Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Petitions Filed in Fight Over South Dakota Abortion Law

This was inevitable. South Dakota's draconian abortion law isn't going last much longer. And I doubt that the officials who put it into place will survive the next election, either. The Post has the story:
PIERRE, S.D. -- An abortion rights group Tuesday submitted more than twice the number of the signatures needed to hold a statewide vote in November on whether to repeal South Dakota's ban on abortion.

The Legislature earlier this year passed the strictest abortion law in the nation, banning all abortions except those necessary to save a woman's life. The law, scheduled to take effect July 1, makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

The measure was aimed at sparking a court fight that supporters hope will lead to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established the right to an abortion.

The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families said it turned in more than 38,000 signatures for a statewide referendum. The South Dakota secretary of state's office will check the validity of the signatures and determine whether the measure qualifies for the ballot.

Jan Nicolay, co-chairwoman of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, said she believes it would be the nation's first statewide election on abortion since Roe v. Wade. Opponents of the ban decided to pursue a popular vote instead of filing a lawsuit.

"We would prefer this be dealt with by the people of the state of South Dakota and not spend a lot of money fighting a legal battle," Nicolay said. S.D. Abortion Ban Oppponents Petition

Remember? There was some monkey-business over the deadlines for filing petitions. It looks like these guys got them in on time.

They needed a little under 17,000 signatures to force a referendum. They submitted more than 38,000.

That oughta do it.

Another School Board Member Bails

This time it's the President of the Montgomery County Board of Education. The Gazette has it:
County school board President Charles Haughey will not stand for re-election this year.

Haughey (At large) of Rockville said he made the decision ‘‘after a weekend poll” of family members, including his wife, Barbara E. Haughey, a principal at Ashburton Elementary School in Bethesda.

‘‘Our grandchildren are growing up much too fast and they’re in Charlotte,” Haughey said Tuesday. ‘‘If I have a four-year commitment to the board, [Barbara] has a four-year commitment at her school.”

Haughey said his wife has no plans to leave Ashburton, but added that he has been nudging her toward retirement.

Haughey, who was elected in 2002, is the second board member in a week to announce that he will not seek a second term. Last week, Gabriel Romero (Dist. 1) of Montgomery Village said he will not stand for re-election.

There are four seats up for election: District 1, District 3, District 5 and at large. Board members Nancy Navarro (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring and Patricia B. O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda have filed for candidacy in their respective districts.

Haughey said he would regret not being able to see reforms to the school system’s sex education curriculum and to middle schools programs through to their fruition. Haughey won’t seek second term

I appreciate that he is going to miss reforming the sex-ed curriculum. We need conscientious, fearless board members to see that it's done right.

TeachTheFacts will be watching the fall races closely, and will want to learn exactly where candidates for these openings stand on the issues related to the development of a new Family Life and Human Development curriculum. We'll be watching and listening carefully, and will report here what we learn as the elections come closer.

Puritanism Kills in Uganda

The web site Talk To Action had a serious and sad story this week. Uganda had been considered one of the success stories in the battle against AIDS. But Uganda's AIDS Commissioner Kihumuro Apuuli recently announced that HIV infections have almost doubled in that country over the past two years.

And what might have been the cause of that?
Uganda was once an HIV prevention success story, where an ambitious government-sponsored prevention campaign, including massive condom distribution and messages about delaying sex and reducing numbers of partners, pushed HIV rates down from 15 percent in the early 1990s to 5 percent in 2001. But conservative evangelicals rewrote this history--with the full-throated cooperation of Uganda's evangelical first family, the Musevenis. As one Family Research Council paper put it:
"Both abstinence and monogamy helped to curb the spread of AIDS in Uganda...How did this happen? Shortly after he came into office in 1986, President Museveni of Uganda spearheaded a mass education campaign promoting a three-pronged AIDS prevention message: abstinence from sexual activity until marriage; monogamy within marriage; and condoms as a last resort. The message became commonly known as ABC: Abstain, Be faithful, and use Condoms if A and B fail."

This warped version of the true Uganda story became the mantra in Bush's Washington, with the "C" reduced more and more to an afterthought as time went by. For example, in piling on against a 2002 pro-condom comment by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Focus on the Family's James Dobson wrote condoms out of the story entirely: "Secretary Powell seems to be ignorant of the fact that Uganda has made great progress against AIDS by emphasizing abstinence, not condoms." Soon, players connected with the Christian right, from Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse to Anita Smith's Children's AIDS Fund, cashed in to the tune of millions of dollars in federal grants to spread the abstinence message in Uganda, the Christian rights' new showcase for a morality-based approach to AIDS. In the case of Smith's outfit, her proposal was shot down by a scientific review committee, but politics prevailed: the head of U.S. AID overruled the experts and demanded that the program be funded. A disaster for abstinence ideology

You wonder, just what is it that these guys get out of all this? Is it the millions of dollars? Mmm, looking at some of the stuff that has been coming out about the Christian Coalition's Rex Reed suggests that it might be that. There's a lot of money in this holier-than-thou business.
Anita Smith has long been a close ally of Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma senator James Dobson helped get elected who is so fanatically pro-abstinence that he has pushed for warning labels on condoms and once demanded the ouster of the head of the Centers for Disease Control for promoting condom use. Coburn's legislative director, Roland Foster, used to regularly send out Children's AIDS Fund emails trashing HIV prevention organizations for being too sexually explicit and calling for them to be investigated and defunded. (Many were.) Once Coburn, a former Congressman, was elected to the Senate in 2004, President Bush picked Smith to replace Coburn as the head of his Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Now, according to the State Department email printed below, she's an official U.S. delegate to next week's UN Special Session on AIDS.

Another official U.S. delegate, Melissa Pardue, now a White House functionary, until recently used her perch as a Heritage Foundation policy analyst to supply the Christian right with their talking points on abstinence-only education, forwarding the false claims that multiple scientific studies show that abstinence-only education works (in fact the most persuasive data shows that people who pledge abstinence are at greater risk for getting sexually transmitted diseases) and that the federal government spends far more on comprehensive sex ed (the feds spend almost zero on the latter, but Pardue tiptoes around that by counting all the funds that go to family planning clinics to provide medical care).

There's more.

For some unfathomable reason, certain people are obsessed with anyone having sex with someone they are not legally married to. It's the worst thing in the world to these people, and must be stopped at any cost. We have seen several instances where decisions to literally save lives have been rejected because of some remote chance that someone might be more likely to have sex -- I'm thinking of the controversies over the HPV vaccine and Plan B. To some of us, this is just plain insane. In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS has killed millions and millions of people. Anything you can do to reduce the chances of the disease spreading, even reducing it by a small amount, needs to be done.

Some people don't like it when I call these people "nuts." It's not intended, I admit, to be a compliment. But somebody has to say it out loud -- this stuff is nonsense. The oh-so-offended wackos in Montgomery County thought they could kick out the entire school board and take over, because the schools were going to have a better condom video and teach some facts about sexual orientation. Listen, this is nutty, it's absurd. Somebody's got to say it. It's dangerous and it's deadly. It's not just a different opinion -- it's wrong.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Ick, or Evil?

We talked last week about the ... creepy ... CNN segment on Richard Cohen, the "ex-gay" therapist who is President of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX). PFOX was one of the two groups who sued Montgomery County schools last year, along with the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC).

Last fall, the CRC had a public meeting where their featured speaker was Warren Throckmorton. Throckmorton is a psychologist at a small Christian college who specializes in helping gay people become straight. He is a favorite of the nutty groups, I think, because it's hard for them to find someone with an education or any credentials to stand with them. He supports the "ex-gay" movement, though his wording has become much more cautious recently.

This morning I happened to come across Throckmorton's reaction to the Cohen CNN piece. (CNN has the video online HERE.) It's kind of interesting. He says:
CNN, the Paula Zahn Now show, about a 6 minute clip, I was speechless for a few minutes afterwards. My wife and the rest of the sane people in the house were watching Idol. At last count, my daughter voted for Taylor 62 times.

Anyway, when my wife watched the clip (I taped it), she said she couldn't get past the "ick factor" to even evaluate what was said. We discussed which was the ickiest, the tennis racket slamming the pillow while screaming at mom; or the client-cuddle technique where Richard holds his client like a baby in a kind of nursing position. We couldn't decide. CNN segment involving Richard Cohen

Yeah, what was ickiest?

How about the whole thing?

How about the whole idea that this gay guy is on a mission to convince other gay guys that being gay is a bad thing and that he knows how they can change? How about Cohen's whole fake-theory about how sexual orientation develops, and his fake therapeutic techniques? How about the ethics charges that got him thrown out of the American Counseling Association? How about the fake way he "takes donations" rather than charge for his services? The whole thing is icky.

