Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Real Source of California's Hostility over Proposition 8

I'm extremely interested in the news surrounding the California Supreme Court's upholding Proposition 8, defining marriage in that state's constitution as one man, one woman. I keep hearing the initiative mislabeled as a "gay marriage ban" (gay marriage is not addressed; rather the traditional definition, understood without clarification for generations, was specified), or compared (illogically) with civil rights for black people.

So today I checked out the Los Angeles Times' coverage of Tuesday's ruling. I was agog at the first sentence of Maura Dolan's report: "The California Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to uphold Proposition 8 and existing same-sex marriages left in place all rights for California's gays and lesbians except access to the label "marriage," but it provided little protection from future ballot measures that could cost gays and other minorities more rights, lawyers and scholars said Tuesday."

The first clause of the sentence was news reporting. The second was pure editorializing. The ruling provides "little protection from future ballot measures that could cost gays and other minorities more rights"??!!! I must calm down.

Under California law, enacted in January, 2005, registered domestic partners in that state have "the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations and duties under the granted to married spouses." (California Family Code, Section 297-297.5) This was not affected by Proposition 8. How in the world could a professional reporter label the initiative, brought by sincere people with traditional values, as a "ballot measure that cost gays rights"? What "rights" did they lose? Did the court that decided by one vote (4-3) last May that the state's constitution fuzzily implied gays could marry "give rights" that then the mean, cruel homophobes of the state voted to take away? Not really, as couples "married" after the ruling but before Proposition 8 retain even the name.

At issue--and now clarified--is whether two of the same gender in a committed relationship can be recognized according to California law as a "marriage." That's it. There's no "discrimination" or disadvantage to gays except lexiconically.

This is not about hatred or injustice, but that's all you read about in the press--irate gay people and their supporters shouting that they're just the same as the unfairly legally disadvantaged blacks of the early 60s. If that's the case, then why are there no voices from the national black leadership putting their reputations on the line for their gay "brothers?" Could it be because most of the black population is Christian and believes that marriage joins man and woman only? In their campaign, Barack Obama and Joe Biden repeated that they, too, hold that marriage is between one man and one woman.

The lead sentence of Maura Dolan's piece riled me because of its suggestion that those in favor of Proposition 8 are in the midst of some eeeeevil campaign to "cost gays and minorities more rights." It's this sinister painting of anyone loyal to traditional religious perspectives as rampaging to extinguish "rights" of homosexuals that I can't bear. the majority of the population is now defensive; gays and their supporters are the ones on the attack, against the universal understanding of marriage. They no longer claim they want marriage's privileges and responsibilities--California law already guarantees that--they want the word "marriage" because they want official sanction for their sexuality and the gravity of their relationship equal with the man-woman joining that provides the next generation.

I have gay friends and relatives, and I love and respect them. The people I happen to know recognize their relationships are not identical to traditional marriages; they acknowledge and are comfortable with who they are. If they should commit to a partner and decide to say they're married, I have no problem honoring the way they choose to present themselves, and my caring and regard for them would not change. But it's a different issue when government takes a position, and when the voters of a state express their explicit will regarding that policy.

No one I know who supported Proposition 8 has any hunger for future ballot issues, much less any to "cost gays and minorities more rights." No rights were lost with Proposition 8; biased reporters who snigglingly deride the will of California's majority simply clarify the real source of this issue's antipathy.

Supreme Court: No White Men Need Apply

Pres. Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court reiterates the role of racism and sexism in our political process. Frankly, I know too little about her decisions on the bench to predict whether she will be a fit Justice. Her liberal leanings as reported in the press reveal only the stance one would expect the current president to promote.

It strikes me, however, that Judge Sotomayor would not have been selected were she not female. In fact, she likely would not have been chosen if she were not Latina. In the days before the announcement, three women's names were offered by pundits, and we heard repeatedly that the president sought to appoint a woman to the bench. In other words, white men--the vast majority of jurists--need not apply.

