Odd Choice of Auxiliary Verb of the Morning

Headline in yesterday’s New York Times:

Why Can’t the Banking Industry Solve Its Ethics Problems?

Can’t? Of course they can. I think the word you’re looking for is should.

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Study on Children of Same-Sex Couples

According to an article on Vox Media,

The largest-ever study of same-sex parents found their children turn out healthier and happier than the general population.

I’ve thought for a very long time that this would turn out to be the case, and it’s nice to see that it worked out that way.

However, the writer of this article thinks that the difference is about having parents who aren’t pressured into gender roles and therefore adapt more freely into the needs of the particular family. I’m skeptical about that. I think it’s a lot more likely that the most important (but slightly hidden) factor at work here is that a same-sex couple has to go over a lot more hurdles to have children, whether through adoption or a surrogate or whatever, than an opposite-sex couple does. For an opposite-sex couple, having children is often the path of least resistance due to pressures from family and society; for a same-sex couple, it almost never is. Among opposite-sex couples, then, a lot of those people will have kids anyway even though they haven’t thought about what it’s going to entail or aren’t really committed to making the effort to care for them; among same-sex couples, nearly all those people are going to get filtered out.

Indeed, until fairly recently, being gay or lesbian and having children meant knowing that your children could very well be taken away from you by some homophobic judge for flimsy reasons that children would never be taken from a straight couple for. Seems to me you’ve got to really want a child in your life before you’d accept the possibility of facing that kind of pain.

Unless a family is so isolated from all other society that there are very few or no other adults of both sexes who play parts in the children’s lives, my guess is that the difference between having parents of the same sex or of opposite sexes is pretty trivial compared against other factors. Whereas whether the child is really loved and wanted by the principal adults in his or her life is always going to be a huge factor.

And my guess is that in another twenty years — maybe ten given how quickly society is changing now — it’ll be almost as easy for same-sex couples to have children as for opposite-sex couples, and the same sort of study will find no significant difference any more.

The Orphan of Zhao at A.C.T.

Dave and I saw the American Conservatory Theatre production of The Orphan of Zhao over the weekend. We both found it a bit disappointing. Pleasant, very well acted, attractively staged, but not really compelling or deeply moving.

For one thing — despite an essay in the program that chides earlier Western translations for taking considerable liberties with the original — this version seemed to us to lack much of a feeling of the culture of China a thousand years ago, often giving the characters motivations and concerns that might be understandable to a modern Western audience but which seemed very much out of character with how people in that time and place thought about themselves and about their relationship with the society around them.

Now, I’m certainly well aware that Chinese culture — even modern Chinese culture, let alone the vast cultural history — is confusing and bewildering to most Americans. And I’m not opposed to updating or reinterpreting an old story to make it more accessible or relevant to a modern audience, God knows. But nothing about the production suggests that this is intended as an updating or a reinterpretation. What’s more, this approach didn’t actually seem to help the audience understand why the characters were making the choices they were making, to judge by the number of times somebody’s decision to commit suicide or to slay another person drew some uneasy laughter from the audience.

At intermission, Dave was giving the play more of a break than I was — he’s first-generation Chinese-American and knows the old story, and I think he really wanted the production to work for him. But by the end of the play, he too was very frustrated, feeling that too many things weren’t ringing true and that the production completely missed, at least for him, what the old story is about from a Chinese point of view.

Another thing that bothered us (and in this case especially me): The play is clearly trying to be poetic, and yet the lyrical, reflective sections didn’t seem to me to work well. Maybe the poetic parts of the play read better on the page, I don’t know, but when spoken or sung from the stage most of them came across as weak and unclear. The plainer and more straightforwardly dramatic portions worked far better and had much more strength, I thought.

All that said, the cast — led by B. D. Wong as the country doctor who saves the orphan and Sab Shimono as an elderly sage who helps him, both at terrible sacrifice to themselves — is terrific, and the production is attractive. Not a bad evening of theater at all, just not a very emotionally engaging one, at least for us.