Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Letter to Timothy

News Item:

NEW YORK – The nation's top Catholic bishop (Timothy Dolan) issued a stern challenge to the Obama administration's decision not to support a federal ban on gay marriage, and warned the president that his policies could "precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions."

Dear Timothy:

Hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but I think you’re a shit.

Let me see if I’ve got this right. You say “(T)reating gay marriage as a civil right would lead to discrimination against believers…”

Really, Timothy? Did you really say that?

That’s right up there with an opposition to teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution because it would lead to discrimination against believers (sic) of the Genesis version.

You’ve got a right to believe I’m no damn good, and I’ve got to give you free rein because you’re a “believer”?

You want to stand on my foot, but if I cry ouch, it infringes on your right to stand on my foot?

You’ve got balls, Timothy. I’ll give you that.

Can you say “chutzpah”? From the throat, Timothy. Not shutzpah, like that other idiot, Michele Bachmann, says it.

Think, Timothy. Think. The way things work in this country is that one person’s rights end where another person’s rights begin. You remembered that the earth goes around the sun and not the other way around. Maybe you can remember this bit too.

Man, Timothy. For those who want to see the church self-destruct, you’re a dream come true.

God, what an idiot you are.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Two Speeches

I watched Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu address the United Nations General Assembly this morning. I listened to both speeches in their entirety. How different things look when you see international politics at this personal level, as a struggle between two men fighting to be heard.

Most of the time, for those of us not personally invested in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, each news item that captures our attention comes across like a recurring toothache. You want a quick fix and at some level, you’re tempted to sweep it all away with “a pox on both your houses.”

But then, every once in a while, you see the human side of the conflict up close, and you know the struggle cannot be dismissed so cavalierly. That’s what happened at the UN yesterday. I found myself giving both these men my total sympathy, in turn.

I once heard Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem for almost thirty years, put his finger on what makes this conflict so difficult. “When you go to a marriage counselor,” he explained, “one of the most common tools the counselor has for getting at the root of your problems is to ask you to role play each other. You, the husband, take the wife’s perspective. You, the wife, take the husband’s perspective. What usually happens, almost from the start, is that one person says, ‘Wait a minute. That’s not what I think. You’re misrepresenting me!’ and you can begin to repair the relationship.”

The problem with Arabs and Israelis, Kollek said, is that they don’t have that problem. Both sides see the other’s perspective perfectly clearly. They just don’t agree. There is no place to build on, no misunderstanding to correct.

That might be oversimplified, but it rings true and helps me explain to myself why, try as I may, I just cannot take sides in this issue.

That means I sat down to listen to the two addresses yesterday with what I think was an open mind. OK, not entirely, actually. I was leaning more toward the Palestinian argument, and I was persuaded that Netanyahu was simply stalling for time and not acting in good faith. That view is all over the place, incidentally, including in the September 26, 2011 issue of The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.” That article resonated, because for some time I have been paying attention to Israeli friends making the same point and I had an anti-Netanyahu framework already built up to hang that information on.

But when I listened to Netanyahu, I found his arguments powerful, his fears credible, and his ability to marshal the facts of history masterful. He came across not as a right wing ideologue, but as a man of powerful convictions worth taking seriously.

I also listened with some emotion to Abbas, and when he was done, I was ready to vote instantly for recognition of Palestine.

The cynical response to this is readily available, of course. Both men are politicians, with vested interests and strong powers of persuasion. I have always suffered from an inclination to take the perspective of the last book I read, favor the latest cause that captures my attention. For that reason, I have stopped giving to charities on the spot and I try to wait 24 hours before responding to people who say things that make me angry. When I can.

And for that reason, I listened to Abbas first. It wasn’t just because he spoke first. It’s because I wanted to give Netanyahu a fair chance. It worked. Tomorrow I may go back to knocking Netanyahu, but today I am impressed.

The non-cynical response is that I simply got another close look at two incompatible world views. Two good men espousing two legitimate claims to truth who simply have trouble being good together. I can certainly be faulted for all the gaps in my knowledge about the history of the conflict. But I’ve listened to Israeli friends tell me what it’s like to have to put gas masks on your children and I’ve listened to Palestinian friends tell me what it’s like to watch your community dismantled before your eyes, and I find it very hard to see a moral high ground.

