Supreme Court Overturns Defense of Marriage Act, Sends Gay Marriage Debate to the States

Demonstrators wait in front of the Supreme Court to hear their ruling on gay marriage. Image from the New York Times.

Demonstrators wait in front of the Supreme Court to hear their ruling on gay marriage. Image from the New York Times.

The ruling essentially declared that the definition of marriage is up to the state governments. If a state wishes to allow same-sex couples to marry, then the federal government can’t deny those couples the legal benefits of marriage that other legally married couples in that state are entitled to from the federal government.

With that, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that declared marriage was defined as being between one man and one woman as far as the federal government was concerned. The opinion of the court, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and delivered by a 5-4 vote, stated that “DOMA’s unusual deviation from the usual tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage here operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with the federal recognition of their marriages…The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”

The case, United States v. Windsor, arose in 2009 when Edith Windsor’s wife, Thea Spyer, died and left all of her money and possessions to her spouse. Windsor sued to claim federal tax-exemption status on this inheritance. The Supreme Court’s ruling upheld decisions by lower courts ordering the IRS to refund all the money Windsor had paid in inheritance taxes with interest. The ruling was split along ideological lines between liberal and conservative justices.

By declaring that the definition of marriage is a state matter, the ruling leaves in place 30 state constitutions and six state laws that ban same-sex marriage.

A separate ruling, however, has all but killed California’s own constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The case Hollingsworth v. Perry challenged Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that was approved by California voters amending the state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. A federal district court ruled that the ballot measure violated the U.S. Constitution, and the state government chose not to appeal that decision. However, the activists who initially wrote and pushed for the ballot measure appealed in California’s name. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in this case (not decided along ideological lines) held that those activists couldn’t presume to speak for California and had suffered no harm by the lower court’s ruling. In doing so, the Supreme Court somewhat indirectly upheld the lower court’s decision – overturning Prop 8 and legalizing same-sex marriage in California – without actually ruling on the validity of same-sex marriage in principle or affecting same-sex marriage laws anywhere else.

Crowds of gay-rights activists waiting in front of the Supreme Court cheered and celebrated when they heard the rulings. President Obama also voiced his support for the decision.

Coincidentally, a gathering in Utah of supporters of traditional marriage happened to be meeting when the ruling was issued, and responded by reaffirming their commitment to keeping Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage intact. “The joyous news is that Utah stands unaffected,” said Republican State Rep. Lavar Christensen, one of the guest speakers.

Already, the two sides of the same-sex marriage debate are preparing for future battles in places like Illinois, Hawaii, Oregon, Ohio, and New Mexico. There is also still some question as to what happens to a same-sex couple that is married in one state moves to another state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages. For now, the Supreme Court has apparently had enough to say on the issue for now, as it has refused to hear two further cases on same-sex marriage issues.

Information from BBC News, Fox News, Huffington Post, New York Times, Reuters, Washington Post, CBC News, and Deseret News.

Man of Steel is Edge-of-your-Seat Awesome!

Man of Steel image from Legendary Films

Apparently, somebody watches Dragonball Z.

Man of Steel was supposed to be the relaunch of Superman after decades of mulling around followed by the box-office disaster of Superman Returns. These past few years, Warner Bros. has been able to milk the Batman cow, thanks in large part to Christopher Nolan and his successful trilogy, but now that those movies are finished they desperately need a new staple to pin their profits on.

One that will actually WORK this time.

One that will actually WORK this time.

 

Superman is, after all, one of the most well-known characters ever made. For Warner Bros. to not try to make him work as a film franchise would be idiotic. It’s just that Superman is notoriously difficult to translate on screen. Give Warner Bros. credit, though, they brought their A-game for this one. They brought Christopher Nolan back as producer and assigned Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) as director. The also had David S. Goyer, the writer of the Dark Knight trilogy, write this movie. They wanted their best talent working on this film to make absolutely sure it doesn’t flop like Superman Returns did.

