Waldlaw Blog

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Family Values, Texas Style

In a bold move, the Houston Chronicle has come out against a proposed amendment to the Texas state constitution that would define marriage as a union of one man and one woman and ban the state of Texas from creating or recognizing any legal status "identical or similar to marriage." As stated in their editorial opposing Proposition 2: "all Texans who support true family values should vote 'No' on Proposition 2 on the November ballot." For the full editorial, go to: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/editorial/3366002 Hurray for Houston!!

Fathers Aren't Expendable

This is a follow-up to my last post, to clarify a few things I said there. (I love to get feedback on my posts, and thanks to all of you who give it!) I've been told that the tone of my last post suggested that I think fathers are expendable. This is far from true. I think that children have a right to know where they come from, and all children have fathers (at least in the biological sense), and therefore every child should have some sense of "father" in his or her life, whether that is an actual living, breathing person or just a concept. For many children, including me, fathers are a precious asset -- I, for one, was extremely close to my father and I sorely miss him, even though he's been dead for almost 10 years. He was, in many ways, my guiding light -- an extremely intelligent, thoughtful, funny, eccentric and flawed person who was passionate about justice and who loved me absolutely and without question just because I was his little girl, even once I was grown and independent and sometimes cranky with him. So fathers -- I actually think they're pretty wonderful. What I was addressing in my last post was this new book that is trying to refute the myth that women alone can't raise healthy men. And I do believe what this book says. But I equally believe that men alone can raise healthy girls (or boys, for that matter). The bottom line, for me, is that good parents can raise great kids, regardless of the gender breakdown of the parents. And part of good parenting is to recognize what one lacks -- be it a male or female role model in the home, or certain skills or talents (like writing, or athletics) that need to be made up for elsewhere. So a good single (and/or lesbian) mom will find strong male role models for her sons and daughters, so the kids grow up with a well-rounded sense of sex and gender; a good single (and/or gay male) dad will find strong female role models for his daughters and sons for the same reason. Kids need to see the range of gender to be whole and healthy, and parents of either sex can provide exposure to this range in a variety of ways. Fundamentally, I think the keys to good parenting include honesty, patience, a sense of humor, good boundaries, and lots of love. And none of these qualities are gender specific. So here's to good parenting, in whatever form it takes.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Raising Boys Without Men

In the last two weeks, I've heard three times about a new author and her book, Raising Boys Without Men. The author is Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., and she describes herself as "part of a long-married, heterosexual couple" who has become fascinated by the question: "Can parents in nonnuclear families, without both a mom and a dad in the household, successfully raise children?" She has done extensive research on boys being raised by either single moms or lesbian couples, and has found -- surprise, surprise -- that these boys are healthy. As she puts it: "A good female parent will change diapers and coach soccer. A good female parent will help a boy to develop his full potential as long as she values his manliness and encourages his growth, independence, and sense of adventure." What I find so interesting about Ms. Drexler's work is that she is, in a way, answering both the rightwing attacks on single mothers and/or lesbian mothers and simultaneously rebutting some age-old feminist mythology about boys. In a sense, these two very different sides have agreed on one thing: boys raised by women, without men, would be less "masculine" than boys raised with fathers in the home. The conservatives decried this as a bad thing; the feminists applauded this as a good thing; but both sides agreed that it was a truth. Now along comes Ms. Drexler, to say that good mothers are quite capable of raising "manly" men, thank you very much. She finds that many boys raised by good mothers (single or in pairs) still love appropriately aggressive play and excel in sports, although they tend to have better communication skills than boys raised in traditional mom/dad households. Maybe I'm so interested in Ms. Drexler's work because I'm busy raising two boys in a home with two moms and no dad. It's great to have someone on the talk show circuit and in the press who says that I can do this well, that my sons can grow up to be whole and healthy men. But I also see Ms. Drexler's work as a sign of what's best about the historical moment we're in, when an increasing number of people -- speaking from their different perspectives and admitting to their different allegiances -- are looking at what's working about our society, in the midst of our current "culture wars," and aren't afraid to speak truth boldly. So thanks, Peggy Drexler, on behalf of me and my sons....

