Black Woman Blogging

One black woman's views on race, gender, politics, family, life and the world.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In My Garden On My Birthday

My sister, the Writing Diva (, sent me a list of all the things she can't get me for my upcoming birthday that I usually ask for – world peace and the like. Black Man Not Blogging, on the other hand, keeps trying to make a big to-do of it, dangling the prospect of stays at some of my favorite B&B’s – the Hill House Inn in Mendocino, the Deer Creek Inn in Nevada City. For me, it’s just not that complicated.

I just want to spend the day in my yard.

I’m a novice gardener. I didn’t really get into gardening until about eight years ago, but I enjoy taking a vision of perennials in my head (I don’t bother with annuals or shrubs anymore) and making it a visible, tangible reality. That’s not to say I haven’t killed a few plants along the way to following my vision. But if you’re not killing plants, you’re probably not really gardening. Gardening is in part about taking chances – planting something you think you’re incapable of nurturing and seeing what happens. Sometimes you surprise yourself.

I think the seed for gardening was planted in my mind during my early childhood. Our next-door neighbor, Mr. Hawkins, had a garden that took up his entire back yard – vegetables, flowers, maybe even a fruit tree or two. No grass for him, no sirree. I just remember being allowed to roam free in his garden and water things as a four year-old, and it was all just so beautiful to me, even the corn stalks that towered over me. I didn’t know at the time that he was actually babysitting me for short stints while my mother ran errands. I just thought I was being allowed the privilege of visiting and playing in his garden.

The idea of gardening was further nurtured when I studied in Spain. You know all those photos you see of window boxes overflowing with fire engine-red geraniums perched above narrow, cobblestone-paved streets in the south of Spain? Well, they’re for real. Saw them with my own two eyes. If something as small as a window box could add that much of a visual punch of color, imagine what an entire yard could do?

It is when I lived in Mississippi that I realized that many of the plants and trees I was familiar with in California actually had a scent. Wisteria, irises, magnolias, and tulip trees all have a scent in the South; they don’t in California. Even plants that have a scent in California, jasmine and gardenias, aren’t nearly as fragrant as they are in the South. I don’t know what it is about the South, but flowers just smell better there. I wanted to re-create those scents in my own garden one day.

What really got me going was living near Denver. Denver, as most of Colorado, has a shorter growing season than California. But, oh, what a growing season it is! Once that last frost has passed, usually near the end of May, folks nearly run over each other at the Home Depot to get plants and put them in the ground. (You can always tell the novices because they mistake the first run of warm days in April as the end of the frost season and start planting, despite the fact that July is the only month where there hasn’t been snow in Denver.) The public parks, especially Washington Park, are suddenly awash in color. And the Denver Botanic Garden just puts on a veritable show. It’s as if the flowers know they only have so much time to bloom, and they get on with it in style.

BMNB’s townhome near Denver had a small patio, no back yard. I made the most of it – container gardening. I planted snapdragons, daisies, purple sage, a purple clematis vine, red coreopsis, just about anything with vibrant color. I bought patio furniture. I made outdoor candles using Mason jars, white sand, tiny sea shells, and scented votives. BMNB came to realize that the patio could be more than just a slab of concrete – it became our own little botanic garden, our own little oasis. We bought a Hibachi and grilled, or just spent time there talking at the end of the day.

I’ve since planted gardens everywhere I’ve lived – with my oldest sister (who, for some reason, can’t get past the unfortunate choice of the ubiquitous day lily, which, to me, lacks style and attracts too many bumble bees), while renting, and now, at my own home. Except for my sister’s garden, where I actually dug up all her crappy soil and replaced it (if California’s number one industry is agricultural, why is it that I’ve never lived anywhere in California that had good soil?), I’ve always gardened on the cheap – buying compost at the Dollar Tree, not paying more than $5 per plant, planting seeds and bulbs purchased from the Dollar Tree or Winco when possible. And although the results weren’t always Architectural Digest-worthy, they’ve been pleasing to me.

So now that I’m in my own house, I want to create the same visual oasis for myself as I have for other people’s property. I subscribe to the same gardening ethos as the Moors, who built the Alhambra in Spain – that a garden should look, smell, and sound good. The Alhambra has one garden that has a fountain that spills over into a tiny creek that flows through the middle of two rows of orange trees. The Moors even “tuned” the fountain so it would make a soothing, gurgling sound, and the orange trees were planted to provide the sweet scent of orange blossoms in the spring. I aim for that in my own yard, and I planted nine jasmine plants just for the scent – and to hide that dreadful back retaining wall that holds up my neighbor’s yard. Inspired by a mailbox I saw in Mississippi, I planted an Alice du Pont mandevilla (who was Alice du Pont, anyway?). The mailbox, an antiquated type sitting on a post, was enveloped in this vine with its cheery pink blooms. I’ve always wanted one.

