A GREAT DAY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

By Paul

It became official yesterday.  The so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down by the Supreme Court, and the federal government must now recognize same-sex marriages in states and jurisdictions where they are legal.  This means that all same-sex couples married in those states become eligible for the full panoply of federal rights accorded to any other married couple.  Additionally, California’s Proposition 8 has not been upheld.  In this case, the ruling was on a narrower basis and stated that the plaintiffs did not have standing, or the right to appeal, the lower court’s ruling invalidating Prop. 8.  Although the DOMA ruling was much broader, both cases are great victories for gay rights, which are also human rights.   It will take a while still, however, before same-sex couples in California are allowed to marry, as the Attorney General has instructed that the injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit as part of the appeal process is still in force, and no marriages can be performed until that order has been rescinded.  In all likelihood, it appears as though this could take as much as a month to accomplish.

These are, in essence, the legal facts of the rulings.  More detail will undoubtedly be forthcoming in the days and weeks ahead, but the essence of each ruling is that millions of people who have had their civil rights abridged, or denied outright, now have them upheld.

Aside from the legalities involved, however, what does this mean on a more personal, a more human level?  My partner and I, for example, have been together for over 33 years, and we feel as “married” as any other couple who has lived together for that long under the approbation of the law.  We have had a Domestic Partnership for more than 13 years, specifically since Feb. 16th, 2000, which guarantees legal rights within California, as much as it is also clear that such a document has never had the same moral or cultural impact as does marriage.

But as enormous as these rulings undoubtedly are, neither does this mean that the debate over same-sex marriage is over in this country.  All we have to do is to glance even fleetingly at Justice Scalia’s blistering dissent on the DOMA ruling to see some of the language still being used.  He referred to that ruling, for example, as “legal argle-bargle” (a new term to me, I have to admit, but apparently a Cockney expression referring to energetic, but worthless comments).  He further goes on to claim that Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, that the effect of DOMA was “to demean those persons who are in lawful same-sex marriages,” amounts to “an accusation which demeans this institution” (i.e. the Supreme Court).  He continues by going on to say that Wednesday’s decision was, in fact, inevitable once the court had earlier sanctioned “homosexual sodomy.”

Homosexual sodomy:  do we not have here an example par excellence of super-charged moralizing?  But this is fairly typical of the superior, self-righteous, moralistic language used by many conservatives in regard to gay marriage and to gay people generally.  It is, as I see it, a way of both demeaning and minimizing loving relationships between two women, or two men, and at the same time attempting to reduce them to nothing more than sexual activity, and despised sexual activity at that.  How many straight marriages, to take the opposite point of view, have we heard so reduced to mere “legalized sex”?   If we do not do so with regard to men and women in marriages, and if instead we accord to them the full range of human emotion, to include love and mutual dedication and commitment, as well as sex (let us not forget), then why would a sitting justice of the Supreme Court of the United States think it legitimate to do so in regard to two women, or two men?

In one sense, this seems to me to be as much at the heart of today’s decisions as do all of the also critical legal and economic issues at stake.  What I mean is that we are now entering into the realm of the deeply personal, the emotional, the world of caring, of warmth, of closeness, of mutual respect and profound, enduring, even magical togetherness.  Not that marriage is always easy or even fun!  Anyone who has ever lived with another human being for a considerable length of time knows that each can get on the other’s nerves, that there will be inevitable disagreements and misunderstandings.  As with anything truly worth its salt, though, marriage takes work, it takes persistence, and determination, and dedication, and, well, yes, it takes love.  Love is, in fact, the glue that holds it, that binds two people together, the fact that they love each other and that they are willing to put up with each others oddities and quirks and faults, as well as enjoy all of the wonderful qualities which, we assume, drew them together in the first place.

This is what gay marriage is all about, just as it is with regard to heterosexual marriage.  Sex, while an important and even a delightful part of any marriage, is not its sole definition.  Gay marriages, therefore, are not about “homosexual sodomy,” anymore than straight marriages are about heterosexual vaginal sex.  And to so reduce either to its mere sexual component truly does demean the deeper, and frankly sometimes more satisfying other meanings that come with the lifetime commitment of two human beings to each other.

So, will my partner and I become husband and husband, spouses under the law, once California finally allows us to do so?  That is a decision which we will talk about in the days to come.  As I have already alluded to, each of as has repeatedly said that we already “feel married.”  So, whether or not we deem it necessary to formalize those feelings in a legal ceremony will be something we will decide, as much as it looks as though there will be benefits to doing so, not least of which would be that we would no longer have to pay extra federal taxes.

