Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fiddling while Greece burns

Emblem of the city of Offenburg
I had a friend years ago whose family name was Reutlinger.  “What is a Reutlinger?  Somebody who reutlings?” I asked, thinking I was being cute.  I should have known it’s the German way of identifying somebody from Reutlingen, in Baden-Württemberg, the German state that snuggles up to France and Switzerland and has Stuttgart for a capital.  Maybe I should have asked what a reut is, since “ling” sounds like a diminutive.  You know as in “foundling” -  a little found thing.  Or as a duckling is to a duck or a gosling to a goose.  Sometimes used derogatively, as in “princeling” – some minor nobody in the royal family.  Fingerling potatoes, some of my favorite things.

Anyway, I suppose if you are a Baden-Württemberger – you know, as somebody (or something) from Hamburg is a Hamburger and somebody (or something) from Frankfurt is a Frankfurter – you will have to ask not only what a reut is.  You’ll have to ask what a bob, or an ess, a tutt, a ba or a vill is, as well, since there are lots of folks in Baden-Württemberg who are from Böbling, Esslingen, Tuttlingen, Balingen and Villingen.  Villingen-Schwenningen, actually, but I’m assuming that before there was a Villingen-Schwenningen, there were people who were Villingers and other people who were Schwenningers.  But I digress.  And if I’m going to digress, I’m going to have to ask why there are so many –ingens as well.  Lingens without the l – in Baden-Württemberg.  Like Tübingen, for example.  Or Sigmaringen.  That’s likely explained by the Germanic love of the –ng sound.  King and Kong, thing and thong, sing a song while you play ping-pong, and the like.

But back to Baden-Württemberg.  Why do they combine so much?  Baden-Baden, for example, which means something like “bath-bath.”  Not something like bath-bath, but bath-bath.  What’s that?  Besides being the setting for Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, I mean.  And the town where Queen Victoria, Berlioz, Brahms, Turgenev and Dostoevsky were known to “take the waters.”  Fans of Brahms can visit his house there to this day – he actually lived there permanently.  Thanks to Google, I just got an answer to my question.  There are lots of Badens, evidently, and this one is located in the state of Baden (think New York, New York).  So no mystery there, turns out, except that I guess that means Baden-Baden today is officially Baden-Baden, Baden-Württemberg.  Not to be confused with that place where the Canadians holed up during the Cold War, Baden-Söllingen, Baden-Württemberg. 

Baden-Württemberg has other mouthfuls.  Mouths full.  Imagine having to tell people you’re from Schwäbisch-Gmünd all the time.  Or having to live in Pfortzheim and work in Furtwangen and make sure you didn’t make all the kids laugh when you got them mixed up and called one of them Furzheim or Furzwangen – which would translate “fart home” or “fart cheeks.”

Leutkirch is kind of nice.  “People Church” has a nice ring to it.  As does Heilbronn – “healing well.”  Heilbronn, I understand, serves as the economic center for Ittlingen (what’s an itt?), by the way, as well as Massenbachhausen, Pfaffenhofen, and Untergruppenbach, just in case you were collecting home towns with five syllables or more.  OK, so Pfaffenhofen has only four.  It’s still funny.  Pfaffe (you know how High German pf , f and p are all related historically, and Apfel is apple, and the p of pater in the Romance languages comes out f as in father in the Germanic languages?  Well, Pfaffe apparently was once papa and Hof is “court,” so Pfaffenhofen was some sort of priestly court, except that Pfaffe today has lost its pizzazz and means something like “shifty vicar” or hypocritical Holy Joe.  Not that Pfaffenhofer think any less of themselves any more than people on Broadway think of their street as the street of the broads.

Just one of them nasty coincidences, I suppose.  Like Tauberbishofsheim in Northern Baden-Württemberg, which, to the uninformed, might suggest a home for deaf bishops (a deaf bishop = ein tauber Bischof).  Since Tauber are also male doves or pigeons, there are other possibilities, which I won’t go into.

