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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts to Discriminate Against Gays


“What?” you might ask, adding, “Douglas, aren’t you supposed to be gay?”

Yes, of course I am, as the many posts on this topic in my blog indicate.  But I’m also a lawyer and an American citizen, and the United States Supreme Court made it clear in its 2000 Boy Scouts of America v. Dale decision that the Constitution’s first amendment protection of the right of association and freedom of speech allows private organizations to discriminate whenever they want.  That’s clearly right.  If I form an organization that bars homophobes I certainly don’t want the courts to say that I can’t discriminate on that basis.  If someone doesn’t agree with my restriction, they can say I’m a bigot all they like, but they can’t join.  Whether it’s moral or right for the Boy Scouts to ban gay scout members or leaders is a very different question than whether it’s legal to do so.

Many organizations discriminate against gays (or blacks, Jews, women, atheists, etc.) including major religions like the Catholic Church or local country clubs or private-member groups such as the Boy Scouts.  This fact is shameful, but true.  The Boy Scouts is a private organization with restricted membership.  It’s primarily financed by religious entities; 69.4% of scout units are chartered to faith-based organizations: the Mormons have control over 420,000 boys, with the United Methodist Church and the Catholic Church not far behind.  These religions would likely yank both their boys and their money from the Scouts if gays were included, which would arguably sink the Boy Scouts completely.  The upper leadership of the scouts has made the decision not to risk that.  Perhaps they’ll now offer a merit badge for homophobia.

Bob Mazzuca
Many people in this country are outraged by the decision, and I join their repugnance for what the Scouts have done.  The latest refusal to allow gays in the Scouts followed the recent submission of a petition signed by over 300,000 people to undo the ban.  But in rejecting the petition and reaffirming the current anti-gay stance, Bob Mazzuca, the Scout’s chief executive, explained that:

The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting. We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.

Some people will support the ban under the theory that gay scout leaders would, as a matter of course, abuse children under their care, or that, even if they didn’t, would create a bad model for the kind of person young scouts should emulate.  However, studies show that people who sexually abuse children are not defined by their sexual orientation, but are instead in a class by themselves: pedophiles (who certainly should not be scout leaders).  But if the above objections to gays were in fact valid then homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to be teachers, or police officers, or baby sitters, or around children at all, even family members.  Happily, the world has adjusted to the idea of gays being among us and behaving just like everyone else without the need of special rules or bans.  All people, and not just gays, should be judged by one standard: their worth to the community.

Gay scouts, their parents, former gay scouts, and gay scout leaders have all protested the policy, and many straight people are equally upset at this discrimination. If you, reader, are similarly outraged what can be done?  The answer is easy: avoid the scouts.  Any organization that adopts a policy of exclusion should pay the penalty of forfeiting the respect and patronage of those who will not be part of the discrimination.  Country clubs across the United States have felt the sting of disapproval when they adopted policies that discriminated on the basis of sex, religion, etc.  Wikipedia lists some case histories at

In one example, in 1990 professional golfer Tom Watson resigned from the Kansas City Country Club in Mission Hills, Kansas, in protest after local businessman and civic leader Henry Bloch was denied membership. Watson believed the club denied Bloch because he was Jewish. Although Watson is not Jewish, his then-wife and children are. After Watson's nationally-publicized protest, Bloch was offered a membership, which he accepted. Watson rejoined the club in 1995. Since that time The Kansas City Country Club has accepted several minority and Jewish members. The Augusta National Golf Club, where the Masters Tournament is played, is one of the best-known clubs that does not admit women. In September 2008 Katon Dawson left Forest Lake Club after a twelve year membership because it still has a whites-only restriction.

The same thing can be said about religions that discriminate in ways their members cannot indorse, but people frequently stay with a religion that discriminates in outrageous ways simply because they are too set in their ways to contemplate abandoning the church of their youth.  That decision comes with the penalty of the disapproval of others when they learn of someone’s fealty to a bigoted religion.  We “vote” in society by joining with others of similar beliefs.  We are rightfully suspicious of those who stay with a bigoted organization like the Boy Scouts on the dubious promise to change it “from within.”

