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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Casualties of the Trump Presidency

The Death of Political Satire

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Many years ago mathematics professor and musical political satirist Tom

Tom Lehrer

Lehrer demurred when asked to return to satirical songwriting and performing. His reason for refusing? Henry Kissinger having been awarded the Nobel Peace prize was the last word in political satire and that absurdity had made any further attempts unnecessary. Lehrer is now eighty nine years old and has long since retired from both stage and lecture hall; one wonders if he still feels that politics can’t get any more ridiculous.

Late night talk show hosts and stand-up comedians have been buried in raw material for their monologues and club acts for over a year now; the Trump ascendancy has been a bottomless source of raw material and they have benefited mightily from the insanity in Washington since Trump first descended on his gilded escalator to warn threaten announce his candidacy for the presidency. Every day, it seems, the American president says or does or tweets or neglects to do something that is so outrageous that one can’t help but suspect for a moment that the report is satire and not an actual piece of news. The debacle that is US politics could not have been foreseen by the most cynical and pessimistic satirist. Tom Lehrer used to say that he always followed a friend’s advice:  “Always predict the worst and you’ll be hailed as a prophet.”

Samantha Bee

Nevertheless what is actually happening in Washington staggers even a prophet’s imagination.

Donald Trump and the GOP spent years and tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money investigating and desperately seeking evidence of criminal behaviour in Hillary Clinton’s handling of her official emails. Despite coming up dry, the Republicans tried to enact legislation that would refuse the former Secretary of State access to classified material as, in their view, she was too careless to be trusted with the nation’s secrets. And yet, as I write this, there is no indication that any Republican in Congress or any White House staffer sees the irony in the recent disclosures of Donald Trump’s farcical fuckups over highly classified intelligence.

As we know, it started with reports of Trump banning any journalists from attending an unprecedented meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Any journalists except Russian state media, that is. And at least one of those officials is known to be an intelligence officer. The White House said they were “tricked” into allowing Russians and their photographers free rein in the Oval Office. But the story didn’t stop there. It turns out, as more and more information leaks out of the rather porous White House, that Trump actually disclosed to the Russians some top secret material that came from the highest levels of Israeli intelligence, and that it compromised at least one undercover agent who had infiltrated ISIS, almost certainly condemning him to a very unpleasant death. How do Republicans respond to this outrage? They remind us of the fact that the President has the authority to declassify anything at any time; hence he wasn’t sharing classified material. Shades of Nixon’s view that if the president does it, it’s not illegal!

No satire, no humorous dystopian fiction, no pessimistic prophet could top what’s happening as a result of a large number of fearful white voters casting their ballots for an ignorant, racist, mentally ill billionaire. This could never have been written. Not for laughs and not as a dire warning. Nobody actually thought this could happen.

The impeachable offenses committed by Donald Trump and his loyalists are piling up; nothing like this has ever been seen before. In just the last few weeks, we have seen abuse of power, rent-seeking, influence peddling, perjury, and now treason. Of course treason has long been suspected of Trump and his campaign; further investigation will almost certainly bring those details to light. But now it’s overt, and in-your-face. And yet the Republican party line is: Get over it and move on. No situation in American history has so clearly demanded an impartial investigation than the current one, and yet Republicans steadfastly refuse even to consider a special commission, much less the special prosecutor they insisted upon when it looked like a Democratic president had been on the receiving end of an intern’s blowjob. Never has a political party worn its venality, its disdain for rule of law, its contempt for the country and its citizens, and its breathtaking hypocrisy so blatantly on its sleeve. The GOP isn’t even pretending very much anymore to believe in truth, in justice, in the constitution, or in anything other than their sworn mission to dismantle the fabric of the US government and to transfer as much wealth as possible from the majority into the endlessly greedy hands of the 2%. Their obstructionism in the face of the obvious criminality of their leadership reminds me of a bad guy running for the exit with his bag of swag and twitching furniture behind him into the way of his pursuers. They know that this assault on the nation can’t last forever; so on their way out, they’re running roughshod over social programs, environmental initiatives, education, health care, human rights legislation, and every other good thing their predecessors have done – all to finance the greatest upward redistribution of wealth the world has ever seen.

