Friday, September 29, 2006

Irony-Deficient Congressman Suddenly Resigns

This just in: the Republican chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, sponsor of H.R.5749 -- Title: To amend title 18, United States Code, to protect youth from exploitation by adults using the Internet, and for other purposes -- has suddenly resigned after a 16-year-old page showed people some creepy email the Congressman had sent to him.
WASHINGTON - Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., resigned from Congress on Friday, effective immediately, in the wake of questions about e-mails he wrote a former teenage male page.

"I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent," he said in a statement issued by his office.

The two-sentence statement did not refer to the e-mails and gave no reason for Foley's abrupt decision to abandon a flourishing career in Congress.

Foley, 52, had been a shoo-in for a new term until the e-mail correspondence surfaced in recent days. Foley resigns from Congress over e-mails

They're always so sorry ... after they're caught.

I'm skipping most of this story. You know ... allegations the Congressman was gay ... asked the kid for pictures ... said it was innocent ...

Oh, and this:
"They've been shopping this around to reporters for weeks now. They want a headline and that's it. It's a political smear campaign of the worst kind," [Foley spokesman Jason ] Kello said.

Yes, that is the worst kind of smear, isn't it? The true ones. Absolutely the worst.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

It Is A Rather Boring Controversy

There was another long, brain-draining citizens advisory committee meeting last night. We are currently evaluating the curriculum that goes with the condom video. Committee members have submitted about seventy changes to the curriculum. Most of it's little things, wording changes, very little that has any ideological impact. Oh, you know, an "anal sex" here and a "premarital" there, but nothing big. Last night we got through about half of the changes.

It's funny to think that this is a "controversy." We're just a bunch of people going through some stuff for a health class, with like four or five people sitting in the chairs watching. It's the most boring thing you can imagine. Sometimes there are differences of opinion, but, really, when you go eyeball to eyeball, it seems that there's not really a huge amount of disagreement there. Like, no matter what those other guys say, Teach the Facts is opposed to sexually transmitted diseases of all kinds. We are against teenagers getting pregnant. We are in favor of happiness, good health, and responsible sexual behavior. People might disagree on how to define some things, or how high certain thresholds should be, but if everybody will just stay cool I am confident this committee can come to agreement on most things.

Let me state the obvious: the controversy was never actually about the information taught in a sex-ed class. We could go through that last curriculum, and discuss everything, and we might change a word here or there, but basically it was perfectly acceptable, just like basically this one is perfectly acceptable. It needs some tuning up, but it's really just a class, nothing to get excited about.

If people want to get their noses up in the air, they can find something wrong with anything -- hey, remember last year when they decided that SpongeBob SquarePants was promoting the "gay agenda?" Remember when they decided one of the Teletubbies was secretly encouraging preschoolers to turn gay? There is nothing so innocent that these guys can't complain about it. And that's what happened in Montgomery County, the new sex-ed curriculum got Tinky-Winkied. It seems to me, if conservative citizens want to sit at the table and work, there's no reason for them to be disappointed. Some people like to think that evil forces are trying to corrupt their kids, and that might be true, but it isn't the Montgomery County school district, and it isn't Teach the Facts.

We are going to start meeting every week now, so we stay on schedule for pilot testing and stuff. This committee is going to be rolling up our sleeves and plugging along for a while, it looks like.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Old News

I don't know, it just seemed relevant somehow, all of a sudden...

Judy Woodruff, CNN Anchor:
The State Department officially released its annual terrorism report just a little more than an hour ago, but unlike last year, there's no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. A senior State Department official tells CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden and "personalizing terrorism." CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Aired April 30, 2001

I'm not saying.

The Comma: A Dog Whistle

One blog I check every day is Language Log. It's just about language, theories of language, weird ways people butcher their languages, strange interesting facts about language. I'm sure it's not for everybody, but it's something I have an interest in.

OK, back up. Yesterday President Bush said the most bizarre thing in an interview. He said that when the history books are written, the war in Iraq -- which, in case you missed it, is a total failure and a terrible disaster -- will "look just like a comma."

Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in this "comma." A country lies in ruins. America's security is endangered and our international reputation is sunk. So some people, like ... me, for instance ... thought this was a very strange way to put it.