I also transplanted some of what I call my “Lazarus plants”: Plants I brought with me in pots from our last rental that I neglected since we moved in. I might have thrown them out but for the sage advice of BMNB: "If they're green, they're not dead." Here’s hoping that my pink jasmine, bower vine, and climbing rose will rise from the dead and thrive on the new trellises I bought. On sale.

So, on my birthday, I intend to slap some Banana Boat sunblock on my arms, some Aveeno oil-free sunblock on my face, put on my torn khakis, a worn-out “Nelson Mandela” t-shirt, and some old tennis shoes, and start digging up shrubs not of my choosing (Heavenly Bamboo, anyone?) in order to plant some perennials of my choosing (English lavender, Mexican sage) and some fragrant roses under my kitchen window to go with the others I transplanted from our last rental. I can’t think of a better way to spend my birthday.

NB: Just found out – Alice du Pont is poisonous. I advise doing your research in advance before planting stuff. That’s why I’m still a novice gardener.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Git To Work!

First, I hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend and kept our fallen servicemen and women in their thoughts and prayers.

Second, I have to acknowledge a comment made about my last entry that didn’t address President Obama's plan to indefinitely detain enemy combatants without trial. With this, I do not agree. Indefinite detention without charges is not acceptable. What if Iran had indefinitely detained Roxanne Saberi without a trial, even a sham one? What if North Korea indefinitely detains Laura Ling and Euna Lee without trial? We can’t lead if we don’t lead by example and under the rule of law, namely habeas corpus. President Obama needs to rethink this. I can’t go for that, no how, no can do.

Third, I’m pleased beyond words at the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court (see my May 1 blog entry). Now, to the Democrat senators: Git to work. Now is not the time for bipartisanship – great if you can get it on this nomination, but if you can’t, you better act like the big dogs you are and make this happen. Judge Sotomayor is more qualified than either Justice O’Connor or Justice Thomas (talk about a waste) was when they were nominated, and her voice and experience are sorely needed in the white male bastion that has been the U.S. Supreme Court. In the words of Tim Gunn, you need to “make it work.” Or, in the words of RuPaul, “You better WORK.”

Finally, as to the California Supreme Court’s decision upholding Proposition 8, well, I’m disappointed but not surprised. This was a totally different legal issue before the court – whether the proposition was an amendment to the California constitution or a revision requiring a constitutional convention. I didn’t read the decision thoroughly, but I can say that the decision wasn’t interpreting the California constitution per se, but the means by which it can be legally changed. The court held that Prop. 8 was indeed a legal means to change the California constitution.

That said, my message to my LGBT brothers and sisters is this: Git to work. I believe that Prop. 8 passed because of ignorance as to what the California Supreme Court’s decision upholding same-sex marriage meant. I even spoke to a devout African American Christian woman who said she was supporting Prop. 8 because she didn’t want to have gay and lesbian couples getting married in her church. I had to explain to her that no state law requires a church to marry folks outside of its faith or anyone it doesn’t want to marry. I also explained that all same-sex marriage does is treat people equally under the law, period – that she didn’t have to agree with or like same-sex marriage, but that same-sex couples pay taxes, work, and have families just like heterosexual couples, and all that they wanted was the opportunity to secure the exact same rights as heterosexual couples. I also explained that we African Americans need to be the last folks advocating discrimination against anybody.

So, here’s what needs to be done:

1) Educate folks. There was no clear explanation from the LGBT community of what the California court decision upholding same-sex marriage meant and what Prop. 8 would mean. Mind you, if the woman I spoke to thought that same-sex marriage meant that her church had to let same-sex couples get married in it, how many other people thought the same? No one, to the best of my knowledge, made clear the case for same-sex marriage – why LGBT couples want it, why it’s different than civil unions, and what it would not require of the straight community. And you can’t be afraid to go to churches, synagogues, etc. and talk to people who oppose you. Come respectfully and explain same-sex marriage is an “equality under the law” issue, not a religious issue – you know, the whole “Render unto Caesar” thing. Prop. 8 is as discriminatory as requiring polygamy would be and is based on the same rationale – allowing the government to discriminate based on religious beliefs of the voting majority. But you have to educated people as to why same-sex marriage is a legal issue that does not erode heterosexual marriage, especially since we straight folks have done enough to erode the institution of marriage all by our damn selves, thank you very much.

