Waldlaw Blog

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Does This Guy Have Any Idea How Scary He Is??

My partner was leafing through the New Yorker earlier this week, and came across an ad for the new movie "Thank You For Smoking." In the ad, they list four "great moments in spin." She started to read them to us: "But I didn't inhale" (Bill Clinton); "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" (the NRA); "If the glove don't fit, you must acquit" (Johnny Cochran). I recognized them all, but our 10 year old son was lost. Then she came to the fourth "great moment in spin." "Okay, buddy" she said to our 10-year-old, "this one's for you." And she read the fourth great moment in spin: "I just want you to know that when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace." Without hesitation, our 10-year-old named the source of the quote: George W. Bush. As our 10-year-old put it, "who else would say something as stupid as that?!" But, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered: "Who else would say something as scary as that?!" I mean, do you think George W. Bush has even read George Orwell's 1984?? Here's an exerpt: "The day was still cold and clear. Somewhere far away a rocket bomb exploded with a dull, reverberating roar. About twenty or thirty of them a week were falling on London at present. "Down in the street the wind flapped [a] torn poster to and fro, and the word INGSOC fitfully appeared and vanished. Ingsoc. The sacred principles of Ingsoc. Newspeak, doublethink, the mutability of the past. He felt as though he were wandering in the forests of the sea bottom, lost in a monstrous world where he himself was the monster. He was alone. The past was dead, the future was unimaginable. What certainty had he that a single human creature now living was on his side? And what way of knowing that the dominion of the Party would not endure for ever? Like an answer, the three slogans on the white face of the Ministry of Truth came back to him: WAR IS PEACE FREEDOM IS SLAVERY IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH" One would hope that our President would be embarassed to be quoted saying something that sounds so completely like it was written by George Orwell. "When we talk about war, we're really talking about peace" is the absolute stuff of which "newspeak," "doublethink" and 1984 were made. But this President doesn't embarass easy, folks. He seems to be downright proud of his ignorance, as if it is proof that he's really "all-American." And that's the saddest part, to me. In the vocabulary of a certain portion of our populace, at this moment in history, it seems that "educated" and "all-American" have become antonyms. It is better not to be educated. It is better not to speak a foreign language; not to know too much about art and music and literature. Apparently, "real" Americans are supposed to be satisfied with knowing their own family histories and cultures, and not ask too many questions about other ways of being. So here's my commitment to myself: I will never stop trying to educate myself. Ever. Which makes me think of my beloved father, who always said that the smartest people are the ones who ask the right questions, not the ones who know the right answers. Which brings me to one more funny thing about the George W. Bush quote. When I went to "fact check" it -- which my partner reminded me it was important to do, before deriding our President on my blog -- I ended up on a site called thinkexist.com (http://en.thinkexist.com). They had the quote I was looking for, and also a bunch of other quotes by George W. Bush. I scrolled through them, always happy to read more stupid things our President has said over the past (endless) 6 years he's been in office. Then I came to the end of the "George W. Bush" section and was amazed to see that the next listing in thinkexist's data bank was for "George Wald." That's my dad!! He was a relatively famous scientist and peace activist during the Vietnam War era and beyond, and he pops up in unexpected places from time to time. His best quote, on thinkexist, was "A physicist is an atom's way of knowing about atoms." Now that's a perfect "George Wald" quote. He also said: "We already know enough to begin to cope with all the major problems that are now threatening human life and much of the rest of life on earth. Our crisis is not a crisis of information; it is a crisis of decision, of policy and action." "A crisis of decision, of policy and action." Well, I guess that describes the situation we're in now fairly well, doesn't it....

