TIL about the 1964 murder of a lesbian that was, even back then, spectacularly mis-reported by the New York Times

I just listened to what is, by far, one of the best podcast episodes to which I’ve ever listened, thanks to Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall and You’re Wrong About. The episode is about one New York City murder in March of 1964 and the way that murder of lesbian Kitty Genovese was so spectacularly mis-reported by an article in (where else?) The New York Times that was the genesis of the common urban legend about people being murdered in New York City and nobody – nobody – calling the police or coming to help.

Since You’re Wrong About doesn’t have transcripts anywhere, and I don’t feel like going back and doing one, I’ll let Wikipedia give you the background:

In the early hours of March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old bartender, was raped and stabbed outside the apartment building where she lived in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens in New York City, New York, United States. Two weeks after the murder, The New York Times published an article erroneously claiming that 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack, and that none of them called the police or came to her aid.

The incident prompted inquiries into what became known as the bystander effect, or “Genovese syndrome”, and the murder became a staple of U.S. psychology textbooks for the next four decades. However, researchers have since uncovered major inaccuracies in the New York Times article. Police interviews revealed that some witnesses had attempted to call the police.

In 1964, reporters at a competing news organization discovered that the NY Times article was inconsistent with the facts, but they were unwilling at the time to challenge NY Times editor Abe Rosenthal. In 2007, an article in the American Psychologist found “no evidence for the presence of 38 witnesses, or that witnesses observed the murder, or that witnesses remained inactive”. In 2016, the Times called its own reporting “flawed”, stating that the original story “grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses and what they had perceived”.

Winston Moseley, a 29-year-old Manhattan native, was arrested during a house burglary six days after the murder. While in custody, he confessed to killing Genovese. At his trial, Moseley was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Moseley died in prison on March 28, 2016, at the age of 81, having served 52 years.

The main thing I love about Marshall and Hobbes, among many, is how thorough they are in bringing new details to life, or correcting the falsities that get repeated elsewhere.

For instance, that last paragraph from Wikipedia is wrong, or at least seriously incomplete.

Mosely was sentenced to life, and his sentence was later commuted to life. And he did die in prison in 2016.

But what You’re Wrong About adds to the known record is that he actually escaped from prison during the time he was serving for Genovese’s murder. He went on to attack other people and ended up in a stand-off with police, after which was arrested and was sentenced to a second prison term. It was during this second prison term that he died.

This is but one small thing in the You’re Wrong About Genovese podcast episode that astound you, renew your faith in (some) humankind, and make you curse the police and media.

Just another victory for this podcast that is the most engrossing to which I listen.

And since I came in very late after the podcast started, I’ve got many more to enjoy before I am caught up.

Kitty Genovese, who was a kickass lesbian in New York City in 1964 at a time when being a kickass lesbian required a great deal of bravery and integrity — and whose murder was so spectacularly mis-reported by the New York Times that it became an urban legend.

Texas GOP congressman censured by party for sensible votes on gay rights, gun control

Way back when I was managing editor at a weekly newspaper in Boston, the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) – the national group for LGBT folk (and supportive others) in the GOP – set up a local chapter in Massachusetts.

In that heavily Democratic state, they faced much opposition.

The Log Cabin sales pitch was simple: yes, the Republican Party is, overall, very anti-gay. But to have an organization of openly gay Republicans could eventually turn that tide because 1) members of the GOP would see they have family and friends who are conservative and gay, and 2) Log Cabin clubs and members could be a force for change by showing that you can be conservative AND supportive of gay right AND still be elected (and re-elected) in conservative districts.

Nearly 50 years later, it’s not going well:

The Republican Party of Texas voted Saturday to censure U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, over his recent votes that split with the party.

The State Republican Executive Committee passed the censure resolution 57-5, with one member abstaining. It needed a three-fifths majority to pass.

The move allows the party, which is otherwise required to remain neutral in intraparty contests, to set aside that rule for Gonzales’ next primary.

The last — and only — time the state party censured one of its own like this was in 2018, when the offender was then-state House Speaker Joe Straus. He was also a moderate from San Antonio.

Gonzales did not appear at the SREC meeting but addressed the issue after an unrelated news conference Thursday in San Antonio. He specifically defended his vote for the bipartisan gun law that passed last year after the Uvalde school shooting in his district. He said that if the vote were held again today, “I would vote twice on it if I could.”

“The reality is I’ve taken almost 1,400 votes, and the bulk of those have been with the Republican Party,” Gonzales said.

