Tuesday, October 30

Why same-sex marriage has to be the next step in Vermont

The quoted sections below are all from the Burlington Free Press or the Rutland Herald, reporting on the same-sex marriage commission's hearing last night

Let's start with the Free Press:

"A marriage license would deliver no more rights than a civil union license," Greg Johnson told the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection. That marriage license wouldn't unlock the 1,096 benefits that the federal government offers only to married men and women, he said. It's also unlikely it would open doors in states other than the eight where Vermont civil unions currently receive some recognition.

I've heard this argument before. This argument is the same as the argument which pretends that global warming doesn't exist. Don't bother trying to reduce carbon emissions! It won't help enough anyway. Why even bother? But really, this is about more than just what's happening today. It's about what's right, what's relevant and what's worth doing.

Here's Johnson again, as reported in the Herald:

Meanwhile, some states have taken upon themselves to either recognize or reject civil unions or same-sex marriage, Johnson said. Right now, eight states recognize Vermont's civil unions as a marriage equivalent, he said, but more than 40 states have passed laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

This is a little misleading. While 40 states have laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman, Vermont is one of those states and not all those states have received constitutional challenges. It's not clear from this extreme simplification of a complicated issue where the truth of the matter lies.

What's more relevant, however, is even simpler. Having a two-tiered system in Vermont is wrong. Even if it produces no specific tangible benefits anywhere else in the country (it does, but I'll get to that in a bit), it's still right to lead on this. Vermont was the first to move towards Civil Unions. Vermont should be the first to take the step of being the first state in the union to move towards full marriage recognition without a court requirement.

Why should we do this?

Because we're ready for it and it's clear and obvious that there's a need for it.

Let's put it in simple terms. The Hearld reports on a comment by Peter Teachout from last night's hearing:

But there are intangible differences between civil unions and traditional marriage, such as that marriage is more widely recognized as a union in the common culture, according to Teachout. The Vermont court did not address that in its 1999 ruling that led to civil unions, but same-sex couples do speak of feeling separate or unequal from heterosexual couples due to the distinction, he explained.

In Vermont, some legislators who supported civil unions lost their seats after that historic move. Two years later, Republicans lost their short-lived majority. Today, Republicans hold a fairly small minority in the legislature, with Democrats and Progressives holding a fairly impressive dominance. The political damage of civil unions was small and short-lived. Howard Dean, who signed the bill into law, was re-elected with a clear (though close) victory, exceeding the 50% necessary to avoid the election being moved to the legislator, against some blistering attacks from both the right (anti-civil-union Republican Ruth Dwyer) and the left (Progressive Party stalwart Anthony Pollina).

In Massachussetts, when the state legislature refused to take active steps to block court-mandated same-sex marriage, none of them, no one who came out directly in favor of same-sex marriage lost their seat.

I mention these two facts for very relevant reasons. The Free Press references Vermont Law School professor Michael Mello's statement at the hearing:

"If the Vermont Legislature adopted gay marriage, the rest of the country and world would pay attention," Mello said. Unlike in 2000, when the Legislature was under pressure from a court decision, a change now would signal something significant.

Civil unions changed the nature of our political dialogue. While they were once vehemently opposed by the right, when same-sex marriage was debated in Massachusetts they become the more conservative alternative to marriage. They became the fall-back right-wing position.

Vermont led, in a baby steps, the pathway to full equality. Now it's time for Vermont to grow up and take responsibility for its earlier vote and replace it with full marriage equality.

Will it work in other states? Only a few, for the moment. This will change, over time. But, in the meantime, take this scenario: a same-sex couple is traveling with their kid in Wisconsin and there's a car accident. The one member not incapacitated by the accident is the one who's not biologically related to the child. So when the nurse asks if you're a family member, what answer do you think will make the most sense? That nurse may not be legally obligated to let the conscious family member make decisions, but it's a lot more likely that the nurse will recognize the relationship if the response is "we're married" than if it's "we have a civil union."

This is real. It is tangible and it goes way beyond symbolic gestures.

Monday, October 29

Julie Waters e-notes: Mon, October 29, 2007

This is going to contain a little fun stuff, but there's some heavy stuff in it to, so be warned.

I'll start with the heavy to get it out of the way.