2) Make it personal. None of the anti-Prop. 8 commercials I saw had LGBT people in them. WTF? As much as folks don’t like to admit it, everybody – and I mean EVERYBODY – has a LGBT family member. I have at least two that I know of, one of whom I urged to hurry up and get married before the right to do so was taken away. He didn’t listen. Regardless, you need to make this issue personal – would folks want their gay Uncle Larry or Cousin Tina to be treated differently under the law than them? Next time, have commercials with LGBT folks and their straight family members. People forget that LGBT people pay taxes, work, raise families, and die for this country. Don’t let them. Truman couldn’t justify continuing discrimination in the military when black soldiers were dying alongside white soldiers for this country. Make it personal, and don’t let folks forget your humanity.

3) Get ugly. Yes, you need to boycott and sit in. Now, I’m not advising sitting in at an LDS church, but anything related to Marriot hotels would be fair game, as would Deseret Industries. There should be no gay pride parades in California until the law is changed. There should be no gay tourism in California until the law is changed. Every dollar that leaves the wallet of an LGBT person in California should have written on it, “I’m LGBT and want to be treated equally under the law.” Every company and organization that donated funds to the Prop. 8 campaign should be outed, targeted, and boycotted. Black organizations boycotted Arizona for not adopting a Dr. King holiday. You need to boycott California.

4) Get on the ballot and don’t give up. I wouldn’t let up on this issue. I’d get it on the ballot as often as possible until I prevailed. People expect the LGBT community to give up and walk away because the numbers aren’t there to vote in same-sex marriage. Well, the numbers aren’t there yet. But if you do what I say, they will be. What if Dr. King had given up? And who helped bring the idea of non-violent protest to him as well as the idea of the March on Washington? Bayard Rustin, a black gay man. And black folks didn't have the numbers on our side for decades until Dr. King, Rustin, and others came along and won hearts and minds.

So, git to work!

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Against All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic

It’s been rather interesting watching the family feud that has become Obama vs. Cheney (they’re distant cousins, I understand, although I doubted whether Vice President Cheney was even represented in the human genome). The shift in anti-terrorism policy represented by the Obama administration flows, I think, from one central fact: President Obama is a lawyer, and Vice President Cheney is not.

As a Congressman and Vice President, I’m sure Vice President Cheney took the same oath President Obama did as an attorney and as a state senator and U.S. Senator: To defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. However, at the risk of sounding elitist, I think an attorney has a better understanding of what it means to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

As an attorney, it means that you don’t get to choose the outcome you want – in this case, national security at all costs -- and twist the Constitution to try to justify it. It means being willing to walk away – or rather, having to walk away – when others would subvert the Constitution and try to use you as an attorney to do so. As someone who has taught legal ethics, I’ve had to impress upon law students the full meaning of defending the law regardless of the outcome. It means that if your client is a corporation with employees bent on wrongdoing, you have to inform the corporate officers of the wrongdoing, and if they choose to ignore it, you have to quit. Yes, leave your job. As an officer of the court, you can’t be a party to subverting the law.

As a prosecutor, it means turning over exculpatory evidence even if there’s a chance that a defendant you know in your heart is guilty of the crime he's charged with or others may go free.

As a criminal defense attorney, it means not putting your client on the stand if you know he is going to lie or, if he insists on testifying and you’re not certain if he's lying, letting him tell his “narrative” without your assistance.

I deal with these issues every day in the work that I do. I have to take a dispassionate, unbiased look at the record and the body of law before me and make a recommendation to my boss as to how I think a case should be decided. I have to let the law lead me to the results, regardless of where it takes me, because the very integrity of the organization I work for is always at stake with each decision it makes. I don’t get to choose the outcomes; the law chooses them for me. More than most, I am bound by the rule of law because I took an oath to uphold it when I was sworn in as a member of the California Bar.

You can’t be a party to subverting the law and take an oath to uphold it.

Why? Because we’re a nation bound to the rule of law. Imagine what chaos would ensue if every attorney thought the notion of defending the Constitution was a fuzzy, fluid concept they could bend at will to get the outcome they want? What, then, would distinguish us from Myanmar, Somalia, or Cuba?

