Thursday, December 21, 2000

Dissolution of Impaction

Just thought you'd like to know that I found a plunger, got it home, and one quick flick of the wrist later, Presto Changeo, DISSOLUTION OF IMPACTION! I still can't find out what the damn thing is called. I got a blank stare when I called it a puranjaa. The only name on the tag was the brand name, "Natty." There are two kinds of Natties, one for Western toi-tois, one for Eastern, it says. I took the time to make sure I got the right one for the job.

I asked friend Kenji what you call it. He didn't know either. State secret perhaps. He said, "Tell them your sink is stopped up." How clever, I thought. He knows it's bad enough I look ignorant. No reason I should sound indelicate, as well. So when the guy doesn't budge with my request for a puranjaa, I move my hands up and down and say, "Nagashi wa tsumatte iru kara..." (because my sink is stopped up.)

"Western toilet or Japanese?" he asks, without skipping a beat.

Western, I say, hoping my face doesn't look like I've been caught playing with myself.

"What do you call this thing in Japanese?" I ask.

"Natty," he says. I know when I'm beat.

I get home and look up the words on the tag. At the top, just above the Natty logo. Tsumari Kaisho, it says. I know "tsumari," besides meaning "shrinkage" and "in the last analysis," is "impaction", so I look up Kaisho.

Here are my choices:

1. ocean floor
2. pamphlet (the kind they hand out at train stations)
3. annulment (of a marriage)
4. a parley
5. an easily-won victory
6. a shiftless good-for-nothing
7. the Minister of the Navy

And people wonder why I have not devoted more time to the learning of Japanese.

Wait. There's one more:

8. dissolution

There it is! I've got it. The full description of its name and function has finally been revealed to me in its entirety: "Natty -- impaction dissolution for Western style 'benki' (which, as you know, the dictionary likes to call 'chamber pots' or 'night-chairs.')

I can now move to the kanji dictionary and see if the combination is there. It is. It reads "dissolution of impaction."

I still don't know what you call it, but my if my night-chair could talk to my Natty, it would say thank you.

Upstairs. In my Western (sitty - not squatty) night-chair. Turns out now clearing the upstairs only stopped up the downstairs.

That'll teach me to clean out the refrigerator before flying to America. Couldn't have been the gallon of moldy yogurt! Was it the five-year-old marmelade? The petrified lasagne? The leg of lamb?

So when I get back in January, it's back to the hardware store for a squatty-natty.

But first, the turn of the millennium.

Hope Santa is kind.

December 21, 2000

Sunday, November 5, 2000

Reflections on the 2000 JALT Conference

I have moved pretty much out of the language classroom in recent years, and work now either with seminar students in ethics and communication or with graduate students in acquiring the conventions of academic English, a field which focuses directly on the structure of ideas and only indirectly on the English language. I feel like a fish out of water at language teaching conventions, and have for some years. I go more to visit with old friends than to keep abreast of the field of applied linguistics. And I tend to look for, and thus find, trends and fads rather than insight, although I am usually pleased to find that teachers who love their profession always have things worth passing on to others. I also continue to define myself as a teacher, and enjoy the company of teachers.

That may explain why I felt the conference this year was well worth the effort it took to get there, although few of the presentations I attended were responsible for that bright outlook by themselves. Instead, what impressed me was the degree to which the field had evolved a political agenda. The issue of whether to include culture in the classroom, while still debated in a few of the presentations, was effectively overshadowed by the presence of a broad variety of clearly articulated political orientations of both plenary speakers and those who gave small-group presentations. I attended advocacy presentations by David Shea in the rights of minority language groups in Japan to maintain their mother tongue, and by John McLaughlin in the history of unionization of eikaiwa institutions. Plenary speaker Jane Sunderland made a case for critical pedagogies from the starting point of gender. She was sponsored by both GALE (Gender Awareness in Language Education) and WELL (Women in Education and Language Learning), two JALT Special Interest Groups that have been growing steadily. I attended a GALE dinner on Friday night with about 35 others. A third SIG is the one on Global Issues in Education.