Finally, note that the Boy Scouts also discriminate against atheists, but that’s defensible for two additional reasons: (1) atheists obviously can’t take the scout oath to be “reverent,” and (2) society generally doesn’t see anything wrong with discriminating against perfectly good people solely because they’re atheists.  When I was a Boy Scout I could have been thrown out because of this double-whammy, but fortunately I was only 12 at the time and hadn’t yet realized I belonged to forbidden groups.

Boy Scout Douglas Whaley, Japan, 1956
Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013
“Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Gay People?” March 19, 2014

“A Gay Hoosier Lawyer Looks at Indiana’s RFRA: The Religious Bigot Protection Act,” March 30, 2015;
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Speed-Dating Agents As I Pitch My Novel at ThrillerFest 2012


ThrillerFest is an annual event in early July in which the leading authors of thrillers (Lee Child, John Sanford, Richard North Patterson, Steve Berry, etc.) give seminars on how to write thrillers, along with many other meet-and-greet events.  A highlight of this one week meeting at the Grand Hyatt in New York City is an afternoon session called "AgentFest" in which aspiring authors (400 of them!), such as yours truly, get to pitch their thriller to the leading agents in the United States who represent thriller authors, with a goal of getting one of them to take you on as a client.

I was set last year to go to ThrillerFest, but a sudden illness and near death (see Related Posts below: "Mama Cat Saves My Life") prevented me from doing so.  Happily, the recovery of good health and the willingness of the nice people who run ThrillerFest to spot me this year's attendance fee, allowed me to participate this year for no extra outlay of cash (I'd had to forfeit last year's fee when forced to cancel the day before ThrillerFest 2011 began).  So on Tuesday, July 10, 2012, I flew to NYC, checked into the Grand Hyatt, and began to experience the 2012 version of the conference and meet many famous people.

AgentFest, which occurred on Thursday afternoon for three hours, is set up much like a speed-dating event. You pitch your novel to an agent for a few minutes, get the agent’s reaction, and then move on to a different agent.  It is both humiliating and exciting.  Ahead of time you're given a list of the agents (about forty of them), along with their bios, pictures, and a description of what they're looking for, and then as the event begins you line up in front of their tables, mumbling to yourself as your practice your "pitch" (a rehearsed explanation of what your thriller is about and why you think it will sell).  There is a maximum of three minutes per pitch, so you have to be concise, and attractive, and persuasive, etc.  It's . . . well, a challenge.

Since my self-published novel "Imaginary Friend" (available both on Amazon and Kindle) is a thriller about an atheist who gets himself into major trouble by admitting on national TV that he doesn't believe in God, it's also controversial.  I pointed out to the agents that there'd been a goodly number of non-fiction bestsellers about atheism in recent years (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc.) and that it was time for an atheist thriller to enter the market.  I said this whenever I sat down across the table from a prospective agent, adding that if he/she wasn't interested in the subject matter please say so fast, lest we both waste time.  My record for rejection in my fifteen or so pitches was thirty seconds.  But, happily, six of the agents asked to see the entire manuscript (some of them were willing to take it on a flash drive immediately, others wanting it sent via email, or even as hard copy through regular mail).  I was very pleased.  Frankly, it would be the thrill of a lifetime to have "Imaginary Friend" published by a professional company that would promote its existence and get it into mainstream distribution.

Most of the conference consisted of talks by famous authors (or panels of same) about the ins and outs of getting a novel from conception to publication.  If you, blog reader, are a fan of thrillers, imagine how interesting it would be to choose from the following possibilities over the four days of ThrillerFest (click to enlarge):

What impressed me most about these lectures/discussions was how very much the presenters cared about helping those who were newbies.  It's a truism of the human condition that those who know things are almost always anxious to teach them to others, and that trait was much on impressive display at ThrillerFest. 

What did Douglas Whaley learn?  I thought a lot about that question when it was all over.  Here are my conclusions:
Lee Child
1.  It's fun to hear famous people talk about their craft.  Some of them are just downright fascinating (Lee Child comes to mind as a prime example: an Englishman writing about an American adventurer, and constantly being asked "What do you think about Tom Cruise playing your hero Jack Reacher in the upcoming movie?). 

