Posts from 2004

Helping Hands

Published 19 years, 6 months past

Here’s a list, copied from CNN by way of Mac OS X Hints, of organizations that are accepting donations for the purpose of assisting the survivors of the Indian Ocean catastrophe.

The words of sympathy and links to aid societies that now comprise the bulk of the Apple home page make me prouder than ever to have worked with them.  I can’t say exactly why it’s important to me to mention that while in the shadow of such overwhelming tragedy, but it is.

A Request For Assistance

Published 19 years, 6 months past

When someone you love is suffering from a serious illness, it’s a horrible helpless feeling.  You can’t do anything concrete to fight the threat, and you can’t give them some of your health in order to improve theirs.  You can support them, you can do what they need, you can be there for them, but there’s still a vast and pervasive feeling of impotence.  At the very moment all your protective instincts are screaming to fight back, there’s nothing to attack.  I’ve faced it, as have so many people, and now my best friend Dave has been facing it too.

Earlier this year, Dave told me his fianceé Kim had been diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin’s lymphoma, just half a year before they were to be married.  When they got the diagnosis and an idea of the treatment timeline, Dave and Kim cancelled their November wedding and ran off to Las Vegas to get married right away.  Their intention was and is to fight this situation as husband and wife, and to have a wedding ceremony for friends and family after the treatments are done and Kim is back in good health.  Also, I assume, when they’ve both had a chance to grow back some hair: Dave shaved off his hair when Kim had to shave off hers.

That is of course a wonderful gesture, but Dave’s decided to do something more: he’s training for the Strawberry Fields Triathlon to be held March 12, 2005, in Oxnard Shores, CA.  His intent is to raise as much money as he can to help the search for better and faster treatments for Hodgkin’s disease, and thus do something concrete.  Given that he’s traditionally been about as averse to physical exertion as I am, this is a massive undertaking.  He’s been training for biking, running, and open-water swimming all at once.

For a variety of reasons (none of them involve court injunctions) I don’t talk a lot about my pre-Web years.  I won’t suddenly go into a ton of detail here, so suffice to say that Dave helped me not only get through junior high and high school with some semblance of sanity, but helped me survive some very difficult times that came shortly after graduating from college.  If you look in the acknowledgments on the first edition of CSS:TDG, Dave’s name is in there.  When I got the news that Mom had died, he was the first person I called.  When his and Kim’s wedding ceremony does finally take place, I will be proud and honored to stand beside them as best man.

If you could, please, support Dave in his run.  His goal is to raise $10,000, and as of this writing he’s already up to $7,299.  Personally, I think we could blow the doors off this thing with just a little effort.  If just a small fraction of you donated an average of $20 each, he could still easily double his goal.  If everyone who regularly stops by pledged five dollars, Dave could raise a lot more than that.

If you doubt me, just look at what’s happened with Child’s Play ($250,000 raised last year, a good deal more this year), or the time that Randy Milholland ranted that if people wanted his webcomic to improve, they should donate enough money for him to be able to quit his job for a year and concentrate on the comic full time—and they did.  It’s always nice to have a single large contributor, but you can go just as far (if not farther) with a lot of small contributors.  Dave’s working hard to make sure he can swim most of a kilometer of ocean, run 5 kilometers, and bike 15 kilometers.  It takes hardly any work at all to donate just a little bit to support his effort, and the cause of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  So, if you can, please do.  Kat, Carolyn, and I certainly will.

My deepest gratitude for anything you can contribute, or anything else you can do (such as spreading the word by linking to his training page) to support Dave.  It will mean a lot to him and his wife, and to me as well.

Don’t Care About Market Share

Published 19 years, 6 months past

In a fashion vaguely reminiscent of the process by which weeds keep growing back no matter how you try to rid yourself of them, the question of browser market share has once again been rearing its foul, misshapen head.  Dan kicked off a round of it over at Simplebits, but it’s recently been popping up other places as well.  I heard discussions about market share at SES Chicago, perhaps unsurprisingly, but I’ve also been seeing the question on various mailing lists and other forums.

The only thing more frustrating than the persistent recurrence of this unnecessary question is the inappropriate gravity it seems to acquire in so many minds.

Look, I’ll make this very simple for everyone.  If you’re trying to figure out what browsers to support (or not) in terms of layout consistency on a given site, then the answer is very easy.  Whatever the site’s access logs tell you.  End.  Of.  Story!

