memorial

National-9-11-Memorial-Photos-5That Tuesday, my heart continued sore in the absence of his laughter, amid the morning muddle, the sustenance for the emerging day. Understanding the extravagance of this grief,  I humbly gathered their voices, the scents of unbroken books, the press of  lips to cheek.

Cerulean skies compelled contemplation of the day’s perfection: a clarity in the sky; a crispness in the air; compassion in the sun that burned more gently now than  in the unbearable heat of  summertime.

The concrete bunker, windowless, modern, contrived upon  the stately, antique hall of justice, annulled all thoughts of nature.  Business -as-usual numbed  the heart,the mind.

Uncertain voices besiege; turmoil in all directions: “They are Bombing New York!”

“Who, Why, How, Where, When?” No answers mattered in the moment.

The image of the man–child signaling farewell.

“Is he unharmed?  Is he unharmed? Is he unharmed ?” The beat my body pounding.

One Hundred Thirty Blocks or One Thousand Miles. None of us unscathed.

The relentless display of the instant of the abomination:  we are wounded and broken; allow ourselves stare  on and be shattered once again.

Like a dust storm on a prairie in the mid-land, a cloud of horror mutates day time into night.  The despairing fling themselves into a hopeless future. Some of the valiant surrender life in a green Pennsylvania field.  All goes dark as more die in flames in Virginia.

Church bells call.  Sirens keen. Bands march. The Great Men evangelize. An old oak tree crackles with the tension.  Neighbors cry to hear the mother wail. Lights burn all night to comfort  uncomprehending children. Strangers, friends, near and far, gather towards the fires to offer aid.

Twelve Years, eight months and some days later, the grieving, the survivors gather at that place  made sacred in New York. So many lost, no trace found, just fragments.  The grieving steadfast in their  love.

Names are carved atop the iron bars, smoke-covered shoes and paper fragments.    Remnants of what was expected to be a hum-drum day. Photographs of men, once seen, remain enduring; incomprehensibly not observed in time to forestall events.

Speeches still exalt the bravery, the compassion, the kindness seen around the world that September: Life is celebrated in the ordinariness of the moment.  Or in the valor of risking all to render aid.

The flag draped stages proclaim platitudes of unexamined patriotism.  Proponents of power pronounce dominance unassailed.

We feel the shock again as we stand in line at the airport, witness radiation invade the body of our child.

What is private, since that day, has gained new meaning.  What is lawful for the police to take is new as well. To be christian, to be muslim: it clearly matters.   Whom you visit, who you know, what you read  is viewed with patriotic zeal.

Under palm trees, men, facing no charges, sit in cages recalling sudden capture, cruel detention,  perhaps torture. Too many dead in wars begun,  amid cries of vengeance, fought, as rich and poor at home reached a new divide.  Sons and daughters return with dreams exploding in  blood and gore and desert.    Children, playing in the sand, fall; slain  by unmanned drones they grew  up fearing.  USA has a whole new meaning around the world.

We honor the brave one who ran into the building.  We  esteem the passengers who downed their plane.  We celebrate the neighbor helping neighbor.

Can we be  again who we were that sun filled Tuesday? Older, clearly, and  so we surely must have more judgement.  But can we reclaim the courage we surrendered  in the trauma?  The confidence:  freedom is a birthright, or it is attainable by all?   The understanding that too much  fear has engulfed us since that September morning.

The highest honor, the finest memorial is to cast that fear aside.

<img src=”http://www.blogsbywomen.org/chicklet.gif”

Mothering

cropped-dscn0281.jpgI am diminutive in the chill, May sunshine outside the mushroom colored tower which surges towards the morning sky.  Wedged among stiff perfumed dresses, shadowed by white-gloved hands reaching out for the flowers, I shiver as though in a slow motion film and watch my mother receive a white carnation:  Her mother is dead.  Some day she will die too. The dilatory notes of the reluctant organ no longer sound cheerful.  Sights appear as through fine ivory gauze which wraps a wound.  There only remains the smell of roses, the scratchy feel of  a freshly starched cotton dress, a flutter inside my belly like an itch I cannot reach.

