Same Sex Marriage: The Time Has Come

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.  No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  –  The United States Constitution, Amendment 14, Section 1.

We used to have something in this country called miscegenation laws, which would have made it illegal for a Black man and a White woman to be married.  My grandfather was Black and my grandmother is White and they lived married through this unfortunate period in our country’s history.  When riding in a car together, sometimes it was necessary for my grandmother to get down on the floor of the car while my grandfather drove, in order to be unseen by people who might object to their relationship on the grounds that they shared different racial backgrounds.  In fact, they had to move north from Virginia to Ohio in order to escape those laws (See Loving v. Virginia 1967).  People used to use the Bible to call marriage between different races “an abomination.”  (Among other things people used the Bible to call abominations like women having the right to speak in church based on 1 Corinthians 14:34, and women wearing pants based on Deuteronomy 22:5.)

President Barack Obama’s comment in an interview with ABC news, in which he stated “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” has furthered the debate on the issue of same-sex marriage.  The president’s comment was preceded by Vice President Joe Biden’s statement on NBC’s Meet the Press, in which he said he was “comfortable” with same-sex marriage, just days before North Carolina voters decided in favor of a constitutional amendment banning it.  The president had sad in the past that his thinking on the issue had “evolved.”  The elation on the faces of people in the LGBT community on television was plainly evident after the president made his unprecedented statement.  And for good reason.  After all, how do you tell someone who to love, or who not to love?

The comments of both President Obama and Vice President Biden are commendable.  It’s a step in the right direction.  But until there is either further federal legislation passed to prevent states from violating the rights and privileges of American citizens, or forthcoming Supreme Court rulings to overturn same-sex marriage restrictions, such affirmations may ultimately, unfortunately, prove to be mere political posturing.  I applauded President Obama’s signing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: the policy of banning openly gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals from serving in the military.  Now the time has come for Congress, the judiciary and the president to once again rise to the occasion, and ensure that here in the United States of America, everyone is treated equally.

© 2012

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Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier is a collection of his essays, speeches, articles and transcripts from interviews he’s given as an astrophysicist over the years.  If that’s not enough literary diversity to peak your interest, take into consideration that he also adds to this impressive compilation, a poem and numerous tweets, which he refers to as “space tweets;” many of which are written with a sharp comical undertone.  Put this all together and you have a cleverly arranged assortment of both insightful, passionate scientific writings and humorous anecdotes, published in a highly readable volume.  In other words, if you’re a scientifically illiterate person, like me, then yes, this book is for you!

Tyson navigates his readers through the vast political vacuum of space travel, which at times can be as frustrating as solving complex math equations.  Some of the frustration revolves around misconceptions that people have regarding the amount of money it actually costs to fund space exploration.  There are many people who believe that, considering the amount of societal problems that exist in our country like poverty and hunger, balanced with the responsibilities that the government is charged with like stabilizing the economy, job creation and homeland security, there really isn’t much justification for funding expensive space programs.  Yet when Tyson points out that only half a penny of each tax dollar is used to fund NASA operations, the reasons for objecting to space funding seem irrational.

And then there is the story he narrates about how scientists reacted to blurred images returned from the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 when it was launched.  The fuzzy images were the result of a design flaw.  Nevertheless, astrophysicists and medical researchers found a way to collaborate, and use software developed in response to those blurred images in the effort of breast cancer detection.  It makes sense to me.  The money we spend as a nation on science, technology and space can yield returns in areas like health care, something we can definitely benefit from.

I have always been fascinated by space.  As a kid I would stare up at the stars and the moon, wondering what else was out there in that never ending black sky.  My enthusiasm for the universe was encouraged by what I read in encyclopedias about the planets in our solar system, and when my teachers would suspend our class lesson long enough to wheel a television set out of the audio/visual room so that we could watch the latest live broadcast of the space shuttle being launched.  Those were exciting moments for me.  As were the moments I spent sitting in the planetarium on school field trips with my head arched upward.  I dreamed that maybe one day I too could travel to some distant place in the galaxy.

As an adult, I continued to foster my enthusiasm for all things space by watching the Discovery and Science channels, reading books that featured breathtaking images taken by Hubble, and checking for the newest discoveries made on NASA’s website.  One year for my birthday an ex-girlfriend of mine treated me to a night at the observatory, and I had the amazing experience of viewing Saturn through a larger than life telescope.  Saturn’s rings left me speechless.  Every once in a while, you can catch me setting up my own little telescope outside of my apartment, gazing up at those shining, twinkling lights.  And now, after reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Chronicles, I have a hunch that when I look through my telescope, I’ll understand what I’m observing a little bit more than I did before.