2.  Their advice contradicted each other over and over.  Phillip Margolin stated you should never start writing until you have a detailed outline; Lee Child says he never begins writing with a plan, but just makes up the story as it goes along, always curious himself as to how it will come out.  A number of the writers intoned "There are no rules."  Others explained their rules in detail.  I did learn a lot about jargon: "He said" or "she asked" are called "tags," an interruption of dialogue with a movement ("He rose from the table") is called a "beat," a narrator who tells what is going from a viewpoint not that of one of the characters (as if God were explaining things) is "third person omniscient," etc.   

3.  A couple of writers were frank in saying that while you can teach tricks and techniques, you cannot teach people how to write well.  That's a talent that you either have or you don't.

4.  Depressingly, every single one of the presenters without exception kept saying "you know," thus succumbing to the verbal diarrhea sadly engulfing the planet, and against which I have thundered in prior posts.  It was most disappointing to hear these famous people swept up in the plague and blundering on with the rest.

I also had much fun outside the conference, seeing Broadway shows, having supper with friends, and much else.  I've been going to NYC since 1961 (senior high school trip), and my knowledge of Manhattan is good enough that in a cab I can glance up at any time and within a block of so figure out where on the island I am.

I flew home from ThrillerFest excited about the future of "Imaginary Friend."  Between the possibility of acquiring an agent, the existing sales online, the many bookreadings I've been doing all over Ohio, the terrific Amazon reviews, and the great emails I've received from readers, I have a renewed confidence that my novel—so lovingly created—might have a healthy future.

More to come.
Related Posts:
"Frightening the Horses," April 7, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter One of my novel)
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter Two)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter Three)
"I Hate 'You Know' You Know," November 28, 2010
"Report on Old Doug: Health, Theater, eBook, and More," June 28, 2011
"Mama Cat Saves My Life," October 23, 2011
"Needed: Readers of the Final Draft of my Novel 'Corbin Milk,'" December 13, 2011
"How To Stop Saying 'You Know,'" April 28, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Bookreading," May 17, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"The God Particle" and the Vanishing Role of God

Large Hadron Collider
Physicists all over the world are celebrating this week's confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson, nicknamed the “God particle,” which is the smallest subatomic particle of them all.  It gives mass to other particles, and without it the universe could not exist.  The particle was discovered at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, and its presence was deduced by the collision of other particles in the 27 mile spin of the collider.  The existence of the Higgs boson was theorized in 1964 by University of Edinburgh physicist Peter Higgs, and—incredibly—he was present in Geneva yesterday at the announcement.  He's now 83, and was moved to tears as the crowd of scientists applauded him at the culminating moment of a long career.  The particle is of course named after Professor Higgs.

Professor Higgs Yesterday

Scientists had struggled for decades to find the Higgs boson, and, interestingly, it got its nickname from a book by physicist Leon Lederman that was originally entitled "The Goddamned Particle," reflecting his frustration at being unable to prove its existence.  Lederman's publisher objected that the title was too offensive, and cut out the "damned.'

The Higgs boson ("boson" is pronounced "boze-on") completes the Standard Model of particle physics, which lists all the particles and forces of nature.  With this addition we now have a complete map of the physical properties of the universe, an incredible accomplishment.  It is but one more step in our understanding of how things work, replacing a superstitious guess ("God did it") with science.

Consider that the history of humankind starts with a god explanation for how the world works, and as that history moves through the millennia, the role for these gods gets smaller and smaller.

In days of the cave people and after them the hunter/gatherers, when storms came, when neighboring tribes waged horrible battles, when diseases decimated the community, what could our ancestors do but speculate as to the meaning of these things?  After human beings came to consciousness and realized their situation in a way that other animals could not ("I will die someday—what happens then?" or "Why did the storm kill my beloved child?"), they came up with the idea of a super force that oversaw everything, and that punished them for transgressions (behaving badly to one another or not worshiping this particular god in the right way) and rewarded them for good behavior (plentiful crops because they did things to please their god, such as human sacrifices). 