The question used to be: What will it take to shake the GOP out of their sullen refusal to uphold their oaths of office and put their country before their party? That is no longer a reasonable question, because by their inaction the Republicans have answered it. There is nothing whatsoever that Donald Trump can do that would alienate his solid base of support. He said it best when he said he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose a single voter. Except it’s not voters who will stand by him; it’s members of Congress. The GOP has such contempt for the people of the United States that they don’t even care about the 2018 midterms or even the general election in 2020. As long as they fill their pockets and offshore accounts between now and then, they will not turn against Trump. Some believe they can carry the con even further and survive a vote; others don’t care and are happy to retire in insulated wealth while the country crumbles into 3rd World chaos.

In the world of political punditry, rumours of sealed indictments by several grand juries are circulating. We now have to wait and see. If those indictments are real and if they are indictments of Donald Trump and others in the White House, there will be an unimaginable constitutional crisis; what would actually happen if federal marshals were to serve the papers on the President and slap the cuffs on him? What kind of an upheaval can we expect if justice is served and those at the very top of the food chain in US politics were to be charged and arrested for their crimes? No one knows. But we are now at a point where it has to happen and we will find out; or we can sit on the sidelines and watch the United States of America collapse under its own greed.

ENDITEM….

 

Living in the Shadow of the Gun

Happiness is a warm gun…

Pagun

victims-pulse-orlando-shooting

The victims

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I didn’t write about the American gun culture in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando slaughter because I was too angry. All I could really do at that point was raise points and frame arguments that had been made many times before and which had always been defeated when actual steps needed to be taken to save lives. In the days following the latest and bloodiest American mass shooting, I would have been just one more voice crying in the wilderness. How many times, after all, can the same rationale be raised only to encounter the same half-baked defenses of unfettered and unrestricted access to firearms by US citizens? There seems to be no upper limit.

Nevertheless, it has to be done. So let’s look at the story that just came in through my morning newsfeed here on the usa_orlando_shooting-1west coast. In Washington, while I slept, the Republicans, almost exactly along party lines, voted down a proposed bill that would impose a 72 hour waiting period on those on the terrorist watch list who wish to buy assault rifles and other firearms. That’s right; a waiting period for people already on the terrorist watch list was too much to consider. Does that decision not make it absolutely clear that the Republican Party is in favour of selling guns to the terrorists they maintain are the greatest threat to the nation? The proposed bill was one supported by over 90% of the country, including gun owners. Among American citizens, there is no opposition to the safety measure. The objection, of course, comes from the NRA which has donated baskets of money to those Republican senators. In Mitch McConnell’s case, almost 1 million dollars for his last election campaign. How can those bought-and-paid-for hypocrites justify such a blatant act of influence peddling?

They don’t even try to be original in their sophistical talking points. I actually heard one of those gun-culture-sodden senators repeat the immortal mantra: “If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” How does a normal person respond to such an inane remark? Very simply: “Exactly right! Now you’re getting it!”  That’s the whole point. Outlawing guns means that if you retain firearms in spite of a hypothetical weapons ban, then you are in violation of the law. Then you can be arrested and your weapons confiscated and the world will be a marginally better place for having dealt with you. Outlawing guns would be precisely and specifically a measure to make outlaws of gun owners.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that no one is pushing an agenda to outlaw guns; the whole argument is a straw man. What we were talking about was a three day waiting period for terrorists to endure while they stockpile weapons with which to kill you and your families. The whole paranoid mantra of gun safety measures being an attempt to disarm the most heavily armed civilian population in the world is breathtaking in its dishonesty. Safety regulations are not government overreach; they are the bare minimum a responsible government can do…and this NRA sponsored congress won’t even do that.

I also heard the hoary old favourite this week: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. That stunningly idiotic stupid gunownersdefense of the right of everyone, including terrorists, to purchase and own weapons, even semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines, was actually dusted off and trotted out for an airing his week. As far as its attempt at a sort of faux zen logic is concerned, it’s partly right. It’s not the gun that kills; it’s usually the bullets that the gun shoots that actually do the killing. And yes; it’s people who kill people. But far too frequently people use a gun to shoot bullets into other people to kill them. And to help stop people from killing other people, we’d like to make it a lot harder to shoot those bullets into other people. We do that very simply by making it a lot harder for people who want to kill people to get their hands on a gun with which to do it. And again, the vast majority of US citizens, including gun proponents, are in favour of common sense gun safety legislation. The only opponents are their Republican representatives who accept over 23 million dollars per year in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.

