Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dead Duck on Deck

After all my posts on politics, you may think this is a lame duck story. But no--this is a dead duck story. Pardon my spoiler.

I am still traumatized, though fans of "a l'orange" must be baffled.

The back-story: We have a useless pool. A swimming pool, which, here in the Great Northwest, is a large, square precipitation-collection device that dominates our back yard. In the winter, constant rain means frequent siphoning off the near overflow, lest the pool crack off our hillside from the weight. In the summer, no siphon is needed--the money to heat and filter and clean it goes straight down the drain.

If you figure all the warm days we get, and the amount we actually use it, each dip in the pool costs about $500. We did not install this pool--our otherwise wonderful house came with it. We are not swimmers; out of guilt, we occasionally bob around the pool propped up by foam "noodles," and my son sometimes makes a sloppy dive from the edge, or balances on the rails at the steps that descend to the deep end. Residents of the northwest need a back yard pool like a fish needs a bicycle.

Ducks, however, consider our pool their own Riviera. When a pair of ducks first appeared about four years ago, we thought they were cute. I ran to get my camera: Awwww. But when they came back day after day, pooping in and around our expensive swimming hole, they got far less cute. Though the pool was unheated, we decided to unfurl the unattractive plastic bubbled solar blanket so our feathered visitors would no longer have the pleasure of such an extravagant toilet. Problem solved--the first year.

Second year, we got four ducks. Same drill--ugly plastic cover goes on the pool
. The quartet found happier waters. Last year, we got six ducks. They stayed longer after the cover went on. We took to running outside shouting to scare them off when we saw them plopped on top of the cover, leaving their distinctive residue. Sometimes we threw fir-tree cones at them. Sometimes they didn't mind being smacked by a fir cone and we still had to run outside, waving our arms, clapping our hands and shouting. We got more ridiculous-looking, and ever more tired from all the exercise chasing them away.

This year, the six ducks invited their friends. We have at least thirty ducks in the neighborhood this spring, enjoying our neighbors' pools and even spending the night sometimes cuddled up on top of our solar blanket. We have several couples; We see duck groups flying over our house and yard often. Our running and yelling has become so frequent we're wondering if we need keep up our gym

This morning I was in the kitchen when I saw three ducks, two males and a female, come in for a skid-landing on our pool cover. As usual, I flung open the back door and ran outside flailing my arms and whooping. As I got closer, I was horrified to see that the two males were attacking the female, furiously pecking at her head and eyes as if enraged and definitely trying to kill her. They grabbed her head in their beaks and bit at her body--she could not fend them off. I was about two feet away, screaming and clapping my hands loudly and they kept destroying the female until I was nearly on top of them, at which point the two males suddenly
flew up and away; the injured female began to fly but--THWACK! Probably near-blinded, she flew right into the glass railing to our poolside deck. I froze and watched the female lying on her back, furiously paddling her webbed feet in the air for an interminable 15 seconds, and then...nothing.

Dead duck on deck.

Yuck. I was not about to approach that duck. A Jewish studies class was about to commence in my home. The rabbi arrived; the ladies sat in their places around my dining room table. I did not tell them of the trauma I had just witnessed, nor did I point out the duck outside on the deck, webbed feet in air. After the class, I called Evaristo, a man who has seen just about everything the world has to offer, to come and take the carcass away.

A couple hours later, there was a solitary male duck sitting on our pool cover. Evaristo explained that he was Dead Duck's pining mate. Such things happen in nature. But I find myself looking outside to that spot on the deck where the body had lain. And the quacking and flapping crosses overhead once again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Glimpse of the Real McCain on my own One-Minute Video

It drives me bonkers listening to talk radio big-mouths who claim to be conservatives and yet insult and tell lies about John McCain. You can disagree with his positions, but first state them accurately! Tonight, as a passenger in a car, I heard a savage ranter hurling all sorts of garbage, mostly ad hominem attacks, and begged the driver (who controls the stations) to pleeeeease turn it off.
But even if he had, there are plenty of other people listening to such shows, who don't bother to check out McCain's (or any other candidate's) actual websites and believe this kind of junk. So, I thought I'd give you a one-minute snippet showing his demeanor and style that I recorded on my little Kodak camera last week when he gave a talk to a roomful of supporters in Bellevue, WA. I know there's not much to go on as far as content, but let me know how this guy strikes you.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Dirty Little Secrets about California's Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

308.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

On March 7, 2000, 61% of the people of California affirmed that statement. It seems ridiculous that they needed to, given that their state constitution already defined marriage in that state as "a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary."