Turns out, as Language Log notes, The comma was really a dog whistle.
That's the theory of Ian Welch at The Agonist. According to him, when President Bush said that the Iraq war would "look just like a comma" to future historians, he wasn't using a creative and unexpected metaphor-- he was evoking a well-known proverb that urges steadfastness, "Never put a period where God has put a comma."

This being Language Log, of course we're going to check the numbers. And there are 440,000 Google hits for {period God comma}, mostly indeed variants of this expression:
Don't put a period where God has put a comma.
Never place a period where God has placed a comma.
If we stop there we are placing a period where God has placed a comma.
Never put a period, where God has put a comma.
Don't put a period where God puts a comma.
Don't put a period where God put a comma.
Don't place a period where God intended a comma.
God’s period is what allows our lives to have commas.
...we must be alert to the caution Gracie Allen left us not to put periods where God has put commas.
Today’s Bible stories are both about God putting a commas where humans might be tempted to put periods

See, you and I wouldn't have known to look for this.

A "dog whistle." It's a concept we've been seeing mentioned more and more. A real dog whistle is something that you blow on and only dogs can hear it. These days it refers to a secret code-phrase that used by a member of a group, especially a particular clique of religous fanatics, to signal secretly to one another in public.

Language Log goes on to quote entire sermons based on this metaphor. They continue:
Anyhow, Ian Welch is obviously right about the source of President Bush's comma, and Ken Layne was wrong. It was religion, not drugs.

But why is this allusion a "dog whistle"? Welch argues that President Bush
is constantly littering his speeches with code words and phrases meant for the religious right. Other people don't hear them, but they do, and most of the time it allows Bush both to say what those who aren't evangelical or born again want to hear, while still reassuring the religious right wants to hear.

For example, one of the most famous episodes of this was Bush's reference in the 2004 debates to the Dred Scott decision. Most people couldn't figure out what the heck he was talking about - it seemed like a non-sequitur. But, as Paperwight pointed out at the time, anti-abortion activists see themselves as similar to anti-slavery activists. And they take heart that eventually Dred Scott v. Sandford was overthrown. [...]

The other name for this is dog whistle politics. When you blow a dog whistle humans can't hear it, but the dogs sure can. It's a pitch higher than humans can hear. When you speak in code like this, most of the time the only people who hear and understand what you just said are the intended group, who have an understanding of the world and a use of words that is not shared by the majority of the population. So it allows you to send out two messages at once - one pitched for the majority of Americans, the other pitched for a subgroup. This goes on all the time, and usually it isn't caught - most people don't hear it, and the media is made up of people who can't make the connections because they don't belong to these subgroups. So they can't point out the subtext either.

It's very effective, and it's one reason why Bush still has his hard core of support - he's constantly reassuring them, at a pitch the rest of us can't hear.

Sometimes politicians say things that us ordinary folks really have no way of understanding. I didn't know what Bush could've meant with this "comma" thing.

Because, really, when the history books are written, this will clearly not be a comma. It is more likely to be a chapter, titled something like, Miserable Failure.

Kenneth Miller At NIH Tomorrow

Cell biologist Kenneth Miller will be giving a talk at NIH tomorrow (Wednesday), and it will be good. He has been going around the country giving talks about reconciling Darwinism with religious faith, and in the process he has stirred up a ton of debate, often alienating people on both sides of the cultural divide. And you know that can't be bad.

Miller's view is that faith and science are simply two different things. You can't use your faith to provide scientific explanations for observed phenomena -- when you encounter something you don't understand, it's not sufficient to say, in awe, "God put it here, and that's that." There is likely a better explanation, one that most parsimoniously accounts for the most data. For instance, evolution gives a beautifully concise and insightful way to understand the diversity of living things in terms of adaptation. Plants and animals have taken the shapes and functions they have in order to adapt to an environmental niche, which means they have what they need to survive and reproduce. And that includes evolving in the presence of other evolving organisms, pretty complicated, very cool.

The insights of Darwinian evolution do not inevitably lead to the conclusion that the world is a random, meaningless place. This is Miller's argument, and the reason you might want to try to attend his talk, to hear him try to work out the apparent contradiction.

