• Read Amy Coney Barrett's opening statement ahead of her Supreme Court nomination

    Despite hypocrisy, coronavirus regulations, and the absence of several GOP Senators who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the US Senate is moving ahead with the process to install Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court.

    Ahead of the start of the hearing on Monday, October 12, Barrett has released her full opening statement online. In addition to family details, and boasting of her clerking under Justice Scalia, Barrett lays out her approach to the law:

    Courts have a vital responsibility to enforce the rule of law, which is critical to a free society. But courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life. The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the People. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.

    […]

    When I write an opinion resolving a case, I read every word from the
    perspective of the losing party. I ask myself how would I view the decision if one of my children was the party I was ruling against: Even though I would not like the result, would I understand that the decision was fairly reasoned and grounded in the law? That is the standard I set for myself in every case, and it is the standard I will follow as long as I am a judge on any court.

    These are nice-seeming platitudes on the surface. But they also dog-whistle to the scope of the ongoing Republican Culture War, which conservative Justices Thomas and Alito have already signalled towards. Barrett's explanation of her judicial philosophy tries to hide behind the veil of weaponized objectivity. She insists her job is to merely determine what the law says, and not to engage in issues like, say, marriage equality, or civil rights. But not engaging in those issues — and refusing to consider the full-scope of objective context when judging the word of the law — is itself a form of bias. Human beings bring their own perspective and experience with them when we interpret language. As much as one may claim they are being objective by, say, reinforcing entrenched power structures that are built on discrimination, that person's perspective is still skewed by their pre-existing assumptions and experiences. Even the choice to be a so-called Constitutional Originalist is still a form of bias, and thus, not objective, because it means you've already formed an opinion based on your personal perspective (like Scalia famously did all the freakin' time).

    As a concrete example: Barrett believes that life begins at fertilization and that includes all non-viable fetuses grown in a lab through IVF. This will inherently bias her towards any decisions regarding abortion rights, such as the potential overturning of Roe v Wade. (See also: the fact that she conveniently committed her anti-abortion advocacy work from her nomination paperwork). She cannot be objective about abortion, any more than she can rule apolitically and objectively about corporate responsibility and climate change, in the face of a myriad of conflicting laws and actual objective science. Neither is she capable of making objective rulings about guns, particularly when you consider that the written word of law on the matter is inherently ungrammatical.

    But by claiming the shield of "objectivity," however, Barrett can relinquish her responsibility even as she wields her power to selfishly reinforce her preferred social order. And that's how a minority group entrenched in power can "objectively" justify the abuses of a culture war.

    Opening Statement at Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing [Amy Coney Barrett]

    Revealed: Amy Coney Barrett supported group that said life begins at fertilization [Stephanie Kirchgaessner / The Guardian]

    Image: Shealah Craighead / The White House (Public Domain)

  • Watch the first trailer for the WALKING DEAD creator's new animated superhero show

    Amazon just released the first trailer for its upcoming animated adaptation of the superhero comic book Invincible:

    From The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, and based on the Skybound/Image comic of the same name by Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley, Invincible is an adult animated superhero show that revolves around seventeen-year-old Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), who's just like every other guy his age — except that his father is the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). But as Mark develops powers of his own, he discovers that his father's legacy may not be as heroic as it seems.

    Kirkman began writing Invincible around the same time he launched The Walking Dead comic, and both series kick off with a fairly familiar genre setup before bursting into a bigger and much more interesting world. Instead of a zombie apocalypse, Invincible focuses on a teenage superhero who's basically a hybrid of Superman and Spider-Man. And like The Walking Dead, the story gets increasingly dark and complex as it goes.