A search for the best and most experienced mind in the nation was not conducted; the gray matter qualified for this position had to fit neatly in the skull of a woman, ideally wrapped in skin with a hue that could be called "brown."

This comes as no surprise, given that President Obama himself sailed into office based far more on his race than his meager experience, or on any specific plans to extricate our nation from its problems. Would the same person, with the same skills and experience, have been nominated, let alone elected, were he white? Given the prominence of gender and race in electing and appointing, our nation has far to go to embrace Martin Luther King's dream of a society that ignores color of skin, and focuses instead on content of character.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Land of the Free

While cooking for Shabbat, I heard on the news that Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, 32, was released by the Iranian government despite their assertion she was a spy. Though apparently she had access to a classified document, she claimed she was arrested for buying wine on the black market. Of course, buying alcohol is, in Iran, an arrest-worthy activity.

I don't know much about her, and can't assess her affiliations or merits. But one thing did touch me about her story. It was a clip on the news in which she said that she kept going during her 100 days in prison by singing the US National Anthem. Her statement to reporters upon her arrival was, "It may sound corny, but I'm so happy to be home in the land of the free."

Those who are complacent about that freedom, our President included, may at some point be forced to reconsider. I found Dick Cheney's press conference excellent--he reminded us that we are under attack, and have been for decades, with far more than the 3,000 casualties of the World Trade Center and 9-11 to mourn. We dare not become lax or casual about those who plot every day to destroy us. I think Vice President Cheney is completely right to continue his public persona, and use his status to speak out, regularly. I don't care if the current debate is framed in terms of Obama versus Cheney--we Americans take our liberties for granted, and we need constant reminders that what we enjoy is precious and endangered.

It's only after experiencing the land of sharia that, like Roxana Saberi (pictured in the BBC photo above with her parents), one can fully appreciate the land of the free.

Is Capitalism Dead? ...And memories of graduation

Back home from across the country; my daughter now a college graduate. Work to be done.

I'm looking for sources, new or old, asserting that capitalism is dead. With this economic crisis now affecting other countries (China, Japan) far worse than the US, will fledgling efforts instituting free markets sink? Is capitalism dead or, as I maintain, is it flogged down by governments layering on new socialistic band-aids (Obama) that could forever cripple free enterprise? Wouldn't capitalism, if allowed, come to its own correction?

In the meantime, I'm collecting my memories...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Graduation: Mix of Emotions

On Thursday I watched my first-born child graduate college. It was like a time warp.

My son and I flew into New York on a red-eye from Seattle, cabbed to a friend's apartment, and scuttled over to Madison Square Garden for the ceremony. the fact that a sick 20-month-old spent the entire flight screaming in the seat in front of me--and our exit-row chairs didn't budge--gave the whole thing a surreal aura. When my husband met us there, just arrived from Chicago, and finally, in the crush of black gowns, squealing graduates and camera flashes, our daughter emerged from the crowd, my emotions collided, and I could barely control the tears.

This was the little girl who happily let me put the most colorful and playful ribbons in her hair for school, the one for whom I wrote adoring notes to tuck into her lunchboxes. The brilliant student who barely had to study yet succeeded academically as a matter of internal principle. It was like that great scene in "Father of the Bride" when Steve Martin watches the young woman across the table from him morph back into the pig-tailed five-year-old she ought to be.

The other weirdness of it all is the reminder that now I'm on the wrong side of the generation gap. In my own time-stalled mind, I'm the 22-year-old; who is this competent, accomplished young woman with the long burnished hair and sparkling smile? "Pomp and Circumstance," performed fitfully by an invisible college band, paced the procession of perfect-toothed pairs of young ladies, sky-blue tassels swaying off their mortar-boards. As my own child--my baby, my "bachorah," (first born) stepped down the aisle, posing momentarily as I pressed the shutter, I was overcome with the parade of generations, and the transitiion from mine to hers, a segue I resist as well as celebrate.