I think my favourite NRA sponsored talking point this week has been their packaged response to gun control advocates who rail against the number of firearms in civilian hands in the US. When a gun control proponent mentions that civilian gun ownership in the US is far and away the highest in the world and that the numbers of deaths by gunshot reflects this, the party line and prepared response is: Look at Switzerland; everybody has a gun there and there’s practically no gun violence. We are apparently supposed to take that to mean that gun ownership and gun violence have no causal relationship. And, yes, I actually heard that one today.

That one has so many holes in it that it’s hard to know where to start. In 2007, the US had approximately 112.6

Yes! Please let's try the Swiss model!

Yes! Please let’s try the Swiss model!

firearms per 100 people. That is more than one gun per person, man, woman, and child in the country. Switzerland had 45.7 per 100 people. That difference alone makes the comparison of the two countries unworkable[1]. And even more importantly, the Swiss number includes weapons owned by militia members who do not take their weapons home. But the real objection is this: Switzerland has among the most rigid and restrictive gun ownership regulations in the world, and everyone who owns a weapon must be trained in its use, its safety and storage, and the law regarding its use, transportation, storage, and maintenance. This article is worth reading before we ask gun proponents if they would consent to laws similar to Switzerland’s. Would they consent if it was certain to reduce death by gunshot? I doubt if the NRA would want to go there. Nevertheless, whenever the Swiss model is mentioned by the gun lobby as proof that gun ownership or access to weapons is not the cause of gun violence, I find it worth responding that I’d be wholly in favour of even wider gun ownership in the US – if gun legislation was modeled on Switzerland’s. The fact is, most Americans couldn’t even imagine thoseStephen King guns kinds of restrictions.

Assault weapons have one purpose only. They are designed for the purpose of killing as many human beings as possible in the shortest amount of time and with the least inconvenience to the shooter. They simply should not be in the hands of civilians; the simple possession of one of these weapons should be seen as prima facia evidence of an intent to commit homicide. The ban on those weapons ought to be a no-brainer. Ditto for the high-capacity magazines for all auto and semi-automatic weapons. Some legislative effort at getting to that simple and obvious level of common sense should be made immediately and with very little argument; most Americans favour these measures. And yet, the Republicans absolutely draw a line in the sand: no legislation imposing any regulation of any sort is acceptable.

But, as long as we’re wishing for seemingly impossible things, what ultimately needs to happen is a national conversation about the confusing and vague language of the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment. The Supreme Court needs to clarify once and for all whether the preamble, the part that reads: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” means that states may raise militias, or whether it means that every citizen should have completely unregulated access to any kind of weapon they can afford. And if SCOTUS opts for the latter, the NRA’s self-serving interpretation, then clearly the Constitution needs to be amended yet again.2nd-Amendment

If, as many extremists believe, the Constitution guarantees every American the right to own and carry lethal weapons, then the Constitution is wrong and needs to be changed. The Founding Fathers couldn’t have foreseen the technological developments that resulted in the lethality and capacity for killing that modern firearms use as a selling point. But most of all, what the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen is that far too many of their descendants would lack the intelligence, character, and maturity to be trusted with a pointy stick, let alone a high capacity, rapid firing, lethal weapon.

***

[1] It’s also worthwhile noting that these figures are taken from studies and reflect the numbers in the year 2007. In the years since then, the US numbers of gun ownership has increased significantly, while Switzerland’s have decreased. The estimate of Swiss-owned guns per 100 people in 2014 is 25.

 

ENDITEM…

A stake through democracy’s heart

Enemies domestic

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – I’m sitting in a bar in Nanaimo, British Columbia Canada waiting for my car to be serviced. While I nurse a carafe of red wine, I can’t help but reflect upon the failure of the failure of the political system of the United States of America. As of midnight last night, the government of the United States was shut down by a small, vocal faction of extreme right wing ideologues within the Republican Party.