I would be less than honest, too, if I did not admit that each of us has felt that traditional marriage isn’t necessarily all that grand of a thing to strive for.  How many marriages have we all seen, for example, that barely work, where the couple in question seem merely to  tolerate each other, or who stay together out of simple inertia, or some imagined fear of loneliness or of going-it-alone?  That is not our relationship, but then of course neither is it necessarily the description of every traditional marriage.  Indeed, marriages, like all things human, come in both the good and the not-so-good variety.

Personally, I don’t even like the term “same-sex marriage.”  Again, the emphasis there seems to me to be only on the sex, rather than on the huge gamut of human feelings and emotions and needs and hopes and aspirations, all of which intertwine and intermingle into the mystery of two individuals living together and cherishing each other.

I would rather call it love, as simple and as corny as that may sound.  Because love is what draws two people together in the first place, of whatever gender, and it is what keeps them together through all of the difficulties and tests and challenges life may throw at them.  Justice Scalia, and some of his supporters, may not get that, but this is what marriage is all about.  This is why two people ought to live together.  And this, in the end, is why they should marry.

RUMINATIONS ON A MIDSUMMER’S REVERIE

By Paul

The Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, falls this year on the 21st of June, not to be confused, by the way, with the day often referred to as the Midsummer Festival.  The latter event is traditionally marked on June 24th, and celebrations of the day begin on Midsummer’s Eve, the night before, in England and elsewhere referred to as St. John’s Eve because the 24th of June is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  Many, if not most, pagan peoples celebrated the solstices, both summer and the winter, as important markers in their lives and in the continued health and wellbeing of the world itself.  This was true especially in agricultural societies, where summer was of course the time when most crops were planted, grew, and flourished.  The crops were then harvested and, as often as not, preserved to feed the community during the colder months of the year.  In some cultures, sacrifices – human or animal or plant — were made to the various gods ruling the sun and the seasons in order to maintain the continuity and the regularity of this all-important timing.  But even hunter-gather societies noted the solstices, because the animals they hunted, and the plants they gathered, were also dependent on seasonal regularity for life and food and reproductive purposes.

Nowadays, for the most part, midsummer passes us by with hardly a nod of the head, except for the fact that we may recognize that school is out and the kids are underfoot.  I wandered, for example, into the locker room at my gym the other day (part of a community center), only to find a pack of 20 to 25 screaming, yammering, roiling 7 to 8 year old boys, very much like a marauding pack, overseen by teenaged “Camp Counselors,” who, I fear, appeared more dazed and daunted than dutiful (and who could blame them?).  But the ears especially of someone in his late 60’s are not, I can tell you, well suited to endure the high-pitched screeching of 7 year old voices bouncing off the bare walls of a locker room.  Note to self:  arrive earlier, or later in the afternoon, and hope for some semblance of relative, longed-for peace and quiet.

But, in a city at least, peace and quiet appear seldom to be what can be expected from those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.  Windows, for one thing, are open, and we hear the comings and goings, the doings and sometimes the shenanigans of raucous and rowdy neighbors, their dogs, their televisions, their stereos (do people still have stereos?), to say nothing of the unfortunate clatter and cacophony of occasional familial dissent, disagreement, and disaffection.

When I was a child in upstate New York many years ago, I remember summer nights sitting on the back porch, with my father pacing slowly, always with a glass of beer in his hand, and my mother swinging silently on what was known as a glider.  The town, I suppose, was small enough, or the era innocent enough, that evenings were quiet, with just the occasional whoosh of cars driving by on 19th Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, out in front of our house.  We were far enough north too that darkness didn’t actually arrive until close to 10:00 PM, which is when we kids would normally go to bed.  But who could sleep on those slow, sultry nights, filled with humidity and the lingering heat of the day, and with that inexpressible longing for something bigger and wider and somehow more important, more exciting, more engaging and fulfilling, or so it seemed, than a silent, small town’s summer’s night?   I would gaze out the window at the fireflies, busy at some task that I knew must have carried with it a weight that counterbalanced the listless lassitude of my longing and my wishing for something urgent and fulfilling, something of import and eminence in what seemed to be my otherwise languorous and lethargic life.  Mine was, I suppose, the eternal complaint of children the world over: nothing ever, ever happens here!

Later, after I’d joined the monastery and lived with other teenage boys in a kind of supremely strict religious boarding school called a Junior Novitiate, we were sure to be kept busy during the summer.  We worked and occasionally played and of course prayed, but the nights, those long summer nights, were always there to haunt the still, silent chambers of the mind with unexpressed and inexplicable longing, the things of the hungry heart.  Bedtime was 9:00 PM, and at the time of the Summer Solstice, still in upstate New York as we were, the sun had not yet set.  No boy in his lonely bed can sleep under such conditions, so a Brother Prefect patrolled the dormitory in order to assure quiet and order and, let us not forget, sinlessness, as much as he was, even with all of his authority, incapable of peering into the meandering, unruly, and anarchic minds of adolescents.