Look, the "ex-gay" thing is a hoax. Cohen is a fake. PFOX is an invention of a Family Blah Blah group to promote their anti-gay bigotry. It's a terrible tragic movement that plays on the conflict between religious intolerance and the fact that some people are attracted to people of their own sex. A member of one of those religions who grows up to discover he is attracted to other guys is faced with a decision: reject the church, or reject your own feelings. It's a hard choice, a wrenching choice that tears you limb from limb, especially when you have spent your whole life being socialized in a culture that has beliefs about sexuality that are judgmental and, simply, erroneous.

PFOX is an organization that is dedicated to getting people to choose their religion over their own feelings. Some TeachTheFacts members have been discussing a disgusting PFOX web article that you can read HERE. It's more creepy gay-hating stuff, a story about a kid who goes away to summer school, learns a little bit about sexual orientation, realizes he's gay, and how his mother is totally unable to accept the fact. She goes on a rampage, hooks up with another family with a similar story ... there's a lawsuit ... it's a mess.

If you are interested in this story, one of our members put together a little list of articles that sort of fill in the gaps, some from each side of the issue:

It's one thing to pretend to be holier-than-thou, to stand at the back fence gossiping about the neighbors' evil ways, and how you're so much better than them. And it's one thing to believe you have the one true religion and a direct line to the Almighty. Whatever, you may be a misanthropic idiot, but you're not hurting anybody.

But when you promise someone that they can change one of the most fundamental components of their psychological being, when you convince them that they can and should become something different from what God made them -- when you give them hope that they can become something that will be accepted by their families and church communities -- then you have strayed into inviolable space. Such reckless disregard for another person's well-being in the name of ideology is unforgivable.

It is interesting to read the comments in Throckmorton's blog, too. These days, he claims not to be a reparative therapist. I think this is because he has given the term a new, narrowed meaning, for him it's not the overall idea of "converting" gay people, it is a particular set of techniques, which he says he doesn't use. He's still an "agent of intolerance," as John McCain described Jerry Falwell, and for the same reasons. But even those on the Dark Side can make out the vague shadowy outline of evil, which from their point of view looks like "ick," in what Richard Cohen's doing.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Doing the Math

Great Britain's online newspaper, The Times, had a story yesterday about sex education, with a quote way down near the bottom:
... the effect of all that “sex ed”, argued Keith Deltano, a former teacher who tours schools advocating abstinence, is that the average American is exposed to between 240,000 and 480,000 sex acts before reaching the age of 18. Pure fiction? Figures cast doubt on virginity drive

I'm not going into the article itself, it just tears apart a certain argument that the anti-safe-sex groups try to make.

But what got me to that story was a blog post that looked at Keith Deltano's numbers and said, hey, wait a minute...
Let’s put this in perspective. When you have your 18th birthday you will have lived 6570 days in total. This would average 38.5 sex acts per day. I’m not sure what half a sex act would look like. But that’s how the math works out. Of course that is just for his low estimate. If you take his high estimate it would 77 sex acts per day thus ridding us of the necessity to contemplate what half a sex act would be like. Though I am told that many women say they know precisely what half a sex act is!

But can we say at a new-born infant is exposed to such things? I doubt it. I get the impression that Deltano, like most conservatives, is obsessed with the media so he’s probably talking about television and film. New-borns don’t watch much TV and I have actually never seen a new born at the cinema. So it is probably fair to delete the first two years of life from this analysis, if not more. After all, for the first two years infants are mainly exposed to cribs, diapers and adults going “goo goo” at them. Rarely are they lining up at the porn shop or watching racy late night TV or sneaking a peek at the Playboy Channel.

So it is fair to delete the first two years at least. That brings the number of days in which they are exposed to such things to 5840. That comes to 41.09 sex acts per day. If that half sex act was messy consider what one-tenth of a sex act would be like. I think it’s called shaking hands. So Deltano is saying that children are exposed to between 41 and 82 sex acts per day. Obscene exaggerations

And you know, it might seem like they do, but kids actually don't watch TV 24 hours a day.
Now how many hours of television do kids watch per day? Let’s assume that most of the time they sleep 8 hours per day. They probably spend at lest 3 hours per day eating, bathing, dressing, going to the toilet. That’s 11 hours. They spend time in school. Let us assume that over the whole period in question it average 4 hours per day, which could be low, I’m too lazy to figure it out precisely. Now we are at 15 hours that are occupied. I wouldn’t be surprised if a typical kid spends 2 hours per day playing games, hanging out with friends, etc. That’s 17 hours. And I'm sure they do all sorts of other things as well. Various groups contend that the average child spends 3 to 4 hours per day watchint TV.

That sounds reasonable to me. And for arguments sake lets assume it is the 4 hour figure. So that is 4 hours per day from the age of two to 18, or 16 years. That is 23,360 hours of TV, video and film before they turn 18. But even that is not quite accurate. Typically during one hour of television there is about 15 minutes of commercials. So that means while they watch 4 hours per day they get only 3 hours of television. And last I heard the typical commercial very, very, very rarely shows “sexual acts”. So that brings the total hours down to 17,520. That means 13.69 sex acts per hour. (And that .69 sex act we all know about!) This would amount to another sex act approximately every 4 minutes.

Now not even porn videos can match that record. And that is still being “conservative” (as in being low as opposed to being “conservative” in the modern political sense where you exaggerate everything you dislike to prove the world is falling apart.) Most shows have few or no sex acts in a show. And this particularly true of the shows that kids like to watch especially when they are young. I know Jerry Falwell, in one of his senior moments, said Tinky Winky was gay but even he didn’t say that there were orgies on Teletubbies.

You do get the feeling that this particular piece of anti-sex-ed "infoganda" is not really surviving a closer look.
So at the very least much of what kids watch has no sex at all in it. I’m not sure how we quantify this. But if we just say that a third of the time they see nothing that is sexual that would mean the number of sex acts they do see during the “hot” times would have to be around 20.5 per hour to 41 per hour to come near the figures this conservative activist claims.

That is one sex act every 3 minutes on the low estimate and one every 90 seconds on his high estimate. This is getting absurd. I have to wonder what shows these children are supposedly watching. I have enjoyed some rather adult dramas, not typically watched by children, and none of them have approached the frequency that this author seems to be saying exists.
Right-wing religionists are not exempt from this tendency to exaggerate the issues that bother them. The fact is that in many cases they just make up the numbers. Or they use estimates that are intentionally skewed to make the “problem” look much bigger than it is. And if I, as an adult who has watched considerable television in his lifetime, haven’t seen the frequency of sex acts that Deltano claims exists I doubt the kids have seen it. I’m no prude and I wouldn’t turn off a show just because it shows sexual situations. I haven’t seen that much sex on television. I don’t think the children see it either. I’m not saying they never see anything sexual. And I’m not convinced that if they did it would be a disaster if the parents have already dealt well with such information. But I’m fairly confident that these estimates are obscenely exaggerated.

Sometimes you have to stop and look at what the nuts are saying. They make stuff up, we've caught them a bunch of times. Thanks to blogger "CLS" at Classically Liberal for doing the math for us on this one.

Personalize Your Platitudes

These Family Blah Blah groups are really something. You ought to see the way Focus on the Family has set up this system so you -- yes, you! -- can send a unique, one-of-a-kind letter to the editor of your favorite newspaper, telling them, in your own words, exactly why the US Constitution needs an amendment saying who American citizens can marry.

You click through and put together your very own personalized letter. For instance, here are your options for the opening:
Paragraph 1:

Option 1: For centuries now, in every civilized culture, marriage as the union of one man and one woman has been the building block of society. But it may not be true in America for long -- unless Congress approves the Marriage Protection Amendment.

Option 2: The U.S. Senate is poised to vote on the Marriage Protection Amendment, and the stakes couldn't be higher for our country and its future generations.

Option 3: Liberals argue that the Marriage Protection Amendment, which would define marriage solely as the union of one man and one woman, would write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Option 4: Marriage has been under attack ever since no-fault divorce laws made it easier for us to discard our husbands and wives. Now, the attack is coming from those who want to open up marriage to same-sex couples -- and only the Marriage Protection Amendment can stop them.

Option 5: Never mind that an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose gay marriage. It's perilously close to becoming the law of the land -- unless citizens like us step up and demand our federal lawmakers pass the Marriage Protection Amendment.

See? All you have to do is click a few links to compose a letter, and it will look like you wrote it yourself. They'll even email it for you from their web site.

You don't have to care enough to write a real letter, you just have to click the buttons on your mouse and it's done.

Listen to these exciting second paragraph options:
Paragraph 2:

Option 1: Yelling "discrimination" is just one strategy the left has used to defeat this amendment. They also have argued that gay marriage is a civil rights issue akin to the African-American struggle for equality. No less a civil rights icon than Jesse Jackson has denounced that claim, noting that "gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution."