So why the need for Proposition 22? Because the Family Code defining marriage, Section 308, went on to say that the state would recognize valid marriages of other states (written with the presumption, of course, that marriages anywhere else would join only a man to a woman). But gay marriage advocates saw that as the "loophole" that could allow gay marriage to be recognized by the state, a foothold that, by reason of differential treatment, could then bring gay marriage fully on board. With the possibility looming then that Hawaii would legalize same-sex marriage, those seeking to preserve the state's original definition (not to mention the ONLY definition, held universally through millenia), led by the late state Senator William Knight, put the vote to the people, and received overwhelming support.

But, the will of the people be damned. As it was last Thursday (May 15, 2008) when the state supreme court decided to overturn a clear public stand, and change only their LABEL to make gays and lesbian couples interchangeable with
traditional couples. What I mean is that the ONLY difference between gay/lesbian couples' standing under CA law was the WORD "marriage," since the California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003 had already conferred on any gays who chose that union total equality with married people:

“[r]egistered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.” (Fam. Code, § 297.5, subd. (a)

Negating the evidence of its eyes,the court erased the only distinction differentiating the committed relationships of a man and a woman from two men or two women. Just like that. Men are interchangeable with women.

What would John Gray say? Men and women are now both from Marnus. Marriage, that once venerable institution whose entire purpose was to bridge and connect opposite genders into a unique combination incomparable to any other--one that can create human life and nurture it in demonstrably the most beneficial setting--was demoted into something any (adult, non-incestuous) duo, with any sexual fit, could claim.

ut why the fuss, when it's already been done? Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in May, 2004, and the sky hasn't fallen. Still, just four months later, Massachusetts' first gay spouses filed for divorce. I wish I knew the figures on the percentage of gay marriages that have hit the rocks, but the state doesn't record such information. Despite a dearth of numbers, there's been plenty in the news about gay splits, including fretting articles about Rhode Island's refusal to grant divorces to same-sex spouses married right across its state line.

Given the activism for gay marriage, you'd think that thousands of long-term couples would've immediately stormed Massachusetts city halls and churches
after May, 2004 to tie the knot. Not. A paper for the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy by Maggie Gallagher and Joshua Baker looked at Canadian and European gay marriages as well as in Massachusetts, where in the first 18 months, the authors estimate just 16% of gay residents wed. This figure is wildly higher than their international data--for example, in the Netherlands, where in the first few years after legalization, between 2 and 5% of gays held nuptials.

Caren Chesler, writing in Slate Magazine, notes that even before marriage was on the horizon in California, lots of couples who registered as Domestic Partners wanted out: "
When California initially passed a domestic partnership law in 2000, 4,894 gay couples jumped on the bandwagon," she writes. "But when the state beefed up its domestic partnership law in 2005, giving it more of the financial rights and obligations of a heterosexual marriage, gay couples were allowed to withdraw their domestic partnership registrations. And 2,513 did just that. Another 1,651 have done so since."

But findings that most gays don't want to get hitched don't explain why they shouldn't. And indeed even the state of California sees no problem with their legally getting all the goodies of marriage, including a "forever" declaration that's tough to worm out of--the Domestic Partner Act grants them that. The only wafer-thin recognition that the union of men with women is fundamentally different than the unions of two-of-a-kind was the word: Marriage.

And now you can kiss that goodbye, too. The court has done what the people would not: pretend the undeniable. And for what?