Bodies gathered closely like a patchwork quilt: young, old, mostly white and strong.  Intermittent raindrops bleed colors from homemade signs punctuating blocks of denim draped frames.  Children perched on shoulders whimper or laugh as orators’ calls to disarm echo,  linger, then settle on the crowd. Under the elegant shade tree, an infant suckles, undisturbed by disapproving glances of strangers on the street dressed in Sunday finery to absorb the urban experience.  Off-key singing stirs the close air, words inspire, we believe we all aspire to a universal dream.

Three small heads, one white, one gold, and one a saffron color, bodies close, faces deep inside the down.  Dawn just announced, sleep not yet fully departed from me, but the energy of these children already unbounded by the hour.  Giggles high, so confident, so self-conscious, as if they know already that they must treasure  moments which will not stay.  Skin so soft, unblemished, and richly colored, each one a different tone in the morning light.  One begins a song, the others join and it’s a choir.  They all jump, we shriek together and he comes rushing.  Coffee hot, bed covers tousled, attention fading.  Cuddles, kisses, small arms clinging.  A camera clicks, time cannot be packaged nor moments frozen.  Too soon it’s evening, the bed is empty of children once again.

Los Angeles, Paris, Philadelphia.  White carnations now for nine years or more.  Still a child stands out in a sunday churchyard.  Women march as ever to forge a peace.  Children laugh inside the heart each day, all rough, all tumbles. Not a festival, a sentiment nor a static instant, mothering is a process of awakening to life.

<img src=”http://www.blogsbywomen.org/chicklet.gif”

“…Curiouser and Curiouser…”

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense.

Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. 

And, contrary wise,

what it is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Recently, much praised New York Times journalist, Thomas L. Friedman, apparently serious, questioned Hillary Clinton and Christine Lagarde “Is there still a double standard in the media about how women are treated…”   The audience at the Fifth Annual Women of the World Summit in New York erupted in laughter.

Secretary Clinton captured the humor and rejoined, lightly, “Really, Tom…”

She then offered her recollection of advice given regarding office decor when she was a young lawyer in Arkansas: If you are a male professional and have a family, display photographs to signify your responsibility, reliability and trustworthiness.  Women should never display such photographs as this suggests to the client distractibility and mixed priorities.

But that was way back in the Seventies, Eighties?

Women, we are told, have truly “come a long way” in the kinetic decades intervening.

Scrutiny discloses an elliptical tale.

In the United States, the pursuit of a level playing field for men and women of all races and incomes in terms of power, politics, work and family life is ongoing.

Some sources poll statistics to suggest that, in the western world, women enjoy political power in historically large numbers as elected officials and appointed judges, commissioners and directors.  Women occupy significant numbers of industry leadership positions especially outside the United States. Educational institutions demonstrate a more equitable   “leadership to population “gender ratio than ever before.

More than a few women have scaled barriers and amassed incomprehensible fortunes to rank among the world’s most wealthy.

Achievement in the more ordinary spheres of living in terms of gender equality also emerged.  More female students graduate from college than do men.  During the “great recession”, female breadwinner households emerged as a “new normal”.

Still, the unrelenting narrative of the overstressed, over-extended, hyper-vigilant, and never fulfilled “working mom” penetrates any fog of good feeling that gender equity might be on the horizon.  Despite the fact that these tales invariable focus on middle and upper-middle class women to whom society, perhaps with duplicity, offers a “choice” regarding whether and how much to engage employment outside the home, this story has remarkable staying power.  Through the decades, the chronicle of this burdened woman and her needy family has begotten innumerable new fashions, products, even industries: the time-savers, the stress-reducers, the educational, the “just like home-made.”

Ours is a culture of at least two minds about a woman’s place.

The little girl playing with her dolls, dreaming of the day when she too would be the bride “all dressed in white” attended by a bevy of beautiful maids as she crosses the threshold to her future, realizing her true self, the wife of the handsome tuxedo-clad man who stands admiring her…. This conceit successfully and lucratively pervaded American life for generations, certainly post World War II.