Although the shutdown is ostensibly a result of a dispute over the implementation of President Obama’s signature piece of legislation, The Affordable Care Act, it’s important to recognise the real motivations behind this utterly irresponsible act of political vandalism byAlfred Hitchcock a group of freshman Representatives; it is a combination of overweening egos, a stated anti-government dogma, disdain and contempt for the people of their country, and sheer, blind ignorance. The Affordable Care Act – Obamacare, if you will – is what Alfred Hitchcock called a “McGuffin”; it is the thing all the fuss is about, but which, in reality, is in fact interchangeable with any other motivating factor. It could be nuclear secrets, a key, a cipher, or anything else to get the action rolling. In the case of the Republicans it could be the debt, the deficit, drones, or, the one they’re using today, Obamacare.

Simpler than the justification, however, is the truth: they don’t believe in government and they want to see an end to it in their own country, so they’re working from within to ensure its failure. That their views are uneducated, ignorant, and puerile should go without saying. That they are anti-democratic, even treasonous, is clearer still. Nevertheless, it needs to be said, and light needs to be shed upon their failures as leaders of a democracy.

State of nature

From 1651…Hobbes’ prescient view of the United States circa 2013

Their views being uneducated and ignorant is a simple observation based upon even the most cursory examination of history and the civics texts that they obviously never opened in their academic careers. They are ideologically opposed to the very notion of government. That posture ignores the obvious historical reality that, from the earliest chapters in the saga of the human race, even before recorded history, it was some form of cooperative action that propelled social development. Before humans created the most rudimentary forms of government – social cooperation – life was, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, “solitary poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” It is to that idyllic condition that the ignorant ideologues in Congress aspire by striving to eliminate that which allowed us to rise above it – “covenants”, in Hobbesian terminology; government, in ours.

The puerility of their views is evidenced by their inability to see beyond the most simplistic understanding of the function of government; ironic because while they insist on government’s superfluity, and inability to create the jobs they pretend to care about, their own jobs are government jobs, and they don’t mind cashing their government issued paychecks. Their views are puerile because they want something – reduced, preferably tantrumeliminated government – and they can’t see beyond that to the implications of having their wishes granted. Their views are puerile because their reaction to seeing their ideas rejected, in two general elections and more than forty separate votes in Congress, is to stamp their feet, repeat their demands, and hold their breaths (and the public’s) until they turn blue.

All of that is fairly obvious and most people get it. One suspects that even those who agree with the idea of smaller government, who don’t want their fellow citizens to have access to health care, and who hate their president get it, too. But the Republicans have long ago drawn a line in the sand and the political landscape has become a warzone in which the idea of compromise is considered to be craven, negotiation is an admission of failure, hearing the other side’s views is to support them, and the slightest concession is abject defeat. Consequently, for the Republicans who have completely caved in to the extremism of their Tea Party nutjobs, politics is a zero sum game to be engaged upon in an all out, take no prisoners, scorched earth war.

The outrageous nature of this extraordinary action seems to be lost as the politics of polarisation have become the new normal. But we shouldn’t forget that the idea of blackmailing the President to force him to repeal, emasculate or delay something that is US law is a completely unprecedented demand. The Republicans have failed time and again to defeat the Affordable Care Act through democratic processes. Now they have shut down the government and threaten to keep it shut down until the President breaks the law. Although the government could be brought back to work with a simple up-or-down vote to do so, John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, refuses to bring any vote to fund the government to the floor unless it is tied to a resolution to defund the law.

This action, of course, could be taken with any law the Republicans want enacted, or want repealed. It could be a gun law, a tax law, or any other hobby horse they choose. The Mcguffin could be anything. The fact is they wield this weapon to attempt to enforce their will despite the democratic process having been tried unsuccessfully scores of times. The people have spoken, the process was employed, and the law is the law of the land. But now they are bent on pushing their agenda despite the democratic process and the expressed wishes of the people of the United States.