For example, the stats for the past few days’ worth of visitors to Complex Spiral Consulting tell me the following:

User AgentPortion of hits
Firefox 43%
IE6 30.8%
Mozilla 8.8%
Safari 8.6%
Opera 2.4%

(For those who are curious, IE5.5 makes up 0.8% of hits.  Various flavors of IE5.x below IE5.5 total roughly 1.2%, but note that Windows and Mac users are lumped together there.)

Those statistics tell me quite a bit about the people who visit the CSC site, and I can use that information to decide what to do about browser support.  You know what those numbers tell you about which browsers to support (or not) in your designs for sites on which you work?  Absolutely squat.  Anyone who uses those access statistics to make decisions for their own work is a fool, and a misinformed fool at that.

In every design, we have to ask what browsers need to have a consistent experience, which ones can be given a reduced experience, and which ones get no design at all.  The user logs from another site are useless in trying to make this decision.  The “global statistics” from firms like WebSideStory are just as useless in this case.  They may be entirely accurate, but they are also entirely irrelevant when it comes to making design support decisions.  The only stats that matter are the ones that come from the site you’re designing.

In a like manner, I don’t care if you think visitors to your site or some other favorite site of yours are an accurate reflection of the overall Internet population or not: that opinion is similarly irrelevant.  It’s rather like me claiming that the people who come to our annual holiday party are an accurate reflection of partygoers in general.  Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t, but either way I don’t think you should plan your all-night rave to accomodate the kinds of people who drop by our house to have homemade bread and soup and chat about babies, politics, science-fiction movies, and the weather.  And vice versa.

(Do remember that your site’s stats may reflect its current behavior instead of your potential audience.  If your site is already broken past the point of usefulness in Safari, then you’re going to see very low Safari numbers.  Make sure that you’re comparing apples to apples, and only compare the numbers in your access logs for browsers that can already use the site.)

As for the related question of “at what percentage level do I decide a browser isn’t worth bothering about”—well, that’s really up to you, isn’t it?  I certainly can’t tell you when it’s worthwhile to stop worrying about IE5.0, or Netscape 4.7, or Mosaic 1.2.  I know what I think is appropriate for the sites I work on—and the process of finding the answer is different for every site.  It has to be, because every site is different.

Now, if you want to share your user demographics with anyone who wants a peek, hey, have fun with that.  If data exhibitionism is your thing, who am I to judge?  Just don’t pretend that the bits of data you’re exposing to the world are representative of everyone else’s, because I guarantee you that they are not.  As for anyone who happens to glance at your data: I hope they realize the same thing.

SES Chicago Report

Published 19 years, 6 months past

Due to some weather-related travel upheavals, I didn’t get to spend as much time at SES Chicago as I would have liked—I ended up flying in Tuesday afternoon, speaking before lunch Wednesday, and leaving Wednesday evening.  Still, the panel went very well, the speakers were quite gracious, and I didn’t even need a fire extinguisher.

Based on what was said in the panel and the fleeting conversations I was able to have (sometimes from the podium) with Matt Bailey and Shari Thurow, here’s what I took away from the conference:

  • Semantic markup does not hurt your search engine rankings.  It may even provide a small lift.  However, the lift will be tiny, and it isn’t always a semantic consideration.  Search engines seem to use markup the same way humans do: headings and elements that cause increased presentational weight, such as <strong> and <i>, will raise slightly the weight of the content within said elements.  So even the presentational-effect elements can have an effect.  They also stated that if you’re using elements solely to increase ranking, you’re playing a loser’s game.
  • The earlier content sits in the document, the more weight it has… but again, this is a very minor effect.
  • Hyperlink title attribute and longdesc text has no effect, positive or negative, on search engine ranking.  The advice given was to have a link’s title text be the same as its content, and that anything you’d put into a longdesc should just go into the page itself.  (Remember: this advice is ruthlessly practical and specific to search-engine ranking, not based on any notions of purity.)
  • Having a valid document neither helps nor hurts ranking; validation is completely ignored.  The (paraphrased) statement from a Yahoo! representative was that validation doesn’t help find better information for the user, because good information can (and usually does) appear on non-valid pages.
  • Search engine indexers don’t care about smaller pages, although the people who run them do care about reducing bandwidth consumption, so they like smaller pages for that reason.  But not enough to make it affect rankings.
  • A lot of things that we take for granted as being good, like image-replacement techniques and Flash replacement techniques, are technologically indistinguishable from search-engine spamming techniques.  (Mostly because these things are often used for the purpose of spamming search engines.)  Things like throwing the text offscreen in order to show a background image, hiding layers of text for dynamic display, and so forth are all grouped together under the SEO-industry term “cloaking”.  As the Yahoo! guy put it, 95% of cloaking is done for the specific purpose of spamming or otherwise rigging search engine results.  So the 5% of it that isn’t… is us.  And we’re taking a tiny risk of search-engine banishment because our “make this look pretty” tools are so often used for evil.