    I'm definitely a fan of the superhero genre, and whenever anyone asks for any kind of superhero comic book recommendations, I almost always point them towards Invincible. Kirkman and Ottley take everything that's great — and ridiculous — about superhero comics and distill down to a single, coherent comic book that spans about 150 issues. When I say "everything," I mean all the gimmicks, too. There's the Shadowy Government Organization Who Tries To Build A Superhero Army. There are Epic Dimension-Hopping Crossovers (that last for literally just one issue, instead of 58). There are occasional "soft reboots" and costume changes. There's the obligatory New Character Taking Over The Name and Costume Of The Superhero storyline. There are delightful convoluted resurrections and retcons and clonings and time travel and all the other wacky superhero tropes that make people scratch their heads — except, again, they're contained to a single book, with a cast of painfully relatable characters. Also like The Walking Dead, the characters in Invincible grow and change over time. It starts with relatable high school melodrama, and by the end, it deals with issues like parenting, sexual assault, and PTSD, in surprisingly down-to-Earth ways. (Or down to Talescria and the new Viltrumite Empire, as the case may be.)

    In short, I can't recommend the comics enough, and I'm very much looking forward to the show's release sometime in 2021. The Invincible animated series will also feature voice acting by Sandra Oh, Seth Rogen, Gillian Jacobs, Mark Hamill, Mae Whitman, and a bunch of other recognizable people.

  • Catholic Priest arrested after filming sex tape on altar with dominatrices

    According to police reports described on Nola.com, a random person was walking past the Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church in Pearl River, Louisiana on the evening of September 30 when he noticed that the lights were on inside the church. This person decided to investigate, and upon peering through the window, discovered this sight:

    The small parish's pastor half-naked having sex with two women on the altar, according to court documents. The women were dressed in corsets and high-heeled boots. There were sex toys and stage lighting. And a mobile phone was mounted on a tripod, recording it all. 

    Naturally, having witnessed what was clearly a consensual (albeit sacrilegious) encounter involving a person who would logically have access to the building at night, this random person decided that the best course of action would be to … take a consensual video, and then phone the police.

    The police arrested the priest and sex workers; it's not clear what the charges were, but a spokesperson for the police said they stemmed from "obscene acts [that] occurred on the altar, which is clearly visible from the street." Which sure sounds a lot like a public obscenity charge for having sex indoors on the first floor of a closed building.

    The priest, Reverend Travis Clark, had recently taken over as the chaplain of the nearby Pope John Paul II High School in Slidell, Louisiana, after the unexpected resignation of the former chaplain, Reverend Pat Wattigny. And the day after Clark was arrested for having consensual sex with two women who were sex workers in the church, the Archdiocese of New Orleans conveniently revealed that Wattigny had in fact been sending inappropriate text messages to underage students, and had also admitted to abusing a minor at a previous church posting (which the archdiocese swears it knew nothing about until Wattigny told them, which also happened to be the day after Clark's arrest).

    So, the good news is, it wasn't a child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church for once, until it was.

    Priest recorded having group sex on altar of Pearl River church, police say; 3 arrested [Ramon Antonio Vargas, Sara Pagones, and David Hammer / NOLA.com]

    Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

  • Moleskine's new studio collection offers the same great notebooks with gorgeous new covers

    When I'm working on a new creative writing project — be it a novel, or a play, or an album, or anything else — I like to do my first drafts by hand in a notebook. Sure, my handwriting is utter shite, but it helps free up my mind. It gets out of my head, so I stop self-censoring and get into the flow more easily. The contents of the notebook tend to be a mess of scratch-outs and chicken scribbles that don't make sense to anyone else, but once I translate that into the computer, I usually end up with a better product.

    Moleskine notebooks have been my go-to for years; I'm certainly not unique in that. Their rigid covers help them stand up against the stickiest dive bartops (where I often write), while still being lightweight enough to transport in my backpack, even when I'm biking with a laptop.

    The problem is, I end up with a pile of black notebooks that are hard to differentiate. (And I have gone through a lot of notebooks.)