I really bought the LCR sales pitch hook, line and sinker.

Our newspaper ran supportive profiles of them. I wrote a couple of editorials early on supporting their efforts which, considering the way the GOP was constituted in Massachusetts at the time, seemed likely to succeed in a state where most Republicans (Govs. Will Weld and Paul Cellucci, etc.) were not of the virulently crazy variety.

Boy, was I wrong. Even in Massachusetts currently, the state where LGBT rights are the nearest of any state to being a statewide non-issue, the GOP has turned hard right.

As for the Log Cabin folks, they simply ignore the fact that their party is, on LGBT issues, walking down a path that would be familiar to Jews in Germany in the late 1930s.

Not only has their party not gotten increasingly supportive on LGBT issues, the GOP is actually censuring members who vote positively on even the most anodyne LGBT legislation.

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas).

You go, Madonna, with any alterations to your appearance that make you happy

I don’t usually wade into discussions about fashion, style and pop culture because I have always been the least fashionable gay man around. To this day, I have to remember to take a look at myself in a full-length mirror every morning to make sure I don’t have buttons missing or holes in my pants or some other such stupid thing that befalls me from time to time as I walk into work and someone points out that I have buttoned my shirt lop-sidedly. I really only recently took to heart the fact that I should not wear blue and black together — a habit that used to drive one of my exes to distraction.

But this thing with Madonna and the Grammys has been too much to take without saying something.

If you’ve not heard, Madonna has a new look — including a bold new face — that she unveiled as she came out on Grammys night to introduce Sam Smith and Kim Petras, a nonbinary performer and a trans woman. The 64-year-old singer’s new look has brought about the most vicious round of sexist, ageist commentary I’ve seen emanate from otherwise progressive cultural observers.

An op-ed in the New York Times had this to say:

In the wake of the Grammys, people complain she no longer looks like Madonna, but which Madonna comes to mind? She’s been a blonde and a brunette, butch and high femme. She’s worn castoffs and couture. She’s adopted and abandoned an English accent. She’s shown us her roots and her underwear, deliberately putting the hidden parts on display. Every new version of Madonna was both a look and a commentary on looking, a statement about the artifice of beauty, and about her own right to set the terms by which she was seen.

“I have never apologized for any of the creative choices I have made nor the way that I look or dress and I’m not going to start,” she wrote on her Instagram on Tuesday. “I am happy to do the trailblazing so that all the women behind me can have an easier time in the years to come.”

The latest look is not altogether novel. Back in 2008, New York magazine declared: “Out with the gaunt and tight, in with the plump and juicy. There’s a new face in town — and it’s a baby’s.” The article’s prime example was Madonna herself, whose refurbished face it compared to a restuffed saddle. But fashion is fickle. In 2019, Elle reported that “toddler-round cheeks, tumescent pouts and immobile foreheads” were “officially over.” Last week, “The Cut” called it again, with a feature on how the “sexy baby” look died.

Is it possible that Madonna has been so blinkered by her fame and wealth that she’s lost the ability to see herself objectively, like Michael Jackson pursuing an ever-thinner nose or Jocelyn Wildenstein doing … whatever it was she was doing? Yes, but whatever her intentions, the superstar has gotten us talking about how good looks are subjective and how ageism is pervasive.

In the end, whether she meant to make a statement or just to look younger, better, “refreshed,” almost doesn’t matter. If beauty is a construct, Madonna’s the one who put its scaffolding on display.

That is one of the nicer op-eds I’ve run across since Madonna’s appearance on the awards show.

That so much of the bile has come from gay men who should know better has been interesting and disconcerting to watch, especially since Madonna introduced those non-binary and trans performers that night.

Many of these gay men would never, I will hazard a guess, question the plastic surgery choices of a trans person. Why would they then do it a an older woman fully capable of making these decision on her own?

“Madonna clearly has an issue with plastic surgery and does not know when to stop,” I had one gay man say on my Facebook page. “She clearly needs an intervention. Encouraging her, or acting as if she does not have a problem, is not doing her any favors.”

This is, of course, foisting onto Madonna one person’s version of how women should look. Trans people know what this is like because of lot of surgically altered trans people know all too well that they do not necessarily — some do, some don’t — fit into the mold of what represents ideal classic Western male or female beauty.

Should we stop them from having plastic surgery because the results don’t match our expectations?

Then there is the issue of ageism. Somehow having plastic surgery because it’s medically necessary is seen as more acceptable than plastic surgery done purely for aesthetic reasons, especially if only because of perceived “vanity” or “being afraid of growing old.”