Miller will likely spend much of the talk revealing Intelligent Design as a vacuous mockery of science. Well, there you go: that's what it is. He says that people of faith who want to oppose atheism should oppose atheism itself, not evolution, which really doesn't say anything about the subject one way or the other.

On the other hand, he also criticizes biologists such as Richard Dawkins for assuming a humanistic interpretation of evolutionary theory.

Quoted from a recent talk, very much debated on the Internet (link HERE):
Some of those who take a materialist world view assert that science alone can lead us regarding the nature of existence, or that scientific knowledge is the only kind worth having, said Miller. In doing so, these skeptics ignore the limitations of science, just as the creationists ignore the limits of theology.

Miller is a practicing Catholic, and was the plaintiff's lead witness in the hearings in Dover, Pennsylvania, last year; he is author of a book called Finding Darwin's God, and a biology professor at Brown University.

The NIH talk will be broadcast live on the Internet, through THIS LINK, and if you miss it, it looks like you can catch it later online HERE. If you can get over there, the talk is Wednesday, September 27, from 3:00-4:00PM, in the Clinical Center of Jack Masur Auditorium, Bldg.10. Overflow -- which seems likely -- will be in the Lipsett Auditorium.

Monday, September 25, 2006

This Is Too Fun

I don't know why, but I get the biggest kick out of this. Five days ago Hugo Chavez gave a big speech at the United Nations. He called President Bush "el diablo" and said he could still smell the sulfur from Bush's visit to the podium the day before.

And he held up a book by Noam Chomsky, a 2003, just-barely-still-in-print volume called Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, and told the American people to read it.

And now, five days later, the book is still Number One on's rankings.

I hope a lot of Americans do get some exposure to Chomsky, I hope they pause over his words and contemplate our nation's motives and methods on the world stage. It can't hurt to think about these things a little bit. You don't have to agree with everything he says, but ... watching TV, reading the news, listening to the radio, you'd never know these kinds of ideas even exist.

I think what amuses me is how the American press (after totally ignoring Chomsky) has tried to laugh Chavez off, but a lot of American people are obviously taking him seriously.

The Betterthanyou Family Reunion

The Family Research Council sponsored a "Values Voters Summit" this week in Washington. Everybody was there, from Tony Snow to James Dobson to Anne Coulter to ...

One blogger called it the Cavalcade of Wingnuts.

The New York Times had a reporter there, who wrote about the disaffection that the nuts are feeling with the Republican Party these days:
... Mr. Pence argued that in the end, Republicans were still preferable to Democrats. Like many arguments, though, his was about picking the lesser of two evils.

“My first inclination was to sit this one out,” Dr. Dobson said in an interview, adding that he had changed his mind when he looked at who would become the leaders of Congressional committees if the Democrats took over. Christian Conservatives Look to Re-energize Base

They're gloomy, yes, all of this hasn't turned out very well for them, has it?

Hey, it sounds like some of these "values voters" might have a sense of right and wrong, after all:
Even in this crowd of nearly 2,000 Christian conservative activists, some balked at one tactic recommended to turn out church voters. In a workshop, Connie Marshner, a veteran organizer, distributed a step-by-step guide that recommended obtaining church directories and posing as a nonpartisan pollster to ask people how they planned to vote.

“Hello, I am with ABC polls,” a suggested script began.

Some attendees complained that the script seemed deceptive, Ms. Marshner said in an interview afterward. She said that such disguised calls were a common campaign tactic, that it was just a suggested script and that she never recommended answering a direct question with a lie.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who played host to the conference, said he was “upset” to learn of her instructions and condemned any deception.

It's OK to lie about who you are, just don't answer a direct question with a lie. Indirect question? No problem. Pulling stuff out of ... thin air? Cool.

Did you see that in there about "obtaining church directories?" You might remember the controversy in the 2004 elections, when the Bush-Cheney campaign was caught asking people to give them their church directories after the IRS had sent them a strongly worded letter warning them not to involve churches in their politicking. Churches can lose their tax-exempt status if they participate directly or indirectly in political campaigns.

"Mister Perkins, are you in favor of using deception to win elections, or against it?" What do you think the answer to that question is? C'mon, some things are just not supposed to be said out loud, in public, with reporters around.