Lots of people say it's to give gay people the same "rights" as straights--but of course they have exactly the same right to marry one of the opposite sex. Perhaps it's to show homosexuals respect. But given the achievements and prominence of gays, can citizens of 2008 honestly say their homosexual neighbors are downtrodden? Oh, but is Domestic Partnership a step below marriage in status?

Maybe so--for good reason.

There are two dirty little secrets regarding the gay and liberal/progressive agenda touting same-sex marriage. First, domestic partnership IS a step below marriage, because domestic partnerships are worth less to society than marriages. Second, liberals endorse gay marriage not just for altruism--but because of some desirable sexual consequences for them.

Tackling the first dirty little secret: Nobody's willing to admit in this walk-on-eggshells, PC world that two-of-a-kind marriage is less helpful to society than conventional marriage--but it is. Conventional marriage in its natural
manifestations under usual, healthy circumstances brings children into the world, and provides the best environment for nurturing them to sane and productive adulthood. It offers role models for both genders, and, more importantly, role models on behaviors that work (and sometimes, don't) in creating a harmonious marriage. Children learn "how to be married" by watching their parents' interaction. There are bountiful data showing consequences of divorce and early trauma--as well as of growing up in a happy, stable home.

This is not to say that children raised in differing environments turn out badly. Just that far and away kids' best chance for lifelong confidence and inter-gender skills comes from a two-parent, functional family. Children in a loving homosexual home can turn out great--but they're missing part of the gender equation. Sorry, it's not just being loved that equips kids for life--it's being loved AND a host of
other factors that research shows are best facilitated when Mom and Dad are on the scene together.

On to dirty little secret number two: Straight liberals/progressives are loathe to admit it, but driving their support for gay marriage (as opposed to support for equal treatment and benefits) is the slackening of sexual standards that creating a flabby definition of marriage brings. If what gays do has the same respect as what straights do, then...there's a lot less judgment and restriction on sexuality in general. Remember, what gays do sexually with each other can never produce children--can never bring a new soul to the world. What gays do sexually is for pleasure only. The key being ONLY. And, by equating acts that have a permanent consequence with those with only a momentary climax, we define downward our purpose as human beings, from time-transcendent to selfishly ephemeral.

I can see you squirming. Certainly within marriage, providing pleasure to a spouse is not only acceptable, but important. Certainly marriages where procreation is not a possibility are valid and worthy of respect (as are commitments between two gays). But speaking in generalities, about classes of relationships, traditional marriages are more essential and crucial for society because they are the source of its continuation and continuity.

Gay marriage divorces sexuality from marriage; marriage becomes merely a declaration of love and a source of personal status. With sexuality disconnected from marriage, then those whose sexual appetites lead them outside their marriages (Bill Clinton comes to mind) need not face scorn. By elevating gay relationships, gay sex, to the "sacred" status of marriage, the range of acceptable sexual behavior widens. OK, he had sex on the Great Seal in the Oval Office. Get over it.

I was born and raised in California. Both my parents were born and raised in California. I love the state; it's my home (I'm still searching for bright light living now in the Northwest). But even if Arnold refuses to veto this redefinition of the most fundamental of institutions, I'm confident that in November the people will once again affirm that only a man and a woman can enter into that most mystical and mysterious union called marriage.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Up Close with Sen. John McCain

I'm still thrilled. Last night I spent an evening with the "presumed" GOP presidential nominee. Being steeped in politics, coming that close to the center of the tornado would be exciting on any account. But last night I shook his hand, chatted amiably for awhile--and was honored--by a real hero.

Being the spouse of a public person has over the past many years brought handsome perks. I've attended a White House Chanuka party and shaken the hand of George W. Bush, who was cordial and accepted my invitation to come to our home for a Sabbath meal. (I'm still awaiting the call of his scheduler). I've been tickled to host at our Sabbath table senators and congressmen and movie stars and pundits. I've been star-struck when philanthropic entrepreneurs and the conductor of our Philharmonic orchestra shared a Sabbath meal in our home.