Here's a post I wrote on Daily Kos the other day, suggesting that we might be a bit closer to fascism than most of us are willing to acknowledge:

Read my thoughts on fascism here

I don't know if I'm right or not, but I sadly suspect I am.

Here's something I wrote the next day, which was a bit more optimistic, about Rosa Parks, how she really lived, and how she was a lot more of an activist than people often give her credit for:

Read my thoughts on Rosa Parks here

I know a lot of people try to keep their politics separate from their lives, etc. I don't see it that way. Politics affect me in a very direct and clear fashion. The politics of hate have, at times, done me tangible harm. The politics of ignorance equally so. What I'm trying to sort out how to talk to people more directly about politics without turning them off or pushing them to tune out. I'm not sure how to do this yet, but I'm working on it.

Okay, so... that's the heavy stuff. Here's the fun stuff:

First, I'll be performing live on WOOL tomorrow (Tuesday) night. You'll be able to listen live from 8:00 - 8:40 pm a WOOL.FM.

Second, I got some amazing pictures of an unusual visitor to the East coast-- a Rufous Hummingbird. You can see them at this link

The third is about photography as well, but it takes a little explanation. There's an artist named Eric Staller that I first discovered when I was a kid. I recently rediscovered his work, and you can see what I wrote about him on my blog.

I've been thinking a lot about light sculptures and the work he did and I think I have some ideas for experiments of my own. I do night photography which involves long exposure work. You can the best of it here.

Everything I do with night photography is based on what happens in the course of things; I don't use models and ask them to do specific things in order to photograph them the way I want the image to come out. Similarly, I don't deliberately introduce patterns or shapes into my night photography. I just get things as they come. Stars, traffic, fire, fireworks, etc... I'm quite -good- at this. I can see the patterns of how things are moving and plan some very nice shots to capture the light well, and I've got great equipment for doing it, but I want to try something different.

But I've been thinking: what if I tried doing what Staller did but in a different way? What if I deliberately made specific patterns in light that the camera could capture? Staller called these light sculptures. But I'm thinking: what if instead of doing what he did, I got large groups of people involved, having them do coordinated movements across the screen using hand-held light sources of various types and colors, creating patterns in the air that are like Brownian motion? What if I get groups of people, all dressed in black, creating waves of light across the streets in downtown Brattleboro, Putney or Bellows Falls and capture them with my camera?

But all these questions come to mind. Will people be interested? Will I get a sufficient number of participants to make for an interesting project? Will people be willing to come out to do this on a cold November night? How do I publicize this sort of thing and what do I say? "Participate in an avant-garde photography project! Create sculptures out of light! Meet outside Bellows Falls movie theater at 9pm!"

Other projects come to mind:. Can I find a sculpture and photograph it at night by repeatedly moving a laser light pen across it, creating an image not of the sculpture, but of the lines of light that move across the thing, creating a lattice of 3-d patterning that does the opposite of Plato: not reflecting the truth in shadow, as he claimed we all did, but reflecting the reality in light?

Can I find someone who juggles fire and photograph the patterns and arcs of light as flames dance through the air?

Can I find a way to get above a group of people as they carry lights around in an infinity pattern, creating a floating infinity above the pavement?

Thoughts? Ideas?

More info:


Julie's photography:

Upcoming events for Julie Waters
Tuesday, October 30th Halloween Howl at WOOL.fm; Bellows Falls, VT

Sunday, November 11th 2nd Sundays Song Circle (tentative) at RAMP Gallery; Bellows Falls, VT

Sunday, December 9th 2nd Sundays Song Circle (tentative) at RAMP Gallery; Bellows Falls, VT

Sunday, January 13th 2nd Sundays Song Circle (tentative) at RAMP Gallery; Bellows Falls, VT

Monday Puzzle Blogging

The shape shown is a collection of right triangles which share the same angular properties, though their sizes are different. If the side labeled "K" is exactly 12 centimeters long, what is the area of the entire shape?

Saturday, October 27

If you can't see the photos...

...I'm working on resolving that, but I don't have a fix yet. There's a problem with the name server for all my web sites and I think it's an easy fix, but I can't fix it myself. Hopefully, this will be resolved soon.