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Katrina's Reminders About Racism in the US

Not that we had forgotten.... But I have to admit that, looking back over the last two weeks, and still haunted by images of the sick and elderly being recovered -- both dead and alive -- from the places they have been trapped by the hurricane and its aftermath, the thing that most plagues me is the stories of vicious racism during the first hours and days after the levees broke. I cannot clear my mind of images of African American citizens of New Orleans trying to walk over the bridge to safety, only to be turned back by Louisiana State Troupers with shotguns. This is such a powerful image: survivors of the hurricane and flood climbing out of the water and the muck, up onto a bridge, with safety visible on the other side -- only to be sent back into the water and muck to face their fate. It is an image I'd like to believe was only part of a movie. But it was part of the aftermath of Katrina that is only starting to be talked about in "polite circles." I understand natural disasters. I understand government incompetence. I'm sorry to say that I even understand governmental indifference and callousness. What I don't understand is the kind of viciousness that would allow people to send other people back into the flooded wasteland of New Orleans because of the color of their skin. What I don't understand is how human beings can contain that much hate, that in the midst of natural disaster and governmental incompetence they would not reach out their hands to those in need because the ones in need were the wrong race or ethnicity. I cannot fathom that level of bigotry, of hatred. And so I sit here in my office in San Francisco, looking out my window at the perpetual fog, and ponder.... What makes people that full of hate? What makes people that afraid of people who are different from themselves? This is the part of the aftermath of Katrina that I find genuinely mind-boggling. Am I naive? Maybe so. But I hope I never get used to the concept that humans can be so awful to each other even in moments of critical need -- and I hope that something changes so that my children don't sit in front of their computers 30 years from now with these same types of awful images stuck in their minds.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Our Governor Needs a Civics Lesson

I have two children in elementary/middle school, and through helping them with homework I've had a chance to remind myself how our government is supposed to run. It seems like Governor Schwarzenegger (please don't make me spell that again any time soon!) is in need of a quick civics lesson, so here goes: In this country, we have what is called a "representative democracy." This means that, instead of the people voting directly for the laws, we vote for representatives who then make the laws. Or at least that's the theory. In California, we have the initiative system in place so we can make laws directly when our legislators either refuse to act in our behalf or act in a way we consider inappropriate. But this was never supposed to replace the basic function of the Legislature, which is to make laws. Let's review the three branches of government, and their functions: the LEGISLATIVE BRANCH is supposed to make the laws; the JUDICIAL BRANCH is supposed to interpret the laws; and the EXECUTIVE BRANCH is supposed to carry out the laws. One of the loudest complaints of conservatives in government is that the judiciary keeps making laws, instead of just interpreting them. We've been reminded repeatedly that making laws is supposed to be the province of elected legislators, not judges. Now, in California, our Legislature has courageously voted for marriage equality, by passing the Civil Marriage and Religious Freedom Protection Act. And all of a sudden, it is inappropriate for legislators to legislate. Well, I'm sorry. The California Legislature just did exactly what they are supposed to do. A bill was introduced; it was debated; thousands of calls and e-mails were received by our legislators encouraging them to vote one way or the other; it was debated more; and ultimately it passed. This is the legislative process. It is a fundamental part of our democracy. Our Governor is dissatisfied with the vote and is insisting that either the courts (remember -- they're the ones who are supposed to interpret the laws, not make them) or the People directly must legalize marriage equality for this change to be valid. Apparently it is inappropriate for the Legislature to try to make laws on this one issue. I would suggest that our Governor would do well to go back and look at the Constitution, and the Separation of Powers Doctrine, and remind himself why we have three distinct branches of government. Then maybe he could be convinced to let our Legislature legislate, and get back to his job of carrying out the laws in the interests of the people.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