A train delay kept me from Gabrielle Kasper's plenary in Pragmatics, which, while I am tempted to say might have helped me see politics balanced off with language pragmatics, actually also indicates that we have long since arrived at the view that language form is less consequential than linguistic action, and that we are in the field of communication and represent world views and use language to influence and be influenced by others.

There was a time when JALT seemed to be almost exclusively populated by non-Japanese teachers of English. This conference was well represented by Japanese, including speakers at many presentations, and one plenary speaker. It would be unfair to generalize from the two presentations by Japanese I heard in large meetings, but if this report is to have any validity, I have to tell you what I heard and saw. One of the speakers, talking on the topic of the Ministry of Education, clearly expressed his dissatisfaction at the level of English he found in students. "How many of you find your students' English level is better now than it was ten years ago?" he asked the audience. He confirmed the negative response with his own findings that at his university, where they have been using the same entrance examination for the past fifteen years (!), the English scores have dropped from 54.06 in 1991 to 42.96 in 2000 in engineering applicants and from 67.99 to 47.18 in International Affairs, a fact which he attributed largely to the switch from grammar-based instruction to an emphasis on oral English! (He did acknowledge other reasons, which I will refer to in a minute.)

More disturbing was the presentation by plenary speaker Torikai Kumiko of Rikkyo University, head of the English Department there as well as advisor to the Ministry of Education. She too cited the dismal level of English ("Some students don't even know you have to put an -s on 3rd person singular!") Discussing her work with the NHK English language program, she revealed her reservations about allowing a program to air which had people speaking English with Romanian, Hispanic and other "non-native" accents. I suppose I should focus on the good news, the fact that the program did air, but I was stung by her comment, "I was not too sure if listeners would want to hear non-native English!" The fact that this view is still prevalent at the Mombusho level indicates how out-of-touch Japan is with the actual use of English in the world and the attitudes of its many "non-native" speakers. Again, I should not fail to tell you her discussion included the awareness that when it comes to modeling English we have every manner of regional variation even among monolingual English speakers. Still, is it accidental that this woman represents both government (the Mombusho) and commercial television? (Never mind that it's NHK; the decisions about what to air clearly indicated they wanted broad-based appeal at all costs.)

The time she spent on the issue must have sounded like the invention of the wheel to most in her audience who have lived their lives with English as an international language, and not the unique possession of a limited number of white folk monolinguals from the US and Britain. I bring this up to illustrate the discrepancy in the political orientation of the speakers at the conference. Ms. Torikai's lecture was completely lacking in analysis. She spoke from the vantage point of a spokesperson of the established order, selecting facts from a standardized history and a government seeking to manage knowledge rather than encourage its creation. And why she took half her time relating the story of William Adams, Ronald MacDonald and other early foreign contact persons in Japanese history, when the crucial question on people's minds had to be what happens now, is beyond me. Her talk was a model of a by-the-numbers presentation of facts, as opposed to a critical analytical contribution to a professional conference.

That said, I must admit that the expectation of critical analysis over presentation of factual information is a preference, and not an objective evaluation. In the facts of Ms. Torikai's plenary lecture was some alarming information. Top of the list is the information that the Obuchi Commission on the state of English in Japan (conflated with a report of the Kokugo Shingikai (Council on National Language Policy)) has agreed they must tackle two important questions: one, the purpose of English language teaching in Japan, and two, the problem of lack of continuity between elementary, junior and senior high school, and college English. The first question comes like a slap in the face. One wonders what the thinking can be (Can you imagine any other nation in the world debating the obvious advantage of foreign languages?) until you realize the battle is between two sides, both of which see language as they see other knowledge, as concrete amounts of information that can be distributed or withheld.

One side, the egalitarian side, wants all students to continue to "receive instruction" as they do now. This, they suggest, will maintain Japan as an egalitarian nation, without winners or losers. The other side, the elite education/specialization side (the choice of words is obviously political here), feels the system is broken and cannot be fixed, and wants to divide English language learners into two groups. One plan for this is the Crossroad Project by ELEC (the English Language Education Council) which would put 90% of Japan's students into "basic level" English, where they would "get basic vocabulary and grammar" in school, while others with ambitions in business and government would study it more seriously in college.