The biggest fan complaint about Superman Returns was that it didn’t show enough action. Superman, the fans said, should be going toe-to-toe with some villain that could match him. The problem with that assertion (apart from the fact it violates the very nature of what makes the Superman character, well, Superman) is that we are talking about somebody with virtually unlimited power. How do you depict on film characters that have immeasurable power fighting each other?

That’s where the Dragonball Z influence comes in. This animated cartoon that I grew up with made its mark depicting crazy action scenes such as the ones in this fan-made montage. The action scenes in Man of Steel are very reminiscent of that style – the characters moving so fast you can barely see them, punching each other through buildings and mountains while sustaining little damage themselves. Yet, somehow, in this particular context, it works.

The crazy, over-the-top action actually fits right in with the overall aesthetic and pacing of the film. By the way, kudos to the filmmakers for having Krypton, Kryptonian technology, and Kryptonian designs look truly and utterly alien and out-of-this-world.

Seriously... what am I looking at?

Seriously… what am I looking at?

The movie really sells that the Kryptonians, and even the boy in blue himself, are waaaaaaay beyond us, and we can’t hope to match them. We are practically like ants to them.

This is an important story element, because the film is largely about our hero (played by a very believable and sympathetic Henry Cavill) trying to figure out where his place in the world should be. Part of him wants to “fit in” and be a normal human, but part of him is also curious about his true heritage and the reason he was sent to Earth. He knows he is capable of doing things that are far beyond what any human could even dream of doing, but he fears that the world will see him as a threat if they knew.

This becomes a problem when star reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) begins following these urban legends about some mysterious man who appears, performs some impossible feat that saves a dozen lives, then disappears. She is determined to find out who, and what, this mystery hero is. Things get even more complicated when General Zod, another survivor of the destruction of Krypton, arrives and demands that Superman surrender to him. Michael Shannon’s portrayal of Zod is one of the highlights of the movie, as a villain whose motivations actually make sense. You can see how Zod sees himself as the “good guy”.

I think this version of the Superman story, at a very core level, “gets” what makes Superman who he is. He was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish Americans who were the children of immigrants. Superman is a character that reflects the experiences of many a second-generation immigrant – he may represent “truth, justice, and the American way”, but he also belongs to an alien race and must constantly balance his heritage with the only land he’s ever known as “home”.

Patriotic Superman image from MoviePosterDB

The film just looks amazing, too. Say what you will about Zack Snyder, but that guy knows how to put together a spectacular-looking movie. It is a sight to be seen, if ever there was one. I will admit, I had my doubts about Superman’s new costume going into the theater, but now it makes perfect sense in-context and meshes well with what we see on the screen. The editing is great, too. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time. This film pushes the intensity into overdrive as we see some of the most exciting sequences in a recent film in a very long time.

Having said all of that, though, this film is far from flawless. It occasionally gets distracted by the minor side-characters. During the climactic battle scene, it cuts back-and-forth between our hero fighting and the struggles of three characters so minor, we don’t even know who two of them are. Then there’s the elephant in the room: Russel Crowe. Crowe plays Jor-El, Superman’s father, who has only two roles in the Superman mythos: he sends his son to Earth to escape the destruction of Krypton, and decades later, a hologram of him explains to his son all about Krypton. Yet this film somehow manages to make those scenes as long as physically possible, to the point where it becomes clear Crowe is just hogging the camera because he’s Russel Crowe. It really drags some of those scenes down.

Still, even with its flaws, this film is an exciting, nail-biting, awesome film that doesn’t feel it’s two-and-a-half-hour length and keeps you emotionally invested in the main characters. If you’re looking to see an action-packed summer blockbuster, this film should be at or near the top of your list.

Understanding Successful Women Entrepreneurs: Cat Flag Helps the Cause of Science!