The ceremony included the usual sweet speeches, an endearing valedictorian, a jocular college president and administrators bestowing honors, before the graduates crowded forward, not in any order, handing in cards from which their names were read. I tried to guage when my daughter would mount the stage to start my video, but all of the young women had identical long brown tresses; we were too far away to see much more. My camera mis-focused at the crucial moment; I captured a blurred form walking to receive the fake diploma and receive a hug from her college dean--an embrace offered few of her peers. Finally the tassles were moved, the recessional finished. A blur of flying satin, grandmothers and nephews and siblings lined with group grins, echoes of "smile!" and hugs and squeals. One by one, the flat caps moved from heads to hands, gowns wadded and stuffed in bags. Girls disbursed with their families; another milestone accomplished.

I couldn't take enough photos. The moment refused to linger. She's irritated that I keep taking images, for me so significant. I just don't want her to grow up; I want to be her protector and Mommy and put ribbons in her hair. I'm glad and proud she's a fabulous writer, a Torah scholar, a competent young woman. But when I think about it, I cry; I just don't want these magical years to end.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Marriage as Man & Woman: Beauty Queen Reveals it's a Lost Cause

In the midst of a glorious springtime, as I get ready to fly across the country to celebrate the college graduation of my daughter, I was was listening to my fave talk radio host...spend an hour on the pathetic topic of Miss California.

Yes, I'd read that Carrie Prejean had gotten in trouble answering Perez Hilton's question about whether every state should follow Vermont's legalization of gay marriage. I was irked that her insipid answer that " my family, I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there, but that's the way I was raised" should get a blink, much less the pained smirk Perez Hilton gave her and the ridiculous verbiage explosion by commentators of every stripe. Hers was hardly an iconoclastic, gasp-worthy notion that required fortitude to express, especially given it's the majority view of her fellow Californians, affirmed in Proposition 8.

In fact, the little hamsters in Carrie Prejean's lovely head were sprinting on their exercise wheel as she first fumbled to answer the question: "I think it's great that Americans can choose one or the other; Americans can choose same sex marriage or opposite marriage." She thinks it's great that gays can get married! Perez should have been nodding like a bobble head at that point. But the hamsters stumbled, and she backtracked, "But you know what? In my country, in my family, I think that marriage should be between a man and a woman..." Not the most articulate reversal.

Under usual circumstances, the whole confusing answer might have gone the way of Miss South Carolina's in the 2007 Miss Teen America contest, when she responded hilariously to a question about students' geographic stupidity by suggesting some people, especially in underprivileged nations such as South Africa and "the Iraq" don't have maps. This entire flap is in our faces only because 21-year-old Miss Prejean is gorgeous, and because everyone's on the lookout for amusing muddles from beauty queens.

But I find this disturbing. The fact that those on both sides are so passionately defending or deriding Carrie Prejean suggests to me that the effort to keep marriage the way it's always been assumed is lost. Never again will man-woman marriage be the taken-for-granted norm, and anyone who supports it will be chastised and and assailed. Even the innocuous Carrie Prejean thought to post-script her "courageous" expression of opinion with "no offense to anybody out there."

How depressing. Marriage has already been re-defined, even though since 2004, 26 states passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as only a man and woman. Even though Barack Obama and Joe Biden repeated during their campaigns that they believe marriage should only be male-female. Even though the California court is likely to uphold the will of its constituents in Proposition 8.

Majorities of Americans can battle and argue, but even if you're a sparkly-lipped beauty queen in a rhinestone tiara, you've got to apologize if your bible, your tradition and your eyes all tell you that "marriage" combines opposite sexes. I'm so glad that after her gaffe and some glitzy photos, Donald Trump will let Miss California keep her crown. But it's not enough to offset the disheartening reality that proponents of traditional marriage have surrendered.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Roasted Vegetables

Shabbat will be coming in at 8:13 pm here in the upper latitudes of our nation, and at 6 pm I'm still in the throes of cooking for our crowd. Tonight, we welcome a family new to the Northwest, with their extended members who are visiting the region for a "simcha," the young son's First Communion.