Option 2: Amendment opponents have asked, "How does one couple's gay marriage threaten anyone's heterosexual marriage?" This question misses the point: The goal of gay activists isn't the individual relationship of any two people; it is the revision of national policy to say that gender, especially in child-rearing, is inconsequential.

Option 3: Amendment supporters have been disparaged as "bigots." How can that be, when the language being proposed is similar to the language of the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by 427 members of Congress? Are they -- and former President Clinton, who signed the bill into law -- bigots, too?

Option 4: It's important to note that those who support the amendment aren't trying to deprive homosexuals of any of the legal protections they currently enjoy; gay marriage has never been a constitutional right in America. It is not "discriminatory" to want the law to continue to provide for reasonable limitations on who can marry.

Option 5: Backing the amendment is not about bigotry. Marriage is open to any two individuals who meet certain criteria regarding age and blood relationship, and who are of the opposite sex. Gay activists seek not to end discrimination, but rather to completely redefine -- and thus undermine -- the foundational institution of marriage.

... and so on. There are four paragraphs, each one with five options, for a total of 625 possible uniquely different letters.

And hey, speaking of letters to the editor, did you see the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum's big letter-writing campaign in the Gazette? Michelle Turner, Ruth Jacobs, Ben Patton -- all three solid core members of the CRC -- and another person all sent letters to the editor, the usual bull-oney, I'm not going to bother linking to it or discussing it.

Does this mean that the CRC now has as many as four active members? (I don't know who this fourth person is, someone named "Lynne Brite." I'll give CRC the benefit of the doubt, and pretend she's one of them.) Obviously they have not yet learned to automate the letter-writing process.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Complicity of the Media

Last year had a forum. We invited some nationally-known speakers, experts in medicine and education, and had some people talk about their personal experiences. People in the audience stood up and spoke, and it was really an enlightening day. There were about a hundred people there, and we all learned a lot.

All three of the major local papers -- the Post, the Times, and the Gazette -- did the exact same thing in covering our forum. They called Michelle Turner, President of the radical group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. Ms. Turner was in St. Louis, meeting with a big rightwing fringe group (Eagle Forum), and had not attended our event at all. She had no idea who had spoken or what they had said. But all the papers quoted her comments on our forum.

All of the papers felt powerless to report on what actually happened -- it never crossed their minds to just report the news. Just as a matter of routine, they had to get the extremists' interpretation, even though the extremists hadn't even been there.

Media Matters had an important article this weekend about this widespread phenomenon. I'll quote some, you should click the link and read the rest of it:
The defining issue of our time is not the Iraq war. It is not the "global war on terror." It is not our inability (or unwillingness) to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care. Nor is it immigration, outsourcing, or growing income inequity. It is not education, it is not global warming, and it is not Social Security.

The defining issue of our time is the media.

The dominant political force of our time is not Karl Rove or the Christian Right or Bill Clinton. It is not the ruthlessness or the tactical and strategic superiority of the Republicans, and it is not your favorite theory about what is wrong with the Democrats.

The dominant political force of our time is the media.

Time after time, the news media have covered progressives and conservatives in wildly different ways -- and, time after time, they do so to the benefit of conservatives. "Media Matters"; by Jamison Foser

It has been so strange to watch history unfold in the corporate media. You see insane ideas treated on the news shows as if they were serious. You see lies treated as if they were opinions. You see incompetence and corruption covered up.
Even many members of the media have stopped contesting this painfully obvious point, instead offering dubious justifications. Bill Clinton's "scandals" made for better stories than George Bush's, we are told, because they were simpler and easier for readers and viewers to understand. "Sex sells," while George Bush's false claims about Iraq are much harder to explain.

This excuse is simply nonsense.

First, what's so hard to understand about this? George Bush and his administration systematically distorted available intelligence to lead the nation to war on false pretenses. His administration has been marked by corruption, incompetence, lies, secrecy, and flagrant disregard for bedrock constitutional principles. None of that can be too complicated: Polls suggest that the majority of Americans believe all of those things.

Second, even if it were true that Clinton's "scandals" were easier for consumers of news to understand, the ease of explaining an affair would, if we had a serious and functional news media, be more than offset by the far greater importance of Bush's misdeeds.

Finally, this is such a grotesque distortion of the media's treatment of Clinton that it is difficult to explain by anything other than outright dishonesty. Reporters who offer the excuse that they and their colleagues covered Clinton "scandals" so much because sex sells, and is easily explained and understood, are cherry-picking. They are ignoring the obsessive coverage they gave to Clinton "scandals" that had nothing to do with sex, and that were not widely understood.

They are ignoring, for example, years of coverage of Whitewater, an obscure land deal in which the Clintons lost money and that was investigated by multiple independent counsels, congressional committees, federal agencies, and every news organization in the country -- none of which found any wrongdoing by the Clintons. Whitewater had nothing to do with sex, and nobody understood it -- probably because there was nothing to understand. And that's not even going into Travelgate, Filegate, Vince Foster's suicide, or the myriad other "scandals" the media covered that did not involve sex.

The article goes into some incidents that have been covered up by the news media. You remember Whitewater -- nobody indicted, years of investigations, constant coverage. How much do you know about Bush's insider-trading scandal, where he dumped millions of shares of Harken stock on the basis of information that he had from inside the company? Not mentioned in the press, you never heard about it. Covered up.

One of the best things about Stephen Colbert's amazing performance at the White House correspondents' dinner last month was the way he shined a bright light on the media's complicity in the Bush administration's corrupt agenda. What? You haven't seen it? CLICK HERE. And watch till the end, it's just great. You may have read in the newspapers that he "wasn't funny," the he "didn't go over." Yeah, that's because the room was full of people whose self-serving career choices will go down in history alongside Nero's fiddling, and they were the butt of his jokes. Colbert was in their face, saying what we all know, that they are accomplices in the disaster that the Bush years have become.

He's right, and Media Matters is right. The real story of our time is the media.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Break Out the Balloons

Ah, I am reminded that yesterday was the eighty-first anniversary of the indictment of John Scopes for the crime of teaching evolution in a public-school classroom. From the New York Times, May 25, 1925:
Nashville, Tenn., May 25 -- John T. Scopes, young Dayton (Tenn.) high school teacher, tonight stands indicted for having taught the theory of evolution to students attending his science classes in violation of a law passed by the Tennessee Legislature and signed by the Governor on March 21, 1925. The date for this trial has been fixed for July 10 at Dayton. The hearing of the case will bring many notables to the little mountain town, including William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow of Chicago and Dudley Field Malone of New York for the defense.

The indictment, returned by the Grand Jury convened in special session, was returned after evidence by Walter White, Superintendent of the Dayton public schools, and eight high school students had been heard by jurors. The session followed a charge by Judge John T. Raulston, who interpreted the law and included in his presentation for the reading of the first book of Genesis from the King James version of the Bible, in which the story creation is detailed.

The specific charge of the indictment is that on April 24, 1925, John T. Scopes, "did unlawfully and willfully teach in public schools of Rhea County, Tenn., which said schools are supported in part and in whole by the public school funds of the State, certain theory and theories that deny the story of Divine creation of man as taught in the Bible and did teach thereof that man descended from a lower order of animals." The penalty prescribed in the law for such violation is a fine from $100 to $500. Scopes Is Indicted in Tennessee for Teaching Evolution

This famous trial featured an all-star line-up of lawyers, and resulted in a guilty verdict for Mr. Scopes.

It didn't come out in the trial, but Scopes admitted afterwards that he had skipped the evolution lesson in class. It was scheduled, but he said afterwards that he never did teach it. The real problem was that the state prohibited the teaching of evolution but required the use of a textbook, Hunter's Civic Biology, which included a chapter on the subject. So poor Scopes, who didn't really know anything about evolution, was trapped in a bureaucratic catch-22 and ended up paying a hundred dollar fine.

It's almost as if nothing has really changed in eighty one years.

Who Could Be This Stupid?

You might remember a couple of months ago, when Ford Motor Company was attacked by the Family Blah Blah groups for advertising in the gay media. In the end, Ford made a deal with their gay friends and issued a statement affirming their support for inclusiveness and their intention to continue to advertise to the gay market. OK, that was weird, you couldn't really figure out what would be wrong with advertising to prospective customers.

As a word of background, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum formed in 2004 to recall the Montgomery County school board after the school district adopted a reasonable new sex education curriculum. Everything they did backfired on them, except for winning one ten-day restraining order, and today support for them in the community is essentially absent. They still maintain a couple of web sites, and one of them gets updated occasionally. (At the bottom of the page it says how many people are viewing the page -- when I check the site, it almost always lists me as the only person, sometimes there is one other person. Last time it was somebody named "Culture Nazi.")

Their web forum today has a posting that just says it all; it's about Ford advertising in The Advocate, a gay-interest magazine.