Reading that last point, you might be wondering: how much of a risk are you taking?  Very little, as it turns out.  Search engine indexers do not try to detect cloaking and then slam you into a blacklist—at least, they don’t do that right now.  To get booted from a search engine, someone needs to have reported your site as trying to scam search engines.  If that happens, then extra detection and evaluation measures kick in.  That’s when you’re at risk of being blacklisted.  Note that it takes, in effect, a tattletale to make this even a possibility.  It’s also the case that if you find you’ve been booted and you think the booting unfair, you can appeal for a human review of your site.

So using standards will not, of itself, increase your risk of banishment from Google.  If someone claims to Google that you’re a dirty search spammer, there’s a small but nonzero chance that you’ll get booted, especially if you’re using things like hidden text.  If you do get booted and tell Google you aren’t a spammer, and they check and agree with you, you’ll be back in the index immediately.

So there’s no real reason to panic.  But it’s still a bit dismaying to realize that the very same tools we use to make the Web better are much more often used to pollute it.  I don’t suppose it’s surprising, though.

Due to my radically compressed schedule, I was unfortunately not able to ask most of the questions people suggested, and for that I’m very sorry.  There was some talk of having me present at future SES conferences, however, so hopefully I’ll have more chances in the future.  I’ll also work the e-mail contacts I developed to see what I can divine.

S5 1.1b2

Published 19 years, 7 months past

Behold: v1.1 beta 2 of S5.  This version has a few of changes, all of which are being floated as trial balloons.  Feedback on them all is appreciated.

  • Change in file structure.  Now the ui/ directory will contain only directories.  Thus, the default theme and scripts live in ui/default/.  The reason for this is so that other themes can be put in the ui/ directory without things getting too confusing.  For example, the current beta version has a v11b2/ directory (the beta’s version of ui/) that contains default/ and i18n/.  Switching between them does require manual editing of the XHTML file, as I decided to punt on dynamic theme switching for now.  This does, however, let an author carry around a single ui/ directory with a number of themes contained inside.  That way, he might have four presentations to give, each one with a different theme, but all of them sharing the same ui/ directory.

    Another advantage to changing the directory structure is that v1.0 presentations won’t be compatible with v1.1 themes.  That’s actually a good thing, since the XHTML structure changed in small but significant ways in v1.1b1.

    I thought about further splitting the default directory into “script” and “style” subdirectories, but this seemed like a bit of overkill.  However, I’m starting to wonder how to handle things like IE/Win behaviors, which I suspect will be needed before too much longer.  Why?  Look at the images in the v1.1b2 testbed: they all have flat white backgrounds.  I’d like to turn them all into PNGs with alpha channels, and I’d like to have those work as intended in IE/Win.  The only way to make that work right now is via behaviors like this one.  I’ll want to drop those behaviors into the default/ directory—my leading candidate would actually be IE7, once it gets close to being stable, mostly because it would add quite a lot to theme authors’ CSS toolkits.  But all those behavior files could clutter up the directory, for which the easiest fix is to drop them all in a subdirectory… you probably see where I’m going with this.

    That’s all for another version, though; v1.1 won’t have any behaviors packaged by default.  It’s just on my radar, and I thought I’d toss it out to see if anyone has bright ideas.

  • A “header” file for themes.  You can see an example at v11b2/i18n/00_head.txt.  Briefly, this file contains material destined for the head element of any presentation that’s going to use this theme.  In the case of i18n, the only thing that changes is the link element pointing to slides.css.  Nevertheless, the header file provides all of the link and script elements that should appear in the presentation file.  This should make it easier for an editor program to just grab each block and paste them over the existing block in the presentation file.  It will also reduce ambiguity for anyone doing a manual edit to change themes.  (Open header file, drag-select, copy; open presentation file, drag-select, paste, save, done.)