I remember my decidely level-headed mother had a huge book of wedding day photographs bound in a sumptuous white binder which was placed in sight but out of reach.  The album featured, what the child considered, hundreds of twelve by twelve, black and white photographs of the most glamorous people.  She in a pure silk flowing gown, he in his tails and stripped tie, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral under an October sun, an eternal smile from the rear window of an actual limousine…

Had my mother been a home economics student in 1954, her  text would have  prepared her for what came after the limousine as follows:   “Have dinner ready, prepare yourself, prepare the children, minimize all noise, be happy to see him, listen to him, make the evening his.” There was no question that the married woman would have children.  There was no question, the mother should not work outside the home. The employed spouse was definitely the male.   There was certainly not even the vaguest notion that the married couple could be of the same gender.  Perhaps only slightly more conceivable was an unmarried two parent household.

Conversations about housework, from the casual to the scholarly, can be remarkably provocative. In the early years of the United States Women’s Movement, suffragist, author and political theorist and activist Charlotte Perkins Gilman articulated “housework” denies a woman’s “humanness.” In the 1960’s, Betty Friedan’s popular political work, The Feminine Mystique captured the energy of a cross section of largely educated white, middle and upper middle class women dissecting cultural standards of feminine behavior as submissive, affective, fulfilled when living vicariously through others.   In the early 1980’s Professor Angela Davis offered a challenging Marxist analysis of the issue. In 2011, the National Institute  of  Health reported that  mothers employed part-time outside the home experience ideal  adjustment as do their families.

Still, especially over the last two generations, society’s gaze has turned from  how well a woman cleans the house or bakes a cake.  Such services await those who can afford them.  A busy female administrative assistant can purchase a candle light dinner for the Tuesday night dinner at the take out department of the supermarket by calling ahead or ordering online.

Today, our culture pursues the perfect mother.

Some still recall their own childhood friends gathering unsupervised  and spontaneous at the playground, in the schoolyard, or “on the corner.”  Childhoods of bygone days featured unaccountably fleeting hours producing little of tangible value.  A book read.  A confidence shared.  A story written.  A movie watched.  A path explored.

Technology, crime, social competition, economics and social institutions  eviscerated those now seemingly laconic childhoods. Children today largely live more structured lives with women the organizing force.

Today’s mother is often tasked with providing more than the expected needs of a child (food, clothing, shelter, love, safety).  She must deliver the child to the gates of adulthood equipped to tread confidently and competently on the highest paths.  “Intensive mothering” is a phrase describing mothers investing vast amounts of time, money, energy, and emotion into the raising of a child.  It is perhaps a logical outgrowth of the shame/blame dynamic which has swirled around mothers in America for years.

In modern times, Freud propelled mothers to center stage to receive the “blame” for “causing” filial homosexuality by her over-protectiveness, or in the alternative, her indifference.

Mothers accepted the blame for autism  in their children when it was alleged to be caused by maternal coldness.

Psychiatrists pronounced    “schizophrenogenic” mothers (disturbed, self-deluding women with fluid identity boundaries) guilty of causing schizophrenia in their children.

Generally, mothers today are not blamed for causing specific diseases or disorders.  However, many women report experiencing an overwhelming sense of guilt  as mothers, absorbing criticism of their children, feeling responsible for the “failings” of the child as theyt were their own. This guilt is all the more painful and deep  fifty years after Friedan’s analysis ignited a firestorm of controversy about the role of  mothers in the workplace; ashes of debate singe the air.

On the home front, women still face expectations that every child requires unlimited access to his or her mother at all times.  Any mother who is unwilling or unable to provide a child with this constant tenderness, is, quite simply, deficient.  A good mother is one who is home whenever the child is home. The same analysis does not, of course, apply to fathers. (May we presume that fathers are still more free to display family photographs?)  The recent national hysteria when New York Mets player Daniel Murphy missed two games to be with his wife at the cesarean birth of their son shows that in the United States the subtext remains: real men do not put fatherhood first.