I imagine by now you’re wondering why I haven’t made a new video in a long time. The truth is, I have been extremely busy these past few months, between studying for my MBA, working, updating this blog every week, and, oh, yeah, helping in a scientific research study being prepared by some Cal Poly professors!

Dr. Lynn Metcalf, Dr. Jonathan York, and Dr. Stern Neill have been conducting research into the psychology of women who have successfully started high-growth businesses. They wanted to study women in particular, because entrepreneurship is still a career path that tends to attract far more men than women. Their hope was that understanding women who have succeeded as start-up business owners would allow future educators, researchers, and policymakers to encourage greater gender equality in this career field.

They started by conducting a survey, sending a questionnaire to women who met their basic criteria. Then, after the survey results were collected, they invited some of the respondents to come to Cal Poly and participate in a one-on-one interview to get some deeper insight.

The research is not yet published, and the last I heard is that it is still under review. Having said that, what the results appear, tentatively, to show is really intriguing. It appears that the number of new ventures these women end up starting is based partially on their confidence in their own talents and abilities, and partially on what the researchers have called a “Discover Mindset”: the idea that opportunities are something that she “discovers”. In this line of thinking, the opportunity is there, it exists and is ready for the taking, but not everyone sees it. This mindset, in turn, develops from a number of factors. One is a willingness to explore and experiment with new product ideas, new markets, or new technologies. Another is exploiting existing resources and build off of them to create new things. Simply observing the world around them, asking questions about the marketplace, and networking with highly-qualified people with diverse backgrounds also help to build this mindset.

Again, I must stress that these are just the initial, tentative results, and I’m sure that we will know far more when the results are published. The researchers also tell me they hope this study will be the basis of future research that will make the picture even clearer.

So, where do I fit in with all of this? Well, these professors reached out to me and two of my classmates to help them conduct the interviews and write up the final publication. In particular, they wanted me to film the interviews, and to create a video presentation showcasing these women and their stories.

Now, for you to enjoy, here it is:

In addition to that video, I was asked to make two more videos using the footage I obtained that can be used by Cal Poly to help inspire students to pursue a career as an entrepreneur. The first showcases two local business owners operating right here on the central coast:

The second asks the businesswomen a simple question: What advice would you give to aspiring Cal Poly entrepreneurs?

I personally feel that participating in this study has been a very rewarding experience. I’ve been able to meet some really inspiring people, and in my own way, helped to advance scientific knowledge in an understudied area. I thank all of you, Cat Flaggers, for bearing with me over these past few very busy months.

Facts I Bet You Didn’t Know About Adolf Hitler

World War II image from WikipediaToday is the anniversary of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, more than 156,000 American, British, Canadian, and Allied troops launched one of the riskiest invasions in history to have ever worked, all in the name of freeing Europe from the tyranny of this man:

You may know him as "Pure Evil".

You may know him as “Pure Evil”.

I figured the anniversary of one of the most important battles in World War II was as good an occasion as any to do a World War II-related blog post. After all, I spent countless hours watching specials about the war on the History Channel before they were replaced with dumb reality shows.

No. Just.... no.

No. Just…. no.

So, to share some of my countless World War II trivia with you, today I’m going to share some of the oddest, most unusual facts I’ve learned about Adolf Hitler.

Hitler hated Berlin

Berlin downtown in the 1920s from Skyscraper City

If your goal is to become the supreme leader of a country, you should expect that you will be spending most of your time in that country’s capital. You know, governing. Yet Adolf Hitler could not stand Germany’s capital, and found as many excuses as possible to get away from it.

There was a reason that the annual Nazi Party rallies were held miles away, in Nuremburg. During the war, Hitler commanded the military from any one of a dozen “Fuhrer Headquarters” complexes built near the front lines, or from his private train as he shuttled back-and-forth between them. Hitler also spent much of his time governing Germany remotely from his private villa, the Berghof. A private house of Hitler’s that he owned as a vacation home before he took power, the Berghof came to house a telephone switchboard room, a landing strip for visiting Nazi officials and staff, and a barracks for an SS division assigned specifically to guard the complex. Further up the same hill as the Berghof, an additional “retreat” known as the Eagle’s Nest was built, so that Hitler could hold meetings with foreign leaders and dignitaries without going back to Berlin.