  • Changes to incremental class names.  In earlier versions, incremental-display objects were marked with a class of inc, and any list that should start out already showing the first list item got a class of psf.  I’ve changed those to incremental and show-first.  The new names require a little more typing, but they’re much less ambiguous and therefore much more author-friendly.  I’m interested to see if anyone has ideas for better names, especially for show-first.

As for the issue of licensing, I guess I’m little further along, but not all they way yet.  The discussion did help me focus on what I want.

  • Presentation content should be under whatever license/terms the author desires.  I do not want to force all S5 presentation content to be public domain, or GPL’ed, or whatever.  If someone wants to give a highly confidential talk using S5, they should be able to put the most restrcitive license in the Universe on the content… but only on the content.

  • Themes should similarly have their licenses, or lack thereof, determined by each one’s author.  If Joe Consultant wants to create a MyCoolCo theme and release it under copyright so that anyone can use the theme for their own presentations but nobody is allowed to re-use his images/look-and-feel/whatever outside the S5 theme, there should be nothing that stops him from doing so.

  • The S5 system (JS, core CSS, and the way they’re put together) should be forever free to use by anyone who wants to do so.  It should be open for future development, in the event that I stop developing it and someone wants to keep going.  This would also allow anyone to fork off their own variant on S5 at any time, but that’s okay too.

    Here’s where it gets a little tricky: S5 should be able to be incorporated into any other project, commercial or not, without restriction.  Attribution to the original source is to be strongly encouraged, but not an absolute requirement.  But at no time, and in no way, should use of S5 in a closed environment ever cause a back-flow of restrictions to the original project.

In other words, anyone should be able to use S5 or a derivative work in their for-profit, wholly proprietary, patented software (or in any other circumstance).  They can even make modifications, if they like.  However, there should be no way for their use of it in a closed system to infect the original S5 source, and if their modifications make it into a future version of S5, the same should hold true.  I don’t even know if that’s possible, but it’s in the spirit of the Share Alike terms in the Creative Commons licenses.  You want to build S5 support into your $49.95 fully copyrighted and licensed editor?  Fine, no problem.  You want to extend S5 to do more cool stuff?  Also fine, but freely contribute the changes back to the place you got the code in the first place.  Don’t try to claim the original project has no right to the additions you made to it, or that the addition of those changes to the original project makes the whole thing yours.

(Not that I think any of you would do such a thing, but I have to think ahead to when S5 catches the interest of someone… well, let’s say less scrupulous.)

In a sense, I want to prevent major infection of licensing terms in both directions.  I’m not entirely sure where that leaves me, but I’d like to work it out before 1.1 goes final.

Unjustified Caption Text

Published 19 years, 7 months past

I just stumbled across a browser bug this evening that I thought you all might like to know about.  So we all know that IE6/Win supports text-align: justify, right?  Wrong.  Sorry, but it’s the truth: IE6 does not fully support text-align: justify.  True, it mostly supports that declaration, but if you apply said declaration to a caption element, guess what?  You get centered, non-justified text instead.  It’s very much as though, in the case of caption elements, IE6 replaces justify with center.

I just thought I’d pass this along in case it might help anyone else avoid some furious head-scratching.  And, I’m sorry to say, I don’t know of a workaround.  If anyone finds one, please leave a comment to that effect.

This is a perfect illustration of how difficult it is to do comprehensive CSS testing.  Every CSS support chart I’ve ever seen has marked down IE6 as supporting justified text; I mean, why wouldn’t they?  It clearly did so… for the specific test cases used to create that support chart.  The odds of a test page including a caption element are pretty vanishingly small, unless of course we’re talking about a test page that includes every single XHTML element in existence.  And to test every element known for every property-value combination… well, I’ve talked about that before.  No need to trample the same ground even flatter.

En Passant

Published 19 years, 7 months past

Last night, during a small window of down time (the first in almost a week), I fired up Freeverse‘s entirely free yet thoroughly gorgeous Big Bang Chess.  Now, it should be stated right up front that I’m not really a fan of chess.  Oh, sure, Game of Kings and all that, but generally I find it to be an almost even mixture of boredom and frustration.  The latter is particularly true because I’m just not very good at the game.  There’s too much going on, and I have to juggle too many things that might or might not happen, for it to be much fun for me.

