Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Dangerous Silliness

Recently, a judge ruled that Maryland's law prohibing gay marriage was unconstitutional. You might remember the Democrats running for office were horrified by this decision, because it meant they might have to take an unpopular stand on an issue (or more likely, take the popular stand, chucking principles in search of votes).

Anyway, one of our favorite nuts, Anne Arundel Delegate Don Dwyer, he who rallied the rabble at the CRC's March 2005 town hall meeting, is ... going off the deep end.
A state lawmaker wants the judge who ruled that the state's definition of marriage was unconstitutional to be removed from the bench, meaning Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock would face the same fate as only one other jurist in Maryland history.

That Civil War-era judge was punished for getting drunk and falling asleep in court.

Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel Republican, said in a statement yesterday that he is preparing a General Assembly resolution asking that Murdock lose her job. Dwyer sent the judge a copy of the resolution yesterday and said he plans to present it to the legislature next week. A two-thirds vote in each chamber is needed for passage.

"Judge Murdock must be removed from office for misbehavior in office, [willful] neglect of duty, and incompetency," said Dwyer in the statement. Dwyer was the lead sponsor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. The amendment was killed by a House committee this month. Dwyer to push for judge's impeachment

I find this the strangest thing. Here in America, we have a certain system of government, splitting up the duties into the executive, legislative, and judicial functions. The three divisions keep an eye on each other; the optimistic cynicism of the Founding Fathers was pure genius. Methods have been worked out for electing, appointing, and approving people to serve in various important positions. As Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." This system doesn't always work very well, but, well, it's the best we've been able to come up with, and it does have the advantage that the people get to have a say every couple of years.

But the Dwyer-ish types -- and by that I mean to include the group that formed last winter to recall the entire Montgomery County Board of Education when things didn't go the way they wanted -- just can't accept democracy.

It's not government they want, they don't respect the will of the people -- these recall efforts are best seen as an attempted takeover by a belligerent and persistent minority. They're not looking to revise policies, it's not that they have some principles that they want to see enacted as law; there's nothing to discuss with these people, they simply want it all.

The Baltimore Sun was, I thought, very clear in their editorial assessment of the situation -- they say it better than I could:
The best that can be said about some proposals is nothing, so as not to draw attention to lamebrain notions that will succumb to their own foolishness in any case. Thus, the initial impulse was simply to ignore Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr.'s absurd attempt to remove a Baltimore Circuit Court judge because she ruled against a state ban on gay marriage.

In fact, so silly is the notion that a judge could be removed on the basis of one decision, no matter how unpopular, that the Anne Arundel County Republican must have another agenda. Such as drawing attention to his bid to put a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the fall ballot, or finding a means to force reluctant Democrats to take a stand on the controversial issue.

That said, Mr. Dwyer's crude bid to bully and intimidate not only one Baltimore judge but also presumably the entire Maryland judiciary is so antithetical to American democracy that it's too dangerous to ignore.

Under the American system of checks and balances, legislators write the laws and judges resolve legal disputes, often by interpreting the law. Politicians frequently complain about judges legislating from the bench, but the truth is that judges often find themselves confronted with difficult disputes on which lawmakers have taken a pass.

Gay marriage is a case in point. Neither President Bush nor most members of Congress have any desire to get embroiled in that debate. So they have left it to the states, and ultimately the courts.

Baltimore Judge M. Brooke Murdock's courtroom was the first stop on what will doubtless be a long legal journey for the nine gay couples challenging Maryland's law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. She found the law to be unconstitutionally discriminatory. Rulings could well seesaw back and forth as the case proceeds through state appeals courts and perhaps to the federal level.

Delegate Dwyer contends that the General Assembly has broad authority to remove a judge for treading on legislative turf, hinting at the same brand of incendiary intolerance in which Texas Rep. Tom DeLay engaged when federal judges rebuffed Congress' attempt to manipulate the bench in the Terri Schiavo feeding tube case last year.

An independent judiciary is vital to Maryland and to the nation. Its members should be treasured, not threatened - or soon no lawyer worthy of the job will agree to serve. Bully Boy

It's silly, yes. But the sad fact is that intelligent people who care about their country have to wade into this stuff, and take these guys on. Because it's not just that they have different beliefs from the rest of us. These are people who have rejected the American way, and are dead-set on acquiring power to push their warped views on the rest of us, by any means.

Monday, February 27, 2006

On Arguing Against Condoms

One of the stranger stories we hear in discussing sex-ed is the one that says that "condoms are ineffective." The way the story is told, people who use condoms are at nearly the same risk of pregnancy and infection as people who don't.

Personally, I question the motives of someone who would discourage taking preventative steps. But this anti-safe-sex message is spread pretty widely, you see it all the time on the Family Blah-Blah web sites and in their pamphlets.

As a note of background, one of the complaints that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have always had about the previous citizens advisory committee is that they refused to include information from the Centers for Disease Control about the risks of this or that. As an active participant in this debate, I find myself looking at CDC's information pretty often, and it seems to me that the CDC's advice is almost exactly the opposite of what CRC wants. Like, here's something I came across this morning, from a site about HIV and how to avoid it.
Effectiveness of Condoms

Condoms are classified as medical devices and are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Condom manufacturers in the United States test each latex condom for defects, including holes, before it is packaged. The proper and consistent use of latex or polyurethane (a type of plastic) condoms when engaging in sexual intercourse--vaginal, anal, or oral--can greatly reduce a person's risk of acquiring or transmitting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection.

There are many different types and brands of condoms available--however, only latex or polyurethane condoms provide a highly effective mechanical barrier to HIV. In laboratories, viruses occasionally have been shown to pass through natural membrane ("skin" or lambskin) condoms, which may contain natural pores and are therefore not recommended for disease prevention (they are documented to be effective for contraception). Women may wish to consider using the female condom when a male condom cannot be used.

For condoms to provide maximum protection, they must be used consistently (every time) and correctly. Several studies of correct and consistent condom use clearly show that latex condom breakage rates in this country are less than 2 percent. Even when condoms do break, one study showed that more than half of such breaks occurred prior to ejaculation.

When condoms are used reliably, they have been shown to prevent pregnancy up to 98 percent of the time among couples using them as their only method of contraception. Similarly, numerous studies among sexually active people have demonstrated that a properly used latex condom provides a high degree of protection against a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection.

For more detailed information about condoms, see the CDC publication "Male Latex Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases."

[From the CDC web site: HIV and Its Transmission]

I would suggest, if you really want more information about the effectiveness of condoms, read Workshop Summary: Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention, the result of an NIH workshop that examined the peer-reviewed literature and drew conclusions about condom effectiveness for various STDs.

There is a certain argument that people should wait to have sex until they're married. That would work. I mean, really, if would work if we had a society where people married in their teens. Parents could just chaperone their kids' activities until they found someone to marry. (Or we could have "traditional marriage," where the parents would pick someone out and their children would be forced to marry them.) There are lots of traditions in place for regulating the sexual behavior of young people. But people in our society marry, on average, at the age of 27. You don't want to be flipping on the porch light when somebody brings your 25-year-old daughter to the doorstep. And I doubt that she'd really appreciate it, either.

It's easy to see what the point is. What these people who complain about condoms are saying is that you shouldn't have sex until you're married. Then, making babies is not a problem, and you won't worry about catching an STD if both of you are virgins. Of course that's what they want to happen. And as parents, I think all of us would be happy with that.

But it is dishonest to twist the facts to fit what you want. The fact is, condoms provide a barrier for both semen and viruses that is quite effective. A condom can tear or come off, but the chances of that happening are greatly reduced by learning how to use one correctly. --And as the NIH report I linked above notes, even if a condom tears or slips, the chances of pregnancy and infection are vastly reduced. Further, no matter what the fuddy-duddies say, even the Bush administration's Centers for Disease Control strongly recommends use of a condom for anal sex.

It is not only dishonest but criminal to suggest that anyone should not use a condom for either heterosexual or homosexual activities, especially in those cases where the relationship is not monogamous and where there is a chance that the partner has a sexually transmitted infection of any sort. With the diseases that are out there now, arguing that a condom should not be used may amount to murder.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Gay Chromosome

It wouldn't be right if we didn't mention this new research supporting the hypothesis that sexual orientation has got a genetic component.
New research adds a twist to the debate on the origins of sexual orientation, suggesting that the genetics of mothers of multiple gay sons act differently than those of other women.

Scientists found that almost one fourth of the mothers who had more than one gay son processed X chromosomes in their bodies in the same way. Normally, women randomly process the chromosomes in one of two ways -- half go one way, half go the other.

The research "confirms that there is a strong genetic basis for sexual orientation, and that for some gay men, genes on the X chromosome are involved," said study co-author Sven Bocklandt, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The link between genetics and sexual orientation has been a hot topic for more than a decade as a few scientists have tried to find genes that might make people gay or straight. In the new study, Bocklandt and colleagues examined a phenomenon called "X-chromosome inactivation."