And More Thoughts on New Orleans

I've mentioned my brother several times in the last few weeks. Well, he lived in New Orleans last year (although he is now in Los Angeles) and has many friends down there, so he's been very concerned with the situation following Hurricane Katrina. He has written an article for the Post-Gazette that I found both provocative and informative, so I'm sharing it with you here: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05247/564859.stm Forum: The tragedy, and glory, of New Orleans The city that has always defied reality, says Elijah Wald, will find a way to endure Sunday, September 04, 2005 The news stories paint a picture of unrelenting horror: streets floating with bodies, armed gangs roaming the few dry areas, desperate people sweltering on elevated highways and starving in supposed places of refuge, while aid workers struggle with a combination of overload and incompetence, and police are redirected from saving lives to protecting businesses. It is slight comfort to remember that New Orleans has always been a mess, and its city services routinely disgraceful. But that is the only source of optimism available: The memory of a place that has not only survived but flourished in conditions that were crazy, oppressive and impossible, and where the worst misfortunes have been transformed into music, laughter and a fierce, strange joy. In New Orleans, the surreal has always trumped the real. Driving southeast of the city, you could run your eyes up the grassy banks on your right and see ships passing along a river that was higher than the road. It was terrifying and magical, an awesome feat of engineering that defied logic and good sense, but had the weird beauty of a dream. Living just east of the French Quarter, a year and a half ago, I stood in the rain outside the double shotgun house I was renting and watched as the water backed up from a non-working drain and filled the street, overflowed the sidewalk, made it to my first step, then gradually receded. A dozen years ago, I weathered a storm where the water ran waist high in some streets near the French Quarter, and friends who had gone out for a night of music were stranded in the Snug Harbor nightclub. The management kept the club open and they staggered home mid-morning, tired, tipsy and hoarse from hours of singing. That was always part of life in New Orleans. The water defines the city, and instead of east, west, south and north, the four cardinal points are upriver, downriver, riverside and lakeside. Streets curve to match the snakey bends of the Mississippi, the city's main artery and its reason for being. It is an odd poetic justice that, today, the old areas near the river are among the driest and least damaged. The flooding came from the lake, the broad, boring mass of water where the rich escaped for sailboating afternoons away from the leaden heat and humidity of the riverfront. New Orleans is overwhelmingly a poor city, and a black city. It was settled by Spanish and French Catholics, and its music, architecture, cuisine and morals have more in common with the culture of Cuba or Haiti than with that of the Protestant, inland region a few miles north. Like the islands, it remains intensely African, keeping old gods alive in its own version of voodoo, and old rhythms alive in its music -- blues, ragtime, jazz, funk and pulsing, brass-band-driven hip-hop. It is the music that brought the legend of New Orleans to the world, and music flows through every aspect of the city's life. Music, and the languor of the hot, muggy summers, and a relaxed attitude to sex and alcohol and crime and poverty. It is a city of smells and dirt, glittering masks and brightly colored beads, and like the Bourbon aristocracy it has always preferred perfume to bathing. Now, tragedy has struck, but reading the news reports last week, amid the panic and misery were occasional gleams of the city I know. In the New York Times: "One woman swam from her home on Monday and then walked through the night to take shelter in a 24-hour bar in the French Quarter." The bar, naturally, was open. Maybe it is wrong to treasure such moments, surrounded as they are by death and destruction, but the New Orleans I love has always managed to grab scraps of humor and joy from the bleakest horrors. It is no accident that its most gloriously typical music is the sound of funeral parades. It is a town where life is hard, and pleasure is embraced where and whenever it can be found. So people march solemnly to the funerals, but dance home behind the bands, and total strangers dance along with them, and they all hope that a good crowd will be dancing when they go themselves. I have seen no pictures of people dancing in the waters that now fill the streets. I have seen only pictures that fill me with sadness, familiar neighborhoods ravaged and underwater. Some friends have called, safe with relatives in Alexandria or in Texas. Others are still missing, and I can only hope to hear from them soon. And no one has yet begun to schedule parades. But they will, as soon as they can. That is what makes New Orleans strong, and great, and passionately loved. By every normal measure of urban comfort, it was a collapsing wreck long before Katrina swept through, but it is a city of people who stay because it is like nowhere else on Earth. Most of them are poor people, with African roots, and they have made New Orleans a world of their own, and they know that even if they have no jobs and their houses are decrepit and their civic services are dreadful, this is home and any other place would be a place of exile. Very soon, they will try to get back, to see what is left and rebuild what they can. They will not trust the warnings and assurances of a city government that has never given them their due. Even now, the real estate sharks are undoubtedly circling, hoping that the poor neighborhoods that surround the French Quarter can finally be condemned, flattened and turned into neat blocks of new, clean yuppie condominiums, creating a safe buffer for a restored French Quarter that will be a tourist theme park rather than the heart of a bizarre, rotten and magical city. I hope the brass bands win out over the developers. Right now, New Orleans needs them more than ever before. Because there is something precious and rare about that city that no hurricane could destroy. It is not something that will show up on newscasts, and it is not always pretty or pleasant. To an outsider, it may even look like fatalism, which most Americans regard as weakness and surrender. But New Orleans long ago made a choice to confront and accept death and misery as inevitable, and to celebrate life while it lasted. Soon, over the sounds of the helicopters, the pumps and the clean-up crews, the trumpets and trombones will begin to call, and there are going to be some parades like no one has ever seen.

Monday, September 05, 2005

More Thoughts on Intelligent Design

I wrote a post from Cape Cod, back on August 16, in which I talked briefly about the whole "intelligent design" approach to how the world began, and my thoughts about it. I have since gotten some feedback that I wanted to share. My very smart and often opinionated brother put it this way: The concept that the original spark that caused the beginning of life on earth as we know it was created by God -- as opposed to by natural forces provable through scientific method -- is not, in and of itself, offensive. (This was more or less what I was musing about back in August.) What is offensive is that this theory on the creation of life would be taught to children as science. Science classes -- particularly at the elementary and middle school level -- should be about teaching science. Biology. Chemistry. Ecology. Geology. You know -- SCIENCE. The theory that God created the first spark that led to life on earth is appropriate to teach to children in Sunday school, or in a class about philosophy or religion. It is not appropriate to teach to children in their science class, as an "alternative" to biology or chemistry or astronomy ... or evolution. (For other smart and opinionated things my brother has to say, visit www.elijahwald.com.) I couldn't agree with this more. Nor can it be doubted that the folks who want intelligent design taught to children as an "alternative" to evolution have a political agenda that involves giving religion (specifically the Christian religion) a much more central role in childhood education -- including in public elementary education. I cannot -- and do not -- support this erosion of the separation of church and state. Unfortunately, my musings aside, there is a political war being fought here, and sides must be taken. So let me be clear that even if I'm prone to thinking that magic may play a role in our universe, I do not want children taught magic -- or religion -- in their science classes. 'Nuf said.....