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Message from a Soggy Blogger

Those of us who live in San Francisco try not to complain about the weather. After all, San Francisco is the epitomy of a "temperate" climate -- rarely too hot, rarely too cold. Yes, we need to turn on the heat off and on during the "winter"; and yes, we need to turn on the AC in our cars for a week or so during the "summer." But that's about it. Okay, there's the fog.... But for the most part, the fog means that our homes are deliciously cool at night, even when the days are hot, which makes for good sleeping.... But we are now on our 23rd day of rain in the month of March. According to my calendar, today is March 29. That means that it has rained 23 of the past 29 days. That's a bit much, don't you think?? A few rained-out Little League practices make my schedule easier to manage. A good dose of water in my back yard makes the plants grow better. But 23 out of 29 days????? I don't know if it's global warming or just a fluke. What I do know is I am very ready to have a solid week of sunshine before our summer fog arrives.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Win Worth Celebrating

Every once in a while, we need to take a moment to celebrate the victories. In 2002, a devoted father -- who happens to be both deaf and gay -- was told by a Virginia court that he could have custody of his son only on condition that his life partner move out of their family home. The Virginia order was based on that court's premise that a child can't live with a couple committing sodomy in the home. The couple could not afford to maintain the family home as well as a separate residence for the partner, and ended up having to move to two rental units. As a direct result of the court order, the father and son went from a large home with a yard to an apartment building. Ultimately, they moved to Maryland, and the father and his partner have been fighting ever since to get the custody order modified by the Maryland courts. The legal argument, for those of you who care about legal intricacies, was over whether the consequences of the Virginia order -- including the move to a smaller, rental residence in a new community; the burden on the father of being forced to function as a single parent, without the assistance of his partner; and the sadness the child experienced at not having his step-dad in the home -- constituted a sufficient change in circumstances to warrant modification of the original custody order. The attorneys on the case -- with Susan Silber of Takoma Park as lead counsel -- were assisted by both Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. When they finally won the right to an evidentiary hearing, the attorneys put on 5 witnesses to testify about the best interests of the child, and the deaf community turned out in force to support the couple. Yesterday, after four years of fighting, a Maryland trial court finally granted the modification request, and eliminated the condition banning the partner from the home. According to their lawyer, the couple is out house-hunting today. So -- kudos to Sue Silber of Silber & Perlman in Takoma Park, Maryland, for her excellent, relentless work on this case! It is victories like these that keep us all going. And for more details, see the NCLR press release from last January (2005), which is available on-line at: http://www.nclrights.org/releases/pr-md_brief_custody013105.htm.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Happy Spring from Waldlaw!

It's officially spring now, and about time! Spring, to me, means flowers blooming -- the end of the seemingly endless rains of San Francisco's late winter -- and, most of all, baseball season. Yup, Little League has started already, and the Giants come home from Arizona for exhibition games late next week. So, to all of you from waldlaw, happy spring and ... PLAY BALL!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Catholic Charities Goes Over the Top

In case you haven't heard, Catholic Charities in Massachusetts recently announced that it will completely stop providing adoption services rather than comply with a state law that prohibits discrimination against lesbians and gay men in the adoption process. I'm from Boston. Catholic Charities has provided adoption services there for as long as I can remember. It is one of the largest -- if not the largest -- adoption agencies in the state. But rather than provide adoption services to lesbian and gay couples, they will cease providing adoption services at all, leaving other agencies scrambling to meet the needs of children waiting to be adopted. According to my friend and colleague Joyce Kauffman, there are more than 10,000 children currently in foster care in the state of Massachusetts. These children need homes, and there are lesbian and gay couples prepared to open their homes and hearts to them. . The Catholic Church hierarchy says that placing children with lesbian and gay couples is "gravely immoral." One has to question the morality of ceasing to provide adoption services to children awaiting placements, even if that decision is based on deeply held religious convictions.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD)