    Moleskine's new Studio Collection offers a neat solution to this. Instead of their simple monochrome covers — traditionally designed a feature, not a bug — the company teamed with visual artists from across the country to create unique cover art that pops:

    • Vibrant, curvy shapes and saturated colors of Italian illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli
    • Colorful folkloric artwork of Ohio-based Dinara Mirtalipova, who hails from Uzbekistan
    • Abstract floral compositions of Oregon-based artist Yellena James, who grew up in Sarajevo
    • Ultra-modern landscapes of Chinese artist Yukai Du, who now lives in London
    • Haunting and mysterious world of Swedish artist Jon Koko 
    • Dreamlike visions of Spanish illustrator Sonia Alins 

    If you're interested, each of these artists spoke more about their inspiration and design process at Fold Magazine.

    Moleskine sent me copies of the Jon Koko and Olimpia Zagnoli notebooks that I've just started writing in. I don't know that I'd exactly subscribe to the focus-group-perfected marketing claims that these notebooks are "a reflection of the global world we live in" that "let ideas grow and the creative spirit to thrive," but they definitely look nice. And there is a surprising comfort in assigning a visual aesthetic to the projects I'm working on in each respective notebook, rather than just plucking them off the pile of anonymous black Moleskines, having to figure out which one to carry with me or open up in the morning.

    The company boasts that the packages "frame" the covers — suggesting they could be, ya know, hung like frames upon completion, which might be kind of nice. But really, they just come in a grey cardboard box with an open front to display the art. They're hardly durable, although they do include some mounting holes, so I guess they are intended as practical frames.

    These Moleskine Studio Collection notebooks are a little more expensive than the company's standard unmarked notebooks. But it's worth it if you like the design, or want something to make them stand out. Personally, I'm excited to dive into these, especially since it'll give me a break from the awfulness of the Internet. I guess it's kind of dumb to rely on a decorative to hack my productivity in that way — but hey, if it works, it works.

    Moleskine Studio Collection

    Moleskine Studio – Sparking the Imagination [Fold Magazine]

  • Nvidia has a plan to use AI to deepfake your face to look the right way on video calls

    Graphics processing company NVIDIA has announced a new product, Maxine, which is supposed to help with video calls. In addition to some general compression that should reduce bandwidth for everyone, this technology will also CGI your face so it looks like you're staring at the person on the screen like a normal human conversation, instead of each of you awkwardly looking at your webcam:

    Face alignment enables faces to be automatically adjusted so that people appear to be facing each other during a call, while gaze correction helps simulate eye contact, even if the camera isn't aligned with the user's screen. With video conferencing growing by 10x since the beginning of the year, these features help people stay engaged in the conversation rather than looking at their camera.

    Developers can also add features that allow call participants to choose their own animated avatars with realistic animation automatically driven by their voice and emotional tone in real time. An auto frame option allows the video feed to follow the speaker even if they move away from the screen.

    Kinda creepy, but also kinda cool. And potentially a huge game changer, considering how much video calls are being increasingly integrated into our lives.

    NVIDIA Announces Cloud-AI Video-Streaming Platform to Better Connect Millions Working and Studying Remotely [NVIDIA]

    Nvidia says its AI can fix some of the biggest problems in video calls [James Vincent / The Verge]

  • SNL is now paying its live studio audience to get around COVID regulations

    The New York Times reports:

    On Monday night, the state's health department confirmed that "S.N.L." had followed its reopening guidelines by "casting" members of the live audience for its season premiere on Saturday — the show's first live episode since March 7 — and paying them for their time. (It is not clear how many audience members were paid guests.)

    Traditionally, tickets to a live taping of Saturday Night Live have been available for free, but were also a hot commodity.

    Now, audience members will reportedly be paid $150 for their attendance — about the same as a typical day rate for background work on a TV show or movie, in my experience. This turns them into "cast members" — which is to say, employed contractors — rather than "audience members," thus enabling the show's producers to skirt COVID-related health regulations:

    Based on the guidelines around pandemic-era media production that were released by the state, television shows are not allowed to host live audiences unless they consist of paid employees, cast and crew. And if the show decides to create an audience out of its workers, the audience can be only 25 percent of its typical size — and can be no more than 100 people.