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi

For the last several days, my partner and I have started every morning and ended every evening watching the news on TV. It has been a sobering way to start and end the day, and I keep trying to think of more ways to help those left homeless, jobless, familyless, etc. by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. So here are some ideas: (1) To make financial donations, contact the Red Cross at 1-800-435-7669 (or, in Spanish, 1-800-257-7575; (2) If you live within 500 miles or so of the areas affected by the hurricane and have a room, a bed, a couch that you can share with someone who lost their home, MoveOn is participating in a grassroots effort to house those rendered homeless. To post offers of housing or look for temporary housing, go to: http://www.hurricanehousing.org (2) Folks needing disaster assistance can call 1-800-462-9029; (3) Folks still trying to locate loved ones can call an emergency line at 1-866-438-4636. Disasters always serve to remind me of the fact that there are only "six degrees of separation" between us and anyone else with whom we come into contact. This one has been no exception -- I have had several recent reminders of how close we are to New Orleans, here at home and in my familly. First reminder: Just two weeks ago we celebrated the wedding of my brother and his wife, in Boston, Massachusetts, in the kind of heatwave that only New England can produce in August. My brother is a musician and a writer on all-things-music-related, generally folk/blues music from the U.S. and various music of the world including, particularly, the "folk" music of both Mexico and parts of Africa. (His website, for those of you interested, is www.elijahwald.com.) Anyway, Elijah and Sandrine got some friends to perform the ceremony for them -- a couple who have, themselves, been married for 45 years so, in Elijah's and Sandrine's words, they "know how to do it right." And the couple was, you guessed it, from New Orleans. So having shared a very joyous occasion with our family two weeks ago, we all are watching in horror now as their lives and livelihoods are jeopardized. Second reminder: There is an older, African-American woman who is a bedrock at the elementary school my younger son attends (my older son having started middle school today -- how did we all get this old??!!). She rules the roost on the play yards, helps in the childcare program, works with kids with special needs of one kind or another. I saw her on the yard before school this morning looking glum and asked her what was up. The answer: 4 of her sisters live in New Orleans and she's still only heard from 2 of them. YIKES!! Third reminder: I spoke to a client on the phone this morning, here in the Bay Area, whom I am helping with an adoption. She works for a disaster relief agency, and was the one who gave me some of the phone numbers I've listed above. She is concerned that she could be deployed south at a moment's notice, as apparently much of her agency already has been. Disruption hitting very close to home.... So: to those of you in the affected areas, and those of you with friends and family in New Orleans and the surrounding areas -- I hope you and they are safe, and send my thoughts and prayers your way. And to the rest of us, let's show the world that the United States -- which has spent so much time and effort recently inserting ourselves into the affairs of countries around the world -- knows enough and cares enough to take care of our own in a moment of crisis. I'm calling the Red Cross right now to make a donation. I hope you'll join me.

Marriage Equality Bill Passes California Senate

History just got made. The California Senate just passed AB 849 -- the Civil Marriage and Religious Freedom Protection Act -- by a vote of 21-15. The bill now moves on to the State Assembly. For updates, and/or to make a financial contribution to the folks who have worked so hard to make marriage equality a reality for Californians, go to Equality California's website, at: http://www.eqca.org/site/apps/nl/newsletter2.asp?c=9oINKWMCF&b=40337.

The Marriage Equality Debate/the Wonders of Modern Technology

Happy September!! As I write, I am sitting in front of my computer listening to the California State Senate debate AB 849, the Civil Marriage and Religious Freedom Protection Act. Shiela Kuehl has just stood up to speak on the bill, and I can hear the emotion in her voice. What a historic moment for California, for our state legislature to be debating legalizing marriage equality by vote. The passions run high on both sides of the issue -- those opposed speaking their deeply felt religious opposition; those in favor speaking their deeply felt commitments to civil rights and the separation of church and state. I have no way to predict the outcome, but it is amazing to hear the issue debated with such honesty and passion. I'll keep you posted.... And while I'm busy being amazed, let me note: in the last week, I've discovered a whole new world in my computer. I downloaded Skype (www.skype.com), an internet telephony system that enables me to speak computer-to-computer with my mother-in-law in Costa Rica anytime we both are on-line, for free. So now, my computer periodically rings (who knew computers could ring???) with loved ones calling, and here I am this morning listening live to a debate on the Senate floor without leaving the comfort of my office. Will wonders never cease?!