Check this out:
When Ford responds to those who write concerning their promotion of homosexual marriage, the response they get from Ford's Customer Relationship Center says their support "is a strong commitment we intend to carry forward with no exception." For Ford, that support also includes homosexual polygamy.

(I'm not going to link to this junk.)

Wow. Homosexual polygamy. Man, the only thing that would be worse than that would be homosexual polygamy with animals. That Ford Motor Company, they must be Pure Evil to come up with a plan like that.

Now, tell me. Do you really believe that Ford Motor Company supports homosexual polygamy? Are you, dear TTF reader, so [insert expletive here] stupid that you actually believe this, even for a second?

You know what it comes down to. The Advocate, which Ford advertises in, has an article called Big Gay Love that talks about people who have more than one long-term partner. The article takes a supportive but not encouraging view of the situation, and notes that there's really no movement to promote this sort of thing -- life is tough enough already, and most gay people would be happy to win regular marriage. Never mind this crazy polyamory stuff.

So, whatever, The Advocate is a big slick magazine, and as they note, there's a hit TV show now about a polygamous family. So, like big-bucks media everwhere, they're just playing to their readership. I haven't checked, but I imagine the straight men's magazines are writing about polygamy, too, like, hubba-hubba wouldn't be great to sleep with a different (young and sexy Hollywood supermodel) wife every night of the week?

Can you imagine a person who reads the CRC's web site and is so ignorant that they actually believe that Ford is out to promote "homosexual polygamy?" The mind boggles. Listen, do you think the person who wrote that sentence believes it?

These people live in a world outside reality. They claim to have values, they claim morality as their special trait, yet they feel perfectly justified saying something like this, that Ford promotes homosexual polygamy, knowing full well that it is pure bull-oney.

You do find yourself wondering if they are aware that other people use facts and reason.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Crazy Stuff at the FDA

The LA Times has the story:
The last two appointees to head the FDA were closely involved in decisions to overrule the agency's medical reviewers and block the "morning-after" birth control pill from being sold without a prescription, according to court transcripts to be released today.

Last year, Lester M. Crawford personally took the decision away from his top subordinates, according to depositions of two senior Food and Drug Administration officials. And at an earlier stage in the process, his immediate predecessor as FDA commissioner, Mark B. McClellan, raised objections that formed the basis for overruling medical reviewers.

The transcripts provide the most detailed look yet at an internal review that some critics say has been tainted by politics. The dispute over the drug, marketed as Plan B, has pitted Christian conservatives against liberal women's groups and raised concerns in academic circles that the FDA had compromised its scientific principles. FDA's Role in Blocking 'Morning-After' Pill Cited

You wonder what the basis for these decisions is. Your scientific staff and your ethicists and everybody say, ok, it's good to go, and then the top guy says no.*

I can imagine the reasoning behind the opposition to abortion, and I can see why the nuts want to teach abstinence-only in the schools, and I can see why they're afraid to include sexual orientation in sex-ed classes -- I think the reasoning is flawed, but at least I can figure out how they got to their conclusions.

But this. The Plan B, "morning after" pill. What's the deal there?

OK, here's a clue:
... Wendy Wright, senior policy director for Concerned Women for America, a conservative public policy group, said the FDA had no authority to promulgate such an age restriction and no way to enforce it.

The involvement of the two commissioners "brought some basic common sense to the decision-making," said Wright, whose group opposes over-the-counter status for the drug.

"What this is really all about is the abortion lobby has been losing on the issue of abortion, and they are now diverting attention to something they can win on — the 'morning-after' pill," she said.

What? They just want to win something? Isn't the abortion issue supposed to be about murdering babies? Plan B doesn't do that.
Available only by prescription, Plan B is a high dose of a common contraceptive that, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, works primarily by preventing a woman's ovary from releasing an egg. It also may prevent fertilization of an egg or prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. The FDA does not consider Plan B to be an abortion drug, Woodcock and Galson testified.

No egg, no fertilization, no baby, no murder.

Ah, here you go:
... [former FDA Commissioner Mark B.] McClellan raised specific objections about whether the youngest teenage girls could safely use the drug, noting that its manufacturer, Barr Laboratories, had enrolled few young teens in its studies.

Woodcock, the mother of two teenage daughters, testified that McClellan's argument had struck her as reasonable: The easy availability of a "morning-after" pill might prompt some young teens to engage in risky sexual behavior.

Can you believe that the nuts at Concerned Women for America -- who lend active support to the anti-MCPS groups in our school controversy -- want to interfere in the decision-making of thousands of women, women who may have been raped or may have made a terrible mistake that it's not to late to recover from, so that teenage girls don't get the idea that they can have sex?

These people are insane. Stop them.

* In these two sentences I am having fun with uncomfortable agreement of verbs with their subjects.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

CNN Features Fake Therapist

I didn't see the "conversion therapy" segment on CNN last night, but the transcript is available online. I also don't have access to it from the computer I'm on right now, but I think you can watch the video HERE.

The segment features an interview with Richard Cohen, a prominent spokesman for the "ex-gay" movement, if you can call it that. Cohen was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association for multiple ethical violations in 2002. He practices psychotherapy without a license. He has his own "theory," which is supported by exactly zero research. He claims to be able to make gay guys straight.

Here's some from the CNN transcript:
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you've been watching "The Sopranos" on HBO, then you know the secret.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes you tell lies so long you don't know when to stop.

FEYERICK: Vito, a mob guy, married with kids, on the run, knowing he'll be killed because he's gay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are these church groups. They could cure you of this.

FEYERICK: While it may sound like a plot line, the reaction from Vito's TV wife that there's a cure is very real. And it's a reaction many gay people and their families wonder about in the beginning. Is it possible to change, to not be gay.

There are groups who believe that it is possible. Some use religion. Others more unusual techniques. More on that in a moment. But whether it's faith based or secular, Dr. Jack Drescher of the American Psychiatric Association says the practice of so-called conversion therapy is dangerous.

DR. JACK DRESCHER, AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOC.: People who have done anything approximating a scientific report admit that the majority of people who try to change their sexual orientation do not change.

FEYERICK: And yet this man, who tells us he was once gay, claims to have helped hundreds of men like him.

Richard Cohen, now married with three kids, is a leader in the so-called reparative therapy movement. With just more than 1,000 members it is not a particularly big movement, but because it's so controversial and despised within the gay community it tends to get a lot of attention.

(on camera): What you're suggesting is that being gay is a switch you can turn on or off.

RICHARD COHEN, CONVERSION THERAPIST: People have a right to determine how they wish to live their life. If they choose to live a gay life, great, OK. But to say I have to live as a gay man because I had those desires, that's discrimination.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Cohen, who had several boyfriends, spent years in various kinds of therapy searching for answers. It wasn't until he remembered being sexually abused by a man when he was a child that what he calls his convergence process began,

COHEN: I knew it wasn't for me. I knew it in my gut I wasn't born this way.

FEYERICK: Cohen is an unlicensed therapist. He offers the theory that some kind of childhood trauma triggers homosexuality. All it takes is figuring out what it is, healing from it and moving on. One of his clients is a 42 year old program analyst who we'll call Rob. Because it is such a sensitive subject, he asked us to shield his identity.

He began seeing Cohen three years ago after years of struggling with unwanted homosexual feelings.

"ROB", CONVERSION THERAPY CLIENT: I had a mother that basically committed emotional incest with me because they had a very bad marriage. She used me as her husband, a stand-in.

FEYERICK: Cohen explains Rob's same-sex attraction is typical of the men he treats. Cold, distant dad, overbearing mom and overly sensitive kid. He showed us some of his unconventional techniques like touch therapy, in which he encouraging Rob to seek out same-sex mentors to basically re-create a healthy father-son bond. PAULA ZAHN NOW

In case you haven't heard any of this stuff before, you should know that this is a line used by anti-gay psychotherapists, but there is no research anywhere, ever, that supports the idea that these kinds of family dynamics have anything to do with a person turning out gay.

Also, I saw some screenshots of this, and I think that at this time in the interview this other guy is lying on a couch hugging Richard Cohen. As John Aravosis at AmericaBlog says, "You have to see this part of the segment, it's creepy as hell."
COHEN: It's nonsexual. It establishes like parent-child relationship. So he didn't experience this growing up with his dad. FEYERICK (on camera): Rob, do you feel a sexual connection right now?

ROB: No, I don't. I feel very safe and very comforted and it just feels wonderful.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Another technique, bioenergetics, designed to help clients release memories stored in the muscles, in this case by hitting a pillow with a tennis racket.

COHEN: I was angry at my mother. So I started saying, mom! mom! mom! mom! Why did you do that to me?

FEYERICK: So is being gay a matter of nature or nurture? Doctors say they don't know for sure. There is no gay gene and no definitive scientific proof that one's family or environment triggers same-sex attraction.

That's why mainstream mental health experts have such a huge problem with Cohen and those like him who promote reparative therapy as legitimate.