Today, I went with my son's 6th grade class on a field trip to the new San Francisco Museum of the African Diaspora, and was really impressed. (http://www.moadsf.org/index.html) The museum is very new, having just opened in December of 2005, and it includes audio, film and fine art representing the broad and varied "African Diaspora" -- the items we enjoyed on our docent-led tour were from Haiti, Brazil and all parts of the United States, as well as Africa itself. The children were exposed to dance, music, cultural items such as clothing and jewelry, historical audio and film clips, paintings, photography, sculpture -- all in one well-designed location and all in a jam-packed 1-1/2 hours. MOAD defines diaspora as: "a. The break up and scattering of a people; b. People settled far from their ancestral homelands; c. The place where these people live." (For more on "diaspora," see Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora.) They use four themes to discuss the concept: Origins, Movement, Adaptation and Transformation. Relying on these four themes, they trace the African Diaspora from ancient times when the first humans populated Africa, through various migrations including the forced migration of the slave trade, through the U.S. civil rights movement and into the present. They do everything they can to make history live, stressing such things as the continued problem of slavery in some parts of the world and the continuation of migrations based on civil wars, famines, etc.. One of the best examples of "diaspora" given to our kids by our docent had to do with the "Katrina Diaspora" created by the recent devastation of New Orleans. MOAD is in the process of collecting the oral histories and photographs of the Katrina survivors who have immigrated to the Bay Area, in preparation for an exhibition on the "Katrina Diaspora" that they intend to launch soon. The concept of living history is one that doesn't always come easily to middle schoolers, and this museum really does a good job bringing it home. I also have to give a "shout out" to our docent, who did the best job I have ever seen of making fine art interesting to a bunch of fidgety, pre-pubescent kids. He challenged them to describe what they saw in each exhibit, then ask themselves why the artist had made the art the way they did. The kids really got into it, and ended up more actively involved with viewing the artwork than with seeing the film clips, which was quite extraordinary. If this docent represented the quality of folks working at MOAD generally, then they're really onto something. So if you're in downtown San Francisco with some time to spare, check out the new MOAD -- it's well worth the trip.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The IRS Provides Guidance to California's Registered Domestic Partners

The IRS (finally!) provided guidance this week on how California's registered Domestic Partners should file their 2005 tax returns. A little background: California is one of only 9 community property states. Community property law generally applies to married couples, and it provides that the income of either spouse is equally attributed to both spouses. In other words, in English, to figure out the income of a husband in a community property state, you take his actual income, combine it with his wife's actual income, then divide by two. This was an answer to the old problem of the husband earning mega-bucks while the wife stayed home and raised the kids, then the husband running off with the secretary and leaving the wife in poverty without any savings or retirement. The community property response: half of every dollar the husband earned during the marriage belongs to the wife. Now we get to domestic partners. California is the only state with broad same-sex relationship recognition that also has community property law. (Massachusetts and Vermont don't "do" community property, so this hadn't come up before.) Under California state law, since registered domestic partners are treated the same as married couples for most state purposes, community property law will apply to domestic partnerships. The problem is how to file taxes. See, California married couples can either file jointly, thereby easily declaring their pooled incomes, or can file separately but each claim 1/2 of their joint incomes as provided by state (community property) law. Registered domestic partners can't file jointly. The question was: can they file separately but each claim 1/2 of their joint income, as married couples filing separately do? The IRS had been dodging this question for months, as the tax filing deadline drew nearer and nearer. But this week they finally issued a letter ruling that California registered domestic partners must each claim their entire, separate incomes on their tax returns. What this means is that California registered domestic partners must continue to file the way they always have, without apportioning their incomes between themselves as a couple as they could if they were married. Anyone surprised that the IRS refused to extend the same benefits to registered same-sex domestic partners that they extend to married couples? If so, I have a pretty terrific bridge for sale......

Saturday, March 04, 2006

On the Lighter Side ... A Plug for Boston Legal

We all need entertainment now and then, right? My partner and I happened upon the show "Boston Legal" a few weeks ago, and I think I'm in love. It is one of the freshest, quirkiest shows I've seen on TV in a long time -- sort of "LA Law" meets ... okay, I admit it, I'm having trouble thinking of a genuinely funny TV show, which is sort of sad and telling in and of itself. Anyway, "Boston Legal" features the acting talents of William Shatner and Candice Bergen, just for starters -- and they're as much of an "odd couple" on the show as you might imagine, given their very different personalities and political leanings. And it goes on from there, with a bent for the bizarre and guaranteed laugh-out-loud moments and a refreshing lack of predictability. The only problem is it's on at 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday nights, which is late for those of us who actually have to get up in the morning. But if you're awake on a Tuesday, and in need of entertainment, check it out!