It remains to be seen how this will play out. But as long as white collared terrorists have taken over the US government, the President is to be commended for refusing to back down to their demands. If he were to give in and let the people’s legislation die because of the extortion practiced by the Republicans, they will certainly do it again. They will do it for every piece of legislation they wish enacted despite its rejection by the people of the country and they will do it to repeal every law that doesn’t suit their Neanderthal view of society. Once you cave in to blackmailers, you legitimise their methods.

It might be worth remembering that had this anti-democratic anarchy been tried in some other countries, the remaining government would exercise its power and arrest the terrorists and charge them with treason for their betrayal of their offices. There are many Americans treason-hang1who would love to see that happen to John Boehner and would derive great enjoyment watching his trial and would buy tickets to his execution. Many of the people who will die from an inability to access essential government services will have surviving family members demanding just that.

That’s not going to happen, but you can be sure that there are White House lawyers and political advisors looking into drawing up articles of impeachment for Boehner and the cabal of Tea Party Congressmen who are wreaking this devastation on the country they were sworn to protect.

…enditem…

The cost of freedom…

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Pagun

 

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – The above quote, usually attributed to Juvenal, has been translated idiomatically as “Who watches the watchmen?” and is usually employed to express a dilemma that inevitably arises in any governmental structure.

 As human social organization progressed from small, self-sufficient family groups to clans to civic associations like villages, then towns, cities, and nations, it became apparent that there was a need to maintain law and order within the society. In order to accomplish this, certain freedoms had to be given up and authority given to certain citizens to wield over other members of that society. This was always a hard to choice to make, and vesting that kind of authority in any individual or institution is a wrenching decision and never one to be made lightly. The trade-off between individual liberty and the right to have a peaceful and orderly society is never easy and the specifics of that exchange need to be revisited regularly to ensure that the bargain continues to be the best exchange possible.

 Plato, in his Republic, clearly recognised that society would have to make that kind of deal; essentially, it was a matter of pinching one’s nose and ceding power to certain citizens to keep the rogue elements in line for the greater benefit of the responsible citizens and the society as

PLATO

a whole. But Plato was clear – that power was to be severely limited, subject to constant scrutiny and revision, and did not imply elevated status to those to whom it was (grudgingly) granted. The guardians, as he called the auxiliary/military class in his imaginary city-state, would be seen with mild disdain, treated as a necessary evil, and subject to rigorous oversight by the working citizens of the republic. They would sleep in barracks and be fed on beef to make them muscular. The military/police force members would be recognised as rather dull, unimaginative enforcers of the laws enacted by the rest of society; their status would be something like that of bouncers in a nightclub.

 In modern times, the dilemma is even more acute. We here in Canada support a democratic form of government; that means the specific regime in power changes from time to time and, unlike in the Republic, there is a lack of continuity in the top levels of civil power. A modern democracy has no “philosopher kings” (since Pierre Trudeau, at any rate) to maintain a constant and ideologically consistent political paradigm; nevertheless, the people expect that law and order will remain unvaried and that the “guardians” will wield their power in a consistent manner, no matter who sits at the top of the democratic pyramid. The result is that our “guardians” have a much higher degree of autonomy and self-regulation than is consistent with the balance between liberty and order that is desirable within a democracy.

 Here in Canada, for a variety of reasons, we are great respecters of our guardian class; we are more willing than most societies to grant them great authority at the expense of our liberty. Most Canadians are not consciously aware of the degree to which we have ceded our freedom in exchange for perceived safety from criminal action; on most days, the average Canadian is only aware of the relatively crime-free atmosphere in which he or she lives. That the guardian class has a surprising degree of power and latent control over his or her life remains below the radar as long as it isn’t overtly wielded. 

I have lived in developing countries, most recently and significantly Indonesia, where there were once dictatorships supported by a national police force. In Indonesia, at least, that police-state mindset still exists in the police and military; in many case they seem not to have received the memo that the country is now a democracy. It is estimated that 80% of people arrested are subjected to a greater or lesser degree of torture by the police. Amnesty International has rated the Indonesian police as the most corrupt government institution in one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Any…any encounter with the police in Indonesia will require, at the very least, a bribe. They are essentially well armed thugs who sell their services to the highest bidder. However, in Indonesia, the people resist the police excesses. There are constant editorials printed, despite the police taking action against members of the press; people demand that police reform be on any candidate’s agenda; there are even street protests despite the likelihood of being tortured by the police if one is arrested.