© 2012

Recovering Your Inner Child

Self PortraitI recently read the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, written by Stephen Greenblatt.  In this book, the story of a 15th century Italian scribe named Poggio Bracciolini, who recovers the work of a 1st century Roman poet named Lucretius, is described in fascinating detail.  Lucretius’ poem is called On the Nature of Things, and is based on the teachings of a Greek philosopher named Epicurus who lived between 341 BCE – 270 BCE.  Epicurus believed that once fear and superstition were removed from a person’s mind, they could then experience the freedom to pursue pleasure.

I think it’s safe to assume that children live by the following aphorism: Pleasure is the highest good.  Children are driven by a perennial search for fun, whether it’s through the velocity of coasters, swings and slides at amusement parks, or the vibration of Dualshock3 controllers on their Playstations.  A child’s eyes can become overwhelmed with wonder at the site of a rotating ceiling fan or a blinking light; their ears flooded with rhythmic beats and melodious chords from an MP3 player, prompting them to experiment by dancing.  Children are often astonished by these common stimuli that adults take for granted.

So what happened to us adults?  When did we stop being stupefied by what we now call ordinary?  I guess the answer can be found at the precise time when we stopped paying attention to what once amazed us.  And we stopped paying attention when other things became more important.  Things like exams, work, bills and all of the other tedious things that come with growing up.  Yet that inner child, like the building blocks of life that philosophers like Epicurus called “atoms” and proclaimed to be indestructible, never goes away.  It lies dormant, waiting for us to finish verifying the balance of our checking account, complete our online bill pay registration, log in and log out, clock in and clock out, and all the other mundane duties of the day.  In some cases, our inner child may also be waiting for us to tune out all of the negative forces preventing us from doing what we might really want to do.  The fear of peer pressure and groupthink can stagnate our ability to return to the pure pursuit of pleasure that we once embarked on as children.  Yet, it’s important that we do occasionally return to that pursuit.

In thinking about this whole phenomenon, I asked my mother to share the ways that she likes to recover her own inner child.  She stated that in her childhood, she always loved having playmates.  And so now as an adult, she has adult playmates to hang out and enjoy activities with.  She also commented that dancing is another way she successfully channels her inner child.  When she dances she feels free and uninhibited, like she did when she was a kid.  I like to watch Science Fiction movies to tap into my inner child.  Every time I watch Star Wars I feel the same awe of the vastness of the universe that I did when I was a child.  I also find that riding a bike brings back the spirit of exploration that I had in my youth.  My first bicycle was the harbinger of my independence.  I could go anywhere I wanted to (within a few miles of my neighborhood of course).  And my favorite place to explore was the park’s nature trails teeming with inexhaustible life.

How do you recover your inner child?

Wesley (colored pencil drawing)

© 2012

Pick Your Poison

I like to think of myself as a beer connoisseur, in a loose sense of the word.  Over the years I’ve tried some really delicious draughts at microbrew festivals, pubs and restaurants.  I’ve enjoyed IPAs, cranberry ciders; even an alcoholic root beer draught that tasted just like, yep you guessed it, actual root beer!  (A second glass from that tap was impossible to turn down).  So last weekend, when I was given a couple of beers to try for the first time, I made up my mind that I would devote an article to them both.  So here goes.  Cheers beer lovers!

The first beer is a Scottish ale from the Belhaven Brewery.  A dense texture and amber color crowded my glass as I settled in for the first sip.  But before I could indulge, in fact, to be correct, before I could pour it in my glass, I had to follow the instructions on the back of the can.  Usually I’m a staunch opponent of beers in a can, but every now and then you have to break your rules to try something new.  The instructions begin by  informing you that the container is supplied with a “floating widget” designed to enable you to enjoy its “smooth full bodied flavour.”  The idea of the widget was nothing new to me because I distinctly remember the Guinness company using a similar widget in one of their brewed bottles.  Next, there are five specific instructions: 1. Chill for three hours, 2. Carefully open can, 3. Wait for the head to rise, 4. Pour into a glass, 5. Relax, savour and enjoy.  It’s probably best to make this beer your first of the evening if you plan on “beer-hopping” (my own term for drinking multiple beers with different labels), since you’ll have to read instructions.  But the 5.2% malty and nutty flavoured taste is well worth the aluminum printed protocol.

The second beer is a Belgium family brewed ale called Delirium tremens.  Whether the name is intended to warn about the necessity for moderation and the delirium that can occur from the withdrawal of alcohol, or simply distinguish itself from ordinary sounding beers; I guess both reasons would make sense.  The bottle’s label is eclectic, jam packed with sly pink elephants, haughty prancing crocodiles, foolish copper dragons balancing themselves on balls and golden swooping doves, against a black and blue boarder and gray body speckled with black dots.  I told you it was eclectic.  A rich amber colored 8.5% ale with a very thick, creamy texture; this family brewed beer is a great compliment to any Saturday afternoon ballgame on TV.

Have you tried any new beers lately?

© 2012