It is my understanding that the "problem" these professional groups have with quacks like Cohen has to do with the damage they cause to their clients and the confusion they generate in the minds of the public with their fake theories and crazy fake-therapies.

But who am I to say?
DRESCHER: It's like this person has landed on Earth from Mars and is doing things that the rest of us don't believe in and that we don't do. And it's just unfortunate that there are people who are willing to accept because of their desperate homosexual feelings, to accept these kinds of treatments.

FEYERICK: 48-year-old Xavier Yager sent spent five years in reparative therapy.

XAVIER YAGER, FORMER THERAPY CLIENT: It drove me to the edge of suicide, several times.

FEYERICK: He says it was so damaging, it took years to recover.

YAGER: From my farthest back recollection, I was always gay. I just tried -- you know, they always say it's a choice to be gay. I chose to try to be straight. And I found it was unattainable.

FEYERICK: Yager is now happily gay. Rob is also happy, but for the opposite reason.

ROB: I know what I'm experiencing. I know the freedom that I feel now. And as a result of the work, I don't have same-sex attractions anymore.

(Let's come back and ask him again in five years, ok?)
FEYERICK: He's even been chatting with women on the Internet, hoping to line up dates.

(on camera): Do you see yourself now as an ex-gay?

ROB: I see myself now as a much happier person.

FEYERICK (voice-over): A person who seems to have found his own inner peace. Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Bowie, Maryland. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Richard Cohen says he counsels some women, but the majority of his clients are men.

Now, the pictures in our next story are absolutely incredible. Watch this closely. How did a family and their cat get out of this burning apartment alive? We'll show you.

I love that ending, the cat gets out of the burning apartment ... it's one thing and then another, foks.

Religious Liberals Emerging

A number of recent stories point to an national trend that we have also been noticing here in Montgomery County. The Washington Post last week:
Long overshadowed by the Christian right, religious liberals across a wide swath of denominations are engaged today in their most intensive bout of political organizing and alliance-building since the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s, according to scholars, politicians and clergy members.

Religious liberals say their faith compels them to emphasize such issues as poverty, affordable health care and global warming. Disillusionment with the war in Iraq and opposition to Bush administration policies on secret prisons and torture have also fueled the movement. Religious Liberals Gain New Visibility: A Different List Of Moral Issues

Maybe it was just me, but I grew up thinking that God so loved the world, that Jesus loved the little children, and that joy was the manifestation of spirituality. But then something happened, I guess I wasn't watching and I missed the changeover. Now "religion" has come to mean these hard-edged, judge-everybody institutions that, at least to some of us, are just not representative of spirituality or the generosity and that is evident in inspired acts and religious scripture from around the world. Whether it's Christian evangelists or the Taliban, these days it just seems that the concept of religion has come to represent a mean thing.
"As religious people we're offended by the idea that if you're not with the religious right, you're not moral, you're not religious," said Linda Gustitus, who attends Bethesda's River Road Unitarian Church and is a founder of the new Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture. "I mean there's a whole universe out there [with views] different from the religious right. . . . People closer to the middle of the political spectrum who are religious want their voices heard."

Well, yes.

Yesterday's New York Times had a story that put some meat on the bones of the Post article.
WASHINGTON, May 22 — An interfaith coalition of clergy members and lay leaders announced a petition drive on Monday aimed at blocking a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill on a vote along party lines last week, and the full Senate is expected to vote on it the week of June 5.

By the end of this week, the site should have an electronic postcard as well, said Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organizer of the lobbying effort but not in the coalition.

Among those represented by the coalition are clergy members and groups affiliated with mainline Protestant churches; the Interfaith Alliance; Jewish groups including the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism and the National Council of Jewish Women; Sikh groups; and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Clergy Group Aims to Block Gay Marriage Amendment

I think a tide is turning. The religious right worked long and hard to put themselves in the position of power that reached its peak during the Bush years. They got what they wanted, embarrassing the fine name of the USA and all Americans in the process. There are many issues that call for spiritual attention, as these two stories make clear, ranging from torture to the environment to the temptation to declare war against random nations, to greed and its flip-side, poverty. So many issues. It's encouraging to see good-hearted people starting to organize, to provide the moral and spiritual guidance that we need as a country to pull ourselves out of the pit we have fallen into.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Gabe Romero Drops Out

Just in from The Gazette:
Gabriel Romero will not run for a second term on the Montgomery County school board, he announced in a statement on Tuesday.

Romero cited the demands of his architectural firm, The RKtects Studio, Inc., as the reason for his decision.

‘‘Over the past three years we have been fortunate to experience a marked increase in business, and the practice now demands far more of my time and attention than I would be able to devote while serving a second term on the Board of Education,” he said in a statement.

Romero (Dist. 1) of Montgomery Village was facing a challenge from Judy Docca, a former principal at Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring, who has filed for candidacy in District 1.

‘‘I hope that with my decision not to seek reelection, more candidates will emerge from District 1,” Romero said.

Romero is the first county board member whose term expires this year not to seek reelection.

Board President Charles Haughey (At large) of Rockville has said he plans to stand for reelection.

Board members Nancy Navarro (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring and Patricia B. O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda have filed for candidacy in their respective districts. Romero won’t run for reelection to school board

It was never really clear where Romero stood on the sex-ed issue. It was said that the CRC President was treasurer for his campaign for a while, and he was the only board member to vote against the composition of the citizens advisory committee when it was constituted without naming a CRC member. On the other hand, he never gave any sign, other than that, that he was really aligned with the extremists in a serious way.

It will be fascinating over the next months to watch who stays and who enters the contest, and how it shapes up.

Sex and Misdirection

I came across a fascinating blog post about abstinence-till-marriage and the techniques that its advocates use to make true dialogue impossible.

The language is rougher than I like to see here at the Vigilance blog. Tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna "edit" their prose. I'll pick and choose for our more sensitive readers. The argument is too important to ignore. (It turned out I didn't really have to cut out very much of it.)

If you don't want to be exposed to some street vernacular, don't click on the link, ok?

Tristero, who now writes at Hullabaloo blog, is commenting on a New York Times column:

In today's Times, Lauren Winner writes:
If we are truly to help our teenagers adopt the countercultural sexual ethic of abstinence until marriage...

Wha? As the father of a soon-to-be ten year old daughter, why on earth would I want my future teener not to have sex until she got a state license?

Of course, I don't want her to get pregnant until she and her partner-to-be are emotionally ready and prepared to raise a child in a loving environment. And certainly, I don't want her to get sick or make others sick. But "help" her to refrain from enjoying the pleasures of intimacy? I don't get it - why would I want to help with something so psychologically and morally crippling? Hullabaloo blog

My more politically sensitive colleagues are probably cringing right now -- this argument just might be too risky, maybe we'll be vulnerable if we say what everybody knows. We shouldn't admit, should we, that sex is a good thing, and that we hope our loved ones have wonderful intimate moments with someone they love?

Everyone agrees that kids should not be having sex, and that's because they're too young. It's not really because the state has not licensed them for it. Nobody really worries about unmarried adults remaining abstinent -- oh, you'll hear it, "abstinence until marriage," but wouldn't you like to ask some of these people who are saying this stuff whether they "saved it?" Maturity is required for making decisions about sexuality, and so we encourage putting it off until adulthood. Maturity is the issue, not marital status.

Oddly, you rarely see anyone actually make this case.

I skip a few raw lines here, and keep going:
... [P]lease note the rhetorical devices here, in particular the intense barrage of baseless assertions - the "we" assuming everyone agrees that so-called "premarital" sex is a bad thing (and notice how she witholds the specific qualifier, "Christians," until long after the "we" has worked its magic); the weird assumption that abstinence is a sensible thing to inflict on a kid, a strange assumption even if you do think that teen sex is not necessarily a good idea; and the bizarre delusion that not having sex until officially licensed flies in the face of official values (see Virgin, The Forty-Year Old, and the hundreds upon hundreds of slasher films where the teen couple that just had sex inevitably gets dismembered in all sorts of gruesome ways ).

This is all of a piece with modern rightwing propaganda style, to pack as much loopy nonsense as possible into every sentence. This makes it exceedingly difficult to confront and rebut, but not because there's a solid argument to "engage." Firstly, the sheer amount of garbage that needs to be cleared away all but requires, as it does here, a response longer than the original winger passage. Secondly, the whackiness of many of the secondary assertions makes it extremely easy to get distracted onto tangents - for example, into a debate on exactly what is meant by "countercultural." Thirdly, the effect is literally paralyzing and intimidating. To read the word "we" in this context stops us (heh heh) dead in our tracks - huh? - and then "we" wonder what's wrong with us that "we" aren't focused on helping us make our kids' teen years as miserable as they possibly can be ("and no, little Ethel, no masturbation, either, that's a sin, and I really don't like you smooching little Lucy, either. You're too old now.").