I think this will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on:
Several organizers at the event lamented that opposition to same-sex marriage, a major catalyst for Christian conservative turnout two years ago, had lost some of its emotional resonance. Massachusetts remains the only state to recognize same-sex marriage. Sixteen states have passed constitutional amendments banning such unions, and eight courts have ruled against the idea.

“Sometimes success brings complacency,” Mr. Perkins said.

To revive some of the emotions around the issue, several organizers said they were taking up the argument that legal recognition of same-sex marriages would cramp the free expression of religious groups who consider such unions a sin — an idea much discussed at the conference.

Listen, I'm no lawyer, but I'm guessing that will be a hard one to win... I suppose any religion can tell its members what to do, but I can't really see that a relationship between two people who go to a different church is really any of their business.

The problem is, really, that nobody cares. Nobody can figure out how two guys starting a family can possibly be any kind of threat to their own marriage. So, yes, the issue has sort of lost it's attractiveness, once people had a chance to think about it.
“That is an issue that wasn’t around two years ago and one that is absolutely moving to the very forefront,” said the Rev. Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, a conservative Christian broadcaster and advocacy group.

Although that idea may seem far-fetched to many liberal or secular-minded voters, legal scholars across the political spectrum agree that authorizing same-sex marriages could present legal questions for some religious groups. A Roman Catholic group in Massachusetts, for example, recently stopped offering children for adoption rather than provide them to gay couples.

Oh, that'll show 'em. Punish the orphans. Good job, Jesus must be proud of you.

Oh, and one more quote that I ... found interesting:
Others looked abroad. In a pre-election letter to 2.5 million supporters, Dr. Dobson is breaking away from his traditional field of child psychology to argue that foreign terrorists are a threat to families.

I don't know, there's just something about that.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Clinton Unplugged

I don't think I've ever seen a Presidential interview quite as raw-nerved as this one. Clinton can be clever, he can -- come on, you know it -- be slick. But here he goes mano a mano with Chris Wallace. Rough transcript: HERE. I don't usually watch Fox (you might say), but this is going to be on Sunday, it sounds like. I might have to figure out what channel that is. Isn't it like forty or something?

Read this transcript. This is something else.

Go Ahead, Congratulate Yourselves

From the Christian Science Monitor:
The United Nation's special investigator on torture said Thursday that torture may now be worse in Iraq than it was during the regime of deposed leader Saddam Hussein. The Associated Press reports that Manfred Nowak, who was making a brief to the United Nations Human Rights Council about the treatment of detainees at the US prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, said the torture situation in Iraq was "totally out of hand."
"The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein." Nowak added, "That means something, because the torture methods applied under Saddam Hussein were the worst you could imagine."

Some allegations of torture were undoubtedly credible, with government forces among the perpetrators, he said, citing "very serious allegations of torture within the official Iraqi detention centers. You have terrorist groups, you have the military, you have police, you have these militias. There are so many people who are actually abducted, seriously tortured and finally killed," Nowak told reporters at the UN's European headquarters.
The Times of London reports that the Bush administration rejected the claim made by Nowak.
A State Department official in Washington, asked about Professor Nowak's comments, told The Times: "How anyone could compare state-sanctioned torture under a dictator to the situation today is beyond us.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Bizarre Story in the Sentinel

I'm not sure, really, what to make of this, in fact I admit I am totally confused by it. The Sentinel has an article explaining what school board candidates the anti-MCPS Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum support, and how they feel about the recent primaries. It seems to me there are two questions here. First ... why is this news? Second, why is the CRC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, endorsing candidates, in apparent violation of IRS regulations?

Here, read some of this:
The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are pretty happy now that at least one candidate they supported in the Board of Election primary race is still in the running for the at-large position and that the new condom demonstration video meets their approval.

The CRC is a non-profit, grassroots organization made up of parents and members of the Montgomery County community who opposed 2004's Family Life and Human Development Curriculum, which included sex education for public school students.

CRC President Michelle Turner said they are pleased that Tommy Le made it past the primary election, but District 5 candidate Susie Scofield's loss to incumbents Nancy Navarro and Philip Kauffman disappointed them. CRC weighs in on recent election results

See what I mean? Why is The Sentinel promoting the CRC? They didn't use to.