This runs us headlong into the many double standards that confront the aged. You can want big breasts or a smaller nose when you are 24, but when you’re 64, plastic surgery is a sign of deep personal brokenness.

You’re damned if you do or damned if you don’t when it comes to growing old.

Keep all your wrinkles and flabby old chins, and people think you look like shit. Try to get rid of them and you’re still said to look like shit.

Why would anyone, but especially Madonna, feel an obligation to live up to ridiculous standards like that?

Let’s also remember that Madonna’s net worth as of 2022 is said to have been $850 million.

This is before she kicked off her Celebration tour, which sold 600,000 tickets in one day.

She has had to add more than 20 dates to the 37 existing tour dates as of 1/20/23. Before that, her tour was 98% sold out. At some of the largest concert venues in the world.

Clearly her fans don’t care about her age or her decisions about how she looks.

And Madonna herself seems just as capable now as she has ever been about what decisions will help her to remain, after all these years and her untold number of detractors, the Queen of Pop.

Madonna unveiled her new look at the 2023 Grammy Awards.

Suddenly, I’m not in such a hurry to see “Knock at the Cabin”

I loves me a good horror movie, and the trailer for M. Night Shamalayan’s “Knock at the Cabin” looks freaky as hell.

Sure, a couple of his other movies have been not so great, but we’ve always got “Signs” to keep hope alive.

But based on this review alone I’m thinking I might not waste my time:

Spoiler alert: the climactic event of “Knock at the Cabin” is a book burning. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that, lest anyone deem Hollywood a solid front of liberal messaging, this new film by M. Night Shyamalan provides yet another hefty counterexample. In a year that has delivered such models of illiberal retrenchment as “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Tár,” and “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Knock at the Cabin” has the virtue of being the most daring, brazen, imaginative, and radical of them. It’s starkly posed as a conflict of faith against reason—and it presents a faith-based order that’s ready and willing to use violence in pursuit of its redemptive vision. So far, so apt. What’s jolting about Shyamalan’s film is its call to capitulation. The director puts the onus on the liberal and progressive element of American society to meet violent religious radicals more than halfway, lest they yield to even worse rages, lest they unleash an apocalypse.

Or, rather, the Apocalypse. The premise of the movie is the visitation, upon an ordinary American family, of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who aren’t all men and who show up not on horseback but by truck, and who turn a seemingly run-of-the-mill home-invasion thriller into a cosmic spectacle of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. It’s also a suspense film, in which just about nothing but the plot matters, and therefore any discussion risks being spoiler-y; I’ll be careful, but be forewarned. The family that’s vacationing in the titular cabin, isolated in deep woods and far beyond cell-phone signals, comprises Andrew (Ben Aldridge), a human-rights lawyer; Eric (Jonathan Groff), whose job is unspecified; and their daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), who discloses at the start that she’s nearly eight, and whom they adopted from China. The foursome of intruders is led by one Leonard (Dave Bautista), a soft-spoken hulk and second-grade teacher from Chicago; his companions are Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), a nurse from Southern California; Adriane (Abby Quinn), a line cook at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C.; and Redmond (Rupert Grint), who works for a gas company in Medford, Massachusetts.

The first contact is made, in the woods, by Leonard, who espies Wen catching grasshoppers and gently tries to convince her that he’s a nice guy, not a creep, explaining that he needs to meet her parents and that it’s a matter of his job—“maybe the most important job in the history of the world.” (For a second, I thought he might be a film critic.) The foursome indeed knocks, and, when they’re denied entry, they break in by means of the weapons that they call tools: neo-medieval, seemingly homemade devices (such as a pickaxe and a mallet at the end of a thick broomstick). Then they make the demand that already went viral, long before the movie’s opening, by way of its trailers. The four intruders claim to have foreknowledge of impending disasters that will extinguish human life—unless this family chooses one member to sacrifice and then carries out the killing, and not by suicide. One trailer put the choice starkly—“save your family or save humanity”—but, of course, there’s no choice; they need to do both, and the movie’s main suspense is how they’ll manage to pull it off.