So what was Hitler’s problem with Berlin? Partially, the issue was aesthetic. Hitler thought Berlin looked too much like a run-of-the-mill, provincial, industrial town to service as the capital of the world empire he envisioned. Also playing a factor was the fact that many Berliners were not politically inclined to support the Nazis. The city was filled with artists, intellectuals, academics, communists, and free-spirited 1920s flapper-types.

"Nazis? Nah, they won't make it very far."

“Nazis? Nah, those racists won’t make it very far.”

Hitler was so embarrassed by the city that he planned to knock the whole thing down and build a new capital in its place, to be known as Germania. Of course, those plans came to moot when the city fell to the Allies at the war’s end.

The curious case of Hitler’s citizenship

German 1920s passport image from Profilm

Most of you probably already know Hitler was born in Austria, not Germany. He was an immigrant living in Munich when World War I broke out, and served in the German Army as an Austrian citizen.

And he wasn't killed in combat? Darn.

And he wasn’t killed in combat? Darn.

After the war, well, he started a long campaign to become dictator of Germany, as we all know. There was just one major difficulty – he was still not a German citizen. This was something of an embarrassment to the Nazi Party, as it was really easy for their opponents to point out that the Nazi’s Fuhrer wasn’t even German.

So why didn’t Hitler just apply for citizenship? Because he thought it was beneath him. No, really.

There was an alternative, though. Some German states gave automatic citizenship to people who took government jobs. Loyal Nazis who were elected to power in various local government offices began offering Hitler jobs in their districts… and promptly turned them all down.

Pictured: The Nazi leadership ca. 1930.

Pictured: The Nazi leadership ca. 1930.

Eventually, with an upcoming election and little time to spare, he accepted a job as a land surveyor in Braunschweig in 1932, officially becoming a German citizen. Then immediately asked for vacation time. Then kept taking time off until he could quit and run for office, effectively never working a single day as a surveyor at all.

He was an abusive, controlling boyfriend

Adolf Hitler und Eva Braun image from the German Federal Archive

This one probably isn’t that much of a surprise, really. It only makes sense that the sort of man who tries to impose tyranny on a continent would impose tyranny on the people in his life.

In his case, there is some dispute as to exactly how many women he had a romantic relationship with, but most scholars think he had six. Among them was his half-niece, Geli Raubal, who was practically Hitler’s prisoner. He refused to let her hang out with her friends, prevented her from completing her medical degree, and would not let her have any time alone and unsupervised. She committed suicide in 1931.

Another girlfriend of Hitler’s attempted suicide by hanging herself, but was saved by her brother at the last moment. A third ended up joining a conspiracy to overthrow Hitler.

Of course, Hitler’s most famous love interest was Eva Braun, who was never allowed to appear in public with him, and spent most of her time cut off from the world in the Berghof. Eventually, with the war lost, she committed suicide with him in a bunker beneath Hitler’s hated Berlin.

Hitler joined the Nazi Party as a government spy

Early Nazi Party meeting image from Student Handouts

This one, though, is VERY surprising. The reason Adolf Hitler became involved in the Nazi Party in the first place was as an undercover agent of the German military to investigate radical movements that could become threats to the new, still quite weak Wiemar government. If he had done his job properly, he might have been the guy that stopped Nazism in the bud before it grew too powerful. Instead, he liked the ideas that the party was throwing around, ideas about German nationalism, about race and blood, and about finding an alternative to capitalism and communism.

