway to legal status  for the more than 11 million undocumented  immigrants currently living in the United States, and lastly,  provide for immigration rights for the non-american partners in bi-national same sex unions.

All good things right?  Who could  have a  problem with that?  Certainly not the Republicans, who after getting  seriously  trounced in the 2012 election, couldn't possibly want to further alienate Latino voters by trying to kill the first real effort at immigration reform since 1986, just so they can appease what is left of their base?   Or do they?

Cue Rachel with  the oh so predictable and inevitable spectacle of GOP bigotry.

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Meanwhile my two favorite delusional wing nuts  Senators "Grampa Simpson"John  McCain, and "Waylon Smithers" Lindsey Graham, have respectively, gotten off his lazy-boy,  and poked his head out of his deep dark closet,  to claim that  any provisions for immigration rights for  same sex couples would "kill immigration reform".

Really?....  So just to be clear.   John McCain and his gal-pal Lindsey are willing  to  throw 11 million Latinos and Asians under the political bus, effectively ending any hope the GOP has of ever winning another national election,  just so they can show how much they hate same sex couples.

Wow... good luck with that one kids.    Oh wait,   here's the kicker.  That may actually work out for them, and get them what they want; Immigration Reform without any rights  for  same sex couples because... (wait for it....)  the  Democrats  have once again  seemingly forgotten they won the last election.  Now it is Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and MY own Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who are all too willing to trade rights for same sex couples in return for GOP playing nice.   John A, over at  Americablog  brings us all  the gory details.
Gay advocates had hoped that any immigration package would include the Uniting American Families Act, a bill that sought to put gay and lesbian couples on equal footing in the immigration system with heterosexual married couples. However, on Sunday afternoon, Sens. Schumer, Robert Menendez and Dick Durbin convened a conference call with gay rights groups to inform them that the legislation — at least the initial bill — will not include language to address LGBT concerns, a source familiar with the call told POLITICO.
They blamed it on the Republicans…. Schumer was very matter of fact about it, very Machiavellian,” said the source, who asked not to be named. Gay advocates were told that Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will offer an amendment in his committee to protect gay couples.
And in a classic first term-esque twister move,  the  Obama Administration  tries desperately  to  speak out of both sides of it's mouth on  this issue. Where words like  "bi-partisan" and "compromise"  once again  seem to mean,  "we are folding like a cheap card table, because we don't want the Republicans to be mean to us..."
To his credit,  Senator Leahy did  add two amendments the bill  incorporating  UAFA provisions into the bill.   It nice to see  at least one Democrat  who is willing to call the GOP's bluff, and make them choose between electoral  redemption and their own bigotry.