At a time when so much in our lives is unrecognizable if we watch film footage from 50 years ago, the manner of dress, communication, transportation, food consumption, social norms of “good mothering” seem based on traditional concepts from a half century ago.  Evidence suggests many sources of love for a child only benefit  if reliable, kind and genuine.  Studies supportive of pre-kindergarten socialization and education are discounted.  The needs of the mother and family, economically and otherwise, are not part of the equation.

The “cultural schizophrenia” about employed mothers is not limited to the United States.  It affects high ranking officials as well as lower paid workers internationally. The double messages which assail families undermine our ability to find comfort and satisfaction in either our work or our home lives. Some suggest that the narrative of the “perfect mom” who can “do it all” converts motherhood into a never-ending exercise in “measuring up” for too many women who do not embrace the individual right to define a unique pattern of family organization.

Technology is intended enhances the effect of the media on our lives.  Clinton and Lagarde laughed at Friedman’s question.  But for many women working inside the technology industry, sexism is no laughing matter.  It is rancid, forcing them to exit the field.

If women who work in the industry responsible for so many of the images and messages which create cultural expectations are alienated and disappointed, it appears the time has arrived to begin again assertively addressing issues of equality.

This week, congress will yet again be asked to address the question of equal pay for women.

Title VII of the Civil Right Act came to be applied to women as a result of what one would call bad karma.  A segregationist, opposed to Civil Rights for African Americans, added the word “sex” to the legislation believing it would ensure defeat.  The joke was on him.

The  Equal Pay Act of 1963. was passed as a means to stop the continuing advance of the Equal Rights Amendment.  It is unclear who bore the brunt of that joke.  The  1963 act proved largely ineffectual.  Our nation of laws has never stated its female citizens are the equal of men.

Fifty one years later, equal pay remains on the political agenda.  A recent study confirms  a significant gender wage gap.  That earning divide  remains deeply affected by race and ethnicity with Asian American women reaching salaries most equal to males, white women in second place.

If the current legislation moves forward, it bears monitoring and advocacy.  Women must be watchful that there is not a hidden political agenda as there was in times past.  In addition, legislation without enforcement is meaningless.

The climate of politics is quite uncertain for women.

Analysts of the   landmark decision of the conservative Roberts led Supreme Court on April 2, 2014, McCutcheon vs. FEC, caution that future political campaigns may be dominated by male mega-donors. Female political candidates in the United States successfully navigated previous campaign contribution laws.  It remains to be seen whether the McCutcheon decision shackles further female political advancement.

Which coffers garner the unlimited new coins tossed into politics post McCutcheon is yet unknown.

Only a tiny fragment of the total adult US population contributes $200.00 or more to political campaigns.  Substantially rarer is the individual contributor of larger sums.  Broadly defined, “business” contributes more money and more often compared to labor or unaffiliated donors. Strikingly, incumbents  amass more than five times as much money as their challengers, on average, in contested races.  Monies are strategically bestowed upon candidates or campaigns based on an over-arching agenda.  For example, in 2013, the top ten most expensive senate races included Arkansas. Georgia, Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Colorado.

If  those with the most money win, if, post McCutcheoncash is able to craft speech successfully, whatever advances women have made since the days of double standard, office decor rules may be at risk.  No matter how out of touch, dreamers of a Donna Reed style America may inspire the law of the future.

Fifty years after the deception of offering an equal pay law to thwart  an  equal  rights amendment, women in the United States in all classes and racial groups contain the energy and means to divert the conversation from victimhood to empowerment.  We have traveled the same road, watching the same scenery for too long.  But this is the cycle of deep and meaningful social change.

“Now, here, you see  it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place,

If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”(The Queen)

Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

 

<img

 

 

Out of Ireland

There is something lonely about an early spring Sunday in Pennsylvania at sunset.  The gold and orange clouds betray the stubborn chill which returns unwelcome by the startling crocuses which also arrive, timely as ever and against all odds.  The wind sweeps noisily down the lane through naked trees, some few still bearing shreds of a once resplendent autumn.

If  I attempt the poetic tonight, it is because I return from another afternoon at the Irish Repertory  Theatre in New York , where invariably, I  understand anew the complexity, magnificence, sorrow, monstrousness, achievement and loss of  my ancestry. After a performance, I easily access the melancholy so much a part of the rhythm of Irish song, dance, and theatre.