While females have two X chromosomes, they actually require only one and routinely inactivate the other, Bocklandt said. "That way, both men and women have basically one functional X chromosome," he added. Men have both an X and Y chromosome, but the Y chromosome plays a much smaller role, he said.

Women typically inactivate one of their two X chromosomes at random. "It's like flipping a coin," Bocklandt said. "If you look at a woman in any given (bodily) tissue, you'd expect about half of the cells to inactivate one X, and half would inactivate the other."

In the new study, researchers looked at 97 mothers of gay sons and 103 mothers without gay sons to see if there was any difference in how they handled their X chromosomes. The findings appear in the February issue of the journal Human Genetics.

"When we looked at women who have gay kids, in those with more than one gay son, we saw a quarter of them inactivate the same X in virtually every cell we checked," Bocklandt said. "That's extremely unusual."

Forty-four of the women had more than one gay son.

In contrast, 4 percent of mothers with no gay sons activated the chromosome and 13 percent of those with just one gay son did. Moms' Genetics Might Help Produce Gay Sons

The "ex-gay" movement has a favorite motto that they chant everywhere they go: There is no gay gene. The motto is silly, to begin with. Take any other personality trait. Is there an extroversion gene? A sense-of-humor gene? A grace-and-charm gene? Even an intelligence gene? The truth is, the complete human being is the result of gazillions of genes interacting with one another and with the world; the phenotype results from the interaction of the genotype with the environment.

So to say there's no gene for something is just to admit that you don't understand how genes work.

I had to peek to see what Warren Throckmorton, the CRC's pet PhD, would say about this new research. He talks about it on his blog, and of course says the conclusions are "speculative." (He only read the abstract.) He complains:
There are potential intervening variables that are not even considered by these researchers (e.g., gender atypical temperaments). GAT may be related to these changes in the X chromosome but I doubt this was taken into account.

I'm sure he's not trying to say that this-or-that temperament would have changed the mother's X chromosome. He must mean the opposite, that the X chromosome causes "GAT," which in turn would predispose a person to be gay. So?

(Wow, I should note a rare phenomenon. The phrase "gender atypical temperament" in quotes gets exactly one hit on Google -- Throckmorton's Powerpoint from the CRC's meeting.) (I think it's a reference to Bem's theory of the development of homosexuality.)

Look, it's only a matter of time before sexual orientation is understood on the genetic level. Some factors will be identified that predispose a certain orientation. There will always be an element of opportunity, features of the environment that cause the tendency to be expressed, or not, and it will always be a probability game. But the nuts oughta be looking for something to replace "there's no gay gene," because time's about to run out on that one.

Those who cling to the idea that sexual orientation is a choice will find themselves backed into a corner, and soon. They want it to be a choice, but already most people, including most scientists, don't believe that.

Trust me, this paper didn't get through several rounds of review at a major journal on the basis of its political implications:
Human Genetics
Issue: Volume 118, Number 6
Date: February 2006
Pages: 691 - 694
Extreme skewing of X chromosome inactivation in mothers of homosexual men
Sven Bocklandt, Steve Horvath, Eric Vilain and Dean H. Hamer

Abstract Human sexual preference is a sexually dimorphic trait with a substantial genetic component. Linkage of male sexual orientation to markers on the X chromosome has been reported in some families. Here, we measured X chromosome inactivation ratios in 97 mothers of homosexual men and 103 age-matched control women without gay sons. The number of women with extreme skewing of X-inactivation was significantly higher in mothers of gay men (13/97=13%) compared to controls (4/103=4%) and increased in mothers with two or more gay sons (10/44=23%). Our findings support a role for the X chromosome in regulating sexual orientation in a subgroup of gay men.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

BlondeSense Wants to Know

This is just too charming, I have to say pass it on. BlondeSense Liz, at BlondeSense blog (motto: Beauty, brains, boobs), asks the most innocent question:
What is the gay agenda anyway?

I keep reading about it at rightwing innernets sites, but no one really defines it. I can't imagine what a gay agenda would consist of other than fighting off homophobes and doing the same stuff that everyone else does.... wake up, go to work, come home, eat, watch tv, go to bed.

If anyone out there reading this is gay, what is your agenda?

Yeah, come on, you guys, tell her. Don't keep it such a secret.

(Unfortunately, she doesn't have comments, so I guess her gay readers, if there are any, will have to email her their explanations. I hope she'll tell us what they say. I want to know, too.)

AIDS and Stigma

A CRC member raised some questions in our comments section this morning, which I think I will address here. I have edited the comments a little, mainly taking the personal stuff out and focusing on the questions:
"The .01-.03% of the population that insists on spreading this diesase to the rest of us SHOULD be stigmatized and learn some restraint."

Okay, before anyone throws a fit about this comment I want to clarify.

What I believe [another commentor] is suggesting is HIDING FACTS. He is suggesting NOT GIVING KIDS THE MSM AIDS rates, NOT GIVING KIDS the TRUTH. He is suggesting taking all the data that the CDC gathers specific to increased health risks in a homo-sexual life style and HIDING IT - representing it to kids as either anal sex or vaginal sex, and making kids do the correlation themselves.

This is not stigmatizing, this is deliberating misrepresenting FACTs. Hiding facts about the homosexual disease rates from kids because of the risk of stigmatizing a section of the population. what next ? are we going to hide the effects of eating junk food from overweight folks because we don't want to stigmatize them ? or increased anemia rates from blacks ?
or increased risk of downs in over forty females? how about alcohol ? drugs ?


That was the bread and butter of one comment. Here's the other:
Male homosexuals overwhelming practice anal sex. I am sure you are not going to argue with that.

Hetereosexuals overwhelminging practice vaginal sex (show me a study that says otherwise).

Most of the new AIDS infections in the US can be traced to males having sex with males (HOMOSEXUAL MALE ACTIVITY).

So trying to reduce this issue to the mechanics is just trying to deliberately confuse the kids and in the process not alert them to the danges of the lifestyle (which of course was your whole point).

At the risk of stigmatizing .01-.03 % of the population versus the great risk of not alerting the 97% to the dangers of the behavior.

Again, flat out irresponsible and not looking out for the kids.

The .01-.03% of the population that insists on spreading this diesase to the rest of us SHOULD be stigmatized and learn some restraint.

Maybe these comments were submitted in the reverse order, this is how I received them.

OK, so the topic is that men-having-sex-with-men (MSM) comprise an important channel, in the US, for the spread of the AIDS virus. The accusation is that TeachThe Facts.org or some subset of us would like to deny or ignore some facts in order to protect gays from being stigmatized.

It seems weird that such as issue would even come up. I cannot think of any other case where anyone would want to "stigmatize" a group for getting sick. But that certainly is the case with AIDS and gay men.

This person has taken the most conservative estimates of the proportion of homosexuals in the country and divided them by a hundred -- they might have said 1-3 percent, not .01-.03. As this happened three times, I assume it was intentional.

The reason the CDC and others use the acronym "MSM" is that a lot of the men who have sex with men do not identify themselves as gay or homosexual. A recent CDC survey found that about 6.5 per cent of men have had oral or anal sex with another man. That doesn't mean they would describe themselves as gay, but this "MSM" category includes a lot of people. (Female percentages are higher.)

That same survey, which is apparently not online any more, found that 35-40 percent of Americans have had anal sex with a member of the opposite sex. That's a lot of people. The point is, anal sex is primarily a heterosexual behavior.

Another CDC report was recently sent to me by a different CRC member. The report, which can be seen HERE, notes that, in 2003, MSM accounted for 46 percent of new AIDS cases diagnosed. We'll figure the numbers contain some error, so we'll just say that "nearly half" of new AIDS cases were in MSM.

That means that more than half weren't. Though the number is disproportionate, HIV/AIDS is clearly not a "gay" disease.

The CDC report that the CRC member sent had a quote that is awkward but accurate: "Not using a condom during anal sex with someone other than a primary partner of known HIV status continues to be a significant threat to the health of MSM."

OK, there are three things there:
  • Not using a condom
  • Anal sex
  • Not primary partner

These are the risk factors for MSM, which is the subject of this document. For the other 93.5 percent of the population, there will be other risk factors.

But, OK, let's focus on MSM. It looks to me like this statement can be turned into advice about education. Given that some nontrivial percentage of boys will end up having sex with another male during their lifetime, they should know the risks -- I agree. And the risks are bulleted above. They should know how to use a condom correctly. They should know the risk of unprotected anal sex. And they should know the advantage of sexual exclusiveness.

The CRC has adamantly opposed two out of those three recommendations. They threw a fit over a video that showed how to use a condom correctly, vastly increasing its effectiveness. Their members have threatened to sue over the mention of "anal sex" in the video, saying that that was "teaching erotic techniques." Well, if you're serious about preventing AIDS, you've got to use the tell people how you get it.