    These audience-members-for-hire are still required to wear face coverings throughout the filming of the show, and also have their temperatures taken before they can enter.

    What a time to be alive.

    'S.N.L.' Had a Live Audience. It Went Home With Paychecks. [Julia Jacobs and Dave Itzkoff / The New York Times]

  • British Virgin Islands announces plans to finally make company ownership information public

    In late September 2020, Premier and Minister of Finance of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) Andrew A. Fahie announced plans to establish a "publicly accessible register of beneficial ownership for companies." From a press release:

    Honourable Fahie noted that the BVI is honoured to be a premier international finance centre and continues to dutifully embrace the responsibility that comes with this reputation, which is to adhere to global standards in combatting money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism and to avoid the misuse of its companies, products and offerings for the furtherance of illicit or nefarious deeds. However, he cautioned that there is legitimate ground for concern that, without appropriate checks and balances, publicly accessible registers could be abused by persons with ill intent, such as kidnappers.

    The Premier said while it is a noble objective to seek the prosecution of terrorists, tax evaders and money launderers, the net that will be cast by the currently proposed model of publicly accessible registers, is disproportionate, since it can be used to breach the rights of the law-abiding and tax-paying individuals who are far greater in number than the targeted law-breakers. There needs to be prudence and balance in the systems, he said.

    The British Virgin Islands have long held a reputation as a tax haven for corporations, providing a convenient bureaucratic loophole for businesses to avoid accountability and operate in secret. According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:

    The BVI ranks near the top of the Tax Justice Network's Financial Secrecy Index, and has served a pivotal role in enabling anonymous ownership conducive to illicit financial flows. 

    A 2018 BBC investigation found that a quarter of property in England and Wales owned by overseas firms were held by BVI registered entities. Those findings, it said, added to concerns that "companies registered in British-controlled tax havens have been used to avoid tax." 

    "Every time that there's a global exposé on illicit finance, the BVI's name comes up," said Eva Lee, a campaign leader at the international NGO Global Witness.  

    "The recent leak of files from FinCEN showed that at least 20% of the occasions when banks in the U.S. raised suspicions of money laundering involved BVI companies, and half the companies exposed by the Panama Papers were registered there," she said.  

    Whether anything actually happens here, or if Honourable Fahie's lofty aspirations are crushed by corporate lobbying, remains to be seen. But this could potentially mark a major shift in the age of secretive corporate fuckery.

    British Virgin Islands Plans to Make Company Ownership Transparent [Eli Moskowitz / Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project]

    BVI Premier Reiterates Territory's Commitment To An Appropriate Framework For Publicly Accessible Registers [Government of the British Virgin Islands]

    Image: bvi4092/Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • Man dressed as Hulk smash puny Trump star on puny Hollywood Walk of Fame

    From the Los Angeles Times:

    President Donald Trump's embattled star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame has been damaged again — this time by an angry green Avenger.

    The sidewalk star was defaced with a pickax early Friday morning by a person dressed as the Incredible Hulk, the Marvel superhero, said Jeff Lee, a public information officer for the Los Angeles Police Dept.

    Police officers responded to the scene around 5:50 a.m. and a vandalism report was taken from witnesses, Lee said. No arrests were made and the investigation will be handed over to detectives, "just like any other vandalism" case.

    To be clear: this is a real thing that happened, and not to be confused with, say, that recent scene from the current ongoing Immortal Hulk series where Bruce Banner declares war on capitalism and climate change. (Also, if you like comic books, you should seriously be reading Al Ewing and Joe Bennett's Immortal Hulk series, which is a captivating psychologically body horror thriller that rages brilliantly against the military industrial complex. If you've never read Hulk before, it's a great place to start, too.)

    Trump's Walk of Fame star smashed again, this time by someone dressed as the Hulk [Nardine Saad / Los Angeles Times]

    Image: Public Domain via Wallpaper Flare

  • Now Baby Pandas are getting Gender Reveal parties, too

    From CNN:

    The Smithsonian's National Zoo revealed the cub's gender to zookeepers and fans alike with a color-coordinated painting made by the cub's father, a giant panda named Tian Tian.