The aunt and uncle of the honored youngster are good friends, and Jews. And so we can have a "mizumen," the group of three adult men that allows us to thank God after the meal as a "group." That the eight Catholics at the table will be experiencing their first traditional Jewish Shabbat meal is a source of happiness for me. After all, they, too, hold by the Commandment that mandates this day of togetherness, elevation, and casting off work-week worries.

Tomorrow we host a table of our closest friends, including our rabbi and wife, and neighbors who in their careers share with us a desire to communicate messages more significant than the usual media tripe.

As vegetarians, we won't be serving any tripe, (though I think if it's from a kosher cow, we could eat it). Fish is the staple of our Sabbath meals. I've got some nice local salmon broiled in fresh lime sauce, and some thick tuna steaks I've marinated and will soon sear. I've got honey'd parsley potatoes, a cauliflower soup; I've braided my fresh challah, and it's risen into long loaves puffy and ripe for the oven. But I've got to deal with those vegetables.

Which occasions this post. Several clumps of fresh broccoli, a tight white head of cauliflower, some green sticks of zucchini and a package of portobellos. I go to my cookbooks. I've collected two shelves of tomes that feature vegetables. But I'm tired of my usual steaming and stir-fry. I read my new-agey food mentors...What to do?

And the word emerges. There are few terms with a nicer sound than "roast." The round, long O that finishes with a crisp "st." Roast. I need to slice florets and chunks and leave the baby Bellows, sprinkle with oil, s+p (as my new Twitter Cookbook recipes say) garlic and Parmesan. Place all on a cookie sheet at, say 375 til the edges are lightly brown. Rohhst. mmmmm.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Beyond "The Base:" Open Up the Republican Party

Driving to the gym today, my radio was set to the talk station. Rush Limbaugh was going on with disdain for voters in "the squishy middle," who he called "moderates who don't know what they believe." He kept insisting that Republicans accept only the positions of their "base" and not "pander" to moderates just to expand chances to win elections.

Now, I'm pretty conservative in my views, but on several issues, I'm one of those for whom Rush would refuse to compromise. For example, while I'm strict about the economy--feeling the "bailout," and even more so the "stimulus package" thwarted our robust system's ability to self-correct--I'm rather "squishy" on environmental issues. And, given that I know and love some of them, I have sympathy for immigrants who left beloved children behind and endured arduous travels and risky starts to come to our land in order to work hard. Because of these and a few other views, I suspect Rush would disqualify me from the Republican "base" he extols.

Hearing a talk host I respect bash a whole amorphous category of voters got me riled. But even worse, it clarified why Democrats and Obama are riding high with the slogan "we're gonna help you," while the party that more closely reflects my positions seems to be contracting. And it's going to keep diminishing if touted Republican spokesmen continue spurning rather than welcoming people who mostly agree.

Frustration made me turn off the radio before I reached the gym, but an hour later, sticky and energized, I headed home and thought I'd give it another try. But it was as if no aerobics class had intervened--Rush was repeating exactly the same mantra: "We've got to stand on our core principles," he preached, "we can't move from our ideals just to include a wider group." Rush even said Jack Kemp, certainly a man of principle but also a man of magnanimity, emblemized not budging from his values.

I'm afraid we're in for some long-term Obama-izing of the system unless conservatives understand that inclusion is the name of the game. "The Base," whatever that means, will be there; it's us in "the squishy middle" who gravitate to the hospitable, the hopeful, the place flexible enough to offer both a "core" and some room for creativity and even indecision.

The other day I was talking to a friend who is a lifelong Democrat, but as she's gotten more comfortable with religion, has also moved in her values toward conservatism. She confided that while she now couldn't abide abortion personally, she didn't see why the government should prevent non-religious women in the early stages of pregnancy from having safe access. Government funding for them would be unacceptable to her; government neutrality in the first trimester seemed sensible. But the hard line against abortion by Republicans means she keeps voting contrary to her views on the economy, marriage and the war on terror--all much more urgent issues where conservatives could really use her support.