This is some fast-moving stuff here.

I have noticed a few comments on the Internet recently, where people have stopped to question the anti-sex position that gets us into the awkward position of rejecting reality. Like, just a sec -- sex is a good thing.
This packing tactic was, if not pioneered by him, surely brought to a new level of obnoxiousness by Robert Novak many, many years ago, when he would ask a Democrat a trick question filled with screwy righty assumptions that simply would have to be dealt with before the question even could be addressed, thus enabling Novak to accuse the hapless Dem of wimpiness and evasion.

Finally, notice the appropriation and inversion of liberal/lefty rhetoric. We wish to help our teenager. We are the counterculture, sticking it to The Man. This is very common and very old. The early pro-coathanger activists would adapt Beatles songs and old 60's protest chants ("All we are saying, is give life (sic) a chance") and Lauren Winner is steeped in that tactic. And what are "we" gonna do in retaliation? It's not as if there are that many compelling rightwing songs around to rip off ("The Ballad of the Brie Ballet," maybe? Nah...).

Lauren Winner's op-ed is full of it - rightwing rhetoric, that is. Rhetoric that comes so naturally even to mediocrities like the inaptly named Winner they just speak it as a matter of course. Liberals and Dems have nothing comparable and they need to develop it. That's why those of us who've been shouting about rhetoric and framing long before Lakoff got famous insist that yes, ideas but also yes, you gotta talk real good, too. Liberals have many great ideas, but they matter nought if they're tongue-tied.

I think I disagree with Tristero's last conclusion -- I don't think our side needs to learn to call names and hijack reason in the service of ideology. We just need to keep our noses down, like bloodhounds, and sniff out the path of good sense, following it to a rightful and logical conclusion. True, we need to frame and define the issues, but it won't serve our viewpoint to do what groups like the CRC do -- taking things out context, misconstruing, pairing things that don't belong together in order to make one look bad, focusing on irrelevant details, making up facts and theories -- we don't need to do those things.

I don't want to win the argument by confusing the issues hopelessly and then storming out of the room in an indignant huff. That might satisfy some people, who are out to win at any cost, but in the long run you have to take these questions seriously, and that means you will have to discuss the issues directly and honestly. So if anything, the people on our side need to concentrate on returning to the issues. We need to decapitate unreasonable sloganeering and Swift-Boat emotional appeals before they drag us down, need to cut them off quickly and focus on the core arguments.

There are two important themes in Tristero's post: first, an acknowledgement that sex is a good thing which we hope our children will grow up to enjoy; second, an analysis of rightwing rhetoric that hits the nail on the head. We have seen plenty of this stuff in our Montgomery County sex-ed controversy, people saying anything at all to make anybody who supports overhauling the curriculum look bad. We have seen the curriculum wording twisted, we have seen personal attacks, rhetorical deceit, misdirection, outright lies. You can't argue against that sort of thing. Instead, you just have to overwhelm it. You have to ignore it and go to the actual issues. Maybe you look like you're only talking to yourself, since you can't engage the other side in reasonable discussion. Maybe you do, but you've still got to do it, you have to put the reasonable argument out there for reasonable people to think about.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Tricky Stuff in South Dakota

As you probably know, South Dakota earlier this year passed the most draconian abortion law ever. No abortions, no exceptions. The legislature passed it, the governor signed it, and that's where they stand.

Not surprisingly, there is some opposition to this new law. Like, lots. You can be pretty sure that there will be a referendum, where the people tell the government what they want.

But the anti-abortion guys may have figured out a way to juggle the deadlines so that the petitions calling for a referendum will probably come in too late.

From the Rapid City Journal:
Defenders of South Dakota's new abortion ban could try to derail a public vote on the controversial law by challenging the deadline for filing petitions seeking a referendum.

That's a scenario that worries former legislator Jan Nicolay of Sioux Falls, co-chairwoman of South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, which is gathering signatures for a referendum on HB1215, a law passed by the 2006 Legislature that outlaws nearly all abortions.

State Attorney General Larry Long confirmed Friday that he has heard rumors of such a challenge.

Here's an outline of the potential challenge.

Secretary of State Chris Nelson has set Monday, June 19, as the deadline for opponents of the abortion ban to submit petitions containing 16,728 valid signatures to put the law up for a vote in the November general election.

By law, referendum petitions must be filed within 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. Nelson assumed that March 21, when the Legislature gathered to consider vetoes, was the last legislative day and set the June 19 deadline accordingly.

However, the state Constitution provides that the Legislature shall meet for 35 days in even-numbered years. The 2006 Legislature recessed after Tuesday, Feb. 28, its 34th day in session. It met again on Wednesday, March 1.

One could argue that March 1 was the 35th - and last - day of the session. If so, that could mean that petitions challenging the abortion ban would have to be turned in 90 days after March 1, making the deadline Tuesday, May 30, according to an unofficial calendar count by the Journal.

But Nicolay said the Legislature considered March 1 an extension of its 34th day and that the traditional day to consider vetoes three weeks later - March 21, this year - was the day the Legislature officially adjourned. HB1215 foes face petition wrinkle

So, if the conservatives get to define the cutoff date, then referendum petitions will have to be submitted next week. That might not be enough time to get the required number of signatures.

Pretty tricky.
It's possible that if the required number of petitions is submitted by June 19 but after May 30, and Nelson accepts them, an abortion-ban supporter could file a lawsuit, Nicolay said Friday.

Nicolay said that the uncertainty is prompting referendum organizers to consider pushing their drive ahead and submitting petitions to Nelson before the earlier deadline. She wasn't sure about the exact date.

"We haven't made that final decision, but we're looking at that," she said. "We're not interested in any legal battle."

Nicolay said organizers are urging abortion-ban opponents to get their petitions submitted quickly. She said the drive is on pace to gather more than the required number of signatures by June 1.

Nicolay, a Republican, served in the South Dakota House from 1983-1996.

The fact is, the anti-abortion guys know if they let this go to a vote, they'll lose. So they have to stop the whole thing before it starts. It is absolutely necessary to make sure that the government doesn't do what the people want.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

MCPS Lawyers Are Asking For Time

The citizens advisory committee, you know, had its last two meetings cancelled, after making progress in evaluating and recommending a new framework for the curriculum. The recommendation was passed to the school district, they made some modifications, and it went to the Board of Education, who approved it.

Great, we're thinking, let's get this thing put together, let's get the facts to our students.

Then nothing. Cancellations, rumors. I got a voicemail saying that people were saying the curriculum was going to be delayed by a year. People inside MCPS didn't seem to know about that, it's just a rumor.

Last week, former committee chair David Fishback sent a letter to the school board, explaining some aspects of the judge's ruling in last year's lawsuit. In particular, he addressed the idea of "viewpoint discrimination:"
The only case cited by Judge Williams for his conclusion that the "other side" must be presented, lest MCPS violate the freedom of speech rights of those who believe that homosexuality is a disease and can be "cured," was Rosenberger v. Regents and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995). Rosenberger did not involve a school's choice of curriculum but, rather dealt with the University of Virginia's policies on funding student publications. Under the University's rules, any student publication that met certain neutral criteria could get funding. Rosenberger met all the criteria, but the University turned him down because the publication was Christian-themed. The University feared that if it funded the publication, it would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled otherwise, finding that the University's decision constituted viewpoint discrimination in violation of the freedom of speech portion of the First Amendment. But there is a huge difference between a public forum - which was the case in Rosenberger - and curriculum choices, which is what last year's lawsuit was about. MCPS stood its ground on that issue. If CRC/PFOX did not like it, they could have declined to sign on to the settlement agreement. They agreed to withdraw the lawsuit, it seems to me, because they knew the ground upon which they stood legally was quicksand.

Other than Judge Williams' opinion last year, NO federal court decision has ever interpreted Rosenberger to mean that schools' curriculum choices must, as a constitutional matter, present the "other side" of issues. Indeed, a review of all cases citing Rosenberger establishes the opposite: That the Constitution imposes no such burden. For example, just last December, in Chiras v. Miller, 432 F.3d 606, 612-13 (5th Cir. 2005), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit set forth the distinction between the public forum issue presented in Rosenberger and decisions about curriculum presented in Chiras (and, indeed, presented by the development of the revised health curriculum here). Writing for the court, Judge W. Eugene Davis (a Reagan appointee to the bench) noted that the Supreme Court in Rosenberger made this distinction:
When the University determines the content of the education it provides, it is the University speaking, and we have permitted the government to regulate the content of what is or is not expressed when it is the speaker. . . .

432 F.3d at 613, quoting Rosenberger, 515 U.S. at 833. See also Downs v. Los Angeles Unified School District, 228 F.3d 1003, 1008, 1012-16 (9th Cir. Cir. 2000), where the Ninth Circuit, in a decision written by Judge Stephen Trott (also a Reagan appointee), made precisely the same distinction, citing Rosenberger.