    As if it wasn't weird enough when we did this for humans, sparking multiple massive wildfires. Maybe the endangered pandas will enjoy the celebration of baby genitals, too!

    (The fact that was the first successful artificial insemination of a panda at US zoo is kind of interesting, I guess. I'm still not convinced that they needed to make Grandpa paint blue and pink on a canvas, though.)

    Watch this adorable giant panda cub's gender reveal [CNN]

  • New Trump campaign ad explicitly stands up for conspiracy theorists

    According to Daily Beast, this ad ran online from Sept. 29 and 30, warning that a Biden presidency might mean that cancel culture will come down on the poor, innocent conspiracy theorists.

    It's like that famous poem said: "First the Radical Liberal Democrat Socialist Anarchists Funded By George Soros came for the conspiracy theorists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a conspiracy theorist." And we all know that goes, am I right?

    Trump Camp Runs Ads Defending Conspiracy Theorists [Will Sommer / Daily Beast]

  • Cornell English Department votes to change name to "Department of Literatures In English"

    According to an article on Brittle Paper written by Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ and Carole Boyce Davies — both professors at Cornell University — 75 percent of the the university faculty voted this week in favor of changing the name of the English Department to the "Department of Literatures in English."

    This sounds like a subtle semantic change. But the idea behind it is driven by a larger-scale movement to de-colonize the Western university system. As the authors explain:

    The name 'English Department' no longer reflects our diverse fields of study – even those still in the margins of the English canon. Our Department now offers courses in Enlightenment, Romanticist, Modernist and Post-Colonial literatures;  Caribbean, African, African Diasporic, Native American, African American, Latin American, Chicanx, LatinX, LGBTQ, Indian, Asian diasporic and Asian American.  Literature in translation and many others using literary theories and concepts from all over the world. Within fields traditionally associated with English literature, scholars of both Romanticism and Medieval Studies have keenly recognized that multiple diverse voices and histories were involved in shaping those areas of study. What we want is to have a department that lives up to our lived reality.  There is no room for a singular English literature.

    We are not asking for other fields to be defunded at the expense of centering diverse scholars and their scholarship, we are simply asking for equality.  For how can a department expect to become an incubator of Caribbean, African American, or African scholarship if it has only one scholar working on vast fields? How do we incubate ideas and develop them without clusters of people working in the same field? Our students, in an increasingly shrinking job market made worse by the pandemic need to be well grounded in their fields and their global dimensions.

    And why not be part of decolonization histories happening in global south spaces? As early as 1968, the English Department of the University of Nairobi, Kenya renamed itself the Department of Literature, led by African author and Nobel Prize contender, Ngugi wa Thiong'o. And in academic terms, intertextuality is the bread and butter of literature where writers from all spaces, Western and Global South influence each other.  Issues of decolonization are continuous and as we see with the taking down of statues, it is a steady process to social transformation.

    In other words: while English may have emerged as a dominant cultural language across the globe, the use of the English language has now evolved far beyond its affiliation with England as a nation. By focusing on "Literatures in English" rather than simply "English," the department can make a conscious effort to embrace post-colonial narratives that use the English language in various ways, instead of being beholden to the Imperialist traditions of English English and American English.

    It's a small gesture; and I've seen some folks arguing that it doesn't really accomplish what it claims to set out to do. But I, for one, welcome it. Sometimes those small gestures can start to reframe larger conversations, which leads to greater change. (Hell, I can trace my own experience as an Irish Speaker back to my college British Literature teacher who made us read James Joyce and JM Coetzee, which first helped me to understand post-colonial perspectives.)