He became enamored of the party’s founder, Anton Drexler, and decided to leave the military and pursue a political career in the Nazi Party full-time. His infamous speeches began attracting followers to the Nazi cause, and through twice threatening to leave the still-quite-small movement in need of recruits, he was able to replace Drexler as the party’s leader. We all know the rest of that story.

Information mainly from various documentaries and books I’ve read on World War II, plus some supplementary help from Wikipedia and Der Spiegel.

Cat Flag’s Guide to Understanding Millennials: Debunking Millennial Myths and Misconceptions

Millennials image from CSU Long BeachI appreciate some of the great feedback Cat Flaggers have been leaving on my previous articles discussing the Millennial generation. Thank you all, very much!

Having said that, I am far from the only person discussing the newest and largest generation to be coming of age. You will find articles about us all over the Internet as well as in magazines and newspapers. Many of these articles are not written by Millennials, but by people in older generations who occasionally fail to grasp the full picture. They also frequently draw on others who have written about Millennials, meaning that one person’s misrepresentation or misunderstanding is transformed into a full-on nationwide stereotype.

It’s high time that we tear down these myths and misconceptions, so that we can have a much deeper understanding between the generations.

“Millennials don’t respect authority!”

South Park image from MTCToys, South Park is produced by Trey Parker and Matt Stone for Comedy Central.

In fact, a survey conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership demonstrates the opposite: Millennials respect authority far more than Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers!

So, wait, what is going on here? How did Millennials get portrayed as the disrespectful generation?

The difference is in how Millennials approach authority. We absolutely respect and obey authority – when we feel it has been earned. That is the key difference, and probably the source of many an inter-generational conflict between employer and employee.

To a Millennial, the fact that you have a fancy title on your business card or an office with your name on the door does not impress. All that proves is that you have enough connections to get promoted. What Millennials respect is leadership. We want our bosses to show us that they care about their employees, that they are willing to roll their sleeves up and get in the trenches with us, that they have a vision for the company or department and want to guide us all there, and who have an answer when we ask why something has to be done a certain way. We want our bosses to clearly know what they are doing and be passionate about their work.

We do not want to work for somebody who thinks too highly of himself or herself because of his or her title, who will bark orders at employees just to keep us busy, or who resents us for asking questions and dismisses us with a “because I said so.” We want to work for somebody who sees the workplace as a team in pursuit of some goal, not as a collection of disposable pawns to do menial tasks that are beneath him or her.

We want to work for somebody we can respect, and indeed, the most common reason for a Millennial to quit a job is because he or she didn’t like the manager. More to the point, the most common reason a Millennial stays in his or her job for a long time is because he or she liked the manager. When we find a boss we like, we will be incredibly loyal. If you are a manager and having a hard time retaining Millennial employees and feel that those you do have are being disrespectful, maybe it’s time you looked at your own management style.

“Millennials are so rude! All that texting is destroying our manners!”

Texting gag from Red Oxygen

I hear this one all the time. Here’s the problem I have with that sentiment. What behaviors are considered “polite” and “impolite” changes and evolves over time.

That isn’t to excuse the cashier at Starbucks who is too busy texting to pay attention to the customer trying to get his attention. That cashier needs to find a new job. Nor does it excuse those people in the movie theater who distract you from the movie by playing Angry Birds or checking their bank balance. That is just plain inconsiderate. Believe me when I tell you that there are plenty of Millennials who will happily call those sorts of behaviors out as rude alongside you.

On the other hand, I think many of the complaints arise more out of a misunderstanding than any actual intended impoliteness. What I see among my peers is that we have adapted to our always-plugged-in, technologically-driven world by creating new rules of etiquette.

Where somebody from my parents’ generation may believe that it is always better to talk on the phone with the person you want to reach and hear an actual human voice, from what I’ve seen Millennials are actually developing a set of rules regarding when to talk and when to text. We generally see it as better to talk to a person on the phone to carry on a long conversation, to break really important and personal news, or to say anything that can’t be summarized into a few short words. If all you want to do is set up a time and place to meet, it is better to text. Just as I was writing this, my classmate and I carried out a very, very brief conversation via text message about an assignment. He just had a quick question, and I gave him a quick answer. Just the sort of thing texting was meant for.