There’s no discussing “Knock at the Cabin” without disclosing another pair of salient details: first, the quartet is endowed with powers stronger than mere clairvoyance. They’re able to cause apocalyptic, high-body-count plagues and, in the course of the action, they don’t shrink from doing so in the name of a higher justice, or, as they say, “judgment.” (It’s never clear that the apocalypse that they foresee is anything more than the one that they themselves control.) Second, out of all the cabins and all the families that the apocalyptos could have picked, they landed on a place inhabited by a couple with whom they had history—one of the quartet happens to have been a gay-basher who attacked Andrew and left him with serious injuries as well as some non-Christian thoughts about aggressive self-defense. (That the basher’s real name is revealed to be O’Bannon, an unambiguously political wink, suggests the extent to which Shyamalan expects an L.G.B.T.Q. human-rights attorney to turn the other cheek, forgive, defer, and, yes, even obey.)

Yeah, no. I don’t think so.

A scene from “Knock at the Cabin.”

I’m not sure if I’m hooked on new HBO zombie series, but this one episode was amazing to watch

When I first heard news about the The Last of Us, HBO’s live-action adaptation of the video game of the same name, it was, to put it mildly, a bit of a turn-off.

For my tastes in film, movie treatments of video games have never been a big draw because they’ve never turned out well in the films I have seen. (See Lara Croft, Prince of Persia, etc.) Plus, my attention span issues have precluded the video game addictions that come so easily to so many others.

Add to this the fact that The Last Of Us is essentially a zombie movie with fungi rather than, well, whatever pathogens that all the other zombie films and TV series say ended civilization as we know it.

I thought, “Oh, hell no. Not another zombie series.”

I gave up on The Walking Dead a long time ago because while the character-driven story arcs in that show could still be interesting, those plotlines had to be interspersed with far too many repetitive zombie encounters that felt like all the same old zombie encounters. There are only so many ways you can create a zombie encounter on live action video.

But I’m in one of those frustrating in-between times in my streaming choices where the series I’ve been watching have ended completely, or are at the end of a season.

And since I have HBO Max and The Last of Us seemed to be getting good buzz for the first couple of episodes, I decided to dive in.

So far it’s pretty good for “just another” zombie apocalypse show. The Cordyceps fungus angle introduces some twists that are just different enough to be interesting. (There are about 600 species of Cordyceps in the real world BTW.)

The writing and acting are good, as are the rest of the things that make a television show engaging.

But the show went from very good to outstanding in the span of one episode — the third episode, to be exact — when the showrunners decided to devote nearly the entire episode to the unconventional same-sex love story of Bill (a gruff, solitary doomday prepper) and Frank (a stranger whom Bill ends up saving and then falling in love with).

To fully understand how amazing this episode was you have to understand that their relationship was not fully defined nor explored in the video game:

If you watched ‘Long Long Time’, the third episode of HBO’s post-apocalyptic series and are only just emotionally recovering, fans of the critically acclaimed Sony exclusive got the answer to a question that has been teased and theorized about for years: are Bill and Frank gay in The Last of Us game?

Giving audiences respite from the action-packed first two episodes, we’re transported back to 2003, a few days after the fungal outbreak that would decimate much of the world’s human population. We’re introduced to Bill (Nick Offerman) a “survivalist” who establishes his own paradise in the evacuated township of Lincoln. He sets up boobytraps and an electrified fence for protection while becoming totally self-sufficient for food and, perhaps most importantly, fine wine which he looted from the local liquor store. What he doesn’t anticipate is meeting Frank (Murray Bartlett) and how they would find love, hope and purpose in a bleak world. That, ultimately, is what The Last of Us, games and series, is about. Here’s how the show diverged and expanded on their story and if Bill and Frank are gay in The Last of Us game.

When you meet Bill in the games, Joel and Ellie are in need of guidance and supplies and as a player, you have to navigate your way through Bill’s traps. Joel and Ellie end up alerting a pack of Infected and Bill comes to the rescue. After the chaos dies down and Joel explains his mission to protect Ellie as they venture across the country, Bill mentions Frank but doesn’t go much into detail about the nature of their relationship. “Once upon a time, I had somebody that I cared about, it was a partner, somebody I had to look after. And in this world that sort of shit is good for one thing, gettin’ ya killed,” he says.

Not long after, the three of them find a decomposing body hanging from a rope. Bill is visibly upset but tries to remain composed. He confirms the body is Frank and notices the body has been bitten by Infected. “He was my partner, he’s the only idiot that would wear a shirt like that,” Bill says. Joel theorizes that Frank hung himself after becoming infected, though a nearby suicide note suggests the pair had a falling out—“I want you to know I hated your guts,” Frank wrote.