Friday, October 26

Friday Bird Blogging: Rare Rufous Hummingbird Sighting

It's fairly uncommon to see a rufous hummingbird on the east coast, though they are known to stop over at feeders on occasion. This one, apparently, had been stopping at a woman's feeders for two weeks. She agreed to let someone post directions to her house on the New Hampshire bird group. We took a visit out on the first day we had available and it was only a few minutes before it showed itself. We sat on this very nice woman's deck for half an hour or so, taking pictures and watching the bird as it came by multiple times. Not bad for a first ever sighting.

A couple interesting facts about the rufous hummingbird, per Cornell:
  1. the Rufous Hummingbird makes one of the longest migratory journeys of any bird in the world, as measured by body size. Its 3,900 mi (6,276 km) movement from Alaska to Mexico is equivalent to 784,500 body lengths. In comparison, the 11,185 mi (18,000 km) flight of the Arctic Tern is only 514,286 body lengths.

  2. The Rufous Hummingbird has an excellent memory for location, no doubt assisting it to find flowers from day to day, or even from year to year. Some birds have been seen returning from migration and investigating where a feeder was the previous year, even though the feeder was currently absent.
All five of my rufous photos can be seen here

Thursday, October 25

Employment Non-Discrimination Act In Danger

I originally posted this to Vermont's Green Mountain Daily.  I thought it might be relevant to post it here, with some additional comments in light of the recent discussions on ENDA.  I'll be adding the additional comments at the end:
It's funny; in Southeastern Vermont, I can't think of a single time I had a problem connected with my sexual orientation.  It's difficult to tell, however.  It's not like I'll know if I got turned down from a job for being queer vs. some other factor.  And I'm sure that I've had students who have a problem with it.  But, still... it's never really been a problem for me in any way I can perceive.  And yet, clearly, it's still a fairly big problem in Vermont, in ways that honestly surprise me.  Maybe it's more common in different areas, or maybe it's just something that I see as so completely ridiculous to hassle someone about that it just goes right over my head these days.

It's not like I don't know what the dehumanization is like.  I remember college, and being harassed almost daily, with people coming by at all hours of the night to leave nasty notes on my door and sometimes just to bang on my door so I couldn't get any sleep, and I remember the administration completely ignoring it at the time, hoping it, and probably I, would just go away.  I remember one time being harassed by a guy on the street and being scared for my life because I wasn't sure where I could go to get away from him fast enough.  I remember having been threatened by another student once and absolutely nothing happening to stop it, even though the administration said they'd back me up if I filed a complaint.  But these things happened a long time ago, in another place and another time.

I guess I just don't feel that way living here.  In Vermont, I feel comfortable that I won't get harassed or hassled.  While I'm sure homophobia exists here, it's not my experience that it's a problem.  The Burlington Free Press, however, reports on some fairly nasty stuff.
Rachel Rosenberg knows what it's like to feel dehumanized.

The transgender-identified University of Vermont student, who prefers male pronouns but still uses his birth name, says he has been barked at while walking with his partner on campus and has endured so many instances of sexually explicit harassment, it's hard for him to keep track of it anymore.

Rosenberg, 20, came to Vermont from New York because of UVM's reputation of being an inclusive place for sexual minorities. But after just a couple of months on campus, Rosenberg realized that the student body and the Burlington community do not necessarily subscribe to the same ideas of tolerance and inclusion that UVM as an institution does.

What Rosenberg learned about the university community was what many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Vermonters have known about the state for a long time. While Vermont as an institution seeks to promote tolerance and acceptance through policies such as civil unions and same-sex adoption, the community as a whole has a long way to go toward fostering an environment that is safe and welcoming for LGBT Vermonters.

On the books, Vermont does look really good.  But having something on the books is not the same as enforcing it, and having a school which has good principles is not the same as having good communication about those principles.

Allowing kids to get away with harassing lgbt kids isn't really acceptable and I think UVM needs to step up to the plate here and see what they can do to support these kids who are getting harassed and to curtail the harassment that does exist. 
To tie this into current events on a national level: I think it's important to keep in mind how tenuous feeling safe can be.  Vermont's got some great laws on the books, but those laws only get you so far.  If we make it clear to the powers that be that we can easily be divided up while scrambling for the morsels that come with national non-discrimination laws, we're completely screwed.  Non-discrimination laws are great but they need enforcement and they need community support in order to have any real meaning.  Being willing to throw some of us under the bus for the sake of a victory here just isn't worth it.