I spent a little time in Freiburg im Breisgau (full name enables you to avoid confusion with other Freiburgs - just as the place where the Franks forded the Rhine is not the same place as where the Franks crossed the Oder (i.e., Frankfurt am Rhein is not Frankfurt an der Oder, which is a river, and not just the German word for "or"), a lovely little university town on the edge of the Black Forest.   The junior year program I was affiliated with had a branch in Munich, where I studied (sort of) and another in Freiburg, and we bounced back and forth because friend Dal (for Dallas), whose real name was Tom Sawyer, had been assigned, much to the chagrin of the other three of us in the foursome friendship, to Freiburg.   We adored him (well, I did, anyway) and missed him so much we borrowed Rudolf’s 1948 VW and smashed it up in Strassbourg one time while visiting.  Rudolf never forgave us, I think.  But I didn’t worry too much about that because when Rudolf was my roommate, instead of washing his socks, he would hang them on the windowsill to air, and I was not filled with a great sense of obligation. 

So much water under the bridge.         

My interest today in Baden-Württemberg comes from looking up the background of Angela Merkel’s Number Two Man in Germany – Wolfgang Schäuble.  He’s from Baden-Württemberg and, as Germany's Finance Minister, figures large in the story of Greece’s demise or rescue – the jury, as they say, is still out on that – and possibly the demise of the euro, if not the European Union.

Probably not.  That’s a highly pessimistic worst-case scenario.   In the meantime, I’ve been trying to learn all I can about the Grexit background, including this man Schäuble.  And his counterpart in Greece, Yanis Varoufakis.  This little clip helped.

But, as you may have noticed, I am easily distracted.


Emblem of the city of Offenburg, in Baden-Württemberg, which Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble represents in the German Parliament.  I'd use a prettier picture, except that they all seem to be copyrighted and I don't want to mess with any law-and-order people for the time being.  I understand use of this photo is acceptable as long as I'm not making any money from it. I assure you nobody sends me money for any blog entries - nobody ever has.  And I have nothing but good things to say about Offenburg or Baden-Württemberg.  Even if Gmünd is not a sound one should have to make in polite society.  The link is here.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Straight Allies

I’d like to repeat what I’ve said many times before when people have suggested I’m lucky to live in a place with so many gay people, that living in San Francisco means I can take solace that there are many like me and I don’t stand out so much as a gay person.  It’s the gays, they want to claim, who make San Francisco what it is.

That’s not the way I see it.

San Francisco is a great place to live not because there are so many lesbians and gays around – satisfying as that is – but because the straight people are so welcoming.

Life would not be bearable without allies who understand what you’re going through and get your back.  Step up and stand beside you.  Pick the metaphor that best suggests support.  Robin Morgan used to speak of men fighting the cause of feminism as “men of conscience.”  I’ve been urging people to help tear down the Confederate flag because I don’t think African-Americans should have to fight this battle for dignity alone – they should not be the only ones appealing for a rejection of this awful nostalgia for the days when children were ripped out of their mothers’ arms, women were raped with impunity, and the law forbade people of color to learn to read in this country. 

I've been reading lots of discussion the past few days that fits under the rubric of backlash over the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.   Justice Roberts and others argued in their dissents that we should not have shut down the debate, and we need to remember that our opponents out there are people whose arguments are as good as ours.  They “simply disagree.”

Never mind that the "debate" has been raging for decades - virtually my entire life - and I'm 75 years old.

I’ve been told all my life that I’m somebody who advocates sin and the destruction of  society and the family.  And now it’s time to smile and "agree to disagree."


A straight ally in this struggle against aggressive nonsense directed me to the Facebook page of another straight ally, an essayist who writes for Parade Magazine.   Connie Schultz writes (June 27):

