Separate but Equal

In its recent United States v. Windsor decision, the Supreme Court decided that the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages in states that allow them.  That leaves people in the seven or so states that have civil unions but not marriage in a bit of legal limbo. Right now, it looks like it's going to be up to the executive and the various federal agencies to determine how to treat these people.

States with Civil Unions
Seven states allow same-sex civil unions but not marriage.

The thing about being in legal limbo is that it practically begs for a court challenge. Is separate-but-equal okay when it comes to marriage? The Supreme Court could have decided that as part of their ruling in the Prop 8 case, but they chose to instead deny standing, booting it down to the state level and sidestepping the issue entirely.

That means that separate-but-equal partnership/union laws are still ripe for legal challenges along two main avenues.

  1. Can the federal government refuse to recognize state-backed civil unions that grant the same rights as marriage under federal law?
  2. Can states create separate-but-equal institutions at all? Is that a violation of the Equal Protection clause?  Does it pass whatever level of scrutiny (strict or intermediate) is appropriate when evaluating such laws?

I'm a firm believer that (2) is unconstitutional, but I'm not a Supreme Court justice. And if (2) is struck down, (1) is sort of implied.  But I think that you could come up with a situation where (1) is found to be unconstitutional while (2) is not based on the duck principle: "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

In other words, since the federal government has no legal notion of civil unions or domestic partnerships, then couples are either married or not married under federal law.  If a state allows a couple to enter into a legal relationship indistinguishable from marriage except for its name, then the federal government is obligated (under the same principle as in Windsor) to recognize it as such.

Music Plug: Symphony #1 "Lord of the Rings"

In the mid-2000s, Time-Life released a compilation of the "heaviest" orchestral pieces - stuff that they figured would still move modern audiences jaded by years of rock-n-roll and heavy metal.  They called it "Classical Thunder", it was technically all from the Romantic and Modern periods.

Most of the pieces were good, though they were all very famous stuff and tended towards the loud and thinly scored.  But what makes music powerful is the emotion it draws out in the listener, and straight loud (or just familiar) is about the worst way to do that.  Good instrumental music doesn't just overpower you - it tells a story; it draws you into its world; it moves you.

So here's my effort to come up with a playlist of stuff that is largely symphonic in nature and will - if you understand a little bit of background on the pieces - totally blow your mind.  This will likely be a recurring feature on this blog.

Continue reading Music Plug: Symphony #1 "Lord of the Rings"


I geek out about linguistics. I love when people remix language to do creative things. They get bonus points if use more than one language (two of my favorite Christmas carols are "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Nowell Sing We"). I saw another example today that really amused me.

Monet from One Piece, a woman with the wings and legs of a bird, wearing a green tank top that reads "happy".
Monet, who is several puns.

The writer of the Japanese comic/cartoon One Piece, Eiichiro Oda, loves to put random English words on his characters' clothing.  In the most recent storyline, there is a woman named Monet who has the wings and legs of a bird.  She also wears a tank top with the word "HAPPY" on it.

Oda is fond of wordplay and puns, and this is a great example.  The obvious joke is that HAPPY is only one stroke away from HARPY, the half-woman-half-bird creature from Greek myth. In Japanese, there's a second bit: the transliteration of English "happy" is ハッピ (literally "happi"), while "harpy" is rendered ハーピ (literally "haapi"). The pronunciations are nearly identical; the only distinction is whether the vowel or the subsequent consonant is long.

But here's the thing: the wordplay doesn't work at all for Oda's monolingual Japanese fans.  Harpies aren't native to Japanese folklore.  Japanese doesn't borrow its official word for the mythological creature from English either.  In Japanese, it's ハルピュイア ("harupyuia"), from the Ancient Greek ἅρπυια, so you have to be familiar with the English spelling and pronunciation to be in on the joke.

So I'm all about the idea of In a World...

...but the execution seems a just little bit flat.  Judging from the trailer, writer/director/lead actor Lake Bell does well, but it would have been nice if they'd cast someone with actual announcer credits (there are women who do that job, you know).  Likewise, Fred Melamed is no Don LaFontaine, and while I like Demetri Martin's comedy, his screen performance is just north of meh.

Even if it's just a solid B, though, this is a good thing.  More films by women means fewer films by the likes of Michael Bay and M. Night Shyamalan - a win for everyone.

(And lest you think I'm picking on In a World..., I'm actually going to see it, which is kind of a big deal as I've probably only seen two or three movies so far this year.)

Character-First Character Design

When my friends and I play traditional RPGs like D&D we have a maxim: figure out who your character is first, then build them.  Alternately: make your PC a character in need of a mechanic rather than a mechanic in need of a character.  Or to put it even more straightforwardly: you are not your feats.  From here on, I'll call this principle character-first design.

Continue reading Character-First Character Design

New Blog!

So here's the thing... I'm getting really tired of my clunky old site (even if I did write it myself from scratch). I'm not taking it down, but since I already had the prerequisites for WordPress, I figured I'd install it and give it a whirl.

Let me know what you think of the site layout (it's super bare-bones right now)!