Transport,  Book by Thomas Keneally, Music and Lyrics by Larry Kiran, recalls the  voyage of  a British prisoner transport ship in 1838 carrying female “felons” from Cork to Sydney. Focusing on  four  women who have been convicted of “crimes” ranging in seriousness from stealing butter to participating in a failed revolution, the historical musical drama weaves together threads of  Irish history. Themes of the abuse of power by the British and Roman Catholic Church authorities, the lack of solidarity among the Irish to the cause of  freedom, the  role of religion as a force  for social disintegration and conflict in Irish communities and the ageless echoes of exile in the Irish psyche surface, if only briefly, as the storied ship makes its inconceivable passage .   One woman cannot leave behind her “raging heart”  which, she is counseled by the banished priest who is also on board, she must quell into “submission” as the Lord “submitted.” Another female “felon”  finds love onboard in the arms of a protestant surgeon who is unaccountably, and rather incredulously, willing to face the social ostracism which will be the “price  of love.”  Equally inexplicably is an avowed antipapist’s conversion to tolerance when her shipmates demonstrate  compassion at a time of  incalculable loss.

Traditional Irish music excels at the ballad which can touch the heart of stone.  No such artistry is found in this show.  We understand the women are pained to leave their homeland and loved ones, but more for what we are told than for what the music or acting portray.  We believe the ship is a cruel and dangerous place, but, again, this is merely impressionistic in this show.  Rich stories, characters, themes are touched upon in Transport  but the touch is lighter than its promise.

Still, one is inevitably stirred and made thoughtful at a  soaring  paraphrase of  “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats, even if the tune is not memorable.   Those words, paraphrased, recycled, repeated, as other precious, timeless Yeats’ phrases and images are woven sparingly but vividly through the production bring it to life  when it feels as if it is finally failing.  Through these phrases, I find myself   again  beguiled, searching to affirm what it is that makes me Irish.   The afternoon theatre has offered more than entertainment but less than enlightenment. I find myself reciting Yeats  once more:

Out of Ireland have we come

Great hatred, little room,

Maimed us at the start,

I carry from my mother’s womb

A fanatic heart.

(William Butler Yeats, Remorse for Intemperate Speech.)

v

Do You Hear What I Hear?

 

cropped-deer-and-water-source1.jpgThe Sealed Letter by Emma Donaghue, a historical potboiler revisiting an infamous divorce case in Victorian England, seized my attention through the dark January days.  Based on real events, the novel exposed the fate of an attractive and frankly sensuous and sexually adventurous married woman who transgressed strict Victorian mores of acceptable feminine conduct.  The novel’s deftly created characters prove that even in this long gone world which is so often thought of as prudish and staid, a man had the freedom to express himself sexually as he pleased.  If he were discovered transgressing social norms, his life in society could proceed in much the same trajectory.  Not surprisingly, the man could also impose almost total control on every aspect of the life of the women and girls in his life.

A woman who confounded society’s sexual norms, however, did so at great peril.  The novel  examines the situation of an upper class woman whose   existence is essentially erased after her transgression is documented.  She is no longer a mother.  She is no longer a wife.  She is no longer a lady, She is no longer a friend. She has no money.  Her life is anonymous.  Sexual adventure equals annihilation.

The novel is particularly interesting in that it also plumbs the secrets of gender.  The adventuring woman’s fate is imposed not only by male dominated legal and moral institutions but by female Society and women’s scorn.  Further, what types of sexual expression is even tolerable to contemplate is addressed by the characters.  The novel requires consideration of how lesbian love could ever find a place in so restrictive a society.

Women have often been important forces  applying society’s laws, customs and mores which result in strict gender roles diminishing  female opportunity.

All these concepts streamed to mind a few days ago as I was listening  to Robin  Young’s interview on Here and Now on NPR  about Superbowl Sex trafficking Included Minors.