The CDC isn't ambiguous about condom use. Look at this flyer, which came out last month: LINK. It says, "If MSM choose to have sex outside a steady relationship, they should always use a condom."

Now, the question of stigma.

There is no reason to believe that "homosexual behaviors" increase the probability of catching AIDS. Lisping, wearing eye makeup, and having a flair for interior decorating don't have anything to do with the spread of the virus, though most of us would identify these things, especially in combination, as "homosexual behaviors." And "homosexual behaviors" is not a good euphemism for "anal sex," because that act is overwhelmingly performed by heterosexual couples. Likewise, "being gay" is not a problem -- look at the recent discussion of gay priests. These guys are celibate, they are at no risk of getting the virus sexually.

As the CDC notes, a combination of things, in particular, unprotected anal sex with a nonexclusive partner, puts a guy who has sex with other guys at risk.

There is nothing, anywhere, about any "homosexual lifestyle," whatever that is. The mode of transmission is clearly identified, and it has nothing to do with anything resembling a lifestyle. There is a specific, well-defined act that passes the virus from one man to another. (And remember, we are ignoring the other half of the AIDS cases in this discussion.)

There will be some debate among parents as to whether they want to "go there." But if we are going to discuss the risks of AIDS at all, and if the CRC wants to go into the risks of HIV for MSM (and they insist that they do), then I'm afraid you have to tell the whole story. Gay men should be encouraged to minimize the risks by forming long-term, stable relationships (e.g., marriages) and using condoms, especially when they have sex outside those relationships.

There doesn't need to be any stigma.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pro-Life Power Rangers ... Away!

Thanks to Squeezy Chortle for pointing out this unintentionally humorous anti-abortion web site: The Pro-Life Action League.

Like a lot of the abortion-issue groups, they have an opinion about sex-education. And it really is intriguing to note that these groups that are so adamantly opposed to abortion are also opposed to the education and contraception that would help make abortion unnecessary. One theory is that these are people who are really into sweat-popping, fingernail-busting, teeth-gritting willpower for its own sake. Like, here's a motto for them: Delayed gratification is its own reward.

I really don't think people prefer delayed-gratification over actual gratification, so there is some reason to think this theory is better: Maybe these are people who don't want women to be making a lot of their own decisions. Oh, sure, it's OK if women decide to get married and have a family. But of course, when only one choice is acceptable ... you didn't really have a choice to begin with.

Well, of course, they'll never say that, you have to figure it out.

Anyway, this web site, the Pro-Life League of Super-Heroes, not surprisingly, has an opinion about sex-ed. They start this section with birth control:
The Pro-Life Action League opposes artificial birth control (contraception), not only because it destroys the inherent meaning of the sexual act as a sign of permanent, life-giving love, but because of the disastrous consequences it has wrought on our society.

We are often told that in order to reduce the number of abortions, we ought to promote birth control, distribute condoms and demand so-called "comprehensive" sex-ed. At first glance, these proposals see reasonable, but ultimately contraception actually increases abortion for four key reasons:
  1. Contraception increases risky sexual behavior among those who use it.
  2. Contraceptives often fail to work, especially among the young and unmarried.
  3. Using contraception predisposes a woman to abort her child when contraceptives fail.
  4. Contraception distorts the cultural sexual environment even for those who don't use it.

These points are supposed to link to some explanations, but there's nothing there.

There is some elaboration, though, and -- it gets pretty funny.

Like this:
Condoms fail. Even when used "correctly and consistently"—which is uncommon among those at greatest risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually trasmitted diseases—the World Health Organization admits that a pregnancy will occur 3% of the time. For typical use, the WHO admits that the rate of pregnancy is much higher—anywhere from 10% to 14%. (See WHO Fact Sheet.)

Now ... follow that link to the "WHO Fact Sheet." There you will find the strongest endorsement of condoms ever. The WHO loves condoms. They want to give them to everybody. The article starts out: Condoms are the only contraceptive method proven to reduce the risk of all sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. They can be used as a dual-purpose method, both for prevention of pregnancy and protection against STIs. Looking at this site, I don't see much in the way of "admitting" anything -- these guys seem totally enthused about the idea of condoms.

The Pro-Life Action Heroes also write:
Not only are condoms less effective for preventing pregnancy than commonly believed, but they are even less effective for preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Condoms have been repeatedly shown to be relatively ineffective in protecting against HIV/AIDS. A massive study co-sponsored by the NIH, CDC, FDA, and USAID issued findings in July 2001 that condoms, even when used "correctly and consistently," provided only 85% protection against the spread of AIDS. (See Government Study.)

Now, this is weird. We have seen many instances where the CRC and other rightwing groups have put out some statement that links to some information that contradicts the statement. They are counting on you not looking at the link.

You aren't a thinker, a questioner, you are a person who will be told something and will believe it.

You're not? So ... click on the "Government Study" link. What do you see? Do you see a paper titled, Scientific Review Panel Confirms Condoms Are Effective Against HIV/AIDS, But Epidemiological Studies Are Insufficient for Other STDs?

I do.

This "Government Study" says exactly the opposite of what the Pro-Life Power Rangers say. It says, Meta-analysis of several studies showed an 85 percent decrease in risk of HIV transmission among consistent condom users versus non-users. These data provide compelling evidence that consistent use of the latex male condom is a highly effective method for preventing HIV transmission, the report said. Studies also show a 49 percent to 100 percent reduction in risk of gonorrhea among men reporting condom use compared with non-users. For the other STDs reviewed, existing studies were found insufficient to accurately assess effectiveness. For HPV, the panel found there was no evidence that condom use reduced the risk of HPV infection, but study results did suggest that condom use might afford some reduction in risk of HPV-associated diseases.

Finally, they get to the "sex-ed" section.
So-called "comprehensive sex education" programs condone various practices such as premarital sex, oral sex, solitary and mutual masturbation and contraception—all under the guise of providing personal health information. Such programs are pose serious dangers to impressionable young people. The decision to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage is extremely risky for many reasons, and it can never be condoned.

These guys are more concerned about "condoning" something than doing anything about it. Tut-tut -- mustn't appear that we approve of something that ninety-nine percent of Americans are doing. Must ensure they remain ignorant while they do it. Must not condone.

At least they didn't try to link to some web page to "support" their assertions.

Love Won Out: No News

There was a big "ex-gay" conference called Love Won Out in St. Louis this last weekend, and I figured there'd be some news from it. But all I can find online is a couple of press releases from Focus on the Family, and a couple of "newspapers" that published them more or less verbatim.

The first Family Blah Blah press release, I see, came out a few weeks ago. The big news: Love Won Out Comes to St. Louis; City-Wide Billboard Campaign Precedes Conference on Homosexuality. They put up a lot of billboards, all over the city. Now there's news for you, billboards in St. Louis, Missouri. I'm not sure that's what the people in the Show Me State really wanted to be shown.

Then, another press relase, dated yesterday: Conference on Homosexuality Met with Vandalism, Protests; Despite Controversy, Record Attendance Anticipated at Saturday Event.

For some reason, with 1,300 people at this conference, the story they wanted to publicize was that somebody had thrown eggs at the church where they were meeting, and had defaced some billboards. Typical wording:
Speaking of the planned protest, Haley said that opposition is common in cities Love Won Out visits. "As a former homosexual I can attest that I have faced much more intolerance since leaving homosexuality than before," he said. "But I and thousands of others know that change is possible -- we have the right to share that message and the love of Christ with those who want to hear it."

Dude, nobody cares if you want to call yourself a "former homosexual." More power to ya, good for you (polite applause), do whatever it is you need to do.

What people don't like is for you to go around telling others that they should be ashamed of who they are, that they're not good enough, that they need to be more ... like ... you. People don't like that, in general. It has nothing to do with pretending you're not gay, it has everything to do with telling people there's something wrong with them, and that they should do what you're trying to do. Can you see the difference there? Nobody minds if you go back into the closet, that's your decision.

So .. that's the story. Somebody threw some eggs, somebody threw some paint on a couple of billboards, everybody discriminates against these poor guys.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

USA Today Reviews the Gay Adoption Issue

It's funny, in the days before computers ... well, in the days before Windows ... there was nothing like the experience of working hard all day on something, and then seeing it simply vanish in a blink, the experience of knowing that your work has vaporized into randomness, Something transformed to true Nothing before your very eyes.

Like what happened to me today.

I was going to juxtapose this morning's USA Today article on gay adoptions with Michelle Turner's comments "to the state" that are posted on the CRC web site, but I'm not going to right now. I expect we will have to discuss her statements before long, but just not right here.