OK, you legal-eagles, go look those cases up. The idea that you have to teach intolerance alongside facts is crazy, and there is no legal precedent for worrying about it.

But it turns out the district's lawyers are worrying. On May 9th, Deputy Superintendent Frieda Lacey sent a memo to the Superintendent that discussed the proposed timeline for this project, and then said:
Legal counsel were provided the components of the recommendations and have requested additional time for their review of the documents. I recommend that counsel be granted the requested additional time to ensure a thorough legal review. This additional time will necessitate a revised timeline. After our next meeting with legal counsel on May 26, 2006, we will have a clearer understanding of their request and will be in a better position to propose a revised timeline. I will continue to keep you updated as we proceed.

My first thought when I see that is, which lawyers are these? Are these the MCPS lawyers who gave away the farm last time? Or are these some higher-priced professionals from downtown? I'd definitely have more confidence in the downtown guys, I don't think the district's lawyers had any idea what was going on when they were taken to court last year, and don't expect that they have changed a lot since then.

Superintendent Jerry Weast sent a memo to the Board on May 11th, acknowledging the request for a delay. He wrote:
However, I believe that, given the history of litigation concerning health education, a thorough legal review is warranted. As a result, recommendations will not be ready for the June 13, 2006, Board of Education meeting as previously planned. I have asked Dr. Lacey for a revised timeline that incorporates the in-depth legal review and subsequent delay, including the timing of the planned field tests and implementation of the revised condom demonstration video and revised lessons on sexual orientation, consistent with the recently approved framework on comprehensive education.

Any of several things could be going on here. There may have been some activity in the legal community that prompted a paralytic response from the school district. It could be that MCPS attorneys have suddenly decided to be extra-professional and extra-careful. And it could be that certain people don't want this on the radar screen while Board members run for re-election.

I will take the optimistic view here that knowledgeable lawyers are bolstering the district's position so that it will be defensible under any kind of attack. But I will not be cheerful if these guys hold up the process for a significant length of time. Not-producing a curriculum because you're too careful is exactly the same as not-producing a curriculum because you don't care about teaching the facts to the students of Montgomery County.

Exactly the same.

Friday, May 19, 2006

HPV Vaccine Closer To FDA Approval

From Forbes:
A vaccine that blocks infection by the two types of viruses that cause most cases of cervical cancer is safe and effective and should be approved, a federal panel recommended Thursday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted 13-0 five separate times to endorse the vaccine, known as Gardasil and made by Merck and Co.

The vaccine could reduce by more than two-thirds the number of deaths worldwide from the second-leading cancer in women, according to the company.

The drug protects against the two types of human papillomavirus (HPV) believed responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The vaccine also protects against two other virus types that cause 90 percent of genital wart cases. All four virus types are sexually transmitted. Update 3: Cervical Cancer Vaccine Gets FDA Panel OK

You remember the controversy here, right? Groups like the Family Research Council opposed this vaccine, because it might encourage unmarried women to have sex. It's better in their eyes to let them get cancer and die than to risk the chance of sex outside of a "traditional" marriage.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. It affects more than 50 percent of sexually active adults. The cervical cancer it can cause kills each year about 290,000 women worldwide, including 3,500 women in the United States, where regular pap smears often detect precancerous lesions and early cancer.

"This is certainly a wonderful, good step in addition to our screening processes" in helping eradicate cervical cancer, said Dr. Monica Farley, who heads the advisory panel. She is a bacterial infectious disease expert at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Making their case for approval, Merck officials suggested that development could make Gardasil the biggest advance in preventing cervical cancer since the pap test.

"Gardasil has the potential to meet an unmet medical need as the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer," Merck's Dr. Patrick Brill-Edwards told the Vaccine and Related Biological Products advisory committee.

Of course, this is not a done deal. The physicians recommend it, unanimously, but the political appointees still have a shot at it.

Whaddya think? Will the FDA approve this vaccine? Personally, I wouldn't bet on it.

A Certain Kind of Logic

Of course it has been interesting, watching the news unfold about the federal government spying on citizens. Turns out you don't have to be getting calls from al Qaeda, you just have to live in the USA to get into what is being called the largest database in the world.

They say they're not listening in, they're just keeping notes about who you talk to. It's part of the war on terrorism.

There's a certain kind of logic that we deal with here sometimes, for instance when we are accused of encouraging teen sexual experimentation, or when people say that we want to teach kids to believe that "anything goes." You're seeing this kind of paranoid binary moralism in the comments section in recent days, particularly in discussions of the Biblical quote: "he who is not with me is against me." The problem is, this same kind of thinking is going on down in Washington, where some big decisions are made.

Imagine there was a cult of baby-sacrificing devil-worshippers. And let's say one of them gets caught, but won't give up the names of the others. In the meantime, ritually sacrificed babies are being found all over the city, new ones every day, while this evil person sits in jail, smirking evilly, in case there is such a word.

You know that all the government would have to do to catch the others would be to go into their huge database and see who this person had talked to on the phone. At least, they sure could narrow it down. Don't you think they should do it?

If you oppose this use of a government database, aren't you a "baby-sacrificing Satanist supporter?"

There's a series of rapes, young women are being violently attacked after going on a date with someone they had recently met. Wouldn't you want to know if there was someone they had all talked to on the phone? Do you believe the NSA should refuse to use their database to prevent the brutalizing of more young women? Or should they run some database queries, put some data together, and arrest the guy?

Isn't someone who opposes such use of the database "pro-brutal-rape?"

Mexican smugglers are bringing marijuana across the Arizona border, hundreds of kilograms at a time. Their plane drops onto a landing strip in a desert canyon. A few phone calls, and a fleet of pickup trucks and SUVs has taken the stuff in every direction. Wouldn't you like to know who they called? If the NSA has the information, shouldn't they use it?

What are you, "pro-drug-smuggling?"

A married man and a married woman schedule a weekly rendezvous at the local Family Inn. They are not married to one another. They talk on the phone each morning and each afternoon, cooing sweet nothings.

Should the NSA sit idly by and let them destroy their families and shred the moral fabric of our society? They have the data, shouldn't they stop these people?

You don't think so? You're "pro-adultery?" You're "anti-family?" You, sir or madam, are despicable and immoral.

Somebody writes a letter to the Washington Post which is critical of the President. Of course The Post doesn't print it, they immediately turn the letter over to the government. Is this letter part of an anti-government conspiracy? The NSA could easily check the author's phone records, talk to the people he's been talking to, and find out for sure.

What? You don't think they'd do that?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Will On Values Voters

You might say we don't quote George Will a whole lot here. There's no reason for that, he just doesn't rise to the top of the "bloggable" list very often. I guess he doesn't usually address topics that are relevant to our situation here in Montgomery County Public Schools.

This morning he does. From the Washington Post:
An aggressively annoying new phrase in America's political lexicon is "values voters." It is used proudly by social conservatives, and carelessly by the media to denote such conservatives.

This phrase diminishes our understanding of politics. It also is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values and everyone else votes to . . . well, it is unclear what they supposedly think they are doing with their ballots. Who Isn't A 'Values Voter'?

He goes on to quote several news stories that use the phrase "values voter" as if groups like the Family Research Council and Jerry Falwell's gang are the only voters with values.

Now, I don't really agree with the way he puts this next comment, I think he's a little glib about "liberals," especially given the nonconservative (though certainly not liberal) policies of the present administration, but I agree with his conclusion. In fact, you can't make this point strongly enough.
Today's liberal agenda includes preservation, even expansion, of the welfare state in its current configuration in order to strengthen an egalitarian ethic of common provision. Liberals favor taxes and other measures to produce a more equal distribution of income. They may value equality indiscriminately, but they vote their values.

Whatever, I don't know about valuing "equality indiscriminately," that seems a little easy to say for all that it represents. Ah, he's a conservative, he's gotta talk that way, it doesn't hurt anything. But the point is made -- one little noisy minority of people has laid claim to the concept of "values." But people on the other side -- our side -- have values, too, we just don't use it as an advertising slogan.

As we have seen, over and over, people who claim to hold these "values" are being indicted for crimes -- this prositution/bribery thing could get pretty ugly, this current "values voter" administration and Congressional majority are the most corrupt band of jackals America has ever seen. it's easy to say you have "values," and very hard to live up to the statement.

Duke Cunningham appealed to the "values voter."

Jesus said, ""When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

That's as clearly as this lesson can be stated.

We should be very suspicious of those who wear their faith as an article of clothing, like a uniform. Saying you have values doesn't make it so, and keeping your values private and personal doesn't mean you don't have any.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Studying Religion, Learning Tolerance

Here is an unusually interesting story from the Catholic News Service, at least I think so. This California school superintendent was concerned about some anti-gay stuff going on in his schools, and thought maybe they should have a class to teach about sexual orientation. But, you know how some people are, that didn't fly.