A veteran of the women’s movement, active in campaigns against domestic violence and sexual assault, I listened  with interest.    I registered surprise that the McCain family  ( as in John McCain)  would choose to address this challenge.  The University of Arizona has a center to study the issue!  But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Five to Six percent of the trafficked persons were minors.  Obviously, that is five to six percent too many.  I join those of whatever political stripe who condemn the violation of the physical integrity of any child in any way, physical or sexual.  Further, I deplore the emotional abuse of children, which I would argue, can include excessively sexualized or violent images or other media for entertainment  or marketing which deluges our children from their earliest awareness.

But women are NOT children.  Men are not children.

There was a  problem with the University of Arizona report as described on the program despite Ms. Young’s best effort. Except to inform as to the number of minors involved,  no distinction was  made between various classes of commercial sexual activity.  ” Trafficking” implies that the persons offering sexual services are not doing so voluntarily but are subject to compulsion.  Typically, minors, undocumented workers who are held  by force, or other persons who are kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery are the concerns.  Sexual trafficking describes a worldwide horror.  The University of Arizona speaker Professor Roe-Sepowitz, however, seemed to conflate into this category, all “online sex ads” and “on-line sex buyers”.  She asks “How are we going to control this culture?”

This interview brought to mind an episode of  Borgen, that wonderful Danish television program in which all things reasonable seem to be able to at least find a voice.  A problem is identified in Danish society: Sex trafficking.  A bill is introduced with criminal sanctions.  A questioning mind wants to know if there is really a problem which requires fixing.  The  later hearings, investigation and drama reveal prejudices of those who condemn prostitutes and  the users of prostitutes and those who suggest that whatever one’s moral beliefs about these issues, society has institutionalized paid sexual services since ancient times: it’s a living, it fills a need and if there is no violence and there is consent, it is not a crime.  Also, it is not merely a heterosexual form of commerce.

We do not live in Denmark.

The impetus for the Arizona study (which engaged “ex-army intelligence” employees utilizing “internet sniffing techniques … to track terrorists in Afghanistan”) is that Arizona is the site of the next Superbowl.

I do not live in Arizona.

Now that the right wing cadre  of “let me throw the first stone” moral dictators have lost their quest to impose Plessy vs. Ferguson civil rights limitations on their GLBTQ citizens, usurping the  sexual freedom of adults under the guise of protecting legitimate victims of abuse, degradation, rape and more is cynical and hateful.

There is a legitimate debate to be heard about the issues of prostitution  with respect to consenting adults.  Nevada had such an ongoing debate successfully.  Sex trafficking is too great a harm to be cynically manipulated.

Are these  internet investigative techniques an expansion of power or are they old news?  Either way, discussion of the  study reveals a use of  government  surveillance and/or  military internet monitoring techniques in civil society for political purposes   which cannot be tolerated.  The stakes are too high.

If we are not watchful, it will be far too easy to see the reconstruction of a world where barriers to self-expression are everywhere. When the headlines are all about children and sex trafficking, we may not hear the words “military spying tactics used against US citizens in the State of Arizona.”

The Wearing of the Rainbow

rainbows1-11American Irish have shamefully commercialized and trivialized the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day for decades. I grew up a dual Irish and US citizen in a devout Catholic home. My parents and many close friends and relatives recently emigrated from Donegal. More than once I enjoyed step-dancing in the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York. I willingly joined the chorus of derision for american green beer,”traditional” corn beef and cabbage, pea-colored milkshakes, garish green shirts, disneyfied shamrocks and leprechauns. Among this chorus, however, no chant was directed at the brightly colored rainbow, for it was that which delivered the pot of gold.

Strange then to see that in 2014, the organizers of the New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade still refuse to let a rainbow flag fly in their annual march lest the onlookers become aware that the Irish too are GLBTQ.

Stranger still the arrogance of the organizers. In reply to the announcement that Mayor DeBlasio would not march in a parade which discriminates against gay and lesbian New Yorkers, William Donohue, president of the Catholic League in New York City appeared gleeful. Newspapers quoted him stating he was “delighted” not to have marching in his parade a mayor who does not want to be associated with “Irish Catholics.”

I do not know Mr. Donohue. I can assume from the spelling of his name, however, that he is not an Irish Catholic but at best, “American Irish.” It is a fair assumption that the numbers of “Irish Catholics” parading in New York along any public official in 2014 will not be substantial.