This friend agrees with Republicans on 80% of the issues, but can't jump parties because she feels shut out by hard lines. This does get depressing. Positions on social issues are shaped by all sorts of personal experiences and feelings, but the government, especially on a federal level, needs a "macro" role, and mostly, it needs to minimize any role at all. That should be what I hear on talk radio--characteristics to foster in government, not in members of a political party. We need to talk about positive ways to return government to its basics of protecting the country from harm and encouraging innovation and business prosperity.

This stuff about who's a "true conservative" versus who's intruding and polluting some kind of party purity turns me off. Sorry Rush, Ill turn my radio back on for the next host, the one who likes me just as I am.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day: Not Labor, but a Labor of Love

It's May Day and a warm breeze is lifting the fruit tree blossoms off their boughs and through the air like desert snow. The yellow-green of new leaves on our deciduous trees, and the auburn of our Japanese Maples contrast with the deep blue of Lake Washington and white wispy clouds that slide by majestic Mt. Rainer, still covered with snow.

May Day is traditionally Labor Day in Europe, but when I was growing up, I knew nothing of this. May Day meant picking some flowers from the yard, placing them in a construction paper cone, and leaving them on the front doorsteps of neighbors. It meant a performance in school for our parents, where each class did a different dance. Always floral and happy, May Day was also the day my parents married, at the chapel of Fort Lawton in Seattle, in 1943.

My dad was in the army, stationed at the time at Fort Lewis. As a major, he was entitled to use the small white wooden chapel. My mom flew up from her home in Los Angeles; only a few fellow officers, friends of my dad, and their wives, were present for the intimate ceremony.

It was the beginning of a love affair that lasted 60 years, until my mom passed away in 2002 at age 87. My dad, completely bereft at the loss of his true soul mate, followed her in death in 2004, at age 90. The way they related to each other taught me what mutual dependence of the best kind could be.

My shy and sweet mother, the consistent optimist, never raised her voice. When one of her children--i.e. ME--got insolent and demanding, which I could do with great success since she was so kindly and pliable, the worst she could muster was an exasperated, "some day, you'll see! You'll have children of your own!"

My father, also gentle, could sometimes be driven to the edge, however. At that point he'd explode, raising his voice (never raising his hand), and would scold us and send us to our rooms. But we knew that withing five minutes, he'd be back, softly knocking on the door in contrition, apologizing for his outburst, forgiving us and welcoming us out to freedom.

He spent his 35-year post-military work career as a public servant, the Veterans Employment Representative at the California state unemployment office's Hollywood branch. He sat at a desk in an open room, interviewing veterans and making calls to find them jobs. He also enjoyed brushes with movie stars he'd recruit to speak at annual luncheons he organized to drum up public support. Charlton Heston was a regular volunteer, happy to address the group, represent vets in the community and shake their hands at the luncheon affairs.

My mom was mainly a housewife, until the property taxes on our home escalated to where she had to take a job as a secretary. She'd honed those skills during the war working at Douglas Aircraft, and in their married decade before children came along. It pained my dad that his modest salary couldn't keep up with the taxes and forced his wife to work. Finally, in the days just before California's famous Proposition 13 was passed, the taxes surpassed even my mother's income, and they were forced to reluctantly sell the home of my childhood.

They never complained, but moved to a boxy little house in a lesser neighborhood. After my dad's retirement, they spent no time apart, traveling some and enjoying their grandchildren. They took pleasure in daily highlights--lunch at a chain coffee shop, watching old movies, but mostly each others' company. That's where I learned that a spouse is your best friend.

Anniversaries, if you listen to advertisements, are occasions to buy jewelry, go on a trip, have an expensive dinner out. Not for my parents. My dad would make my mom a card on construction paper with markers, writing a cheesy poem saying she's the love of his life; he called her "Poogie." My mom, a bit less artsy, would buy him a card and write a sentimental message; she called him "Paddy." That was it. They really didn't need documentation of their affection--no gems or bouquets.
The flower gifts on May Day were tucked in paper cones and dropped on neighbors' doorsteps.