After you’ve got what supplies you need, you take Bill’s car to aid Joel and Ellie’s cross-country journey. In a cut-scene, Ellie reveals she helped herself to a pile of magazines. “I’m sure your ‘friend’ will be missing this tonight,” she says and the player will notice it’s an adult magazine with a man on the cover. “Light on the reading but it’s got some interesting photos,” she jests. Joel tells her the magazine isn’t for kids. She then asks why some of the pages are “stuck together” and Joel can’t figure out how to answer her. “I’m just f—king with you,” she tells Joel and throws the magazine out the window. We never see Bill again though he is mentioned a few more times in both The Last of Us Part I and the sequel.

“The word ‘partner’ is used and it’s in a limited emotional sense,” the episode’s director Peter Hoar told Entertainment Weekly of how the game hints at Bill and Frank’s relationship. “You’re like, ‘Business partner maybe?’ And this is why I love the way they told that story [in the game] because it feels like it happens just off camera and then you have to run away again, ’cause games can’t stop.”

In The Last of Us game, these are the only hints we’re given as to Bill’s sexual orientation but, as mentioned, the HBO series expands on his story significantly. In episode three, we learn Bill’s origin story of sorts. When the fungal outbreak—which would quickly decimate most of humanity—began, his town of Lincoln is evacuated. Residents are taken to quarantine zones (QZs) but if there was no room for them, they would be executed. “Dead people can’t be infected,” Joel (Pedro Pascal) tells Ellie (Bella Ramsey) upon discovering a mass grave not far from the town. Bill, however, is delighted he can finally be alone. He spends time raiding Home Depot, building an electric fence and setting boobytraps to protect against The Infected and raiders, while becoming totally self-sufficient in terms of food and, perhaps more importantly, fine wine that he procures from the local liquor store.

For four years, he lives in total solitude—which suits Bill just fine. But everything changes when Frank accidentally stumbles into one of Bill’s traps trying to make it to the Boston QZ. Cautious of his new guest, Bill offers Frank a hot meal with a fine wine pairing, a hot shower and fresh clothes. They initially bond over their enjoyment of the finer things. When Frank notices a vintage piano, he digs out a Linda Ronstadt book of sheet music and plays, clumsily, ‘Long Long Time’. Bill steps in and offers his own emotional rendition. The pair are moved and when Frank asks who the girl is that Bill is singing about, Bill says, “it’s not a girl”. They kiss and when they retire to the bedroom, their exchanges are sweet and awkward. Frank adds he’d like to stay a few more days and 16 years later, they’re still together.

There is so much that feels not usual about this in the HBO series.

First of all, they are older men who become ever older and more grizzled as the episode progresses. Just the act of showing old gay men being tender and kissing feels out of the ordinary.

Hollywood also tends to portray gay men as being urban hipsters and not sympathetically as doomsday-prepping gun lovers. Not that we need gay gun lovers in multitudes on-screen. I’m sure they exist, but not in huge quantities. I could be wrong.

I won’t give away the ending of the third episode, but I will say that it’s heart-rendingly well-crafted. It’s not a gut punch or overplayed for pathos as much as it’s just another sad story in a world now full of sad stories. But it still felt revolutionary as I was watching it, and I’ve been watching gay episodes of TV series for a very long time.

The show’s treatment of same-sex relationships and love points to other issues about the current state of our politics in this country.

We are seeing a shocking retrenchment concerning LGBT issues in the GOP specifically, and the American right-wing in general.

I have witnessed the ebb and flow of LGBT issues for half a century. Any of our successes have always brought about a certain amount of political and religious backlash. But it was a small backlash here and there, not usually the widespread systemic backlash we are seeing now.

I think the acceptance of LGBT lives in Hollywood is here to stay and no amount of posturing by right-wing congresspeople and school boards is going to change that.

They might be able to ban our books in libraries, but the time of them being able to dictate morals to Hollywood is long past. And Hollywood is a far more powerful arbiter of mores than hard-copy libraries will ever be again.

Hollywood is getting better at presenting LGBT lives as just another fact of life rather than as a political selling point. Kids growing up now, unless they have extraordinarily controlling parents, are presented more all the time with LGBT characters that are just a part of everyday life. I see that in the undergraduates I deal with at work, to the extent that I am exposed to their thoughts on cultural issues.

That is not to say that we should not be vigilant. Germany had a remarkably well-formed liberal society in the late 1920s and we all know how that turned out. The term “never again” should always be paired with “It could happen again.”

Below are two videos.

The top one is a taste of Bill and Frank’s unstated (but hinted at) relationship in the video game.