But as engaging and impressive as they all are, every time I hear about the heroism of John McCain, I am moved to tears. I choked back emotion last night when I heard him speak of his courage in the Vietnam prison dubbed the Hanoi Hilton as "just what anybody in those circumstances would do," and then extol the bravery of fellow prisoners like Navy Col. Bud Day whose arm, severely broken in torture, was straightened by the candidate with a makeshift bamboo splint. He answered questions about why he's so private about his family with a report on his wife and children, including two in the military, one just back from Iraq.

I heard him speak casually in a small group of about 25, and then more extensively to a larger hall of perhaps 300 supporters. He moves as he speaks, stepping forward, to the side, and back. He looks directly at listeners. He speaks without notes, though he held a 3 by 5 index card in his hand for his half-hour talk. He doesn't always use eloquent words, and sometimes re-phrases. He's funny--one-liners and pithy jokes--and then tells you where he got them.

When he confidently asserted that he understood terrorism, understood the threats our country faces (while Barack and Hillary do not), you knew by the way he stepped--imperfectly (eschewing the provided podium and microphone)--that he lives every day with physical evidence of that knowledge.

What I noticed most in his remarks is that he is forthright, confronting his differences with his audience rather than pandering to them. He knew, for example, that many conservatives scoff at green Al Gore's global warming-ism, but he's committed to environmental efforts, brought up the topic and explained his reasoning (we won't be worse off if we do something about it--in fact, the inventor of those curly florescent light bulbs didn't lose money, and our economy will similarly benefit--but if we do need to act and yet refrain, our kids could inherit a deathly scenario). He doesn't mind ticking people off, and says so. The one word that comes to my mind for John McCain is...integrity.

My heart fluttered when he was not only cordial but effusively complimentary, giving my husband high praise and--this was PEAK--interrupting the middle of his speech to a large crowd (after our intimate reception) to actually ask ME to stand up for recognition!! When I heard the strong applause for my husband's work, I was gratified and couldn't wait to tell him. After his talk, as Sen. McCain lingered, chatting and shaking hands with all who approached; I thanked him for his gracious gesture, and once again he was effusive.

I don't think I've come down from my evening with the man I do believe will be our next President. But perhaps I'll get yet another chance for a personal chat. When I invited him to our Shabbat table, the Senator said he'd love to come.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day Under an Overcast Sky

Well, Mother's Day is over. I must say it's a bit of a disappointment, not because my own children's verbal "happy mother's day" wasn't enough. Not because here it was chilly and drizzly and dark out all day, and the rhododendrons that visit for just a week per year drooped with the heavy wetness, and the cherry blossoms sagged and seemed to blend into the monochrome scene. Or because I'd stayed up through the night working, to see the dawn before stealing three hours' sleep. That set the stage, though.

Actually, it was a somewhat sad day because I have no mother to celebrate. Both my own and my husband's mothers are gone. My friends are all mothers, yes, and we wish each other Happy Mother's Day with a true appreciation of how we need sincere and not perfunctory expressions.

In the last years of my mother's life, I would make her cards, as I always had, with poems that included recollections, and each year I would try with greater desperation to let her know how much her incessant cheerfulness and shyness and easy-goingness meant to me. Because I knew that as a mother, I was so inferior to her in those particular essences of constancy and security that give children the confidence and basis from which to fly.

When, as a pre-teen and teenager, I would be obstinate or eccentric, she would calmly rebut my behavior-- but I could be stubborn, and, exasperated, without raising her voice, her only recourse would be to say, "when you're a mother, you'll understand," or, "just wait till you're a mother, and YOUR child acts like that!"

Well, I never got it until her prophecy was fulfilled. Just as I wouldn't eat off the plates that had come from my grandmother's home, my own children had their own nonsensical quirks. Food that is good but within a month of it's stamped upcoming "due date" is rejected by one of my offspring. Another one leaves clothes and wet towels on the floor. Another child won't budge off the couch and demands to be served. One answers back; another often makes me verbally walk on eggshells...and as I try my insufficient best to instruct and not succumb and guide and provide support, now, from this angle, I see the complexities. Not that my children are bad--to the contrary, each is uniquely wonderful, and I am astoundingly blessed.

But I see that without knowing it, I must have caused my mother distress, and sadness, because now I'm on the other side, and...whattaya know--with all the joy, here it is.

And here Mother's Day escaped, and my kids are too old to have made me a seed-pod broach or painted necklace in school, the charming gifts that mean more than buying a balloon at the supermarket. I do lament that, but what I lament far more is that in the week before Mother's Day I had no one for whom to write MY poem.

When I went back to my parents' house after my Dad's passing to collect whatever I might stuff in a carry-on as my inheritance, I gathered all their old photo albums and old letters and a few printed table linens from the 30s...and found all my old hand-made Valentines and birthday cards and Mother's Day and Father's Day many, for so many years, some with yellowed scotch tape still on their backs, and others with thrumbtack holes.

It must be the weather that makes me melancholy. I think I just need a good dose of springtime sun.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Happy 60th Birthday, Israel

It's modern Israel's 60th birthday. As every day, today is a miracle; even more so for Israel.

I grew up wondering what it was about Israel that had all my Jewish friends so reverent, so stalwart. Israel was one topic about which you did not joke, about which there was no dissent, a rare subject for a group of argumentative people. Most of my childhood friends were "very Reform," meaning they didn't even know, much less keep mitzvot. They ate "kosher style" bagels and sandwiches at Junior's Deli (on Westwood Blvd. near Pico in West L.A.). They went to services,
usually at some overflow location, for the High Holidays; they lit menorahs. That was about it.

My family did none of it; my Jewish father had married a non-Jew and our home was basically devoid of religion, save for the Guideposts pamphlet-size magazine my mom got by subscription every month, the "God loves you" publication of Norman Vincent Peale. Though she kept each issue by her bed, she never spoke of it.

Though all my school friends were Jewish, there had been the interlude when at age ten a new friend moved onto the block--the daughter of an Episcopal priest, who made it a condition of our friendship that I attend their church in Beverly Hills. Dutifully, I tagged along with the "PK" and sincerely wanted some of the spiritual goodies that family lived by--but try as I might (and I did try, learning their liturgy and even becoming "confirmed" at age 12 along with my friend), that lightening bolt from heaven never struck, and when my friend moved away, so did any attachment to her brand of religion.

That left me back with all the Jews, just when they were having bar and bat mitzvahs. I had a great time attending those, but watching my friends give speeches about the arrival of their adulthood was more ludicrous than meaningful. In high school, along with my friends, I joined the George Gershwin chapter of the B'nai B'rith Girls (the Reform youth group, the goal of which is to insure that Jews date only Jews). This was before the Reform branch declared that lineage moves through the father as well as the mother, so I was the group's blond "ringer." I dated the Jewish guys, cozied in with my new best friend, whose family ate chocolate babka, and attended high holiday services, leaving the tedium with my cohort for acceptable breaks and then tip-toeing back to the endless prayers.

What does all this have to do with Israel? Even in such a non-spiritual Jewish world, Israel was sacred. It was understood that Israel was God's apology for the
Holocaust. You gave tzadaka to Israel. You prayed for Israel. You planted trees in Israel. You evaluated political candidates on their support for Israel. Then you voted for the Democrat.

My family was conservative. My Jewish daddy, who never made any reference to his birth-faith, read US News and World Report at the dinner table. He voted for Nixon and in 1964 Goldwater--I still have a metallic gold campaign button that reads, "I'm an extremist, I love liberty!" written around Barry Goldwater's smiling, bespectacled face. But when it came to Israel--well, Israel was special and worth defending at all cost.