 In Canada, however, our cultural predisposition precludes even an open discussion of police excesses. Despite the RCMP’s undoubted excesses, Canadians as a whole refuse to criticise their iconic national police. Despite the constant and ongoing abuse of power, particularly with respect to aboriginal people in British Columbia, despite proven allegations of internal rot, despite their apparently growing trigger happiness, despite their killing of far too many unarmed and disturbed people or people already in custody, Canadians become enraged when one suggests that there ought to be some in depth civilian scrutiny of the Mounties. The majority of Canadians are still dazzled by the superficial glow created by such intensive public relations efforts as the Musical Ride and life sized cutouts of smiling, red tunic sporting, Sam Brown wearing police officers that are prominently displayed in consulates, embassies and other public locations. But when a native Canadian is shot in the back of the head while in custody, Canadians instantly assume that the killing is justified and express a determination not to want to hear the facts behind the death. Canadians even accuse those of us who would insist on an inquiry into the killing of being bereft of patriotism.

What is being missed by the misguided patriots is that it is far more patriotic to want the RCMP to live up to their image than it is to tolerate them breaking Canadian law and brutalizing and killing Canadians – or anyone else –  with utter impunity. Moreover, police must be held to a higher standard of behaviour and adherence to law than the general public; it is far wiser to presume that the police are at fault in any controversial incident than it is to presume them guiltless. The former leads to much more intensive civilian oversight of police activities while the latter carries the risk of supporting a move toward fascism and a police state.

 

At the moment, the police in Canada, starting but not ending with the RCMP, are feeling their oats. Stories of police excesses are becoming a daily occurrence. People are being shot and killed in routine traffic stops. Troubled teenagers shot to death then Tasered while surrounded by dozens of heavily armed tactical police officers, panicking unarmed visitors to Canada killed in the airport, native women reporting having been raped in police custody…the list goes on.

 But check the news discussion forums. Those who describe themselves as patriotic will immediately shout down and hurl abuse at anyone who comments that steps need to be taken to curb the high handed behaviour of our guardians. The Canadian predilection for submission to authority is alive and well, and yet it seems that virtually anyone who has an encounter with Canada’s police forces comes away disillusioned and inclined to demand a higher level of scrutiny of their actions. That is, if they are alive and able to demand anything. It is clearly time for a thorough housecleaning in all of Canada’s police forces, indeed in of all of Canada’s criminal justice system. It is time the people realized once again that the authority the police have derives directly from us and that they continue to wield it at our pleasure. That is, if we still have the power as a sovereign people to rein them in.

  If we, the people, are not going to watch the watchmen, who will?

 …enditem…

 

 

Does SCOTUS pass the buck?

Breaking the rules

Pagun

 

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – It becomes clearer as one gets older just how resigned society is to certain paradigms of lifestyle. To test this observation, all you have to do is step outside if the established pattern for a bit and see exactly how square the hole into which your rounded shape is trying to jam itself actually is. 

Oh, we’re all used to the iconoclasm of youth, particularly those of us who are baby boomers We know all about the fights over long hair, the youth culture battles of the late ‘60s, emergence of the rock culture, recreational drug use, living together without the sanction of marriage, single parenthood, and pretty much everybody either has or has known someone who has come out as gay. But the truth is that those issues have pretty much either resolved themselves or society has come to some kind of accommodation with them. 

Those of you who know me personally also know that one of the personal characteristics frequently remarked upon is that I tend not to think or act in a mainstream way much of the time. It seems that the direction my life has taken in the last few years has reinforced that impression. For someone who is fairly familiar with being out of step with much of society, I have been discovering that things that seemed normal and straightforward to me are considered to be eccentric, even bizarre by many people. 