Eventually they developed stories about their gods: how they created the world, what conduct pleased or angered them.  If there was a flood, for example, they created flood stories in which their god punished them  for their misdeeds with the drowning of whole communities.  Such stories were passed along orally for long periods, changing in the telling, and eventually were written down in holy books.  All over the earth hundreds of thousands of religions battled for supremacy, each pointing to their holy book or oral traditions as the only source of wisdom, and today the victorious religions are still battling it out, holy books waived high.

But the explanations in the holy books were mere guesses as to how the world works, and as humans discovered more and more, scientific revelations supplanted them.  These books inevitably placed humans at the center of the universe.  But, alas, science has since shown us that we're in fact in a backwater part of that universe and not its raison d'ĂȘtre. We know beyond doubt how storms are formed, why rain falls, how plants, animals, and humans evolved from primordial origin, etc.  Science is never done, constantly exploring, correcting itself as earlier explanations prove wrong.  Global warming, for example, is still being scientifically debated for resolution—and, like the finding of Higgs boson, that resolution will be forthcoming. 

Every millennium, every century, every year, every month there is less and less for a god to do. 

We are on the verge of finding alternate universes, ones that we only suspect exist because the math points that way.  If these multiverses can be confirmed it will be yet one more step in our relentless quest to understand everything.  It's now believed by many scientists that collisions or interactions between the multiverses led to the "big bang" that started our own universe some 13.75 billion years ago.
One Possible Model of a Multiverse

You might insist that there must have been a creator at the beginning to start it all up, even if that creator no longer has an obvious function.  Oh?  Why must there have been a creator?  If your god "is and always was", why can't the same simply be true of the multiverses? 
Or perhaps the multiverses were created by the same entity that created your god.  Say!  Let's give that entity a name!  How about the "Higgs boson" or, simply, "The God Particle"?
Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
"An Atheist's Christmas Card," December 23, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
If Humans Are Descended From Apes, Why Are There Still Apes?” January27, 2014
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Obamacare, John Roberts and the Supreme Court


As I’ve discussed before [see "Jumping the Broom—How Married are Gay Married Couples?" July 17, 2011] the United States Supreme Court is divided into four liberals, four conservatives, and then there’s Justice Anthony Kennedy, who’s always the swing vote in cases where those labels are important. At the Ohio State Law School, where I teach, we recently had a faculty skit at the law school’s comedy night in which professors gave mock lectures about their subjects. When it came time for the Constitutional Law prof to speak he explained that "Constitutional Law is easy: it’s whatever Justice Kennedy is thinking at the moment." 

Justice Anthony Kennedy
When the Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of the Obamacare statute everyone was studying the questions and comments of Justice Kennedy very carefully, and there was much casting of tea leaves over what his musings during the oral arguments suggested. Those arguments themselves were astonishing: six hours of attorneys being grilled by the Court, when the usual time is two hours or less. The Court knew how important this one was. Therefore when the decision came down on this past Thursday and the vote was five to four to uphold the law, the shock was that Justice Kennedy was one of the dissenting four Justices, while the four liberals were joined by the usually very conservative Chief Justice John Roberts. How in the world did that happen? With Kennedy in their pocket, the four conservatives were set to take down Obamacare, to the delight of the nation’s Republicans. It would have been a major advancement for the presidency of Mitt Romney. Instead the decision to uphold the law helps President Obama greatly in his bid for reelection.

Everywhere conservatives (just tune into Fox News to verify this) are slumped across tables, weeping, pounding with their fist and moaning, "Why? Why?"