I don’t fault Vice President Cheney’s patriotism and desire to keep this country safe. But you don’t get to bend the Constitution to do so, because it’s what sets us apart from all other nations as a defender of freedom. The Constitution and the rule of law, not men, is why we have been as stable a democracy as we have been for over 200 plus years. It’s like the Bible – you don’t get to pick and choose the parts you want to follow to get the result you want.

As an attorney, President Obama gets that. I do, too.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

A Federal Bailout for California: My Proposal


Dear President Obama and Chairman Bernanke,

On behalf of the citizens of the State of California, I’m asking for a bailout for the California state government in the amount of $42 billion. Specifically, I’m asking for a $42 billion zero-interest loan from the Fed window, repayable over 20 years and collateralized by the state’s real estate and other holdings and its pension fund. I’m not asking for stimulus fund monies with their numerous restrictions on public spending. Make no mistake – we want that money, too, on top of the $42 billion bailout.

Yes, I am fully aware that $42 billion is no small sum. However, compared to the $700 billion the federal government is spending on toxic assets, zombie banks, hubris-filled insurance companies and failing auto manufacturers, I think the positive economic impact that will come from assisting a state that houses 12.5% of the nation’s population will provide, in the parlance of financiers, “more bang for the buck.”

Mind you, I am not an expert on public finance. In fact, I’m not certain, but believe I had Chairman Bernanke as my macroeconomics professor at the Woodrow Wilson School over twenty-two years ago. If my memory serves me correctly, I slept through most of the class and, in the finest of Ivy League traditions, I think I received a “C” for my slumber. That said, I feel compelled to make this request. Although our governor, Governor Schwarzenegger, has an amazing grasp of the obvious when he says that the state must live within its means because it can’t print its own money, he fails to take the next analytical and practical step: Borrowing from the government that CAN print its own money.

First, the terms:

1) The $42 billion will not be spent on general fund recurring expenses. One-quarter will go to a reserve fund that will be invested in safe instruments, the interest from which will be used to retire the state’s debt; one-quarter will go directly towards retiring state bonds that pay interest above what the Fed currently pays for Treasury bills; and one-quarter will go towards a dedicated endowment to pay for expenditures guaranteed by California’s Proposition 98 and other similar propositions for as long as they remain in effect (more on that below).

2) The $42 billion will be repayable at zero interest over 20 years. The collateral will include: All state-held real estate, property (autos), leases of state land and mineral rights, lottery proceeds, and the California Public Employees Pension Fund. Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

3) As a condition for receiving the bailout, the California Legislature will submit to you both a plan for restructuring the means by which California incurs expenses and receives revenues, including but not limited to:

a) A constitutional convention to place on the ballot constitutional amendments to:
i. Eliminate the right of the public and the legislature to place initiatives on the ballot to dedicate public funds for specific expenditures and rescind any prior initiatives that do so;
ii. Require a simple majority to pass a state budget;
iii. Require a balanced budget;
iv. Eliminate the rights of public unions to contractually limit the state from using private firms for public work;
v. Allow public school vouchers;
vi. Require a reserve fund of no less than 10% of the annual budget;
vii. Limit borrowing to no more than 5% of the annual budget;
viii. Remove the independent governance of any state government entity that receives state tax dollars, including, but not limited, to the University of California.
ix. Vest budgetary and spending control for all state government entities with the legislature and the executive office, regardless of whether they are led by constitutionally elected offices.
x. Legalize prostitution, gambling and marijuana, and tax these industries;
xi. Eliminate term limits for legislators.

b) Legislature salaries commensurate to those of the Texas legislature ($7,200 per year), with no per diem.

c) Mandatory state employee retirement at twenty years of service or $1.5 million in individual lifetime state government wage earnings, whichever comes first.

d) A restructuring of state agencies with elimination of redundant agencies.

e) Phasing out of public pension and retiree healthcare availability over the next 20 years while increasing 401(k) matching or, in the alternative, providing retiree benefits that match but do not exceed those provided by the federal government.

f) Contracting out prisons.

g) A five-year hiring freeze.

h) Zero-based budgeting and tighter controls on the use of state funds by state agencies.

i) A “Come Home to California” program matching the lowest state corporate tax rate for any corporations that relocate to California and provide 10,000 jobs or more.

j) Public finance for state political campaigns for candidates from minority parties (e.g., Libertarian, Green, Peace and Freedom) that match the funds raised by majority party (Republican, Democratic) candidates to increase diversity of ideas in state government leadership.