The bottom is from episode three of the current HBO series. Note that it’s a doozy of a spoiler I still can’t watch without getting teary-eyed.

Nick Offerman (right) and Murray Bartlett play Frank and Bill, respectively, in a moving episode of “The Last of Us.”

White House sticks it to that right-wing congresswoman who cried about the Respect for Marriage Act

It is a sad fact that progressive presidents will almost never get the respect they deserve because progressive reporters — most journalists in the MSM, I believe — are too worried about being accused of favoritism toward the home team.

So they will nearly always, unless forced to do so by circumstances, prop up bad right-wing arguments while downplaying progressive accomplishments. It’s how reporters prove their “I’m balanced” bona fides.

One of the things that Biden and his crew are better at than Clinton and Obama’s people ever were — and don’t get enough credit for — is in winning the war of perceptions. Biden and his people are not afraid of making the GOP look as foolish as it tends to be.

Or, as Brian Tyler Cohen notes on Twitter:

This is amazing: President Biden invited the gay nephew of the Republican Congresswoman who cried over marriage equality to the White House to watch him sign marriage equality into law.

Indeed, it is amazing.

How naming the James Webb telescope ignored important history around LGBT issues

The New York Times’ Michael Powell is described on that newspaper’s web site as “a national reporter covering issues around free speech and expression, and stories capturing intellectual and campus debate.”

But if you follow Powell’s writing closely, it’s clear through his choice of topics that his sympathies lie with those who think “wokeism” has run amuck, even as he buffers his personal biases in the anodyne language many mainstream media reporters use to seem as if they are neutral when they are not.

Powell clearly thinks that undergraduates and grad students at, say, Sarah Lawrence or Yale Law School being inflexible in their beliefs — inflexibility in personal crusades being a hallmark, for many, of being university students — are a greater threat to free speech than Elon Musk pushing a fascist agenda on Twitter. This is a hallmark of a different kind, that being the tendency of well-to-do white guys at the New York Times to see every bit of pushback against their beliefs and history as a threat to civil society.

Powell has piece up today that has great personal interest for me as a gay man who’s experience all manner of discrimination:

NASA’s decision to name its deep-space telescope after James E. Webb, who led the space agency to the cusp of the 1969 moon landing. This man, they insisted, was a homophobe who oversaw a purge of gay employees.

Hakeem Oluseyi, who is now the president of the National Society of Black Physicists, was sympathetic to these critics. Then he delved into archives and talked to historians and wrote a carefully sourced essay in Medium in 2021 that laid out his surprising findings.

“I can say conclusively,” Dr. Oluseyi wrote, “that there is zero evidence that Webb is guilty of the allegations against him.”

That, he figured, would be that. He was wrong.

The struggle over the naming of the world’s most powerful space telescope has grown yet more contentious and bitter. In November, NASA sought to douse this fire. Its chief historian, Brian Odom, issued an 89-page report that echoed Dr. Oluseyi’s research and concluded the accusations against Mr. Webb were misplaced.

NASA acknowledged that the federal government at that time “shamefully promoted” discrimination against gay employees. But Mr. Odom concluded: “No available evidence directly links Webb to any actions or follow-up related to the firing of individuals for their sexual orientation.”

Critics called the NASA report “selective historical reading.” And they reframed their argument, saying that Mr. Webb should be held responsible for any anti-gay activity at NASA and at the State Department, where he had previously been a high-ranking official.

In a blog written with three fellow scientists, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a cosmologist at the University of New Hampshire with a low six-figure Twitter following, said that it was highly likely that Mr. Webb “knew exactly what was happening with security at his own agency during the height of the Cold War,” adding, “We are deeply concerned by the implication that managers are not responsible for homophobia.”

This controversy cuts to the core of who is worthy to memorialize and how past human accomplishment should be balanced with modern standards of social justice. And it echoes a heated debate among historians over presentism, which is the tendency to use the moral lens of today to interpret past eras and people.

The entire way this is worded suggests, once again, that Powell agrees with those who think that Webb should not be judge by the standards of today for those things he did back when homosexuality was considered a mental illness.

But this is the same argument that some white racists have used to argue against the tearing down of Confederate statues, namely that we ought not judge former slaveholders by the standards of today when owning slaves was normal during a time when blacks were considered sub-human.

This is ridiculous, of course.

It does appear that there have been homophobic words and intent that were, early in this controversy, unfairly attributed to James Webb. Many of those errors have been corrected, though sometimes not refuted in as public a way as were the original accusations against him.