Summer can still be like that.  It somehow strikes me as a time of longing, of wishing and of wanting, but who can say for what?  Perhaps it’s brought on by the lush greenness and the verdant luxuriousness of the plant world, busy as it always is with all of its growth and its flowering and its unending fecundity.   Plants can shame us, it seems, with their ceaseless growth, their never-ending industriousness, their sprouting and thriving and flourishing and blooming and germinating.  And they die back, simply, naturally, uncomplainingly, unconcerned about any time afterwards, here or on another plane of existence.  Their last job, seemingly, that of providing nutrients for the next generation.

All this the world does while we, humans, ponder and wonder and speculate and plan for old age, and hope that what we have done in life has amounted to something.  Summer occasions us to think about these things: what fruit have I borne?  Of what use, or what good, has my life been?  The light of a summer’s evening has that quality about it.  It can penetrate and illuminate the darker corners of the psyche, where lie hidden doubts and fears and all manner of secret, silent questions we have about ourselves, our purpose, our meaning.  And God forbid that the answer be to make money, or to gain power.  Of what use is that, with the sun sitting unyieldingly on the horizon, and the bright summer twilight no longer allowing us to hide what we wish might never appear to our startled gaze?

In the end, winter may be kinder to us.  Its darkness fits our penchant for obscurancy, for murkiness, and shadow.  The Summer Solstice shines its light on all things, and in Midsummer we cannot camouflage for long the secretive and the conveniently tucked away.

We are, perhaps, not so far removed from our forebears, who made sacrifice to the sun, high in the sky.  At least it’s something to think about and to ponder on the Summer Solstice, and on Midsummer Night’s Eve.  A time to stop and to listen, and, if we are lucky, not to hear the cacophony of the outer world, but instead the chthonic inner voice of growth, of maturation, perhaps even of meaning, and of life-giving fecundity.

WHAT IS PRIVACY WORTH?

By Paul

The above question may seem an odd one, and yet it is becoming more and more relevant, the more we make use of electronic and digital information sharing systems.

The original meaning of the word privacy, if we go back to the late 14th century, was of something secret and mysterious.  As such, it was a thing done, or at least known, in solitude, and presumably shared only with a few and with the greatest discretion.   Later on, as its meaning developed, it came to signify something set apart, not common, and ultimately to mean a kind of freedom from intrusion.  Its etymological origin is from the Latin “privus,” which means individual or one’s own.  But as much as words change and develop their meanings over time, they usually also carry with them the DNA signature of the original core of that meaning.  Therefore, who does not think of his or her private life not just as personal, that is, set apart and not common, but also as having something of the secret and mysterious about it, as well?

Still, when it comes to revealing private information in our modern world, many people will say, why not?  After all, I don’t do anything that’s “that illegal.”  Yes, maybe we are all culpable of occasionally driving a few miles over the speed limit, or the worst miscreants (in my opinion) may be those who continue to text or talk on the phone while driving, ignoring their own safety and that of everyone else on the road.  But no one has to eavesdrop on anybody in order to apprehend such scofflaws.

The privacy question in the news of late has more to do with whether or not we fear that the government these days has taken its Big Brother role too seriously, or is it merely exercising a legitimate duty of protecting people from those who truly do mean to do us harm?  It would appear that, for the moment at least, a majority of the American people side with, and even appreciate, the latter, rather than fear any of the possible or potential excesses of the former.  The figures, according to a recent Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll, are proof positive.  56% of the country say they trust the government’s recording of the so-called megadata related to telephone usage, while 45% believe it to be “way beyond acceptable.”

The explanations given as to why some 11% of the country feels all right about what might otherwise be thought of as government intrusion have to do with more than the obvious one of keeping us safe from attack.  The whole notion of what is private and what is public is, in fact, under review by the population at large.  Facebook already shares more information about us as individuals than ever before with dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of people.  Smartphones not only tell us what we want to know about the world around us, but they also report back to companies with untold amounts of data bits related to our tastes, our purchases, our interests, and even our movements.  So, in this sense, we have become somewhat inured to being tracked, psychologically, economically, and physically.

But does the tracking of an Amazon.com, for example, which we more or less agree to (that is, if we even pause long enough to read the attached “privacy statement” – though who, really, does that?) exactly equate with what might be called the snooping of the National Security Agency?   The government says to us, not to worry, we have your best interest at heart, and we are doing nothing illegal.  The law, in fact, allows us to do exactly what we are doing, and if we do decide to look further into your private communications (although we may have to hesitate to call them that anymore), we will do so only if there is legitimate need and with proper FISA court oversight.  FISA is, of course, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, as amended after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Additionally, Congress has even been kept informed of all of this, and has, amazingly, agreed.  Who knew that the Democrats and Republicans in Congress could get it together to agree on anything since Pres. Obama came into office?