In fact, condemnation resounds for Donohue’s bigotry voiced equally by the “Irish” and the “Catholics”

Paint homophobia Out of Existence GAYRIGHTSBACK DeBLASIO
http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/church-moving-towards-acceptance-of-gay-people-1.1689449

Even the Irish Catholic Church is aware of the cruelty and inhumanity, the unchristian, nature if you will, of  its traditional anti-gay teaching.

A review of press of Northern Ireland and the of the Republic demonstrates an active concern with LBGTQ issues. A legislative study demonstrates that nationally both the Republic of Ireland and the North of Ireland are far ahead of most states in the United States in terms of civil justice such as equality in foster care opportunities,adoption rights, civil unions and consideration of same-sex marriage.

What is overwhelming, however, is that the Catholic League could choose to primly to defend the exclusion of certain persons from simply walking down the street carrying identifying symbols of pride. At the same time, the Catholic League which attempts to claim a “moral high ground” on issues of gender refuses to even address abuse with the Catholic Church.Catholic League Website This is a scandal which has deeply distressed Catholic society. Irish society has demanded that the Catholic Church compensate the injured through the courts even as it recognises the limits of such compensation schemes to ever heal these deep, infested wounds. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/some-magdalene-survivors-to-get-compensation-before-christmas-1.1587388Serial Clerical Child Abuse

In this month of the Olympics,national flags fly often and high.  . I realize as I pass a television tuned to the events that my upbringing in an immigrant home somehow instilled within me a sense of the “other,” the “observer” and a fundamental incomprehension of knee-jerk tribalism. Instead, I honor the deeply instilled values I understand. The beauty and solemnity of our finest Churches move me deeply. I respect the sacrifices of the workers who built them, the women who cleaned them , the worshipers who tended them and the clerics who prayed in them. I am in awe of the tapestry of cultural treasures bequeathed to civil society by the church through language, literature, art and music. The spirit of the Irish as understood through its history and reflected in its culture, landscape, agriculture, architecture and diaspora are extremely precious to me. Not because we are a nation of drunks and of drudges. I embrace my “Irish Catholic” heritage willingly for my much missed mother, my maiden aunt, my gay uncle, my chinese cousin, the nun who is my father’s niece by marriage, my queer daughter, and my jewish husband. Maybe I’ll go back to the parade when I can step dance underneath a rainbow.

Of Fantasy & Fortune

As of January 24, 2014, the fourth homeless person this year succumbed to frigid cold in Philadelphia. John Smulligan Jr would have turned 31 today, according to an Inquirer, Philly.com article.He was a graduate of New York University, down on his luck after tragedy and illness entered his life. Proof, one might say, that unspeakable things might happen to any one of us given the wrong eventualities in life.

Would that Mr. Smulligan’s tragic fate were an isolated event. This year (still in its first days) in the U.S. alone, the media brims with reportage of the ravages of homelessness and hunger, unemployment and illness. Often these reports rest in glossy magazines above heart wrenching photographs of people aside glistening images of sumptuous foods, romantic seascapes or superfluous products.

As has been said so often one must fear it will soon become the stuff of another political cliché without result, we indeed live in two economic realities. All our cities and towns boast well landscaped, expertly tended homes with well designed vistas, quaint shops and efficient services. Often merely yards apart, decay and disinterest ruminate through the structures and institutions which serve the people who are of lesser financial means and political power.

The central myth which permits coexistence of these two realities is actually quite simple: the belief that unforseen fortunate things might happen to any one of us given the right eventualities in life.

Perhaps, this myth is the fantasy which fuels the embrace by so many of the television series “Downton Abbey”

A costume-period soap opera, with a glacial and weak narrative,Downton has, nonetheless, inspired all things Downton, from mugs and tee-shirts, tea sets and jams to museum shows and travel tours. This is, of course, in addition to the series garnering a mass audience and much media attention. While at first this strikes one as somewhat curious, upon reflection, this might be entirely proper in our economic and political climate. Downton is, quite simply, at the heart, a glittering and lavish ode to the capitalist myths and mantras held most dear in our culture.