What is disturbing in the presentation of these plans by the ministry of education and by private institutions is the on-going perception that language learning problems can be resolved by the correct manipulation of classroom contact hours, levels of instruction, texts, and teacher qualification. To this day, the larger social context is left virtually untouched, either because people feel they can do nothing about it, or because it is a political minefield, or because (my vote!) they cannot see the woods for the trees.

Not once, for example, did Ms. Torikai mention the effect of the entrance examination system on the attitude toward language as a finite number of facts that can be mastered with students who have the proper attitude toward study. Or the near total absence of non-Japanese people on school faculties and the poor integration of the few there are (a topic of another "political" presentation I attended). No mention of the enormous underutilization of high-proficiency returnee children. No mention of their difficulty of landing jobs, of the handicapping of women in the workforce. No mention of the workforce with years of experience and acquired language proficiency abroad. Instead, we get passing mention of curriculum innovation at the University of Tokyo ("by far the most prestigious campus in Japan") and Keio SFC - again, without analysis or convincing evidence of their effectiveness.

All of this ignores the rich resources of English language knowledge generated by compensatory institutions (juku and yobiko, foreign travel, AFT and other student exchange programs, in-house training programs in the workplace) and informal organizations in Japan which have made English the de facto language of wider communication, with little or no help from government. The rhetoric of the Ministry continues to focus on the management of knowledge by increasingly ineffective and irrelevant governmental agencies.

In another talk about the switch from the grammar-translation approach to the communicative approach, the information was presented that teachers are subverting the effort by supplementing Oral English A and B with Oral English G, with G standing for grammar, the implication being teachers feel correct grammatical usage must be taught by explicit focus. The irony, of course, is that the presenters giving this exposé then themselves reveal they share the notions of the teachers doing the subverting. One presenter gave a list of mistakes made by students and bewailed the drop in standards; and then there was Ms. Torikai's remark "They don't even know to put -s on 3rd person singular!" And they understand that high school teacher-subverters are not villains, but conscientious teachers determined to help their students pass the entrance exam.

The struggle to turn this battleship in the water goes on, in other words. The enemy - the view that teachers dispense knowledge into empty containers - still has the upper hand, all the way from the local level to the Ministry of Education. If you want more proof, there is the second goal of the Obuchi Council Plan - to create more consistency among primary, secondary and tertiary education levels. "You have all these diversified students (sic)," says Ms. Torikai. "…no continuity between levels…so much stuff is repeated." It reminds me of a program director who once showed me a notebook in which all his teachers kept track of all the new words they introduced to their students. "You should do the same," he informed me, ignoring the obvious fact that 100% of my students had had six years of public school English, many more, and included some native speakers of English." Or of the language programs (Rikkyo's, for example,) in which curricula are highly regimented, and language is defined by form, not communicative practice. The view that we can and should continue to control student knowledge with such finely-tuned precision is another enemy that lurks behind the deliberations of governmental boards of education, and people who think not in terms of creativity, expansion, innovation and individual excellence, but in terms of control.

The battle waged between Diet member Hiraizumi, who wanted to switch the focus from memorization of grammatical rules to a focus on practical communication and Watanabe Shoichi who "courageously" (Ms. Torikai's words) defended English as intellectual training, was presented as historical moment. Ms. Torikai's evaluation of the debate was indirect: "Many teachers were taken aback (by Hiraizumi's proposal)." This may explain her failure to mention the entrance examination once in a survey of the entire history and current state of English teaching in Japan. The current discourse on the state and status of English in Japan will no doubt be overshadowed by the dramatic drop in students at the university level.
In his report on Mombusho control of education, Shiozawa Tadashi of Chubu University in Nagoya spoke of "the year 2009 problem." By 2009 it is predicted that the 2.05 million students in university in 1992 will drop to 1.2 million. This leaves universities with only two options evident at present: to go bankrupt and turn the professors out into the workforce at large, or to lower admissions standards. Raising tuition will only help to a degree. Clearly, they are choosing the latter course, as evidenced by professors visiting student homes (Kyoto University) for recruitment purposes to offering travel allowances to high school teachers to outright gifts to student applicants. Schools are lowering, even eliminating, requirements so that medical students are entering college without having taken a biology course in high school, engineering students with no calculus or physics, and some are declaring themselves English majors with no previous English language training.

