Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Rights and Protections, Part 2 -or- The People Who Bug Me

A postscript of sorts to the day’s Big News From The Supremes (or at least two-thirds of them)…

A good friend of mine posted online, earlier today, suggesting that she was tiring of reading posts and press statements from various people, who were not supportive of the Supreme Court’s marriage-equality decision, that featured the skilled use of complaining. (She phrased it differently and more succinctly; using a reference that a smaller subset of our universe would grasp immediately.)

After the decision was handed down, swiftly from out’ the larger world of Bigger Names the complaining did appear.

It’s not the Josh Robinsons of the world who really bug me.

Although I will say, it was more than a bit jarring to read this young gentleman’s Tweet: a not-especially-well-logicked one which compared same-sex marriage to pedophilia and child molestation. In our current public-discourse environment, not surprising, but still arresting. Being that this is a country endued with Free Speech, it was inevitable that somebody, a highly-paid professional athlete or similar public figure, would Tweet something out like that, which would then go viral because of its author’s celebrity.

[Ed. note: I happen to know a pair of same-sex couples, who each have adopted at least one child, whose relationships and parenting tactics, I am quite sure, would never in a million years remotely resemble anything but what they are: loving parents just trying to bring up decent kids in an often-indecent world, caring for each other and their children because that’s what good parents do, no matter who they are. Weirdly, this is not the point of this post; but I felt it very important to point out, at least parenthetically. Because maybe Mr. Robinson isn’t lucky enough to be able to observe how non-disastrous it can be. Maybe he just doesn’t know any same-sex parenting couples personally. Yet. Or maybe he does, and just doesn’t know it. … Yet.]

(Also: maybe I don’t live in the right part of the world, or follow that corner of American pop culture closely enough … but before this afternoon, I didn’t know that Tweeter Josh Robinson of the Minnesota Vikings was cornerback Josh Robinson of the Minnesota Vikings. Now I do. In a tiny way, I think he’s gained more than I have from this transaction. Which is sad. For me, at least.)

So, Josh Robinson pulled a “complain, complain, complain” … and predictably, some of the online world praised him, and some of the online world condemned him. And, give or take a Vikings pink slip (not a certain thing by any stretch), Mr. Robinson will impact my life, and the lives of the people who now are allowed legally to get married, not a bit. And life will continue forward. He’s got celebrity, and notoriety, and a slightly more public platform from which to pontificate; but no particular power over me or my friends, really.

So, in the grand scheme … whatever.

It is, however, the Jim Hoods and Ken Paxtons of the world that bug me.

Jim Hood is the Mississippi attorney general. Very soon after the Supreme Court handed down its decision today, his office released two statements.

On his Facebook page: “The Office of the Attorney General is certainly not standing in the way of the Supreme Court’s decision. We simply want to inform our citizens of the procedure that takes effect after this ruling. The Supreme Court decision is the law of the land and we do not dispute that.”

Except, as described in his press release:

The Supreme Court’s decision is not effective immediately in Mississippi.

It will become effective in Mississippi, and circuit clerks will be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses, when the 5th Circuit lifts the stay of Judge Reeves’ order.

This could come quickly or may take several days.

The 5th Circuit might also choose not to lift the stay and instead issue an order, which could take considerably longer before it becomes effective.”

So, AG Hood is using whatever legal tactics he has at his disposal to carry out a letter-of-the-law version of “dragged kicking and screaming”.

(Whether he actually has those tactics to use … is debatable; the Supreme Court ruling read, in part: “The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold – and it now does hold – that there is no lawful basis for a state to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the grounds of its same-sex character.” And the day when a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stay actually does trump a Supreme Court decision will be a Constitutionally touchy day. But anyway…)

Meanwhile, Ken Paxton is the Texas attorney general. He’s being dragged kicking and screaming, too. He released this press statement today:

Today’s ruling by five Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court marks a radical departure from countless generations of societal law and tradition. The impact of this opinion on our society and the familial fabric of our nation will be profound. Far from a victory for anyone, this is instead a dilution of marriage as a societal institution.