But I was looking to keep myself occupied for a few minutes, and I have very few games installed on the laptop, so Big Bang Chess got the nod.  I immediately cranked the AI setting all the way over to the left (thus elevating fast thinking above smart thinking) and started playing.  As I blew through a few quick matches, it occurred to me that there are a few things that a computer chess game could do to make me more interested.

Human-like turn lengths for the AI.

One of the things that most often frustrates me about computer chess is that the AI will make a move within seconds of my making a move.  More often, it will do so immediately.  Then I sit there, thinking my slow organic thoughts, feeling vaguely stupid for being such a slowpoke even though I know there’s no direct comparison.  Eventually, I make a move.  Instantly, the computer makes its move.  My first reaction is, “That was awfully quick.  Was he waiting for the move I just made?  Did I just walk into a trap?  What am I missing?”  And then I go hunting around the board, not sure where to look, not sure that there’s even anything to see.

I’m aware that the computer needs only a fraction of a second to run through possible moves and pick one.  If it’s a really advanced system, it may take 20 or 30 seconds as it looks five moves ahead.  If the computer took a human amount of time before moving, say a few minutes, I’d feel more at ease.  Yes, I know that means having the computer pick a move and then do absolutely nothing for a few minutes.  I don’t care.  This is purely a matter of acting in a manner that makes me more comfortable, and therefore more likely to enjoy the entire process.  The UI could have a “go ahead and move” button tucked away in a corner for me to use if I ever got tired of waiting.

I realized this was what I wanted when I asked myself why I was setting the AI to be quick at the expense of being smart.  Aside from making it more likely that I’d win, I realized it was because I felt like if the computer was going to move at a speed that, subjectively, seemed reckless and devoid of consideration, then its moves should reflect that.  And they do.  But even if I set the AI to be as smart as possible, it’s still going to seem to me like it’s moving without putting much thought into its game.

So put up a picture of an opponent who looks around the board, holds a chin in his or her hand as if pondering deep thoughts, leans back in reflection, and generally acts like it’s still thinking even though it picked a move three minutes ago.  It will make the game more enjoyable.

An option to show all of the squares that any enemy piece can reach.

Part of my problem in chess is that I don’t have the patience to figure out whether a given square I’m considering occupying (or piece I’m thinking about taking) is already covered.  That’s largely due to all the possible ways a square can be covered.  Is there a knight within striking distance?  Can a bishop jump over from the other side of the board?  And so on.  It isn’t that I can’t manage this mental feat.  It’s just that I have little interest in doing so for every single last square that interests me, turn after turn.  So if a game tinted all enemy-reachable squares red, for example, I’d have a much better grasp of the strategic situation.

This would obviously be an option in the preferences, albeit one I’d never disable.  Having a similar “tint all squares my pieces can reach” option would be cool, too.  It would be even better if the amount of tinting of a square was based on the number of pieces that could move to it.

This kind of visualization would keep me from making stupid mistakes, and mean a lot less use of the “Undo move” option.  Who knows?  Maybe with enough play in that mode, I’d eventually reach the point where I didn’t need the help.

The ability to somehow create variant games.

Back in high school, I was a member of the chess club, mostly because a lot of my friends were members.  Also because I still bought into the idea that the really smart people played chess, and I wanted to be really smart.  We had a few variant games that I remember fondly, and it would be fun to have them reborn.  My favorite was Nuclear Chess.  In that one, any piece could instead of moving choose to self-detonate, destroying itself and any pieces in adjacent squares.  (Of course, if you did that with your King, you lost the game—unless you took out the opposing King, in which case it was a tie.)  And then there was Thermonuclear Chess, where any piece could make a normal move and then immediately detonate.

They were quick games.  Lots of fun, too.  The nature of the game changes dramatically when you have to make sure an opposing piece can’t just plow into your pawn line and immediately detonate, thus wiping out your King in the process.

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure how one could open up a chess game’s architecture to allow the creation of variants like that, but I’d love to see it happen.