I've seen quite the flurry of social media posts suggesting those of us who are celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality decision are not behaving as gracious winners. We should show more understanding toward those who are disappointed, the critics say. We should not "rub it in." Other commonly spotted criticisms of our joy: We are gloating. We are insensitive. We are being poor sports.
 For decades, I have seen the bigotry of homophobia break up families, ruin careers and destroy lives. I've read -- and written -- too many stories about gay teens who chose suicide over another day of bullying -- from classmates and strangers, and sometimes from their own family members. Children. Killing themselves because they felt unlovable as the human beings they were born to be. 
 Over the years, I hosted so many gay friends for holiday celebrations because their own families made clear they were not welcome to come home. I have sat and cried with too many gay friends whose hearts were broken after their fellow citizens passed one hateful piece of anti-gay legislation after another. I have watched so-called Christians pray publicly for the death of people I love. I have seen them do this outside of funerals, their young children holding signs that say, "GOD HATES FAGS." 
This is not a sports championship we're celebrating. We are not victors in a political campaign. 
We are cheering for something that will not harm the lives or the marriages of anyone like me, a heterosexual who got not one, but two government-sanctioned tries to form a more perfect union. We are overjoyed, and we are relieved. America really is better than our worst behavior.
As a straight ally, this has been our shame to bear, this government endorsement of second-class citizenship to people we know, people we love. How many times have I tried to assure my friends and loved ones that most of us don't feel this way about them? How many times have I fallen silent to their rebuttals, their ability to point to what sometimes seemed to be overwhelming evidence to the contrary? 
All of that is now history.
I don't want to harness my joy to make the bigots feel more comfortable. I will not temper my celebration to make those who oppose same-gender marriage feel better about their self-righteousness. I am not celebrating their misery. They didn't lose anything.
I am rejoicing for my gay brothers and sisters. I am welcoming them home.

Thanks, Connie.

Thanks Mr. Olson and Mr. Boies.

Thanks to all y’all, you straight people out there, you men and women of conscience.

Thank you.

photo credit

Friday, June 26, 2015

Just who do we think we are?

Same-sex marriage in the U.S. as of today*
Just who do we think we are, indeed! What a wonderful question.  It was asked this morning by Justice Roberts in his dissenting opinion to the 5-4 decision to eliminate all bans in the remaining thirteen states against same-sex marriage.  The case known as Obergefell v. Hodges

Here’s the context of that question, on page 42 of the ruling:

...the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?  

The answer that pops into my mind may not satisfy Justice Roberts, but we do not live by the traditions of the Kalahari or the Aztecs.  We are a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men and women should be equal before the law, and that where injustice has traditionally prevailed, it can be put right.

Justice Roberts sees in the Constitution the notion that things ought to be the way they have always been.   Fortunately, the majority of Supreme Court Justices see in the Constitution the inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

What it came down to in the end was a clash between two ways of viewing the Constitution.  The Fourteenth Amendment reads:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The five-person majority read in that “equal protection” clause a justification for taking down bans against same-sex marriage.  They said as much, in so many words:

The fundamental liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs. (emphasis mine) (from p. 2 of ruling).

The four-person minority fell back on the argument that marriage laws should be made by individual states in state legislatures or by referendum, and not by the Supreme Court.  And here is where “interpretation” becomes important.  And why you need people on the bench who view the world from different perspectives.  And not just smart straight old white men, clever though they may be.

I speak as a person who grew up gay in homophobic America.  To this day I have members of my own biological family who believe their duty to their God requires that they not recognize my relationship with my husband.  It took me the first several decades of my life to rid myself of the sense of wretchedness that comes with family rejection.  Some people manage to spot the arbitrariness of religious interpretation, hang on to their religion and still get out from under the homophobia of the churches they belong to, usually quite by accident of birth.  I had to shake off religious doctrine as a mark of provincialism and lack of familiarity with the richness of life before I was able entirely to make that great leap into freedom and dignity.

We live in communities.  It’s not enough for most people to know what’s right and do it regardless of the consequences.  Most of us need approval of our family, friends and peers.  But like many LGBT people who have lived in a hostile home, I have come to understand in the marrow of my bones that my right to human dignity is absolute.  Those who would have me buy into the view that I am “fundamentally flawed” or “intrinsically disordered” – the second of those two ways of putting it comes from the pope of the Catholics himself – are just plain wrong.  Dead wrong.  Cruelly wrong.

The five men and women who put this ban on marriage equality down saw something in the spirit of the constitution that is raw and real and overpowering. The view that LGBT people are “intrinsically disordered” is no more valid than is the view that people of the white race are entitled to own people of color.  It’s an idea that runs contrary to human decency, and we have, at long last, reached the point where the majority of us now recognize that.