What is most disturbing is the extent to which this opinion is yet another assault on the actual text of the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law itself. Just as Roe v. Wade ripped from the hands of the American people the issue of life and placed it in the judge-made ‘penumbras’ of the Constitution, so has this opinion made clear that our governing document – the protector of our liberties through representative government – can be molded to mean anything by unelected judges.

But no court, no law, no rule, and no words will change the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Nothing will change the importance of a mother and a father to the raising of a child. And nothing will change our collective resolve that all Americans should be able to exercise their faith in their daily lives without infringement and harassment.

We start by recognizing the primacy and importance of our first freedom – religious liberty. The truth is that the debate over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against people of faith who have sought to live their lives consistent with their sincerely-held religious beliefs about marriage. … This ruling will likely only embolden those who seek to punish people who take personal, moral stands based upon their conscience and the teachings of their religion.

It is not acceptable that people of faith be exposed to such abuse. …

Our guiding principle should be to protect people who want to live, work and raise their families in accordance with their religious faith. … Shortly, my office will be addressing questions about the religious liberties of clerks of court and justices of the peace.

Displays of hate and intolerance against people of faith should be denounced by all people of good will and spark concern among anyone who believes in religious liberty and freedom for all.

Despite this decision, I still have faith in America and the American people. We must be vigilant about our freedom and must use the democratic process to make sure America lives up to its promise as a land of freedom, religious tolerance and hope.

So, AG Paxton’s take is somewhat different. Hot on the heels of, “well okay, that’s the (flawed) ruling then” … comes the distinct air of “this ain’t over yet”.  Maybe it’s a Texas thing … maybe it’s just a Ken Paxton thing … but most of his press releases about Court decisions or other legislation he opposes contain a sentence or two to the effect that we’re going to fight this, don’t you worry your pretty little head.

In this press statement, it’s five paragraphs’ worth of a public official camouflaging ideological petulance behind expressions of faith and support for “religious liberty”. He appears to fundamentally miscast “religious liberty” as not a shield against people keeping him from worshiping as he pleases but as a sword to be wielded against those who do not conform to his beliefs.

Not only is Paxton hiding behind those expressions of piety and concern for the faithful, but he’s folding them into a diatribe about how his faith is under assault from all sides. “Displays of hate and intolerance against people of faith” are cast as boogeymen, and tacitly (but no less clearly) those displays are cast as coming from people who support marriage between members of the same gender.

[Ed. note: I might also suggest that Paxton uses an argument that turns a complete 180 degrees from what seems to me the actual genesis of the marriage equality movement. My sense is that the “debate” over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against same-sex couples who have sought to live their lives merely as participants in the institution of marriage. Perhaps a post for another time.]

The arguments of Paxton and Hood, and perhaps people like Robinson as well, for that matter, are based on a “faith” grounded in self-centeredness, rather than in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Love others as you would love yourself, except if they make you feel icky. My way, or the highway.

But by contrast with a professional football player, who only has the celebrity influence accorded to him by (fleeting) fame or popularity which he can only hope has some effect on his fans … Attorneys General have political and civic power that they can and do wield over all of the people in the states in which they serve.

On top of which, these two particular AGs seem to be holding desperately to the notion that they are within their rights, in one way or another, to defy the rulings of the US Supreme Court. (And I don’t find it difficult to imagine that they would bring the full effect of their political power to bear on anyone who protested or defied a Supreme Court ruling that they, or their faith, or their devotion to “religious liberty”, did support or agree with.)

Those are the kind of people who still bug me – and worry me: the ones for whom it is unclear what limits they feel their instruments of pushback may or may not have.

June 26, 2015 Posted by | celebrity, civil rights, current events, government, news, politics, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rights and Protections -or- Easy on the Analogies, There, Chief

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has taken some pretty serious body shots from his critics, during his two and a half decades in that job.

In January 2013, several media outlets reported on his remarks from the bench. Not so much their content, though, as the fact that he had actually made remarks at all. It had been a month shy of seven years since he had spoken at all during Supreme Court oral arguments. “A study of transcripts by Timothy Johnson of the University of Minnesota,” reported CNN, “found in the past four decades, no justice besides Thomas had failed to speak at least once during an entire 12-month term.”