I spend a lot of time with Jews in my close chosen family. I know what being Jewish means to them. I also grew up among Irish and Italians in New England and know how inseparable language, religion and culture can be from one's personal sense of identity. I don’t have it. I am strongly identified with Germany and with Japan, almost took on German nationality at one point in my life and still today hold permanent resident status in Japan. But I am not German and I am not Japanese. Nor am I American, except by default. When I was leaving to live in Germany in 1960, I caught my grandmother crying. "Don't cry," I said. "I'll be back in a year."

"I'm not crying because you're leaving, I'm crying because you're repeating my mistake. You're going to live your whole life in one place yearning for another, and your life will be hell."

She was wrong about the hell part, but right about the cost of not being totally grounded in place and national community. I feel real pain when I think of the disasters in Japan. I feel real pride when I see how Germany has transformed itself. And I feel real shame in recent years at what America has become. And none of these feelings define who I am or make me belong more or less to these three places on the planet.

So I see life through a very different lens from the one Israel-identified Jews look through. I love the English language. I hate to see it used badly and I would hate to see it go. But I know I could live in another one if I had to. I have absolutely no loyalty to my Caucasian race, and would be perfectly happy to have children carry on my name with black or Asian features. Or take a different family name, for that matter. I don’t understand in my gut why one has to have a Jewish state. Why one has to marry Jewish (marry Italian, marry Japanese). Why one has to live in Israel, other than that’s where one calls home.

It wouldn’t take much for me to espouse the view that since religion leads us to such irrational decisions, we should simply refuse to let it jerk us around. We could play king of the world, for all I care, put the Jews and the Arabs of all religious backgrounds together on the land and say, “There. There’s only one sandbox. Play nice, or get out. Go live in America. England, any number of places where people are happy to have you. Make a go of it and stop squawking, or leave.”

Arguments like that one were not unusual back in the day when I would stay up late at night in college bull sessions, and I’m sure I held that view at one time myself.

But I have come to understand that my lack of connection with the kind of race and ethnicity identity markers some take seriously but I call accidents of my birth is not a value to espouse. It gives me not moral superiority but one perspective among many. And if others feel they are Jewish, or Muslim, or Japanese to the marrow in their bones, I see that it “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” to let them use that lens rather than mine. In fact, I am now inclined to want to pull up a chair and say, “Tell me more about what the world looks like from where you sit.” If I am to have a right to call ethnicity irrelevant, others, I think, ought to have the right to take it seriously.

I am troubled by Zionism, the nationalism of the diaspora. I can imagine what it must feel like for a Palestinian to have to contend with the argument that the right to the land Jews feel is also a right to exclude. But I can also feel the pride of Jewish accomplishment that is today the State of Israel. At each pass, each go-around on the issues, I always seem to end up unable to take sides.

It struck me, listening to those two men yesterday, that I was watching the equivalent of two tectonic plates rubbing against each other. We were looking at the workings of an earthquake, and the best we can hope for is that we have built on enough solid ground to survive. Abbas could not be persuaded to hold off any longer. He knows he has the world on his side. Many times his remarks were cheered by a packed house. And when Netanyahu spoke, on the other hand, it appeared the house was half empty. The signs of how this event is moving are clear.

It looks like Obama is going to veto the application for statehood, and the U.S. is going to fall further back into pariah status, along with Israel, as the world sees us more and more as a nation who speaks of democracy with ever decreasing credibility. We invade Iraq on false premises, we openly ignore the Geneva Conventions, we train the troops used by Latin American dictators at the School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), then refer to them as “freedom fighters.” And now, many in the UN will maintain, we’re going to add another shame to the pile – failure to recognize the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people to statehood.

We think of ourselves as the good guys, but the facts reveal that view is overblown. Israel seeks international recognition as a beleaguered state, but it can’t explain to the world why their settlement of occupied territories makes them good guys, either. It was never a defensible policy. And now, it appears that time has run out.

Nigeria, apparently, is going to join the veto, and at the moment it would appear the tiny state of Gabon holds the key vote to whether Palestine becomes a nation. How ironic that the fate of a nation could hang on such a tiny thread.