Mind you, I’d be open to any ideas you have, as I’m still impressed by the President’s willingness to forego his new helicopter fleet and actively eliminate pork from the federal budget. I am willing to consider as terms for this bailout any of the terms imposed by the administration on the receipt of funds by similarly failing institutions such as GM or Chrysler.

California is in dire straights. Despite being one of the largest economic engines of not only the United States but the world, through a confluence of economic and politic events, we find ourselves on the precipice of default. The state that gave the world Apple Computers (Mr. President, remember the IPod you gave Queen Elizabeth?), Yahoo!, Google, Genentech, Levi's and Disneyland still has the potential to reinvent itself. With your assistance, it can.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you both.

Yours very truly,

Black Woman Blogging

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Voting My Interests or My Conscience

I’ve hesitated to turn in my absentee ballot for California’s May 19 special election. At first I wasn’t planning to vote at all – a surprising act for me since I’ve actually stopped in the middle of lectures to excoriate my law students for not voting. Like many Californians, I’m fed up and disgusted with my state government. What makes it worse is that I work for my state government.

At issue is whether I: 1) hold my nose and vote for the ballot measures “intended” to balance the state budget; or 2) take away the state’s credit card, wait for the Legislature and the Governor to get their collective acts together, and risk my own layoff? In other words, do I do what I think is in my own best interests or what is in the best interests of the state?

If the budget measures pass, I might avoid being laid off. If they fail, my chances of being laid off increase. However, given the ineptness of our state leaders, I’m not convinced that, even if the budget measures pass, I won’t be laid off because I think they'll just continue business as usual with no systemic, meaningful change to state budgeting and spending. So if I vote in favor of the budget measures and they fail, not only are the chances of my being laid off increased, but I will have compromised my own beliefs for nothing.

I don’t believe in my state government. Here’s why:

1) Once the budget passed, the Governor and legislative leaders were back to their old tricks of hooking up their buddies by appointing them to paying positions on state boards and commission that already had enough members to conduct the business of those boards and commissions. Some of the appointments were just laughable and just emphasized that, in state government, there are the connected and the unconnected. The connected always live to be appointed another day by the leaders in their party, regardless of the cost to the public fisc.

2) Every year, state agencies run – not walk, but run – to spend all the money allotted them regardless of whether they actually need to spend the money. Why? Because they might not be budgeted for the same amount next year if they spend less than they were budgeted for this year. It’s just plain crazy. Zero based budgeting, anyone?

3) The University of California system has run amok. The regents just voted to increase student fees while at the same time increasing the base pay for newly hired chancellors using the same tired argument that they need the base pay increases to “attract talent.” If these new chancellors had any integrity, they’d give the salary increases back, even if these salary increases are new to them.

4) Assembly Speaker Bass approved raises for Assembly staff, only to rescind them when the press brought the raises to light.

5) The State Personnel Board is still listing open positions. If we’re in such a budget crisis, should the state be hiring anyone at all?

6) Is it me, or is it beyond crazy that one legislator – Abel Maldonado – could engage in nothing short of extortion in order for the Legislature to be able to pass the budget? I was surprised that he didn’t ask for a pony named Macaroni as a condition for getting his support. Another example of more politicking, less governing.

7) If we're in such a budget mess that required executive-imposed two-day-per-month furloughs, why did the Department of Personnel Administration negotiate a one-day-per-month furlough with the SEIU, the union representing almost half of the state's civil service workers? Even more, why is the state legislature sitting on this contract? Because the SEIU's state body is opposing the budget measures. Again, another example of more politicking, less governing.

8) We keep passing initiatives to increase funding to K-12 education, yet our public schools continue to languish near the bottom. I'm convinced that the performance of our public schools isn't a money issue, but a leadership and innovation issue.

As you can imagine, my conscience tells me that the more I prop up this failed state government, the more it will continue to fail. Like AIG.

On the other hand, I have one year and one and one-half months until I vest. If through some miracle I can hang on until then, I will have something to show for my time with the state. Not that I believe that I will actually get a pension, but I will at least have a legal claim to one. If I can ride out one more year of budget cuts and bad state governance, I will have at least vested and still be somewhat young enough to move on and try to vest elsewhere, or at least fatten my 401K.