    Decolonizing the English Department [Carole Boyce Davies and Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ / Brittle Papers]

    Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

  • NYPD officials threaten discipline and consequences if officers don't wear masks

    The New York Times reports:

    New York City police officials instructed all officers to wear masks in public or risk discipline, as the department faces mounting criticism over officers' failure to comply with a state mandate that people wear face coverings in public when social distancing is not possible.

    The Police Department's directive, issued on Friday in memos and a video, came after elected officials repeatedly called out the police for flouting the mask mandate they are supposed to enforce.

    Fox News also notes:

    Officers must also wear appropriate and proper face masks rather than scarves, bandanas or handkerchiefs. Exceptions are allowed for when officers are eating or drinking, or if the officers have a "breathing condition."

    Exceptions do not apply, though, to "members of the service returning from a state or country with a travel advisory," who "must wear a face covering at all times while working for 14 days after returning" – a seeming contradiction of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order 205, which requires residents arriving from states with a travel advisory to quarantine for 14 days upon return.

    At least there's discipline and accountability for some police actions for once.

    N.Y.P.D. Warns Officers: Wear Your Masks [Ashley Southall and Michael Gold / New York Times]

    Image: Nick Allen / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • Spinal Tap to reunite for Democratic fundraiser, turn the 2020 Election up to 11

    Spin Magazine reports that original This Is Spinal Tap writers and cast members Christopher Guest, Rob Reiner, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean will reunite for a special online fundraiser for the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania.

    The virtual reunion will be hosted by Patton Oswalt, and is scheduled by October 14th at 9pm.

    As of press time, there is no information about a potential appearance by Stonehenge.

    Donate any amount to see the live Spinal Tap Cast Reunion [ActBlue]

    Spinal Tap to Reunite for Democrats in Pennsylvania Fundraiser [Daniel Kohn / Spin]

    Image via YouTube

  • Eddie Van Halen once filed a patent for a "musical instrument support" with some awesome artwork

    The late guitar god Eddie Van Halen was a man of many talents, most of which involved rock n' roll. In addition to all of his great finger-tapping guitar solos, Eddie also filed a patent in 1985 for a unique "musical instrument support." US Patent US4656917A was described as:

    A supporting device for stringed musical instruments, for example, guitars, banjos, mandolins and the like, is disclosed. The supporting device is constructed and arranged for supporting the musical instrument on the player to permit total freedom of the player's hands to play the instrument in a completely new way, thus allowing the player to create new techniques and sounds previously unknown to any player. The device, when in its operational position, has a plate which rests upon the player's leg leaving both hands free to explore the musical instrument as never before. Because the musical instrument is arranged perpendicular to the player's body, the player has maximum visibility of the instrument's entire playing surface.

    I don't know who did the artwork here, but it's pretty much exactly as I would expect.

    US4656917A Musical instrument support [Edward L. Van Halen / Google Patents]

  • Justices Thomas and Alito, petty culture warriors

    The new Supreme Court term — the first without Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg — began on Monday, October 5. And one of the first things they did was refuse to hear an appeal from the infamously homophobic former Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis. You may remember Davis from that time that she refused to separate church and state in the course of performing her then-duties as a county clerk required, and then turned her selfish self-righteousness into a national headline grabbing crusade.

    So yeah, it's good that they wouldn't waste their time hearing her roll out the same nonsensical arguments for justifying bigotry.

    However, conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito opted to use this opportunity make clear their distaste with the 2015 Obergefell v Hodges decision that led to the federal recognition of same-sex marriage — the law that Davis refused to uphold in her duties as a government employee.

    From NPR:

    The two justices agreed with the decision not to hear the case but used the occasion to take a legal baseball bat to the court's 2015 decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which declared that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry under the 14th Amendment guarantee to equal protection of the law.

    Writing for himself and Alito, Thomas said that the court's decision "enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss."

    […]

    [T]he case "provides a stark reminder" of the consequences of the same-sex marriage decision. By choosing to endorse "a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment, and by doing so undemocratically, the court has created a problem that only it can fix," they said. "Until then, Obergefell will continue to have ruinous consequences for religious liberty."