When nationhood comes, it is possible that Netanyahu’s worst fears will come true and they will shoot planes out of the air taking off and landing at Ben Gurion airport, and we will all cluck and say, “See, they’ll never change, those Middle Easterners. Probably should have stuck to our guns and defended Israel.” It is also possible that the Palestinians will do their new nation proud, and this fear of attacks on the cities and airports of Israel will be shown to be paranoia.

We have been ruled by fear for so long. We’ve been duped into thinking we have enemies called “terrorists” and that we have to remain on a permanent war footing. Israel has more reason to fear than the U.S. does, but they too might make a leap of faith. Netanyahu spoke to the UN almost in a scolding tone. With justification. But being right about the UN’s past failures is of little consolation now. When faced with what looks like historical moment, does one really have a choice?

There are indications that overcoming fear may be the new zeitgeist. Here in the U.S., the mind-numbing ignorance of the Tea Party and the cowardly decision of the Republican Party to play into it rather than stand up to it is bound to backfire. The Republicans may very well implode before the 2012 election giving Obama an open road to reelection. Not because he deserves to be president for another term (maybe he does – I can’t decide on that issue, either), but because the Republicans are eating each other alive at the moment.

I’m going to guess that Netanyahu is wrong, that Israelis will not have to fear the same kind of killer authority in the West Bank they do in Gaza and Lebanon, because others will stay involved, and Israel will not go it alone. Abbas has not enjoyed the popularity Arafat did, but the more he starts looking like a founding father, the more we might expect him to grow in stature. His administration is not Hamas and his fledgling nation will not want to lose the international support it has today by lobbing rockets at planes at Ben Gurion.

It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the UN will accept Abbas’ proposal. If you don’t believe me, watch the speech. But watch Netanyahu's speech as well and listen to him point out the failings of the United Nations, and hear his frustration, knowing he's swimming against the stream. Netanyahu is by far the more effective speaker, and not just because he speaks in native-speaker English and Abbas sounds long-winded by comparison. (There are two YouTube links to the Netanyahu speech. Both cut off the start of his speech, unfortunately. I suggest starting off on the second, which has more, and then switching to the one from the Fox Network, which has the better sound quality.)

If this were a public debate being judged by neutral observers, Netanyahu's superior articulateness and attention to factual detail would win the day. But against an idea whose time has come, cleverness, it would seem, is no match.

The tragedy for the United States is that Obama seems to feel he cannot avoid vetoing it. America, the first nation to recognize Israel on May 14, 1948, will now be remembered as the first nation to not recognize Palestine in 2011. The connection to the Arab Spring is unavoidable. In both cases, we appear to be on the wrong side of history once more.

A recent BBC poll of 20,446 persons in nineteen countries showed that 49% are in favor of Palestinian statehood, 21% opposed. Even in the United States, those figures are 45% in favor, 36% opposed.

We're arguing now over when and how, not if.

And, if the applause Abbas got in the UN is any indication, it's no longer even an argument.


Monday, September 12, 2011

The hidden cost of fear

I happened across a documentary last night called The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández. Hernandez was a student from a border town in Texas who kept goats and was out one day keeping predators away with a 22 rifle when he was killed by a team of four marines on patrol.

If you didn’t know before that we now have our military patroling the border looking for bad guys – drug smugglers, mainly – you do now.

In addition to the death of the Geneva Conventions, the commitment to see somebody as innocent until proven guilty, the right to privacy, and laws against torture, we can now add the death of posse comitatus as a victim of 9/11. That’s the law passed in 1878 which prohibits members of the military from exercising powers that maintain "law and order" on non-federal property.

Instead of finding organizers and sponsors of terrorist acts and prosecuting them as criminals, we have personified the abstract notion of terrorism itself, and made it “the enemy.” And since this putative enemy is a non-person, it will never put up a white flag, never negotiate, never surrender. This means we have effectively put ourselves on a war footing from now till the end of time. Because we have no leaders any more, but only people who manipulate and are manipulated by the masses, we have nobody who can break this pattern without being labeled a traitor and a coward and ignored.

The tragedy of Esequiel Hernández is another illustration of how when you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail. If it were not a story of how the Marines got away with murder, it would be tempting to call it a Keystone comedy. Four guys, assigned to a border town where nothing is happening, sit for hours in heavy gear and camoflage in 100 degree heat in the desert, bored senseless. Because they are trained to search and destroy, they sit and they wait for their chance.