Monday, October 22

Eric Staller and Early Inspiration

I don't remember exactly how old I was when I first saw photos from Eric Staller, but I remember that they got my mind racing. It took me at least a decade to realize how much I'd learned from that brief experience with his work, but it stuck with me.

Staller's work makes use of how film handles light, letting it propagate over long periods of time while he moves through the view using light to imprint on the film. The above image, Poseidon, is one of my favorites. This image is from 1979 and is a pure image: Staller captured exactly what appeared in film here. The one below, I love as well:

I've done a lot of work with long-exposure and night photography, but to this day none of it is what Staller tried to do. I take pictures of events as they occur, capturing the light that is involved in the scene. Staller would do this, but then add his own light through a variety of methods. This was truly transformational. Not only did he do what many of us know how to do: capture light over a period of time, but he used that technique to build his own light shows, going beyond the naturally occurring events and moving into something else entirely.

When I rediscovered his work a few months ago (it's amazing what you can find on the internet), I learned that his work encompassed arenas considerably beyond that of photography. His designs include gigantic interactive sculptures and what he calls "Urban UFOs." Those UFO's are light sculptures, such as Roly-Poly, a globe with constantly moving lights which surround the rider of a personal vehicle of some sort or Bubbleheads, which you sort of have to see to understand.

There's something heady about rediscovering an artist you'd seen decades before, not even having remembered his name but knowing that, to some small degree, he's one of your original creative inspirations.

What I especially appreciate is refinding this artist years later and discovering that he's not only still doing work, but he's doing work that's politically progressive and anti-establishment as ever and hasn't turned out to be some sort of enormous let down. His work continues to make social commentary and is very strongly anti-war and pro-human. It's something I'm glad to see.

Check out either of his websites. EricStaller.com is an online gallery. Out of My Mind is his web storefront, where there are all sorts of weird and wonderful things, including his book, which gives a lot of detail on his techniques and history as an artist.

Saturday, October 20

Opposing Same Sex Marriage, for the Kids!

Pam Spaulding just posted about a piece from Christian News Wire with five "reasons" that same-sex marriage is bad for kids. Just to keep things honest, I wrote up a rebuttal to the wingnut idiocy that is Trayce Hansen
One at a time:

...mother-love and father-love--though equally important--are qualitatively different and produce distinct parent-child attachments. Specifically, it's the combination of the unconditional-leaning love of a mother and the conditional-leaning love of a father that's essential to a child's development. Either of these forms of love without the other can be problematic. What a child needs is the complementary balance the two types of parental love and attachment provide.

"mother love" and "father love" are fabricated concepts. They're this woman's assumptions about how mothers and fathers form attachments, yet she presents no evidence to support these assumptions. Even if she's right about a child needing that combination of the two types of love, there's no evidence that women are incapable of conditional-leaning love or that men are incapable of unconditional-leaning love.

...children progress through predictable developmental stages. Some stages require more from a mother, while others require more from a father. For example, during infancy, babies of both sexes tend to do better in the care of their mother. Mothers are more attuned to the subtle needs of their infants and thus are more appropriately responsive. Fathers are generally needed later when they play a restraining role in the lives of their children. They restrain sons from acting out antisocially and daughters from acting out sexually. When there's no father to perform this function, a boy is more likely to become delinquent and incarcerated and a girl is more likely to become promiscuous and pregnant.

This is, again founded on that same assumption about parental behavior, making assumptions about gender roles which do not necessarily play out in reality.

Third, boys and girls need an opposite-sexed parent to help them moderate their own gender-linked inclinations. As example, boys generally embrace reason over emotion, rules over relationships, risk-taking over caution, and standards over compassion, while girls generally embrace the reverse. An opposite-sexed parent helps a child keep his or her own natural proclivities in check by teaching--verbally and nonverbally--the worth of the opposing tendencies.

Once again, she's working with assumptions here and, more importantly, presenting no evidence that there's anything worth with girls adapting behavior she associates with boys or vice versa. That's because children are individuals and that even if (and I'm not saying it's true) most girls tend to be interested in emotion over reason and caution over risk-taking, that doesn't mean that girls who don't exhibit those behaviors have problems. What she's trying to do here is to pathologize human behavior and she's doing a piss-poor job of it.