At the same time, English requirements are being reduced to three hours a week for high school freshmen. While top level students appear to be continuing to study at previous levels, average and below average students (it is not clear how this distinction is being made), according to Shiozawa, studied only 1.8 hours (a day?) in 1995 as opposed to 2.6 hours in 1980, and 33.7% of high school students in a 1998 survey taken in Tokyo say they never study at home at all.

These latter figures indicate that the efforts on the part of the traditional proponents of egalitarian education are going to lose their battle. The Japanese population is diversifying at an increasingly rapid rate. One can only speculate that Japan will move from a more unified egalitarian state with a high minimum standard to become more like the United States, where those at the top have almost unlimited opportunity, while those at the bottom fall through the cracks. Watching the talks at JALT this year, I can't help marvelling at the remarkable ability of many in the profession with tunnel-visioned focus on methods and management to continue to miss the woods for the trees.

November 5, 2000

Wednesday, September 6, 2000

The Lesson of Dominus Iesus

The Associated Press carried a story today about a 36-page document just issued by the Roman Catholic Church which carries the precious title, Dominus Iesus, On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church. It reasserts the Catholic position that it alone can speak for God on earth, thus sabotaging twenty-two years of efforts by John Paul II to reach out to Orthodox and Protestant Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others, and seek a common ground in the battle against moral disorder, greed, racism, war, and oppression.

You gotta love these guys. Michael Jordan plays good basketball, Tiger Woods great golf, but nobody plays Absolute Certainty like old Mother Church. How sweet it is to cut through the ambiguity that plagues our lives. Some things are certain. The Chinese know they are the center of the earth, the Germans know they are the Master Race (well, they used to), the Americans know they are God’s Chosen. Thank God. Imagine the pain we would suffer if we doubted these things.

Woytila fought the good fight against both Nazism and godless communism. But even more consequential, many thought, were his recent attempts to reach out beyond St. Peter’s to repair the damage done by the Church Militant over the centuries. What now, religious insiders are asking. Is all this effort to be lost because of a stupid tactical error? Joseph Ratzinger, the author of Dominus Iesus, evidently thinks there are more important things than world unity. Fine.

Well who cares, I hear myself ask. I do not share the concern ecumenists have over the future of organized religion. What I find interesting in all this is the fact that this move by Ratzinger and the church reveals the success of relativism as a conflicting universalist ideology. The belief that no one holds the key to truth is an idea whose time has clearly arrived. Nothing threatens one universalist ideology like another, and moral relativism, the conviction that one value system cannot reasonably be found superior to another, is indeed a serious threat to the Church. After all, once you’ve gotten used to the idea that the people who ignore you risk the fires of hell, it’s hard to give it up.

It isn’t much fun to live with ambiguity. How much more comforting to be certain you are ennobled by your decision to pick up the white man’s burden, for example. Or to pick up a spear, wrest the Holy Land from its infidel masters and maybe kill a few Muslims for Christ. But ever since ethnographers began documenting the enormous range of attitudes, values and belief systems of the world’s cultures, we have begun to understand how provincial it is to use a single criterion as a means of evaluating a cultural other. Some in the West favor technology as the measure; the Church favors divine revelation. Both reveal a dangerous and aggressive localism.

Such localism is increasingly unattractive as the spread of democracy gives voice to hitherto unheard-from peoples with perspectives on the human condition both unexpected and useful. Relativism has taken hold and grown to the point where it now undergirds much of our ethical posture in cross-cultural communications and world forums. Even among religious groups, relativism holds sway. American theological seminaries now routinely include Jews and Muslims in discussions of spirituality and the nature of God.