My son just turned four. This summer I will turn fifty seven. That strikes a lot of people as strange; some are even offended. I’m not going to recount the full backstory of how, why, and with what difficulties Yolanda and I adopted JJ at my venerable age; I don’t feel inclined to defend that decision. I will say that had Yolanda and I not chosen to do what we did, our beloved little boy, who has brought us indescribable joy, would be naked, parentless, probably unloved, malnourished, and facing a bleak future in an impoverished village in a 3rd World country. 

Nevertheless, I am often looked at askance when I mingle with the parents of JJ’s pre-schoolmates. For one thing, since, as a writer, I work out of the house and am JJ’s primary caregiver, I attend those kinds of events when Yolanda is at work; most of the parents with whom I associate are women easily young enough to be my daughters. I’m fairly used to that atmosphere, of course; Yolanda, being more than twenty years younger than me and from a different part of the world, has necessarily turned our social circle into a pretty eclectic and non-traditional group. 

But as the world becomes more flexible, as people’s life expectancies increase, and as tolerance becomes expected rather than the exception, it becomes clearer to me that the ideal of withholding judgment while respecting the choices, lifestyles, and rights of others still has a long way to go. I am occasionally annoyed by the implicit ageism I run into as the parent of a four-year-old. I must acknowledge with a degree of pride that, in Canada, Yolanda and I have never, not once, been subjected to any detectable racism despite our different skin colours and ethnicities (except for online trolls, and I discount those cowards); we have, however, frequently shocked or at least raised eyebrows with our age difference. 

It therefore is not completely unclear to me just how painful and awkward it must be for gay couples in a society that still thinks there is a reasonable debate to be had as to whether the right to marry the person one loves ought to be denied on the basis of chromosomal distribution. Canada, I’m happy to say has for many years recognised marriage equality and it did so without fanfare or hand-wringing. It was obviously the right thing to do, so it was done. Nobody who is in a male-female marriage can legitimately claim that they were negatively impacted, and the institution of marriage is doing just fine, or as fine as it was doing before the legal recognition of marriage equality. 

I have often wondered just how brutally painful it would have been for me and for Yolanda had there been a legal impediment to our marrying because of our races.

(In Indonesia, where we were married, there do exist laws preventing mixed marriages…specifically, marriages between people of different religions. Like most inconvenient laws in Indonesia, however, these aren’t taken very seriously. The laws are Muslim-inspired laws intended to prevent Muslims from diluting their faith by marrying infidels and possibly bring up children as kafirs. Some Muslim clerics believe that for a woman to convert from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death, so conversion for convenience isn’t very common. I personally know at least five men, however, who legally converted to Islam so that they could legally marry Muslim women. Nobody in the union takes either the conversion or Islam itself seriously, of course – in fact one of those people is an ordained Christian minister – but this way they avoid any hassles.)

But it’s worthwhile remembering that in the US laws against mixed race marriage existed right up to the mid-20th Century. We know now that such laws were a grotesque violation of the civil rights of people who simply wanted their committed relationship to be recognised by society like anyone else’s. It ought to be a source of shame for any thinking American that the Supreme Court of the United States isn’t simply mechanically ruling for equal rights. The anti-marriage equality forces haven’t even raised an argument for their position…they are doing nothing but fighting equality by trying to keep the Supreme Court out of the fray and allow the decision to devolve to the states.

 

Learning hatred

It is also worth noting that some of the most fervent Christians have it on good authority that God disapproves of mixed marriages and quote Deuteronomy 7 to support that bigotry. In today’s pro-bigotry argument, they have Leviticus 28:22 to support their anti-equality agenda. Nevertheless, there is Jesus, who espoused inclusion, tolerance and non-judgmentalism (and according to some historians was clearly gay). Go figure. But since we’re dealing with the Supreme Court here, there is a piece of literature that is literally a higher law than any scripture of any religion: the Constitution of the United States of America. And that is supported by the Founding Fathers’ clear and explicit intention to maintain an impregnable wall to serve as the separation of church and state.

If the Supreme Court passes the buck to the states on this issue it will be a shameful piece of judicial duty shirking. Nevertheless, there seems to be an inclination to do exactly that, solving exactly nothing. There has rarely been a clearer constitutional issue than the question of extending constitutional guarantees to all citizens. It’s in front of SCOTUS right now…let’s see whether this court is still behind the curve of the rest of society.

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