My first trip to Israel was 22 years ago, after my Orthodox conversion and much intense study. In order to make a phone call then, you had to deposit hexagonal silver tokens with holes in their centers into the pay phone--if you could find one. Then, you hoped there was an operator to put the call through. Sometimes people lined up waiting to use the public phones, since many private citizens did not have their own. The traffic was sparse; the country had the feel of a third-world, developing nation where not everything worked as it should.

I have been to Israel many times since; this summer my husband and I will escort 200 tourists there again (taking our fourth tour), eager to amaze and awe them with the ruach so palpable there. Our daughter lived in Givat Shaul for a seminary year; close relatives have made Jerusalem their homes. Israel has emerged as a high-tech center for the world (the assonance nearly compelled me to write "a high tech mecca," but I just couldn't do it), where cell phones are ubiquitous and sophisticated. The pace is fast; cars squeeze through non-lanes and park on the sidewalks. And religiously, as the level of Jewish connection around the globe has grown, its fervency and urgency in observance at its source and center has burgeoned exponentially.

So, Happy Birthday, Israel! Sixty years is not a long time in the sweep of history, and only a blink after an exile of 2000 years. But the amount of change, advancement and strength that has gathered in that short span only confirms it as the L
and wonder-fully blessed and unique.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Our Charming Visitor: A Luminescent Hummingbird

Buy yourself a hummingbird feeder and marvel at the amazing delicacy of a creature of just one ounce.

It doesn't matter where you live, you can probably hang a hummingbird feeder, which costs just a few dollars at your local drug store, outside a window or on a nearby tree branch. In our case, we hung ours underneath a balcony. It's an inexpensive glass bottle with a red plastic cap and four screw on plastic perches. I fill it with a mixture of one-fourth sugar to three-fourths water, and color it with a few drops of red food coloring.

My reward is a shimmering green visitor with a needle beak that flits from our ornamental cherry tree to the perch, sips a minute or two, then flits back to his
branch in the tree, about 15 feet away. His metallic green body is so luminescent, so beautiful, similar to the inside of an abalone shell. I hope he brings some friends.

This little fellow captivates me and all our guests, because the beauty, the flittering wings, the teeny beak is so small, yet so profound. Why would God make such a glorious creature? What could have been the Darwinistic superiority of this tiny bird that let it develop with so much showy intensity and yet remain but a sweet ounce?

Help me figure this out. But in the meantime, head to your nearest five-and-dime
and buy a hummingbird feeder to revel in the astounding rebirth of spring.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tulips in my Own Back Yard

Every year, our family makes the hour-and-ten-minute drive northward to Washington's Skagit Valley to see the annual Tulip Festival. It is the highlight of my year, signaling the advent of springtime, and renewing in me the exhilaration of the outdoors, as a gasp-worthy display of brilliant blooms undulates with the boggy terrain spread to the ends of a massive valley. If anything can revive a perfunctory relationship with God, it is this mega-dose of grandeur and beauty--stripes of intense reds, yellows, purples under a cerulean sky of lilting clouds.

My photographer's eye dances from one shot to its superior. My photographed children grimace.
Eleven years ago, when we first made our tulip trek, they were cooperative, posing in the rows of flowers, their own fresh bloom happy and perfect. Over the years, however, they grew weary of this ritual, and ever more reluctant to smile while squatting in the mud. This was, of course, frustrating to me as I switched from film to digital, since now I could click unlimitedly, putting them to ever greater duress and torture.

This year, to my consternation, we missed the Tulip Festival entirely. The flowers came out two weeks late, I was deep into writing deadlines, and Passover inserted its 10-day interlude, when we were in Los Angeles, far from the swaying color-cups of the Skagit.

But--we grew tulips in pots on our patio! And one closeup of a tulip is as good as another! So, I took photos of the flowers. But, sigh, not of my squatting children, who now are much more assertive about refusing to fulfill their mother's wish.

There is no way to capture the beauty of the the tulip fields, and no way to recapture the children who skipped through the dirt aisles picking up broken flowers, collecting them into a bouquet and presenting them to me. Come on, Mom, time to move on. Here's a glimpse of my patio...