    Realistically — if we are to believe that these arguments were made in good faith, and not as culture war signifiers; which also assumes that the Justices who made these arguments believe in and respect the legal system established by this country, which recognizes precedent — an attempt to overturn Obergefell would be an utter bureaucratic disaster. Just imagine the process involved in the IRS trying to sort through and undo 5+ years of tax records for joint filing that is no longer considered legitimate. From there, it spirals outwards to parental rights, hospital visitation rights, healthcare, and so much more. While Trump's GOP might gleefully try to undo that progress just for the sake of cruelty, the administrative efforts required to enact their legalized discrimination would be a nightmare. There is a world in which someone could have successfully argued that the US government should have no involvement in marriage at all, and that no one should receive any legal benefits in recognition of a religious union. But that doesn't seem to be in the interest of Thomas and Alito, nor indeed the religious Right nor potential-future-Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

    On the issue of religious liberty, this overturning could potentially open another dangerous can of worms about who gets to decide what qualifies as a religion, and how, and why. There are plenty of Episcopalian and United Methodist ministers who believe in marriage equality, and could marry a same-sex couple in a religious ceremony; would that not be allowed, if the federal government doesn't recognize their union? I'm ordained in the United Church of Cthulhu, and once officiated a wedding as a representative of the Church of Latter-Day Dudes. Can the government decide that that is no longer legitimate? (Okay granted, the couple whose marriage I officiated as The Dude has themselves decided that their marriage is no longer legitimate and have since divorced, but still, my point stands.)

    Either way: the fact that Thomas and Alito took this moment — at the start of a new term, facing the potential future of a conservative majority — to make this point is incredibly infuriating. It's hard to see it as anything but trollish virtue signalling to the ongoing conservative culture war.

    One would hope that a Supreme Court Justice — even a famously conservative one! — would be above such pettiness. That their track records would have established a respect for the Justice system and the rule of law that went beyond the typical conservative lip-service paid to such concepts in the interests of authoritarian power-grabbing. NYT columnist Ross Douthat at least made a cogent argument a few weeks ago saying that the Supreme Court's continued in culture war issues — starting with abortion, through civil rights, into marriage equality — has continuously de-legitimized the purpose of the court from a Constitutional perspective. While I don't agree with Douthat on this (especially the part where the defense of bodily autonomy in Roe v Wade was somehow not an issue for courts to get involved with), I can least understand his perspective. But what Thomas and Alito have done here is a deliberate contribution to that delegitimization that is allegedly felt by so many other conservatives. And that's the most shameful and disgusting part about it.

    It's also worth noting that Obergefell was argued using the precedent established by a previous 14th Amendment Supreme Court Case — Loving v. Virginia, which protected interracial marriages, like the one that Justice Thomas is in.

    Justices Thomas, Alito Blast Supreme Court Decision On Same-Sex Marriage Rights [Nina Totenberg / NPR]

    Image: Flickr / Fibonacci Blue (CC 2.0)

  • There's a park in New Zealand dedicated to Riff Raff from ROCKY HORROR

    A friend of mine in New Zealand recently posted a photo from his trip to the fine town of Hamilton. In 2006, the Waikato Museum of Art and History unveiled a bronze statue dedicated to Richard O'Brien, the creator of The Rocky Horror Show who also portrayed the Igor-esque (until he isn't) Riff Raff in the film. Though born in England, O'Brien spent much of his adolescence in New Zealand, and returned there later in his life to claim dual residency.

    Or, as Visit Hamilton describes:

    The statue commemorates the development of the idea and the writing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show by Richard O'Brien – who lived in Hamilton and worked next door to the site of the now demolished Embassy Theatre where the statue is on Victoria Street.

    According to Atlas Obscura, there is also a hidden camera near the statue that records visitors performing the Time Warp.

    I guess New Zealand truly is a land of fantastical wonders. (And very few COVID cases.)

    Image: Sebastian Dooris / Flickr (Public Domain)