Chief Justice John Roberts
John Roberts was nominated to be Chief Justice by the second George Bush, and confirmed by the Senate without much controversy. He’s very smart, a true conservative, young (only 50 when confirmed, so he’ll be running the Court for a long time), and even funny (during hearings on his nomination one Senator asked him what he would like history to say about him and he instantly replied, "That I was confirmed!"). Courts are known by the term of office of the Chief, so it looked like the "Roberts Court" would fulfill all the expectations of the President and the party that pushed his nomination through: conservative decision after conservative decision. But at the time of his swearing in, Chief Justice Roberts vowed to make the Court objective, and to push for unanimity. I assume he meant that, but, alas, it wasn’t to be. In decision after decision the Court has split into the predictable liberal/conservative groups, leaving all the heavy lifting to Anthony Kennedy. Roberts himself was reliably one of the four conservatives in each of these cases. The majority decision upholding Obamacare was written by the Chief Justice himself. It is massive—much longer than the usual opinions coming out of the Court. In it he carefully explores each issue, step by step, and convincingly explains that the portions of Obamacare that require an individual mandate to buy health insurance or face a penalty exceed the powers granted to Congress in the United States Constitution. This goes on and on, and was the reason why early reports of the decision mistakenly thought the law was being tossed out. But at the end of the decision the Chief Justice suddenly decides that if the individual mandate was viewed as a tax, it could be saved because the Constitution clearly allows Congress to impose a tax on the people. Thus the statute is constitutional after all. His opinion does hold unconstitutional the part of the statute that punishes the states if they don’t accept certain parts of the law’s requirements, but excising that portion left the rest of Obamacare as the law of the land.

The dissenting judges (Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, and Thomas) were infuriated. With a damning legal analysis they explain in convincing detail that there is no way to transmogrify the individual mandate into a tax, and that the attempt to do so is absurd. As I read their dissent, I’m forced to agree that they’re right, and that calling the mandate a tax is simply and obviously a mistake as a matter of law (I hasten to add that this is not my field). The dissenters then explain that proper analysis would also lead to invalidating the entire statute since the portion the majority held to be unconstitutional cannot be severed from the rest of the statute without the Court just guessing whether Congress would have passed the rest without it. The majority is simply wrong in the dissenters’ careful and persuasive analysis, so the majority has given invalid reasons for upholding Obamacare.

It will amaze readers of this blog to learn that I agree with the dissenters as to their conclusion about the mandate being a tax, and if they’re right as to that, the Court should have stricken Obamacare from the United States Code. This leads to the real question: why would Chief Justice John Roberts have done something that appears so wrong (holding the mandate to be a tax) and thereby saved the statute from being declared unconstitutional? The answer, I suggest, is something that has bothered Justices before: the weight of history.

Justice David Souter
When the first George Bush appointed David Souter to the Court he couldn’t have chosen a more conservative man for the position. All of Souter’s prior opinions on the New Hampshire Supreme Court had been conservative in the extreme. But when Souter got on the Court his opinions became more and more liberal, disappointing those who had supported his appointment. I suspect that what happened to David Souter was that as he heard arguments from the freedom of life-time appointment to the Court, it began to occur to him that history books would be written about the "Jurisprudence of David Souter"and so he’d better think things through very carefully before voting. As he did so he discovered a side of himself that was more receptive to an appeal from the downtrodden and the voiceless, and found more of a necessity for the government to help them out. Traitor that he became to conservatives, he produced a jurisprudence that he himself could live with.

I don’t think John Roberts is about to become a liberal, but I do think that a similar historical judgment made him write the majority opinion when in normal circumstances he would have voted with his usual crowd. Roberts knows that the most shameful moment in Court’s last few decades occurred before he joined the Court when in Bush v. Gore(2000) the Court stopped the ballot recount in Florida and gave the presidency to Bush. It was a purely political move, and, given the facts, indefensible. Now John Roberts, who has to think about what history will say about his tenure as Chief, was facing another election-changing vote, and if he’d have voted as expected once again the Court would have produced a decision in which five Justices appointed by Republican presidents would have handed the election to a Republican.

He just couldn’t do it—not even if he had to create a tax that Congress didn’t intend.

Now let history judge him.


Related Posts:
“Jumping the Broom—How Married are Gay Married Couples?”
“President Mitt Romney?” April 21, 2012
"Gay Marriage, The 6th Circuit, Jeffrey Sutton, and the Supreme Court," November 13, 2014
"Alan Turing: Torturing a Gay Genius to Death," November 26, 2014
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013