So, the question is, do you count yourself among the majority 56%, who do not have a problem with the government tracking every telephone call made by us for who knows how long now, or are you with the 45%, who feel that there has been something of an overreach on the their part?  In whichever camp, or wherever on the wider spectrum, you may find yourself, it seems to me not sufficient to say merely that “I have nothing to hide, so let them trace my phone calls as much as they like.”   And I say this as a great admirer of Pres. Obama, even though I do not agree with him on this issue.

The problem, or at least one of them, it seems to me is that governments come and go.  I may not mistrust the current administration, but I do not have ultimate faith that no government in the future would ever use the almost incalculable enormity of the recorded data in ways that are not intrusive or even nefarious.  And this is not just paranoia.  I am old enough to remember the McCarthy years, for example, even if I was still quite young at the time, when people lived in fear of losing their jobs and their careers, and I also remember the enormous overreach of J. Edgar Hoover, who spied and gathered information on untold numbers of Americans, many – most – of whom did nothing wrong, except perhaps to disagree with Mr. Hoover’s political outlook.  I am not going so far as to predict a Stalinist state in America anytime soon, thank God, nor am I saying that the NSA or the CIA or the FBI are the equivalent of the old KGB, or the state-sponsored terror of the East German Stasi, the so-called Ministry (or the Committee, in the case of the KGB) for State Security.  Note, however, in each case that such organizations are for the security of the state, not necessarily for that of the people.

As much as I am not “up in arms” either literally (surely!) or figuratively about the Snowdon revelations, I would be less than honest if I did not say that they make me uneasy.  I get it that the government must do certain things in order to protect people from terrorists, and that there are those out there who mean to do us harm.  But I also know that power is intoxicating, and so is information, by the way.  In fact, more and more in our interconnected world, information is power.  And as much as I think I can say that I love humanity, I also believe it would be utterly naïve and overly trusting to say that no individuals ever misuse power.  And what else is a government made up of, except people with power over others?

So, what is privacy worth?  An incalculable amount, even when we have nothing to hide.  Because who says that the nothing you have to hide today may not someday become the something that an organization, governmental or not, might consider tainted, or questionable, or borderline, or fishy, or suspect, or dubious, or shady, or unsavory, or downright illegal at some point in the future?   It would, indeed, not be the first time in the history of human beings that such a transition has taken place.  So, why would we think it might never happen again?

Government surely has its legitimate role to play, and I am a great supporter of its legitimate functions.  But I also know how flawed human nature is, and how easily power can be corrupted.  Let us be vigilant, then, and hold our political leaders to account.

At very least, we ought to know what is being tracked, by whom, and why, and what use will be made of it in the future.  This way, if the majority of people are uncomfortable with such actions, they can vote the politicians who first put such systems into place out of office.

Secrecy, like privacy, has its price.  And it is up to each of us to decide for him or herself just how affordable that price may be.

 

GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE — Are We Out of Time? — one-act play and panel discussion June 12, 2013, Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Harrisburg, PA

GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

Are We Out of Time?… Arts, Answers and Action

digital illustration by Kevin. 2012

digital illustration by Kevin. 2012

 6:30 – 8:30 pm, Wed, June 12, 2013, Midtown Scholar Bookstore1302 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg, PA 17102 (corner N. 3rd & Verbeke Sts)

Presented by The Susquehanna Salon

with HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity (See our Facebook page)

6:30 “What Will We Tell the Children of Tomorrow?” – a one-act musical play

“HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity” offers a glimpse into the future of climate change

Streetbeets: music; Kevin Miller: art/emcee; Kesse Humphreys: performance art

 7:10 Expert Panelists Speak – Then Q&A and Discussion until 8:30 –

  • Jan Jarrett – Consultant on Environmental Policy, Outreach & Communications
  • Prof. John C. Dernbach – Co-Director, Environmental Law Center, Widener University School of Law
  • Rev. Jerry Lee Miller – Founder of HIVE and Citizens Climate Lobby of Lancaster
  • John Hanger – Former Secretary, PA Department of Environmental Protection
  • Lamonte Garber — PA agriculture Director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

DRIVING DIRECTIONS from South-Central PA to Midtown Scholar Bookstore:

  • Drive North on 83 (Stay right on 83 North approaching Harrisburg)
  • Take Exit 43: State Capitol / 2nd Street
  • Drive 1.2 miles on 2nd Street and turn right on Locust
  • Drive 500 ft on Locust and turn left onto 3rd Street
  • Drive .6 mile on 3rd St. Arrive at 1302 N 3rd St (corner N 3rd & Verbeke Sts)
  • Plenty of parking on the street