But Webb did at least acquiesce when the “Lavender Scare” was in full-swing, and gay and lesbian NASA employees were being forced from their jobs and careers and committing suicide.

That fact might be mitigated with the argument that Webb was a product of his time. But not by much. They were still being forced out of jobs by accusations that had nothing to do with their abilities as scientists and administrators. And just as with slaveholders vs. abolitionists, there were many people in the time of the Lavender Scare who were able to come to the fully rational conclusion that firing gay people because they were gay was immoral and unnecessary.

Some of those people were likely uncomfortable with the subject of homosexuality. But they also knew that what someone did in their private romantic life had no bearing on their ability to do physics. Yet James Webb, an educated man, went along with the mob.

Which begs the question: Why choose Webb at all? There are so many other deserving people for whom that telescope could have been named, some of them women and people of color. And none of those people have Webb’s baggage, all of which was brought to the attention of NASA administrators at a time when changing the name of the project would have been easier.

The reason it wasn’t changed is because the Old Boy network had decided to honor one of its own, and they were not going to let some inconvenient history, nor noisy activists, alter their decision.

Because that is the way the Old Boys Network operates. And trying to dress that up in arguments about free speech tells us all we need to know about Michael Powell and the people who argue that we should stick with the name James Webb.

Right-wing noise machine upset about signing of Respect for Marriage Act

The Christian Post (a “non-denominational” conservative evangelical publication) has an article up titled: “Respect for Marriage Act: Will it lead to the Supreme Court striking down gay marriage?”

A conservative law firm has speculated that if the so-called Respect for Marriage Act is signed into law by President Joe Biden, it could actually lead to the United States Supreme Court overturning its earlier ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide.

In a statement released Monday, the Liberty Counsel commented on Congress’ recently passed bill legalizing same-sex marriage, thus codifying the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Liberty Counsel argued that the bill’s passage “can actually create the perfect scenario to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 5-4 opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges regarding same-sex marriage.”

The conservative law firm noted that thanks to changes in the roster of the Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court is more conservative than it was in 2015.

Additionally, the group cited the 2013 case of United States v. Windsor, which ruled in part that, in general, “the states, not the federal government, have the right to regulate marriage.”

Lastly, Liberty Counsel noted that one objection to overturning Obergefell is the issue of same-sex couples who had gotten marriage licenses, and what might happen to those licenses. However, noted the group, the bill would actually secure the fate of marriage licenses.

“As a result of RFMA, when Obergefell is overturned, those who obtained licenses will be ‘grandfathered’ in and the licenses will remain valid,” explained the group.

This thinking pre-supposes that a majority of SCOTUS justices would have been at all concerned about, prior to this week’s signing of the Respect for Marriage Act, existing LGBT marriage licenses when deciding whether to overturn precedents establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

I seriously doubt this possibility would have given pause to any of the right-wing justices, who are likely to overturn Obergefell in any case. With at least two of the justices — Clarence Thomas and Samual Alito — being so angry and cruel that the ability to essentially negate existing same-sex marriages would have been seen as a feature and not a bug. Amy Coney Barrett might not be as angry as Alito and Thomas, but she does come from a religious cult that is so right-wing that she is likely to dogmatically see ending same-sex marriage as her religious duty, and therefore above any considerations about fairness and equality.

I don’t think we can count on Kavanaugh and Gorsuch to be anything other than the FedSoc extremists they are.

My guess is that the overturning of the constitutional right to same-sex marriage is still, and always has been, a foregone conclusion with this court. The right-wing noise machine will try to paint the Respect for Marriage law just signed by President Biden as a necessary precursor to the overturning of Obergefell. Nonsense.

If anything, the overturning of Obergefell will be the proof we need that the Respect for Marriage Act was a masterful bit of legislating by the Democrats (and a tiny handful of Republicans) on Capitol Hill.

On another topic, I am old enough to remember when, as a journalist in Boston, I used to sit in the Democrat-controlled Massachusetts state Legislature and listed to members of both parties in both houses debate that state’s gay rights bill.

Even many Democrats would pile-on with the most anti-gay right-wing arguments about pedophilia, bestiality and the like. It was awful to witness and depressing to think that even many so-called progressives were so filled with anti-gay hatred.

Even among those Democrats who supported us, there was a reticence to talk about these issues in public. They might support us when some tough votes were tallied, but don’t expect them to advocate in public on these issues.