Just some random thoughts on a game I don’t really like.  If you want to talk Checkers, though…

Once With Heads Held High

Published 19 years, 7 months past

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I got some feedback on “Behind The Beauty, Cracks Appear“, published four weeks ago today.  What did surprise me was that the feedback was for the most part supportive.  In all honesty, I expected a good deal more negative feedback.  After all, roughly two-thirds of my fellow state residents, and clear majorities in ten other states, voted a position opposite mine.  So thanks to those of you who wrote or pinged in support.

As I say, though, there were some rebuttals to my post.  As many of these rebuttals involved counterarguments of one kind or another, I thought I’d share my reactions to the arguments made in opposition to homosexual marriage.  I’ll probably let this be my last word on the subject for a while.

Majority rule

“It’s what the people want.”

Agreed.  Thus my angst.  But anyone with any sense of history knows how weak the “majority rule” argument really is.  There are plenty of unacceptable things that the people wanted at one time or another: slavery, racial separation, and a restriction of voting rights to men, to name but three.  (There are dozens more.)

You’ll note that I have not, at any point, advocated the overturning of the recent votes.  However misguided I believe them to be, the results of these democratic votes are not something I would simply cast aside in an attempt to make the world conform to my personal views, any more than I would advocate overturning, by either legislative action or executive fiat, a Supreme Court decision on the grounds I didn’t like the ruling.

Nevertheless, I can (and some would say should) oppose this turn of events by speaking out and seeking to change minds.

A slippery slope to Hell

“Once we allow gays to marry, it will open the door to bestiality, pedophilia, necrophilia, and worse.”

This is so wrong, I can’t even believe I have to explain why.

A marriage of two homosexuals would be a union between consenting adults.  Got that?  Everything clear?  Bestiality does not involve consenting adults: it involves a human and an animal, the latter of which cannot give consent.  Pedophilia does not involve consenting adults: it involves an adult and a child, the latter of which cannot be said to give informed consent, no matter what the child actually says.  Necrophilia involves an adult and a corpse, the latter of which can only give consent in horror movies.

You do see the difference, right?

One person who trackbacked the original posting said, among several other equally logical things:

I’ve watched a few demolition derbies at the county fair. That looks like it would be fun to do and would make me happy. Does that mean I should be allowed to drive around on the streets and smash into cars?

Actually, it means you should be free to enter a demolition derby… which you are, assuming you have the entry fee, a car you’re willing to smash up, you agree to the rules of the event, and so on.  Nobody’s outright prohibiting you or anyone else from participating.  That is, after all, one of the underlying features of demolition derbies: everyone participating is a consenting adult who has entered into the activity of their own free will and with an understanding of what the activity entails.

If, on the other hand, there are demolition derbies where you are barred from participating on the basis of, say, your eye color—something which in no way adversely affects your ability to participate in the derby—then I’d say you were being unfairly discriminated against.  You’d probably agree.  So why disagree with me when I say it’s discriminatory to prohibit people of certain sexual orientations to marry?  I don’t see a difference.

As for the “on the streets” idea (which was a fairly obvious misdirection, but I’m willing to work with it anyway) if you can get the consent of all involved parties—including all other drivers, pedestrians, property owners, and civic officials in the area you intend to do this—then yes, you should be allowed to do that.  If not, then no.

I’m still sort of stunned that I have to explain that.

A slippery slope to Hell, part 2

“What about polygamy?  What will prevent that door from opening?”

In a word: money.  Our institutions aren’t fiscally configured to deal with multi-partner marriages.  Health insurance, for example, has single and family coverage, but that family coverage is structured around the idea of one spouse and some number of children (and usually the premium goes up a bit with each new child).  Similarly, a university might allow a spouse to take free classes, but only one spouse.  There’s no provision extending free tuition to six spouses, nor should there be: that would be an undue financial burden.  Also, the IRS isn’t very likely to approve of “married filing jointly with five other returns”.  And if the tax man don’t like it, well, it ain’t too likely to fly.

Besides, didn’t most of the Old Testament patriarchs have multiple wives?  When you think about that just a little, it’s clear Biblical proof that marriage has not always been a bond between a single man and a single woman, and thus it seems to me that the God of the Bible didn’t intend marriage to be only the union of one man and one woman—unless the Bible is inaccurate or not to be obeyed in its entirety, of course.  In which case I’d expect the really traditional churches would be pushing for polygamy, not against it.

Cheapening of marriage

“If gays can get married, that will weaken traditional marriages.”