So, do I vote my interests or do I vote my conscience?

We desperately need someone like President Obama on the state level – a politician who is willing to look out for the long term best interests of the state even at the expense of his or her short term political ambitions. But that kind of animal doesn’t exist in the zoo that is our state government.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Mama Used To Say

And mama used to say, Take your time, young man...
Mama used to say, Don't you rush to get old...
Mama used to say, Take it in your stride...
Mama used to say, Live your life...

"Mama Used To Say," by Junior

Whenever I hear the song “Mama Used To Say” by Junior, it reminds me of all the things my mama used to say:

Don’t you rush to get old. You’re only a child once. Then you have to grow up and get a job.

I brought you in the world, and I can take you out.

Fast money is no money at all.

You can't ride with me unless you comb your hair.

Do for self. Don’t depend on nobody.

Who promised you fair? Whoever told you life was fair, they lied to you.

I don’t have to do nothing but die and stay black.

You need to stay out of grown folks’ business.

Get your education so you don’t have to depend on no man.

I’m not your friend; I’m your mama. You can have lots of friends, but you only get one mama. (
So true!)

What goes around, comes around.

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nothing at all.

God don’t like ugly.

God looks after fools and babies.

Don’t make me stop this car.

You’re getting on my one good nerve.

You have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. (Well, this is what black parents said when I was a child.)

The world don’t owe you a damn thing.

We all fall down, and you can lay down for a little while, but then you’ve got to get up.

There’s no excuse for being funky. A bar of soap only costs (fill in the blank).

You can never have too much toilet paper.

Do it right the first time and you won't have to do it again.

You can always come home. As long as I have a home, you have a home.

You can do anything you set your mind to.

And the most important thing:

Ain’t nobody going to love you like I do.

Happy Mother’s Day, y’all!

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Basketball Jones

Basketball Jones, I got a Basketball Jones

Got a Basketball Jones, oh baby, oo-oo-oo

From Cheech and Chong’s “Basketball Jones”

You know, BMNB doesn’t ask for much. He’s a very somber, unassuming guy who has been mistaken for a federal agent whenever he wears his shades and suits. He rarely, if ever, raises his voice to another person. He doesn’t like drama. He’s slow to anger. Real slow.

He also morphs into another being around this time of year: A being that raises his arms in the air as if he’s blocking a shot for the NBA team he’s watching on television. A being who makes loud and strange noises -- noises he would not make otherwise – when the playoff team he’s rooting for scores.

During the NBA playoffs, BMNB becomes “Basketball Jones,” a veritable stranger sitting on the loveseat in our family room with a dinner plate in one hand and the television remote close by, whooping and hollering. This man is not my husband. Beyonce becomes Sasha Fierce when she performs; BMNB becomes Basketball Jones during the NBA playoffs.

During the NBA playoffs, Basketball Jones doesn’t necessarily have a favorite team he’s rooting for. He’s in it for the sheer love of the game, and he’ll root for the team that appears to be playing its heart out and leaving everything – blood, sweat, and tears – on the court. He morphs into this rabid fan of the game who’s just short of putting on a foam hand and donning a jersey from his team du jour.

I’ve learned that, during the NBA playoffs, the most I can hope for is that he’ll do mundane tasks – walk the dog, put the dishes away. I don’t even think to plan any major household projects or travel during the NBA playoffs because Basketball Jones ain’t trying to miss a game for something that could easily be attended to post-playoffs. He doesn’t necessarily shoot me one of those “Are you crazy?” looks, but more like a “Can’t this wait until the playoffs are over?” look.

I’ve come to respect the power of the NBA playoffs.

As a dutiful spouse, I’ve attempted to join in – to try to enjoy what he’s enjoying. Isn’t that what good spouses are supposed to do?

Well, it appears that my attempts to join in fall flat. For example, Basketball Jones yells at players he thinks are trying too hard to “sell the foul.” “GET UP, BOY!”, he shouts at the screen. Mind you, the players he’s shouting at are easily a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than he is, but no matter. He despises weakness and whining from his dribbling gladiators. I doubt he’d address these players in this manner in person. Well, maybe my husband wouldn’t, but Basketball Jones might.

In what I think was the first game of the playoffs between the L.A. Lakers and the Houston Rockets, one of the players, some guy named Battier, was allegedly fouled and was laid out on the court. Here was my chance to join in.

“Get up, you punk-ass bitch! You ain’t hurt!”