This morning's article talked about the movement to prevent gays from adopting. This is one of those topics where neither side needs to have the issue explained to them. Some people will just say, of course you can't put innocent babies into the dangerous hands of those perverted people. It won't need explaining, it will just be obvious. And the other side will go, huh? Babies need homes and hugs, these are couples full of love, wanting to share their love and start a family -- why wouldn't you encourage them to adopt?
Efforts to ban gays and lesbians from adopting children are emerging across the USA as a second front in the culture wars that began during the 2004 elections over same-sex marriage.

Steps to pass laws or secure November ballot initiatives are underway in at least 16 states, adoption, gay rights and conservative groups say. Some — such as Ohio, Georgia and Kentucky — approved constitutional amendments in 2004 banning gay marriage.

"Now that we've defined what marriage is, we need to take that further and say children deserve to be in that relationship," says Greg Quinlan of Ohio's Pro-Family Network, a conservative Christian group. Drives to ban gay adoption heat up in 16 states

Look, this isn't very hard to figure out, and there's no reason to be indirect about it -- this is simply evil being done in Jesus' name. You can hardly imagine any clearer example of the way the gospel is being inverted in our time, what was loving has been made into hate, what was kind is become cruel.

Good people of all religious tendencies need to stand up for the children, for kindness, and for good sense.

There's much more to the article. In USA Today style, it summarizes at a high, readable level -- you might want to get some background on this topic, which is going to be in the next election what gay marriage was in the last one.

Monday, February 20, 2006

"Ask Amy" and the Straight-and-Narrow Neighbors

My daughter read this to me this morning, out of The Post. Seemed relevant to some of the discussions we've had here...
Dear Amy: My husband and I have lived in our quiet suburban Denver neighborhood for six years.

About two years ago two young gay men moved in across the street. They've taken the ugliest, most run-down property in the neighborhood and remodeled and transformed it into the pride of the street.

When it snows, they shovel out my car and are friendly, yet they mostly keep to themselves.

Last month I went out to retrieve my newspaper and watched them kiss each other goodbye and embrace as they each left for work.

I was appalled that they would do something like that in plain view of everyone.

I was so disturbed that I spoke to my pastor. He encouraged me to draft a letter telling them how much we appreciate their help but asking them to refrain from that behavior in our neighborhood.

I did so and asked a few of our neighbors to sign it.

Since I delivered it, I've not been able to get them to even engage me in conversation.

I offer greetings but they've chosen to ignore me.

They have made it so uncomfortable for the other neighbors and me by not even acknowledging our presence.

How would you suggest we open communications with them and explain to them that we value their contributions to the neighborhood but will not tolerate watching unnatural and disturbing behavior. - Wondering

Dear Wondering: You're lucky that these gentlemen merely choose to ignore you.

Your neighbors could respond to your hospitality by hosting weekly outdoor "gay pride" barbecues and inviting all of their friends to enjoy life on our quiet suburban street.

I can hold out hope that they will choose to do this, but I'm spiteful in that way. Your neighbors sound much more kind.

In your original petition to these men, you basically stated that while you value them when they are raising the standard on your street and shoveling your driveway, you loathe them for being who they are.

The only way to open communication with your neighbors would be to start by apologizing to them for engaging your other neighbors in your campaign. Because you don't sound likely to apologize, you are just going to have to tolerate being ignored.

Dwyer Writes to the Gazette

We first became aware of Maryland Delegate Don Dwyer when he delivered a rousing rant at the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum's March, 2005, town hall meeting. You can read the text of his speech and hear it HERE.

It was something else. Several of us had gone, we sat in a row, one of us had a tape recorder. Dwyer was shouting, waving his hands -- oh, he was angry about those homosexual activists!

You wouldn't have known that such a thing would exist in twenty-first century America, or in the civilized world at all. Dwyer appealed to the lowest instincts of the audience, to their fear of God's retribution if they should fail to battle evil as it is defined for them, he appealed to that uneasiness audience members might feel about people who are different from them, to their paranoia that the "homosexual agenda" intends to destroy their way of life. It was unbelievable, he pressed ever button except the one that says "Think about it."

This week, Dwyer and DefendMarylandMarriage.com sidekick Caleb Griffin wrote a letter to The Gazette. Seems another delegate had argued in that paper in favor of allowing marriage between gay people. Now Dwyer can't have that, so he's going to make the case against it.
Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with the Bible would have identified the inaccuracies in Del. Doyle Niemann’s commentary (‘‘Marriage and God’s will — according to man’s interpretation,” Feb. 10).

It’s almost humorous that a man would use the Bible to justify behavior that the Bible condemns. How can he suggest that God might call homosexuality ‘‘love” when the Bible calls it ‘‘confusion” and ‘‘an abomination”? He denies any responsibility to craft biblically sound policy in one sentence and appeals to the authority of Jesus in the next. ‘We cannot escape the moral and spiritual underpinnings of our law’

Hey, there is some dispute about the correct interpretation of 1 Samuel 20:30-31, and I would be interested to hear from our readers who can look at this in the original Hebrew and perhaps tell us what it most likely means. Is Saul saying that Jonathon is "confused" and is having a love affair with David?

I think that's where the "confused" thing comes from.

Now Dwyer and his understudy go into some philosophizing here about morality:
There are two popular moralities today: man-centered and God-centered.

Man-centered morality says that right and wrong, to the extent they exist, can only be defined by each man for himself. If any man does what the majority of us feel is wrong — such as murder or pedophilia — then he is sick. Somehow, we have failed him. He needs our help, never our judgment.

There is a form of arguing called the "straw man" strategy. You want to make a case, but there is no argument against your position. Here's an example: everybody is against terrorism, therefore your position against terrorism is just like everybody else's. So you invent a straw man, you might say, "Liberals think that terrorists need psychotherapy." The straw man is a fictitious being who holds the position opposed to yours, and who you can ridicule easily. In fact, nobody said that terrorists need psychotherapy, any more than anyone ever said that murderers and pedophilies "need our help, never our judgment." In reality, everybody agrees that murderers and pedophiles need to be locked up.

But Dwyer can use this kind of fiction to make his own meaningless position stand out against a background.

The letter is kind of long, and I'm not going to reproduce the whole crazy thing here. Here's a little more straw-man stuff -- never trust someone who tells you what their opponent believes:
Such concepts as the human soul and spiritual redemption are either old-fashioned or have no bearing on our lives. God is private. Only human wisdom will save us from our broken society. We are all one big family; the greatest virtues are tolerance and equality. The ultimate good lies in everyone doing what is right in his own heart. Anything that divides the human family, such as Jesus’ exclusive claim to salvation, is evil.

God-centered morality says that there is a timeless universal truth, which man did not create and man cannot adjust. Man must look to an external source for guidance because he did not design life nor is he wise enough to write its instruction manual. This morality says that all men are created equal but not all behaviors. God’s love allows us the freedom to make bad choices but shows us the right ones.

Here's the problem. Dwyer -- and he's not alone in this -- creates a division in our society, and then argues that only those on his side of the division can make correct moral decisions.

Consider the origins of the Western discussion of ethics and morality, going back at least to the Greeks, to Plato and Aristotle, who analyzed the many difficult questions of ethics -- hundreds of years before Jesus' birth. Dwyer's argument asserts that all that important contemplation of right and wrong was, on its face, false, because Plato and Aristotle were not Christians and did not subscribe to the biblical authority that he recommends.

Dwyer'sconclusion that only evangelistic and fundamentalist Christians can know right from wrong trivializes the lives of good people around the world who subscribe to beliefs not approved by his particular sect.

The Greeks had no problem with homosexuality, and I suppose we will see someone here criticize the Hellenistic Golden Age as a failed, immoral period. I see our historical age as one that is still crawling out of the Dark Ages, by way of the Enlightenment, we are a people still trying to open our eyes in the brightness of reason. And people like Don Dwyer are trying to pull us back.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Noodly Appendage: Not Afraid of Being Mocked

From the North New Jersey Media Group:
unlike a certain other religion in the news, the First United Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't object to cartoon depictions of the supreme being.

For one thing, He's easy to draw -- a tangle of pasta strands with a meatball body.
He's even getting his own Bible: "The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster," coming March 16 from Random House. It's written by his foremost prophet, Bobby Henderson, who launched this satiric dig at so-called intelligent design about a year ago, and lived to see it take on a life of its own.

"It's amazing that a satirical monster could get this big, but then He did create the universe," says Dee Dee McKinney, content administrator for the FSM online discussion forum and the reclusive Henderson's primary mouthpiece.

Henderson, a 25-year-old physicist and graduate of Oregon State University, conceived of the Flying Spaghetti Monster last year as a reductio ad absurdum of the intelligent design argument for inclusion in curriculums.

According to intelligent design boosters, since evolution is only a "theory" and not provable, an alternative – that the universe was created by an intelligent designer -- should be given equal time in science classes.

The "alternative" they presumably had in mind was Christianity.

But, said Henderson to some chums over beers, by the same logic the "intelligent designer" could just as easily be, say, a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

It was only a short step to what happened next.