Compare that with this week (see pic below) when you had the President, Vice-President (and their spouses), along with the leaders of the House and Senate (both Democrats), along with some openly gay elected and appointed officials and even a smattering of Republicans, on-hand with big wide smiles of the official signing ceremony of the Respect for Marriage Act.

We have come a very long way. And that, in itself, is reason to celebrate.

President Biden signing the Respect for Marriage Act.

Leaving former Marine Paul Whelan behind in Russia is probably doing American society a favor

There’s a lot that’s been written and said about the situtation with Brittney Griner’s negotiated release from Russia and the fact that left behind was former Marine Paul Whelan, whom Fox New and the right-wing echo chamber are describing as “an Iraqi war veteran.”

And that is true as far as it goes.

But what Fox News, Elon Musk and others in the right-wing commentariat are failing to note up front is Whelan’s full history, as Wikipedia says:

He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1994. He took military leave from Kelly Services to serve with the Marine Corps Reserve from 2003 to 2008, including service in Iraq. He held the rank of staff sergeant with Marine Air Control Group 38 working as an administrative clerk and administrative chief, and he was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After a court-martial conviction in January 2008 on multiple counts “related to larceny”, he was sentenced to 60 days restriction, reduction to pay grade E-4, and a bad conduct discharge. The specific charges against him included “attempted larceny, three specifications of dereliction of duty, making a false official statement, wrongfully using another’s social security number, and ten specifications of making and uttering checks without having sufficient funds in his account for payment.”

Whelan was a terrible Marine who received a Bad Conduct Discharge. He’s not a hero. He’s no longer recognized by the federal government as a veteran. At the very least, the idea that he somehow deserves to be treated better than Griner is totally bogus.

Not only that, but Trump, Musk and all the others weren’t even interested in Whelan being in prison until a black lesbian basketball player was released before him, making me suspicious that it’s less about the Whelan/U.S. Marine part, and more about the black lesbian part.

Or, as attorney Ron Filipkowski noted on Twitter:

This hand wringing about Paul Whelan by right-wingers is really just a combination of trying to score points on Biden, and the fact that the right-wingers all hate the idea that a black lesbian WNBA player deserved to be freed as much as anyone else.

One NH legislator wants to end the “gay panic defense” for anti-gay attacks, murders

There’s been a lot of gay bashers and gay murderers over the years who’ve gotten off lightly in court because they’ve been able to use the so-called “gay panic defense.”

It’s a surprisingly easy sell to some judges and juries that a gay man could flirt with another man and the man who is the object of the flirtation goes temporarily insane to the point of killing the gay man.

It has also often been the case that these allegedly straight men who kill gay men were the instigators of the sexual interest, and then panic post-coitally since someone now knows they have sex with men. Then they kill the gay man to erase the evidence. This is where the “panic” has often entered the crime.

Those of us who’ve been around have often observed that if straight women were able to kill straight men with whom they’ve just had sex and instantly regretted it, society would be littered with the bodies of straight men.

Some prosecutors, judges and juries have been starting to see through this defense. But not all of them.

So it’s good news that one Democratic legislator in New Hampshire is trying to change the laws in that state so that the “gay panic defense” cannot be used:

Incoming state representative Shaun Filiault of Keene campaigned on ending the “gay-panic defense” in homicide cases in the state, and now he is planning legislation to do just that.

Filiault, a Democrat, has requested that legislative staff write up a bill that would prohibit defendants from claiming temporary insanity because of an unwanted same-sex sexual advance.

He said the legal strategy treats the LGBTQ community unfairly.

“A woman who experiences a man’s flirtations would not be able to kill that man and then have her murder charge downgraded to manslaughter simply because she was the object of a man’s flirtations,” Filiault, an attorney, said Wednesday.

“Being the object of a flirtation does not cause temporary insanity, and we should not be treating sexual orientation differently in the law. Let’s have consistency here, and let’s treat a person with equal dignity in the law, and let’s treat a crime as a crime.”

He said his research has shown that the legal defense has been used around the country, although not in New Hampshire.

The American Bar Association has recommended that federal, state and local governments curtail the availability of this defense strategy.

At least 16 states have banned its use, according to a June 7, 2021, report by the Movement Advancement Project, a Colorado-based nonprofit think tank.

Since local courts, prosecutors and police are not required to keep statistics on the gay panic defense, to say it has not happened in NH is a little weird and likely not accurate. I mean, in my experience, it was used a lot for a very long while.

Still, good for newly-elected Rep. Filiault for being proactive.

Incoming state representative Shaun Filiault of Keene