It has been painful listening to Roberts and Scalia and Alito (and Thomas, if he would say anything) explaining that our right to dignity is not inherent, that we can have it, possibly, but all in good time, and only if the majority of our fellow citizens goes to the polls and makes it happen.  That argument makes you wonder if these men have any idea what the “pursuit of happiness” is all about.  One can reason one’s way in an out of anything.  The majority took note today that our sexuality is as innate as our race or our gender.  If women are to be treated equally to men and blacks to whites, and if those rights are to be found in the Constitution, they are there in the Constitution for us, as well.

Kennedy is getting tons of credit, and he deserves it.  USA TODAY has as one of its lead articles this morning:

WASHINGTON — Justice Anthony Kennedy cracked the door to same-sex marriage more than a decade ago. On Friday, he finally flung it open.

His decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide came on the 12th anniversary of another of Kennedy's decisions, that one striking down state laws that banned same-sex relations. But that, Kennedy said Friday, was not enough. "Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty," he said.

I don’t want to take any of this credit away from Kennedy.  He did, after all, write the majority opinion on all four of the court's major cases on the subject, including Windsor v. United States, which struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act two years ago.  But I’d hate to see Sotomayor, Kagan, Breyer, and perhaps especially Ginsberg, all of whom are profound thinkers and defenders of the U.S. Constitution, be treated as also-rans.  They put a lot into making this a great day for equality in America. 

The strongest sounding argument for not having the Supreme Court make this decision comes from those who look at Kennedy’s swing vote and ask, in mock astonishment, how it can be that a single political appointee to the Court can make a decision which overrides nearly half the country.   Scalia used the word “hubris” to describe the work of his progressive colleagues on the bench.  A “bare majority,” he sneered.   Which begs the question, of course, of whether Scalia would have decisions made any other way. 

Here’s GOP darling Mike Huckabee on the topic:

The Supreme Court has spoken with a very divided voice on something only the Supreme Being can do-redefine marriage. I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat. (emphasis in original)   

I can just hear his Auntie Maude saying to him, “Hush now, Mikie.  You’re embarrassing yourself.”  Does this man running for president really know so little about how our government works?  Did he actually flunk fourth-grade civics?

I say expressing misgivings about the court's determining constitutionality against the will of "nearly half" of the population may be the strongest sounding argument against today’s decision.  It only sounds that way until the brain kicks in and you realize what a prune-faced opinion that actually is.  "Nearly half" is another way of saying “not the majority.”   Do traditionalists like Scalia actually want us to ignore the majority in this case and go with "nearly half" instead?  That's an academic argument, by the way.  Remember, it's the court making the decision on constitutionality.  Not the population at large.

And a Supreme Court Justice is not just a political appointee.  He or she is virtually always a highly experienced lawyer with a solid record of sound judicial decisions.  They are not all equal in stature, and in some cases their political views poke through their legal ones – or at least we suspect they do.  But they are chosen according to a well-established procedure which we, as a democracy, have agreed upon. And for reasons we have agreed upon – checks and balance. Flawed though it may be, this system of giving a body of men and women the responsibility to check the legal decisions made by lower courts and determine whether they follow the spirit of the Constitution beats the hell out of other ways of doing things.  Like democracy, it’s the worst way to do things, possibly, except for all the other ways.  Each decision made, even by a majority of one, is another piece of evidence that sometimes the government actually works as it is supposed to.

It worked that way today.  And my cynicism about the chaos in the legislative branch and the weakness in the executive branch is less today than it was yesterday.  I still worry we’ve gone over the cliff and our democracy cannot right itself.  But today there is some very good news indeed.  Time to focus today on the good things the US of A is capable of.

Happy Day.  

Oh, Happy Happy Day.

*Same-sex marriage legalization pending in Louisiana;
Same-sex marriage ban overturned, decision stayed indefinitely in Alabama:
Same-sex marriage banned even though the Supreme Court of the United States has found similar bans unconstitutional in island protectorates;
Same-sex marriage "legality complicated" in Kansas.