Let's read a little more.
Scofield supported the teaching of homosexuality as long as it is taught unbiased, a stance supported by CRC that sexual orientation should be discussed in terms of those who support homosexuality as well as those who don't. The CRC argues that the current sex education curriculum leaves out information about groups that oppose homosexuality and "exgays."

Le will be competing in November's election against Shirley Brandman, who Turner said is among the Board of Education candidates that the CRC are worried about.

"[Brandman] she feels that homosexuality is not a choice and that some people are born that way," said Turner. "We have concerns about how she wants this taught to the kids in the school system."

It appears that the CRC has decided to give up their nonprofit status.
Turner expressed concerned that Brandman, in addition to Navarro, Kauffman, incumbent and District 3 candidate Patricia B. O'Neill, who is running unopposed, and District 1 candidate Judy Docca are endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice American, Montgomery County Education Association, and National Organization of Women. She said she is concerned about the MCEA because they are associated with the National Education Association, who endorsed same-sex marriage.

Yeah, well, she says we're affiliated with organizations, too.

Look, HERE is what the President of the National Education Association says: "It has come to our attention that the American Family Association and possibly other conservative groups have begun a malicious e-mail campaign distorting the facts related to proposed amendment changes," said Reg Weaver, NEA President.

"While I understand that the emails and phone calls you are receiving are generating concern, we must not allow the tactics and manipulations of these divisive groups to derail our process," he said. "NEA has no position on same-sex marriages, and leadership is not seeking to establish such a position. We are focused on Great Public Schools for Every Child."

But that doesn't stop Ms. Turner.

I'm going to skip some of this.
Turner adds that she believed the condom video was a part of their agenda during the lawsuit because they were against the inclusion of anal and oral sex in the curriculum and that the video included information about it. "We do not want to see them introducing oral or anal sex to 8th graders," said Turner, "but if they have to include it - and we'd rather they didn't - but if they do, we prefer it remain at the 10th grade level along with the correct information regarding all risks and information on diseases and physical ailments that go along with risky behavior."

But, of course, the condom video was only for tenth-graders. Not that this reporter would check or anything.

Well, that's enough, there's more if you really want it.

The Sentinel is not our area's leading newspaper. They have had some terrific reporting, and some outrageous schlock, regarding the development of a new MCPS sex-ed curriculum. Editorially, they have been soundly in our corner on sex-ed revisions, but whoever runs the newsroom seems to take long naps at crucial times. It's not clear to me why this story exists, it just seems to say that "somebody knows somebody."

Chavez Endorsement Is Good To Have

Hey, why didn't I think of this?

In his speech at the United Nations the other day, the one where he called Bush a devil and said he could still smell the sulphur, Hugo Chavez held up a book by Noam Chomsky called Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. He said "The people of the United States should read this ... instead of … watching Superman movies."

Chomsky's not exactly light reading, it's not exactly Mad Magazine, if you know what I mean, but right now, if you look at, you'll see that this book is Number One.

My book is currently two-hundred-thousand-four-hundred-third.

Extry, Extry: Dobson is Ticked

Family Blah Blah puppeteer James Dobson held a rally yesterday to wag a finger at the Republican Party for not fulfilling their promise to the Religious Right.

He booked a room for 17,000 people. Three thousand showed up.
Standing before an enormous American flag in Mellon Arena, conservative evangelical activist James Dobson told thousands of supporters he was deeply disappointed in the nation's Republican leadership, but that the nation's future depended on re-electing them.

"I have flat-out been ticked at Republicans for the past two years," he said, to some applause from a crowd that arena security estimated at around 3,000.

However, he said, "This country is at a crisis point. Whether or not the Republicans deserve the power they were given, the alternatives are downright frightening."

Dr. Dobson, who has built an enormous following in three decades as a Christian radio psychologist, is renowned for his ability to turn out the conservative "values voters" who tipped the last election. Dobson preaches mixed message

It's weird when the news media use a group's euphemistic self-label to describe them. "Values voters." I consider myself a "value voter," but I vote against everything they vote for. Can you imagine this happening with anything else? Like, if I described myself as "the world's most intelligent blogger," do you suppose that when I did something the newspaper would say JimK, the "world's most intelligent blogger," said yesterday that blah blah blah?"