Speaking (!) as a shy person, I may not wish to assess someone’s intelligence or engagement based solely on the frequency of his or her utterances. That way might lead to hypocrisy. There are people who have impressed me greatly (or, in some cases, frankly unnerved me) during my life who have spoken very infrequently, or concisely, and who have done a lot more listening than blabbing.

And, doing a little digging, I discovered an interesting and relevant tidbit: Justice Thomas spoke the Gullah language, not English, during his childhood near Savannah, Georgia. When he attended the College of the Holy Cross, Thomas realized that his speech still sounded unpolished, despite having been drilled in English grammar at school, and chose to major in English literature “to conquer the language”.

Recognizing that childhood experiences often have a lifelong effect on a person, I can see my way to excusing a certain residual reticence on his part. Historically, I myself have been much more comfortable sending an eMail to a person or company than picking up the phone and making a cold call. I can do public speaking; but I have to kinda rev myself up for it.

The usual verbosity of this blog, in fact, might lead a reader to think that verbosity pervades my whole life. The reader would be very wrong.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to recognize writing as an easier environment in which to organize one’s thoughts. And if I were a Supreme Court justice, with my dissents and decisions and such being in the public record, potentially to be pored over by legal and non-legal minds for many ensuing decades … well, I’d want to do a few drafts before doing the Supreme Court equivalent of hitting “send”. And I think I’m careful with this blog!…

So I’m inclined to read one of Justice Thomas’ bits of writing, from one of this week’s decisions, with some chin-scratching of my own.

Today, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that states’ bans on same-sex marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Justice Thomas was one of the three dissenting judges.

In his dissent, Thomas wrote:

Perhaps recognizing that these cases do not actually involve liberty as it has been understood, the majority goes to great lengths to assert that its decision will advance the “dignity” of same-sex couples. … The flaw in that reasoning, of course, is that the Constitution contains no “dignity” Clause, and even if it did, the government would be incapable of bestowing dignity.

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

Objection, Your Honor: … human dignity cannot be taken away by a government? Those held in internment camps do not lose their dignity because a government confines them?

Counsel wishes to enter into evidence: perhaps the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s? … Or perhaps the Christians and the lions engaging in an afternoon tilt on a beautiful Rome day in the Colosseum? … Or perhaps Birmingham, Alabama public safety commissioner “Bull” Connor’s 1963 use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against civil rights protestors, including their children, to enforce racial segregation? … Or, with my profuse apologies for the invocation of Godwin’s Law, but … Auschwitz?

Also: objection, Your Honor: … slaves did not lose their dignity because the government allowed them to be enslaved?

Counsel wishes to enter into evidence: the idea that if someone is owned by someone else, regardless of whether a government has stepped in and said “hold it” … the person who is owned has by definition lost at least some of their dignity, regardless of whether their owner “treats them well”.

I dunno, maybe I need to brush up on my definition of “dignity” … but I don’t think so.

Finally, and this is the crux of the decision … so, objection, Your Honor: … those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits?

Counsel wishes to place this into evidence:

Until today, there were same-sex couples that wished to be married, went to their local government office to try to secure a marriage license, so that they could be registered as legally committed to each other (and thereby enjoy the same rights and protections that “straight” couples have always enjoyed – including those related to social security, tax law, health care, hospital visitations, child custody, and plain ol’ public acceptance and recognition of a committed personal relationship) – and were refused by some local-government employee who took it upon themselves to pass judgment upon them for personal or religious reasons, or our-state-law-still-bans-this-sort-of-thing reasons, or no very damn good reason at all.

And they probably felt like, in fact were treated like, second-class citizens.

That’s not an example of a government contributing to their loss of dignity?

Counsel wishes to suggest, Your Honor, that you have not exhibited the empathy for your fellow human beings (those who wish to enjoy the same benefits of marriage – not more, but the same benefits – and have the same opportunity to screw marriage up) that any human being ought to be capable of showing another human being.

Counsel also wishes to suggest – may it please the Court – that if the Justice is going to utilize analogies, that in the future he ought to find some that most of the good and decent people that I know wouldn’t sadly shake their heads at.


Analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home.” Sigmund Freud, The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis

June 26, 2015 Posted by | civil rights, current events, Famous Persons, government, news | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Somewhere Out There

Quick! Name your favorite film composer!! Don’t think, just react. Who?!”

Well, if you know me at all, you know that my instant answer is That Guy From The Star Wars Films.

I first banged into Mr. Williams’ score for the first Star Wars film pretty much when everyone else did. “Everyone else”, for the record, includes the Hollywood filmmaker types, who forcibly re-learned that American music history is littered with fine pieces of symphonic music created specifically for film. Williams (and his co-conspirators, some otherwise unlikely fellows named Lucas and Spielberg) kicked that door back open, after some years of the movie orchestral music tradition having lain fallow.

And a number of new composers barreled through that door.


Sad news yesterday, that began in an odd way. First came reports that a small airplane that was registered to motion picture composer James Horner had crashed. There was a short period of dogged resistance to declare that he had actually been in the thing (somewhere between responsible journalism and not wanting Horner to have been in it, perhaps). Finally, Horner’s publicist confirmed that he had been in the crash.

Since the online world allows for such things, tributes have been popping up madly. I would like to join the rush.


Horner Thought #1: with respect to the justly-famous Jerry Goldsmith, I have felt that Horner’s Star Trek theme was the best of the movie-franchise music. If Star Trek was originally thought of as Horatio Hornblower in space, then Horner’s unabashedly naval score launched the USS Enterprise out of drydock in high style in “The Wrath of Khan”, and made some of us forget that we were watching stock footage cannibalized from the first movie.

That’s where I first became aware of James Horner – because it was probably where the very most people became aware of him. It was arguably his first work for a “major” motion picture. He was not quite 30 years old when he wrote the Trek II score.


Horner Thought #2: According to sources cited by Horner’s Wikipedia entry, he “has been criticized for writing film scores that incorporate passages from his earlier compositions and that feature brief excerpts or reworked themes from other classical composers, [including Sergei Prokofiev, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner and Carl Orff] [although honestly, what composer in the last two decades hasn’t gone all “Carmina Burana” at least once?]. The movie-soundtrack review website Filmtracks said that Horner was “skilled in the adaptation of existing music into films with just enough variation to avoid legal troubles.” (And yes, the eight-note Trek II title theme is unquestionably hiding somewhere in Mr. Prokofiev’s catalog.)

I’m not here to tell you this is not so. There is a particular passage that I first heard at the end of the Trek II main title, a rhythmically-active sequence of rising harmonies that is very exciting and very effective and very Horner … and very prone to reappearing often in the remainder of Horner’s scores (all the way to his work just a couple of years ago in “The Amazing Spider-Man”) … such that when I hear them, it does take me out of the cinematic moment. But John Williams also has taken flak for sounding a lot like Wagner, Gustav Holst, and Erich Korngold. I’m not advocating for plagiarism; but at what point is it poaching, and at what point is it merely homage or influence?  And at what point does it become in the style of Horner?


Horner Thought #3: I would suggest that an undeniable truth about James Horner is that he was successful as a film composer because he knew what to do musically that supported – and sometimes greatly enhanced – films’ visual moments.

From the destruction of a flying American entertainment icon to the creation of a set of spacegoing American heroes to the launch of a flying comic-book jetpack-wearing hero, he was particularly good at getting movie audiences airborne.

Even amidst the bloated budgets and overwhelming visual effects of the two highest-grossing movies ever released, Horner managed to find ways to allow audiences’ imaginations to be carried away … by using musical conventions that those audiences were all too familiar with. And made those conventions work.

He even made grown men weep, contributing to a scene that, minus music, might have been somewhere between cheesey and truly odd.


But, although Horner was often tasked with adding musical accompaniment to bombastic, grandiose and fanciful images, he did manage less sweeping but equally memorable movie moments. From a movie that is best remembered for this tear-jerking little number, featuring a six-year-old boy voicing an animated mouse …

this little item might be my favorite of all.

June 23, 2015 Posted by | entertainment, movies, music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment