Posts Tagged ‘996’

Kick ‘Em to the Curb

May 23rd, 2009 No comments

A story in Friday’s NY Times speculated on the possible connection between high-level social interaction (playing bridge) and the ability to ward off the dementia that typically accompanies old age. Although the point wasn’t as clearly made as it might have been, the author seemed to be saying that only one in 200 people lived to the age of 90 without significant dementia (although the accompanying video, which is better than the article, puts the number at 1,200). By age 95, the numbers are even worse. Yikes!

If the nonagenarians featured in this story are typical success stories, sign me up for bridge lessons immediately. True, the story is more fascinating feature writing than compelling science (no one knows, for a start, whether these bridge players are active because they’re sharp, or vice-versa), but it contained an interesting insight into the ruthlessness of the over-90 crowd. For although some players knew when they could no longer “hold their cards” and voluntarily withdrew from the games, others didn’t. And then they were, effectively, kicked out. Consider this excerpt from the article:

“’The first thing you always want to do is run and help them,’” [one woman] said. “’But after a while you end up asking yourself: “‘What is my role here? Am I now the caregiver?” You have to decide how far you’ll go, when you have your own life to live.’

“In this world, as in high school, it is all but impossible to take back an invitation to the party. Some players decide to break up their game, at least for a time, only to reform it with another player. Or, they might suggest that a player drop down a level, from a serious game to a more casual one. No player can stand to hear that. Every day in card rooms around the world, some of them will.

“’You don’t play with them, period,’” [another woman] said. “’You’re not cruel. You’re just busy.’”

Busy?! Doing what, one’s inclined to ask. How about staying alive? At some point, the very old realize that the sands are rushing out ever more quickly, and many decide that they’re better off only doing what they want to do. In extreme cases, this can take the form of passing gas in public, but usually it’s much less apparent that than. I’m reminded of my grandmother who, upon moving into a retirement complex/assisted-living facility after turning 90, matter-of-factly (but civilly) turned down an invitation from a well-meaning neighbor to participate in a Bible-study group. “I don’t have time,” she said, echoing the bridge shark quoted above.

What does this  mean for those of us still some distance from these scary points in our lives? Probably, blogging isn’t socially interactive enough.1  Luckily for me, I get plenty of social interaction before a captive audience: my students. After reading this article, it appears I’ll be best served by teaching until I fall down in front of the class, or at least until I start referring to Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. as the case that established a woman’s right to choose.2 An advance apology is due the class of 2050.

After reading the article, I couldn’t help but think of poor Dick Cheney, now routinely  surfacing after many years in an undisclosed location from which he was somehow able to shred the Constitution. Given his serious health issues, perhaps his endless TV tour is based on his belief that the social interaction afforded by FOX News and the American Enterprise Institute will keep him going for another ten years. Uh…can we please make a present of bridge lessons for the former VP?

  1. Or is it? Does cyber-contact count? Discuss.
  2. For non-lawyers: Palsgraf is a strangely famous negligence case involving an explosion, a fallin scale, and a series of inscrutable aphorisms from the great New York jurist, Benjamin Cardozo. As everyone knows, the case that established the woman’s right to reproductive autonomy was Brown v. Board of Education.

Equality Forum: The International Equality Dinner Starring the One and Only Gavin Newsom

May 3rd, 2009 No comments

Talk about your gala events! 

Well, for $200 a plate, Saturday night’s International Equality Dinner needed to be a fabulous, star-studded affair, and it was. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a true ally of the gay and lesbian community since forever, was Honorary Chair and delivered his usually warm, amusing, and affirming speech. With no elections left to contest, Rendell was even more forthright than usual — and that’s something. But no one wants to talk about him, or even about The New York Times Company, winner of Equality Forum’s 7th Annual Business Leadership Award. This is an honor the Times richly deserves for: its fair and extensive coverage of our issues; its pioneering inclusion of same-sex unions on its “Weddings” pages several years ago; and the stalwart support of the LGBT community from such columnists as the Pulitzer-Prize winning Maureen Dowd and the known homophile Frank Rich. (Read this, if you haven’t already.)

The dinner also featured an open bar, great food (how, with so many people?), impressive videos by and about EF, and a huge and friendly crowd. But these aren’t the story, either.

No, it’s all about San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a true rock star of the LGBT movement. You could have heard a mozzarella ball drop during Mr. Charisma’s inspiring keynote address. But first let’s back up twenty-four hours.

On Friday night, I attended a screening of Pursuit of Equality, a documentary that focuses on Newsom and the “marriage month” that took place, by his direction, in San Francisco in early 2004. The film, produced and co-directed by Geoff Callan, Newsom’s brother-in-law, can be criticized as hagiography, but it captures and holds for posterity the vertiginous emotional journey of all involved: the mayor and his committed staff; the Repent America joes who camped out at City Hall in protest at what was going on; and, of course, the couples who traveled from (as the Mayor is liable to repeat) forty-eight states to become the first same-sex couples to marry, only to have their unions voided by the California Supreme Court.1

The film reminded me of the inspiration for Newsom’s act of civil disobedience (the best label for it, really). Just after taking office, he’d been invited by fellow Californian and now Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to attend the 2004 State of the Union address. The now (mercifully) Ex-President cooked up a stew of inane “priority items”: steroid use in baseball (I can’t make this up); the need for abstinence-only education; and, critically, the imagined urgency of passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage unions.

This wasn’t the America Newsom wanted any part of. In my interview with him, he credited his Catholic school education for implanting in him the simple dictum that couldn’t abide this divisiveness: “When one suffers, we all suffer.” Almost immediately upon his return from D.C., he asked his clerks what it would take to change the form to accommodate same-gender couples, and it was, well, almost nothing. (Are you reading this, Social Security Administration?) By then in office for just more than a month, Newsom allowed the Gay Marriage Parade to begin; the Grand Marshals were Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, lesbian pioneers who’d been together more than fifty years. (The film captures Lyon’s terrific sense of humor; when given the standard counseling for newlyweds about family planning, the septuagenarian doubles over laughing.)

Within a few days, San Francisco was mecca for many long-term, committed gay couples. By homing in on a few couples, the filmmakers capture their sheer joy and disbelief at the dignity they’ve just been able to seize. Of course, that joy turned “to bitterest wormwood” (to quote the Mighty Thor) when the California Supreme Court put a stop to the party about a month later. In a strange and unsettling sequence, the film captures a lesbian couple running down the hall in a doomed effort to get their marriage licenses before word of the order reached the clerk. Confronted with a sign telling them they were too late, they performed the remarkable act of remaining in line and being denied. Other couples are seen reading the court’s decision, having it sink it, and — losing it.

Watching these emotional flame-outs, I felt compelled to ask the mayor on Saturday whether these reactions — which one can understand only so deeply, if not directly affected — had made him question his strategy. After all, he knew the likely outcome of this bold Experiment in Equality. Newsom, as articulate and comfortable a speaker as it’s possible to find, answered by sharing his view of the affirming side of it: “People left City Hall with a deeper sense of self and purpose. For that moment, they knew what it felt to be treated with dignity.”

Then I asked Newsom whether he felt he’d done enough to let people know what might happen. “I think people came in with their eyes wide open. They recognized that they were challenging the law, and were there to make a statement, to advance a principle.” He added that he hadn’t received a single email or letter from people saying “How dare you?”

I was using my few questions to gain some measure of Mayor Newsom’s depth and understanding of the issue’s layers, and I came away from the interview and the speech that followed convinced that he really does “get it.”

“Activist courts”? He wants more of ’em, basically. Imagine what would  have happened in 1967 had we allowed a popular vote on interracial marriage. 70% of the population was opposed to it. The history of civil rights, he noted, is “hardly the majority celebrating the minority. No. Courts protect the minority in a constitutional democracy.”

In case you’re sighing impatiently at this elementary civics lesson, it’s worth remembering that equality opponents don’t acknowledge these points when it comes to this issue.

What about civil unions as some kind of compromise that might appeal to a politician with good instincts but a healthy sense of self-preservation (even more so in 2004)? After all, Newsom is now running for Governor of California. If anything, his view of this “virtual equality” substitute is more contemptuous than his take on those who oppose any and all gay rights. At least the latter group is consistent. Civil unions are “separate but equal.” He is unimpressed by events commemorating the 55th anniversary of  Brown v. Board of Education, where speakers “wax eloquent” about equality and the overdue  demise of  the “separate but equal” doctrine, only to embrace that same expedient when marriage equality is the issue.

Newsom, a “fifth generation Californian”  is impatient with his home state on this issue. “I never thought I’d say this,” he concluded, but “as Iowa goes, so goes the nation.”

  1. Many of these couples remarried after the California Supreme Court declared the law banning same-sex marriages unconstitutional. Will their marriages again be voided? I very much doubt it, but we’ll know within a few weeks.