Last summer, as the Kansas School Board was having a heated debate over whether information about intelligent design should be required in public school curriculums (in November, the board voted 6-4 in favor), board members received an odd letter:

"Let us remember that there are multiple theories of intelligent design," it read in part. "I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. ... It is for this reason that I'm writing you today, to formally request that this alternative theory be taught in your schools, along with the other two theories."

Members of the Dover, Pa., school board, voted out of office in November for supporting a measure similar to Kansas', also heard from the Spaghetti Monster.

But Henderson didn't stop with letters. He also created a Web site, venganza.org, as a rallying place for what were quickly dubbed "Pastafarians." While there are officially 3,332 "church" members worldwide, based on online response, the real number is doubtless much higher, McKinney says.
In addition to keeping tabs on the anti-science right and hawking various Flying Spaghetti Monster paraphernalia, the site also lampoons the kind of pseudo-science, bolstered by dubious charts and graphs, favored by creationists in books like "Of Pandas and People."

One favorite chart purports to link the rise of global warming with the decline of pirates. Which explains the "pirate" iconography -- eye patches and cutlasses -- that goes hand-in-noodle with the church's spaghetti-and-meatball motif.

Naturally, the Web site gets plenty of hate mail from the devout. "You're an idiot. I'll pray for you," one message read.

"They send Bobby threatening letters, they curse him, they call him a blankety-blankety-blank-blank," McKinney says. "And at the end, they say God loves him."

Most people -- pro and con -- assume that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the creation of atheists, or at the very least agnostics.

Actually, McKinney is a Christian, and Henderson won't say one way or the other.

"It's appalling what has been done and what has happened to my religion in the name of politics," McKinney says.

With the money from the Spaghetti Monster book, McKinney says, the "church" is planning its major investment -- a pirate ship that can go from port to port, spreading the word about His Noodleness.

"It would go from place to place, so [church] members could come to visit," McKinney says. "And they're hoping to make cannons. Some say it should fire T-shirts. The other half say it should be meatballs." Divine comedy

Glove Affair in North Hollywood

Comments to this one will be interesting. This is an article from the Los Angeles Times, written by Randye Hoder. I'm going to reproduce the entire article here.

One thing that comes through especially well here is the writer's ambivalence about the situation. As parents, we want our children to stay innocent forever. Ms. Hoder struggles with this, and in the end comes to a resolution that is both wise and loving.

Let me insert a disclaimer here. Maybe in LA they have "condom clubs" or whatever. Nobody has proposed anything like this in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Teach the Facts is not promoting this idea.

But I think you will find it interesting to see what people in another part of the country are doing.
I WAS HANGING around this week at my son's elementary school, chatting with a group of parents as we waited to take our second- and third-graders on a field trip. Suddenly, one mom raced toward me and, nearly breathless, said, "You have to tell me about Glove Affair."

"What's Glove Affair?" another mom asked.

"It's a condom party for teenagers," the first mom replied before I could say a word.

Suddenly all eyes were on me, eager for an explanation of how I could possibly allow my 13-year-old daughter, Emma, to attend such an event.

The truth is, when Emma arrived home the previous Saturday night clutching a goody bag from Glove Affair, my liberal credentials were instantly tested. One by one I pulled the following from her white plastic sack: a condom; pamphlets on masturbation, oral sex and intercourse; the "Rubber Bible," featuring alternative names for prophylactics, such as "gent tent" and "peenie beanie"; and an information wheel labeled "Condom Comebacks," which included a list of excuses boys might make for not wearing a condom and possible rejoinders a girl could offer.

Him: "It doesn't feel good."

Her: "I've got moves rubbers can't stop."

I tried to play it cool. As it turned out, I was a little too cool. While standing in the kitchen with my daughter and her friend, getting all the post-party gossip, I absentmindedly reached into the bag and handed my 8-year-old son a squishy red toy that resembled one of those ubiquitous M&M candy guys.

The girls burst out laughing. "What's so funny?" I asked. They snatched the trinket from my son and turned it upside down. Printed there was the web address stopthesores.org. This was no candy icon; it was a toy syphilis lesion, bright red, with feet.

That's when I insisted my son go to bed, bid the girls goodnight and went upstairs, where I tossed the information wheel at my husband. "Boy," I said casually, "Jerry Falwell would sure bust an artery over this."

My husband spun the wheel to the "They don't fit" excuse and read the answer aloud: "If it's too big for a condom, it's too big for me."

"Forget Jerry Falwell," he said, looking up. "I'm going to bust an artery." I was relieved that I wasn't the only one feeling prudish. Was this too much information too soon?

Oakwood School in North Hollywood, where my daughter is in eighth grade, has been holding Glove Affair since 2000. In reality, it's not a "condom party" but a fundraiser for L.A. AIDS-prevention groups. This year, about 500 teens attended — half from other middle and high schools across the city.

The aim is for kids to understand that having sex is serious business and to help them become utterly at ease with condoms, right down to unrolling them correctly and learning to check the expiration date. Mickey Morgan, a social studies teacher at Oakwood who helps organize the event, says that's especially important for girls "so that it's not awkward for them to talk about safe sex with boys — when the time comes."

There are those, of course, who argue that all of this explicitness will do nothing but lead teenagers to engage in sex. And I admit, there's a part of me that remains a little queasy over the graphic nature of Glove Affair. But as schools wrestle with the question of how much information is too much, many health experts insist that the answer is clear: At a time when HIV and teen pregnancy are so prevalent, educators can't do enough to demystify condoms, even for eighth-graders who may be just beginning to explore their sexuality.

A few days after Glove Affair, I asked Emma what she thought about it — beyond the DJ and the dancing. She explained to me that seventh-graders aren't allowed to attend because they haven't yet completed the school's human development curriculum. The course covers human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases, among other topics, and teaches students how to properly use a condom.

"Teenagers are going to have sex if they want to," she said. "Don't you think it's better that if they do, at least it's safe sex?" For the next half an hour we talked about her human development class, AIDS and teenage sex.

Emma was so poised, so mature, so relaxed and so informed that talking to her about sex was really easy. And she was right. "Knowing about sex doesn't mean you're going to have it," she said. "It just means that when you are ready, you'll know the facts. That makes me feel a lot more comfortable."

I'm not sure I'll ever be completely comfortable. But as I told the group of elementary school moms gathered around me, knowing that my daughter is makes me feel a whole lot better. Sex education for parents too

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The War on Saint Valentine's Day

Wow, I didn't see this one coming. These Catholic teens are, like, totally into abstinence. And totally into putting the "Saint" back into "Saint Valentine's Day."
Is it War?

Ask yourself:

What are you going to buy for your loved ones on February 14? A Valentine’s Day card? Or a Saint Valentine’s Day card?

There IS a war on Saint Valentine’s Day. Our commercialized, secularized, hyper-sexualized culture has successfully fought to drive the “Saint” from February 14 and it’s time to fight back. Join us as we call on See's Candies and Hallmark to stop leaving the Saint out!

It is war! But we are only now fighting back! Is it war?

I think this is for real. Click HERE to go read "What We Want."

Ohio Curriculum Evolving

In 2002 Ohio passed a law that set standards for classes to criticize evolution. But now they're about to give it up. The New York Times:
A majority on the Ohio Board of Education, the first state to single out evolution for "critical analysis" in science classes more than three years ago, are expected on Tuesday to challenge a model biology lesson plan they consider an excuse to teach the tenets of the disputed theory of intelligent design.

A reversal in Ohio would be the most significant in a series of developments signaling a sea change across the country against intelligent design — which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone — since a federal judge's ruling in December that teaching the theory in the public schools of Dover, Pa., was unconstitutional.

A small rural school district in California last month quickly scuttled plans for a philosophy elective on intelligent design after being challenged by lawyers involved in the Pennsylvania case. Also last month, an Indiana lawmaker who said in November that he would introduce legislation to mandate teaching of intelligent design, instead offered a watered-down bill requiring only "accuracy in textbooks." And just last week, two Democrats in Wisconsin proposed a ban on schools' teaching intelligent design as science, the first such proposal in the country.

Here in Ohio, pressure has been mounting on board members in recent weeks to toss out the lesson plan and the standards underpinning it.

Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, called this month for a legal review of the plan, while newly revealed education department documents linking it to treatises of the intelligent design movement have renewed threats of a lawsuit by opponents of the movement. At the same time, a national group of evolution defenders has bombarded 5 of the 19 board members considered key to a vote against the lesson plan with 30,000 e-mail messages over the past week, and just Monday, the president of the National Academy of Sciences urged the board to change the lesson and the underlying curriculum guidelines to "conform to established scientific standards."

