Archive for the ‘Language and the law’ Category

Protecting fictional brand names

July 19, 2015

It’s all about Duff Beer, on The Simpsons:



Marriage, rights, and cake

July 10, 2015

From the NYT on the 8th, “States Weigh Gay Marriage, Rights and Cake” by Jack Healy:

Denver — The case before the court on Tuesday grappled with issues of equal rights, religious objections to same-sex marriage and wedding cake.

At issue was whether Jack Phillips, a Colorado bakery owner, had broken state antidiscrimination laws when he refused to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding reception, citing his religious beliefs. With same-sex marriage now legal everywhere nationally in the wake of the United States Supreme Court ruling in June, his case is being closely watched as a test of the boundary between personal religious objections and legal discrimination.

… “This case is simply not about cake,” said Ria Mar, a staff lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins. “Businesses open to the public must be open to all, on the same terms.”

Unless Ria Mar is using “open to all” and “on the same terms” in an exceptionally careful way, this can’t be right.


Two books

May 16, 2015

From the NYT Book Review of last Sunday (May 10th), bits from two reviews that caught my eye: Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts reviewed by Jennifer Szalai; and Speak Now by Kenji Yoshino (a memoir combined with analysis of the same-sex marriage case) reviewed by Lincoln Caplan. I haven’t read either book (though I’ve read and posted about other things by Yoshino). But I was intrigued by the reviewers’ comments.


Judge Judy: the early days

May 14, 2015

Today’s Zippy, featuring Judge Judy and her hectoring courtroom speech style:

Judge Judy is something of a preoccupation in Zippy, often in combination with Donald Trump (for instance, #2 on 3/17/14, #1 on 5/26/14), sometimes with other pop culture icons (JJ, Howie Mandel, and Dr. Phil on 8/17/13).


Define marriage

April 30, 2015

The most recent Scenes from a Multiverse (available on-line here) tackles the task of the U.S. Supreme Court:

The legal issues here are genuinely complex, but apparently SCOTUS isn’t contemplating undoing the same-sex marriages that have already happened as a result of judicial actions (as opposed to legislation or popular vote), though it could conceivably let stand existing bans in some states.

Then there’s the question of extending protections against discrimination based on sexuality to those jurisdictions that don’t now have them — or not.

And there’s more.

God’s law and man’s law

March 25, 2015

Frank Bruni in an NYT opinion piece, “Too Much Prayer in Politics: Republicans, the Religious Right and Evolution” on February 15th:

Faith and government shouldn’t be as cozy as they are in this country. Politicians in general, and Republicans in particular, shouldn’t genuflect as slavishly as they do, not in public. They’re vying to be senators and presidents. They’re not auditioning to be ministers and missionaries.

… Mike Huckabee, who is an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist church, put God in the title of a new book that he wrote and just released on the cusp of what may be another presidential bid. He ran previously in 2008, when he won the Iowa caucuses.

The book is called “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.” These are a few of his favorite things.

During a recent appearance on a Christian TV program, he explained that he was mulling a 2016 campaign because America had lost sight of its identity as a “God-centered nation that understands that our laws do not come from man, they come from God.” The way he talks, the Constitution is a set of tablets hauled down from a mountaintop by a bearded prophet.

The notion that God’s law is above man’s law is widespread these days, especially among politicians. This is disturbing, especially since it comes from people who claim to know the mind of God. Certainly it wasn’t what the Founding Fathers had in mind.


Artistic freedom

February 2, 2015

Today’s Zippy alludes distantly to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France:

Do artists have the right to depict their subjects in ways that will offend some people (in particular, these subjects)? Well, in a large number of places, yes. What, then, if those offended respond with physical attacks?


December 15, 2014

A sign on a law office down the street from me in Palo Alto:

The warning seems silly in the neighborhood, where I’ve never seen anyone even stopping in front of the building. So why the warning? And what is its legal standing?


“We do not contracept”

November 30, 2014

In the NYT on the 28th: “In Arizona, a Textbook Fuels a Broader Dispute Over Sex Education” by Rick Rojas, beginning:

Gilbert, Ariz. — The textbook, the one with the wide-eyed lemur peering off the cover, has been handed out for years to students in honors biology classes at the high schools here, offering lessons on bread-and-butter subjects like mitosis and meiosis, photosynthesis and anatomy.

But now, the school board in this suburb of Phoenix has voted to excise or redact two pages deep inside the book — 544 and 545 — because they discuss sexually transmitted diseases and contraception, including mifepristone, a drug that can be used to prevent or halt a pregnancy.

A law passed two years ago in Arizona requires schools to teach “preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption” over abortion, and the school board decided that those pages were in violation of this law — even though the Arizona Education Department, which examined the book for compliance, found that they were not.

… the Gilbert school board is moving forward, trying to figure out how to remove the material in question — by way of black markers or scissors, if need be — despite resistance from parents, residents, the American Civil Liberties Union and even the district’s superintendent.

The big issue has to do with religious rights, and I will have a bit to say on that front. But my main goal here is to work my way up to the quote in the title of this posting and to look at it critically.


Naming, in perpetuity

November 30, 2014

From the NYT on the 28th, a piece by Sam Roberts, “With Naming Rights, ‘Perpetuity’ Doesn’t Always Mean Forever”, with some serious linguistics in it:

After Philippe de Montebello agreed at breakfast two decades ago to name the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Roman Sculpture Court, in perpetuity, for the philanthropists and antiquities collectors Leon Levy and his wife, Shelby White, Mr. Levy predictably, but politely, posed an impertinent question.

“Aware that sometime in the future, Philippe’s successor would probably be making the same promise to some donor not yet born,” Mr. Levy later recalled, “I asked him, How long is ‘in perpetuity’?”

“For you, 50 years,” Mr. de Montebello, the museum director, replied.

They went on to further negotiate the time span.

How to understand “in perpetuity” in this context?



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