Along comes a local kid with a 22. Because the Marines are camoflaged, he can’t see them. Because he’s a Texan with a gun in the desert, he takes potshots at things. Because he happens one time to shoot in their direction, they decide he’s a drug smuggler trying to kill them and they fire back. Hernández most likely never knew what hit him. He certainly never knew why somebody would show up out of nowhere with the intent to kill him.

I hope this story catches on. Your first instinct may be to view this as a tragic accident. And maybe you will join the Bill O'Reilly, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld crowd committed to the ideology that America has to have these shoot-first priorities. Maybe you too will want to say simply, "accidents happen." But an accident is something you can't see coming. When we condition people to kill, prime them to see enemies as any person with a gun, and actually give the order to "do what is necessary," we're not talking about an accident. We're talking about setting ourselves up for a fall.

I think we need to consider the consequences of priming ourselves to see the whole world as a nail in need of being hammered down. Watch the whole program. Or at least go to the website of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, which is working to keep the story alive.

There are at least two aspects of this story worth noting – one, the human tragedy of a senseless killing, and two, the evidence that we have become a people caught in a web of significance of our own making. We have given in to fear and a nationalism that approaches tribalism, and lost sight of the values we insist we are fighting for. We have become an empire with a military, and we use that military to maintain the national narrative of ourselves as victims under fire. They, the bad guys, are after us, the good guys. The Marine who pulled the trigger and killed Esequiel Hernández was found innocent. The other three defended his action by asserting American freedoms exist only because of the heroic efforts of our military.

We are face to face with a leap of logic of devastating consequences. Our soldiers fight enemies so that we in America can have our freedoms. (The Swedes don’t have freedoms? The South Africans, the Thais, the Italians?) Even if the enemy they fight is not really an enemy, to call a soldier to account for killing an innocent is to attack our heros and saviors. As somebody from the FBI pointed out, if the killer had been an FBI agent, he’d be out of a job and very likely serving time for manslaughter at the very least, but because he’s a member of our military, backed up all the way up to the Department of Defense, he’s hands off.

You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

I remember a conversation with a Russian woman once, back in the 60s. She had lived through the Second World War and was going on about how naïve American women are. “All this ridiculous feminism,” she would say. “All these attempts to get your men to take out the garbage, to take care of the kids, to be sweet and gentle and soft!” Her face turned ugly. “If you had lived through the war, had known enemy soldiers knocking down your doors, you would not be asking your men to be gentle and soft. In Russia, when a man beats his wife, she takes it as the price to pay for having the means to fight off the Nazis.”

I suspect most Russian women today do not think like that anymore. Times have changed in Russia.

And times have changed here, as well. Here we don’t excuse wife-beating.

But we do seem to be building a justification for it that might fly.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Veritas vos liberabit

Veritas vos liberabit. The truth shall make you free. That’s the motto of Master’s School of West Simsbury, Connecticut.

Nice, don’t you think? Lofty. I just loves lofty.

They are an educational institution. Their goal is to “educate from the inside out.” “Uncovering the unique design (sic) of each student,” they say, “is the greatest joy of the dedicated teachers of The Master's School.”

Don’t you believe it.

The Hartford Courant carried a story two days ago of a young woman named Rachel, who was booted out when she let it be known she was a lesbian. Booted, as in if you don’t go we will make you go.

Christians. You gotta love’em. They do so much good. Like run schools and hospitals. Train up the children in the way they should go, so that even when they are old they will not depart from it. Unless they’re lesbians. Then don’t train them. Show them the door.

We got our rights. We don’t have to take just anybody. Christ, after all, wouldn’t take anybody. He’d know how to show this young lady the door. Didn’t he say, “Let the children come unto me. Except the lesbians. Don’t let those damn lesbians in. I hate lesbians. I am Christ. I think lesbians suck.”

May not have the scriptures exactly right. Probably ought to check it out.

What is especially loathsome about these so-called Christians is that they do this to children. These folk may not be the same folk broadcasting the Big Lie that gay people are into children, so I don’t want to paint them with the same brush. But they take children in before they are old enough to have any awareness of their own sexuality, most of them. They watch them, help them grow. And when their sexuality develops, if it is not the proper “Christian” cookie cutter sexuality, out they go. “We have judged you, girl, and found you wanting. You are not one of us. Get thee hence.”