"All of that adds up to a sense of urgency and a sense of now is the time to clean up our act," said Robin C. Hovis, a stockbroker from Millersburg who is one of two board members pushing an emergency motion on Tuesday to delete the "critical analysis" language and the lesson plan. "There is an atmosphere among the board, at least a growing atmosphere, that this is a misguided policy and we better get rid of it." Ohio Expected to Rein In Class Involving Intelligent Design

It's interesting that a survey funded by a pro-Intelligent-Design group showed that a majority of Ohio residents favor teaching about alternatives to evolution.
The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, intellectual home of the design movement, had distanced itself from the Dover case but has long heralded Ohio's "critical analysis" approach as a model for the nation, and is ardently defending the lesson plan.

On Monday, the institute released a Zogby International poll it had commissioned showing that 69 percent of Ohio voters believed that scientific evidence against evolution should be included in curriculums, and 76 percent agreed that "students should also be able to learn about scientific evidence that points to an intelligent design of life." The institute has also proffered letters from two university science professors supporting Ohio's standards and model lesson plan.

This same survey also found that a majority of Ohioans also believed that students should take a full semester class studying the question of what happened to that cute blonde girl who disappeared in Aruba.

Not really.

But you gotta ask, do you always give the people what they want? Or do you do the right thing? For some people, that's a tough question.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Good Letter in the Gazette

Dan Furmansky, of Equality Maryland, published this letter in the Gazette last week. I was out of town, and didn't get it on the blog.

This letter does more than express an opinion. In it, Mr. Furmansky explains a lot of the history of the legal institution of marriage in Maryland. You might learn something here, check it out.
Last month, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge analyzed a 1973 Maryland law that denies same-sex couples the ability to legally marry. She declared this law a clear violation of our state constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment.

In response, many individuals, including our governor, condemned the ruling and stated they would do whatever it takes to protect "traditional marriage." including support a constitutional amendment.

Just what these detractors of marriage equality mean with their rhetoric is open to interpretation. Does this mean they don’t believe two people of the same sex can love each other as much as a heterosexual couple? Do they think the "traditional" institution of marriage in Maryland has been the same since the founding of our state? Do they feel that gay and lesbian couples don’t need the same legal protections other couples already have should a spouse take ill, lose a job, weather tough financial times or face the uncertainties of old age? Or perhaps they simply believe the children of gay and lesbian couples don’t deserve the same safeguards as other children whose parents are allowed a legal relationship to one another.

Some people argue a constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples is necessary because gay people want to fundamentally change the institution of marriage. It’s true. Allowing same-sex couples to marry is an evolution, but the institution of marriage has already changed dramatically over time.

Years ago, women were not full participants in a marriage. They had no rights to property and no legal recourse if raped by a husband. Until the early 20th century, marriages performed by non-Christian clergy were not allowed. In fact, marriages performed by non-clergy were not legalized in Maryland until 1967. (Today, 40 percent of marriages in Maryland are performed by clerks of the court or judges).

Until a Baltimore Circuit Court ruling in 1957, there was a criminal prohibition on interracial marriages; the then-societal notion of "traditional marriage" did not include allowing people of different races to marry. The courts played a role in many of these advances.

Some people feel marriage must be a heterosexuals-only club to "protect" children, as though gay people cannot be good parents. Want to insult a gay or lesbian individual? Make this insinuation. And you’ll be wrong. Just ask every respectable organization of pediatricians, social workers, psychiatrists and child welfare experts, all who agree that children raised by same-sex couples fare just as well as children raised by heterosexuals.

So, I ask again what it means when people say they want to "protect traditional marriage" by defining it in the constitution. This is not the first time some have sought to legally "define" marriage in a constitution. In 1948, after California’s Supreme Court became the first in the country to strike down its interracial marriage ban as unconstitutional, some states rushed to declare marriage as the union of "two white people, two Mongolians or two Negroes," lest their own state courts do the same. It isn’t discriminatory, they said, because we’re not preventing anyone from getting married, just people of color from marrying whites and vice versa. As late as 1958, polls reported more than 95 percent of whites still disapproved of marriages between blacks and whites. "Let the people vote," proponents clamored.

Now, a Circuit Court has determined that the Maryland is being violated every time a same-sex couple is forced to remain legal strangers in the eyes of the law. Sadly, the irrational fear of granting legal parity to the relationships of same-sex couples is so great that some seek to amend this group of people — and their children — right out of our constitution and say that its provisions of equal protection do not apply. The Maryland constitution has been amended 217 times, but never, ever to limit rights. Every single amendment has been for expanding and clarifying rights.

If our state government has evolved over time to ensure that people who love someone of another race, women and non-Christians can avail themselves of its protections, if experts say children fare just fine with same-sex parents, and if clergies’ prerogative to refuse to marry interfaith couples, divorced individuals or gay couples is constitutionally enshrined what is the reason to deny the gay couple down the street the ability to legalize their union?

Most of us want the same things in life — to find our purpose and meaning for being here, to be good people without having our morality questioned by others with differing spiritual beliefs, to contribute to society, to fall in love, and for many of us to marry and raise children. Why should anyone want to deny the full American dream to gays and lesbians?

Ask yourself, do I want to be a person who declares that the constitution shouldn’t protect gays and lesbians because I am personally uncomfortable with the idea of them marrying? Would I want my rights, my love and my family placed for a popular vote?

Look into your own hearts, and you will see ours as well, beating just as strongly, and yearning for fairness and justice and life and love.

Dan Furmansky Don’t deny gays, lesbians full American dream

Sunday, February 12, 2006

NYT Nails the "Ex-Gay" Hoax

This one made me laugh out loud a couple of times, a cool editorial by Dan Savage in the New York Times. He talks about straight actors playing gay guys in Brokeback Mountain, and about the evangelicals complaining that a gay actor is playing a straight missionary in End of the Spear. He gets in some good ones -- but really, it's too easy, isn't it? The hypocrisy is so near the surface, exposing it is not really like ... exposing anything. It's just like pointing out the obvious.

Unfortunately, we live in times where it is necessary to point out the obvious.

I have talked before about the "ex-gay" hoax, which is likely to figure in our MCPS sex-ed curriculum discussion, especially since PFOX has a representative on the citizens committee. Generally, my comments have been something like this: imagine what it's like to be the poor girl who marries a guy who "used to be gay."

For some reason, certain people think it would be just great if gay men would marry women. How hard is it to see the problem with that? I mean, really, it's gotta be one of the dumbest ideas in the world. Ever.

So I had to laugh at this NYT editorial. I'll start near the end, where he's talking about the "ex-gay movement":
This "movement" demands more from gay men than simply playing straight. Once a man can really pass as ex-gay — once he's got some Dockers, an expired gym membership and a bad haircut — he's supposed to become, in effect, an ex-gay missionary, reaching out to the hostile gay tribes in such inhospitable places as Chelsea and West Hollywood.

What should really trouble evangelicals, however, is this: even if every gay man became ex-gay tomorrow, there still wouldn't be an ex-lesbian tomboy out there for every ex-gay cowboy. Instead, millions of straight women would wake up one morning to discover that they had married a Jack or an Ennis. Restaurant hostesses and receptionists at hair salons would be especially vulnerable.

Sometimes I wonder if evangelicals really believe that gay men can go straight. If they don't think Chad Allen can play straight convincingly for 108 minutes, do they honestly imagine that gay men who aren't actors can play straight for a lifetime? And if anyone reading this believes that gay men can actually become ex-gay men, I have just one question for you: Would you want your daughter to marry one? Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Ex-Gay Cowboys

That's my question, too. Imagine meeting your daughter's new fiance, imagine how you like it when they tell you (all smiles and happiness) that he "used to be gay." Is this what you want for your little angel?

The problem is that this is real life. It's easy to see the "theory" of it. Certain people don't believe anybody should be gay. So some Real Smart Person came up with a solution to the problem: why don't all the gay people just act straight? They can declare themselves straight, marry someone of the opposite sex ... see how easy? No gay people, no problem. But in reality you get down to a particular guy, dragging a particular girl into a fake relationship, and man, this is just a bad idea.
Evangelical Christians seem sincere in their desire to help build healthy, lasting marriages. Well, if that's their goal, encouraging gay men to enter into straight marriages is a peculiar strategy. Every straight marriage that includes a gay husband is one Web-browser-history check away from an ugly divorce.

If anything, supporters of traditional marriage should want gay men out of the heterosexual marriage market entirely. And the best way to do that is to see that we're safely married off — to each other, not to your daughters. Let gay actors like Chad Allen only play it straight in the movies.

This point seems so obvious, I can't believe we live in a world where it needs to be said.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sometimes They Just Make It Up

This is not the kind of site I usually read, it's called Right Faith (motto: "Where Everything Favors the Stewardship of Patrimony"). (No, I didn't make that up, and it doesn't appear to be a joke.) But they've got a post there about "Gay Activism in Public Schools," and they talk about us.