The case for allowing gays to marry begins with equality, pure and simple. Why should one set of loving, consenting adults be denied a right that other such adults have and which, if exercised, will do no damage to anyone else?

— “The case for gay marriage“, The Economist, 26 February 2004

I’d read the above-quoted article a while ago but forgotten it; Warren Stevens was kind enough to remind me about it via e-mail.  It’s short, well-reasoned, and probably a better case than I could make.  So is their first article on the subject, “Let them wed“, from 4 January 1996.  Still, I’ll continue to add a few cents to the pot.

A heterosexual Satanist couple (but not a homosexual Christian couple) can get married anywhere in this country, and odds are that some have.  Some people get married solely for financial reasons, and are essentially roommates while they date (and have sex with) other partners.  Do these marriages weaken your marriage, or the marriages of those around you?  Do you imagine that your marriage somehow affects theirs, making it weaker or stronger?

For that matter, if we’re going to talk about things that weaken marriage, I think we should look at the ease with which people get married and divorced in this country.  That’s a far bigger threat to the sanctity of marriage than any number of gay marriages could ever be.  Britney Spears got married for 55 hours.  Apparently that’s more acceptable than a homosexual marriage because she was married to a man, even if for just over two days.  Why would it be less acceptable if she were to marry a woman, and stay faithfully committed to that partner for the rest of her life?

If gays are able to marry, it will not bring all heterosexual marriages to a screeching halt.  It won’t even make them less acceptable, or less worthy of respect.  If anything, it will make them more so, because there will be a reduced demand for sham marriages.

If nothing else, I’m tired of hearing about the sanctity of marriage from nationally recognized conservatives, most of whom have already been divorced two or more times.  Their hypocrisy depresses me, but their inability to defend their own marriages has, so far as I know, failed to weaken my marriage, or that of anyone I know.

Marriage isn’t as important as love

“A gay couple can stay committed and faithful to one another, just as if they were married, so there’s no need to grant legal recognition.”

The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.

—from the opinion of the U.S Supreme Court in 388 U.S. 1, Loving v. Virginia, 1967

I entirely agree with the Court.  And no, I don’t see an ethical difference between prohibitions of marriage based on gender and those based on race, which is what 388 U.S. 1 addressed.

Furthermore, I propose that anyone who believes that marriage isn’t necessary for any truly loving homosexual couple should voluntarily abstain from marriage, and get divorced if they are already married but stay with the same partner.  Show that you mean what you say.  If you truly love someone, then it shouldn’t be a problem to live with them for the rest of your lives without getting officially married, just as you advocate for gays.

If that isn’t acceptable to you, and you think hard about why, then maybe you’ll begin to understand why it isn’t acceptable to gays either.

(Thanks to Rich Manalang for the pointer to 388 U.S. 1.)

Inability to reproduce

“Gays don’t need to get married because they can’t have children.”

If the ability to reproduce is a core tenet of an acceptable marriage, then my marriage to Kat is unacceptable: we are unable to reproduce, and believe me, we did try.  Does anyone believe that we should be forcibly divorced, or have our marriage annulled, because of this?  Come on, speak up.  Alternatively, should all couples who intend to get married be required to undergo fertility testing, with those who fail the testing prohibited from being married?  Do you really want the government to start medically testing its citizens in order to tell them what they can or can’t do?

Because of the medical barriers to our reproducing, Kat and I chose to adopt.  I know Alan Keyes condemns people like us because, in his world, adoption makes incest inevitable.  (No, I’m not kidding.)  Lunatics aside, though, the last time I checked adoption was seen as an acceptable course of action by most people.  Regardless of how anyone feels, it is quite likely the only way Kat and I could have a family.  It is also one way that a homosexual couple could have a family.  I do not see a difference between the two.

Of course, gay couples are already adopting.  There was one such couple in our orientation group at the adoption agency with whom we worked.  Thus, homosexual marriage would change this very little, if at all.  It might in some cases make it easier for a gay couple to adopt, since they could legally show combined income, joint tax returns, health insurance, and the like.  I understand that would be objectionable to some, who fear that children raised by a gay couple might grow up to think of a homosexual lifestyle as acceptable.  As I pointed out, too late: it’s already happening.  It’s also the case that liberals are allowed to adopt—Kat and I did, after all—and many of those children grow up thinking liberalism is acceptable.  Shocking, I know; and yet I assure you that it happens.