Moral relativism is not my idea of a good thing. Relativism works like a charm as a rule of thumb for the cultural novice. It makes no sense to insist that forks are superior to chopsticks and good sense to learn to shake hands where that is the custom, even if in your heart you would rather bow. Or vice versa. But displaying good manners by doing as the Romans do while you are in Rome is one thing. Carrying relativism to life and death issues is another. It paints you into a corner where you have to defend the practice of infanticide, bride burning, or female genital mutilation, and Nazi, Mafia, or neighborhood thuggery. ("It’s ‘their way’ and who’s to say ‘their way’ isn’t as good as ours?")

Most of us want to assume there are universal truths we can live by; most of us support the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this level, we feel obliged to shy away, as the Catholic Church does, from moral relativism and seek a universal set of values for ourselves and others. The good news, we conclude, is there is such a thing as universal truth; the bad news is that I have it and you don’t. How we deal with this dilemma involves diplomacy and a great deal more.

People who have worked hard at communicating and working constructively across cultural value systems tend to advocate something I would call "compassionate negotiation," a way of interacting with a cultural other that allows you to maintain your own convictions while listening with an open mind – a real one, not the pretense of one. Heroes continue to engage despite the threat to well-held convictions while cowards go to their separate corners. John Paul II seemed to want to engage, but now we are left to conclude it was just talk. He is old, of course, and it’s likely this is not about JP at all, but a power play by the conservative faction (Pius the XII’s boys), a jockeying for position over the liberal faction (John the XXIII’s) in the upcoming determination of JP II’s successor. Whatever the explanation, the church has just gone to its corner and turned its dialogue into monologue.

The problem is the church spiritual is contained in the same body as the church political. The combo makes the church a kind of King Kong lumbering through life with a big heart and all the failings that come with an animal nature. Or a kind of Robber Baron that can build schools and comfort the dying one day and beggar a rival (or roast a heretic) the next. This two-in-one nature of the church suggests we ought not to be taken in when it speaks on the topic of spirituality. You can never be sure which of its interests, spiritual or political, it is serving.

Fortunately, spirituality shares with pornography the feature that you know it when you see it. It is reflected in the actions of people sacrificing for their children, and in people picking themselves up after a disaster and moving on. You feel it in you when you face an opportunity to get ahead and stop what you’re doing "because it’s wrong," and see it in others when they respond to your anger with concern and compassion. You know you’re looking at something non-spiritual when you find that Fred Phelps, Baptist minister of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, has put on his church’s web site ( a picture of Matthew Shepard surrounded by flames and a counter telling you how many days he has been roasting in hell. And when you see a group of people protesting a court decision not to allow public prayer before a football game by standing together and loudly asserting The Lord’s Prayer.

And you know there is something amiss about an organization which can beatify a pope who approved the stealing away of a Jewish child on the grounds that he had been baptized and issue a document in the same week declaring itself perfect. Which can apologize for doctrinal error and maintain doctrinal infallibility with a straight face. We’re sorry about the part we played in hunting down Jews over the centuries (and more recently, in turning a blind eye while others hunted them down). We’re sorry we threw Galileo in prison for life for asserting the earth travels around the sun. We’re sorry about a lot of things we did when we thought we were right. So’s your old man.

How like the human race. We were wrong, say the Mormons, when we said God wanted men to take more than one wife (listen to the language of that phrase!) But now we’re right when we say our views on marriage should dominate the country. (We’re putting dollars that might build schools, fight poverty, heal the sick to work fighting civil rights legislation that would allow same-sex marriage.) We were wrong about slavery and segregation, say other Christian folk, but now we’re right to create schools where our white children do not have to go to school with blacks. We were wrong about withholding the right of women to vote. But we’re right about insisting they should still take orders from their husbands.

If you learn nothing from your mistakes, you can at least learn that you make mistakes. To persist in the self-righteousness spelled out in Dominus Iesus reveals which of Mother Church’s twin personalities is dominant. To admit uncertainty in spiritual matters would show humility (an aspect of spirituality). I guess it’s not news that you don’t make Cardinal (Ratzinger’s current rank) if you don’t put politics first.