Such a poetic phrase, “Get thee hence.”

So Elizabethan sounding. Like the King James version of the Bible.

Must look that chapter up, where Christ says to the lesbians gathered to hear him preach, “Get thee hence, Lesbos! Piss off. Make like you were never here. In my father’s house are many mansions, and outside in the yard, there’s a doghouse. You can use that.”

I could look it up, of course. But I don’t have to. I have this nice Christian school to reveal the word to me instead.

Kind of makes you want to be a Christian, doesn’t it.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Future Shock and Some Free Associations

Ever get that feeling that the Buddhists are onto something and that we're all part of one great big single universe? The feeling that everything is somehow associated with everything else? That underlying every little thing is a single foundation and that sooner or later this six degrees of separation thing will kick in and we'll find the connection? I had that feeling for a while this morning as I was poring over the news and reading things at random. Things that were not supposed to be related somehow seemed connected.

Reminded me of what I had read the other day about how we were so wrong about the Neanderthals. We used to think they were a separate life form from human beings, but now we know we're carrying their DNA. All these years I thought Neanderthals died out before humans came on the scene, except in Oklahoma and parts of Texas, but now I learn that between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago grandpa Neanderthal was making whoopie with grandma Homo Sapiens, and between 1 and 4% of our genome came from grandpa. That may explain why in this country we have both people like Martin Luther King, who dreamt of a world where children are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin and people who want the government to keep their hands off their Medicare.

A lot of these curious associations I'm talking about are associated with some form of future shock experience. For example, this morning I found myself fascinated by a remarkably clear photo of Mars. Now how did they manage that, I wondered. Obviously, they’re getting good at this.

Then my eye goes to the credits. It’s a "Xinhua/Reuters Photo."


You mean like China?

Working with Reuters?

When did that happen?

And then I remembered when I was glued to the news about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, my adopted country, and couldn’t get satisfaction from the American news agencies, I turned to Al Jazeera. They were doing a bang-up job. NHK, the BBC of Japan was too, but that’s to be expected.

Turning to news sources in the Arab world and China is now part of today’s reality. And it can cause major future shock to somebody of my generation. And it comes not only from noticing how inadequate western sources of news can be at times, and how good the Arabs and Chinese have gotten lately, but at the kind of things they are covering. Here's another Xinhua photo, this time of the new Japanese prime minister and his cabinet, looking straight out of the late 19th century. Modern China covering Modern Japan. Future shock.

Japan never ceased to blow my mind for its interesting juxtapositions. The high tech and the primitive, for example. In 1970 when I first went to Japan I didn't have a flush toilet. But I had a fancy fan to ventilate the place out built into the plumbing. And even a mere five years ago I heated my house in the winter with kerosene space heaters you could program to turn on in the morning and off at night. With childproof buttons. And an automatic turn-off mechanism for when there were earthquakes. And a battery operated starter.

You had sensors for your train passes so sensitive you didn't have to take them out of your wallet, but could just walk by the wicket and they would open the barrier for you. All this stuff to give the foreign traveler mega future shock, and then they dress up in coat and tails, like the guys who surrendered to MacArthur with their top hats and all which they picked up from England when Victoria still believed there was no reason to make laws against lesbianism because women wouldn't do that sort of thing. Still standard today for special occasions like being introduced to the Emperor, or whatever they were up to the other day. photo.

Notice, though, that they don't smile when they have their picture taken. It would make them look like they weren't serious.

Photo by Xinhua, by the way.

Then I happened upon the news that Sweden is worrying about an invasion from Denmark of tanuki(狸).

I always thought tanuki existed only in Japan. (You didn’t see the association, did you?) Turns out they are all over North America. It was Hermann Göring who released four of these animals, not native to Europe, back in the 30s. They now number in the millions.

I also always thought that tanuki was translated “badger” but I’ve just learned it is actually a “raccoon dog.” Learn something every day.

They have managed to keep them from coming over from Finland, but they might conceiveably walk across the bridge from Denmark. Or swim. They’re really good swimmers. They’ve got cojones.