Fourth, same-sex marriage will increase sexual confusion and sexual experimentation by implying all choices are equally acceptable and desirable. So, even children from traditional homes--influenced by the all-sexual-options-are-equal message--will grow up thinking it doesn?t matter whom one relates to sexually or marries. Holding such a belief will lead some--if not many--impressionable young people to consider sexual and marital arrangements they never would have contemplated previously. And children from homosexual families, who are already more likely to experiment sexually, would do so to a greater extent, because not only was non-traditional sexuality role-modeled by their parents, it was also approved by their society.

This is a common tactic of the right: make assumptions about the cause of sexual orientation and then extract an argument based on it. Of course, this is entirely absurd. No one's demonstrated any evidence that children raised by same-sex couples are more sexually experimental than those raised by non-same sex couples. Furthermore, if a child is gay, it's probably a lot healthier to for that child to have adult role models who can demonstrate that being gay is not the end of the world.

This, of course, is really the point of pieces like this: having gays walk around proud is dangerous because it will suggest to other gay people that there's nothing wrong with them. The horror!


Human sexuality is pliant. Consider ancient Greece or Rome--among other early civilizations--where male homosexuality and bisexuality were nearly ubiquitous. This was not so because most of those men were born with a "gay gene," rather it was because homosexuality was condoned by those societies. That which a society sanctions, it gets more of.

So... what she's saying is that it is natural for people to be gay? That unless we have an iron fist determined to block gay at every turn, that a whole bunch of people who wouldn't otherwise be gay would suddenly start acting all gay? I know a lot of women who would really like to be attracted to women and not men because they think it would make their life easier (I'm not even going to try to explain this) but none of them seem to be able to actually find themselves attracted to women.

And fifth, if society permits same-sex marriage, it also will have to allow other types of marriage.
Right. Because it always goes in that direction. If you allow men to sleep together, then you have to allow goats to sleep with cats. If you allow same-sex couples, you have to allow Rick Santorum to have sex with a dog. If you allow allow women to have sex with one another, you have to allow the lion and the lamb to lie down together and... hmm... never mind that last bit. I think God's given the OK on that one.

Sorry, I can only read so much of this stuff before I get punchy.

Friday, October 19

Friday Bird Blogging: Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatches are smaller than the white-breasted, with a very clear black band across the eye and, as their name suggests, come with strong red across their chest. The White-breasted variety also have red on their chest, but it's broken red with lots of white mixed in. The red-breasted are much more vivid and clear.

Red-breasted nuthatches are one of those birds we hear about from time to time that uses tools. Per Cornell:
The Red-breasted Nuthatch applies sticky conifer resin globules to the entrance of its nest hole. It may carry the resin in its bill or on pieces of bark that it uses as an applicator. The male puts the resin primarily around the outside of the hole while the female puts it around the inside. The resin may help to keep out predators or competitors. The nuthatch avoids the resin by diving directly through the hole.
I'm looking forward to seeing more of them throughout the winter.

Friday, October 12

Friday Bird Blogging: The Dunlin

In the summer, this bird is much more dramatic looking, with sharply contrasting red and black across the wings and a large black belly spot. In winter, it's much more subdued, as shown in the picture here. This medium-sized shorebird (6-9" long) can be spotted by its very round appearance, combined with a long, downturned, beak.

Last weekend marked one of my best opportunities to photograph a group of Dunlin. They were sleeping and feeding about 20 feet away, and the picture shown was the result.

Friday, October 5

Friday Bird Blogging: The Magnolia Warbler

Per Cornell:
The name of the species was coined in 1810 by Alexander Wilson, who collected a specimen from a magnolia tree in Mississippi. He actually used the English name "Black-and-yellow Warbler" and used "magnolia" for the Latin species name, which became the common name over time.
My first encounter with a Magnolia Warbler was at Parker River, when it was one of many warblers that we encountered in a fallout (when large groups of warblers pause together during migration). The next year, I got much better looks at them-- finding one this Spring in Maine and then again a couple weeks ago closed to home at Herrick's Cove in Bellows Falls. These are tiny birds (4-5"), and not at all easy to photograph, but when they do make themselves visible, they can provide for some really nice pictures.