There’s even a online guide here with some of the basic rules for how to text politely, if you want to check it out.

“Millennials are a generation of selfish, entitled brats!”

g9510.20_Millennials.Cover

This one is the myth that inspired me to write this post. In a recent issue of Time magazine, columnist Joel Stein basically insulted me and all of my peers. He’s not the first person to say this about Millennials, but he is certainly the one who was the most in-your-face about it. Or at least the guy who wrote that headline was.

I’m sick of people telling me that I’m entitled or selfish. I take personal offense to that. I also don’t think that it’s fair to my friends, classmates, or co-workers, few of whom I would categorize as narcissists. I will agree that there are SOME rude, selfish, narcissistic, and entitled Millennials. However, aren’t there rude, selfish, narcissistic, and entitled people in every generation?

In fact, this article from The Atlantic Wire specifically points out that every generation has been called selfish, narcissistic, and entitled by its parents’ generation. It shows a series of articles just like the one above – dating as far back as 1907! Here’s what I think is really going on: young, single people are generally going to be more self-centered than older, married people. Why? Older, married people have a spouse, children, and a career consuming virtually all of their attention virtually all of the time. Younger people, who are just starting out in life, haven’t worked their way up to that level of responsibility yet, so they are free to be self-centered.

Maybe it’s more obvious of a difference with Millennials because the median age of one’s first marriage is going up. In the 2010 census, the median age was 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women. It is true that a combination of factors – more students going to college, more students staying in college longer, the poor economy and job market, and the desire by Millennials to be extra picky for their life partners because of their parents’ divorce rates – is stretching out the length of time we are enjoying premarital young adulthood. Having said that, I refuse to believe that this makes us especially self-centered compared to other generations in their youths.

Some of my friends, classmates, and co-workers are already married and have families of their own. I can tell you that they are all settling down and focusing on their responsibilities, just as all parents should. Don’t worry, Boomers and Gen-Xers, the Millennials won’t be saying “Me Me Me” for much longer.

“We are approaching an ‘Age War’ as the needs of Millennials and Boomers are at odds with each other”

Anti-Ageism ad from Coloribus

This myth takes a little more explaining than the others. The story goes that as the Baby Boomers approach retirement, demographics combined with economics are making things harder for the younger generations that follow them. As more people are choosing to retire later, fewer new jobs are freed up for young entry-level workers. This, it is said, is one of the causes of those high unemployment figures for Millennials.

It is also totally bunk.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center has found that there is no statistical evidence at all that employers are not hiring because of older workers staying on after 65. As much as the “Age War” sounds like an intuitive, common-sense conclusion to draw, the science simply doesn’t bear it out. And why should it? The older workers who are retiring later are probably mostly in high-level positions that they have earned after a long career, while the positions that Millennials would be seeking would be entry-level, bottom-of-the-totem-pole positions that are not dependent on the number of high-level positions that are currently filled.

Yet, however this myth was created, it is exactly the kind of dangerous myth that could become a part of a bigger problem. Already, we are facing a major crunch on Social Security and Medicare in the coming years if we don’t enact much-needed reforms. Already, I have seen this fact misconstrued as older generations “stealing from” the younger ones. (In fact, retiring seniors have been paying into Social Security and Medicare their whole lives, and aren’t “stealing” from anybody. The problem is budgetary policy and an outdated system, not the retirees.)

Ageism – prejudice against people due to their age – is a real thing and a real problem in our society today. Promoting conflict between generations is only going to make the problem worse. We must not let misrepresentations and rumors and blame-shifting create a conflict out of nothing. I hope that this series will help build understanding between the generations and bring us closer together, instead of further apart.

What do you think? Let me know in comments below!