First, they say a little bit about the controversy here in Montgomery County, using the Eagle Forum's description of the situation, block-quoting a big chunk. Sample: It's hard to believe, but this offensive curriculum criticizes "fundamentalists" and specifically singles out the Baptists as "theologically flawed" and as "unenlightened and Biblically misguided." I won't even try to say how many things are incorrect in that one sentence, I guess if Phyllis Schlafly says it, it's not considered lying, is it? Anyway, so they take the story up to the lawsuit.

Then, listen to this:
Don't expect this one ruling to thwart their efforts. The gay advocacy-in-education group in Maryland, Teachthefacts.org, is well organized and stand ready to influence Maryland public schools. This same group also refuses to permit research, performed by Dr. Robert Spitzer (a pro-gay marriage advocate), in the sex ed. curriculum showing that homosexuality is a self-determined lifestyle that can be changed. I suppose that free-speech and balanced perspectives are only applicable when it is convenient.

I especially like the way we are a "gay advocacy-in-education group." We could have been a "gay-advocacy in education group," but no, they seem to be saying we're actually gay, and promote "advocacy in education," whatever that means.

Uh ... you're wrong, dude.

There are American flags all over this web site, so I guess they're more patriotic than us, and I suppose that means that when they make stuff up, too, it's not lying, it's just, I don't know, making a point. The hint would be the "Rally for Bush Blogroll" on the side of their blog.

And man, the one thing we are proud of is that we are "well organized," just like they say. We don't spend one hour and fifty five minutes of a two-hour meeting joking around and going off on tangents ... do we? We do? Oh, yeah, that's right, we do. But for five minutes we are definitely well organized. We just never know when those five minutes are going to come, that's why it takes us two hours. And they never come all at once, it's like ten seconds here, thirty seconds there. Once we went a whole minute staying on-topic.

And, y'know, the school board has to run everything by us before they can make any decision at all. Oh yeah, that's true. Like, we refuse to permit research, performed by Dr. Robert Spitzer or anybody else, into any curriculum. And if we say no research, that's it, there's no research. We put our foot down. We are in control of the whole process -- just ask these rightwing paranoids.

For the record, nobody in their right mind believes that Spitzer's informal research showed that "homosexuality is a self-determined lifestyle that can be changed." Spitzer's badly designed and poorly implemented study found a few people, after a year and a half of searching, who convinced Spitzer, in telephone interviews, that they had "gone straight" after being gay. Even Spitzer himself says, "I suspect the vast majority of gay people would be unable to alter by much a firmly established homosexual orientation."

This statement on the Right Faith blog links to a truly ridiculous story by Jon Ward in the Washington Times, written after our forum last year, where the reporter ignored everything that was presented by the expert speakers, and wrote instead about what the executive director of PFOX said about Spitzer's study. It was bizarre, but Right Faith is eating it up, five months later.

This guy goes way off the deep end. You might have heard about "Fistgate," an unfortunate event in Massachusetts where a group brought some inappropriate literature to a convention at a high school. The wingnut web sites just love to quote this juicy stuff, in all its gory detail, and they love to link to the book, just to make sure their readers can be suitably titillated horrified. The Right Faith blog links to it, of course, but just in case their readers can't figure out how to click on the link, they include some quotes about fisting and watersports and stuff, just to show their readers how totally stimulating offensive it really is.

Then, a classic, they say, I simply can't believe that our public school students are being taught this; it is unfathomable and outrageous.

Of course, the truth is, nobody is teaching this, and nobody -- I mean nobody at all -- says they should.

I've been having fun with these idiots, but let me explain.

TeachTheFacts.org advocates a comprehensive and inclusive sex-education curriculum for Montgomery County public schools. There will be a couple of classes on sexual orientation, and there will be some discussion of proper condom use (as there has been for years). The curriculum that will be implemented will have lots of discussion of abstinence and why it is the best policy, including not only stuff about pregnancy and STDs but also discussions of how being sexually active affects a teen's social life, self-esteem, reputation, relationship with the other person, and everything else. We're not proposing or promoting anything radical, not trying to force anything on anybody. This is the kind of education that people all over the country want, as shown by numerous surveys. The schools will teach about sexual orientation and sexual identity, and we want to make sure that the classes are consistent with the opinions of the scientific and medical experts, and we do not want to see the schools stigmatize sexual minorities.

That's not much to ask. The "Right Faiths" of the world want to blow it out of proportion, but we're not asking for very much at all.

My Visit to Utah

I just got back from a trip to Provo, Utah. Unfortunately, I didn't get to look around much, just flew in, did my thing, and flew out.

I was invited to give a talk at Brigham Young University. In case you don't know, BYU is run by the Mormon Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You can't say exactly a hundred per cent, but generally, all the students (there are about 35,000 of them) and all the faculty are Mormons. It was one of the few times that I have given a talk and it started with a prayer. It's happened before, but usually only if I spoke at a church; this was in an auditorium in the Computer Science department. Before they introduced me they started with a prayer, asking Jesus to help them understand what I was going to say.

Yes, I understand that some readers will find a certain irony in that. Compounding the irony, these will be just those readers who don't know what the word "irony" means, who think it's a synonym for "sarcasm." Which is also ironic...

I spent twelve hours, solid, eight-thirty aye-em to eight-thirty pee-em, meeting with faculty and students, hearing about their projects, answering their questions, listening to their ideas. Lunch with the faculty, dinner at Sundance with a professor and his top graduate student, great guys, great food, great scenery.

They were a most impressive bunch. They showed me a couple of projects that'd knock your socks off. I mean, if your socks come off when you learn about a comprehensive Bayesian-network method for sampling from estimated probability distributions of classes of functions to predict the trajectory of a search algorithm. And of course the landscape out there was gorgeous. Huge, snow-covered mountains rise up, right from the edges of the city. A chilly-looking little river ran behind my hotel. The shuttle driver said, about three times, that the biggest problem they have there is deciding whether to play golf or ski. And in fact the airport was full of people with skis, and the weather was outrageous, twenties at night, forties in the afternoons with clear, bright, clean-air sunshine.

It was interesting to look at the local newspaper, to see what it is that people in Utah, arguably the most conservative state in the USA, are concerned about. The Salt Lake City Tribune had a whole section on what the legislature is up to.

For instance, I thought it was interesting that the Utah legislature is moving to make schools give a message about evolution to biology students -- but it's close:
A proposal targeting evolution survived its toughest challenge Wednesday when it eked out of a House committee by one vote.

SB96, which requires teachers to say the state doesn't endorse any theory involving the "origins of species," needs only the support of the full House to pass the Legislature after gaining approval by the House Education Committee 7-6.

The bill is the brainchild of Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who is disgusted that some educators teach that humans have a common ancestor with chimpanzees... Evolution bill survives by a vote: Critic asks why lawmakers are telling teachers how to teach

Oh, and I did like the way this female reporter played the "pill bill" in this story:
Insurance and business leaders gave the all-male Senate Health and Human Services Committee the reasons they were looking for to kill the so-called “pill bill” for the eighth year in a row Wednesday - complaints about unfunded mandates, health care costs and meddling in the marketplace. Women's 'pill bill' dies again: Contraception: Planned Parenthood director tells lawmakers to provide 'health care that eliminates the need for abortion'

The bill would have required insurance companies to cover birth control. But you gotta love that "all-male committee" wording, I think the reporter, Rebecca Wlash, managed to get her point across, don't you?

And then of course, here's Buttars again -- we've actually talked about him before on this blog, he's a piece of work.
WEST JORDAN REPUBLICAN Sen. Chris Buttars' absence from Capitol Hill Wednesday disrupted the legislative process. His bill banning gay clubs from Utah high schools was pulled from a Senate committee in the morning. Here [in a photo], a group of Hunter High School students who were given permission slips to miss school so they could speak about the bill, do the next best thing and corner Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City, in the hall. Bill banning gay clubs from Utah high schools pulled from a Senate committee

So maybe it was a good thing the kids went to the legislature, got to lobby a little bit for the "gay clubs." Not only did they learn a little bit about how it all works, but it appears that they actually may have had an effect.

And it crosses my mind, what kind of uproar would we be hearing from CRC, and from Anon here in the comments, if MCPS gave students a pass to get out of school, so they could lobby for "gay clubs?" It doesn't appear to me that the Mormons in Utah batted an eye.

Also, it kind of sounds like it's just this one guy who wants this bill. Unlike the CRC, who is outraged that Gay-Straight Alliances can function in Montgomery County schools, the people of Utah -- except for this one nutty legislator -- seem to pretty much figure it's not really the state's business to meddle in every little thing that people do, including gay people. Isn't that weird?

I appreciated this letter to the editor on the day I was there:
Sen. Chris Buttars has finally revealed his SB97, meant to abolish clubs for gay and lesbian teens.

If this bill passes, it will leave many of these teens without support when they need it most, and that will shape their lives accordingly. Such efforts of self-styled "moral" crusaders are, in fact, the main force urging gay teens into the sort of "self-destructive, secretive and promiscuous gay lifestyle" people like Sen. Buttars love to rally against.