So they started a religion class instead.
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- At a time when public schools are increasingly wary of any mention of religion, one California school district has found that requiring students to study world religions has been surprisingly uncontroversial and has helped smooth hostilities.

For the last six years, the Modesto public schools have required ninth graders to take a nine-week course on world religions, beginning with two weeks of study of First Amendment rights and the U.S. history of religious liberty.

When the requirement began, researchers from Stanford University in California and the College of William and Mary in Virginia started tracking students' attitudes and their understanding of different religions and of constitutional rights governing the free exercise of religion. Public schools add religion course to curriculum requirements

OK, they learned about religions. But the effect of the class seems to extend beyond simple knowledge of how other religions believe. These professors just published their results:
Among the study's findings were that students grew to understand and respect others' religious views and they were much more likely to accept that different religions share core moral values, reported Emile Lester, an assistant professor of government at the College of William and Mary, and Patrick S. Roberts, a fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

Students' scores on tests of basic knowledge on religion nearly doubled. And their tolerance increased for members of what the researchers termed "least-liked" groups in society and for the rights of people to express religious views and to display faith symbols.

At the same time, students who went into the course thinking that one religion was "definitely right and others wrong" didn't waver in their beliefs, explained Roberts.

So ... good news for the fundamentalists. The class didn't tear anybody's blinders off. But check this out:
"Religious conservatives worried that the course might promote relativism," he said. "But the percentage of students who believed one religion was right and others weren't did not vary after the course." Anecdotes from interviews with students supported that data, he said.

The decision to require all ninth-graders to study world religions came about when Modesto Superintendent Jim Enochs tried to address the problem of homosexual students being harassed. One approach he suggested was to include "sexual orientation" in existing district policies on tolerance and respect.

Enochs' proposal sounded to some in the community like the district was endorsing homosexuality. That led to months of debate and eventually a broader plan.

Modesto is out in the middle of California in a region known generically as "The Valley." It's surrounded by agriculture, and was one of those places the Okies settled in during the Dust Bowl.
"Modesto and its surrounding townships in California's Stanislaus County were routinely described to us by conservative and liberal members of the Modesto community as belonging to the 'California Bible Belt,'" the report said. It notes that of the seven school board members three "ran on platforms sympathetic to conservative Christian concerns about public schools."

I always thought of religion as something that taught tolerance and caring, and gave you the strength to accept things you couldn't understand. Lately, I'm sorry, but I don't see much of that any more. This story sort of gives you hope, though.
Mincberg contrasted the Modesto course to recent high-profile conflicts about religion, such as the Dover, Pa., school district's furor over telling students in science classes that intelligent design is an alternative to evolution.

He said the Modesto program manages to avoid what he called such "straw man" debates by teaching about religions, not incorporating religious beliefs into curriculum. He and others on the panel cautioned that the course errs a bit on the side of presenting a "warm and fuzzy" picture of all the religions.

Charles Haynes, senior scholar of the First Amendment Center, who consulted with the district as it developed the curriculum, noted that devoting too much attention to religions' negative aspects might jeopardize the community support the program has enjoyed so far.

Lester told Catholic News Service after the program that, while the nine-week course allowed for only core information about a handful of major religions, even the basics helped clear up misconceptions.

"Several Modesto teachers told me that a significant number of Protestant students did not understand that Catholicism was a form of Christianity, and that even several Catholic students held this belief," he said. "These teachers said the course provides a greater understanding of the common ground shared by different forms of Christianity."

I think this is cool.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

CRC Lying Continues

The other day someone showed me a copy of the CRC's latest newsletter. Listen, sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Well ... actually, I'm not much for crying about these things.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, you will remember, was one of the groups that sued the Montgomery County Public Schools to block improvements to the sex-ed curriculum. The CRC is backed by groups like the Concerned Women for America, the Eagle Forum, the Republican Party, Family Research Council -- they like to describe themselves as a group of little ol' concerned parents, but they are better understood as a radical cell working to undermine public education in our county.

As you probably know, the county is developing a new curriculum, subsequent to the settlement agreement following the lawsuit. A couple of weeks ago, the school board's citizens advisory committee met to discuss a proposed framework for the curriculum. The word "framework" is bureaucratese for a very-high-level outline, developed by educators as a first step toward filling in a pre-K through Grade 12 curriculum.

Well, the two members of the committee who are there as part of the legal settlement submitted, between them, about 35 changes to the framework. Only one of the other thirteen members of the committee submitted one suggestion.

Some of the changes were, honestly, not very good. There were some themes, let's say, that were not acceptable to everyone present. But there were some themes, for instance suggesting that sexually active students should be taught to get regular testing for STDs, that were fine with everybody. Many items about families and marriage were proposed, and most of those were OK with everyone, except for the ones that supposed that you have to be married to have sex, and ones that tried to argue that only a True Cleaver Family is a "real" family. Oh, and the ones that said that "homosexual behaviors" lead to AIDS were not accepted.

So, after a long, drawn-out meeting with lots of negotiating and lots of points made, eleven of the suggestions were accepted. Many of the votes were close.

One thing that happened was that committee members voted against suggestions, not because they didn't like the suggestion, but because they didn't feel it belonged in this high-level outline. Many of them were clearly inappropriate for this kind of document. In fact, the school district ended up rejecting a lot of the things that the committee did suggest, for this reason.

At least two committee members -- I was one -- stated explicitly in the meeting that they weren't opposed to including the information in the curriculum, but were voting against some items because they didn't think they should be in the framework document.

The citizens committee votes by a "fifty percent plus one" rule, which means that, say, a 7-to-6 vote doesn't pass, you need 8 to 5. One vote was close, and the committee chair asked if anyone would change their vote, and I said, Sure, I'll do that. Because I didn't object to the content of the suggestion, just its inclusion at this early stage of the process.

OK, that's background. Now, somebody showed me this CRC document where they describe the committee's meeting. It's bizarre -- here's what they say:
Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum continue in its efforts to ensure that accuracy, balance and fact are what are used in the development of the new Family Life and Human Development curriculum.

Dr. Ruth Jacobs, M.D., has attended each of the Citizens Advisory Committee meetings as the CRC representative. Her background as an infectious disease specialist enables her to research, review and include that information which will most benefit our youth in their decisions regarding sexual activity.

Unfortunately we have found a pervasive effort still exists in wanting to teach our vulnerable and naive youth that any kind of sexual activity is acceptable and without serious consequence... if they use "protection." Dr. Jacobs has had some difficulty in having her recommendations pass by committee vote, which finds several members abstaining on a regular basis while others, who would have our kids believe "anything goes", block her efforts at every turn.

The CAC chair, Dr. Carol Plotsky, has fortunately recognized some validity to issues/concerns raised by Dr. Jacobs and a few others. She has assured the CAC members that these will be revisited when the time arrives for the writing of the curriculum "blueprint". The curriculum framework has just recently been presented and approved by the Board of Education and Dr. Jerry Weast, superintendent.

Join us and many others who share the same desire to keep our children healthy and safe -- let's work together to protect our children!


Michelle Turner, President, CRC

Now, I'm on that citizens committee, I know those people, I have attended every meeting. And I am a little baffled.

Who in the world thinks that any kind of sexual activity is acceptable and without serious consequence... if they use "protection?" Certainly it is no one on the citizens advisory committee.

Nothing like this was suggested in any committee meeting, or in any conversations in the parking-lot afterwards, or in any email or discussion -- nobody supports that point of view. There were thoughtful discussions in the meeting about how to discuss marriage and family in schools where many students, for whatever reasons, live in homes that are not Perfectly Cleaveresque. There were thoughtful discussions of the reasons people engage in sex, about the relationship between sexual orientation and AIDS, about how to discuss the topic of "relationships" including friendships as well as romantic relationships with adolescents, and many other interesting and important topics -- but nobody ever suggested that any kind of sexual activity is acceptable and without serious consequence... if they use "protection."

The reason Dr. Jacobs may have had some trouble having her recommendations passed was that they were inappropriate for this stage of the process. We were simply arranging topic headings over the course of a 12-year educational process, and it was not the time to make specific recommendations for course content. Everyone at that meeting understood this fact as the votes were counted. --And I don't blame her for that, we are not educators, we aren't expected to know how this process works. She's eager to get her stuff included, but this wasn't the time for it.

Oh, they'd love it if there was an evil conspiracy to corrupt our children!

They'd love it so much, they tell their newsletter readers that there is such a conspiracy. They just make it up. There was nothing at all to support these ridiculous statements. Nobody on the committee has remotely implied that "anything goes," but the liars at CRC feel perfectly justified in putting this bull-oney into their newsletter and sending it to people who may not be paying much attention and might not know anything else about what's going on.

The citizens advisory committee meetings are open to the public, if you want to know what really happens, feel free to sit and watch.