Basketball Jones just looked at me. “No, I think he’s really hurt. Look at him. He’s bleeding.”

Not to be deterred, I continued in my anti-foul-selling rant. “That ain’t bleeding! Women bleed more than that on any given day! Get your ass up!”

He just looked at me again like I just didn’t get it. Clearly I had transgressed the bounds of the anti-foul-selling rant.

Battier ended up with stitches and was sent to the bench. He hadn’t been selling the foul.

Basketball Jones and I also disagree on Kobe Bryant. Jones doesn’t necessarily respect Bryant, but he doesn’t hate him like I do. My hatred of Bryant? Not because of his sexcapade in Boulder. I hate Kobe because I still remember him clothespinning Mike Bibby during one of the Lakers/Kings playoff series games and getting away with it because the refs were, as we later learned, a little “biased.” I still remember him disrespecting Shaq. I think Kobe thinks he’s above the rules, the refs, and the rest of the players. I think it’s a karma bite in Kobe’s ass that he hasn’t won a ring since Shaq left, but Shaq has.

This isn’t a safe thing for me to say. Half my family are Lakers fans; the other half, Kings fans. My sister bleeds purple and gold and fantasizes about being a Laker Girl. My oldest brother still talks about the near zero buzzer shot James Worthy made to lead the Lakers to victory over the Kings in the playoffs, in overtime, I think. Yet and still, I hate Kobe. He’s arrogant. He’s a punk.

Basketball Jones? He doesn’t respect Kobe, but he won’t go so far as to join in my Kobe hatred. Why? That’s negative energy that could be better used in loving the game, or at least rooting for Ray Allen and hoping for a Kevin Garnett recovery. Yet another thing we can’t share.

The last thing we can’t share in is my idea as to how a playoff series should end. See, BMNB loves gladiator movies. He loves basketball. I suggested that the NBA should combine the two: The team that wins a series of playoff games should be able to kill the losing team.

“See,” I told him, “If the NBA had done it my way, we’d have been rid of Kobe a long time ago.”

Again, Basketball Jones just looked at me as if I just didn’t get it.

One important thing I’ve learned about the NBA playoffs is that it doesn’t matter what I cook; it only matters that I cook. Dinner during the NBA playoffs isn’t a meal to be savored, oh no; it’s just a bunch of nutrients to provide the energy for all that whooping, hollering, and fist-pumping. I don’t think ol’ Baskteball Jones even tastes what’s on his dinner plate during the NBA playoffs. It only matters that the plate is nearby, hot, and not too remote from the remote.

I’m about ready for Baskteball Jones to go back to where he came from, at least until he learns to hate Kobe as much as I do.

To see the cartoon for Cheech and Chong’s song “Basketball Jones,” visit

(I think the cartoon’s a bit racist, but the sentiment – the love of the game – is real).

For the real Basketball Jones blog, visit

Go whoever is playing against the Lakers!

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Sisterhood of the Motherless Daughters

My poor husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB). He doesn't need a calendar to know when Mother's Day is coming. My annual stank attitude around Mother's Day is more than enough warning.

If my attitude around Mother's Day had a smell, it would be this: Picture a huge pot of gumbo with every kind of meat you can imagine in it -- shrimp, crab, oysters, sausage, chicken, fish. Now imagine that pot of gumbo left outside, covered, for 30 days in 100 degree heat. Imagine that at day 15 someone threw in a dead skunk and put the cover back on.

That smell on day 30 would be the smell of my stank Mother's Day attitude.

Mother's Day is a stark reminder that, going on eleven years, I unwillingly joined what I call the "Sisterhood of the Motherless Daughters" -- women whose mothers are deceased. You know us when you see us. On Mother's Day morning, usually before church, we're at the cemetery. Most of us are in our late 30's and up, taking on the body shapes of our mothers. In my case, that means a wide butt and a tummy. I didn't get my mother's late-life ample bosom, though.

We acknowledge each other in a knowing way; we're all bearing flowers, most of us dressed well to celebrate the day on what I would call the "receiving end" -- being acknowledged as mothers. For my biological sisters and I, all of us childless and middle-aged, we don't celebrate the receiving end of the day. My "spiritual" sisters in this sisterhood lovingly place flowers at the crypts or graves of their departed mothers. Some laugh and joke, some talk to their deceased mothers, some join hands and pray, but we all seem to acknowledge each other with that slight, encouraging smile that says, "Yes, I know what you're feeling; it's tough for me, too."