In the current season, the grand English estate has survived the unspeakable horrors of World War I. Not unscathed has the family remained. Loss of life, health and sanity touched even the Grantham family and fellow gentry. The gruesome violence was a great leveler at the stage in warfare when those in battles included the grand as well as more of the ordinary. Nor did the health hazards of modernization, the influenza outbreak, such as, leave the family without scars. Indeed, even the darker risks arising from the hallmarks of modernization (the Titanic, the motor car) deeply wounded the family.

Still, the Granthams who survive remain largely fixed in their traditional world view. Unquestioning, they are dressed and undressed, pampered and served by a battalion of staff who live below the stairs in unadorned quarters without privacy or the dignity of being addressed, with rare exception, by other than a family name. Intimate family matters are discussed in front of household staff as though no other human being were present. Ladies lounge in luxury eating full breakfasts in silken robes in rooms filled with sunlight and crackling fires. As the staff, dressed in subdued colors, toil and serve, the aristocrats daily don formal dress, women wearing fashionable brilliant hues and elbow length gloves. This detailed ritual is precisely executed for the simple purpose that a family may sit around a dining table together and eat a meal.

Of course, among the staff, there is never harmony. The man in charge, though sometimes evidencing wisdom above his station and a human heart, largely growls at the personnel to remind them that they are inferior. Footmen compete with each other for the affection of kitchen maids and scuttle each other’s confidence. Women fear electrical appliances beyond reason. Servants evidence ignorance of city life, ambition, morality. The viewer is invited to accept that it is unfortunate for the staff that modern times will eliminate traditional service jobs. We are asked to believe that a man who does not immediately accept a demotion in a service position is foolhardy indeed.

Most significantly, the gentry at and around Downton still cling to the Colonial power of England. Despite the fact that a son-in-law is a former Irish Republican, within a few short years, he is no longer at home in the land of his birth. Such must be the seductiveness of the life of the Upper Classes and the lure of the Colonial Power that a man recently willing to sacrifice his life for his country now doesn’t even take his daughter home to visit the country of his birth. Other colonial natives, from India, Australia, Singapore and the African colonies, such as, are rarely seen. A black jazz musician is celebrated when he remains appropriately in the background. Yet when seen by the gentry as exceeding his “place” and dancing with a young, white Lady, he is quickly removed from her company. The distaste and censure are shared by all. Not even the turncoat Irish Republican experiences class solidarity with the talented man.

It is not that the Grathams and their kind are immune to the moral duty to give unto to others. The commoner mother of the late son-in-law of the Earl is the Conscience of the family. She indefatigably promotes the welfare of the villagers in various health initiatives and in efforts of individual patronage. But what is most telling, for the Granthams: one must be secretive about generosity.

When a tenant who has been “lawfully” evicted seeks reinstatement, the Earl smiles approvingly at the bold suggestion of the tenant that the families had worked the land in question for generations “in partnership.” (A suggestion which undoubtedly, five years earlier would have evoked the violent ire of a true Irish Republican who would have witnessed or inherited countless tales of the ransacking and destruction of many tenant homes.) With a sense of true generosity, the Lord arranges for the tenant to resume the farm by himself making a loan. But no one is to know! Of course, the tale requires that family members discover the fact of the Earl’s good heart. Alas, decorum requires that this too remain a secret. Indeed, the good Earl should not be shamed with the fact that others have discovered his empathy and generosity.

In the world of 1920’s England, the ruling class of many centuries, exhausted and traumatized as was the western world by the horror of World War I, perceived an uncertain future. The upper classes sought to consolidate their wealth. For some less privileged, even some of the working class, modern times brought new opportunities. Most, however, were left not able to reach the fabulous riches of their day.

Today, we hear calls of the socially aware, of the politicians, in the State of the Union, even, to beware income inequality. We turn away in mass numbers to enter the world of the fabulously if fictional rich. If only we stay mindful that the ultimate fiction is the fantasy that is pedaled: the chauffeur does not really become a member of the family and the frog will never become a prince.