The pursuit of the spiritual, whether you see it as a communion with a God, a reflection on the meaning of life or just an awe of the unknown, leads many of us into churches. It seems a lot easier to pursue this quest with others. Ratzinger provides the reminder that, if it’s the spiritual you’re after, (to borrow that image from the days of women’s separatism) you need the church about as much as a fish needs a bicycle.

I remember when I first went to live in Tokyo and was faced with the stark realization that much of what I considered necessary to a good quality urban life was missing. A cafĂ© culture, parks, stately architecture, opera and easily accessed symphonic music, for example. Yet while I was bewailing my self-banishment to what I saw as a cultural wasteland, I was discovering the sounds of the koto and of geta clacking on a quiet dark safe city street at night. I eventually came to realize the problem was one of scale, of knowing where to look, and of seizing the opportunity at hand. Some Europeans come to America and see the absence of great cathedrals. Others see the Grand Canyon and miles of open expanses of golden grain. In the quest for spiritual understanding, there are times for cathedrals, and times for fields of grain. I’ve never heard God ask anybody to choose between the two.

The church has done more than its share of physical and psychic harm, as countless numbers of souls will testify. If you’ve ever seen the play, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, or the recent film, Dogma, you’ll get a good look at the need for at least some ex-Catholics to strike back. The harm goes on affecting those who try to walk in Catholic shoes despite the corns and blisters it gives their feet, and who are afraid to try other shoes or walk barefoot.

In some ways, this angry response to a church which seems to be falling apart anyway seems inappropriate. They can’t attract priests any more, and they seem to be facing a serious meltdown because of their inability to cast off ideas modern folk no longer can live with. More than 80% of American Catholics admit to practicing birth control. Recent sex scandals reveal that the church’s celibacy requirement and policy of sexual denial is an open invitation to people with sexual dysfunctions to come in and hide. And the church’s view on abortion and women in the priesthood is nearly universally read now as the last gasp of a patriarchal organization on its way out. Spirituality is a yearning for something beyond our limitations and imperfections. Dominus Iesus, the most recent attempt by this imperfect human institution to claim infallibility shows it is up to its old tricks, trumping the spiritual with the political.

One of my favorite Bible stories is the one where Moses comes down the mountain with nine commandments (I know it’s supposed to be ten, but a good editor would combine one and two) and finds the people worshiping a Golden Calf. (Don’t you love the part where he smashes the tablets? Imagine getting something handed to you from God himself and then getting so pissed off you dash it against a stone. Imagine how you’d feel the next day!) I’m not sure I would recognize Moses without a name-tag, but I have trouble with my temper too and I see him as a kindred spirit. I share his frustration that, when there is so much in God’s universe that could enrich the soul, we spend so much time fussing with golden calves. Literalism, for example – the failure to understand metaphor and imagination. The failure to see the power of inspiration because you are so hung up on the words. And the golden calf which Dominus Iesus reflects, the distraction of earthly power and the need to maintain the right to speak for God to all the world’s people.

As Catholic author John Cornwell documents in Hitler’s Pope, the mandate Pius XII believed God gave him to maintain the status and wealth of the Church at all costs led him to accommodate Hitler right down to allowing the carrying off of Jews to the concentration camps right under the Vatican’s nose. Ratzinger and the boys are circling the wagons. They’re running scared. Most people who pay any attention to the Vatican at all will focus on the setbacks in ecumenism over the past decades. I can’t lose any sleep over these setbacks because I obviously see religion as the problem, not the solution. My concern is just that – organized religion as the problem.

If the Vatican, the Southern Baptists, the Mormons, the whole crowd of them would stick to their king of the mountain games among themselves, we wouldn’t need to pay attention to them at all. Unfortunately, the arrogance that leads to assertion of doctrinal superiority also leads to political action. The Roman Catholic Church (joined by others, like the Mormons and those who use the bible as a hammer, to be sure) uses its influence to withhold civil rights, to prevent women from making decisions about their own bodies, and to assert the curiously provincial cultural notion that sexual behavior should precede violence, say, or economic justice, in a list of ethical priorities. If that were not the case, the best course of action would be simply to count on the people of good will to do an end run around them. I suggest we use the Dominus Iesus event as a reminder that the church is still militant and potentially dangerous, both to the body politic and to the cultivation of a better soul.