I rarely see as many sons at the cemetery on Mother's Day as I do daughters, which makes my membership in this sisterhood all the more emphasized.

Mind you, I have much to celebrate even without my mom, SWIE (She Who Is Exalted). I have a great mother-in-law -- I could not have asked for better. My dad's wife is kindly and funny and a force of nature even going on 95 years of age, and although she is sweet, I can't bring myself to call her my "stepmom" because that title includes the word "mom" -- a title I only use in speaking of or to SWIE. I could celebrate Mother's Day with either of them. I have in the past celebrated it with my mother-in-law. But at this juncture in life, I feel about Mother's Day the way I imagine Jews feel about Christmas -- I'm happy for those who celebrate it, but I feel I have nothing to celebrate.

There's so much I miss about Mother's Day, and none of it has anything to do with not being a mother myself, but rather, being a motherless daughter. I miss the competition between my siblings and me to figure out what Mom would want and to be the first to go out and get it. Although she would appreciate our gifts equally, we would kid each other about how "our" gift was the one she really wanted or loved. Our last minutes forays through Macy's would put contestants on "The Amazing Race" to shame.

I miss the inevitable phone call between Mom and her best friend, her older sister, comparing what they got and talking about other people's triflin' children who didn't deliver the goods on Mother's Day.

After Mom died, my sisters and I transferred all our Mother's Day gift-giving energies to my mom's sisters. Although they appreciated the Estee Lauder perfume (one of my aunts said she liked smelling as good as "white ladies"), they were even more appreciative of the visits from all four of us.

Then they, too, passed away, leaving my sisters and me kind of bereft. Now, we just bring extra flowers to the cemetery for my mom, her sisters, and her mother on Mother's Day. Anything else on that day -- going to church with my mother-in-law, doing Mother's Day events -- just feels false to me. I had a good run of 64 years with my mom. My days of celebrating Mother's Day, other than the visits to the cemetery, are done. Mother's Day to me is just a reminder of all that I lost, hence the annual stank attitude I didn't even notice I had until a few years ago.

When I explained this to BMNB recently, he said, "I understand." I know he didn't mean it in the cliched, Bill Clinton-esque "I feel your pain" way, but it just sounded that way to me.

"No, you really don't," I calmly told him. "But someday, you will. And I wouldn't wish that on you for anything in the world."

For those of you who still have mothers, do cherish them and enjoy Mother's Day. Because you never really know how many Mother's Days you're going to have, and I wouldn't wish membership in this sisterhood on anyone for anything in the world.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Justice Sotomayor: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Justice David Souter is said to be retiring. We should all thank him for his service to our country. But it's time to look forward.

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is an idea whose time has come.

If you look at the federal judiciary, it is overwhelmingly white and male. When a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was asked by one of my law students the career path to becoming a judge, he gave the pithy reply, "It helps if you know your U.S. Senator."

Mind you, as a professor, I had hoped for an insightful answer -- that perhaps he had toiled as a prosecutor or public defender or rose through the ranks at a law firm to make partner. That he had argued x number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. That he had been attorney general for his state.

"It helps if you know your U.S. Senator."

How many women or people of color can say that? When you add to that the dearth of women and people of color in the federal judiciary -- although it's getting better, the numbers aren't what they should be given the advances made during the Carter and Clinton administrations -- of course it comes down to not much more than social ties, assuming all the qualifications are in place.

It shouldn't be that way.

I don't know Judge Sotomayor other than knowing that she was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. When I Googled her this morning, I found out that clearly I wasn't the only one who had the same idea: It's time to put a woman of color on the U.S. Supreme Court. Because race and gender do matter.

When I think of how Justice Ginsburg has stood up for the rights of women and people of color precisely because she has been discriminated against because of her gender and religion, I know that when issues of race and gender come before the court -- issues of marginalized people in general -- that she is going to give these issues a fair hearing AND a different perspective based on her own life experience, a life experience not shared by Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Roberts, Stevens, Alito, Souter, Breyer, and even Justice Thomas, to a certain extent.

Judge Sotomayor's got all the goods: A summa cum laude graduate of Princeton, Yale Law School graduate, editor of the Yale Law Journal, U.S. District Court judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit judge. She's enjoyed bipartisan support in the past, and I can't imagine that she wouldn't this time around.

A Latina on the U.S. Supreme Court: An idea whose time has come.

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