That’s the Spanish word for testicles. The non-technical one. Bollocks, the English say. Balls, say the Americans. And it’s “Golden balls (kintama)” in Japanese.

In Japan there’s a kid’s playground rhyme that runs
Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa,
Kaze mo nai no ni,
Bura bura
which, translated into American English, runs something like
The rac- rac- raccoon’s balls,
even though the wind has stopped
they still dangle dangle.
It’s sung to the tune of the Baptist hymn, “Shall we gather at the river?”

If you commit the words to memory, you can go to this YouTube video
and sing along.

Meanwhile, back at Xinhua, there's this article about a quarter of a million people in the streets in Tel Aviv and another 40,000 in Jerusalem marching to protest the gap between the rich and the poor in this land of kibbutzim and socialism and sharing.

Imagine that. China, land of first creeping now galloping capitalism and wealth on the coast and poverty inland has a world-class news agency now telling their people about people in other countries marching against wealth inequities.

Israel (I know you didn’t see this association) and I share a birthday. Israel, which has what's got to be the world's most beautiful national anthem, which sounds like Smetana’s Moldau in a minor key (associations), was born on my eighth birthday, a day I will always remember, because I associate it with the fact that we had just gotten a TV set. We were the first in our neighborhood and I knew in an instant I was going to become an addict.

Today I’m trying to keep abreast of what’s happening in Israel because I still remember so well the excitement I felt soon after coming to San Francisco and watching the Six-Day-War on television and listening to Abba Eban and feeling such pride in that little country I shared a birthday with. And an association with television.

Today a lot of that enthusiasm is diminished, and I associate the disillusion with the same disillusion I feel for my own country. Both countries I associate with dreams and the failure to reach those dreams at the moment.

Another thing Israel shares with the United States, besides the fact that its rich are getting richer and its poor are getting poorer is that both countries are undergoing enormous changes in attitudes toward gay rights. They’re way ahead of us in some ways. They have had rights for gays in their military for some time, for example, and gay pride marches in Tel Aviv and all that. But they also have religious wackos telling us gay people make God unhappy and ought to die, or just go away, or something. At least only a few extremists still call for stoning.

Mostly, they are accommodating, even if they don’t like it. For example, in Israel there's at least one rabbi taking an "if you can't beat'em, join'em" attitude and marrying gays to lesbians, telling them to be fruitful and multiply through artificial insemination, and have sex outside of marriage, it's OK, but only if you're really really gay." But if you’re straight, sex outside of marriage is not OK.

You gotta love the accommodation.

Gay stuff continues to provide future shock everywhere you look. In Britain, (and with a nod to Japan’s Liberal Democrats, by the way – associations, you see) a former police chief named Brian Paddick, who married a Norwegian man not long ago and is not happy that his marriage was downgraded to a civil thingie when he returned to London, just won the British Liberal Democratic Party’s nomination for mayor in London. If he wins, London will join Berlin and Paris as European capital cities with gay mayors.

And how’s this for future shock: Fox News has posted an op-ed piece advocating same-sex marriage.

I’d say that’s kind of sublime.

Just like the news that, after upsetting the Anglican Church by appointing Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, bishop of New Hampshire, the Piscalopians have done it again and nominated a married lesbian to be bishop of New York.

Of course where there’s sublime, you know the ridiculous can’t be far behind. The harshness of Soviet ruthlessness continues on, for example, more than two decades after the fall of the wall, as a one-armed man is fined the equivalent of two months of his pension for applauding at a street demonstration in Minsk, and that reminds the locals of the time the deaf/mute was arrested for shouting anti-government slogans not long ago.

And the marines in Afghanistan are being told not to fart.

Things change. Some things, like the gap between the rich and the poor, get worse. Other things, like the progress of gays and lesbians toward dignity and freedom from religious bigotry, get better.

And when the world lets you down, there are compensations. Like having a former student become a friend, move to San Francisco, and convince me, using his chihuahua Iggy as an illustration, that I ought to reconsider my reservations about little dogs, thereby opening me up to the richness of life with Miki and Bubu.

That's Miki, there on the left.

And Bubu (Christian name, Bounce) on the right.

And there is my friend Takashi with the latest member of his growing family.

Not so bad, sometimes, living here in the future.