Anyone in favor of restricting adoption only to those people who meet specific ideological standards?

Children’s welfare

“Children should be raised by a man and a woman, not by two men or two women.”

That’s a common belief, and one that has evidence both supporting and contradicting it.  I’m not at all convinced that a child needs to have one parent of each gender in order to be well raised.  Any time a child has a parent or parents who love, nurture, and discipline it as needed, I think the child is likely to turn out just fine.  Conversely, any time a child has a parent or parents who are cruel, abusive, or distant, they’re probably going to grow up maladjusted.

Society is better served by maximizing the number of children who grow up in loving, stable homes.  If a homosexual couple can provide that, then I don’t see why it should be problem.  If they can’t, then I think it’s as much of a problem as a heterosexual couple who can’t.


“Gays choose to be with same-sex partners.  If they chose to be with opposite-sex partners, they could get married.”

First, I’m going to leave aside the whole question of homosexuality as a choice versus a matter of nature.  There’s evidence on both sides, and against both sides.  I know what I believe, but I’m not going there, mostly because as far as I’m concerned, it’s not relevant.

Of those who are married or in a committed relationship of some kind, how many of you dispassionately chose the person with whom you fell in love?  When you truly love someone, it’s because that’s the right person for you, and vice versa.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of the story.  Why would anyone choose to step away from the one they love because that person wasn’t the accepted gender, or race, or religion, or body type, or whatever else?  More importantly, why would anyone else demand that they do so?

Suppose I said that all married couples had to be interracial, or interfaith.  How is that ethically different from demanding that married couples be intergender?  I don’t see that it is.  Note I said “ethically”.  I understand that many see a moral difference.  Speaking of which…

Moral qualms

“It’s just wrong, and oughtn’t be allowed.”

There are religions that say the consumption of porcine meats or shellfish is wrong; others forbid the consumption of beef.  In fact, taken as a global aggregate, adherents of those religions outnumber Christians.  All those who do not follow these food-limiting faiths that are planning to alter their eating habits (that is, their lifestyle) based solely on the demands of said faiths, please raise your hands.


I was, in my original post, a bit sarcastic when I said “oh noble defenders of morality”.  The sarcastic part was the word “noble”: I never perceive intolerance as noble.  Other than that, the “morality” part was kind of my point: it’s your morality, not everyone’s.  This street goes both ways, of course; many feel that allowing gays to marry would be an imposition of external morality on them.  Conversely, the prohibitions of gay marriage are an imposition of external morality on gays.  Where’s the balance?

Something I’ve seen making the rounds is the idea that the government should stop issuing marriage licenses altogether, and instead grant legal recognition to civil unions (both hetero- and homosexual).  Of course, if a couple chooses to marry in a church or other setting, they would be entirely free to do so.  The point here would be that the civil unions would have the current status marriages hold—the rights, privileges, and burdens that come with being recognized as a married couple would be conferred upon these unions.  Marriage would be made a more personal and spiritual act, one that every church could perform for whomever they choose.  Some could restrict it only to opposite-gender couples, while others might only marry same-sex couples.  Or, and here’s a radical concept, a church might choose to marry any two people who love each other enough to undertake so serious a commitment.

It seems to me that this, or something very much like it, would be a workable approach.  I’ll grant you that it would force some churches and other socially conservative organizations to co-exist with (if not necessarily accept) something they don’t like, but that’s fairly inescapable.  In a large, complex society, every one of us will have to tolerate things we don’t like.  I, for one, don’t much like the recent votes to prohibit gay marriage, but clearly I have to live with them, at least for the time being.  I also don’t like people who can’t be bothered to signal lane changes, civilian-owned Hummers, Web design tools that generate malformed markup, and Rush Limbaugh.  Tell you what: support my legislation to ban the things I don’t like, and I’ll support yours.  Fair enough?

I could go on, but I think that’s quite enough.  There will, of course, be those who read this and despair that I’ve bought into the “homosexual agenda”.  Well, let’s see.  Near as I can tell, the agenda in question is one of asking that our society treat homosexuals like human beings, that it grant them the same rights and privileges accorded to other adults, and that it treat them as the equals the United States Constitution says they (along with everyone else) truly are.

Quite frankly, we should all buy into that agenda.

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