September 6, 2000

Thursday, August 31, 2000

Mama, they won't let me discriminate

I have been working the last few days putting together materials for my "Marriage and the Family" course this coming semester. In addition to looking at the concept of the family across time and space (historically and anthropologically), I do a section on the changing concept of the family in Japan and the West. That naturally includes "the chosen family" (gay, straight, or however defined) and same-sex marriage, gay adoption and related issues.

So my eye caught an interesting article in the Austin Chronicle of August 25 about the rapid increase in gay adoptions. According to this article, some 27% of American gay men are raising children (compared with 60% of straight men, 72% of straight women). One small datum on the status of the American family, but that figure is considerably higher than I had imagined. Also surprising is the fact that 67% of lesbians (i.e., more even than straight men) are raising children. According to the Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International, that means some four million gay men and lesbians are raising between 8 and 10 million children in the U.S.

For somebody like me, raised in an era where the common sense was that gays were dirty old men who abused children, this is wonderful news. I'm even having pangs of regret that my move to adopt in the 70s when I was living in Santa Cruz, came to naught. I'm living a vicarious sense of joy through the gay people of this decade who, although their hurdles are still enormous, are succeeding in greater numbers.

Meanwhile, back at the "family values" camp, there is the so-called Family Research Council. Their web page lists organizations that have extended benefits to the domestic partners of their employees and urges boycotts and protests. The following is an example of their rhetoric:

With the recent merger between Exxon and Mobil Oil comes a long prayed for benefit: respect for marriage. Exhibiting the resolve that makes a company great, Exxon has carried its pro-family policies into the merger, making the newly formed Exxon Mobil the second corporation to rescind benefits for the sex partners of homosexual employees.

Finally, at the end of this doodoo-in-the-road, is this bit:

Pro-family and religious Americans increasingly face reprisals at the office for opposing homosexual indoctrination or speaking out against policies that marginalize them or their beliefs. If you have faced threats or discrimination because of your pro-family principles or religious beliefs, please contact the Family Research Council via mail or e-mail with a phone number where you can be reached, or call 1-800-225-4008.


If you or somebody you know has been discriminated against because you urge gay people to deny their sexual nature, because you have spent time and money and energy making sure they do not have the right to keep their jobs, work with children, live on your block, or sing along with Bette Midler, by all the means call the cops. Tell them you are a victim of a changing society.

God Bless America.

August 31, 2000

Monday, August 21, 2000

Gay Adoption in Indiana

Am grooving in my summer escape from the work routine, moving around among family and friends and reflecting on the joys of connection.

Since I got here to California, I've had a good close look at how my (chosen family) nieces and nephews are growing up. Was reflecting with Luis and with Sandy yesterday at how curious it was in the 60s to find nearly all of my friends came from what they described as dysfunctional families. Now, I'm equally surprised to find everybody around me doing such a good job of raising kids.

It's not all roses in the home of the brave, however. In the Chronicle this morning is this story carried by the Associated Press about a man named Craig Peterson who tried to adopt a little girl and was turned down because he's gay.

Peterson ran into opposition from the girl's foster father, Earl Kimmerling, who objected on the grounds that homosexuality is sinful. Kimmerling was supported by Indiana state and Madison County officials who brought in two psychologists who determined "she would be harmed if forced to live with a gay man."

Peterson went to the Indiana Civil Liberties Union for help. They tried, but found that child welfare officials had followed "appropriate procedures" and could not be faulted.

So Peterson lost the chance to give the girl a home. Instead she was adopted by Kimmerling himself. Look on the bright side. Peterson lost, but at least the system put the child first, right?

Not exactly. It's now two years later. The girl is now 11 and living with Kimmerling's wife. Kimmerling is in jail on a 20-year sentence for molesting her.

Peterson did not get to be her foster father. He is, however, the foster father of her three brothers.

Go figure.

August 21, 2000