Alternatively, these teens could be taught the value of abstinence and monogamy. They could learn to honestly accept their nature and deal with it in a way that fits their faith and morality. They could be assured they had a role and stake in our society, regardless of their orientation, and that there is a reason to hope for a better life outside of high school when it seems all hope is lost.

Sen. Buttars' hiding of such a malicious goal as removing support and sense of community from these teens should make everyone wonder if he hasn't begun using his copy of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters as an instruction guide for drafting legislation.

Tom Butterfield

I also liked this one:
Some respondents have complained that moral "crusader" is too favorable a description of West Jordan Republican Sen. Chris Buttars.

They should study their history. The original crusaders were religious fanatics who mixed politics and religion and thereby caused great harm to their society. Sounds accurate to me.

Jack Worlton
Salt lake City

Utah is a strange state, just plain different. More than half the people who live in that state are Mormons. These are very conservative people, straight-laced, hard-working, down-to-earth. Myself, I would expect that such a uniform population would end up more or less stifling debate. Looking around, though, it appears that just the opposite happens. The discussion there is wide open. Maybe it turns out that one thing about being conservative, straight-laced, and hard-working is that you don't take time to interfere in other people's lives.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The War on Science, and Nuttiness at NASA

This site is for discussions related to the development and implementation of a new sex-education curriculum in Montgomery County, Maryland. That in itself is not really very interesting, is it? The interesting aspect, we all realize, is the place of this new curriculum at the current instant in history. A curriculum was developed and presented at an inopportune time, a week after the 2004 presidential elections, and it became the focus of an attempted takeover of the school district by reactionary elements in the county. TeachTheFacts.org was formed to oppose those elements, whose original stated goal was to recall the entire school board, but who retreated to the safer position of maligning the new curriculum, pretending it was morally offensive, and eventually going to court in a drive-by lawsuit that resulted in a temporary restraining order, which resulted in negotiations, which resulted in the school district agreeing to start over. --Which is where we are now, waiting for a new curriculum to be delivered by MCPS, so it can be evaluated, approved, and put into place.

In the meantime, the same "culture wars" swirl around us, and discussion of other battle zones have been considered relevant to our conversations here. The argument over evolution, attempts to undermine and deny evidence of global warming, and other topics have pointed to an overall retreat of the American public from a position of intellectual curiosity, openness, and rigorous skepticism, to a way of thinking that relies on authority and denies science when it conflicts with that authority. Often, the authority is religious, but in many cases it is simple authoritarianism, as when those who question decisions made by leaders of business and government are labeled "traitors" and worse. It seems to me to be a retreat from the gains of the Enlightenment, a dive back toward the womblike, blind security of the Dark Ages, and it sets America apart from the rest of the industrialized world, which is still marching forward.

Here is an example of the kind of thing I am talking about. The scientists who work at NASA have traditionally set a world standard. Yeah, the bureaucracy might fail sometimes, but the scientific research there is second to none. But then, you put these political appointees in charge, and they try to paint everything a color the authorities prefer.

A recent New York Times article covered the recent flap over NASA political appointees trying to get the lead climate scientist to stop talking about global warming, and went on to mention some related issues. Down in the story, we learn about a young man who, after working on the Bush campaign and inaugural committee, was given a job as writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office in Washington. Well, he's gone now, it turns out he had lied on his résumé. But in the meantime, while he was there:
... In October, for example, George Deutsch, a presidential appointee in NASA headquarters, told a Web designer working for the agency to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, according to an e-mail message from Mr. Deutsch that another NASA employee forwarded to The Times.
In the months before the 2004 election, according to interviews and some documents, these appointees sought to review news releases and to approve or deny news media requests to interview NASA scientists.

Repeatedly that year, public-affairs directors at all of NASA's science centers were admonished by White House appointees at headquarters to focus all attention on Mr. Bush's January 2004 "vision" for returning to the Moon and eventually traveling to Mars.

Starting early in 2004, directives, almost always transmitted verbally through a chain of midlevel workers, went out from NASA headquarters to the agency's far-flung research centers and institutes saying that all news releases on earth science developments had to allude to goals set out in Mr. Bush's "vision statement" for the agency, according to interviews with public-affairs officials working in headquarters and at three research centers.
The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen's public statements.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most." NASA Chief Backs Agency Openness

See, this isn't how science works, in case you need to be told that.

One fun thing about science is that it is fundamentally a challenge to authority. It questions everything. If somebody says that things fall down, you get to ask what "down" means. And then you find it means "toward the center of mass," and then you find that objects are gravitationally attracted to one another in proportion to their mass, and then you wonder about really massive things, like stars, and little tiny things, like atoms -- but it all starts with questioning the untested wisdom. "Down" might work for common folk, but a scientist can't leave it at that.

In Montgomery County, we find science under attack. Uneducated people think that scientific findings should be accessible to them. We just had a guy in the comments section say that Darwinian evolution was easy to understand. But if you go to the literature, you will not find easy reading -- oh, it's fine when pop-novelists write science fiction, it's all exciting, but that is not where the science happens. Science succeeds in part by sealing itself off from public debate.

Bundled with this is a failure of uneducated people to understand the scientific method, the nature of theory and the impossibility of inductive proof. They think you can criticize a scientist and his research because there is no "proof." Well, there's never "proof," there's only knowledge, and it always contains some nonzero amount of uncertainty. Science has excellent methods for minimizing the uncertainty, but science is an ongoing debate, it isn't a list of facts. There is always doubt and skepticism, and that's how it's meant to be. That's why the state of knowledge keeps improving.

When there is a scandal, and it happens especially in fields where the stakes are high, where there's a lot of money, people try to slander the entire enterprise of science. Ulterior motives, even political motives, are attributed to researchers who have devoted their lives to understanding some arcane topic, when their conclusions disagree with those that would be consistent with a certain political perspective.

Now we face a discussion over sexual variation and what should be taught in the schools. Scientists who study the topic, and medical experts who deal with patients and research subjects every day, have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice, and that being gay is not a disease. They haven't concluded that it's really really cool, or that everybody should be gay, but those who know the topic really well just don't see it as a problem in itself. They would like to understand the subject better, but in their studies they have learned that orientation not a moral choice, it's just the way some people are.

Montgomery County is a prosperous place with lots of highly educated people. We owe it to our citizens to provide state-of-the-art knowledge to their children. Let's not let religious and political authorities tell us what science has found.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Getting Ready for Carnival

Down in Brazil, they will be beginning their Carnival celebration on February 25th, with several days of parties, parades, and all-out carousing. The government wants to make sure that everybody is safe:
PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - The Brazilian government will distribute 25 million free condoms to promote safe sex during the country's Carnival holidays, the Health Ministry said Monday.

The condoms, provided under the government's acclaimed anti-AIDS program, will be given out at health clinics and in sites like public squares and dances.

"It's that time of year when we boost distribution because of the increase in demand," an official from the Health Ministry's anti-AIDS program said. 25 MILLION condoms? Who's watching Carnival?

Twenty ... five ... million ...?

I don't know, I guess I was just struck by the contrast.

Evolution Sunday This Weekend

Some American Christians have decided to make a stand against science, especially against the science of Biology and the theory that ties it all together. Because the theory of evolution is hard to understand, and because it is easy to frame it in an unflattering way, a majority of Americans are confused about it and afraid of it. Luckily, science isn't conducted by taking polls, and research is largely unaffected by public opinion, but some things like public education do force a negotiation between facts and the sentiments of the public.

From The Clergy Letter Project:
On 12 February 2006 hundreds of Christian churches from all portions of the country and a host of denominations will come together to discuss the compatibility of religion and science. For far too long, strident voices, in the name of Christianity, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science. More than 10,000 Christian clergy have already signed The Clergy Letter demonstrating that this is a false dichotomy. Now, on the 197th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, many of these leaders will bring this message to their congregations through sermons and/or discussion groups. Together, participating religious leaders will be making the statement that religion and science are not adversaries. And, together, they will be elevating the quality of the national debate on this topic.

If your church would like to join this national event, please send a note to mz@uwosh.edu. We welcome your participation.

To examine some of the sermons members of The Clergy Letter Project have delivered on this topic and to view some of the resources they have found useful, click here.

412 Congregations from 49 states are participating as of 3 February 2006

This project has been going on for a little more than a year, it looks like. Michael Zimmerman, the Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, has been collecting signatures from clergy for this letter:
Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

This letter has ten thousand signatures.

Ten thousand.

It looks like about fifteen Maryland churches are planning Evolution Sunday activities. It will be interesting to see how it gets played in the press (I imagine they'll have to interview Michelle Turner for her views on it). It will be also be interesting to see if there is a snowball effect, as other groups rise to the challenge. It is not in religion's best interest to try to deny scientific findings -- it becomes one of those "Who ya gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes" situations.