Somehow I doubt that I could pull that off. But Dobson can. The media give him what he wants without even blinking -- I guarantee, this reporter had no second thought about using that phrase to describe these people.

Ha! This next paragraph is pretty funny.
Although tax law forbids Dr. Dobson's Focus On The Family Action, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the rally, to endorse candidates, organizers said that last night's Stand for the Family Rally was held in Pennsylvania because of its high-profile U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Rick Santorum and Democratic challenger Bob Casey. Issue guides being distributed last night clearly favored Mr. Santorum. So Dr. Dobson's warning shot across the bow of the Republican Party was unexpected.

Amazing, isn't it? Somehow this guy leads a political organization that's so big it needs its own zip code, and yet they don't pay any taxes. Somehow I am not expecting the Bush IRS to come knocking on his door anytime soon.
He accused the Republican House and Senate of "sitting on their hands" on key conservative social issues. He said they had squandered a growing public sentiment that abortion should be limited or banned.

They wanted your votes, Smart Guy, they never intended to do any of those stupid things you wanted them to do. They'll do and say just enough to keep your people's votes.
But, he asked his audience to consider what would happen if Republicans lost control of key committees on education, the judiciary, and especially, the armed forces.

"We are at war in this country with an enemy who wants to destroy us," he said. He stressed that only a small minority of Muslims believe that their faith justifies violence, "but let's say 4 percent of Muslims want to kill us ... . That's 48 million people who want to bring us to our knees."

I love that political correctness, he's not saying anything about "most" Muslims, just 48 million of them. I doubt they'll be offended by that.

Rally organizers had split the 17,000 arena with a curtain. It's central sections were packed, though the upper decks and farthest side sections were empty. Local conservative organizers had said before the rally that 3,000 was the maximum that such an event rally would ordinarily draw in Western Pennsylvania. Dr. Dobson thanked those who came for taking time out on a busy weeknight.

It wasn't that it was a "busy weeknight," you big excuse-maker. It was that nobody cared.
In the exhibit area of Mellon Arena, organizers gave away copies of Dr. Dobson's biography and his book on the debate over gay marriage. Other exhibits by local socially conservative organizations included written comparisons of Mr. Santorum and Mr. Casey, as well as a comparison of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and his challenger, Lynn Swann. The comparisons were produced by the regional anti-abortion lobby, LifePAC.

In summary, they described Mr. Santorum as a leader in the anti-abortion movement and Mr. Casey as someone who claims to oppose abortion but has no track record of doing so and who had received support from groups that favor abortion rights.

It described Mr. Swann as "pro-life'' and Gov. Rendell as "extremely pro-abortion."

But there was nothing political.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Three Million Year Old Girl

This doesn't really have anything to do with sex-ed in Montgomery County, but you gotta think it's cool. They found a little Australopithecus girl who died more than three million years ago.

In The Post:
Fossil hunters have unearthed the skeleton of a young girl who died 3.3 million years ago, marking the first time scientists have discovered the nearly complete remains of a child of an ancient human ancestor.

The girl, who was about 3 years old when she perished in what may have been a flash flood, provides an unprecedented window into human evolution, in part because she belongs to the same species as "Lucy," one of the most famous hominid specimens in paleontology, experts said. 3.3 Million Years Later, Skeleton of Girl Found

Australopithecus is believed to have lived 4.4 to maybe as recently as 1.7 million years ago. Their brain was about a third the size of ours, but then they were only like four or four-and-a-half feet tall.

How do I know this? It's true I minored in Anthro, but I also got straight A's in all my Google courses.

I tell my kids stuff like that all the time, and they believe me. To them, the world was always the way it is now.
That prompted some scientists to refer to the new skeleton as "Lucy's baby," even though they estimate that the child lived about 150,000 years earlier. The researchers who discovered her in an Ethiopian desert named her Selam, which means "peace" in several Ethiopian languages.

Ah, yes, and sometime it would be fun to sit down and talk about the evolution of language, as well as species -- we do see a lot of words that look like "Selam" and mean peace, don't we?
Although scientists have found bones and bone fragments of children from this and other species of human predecessors, and a few skeletons, the discovery represents one of the most complete individuals ever recovered and by far the oldest. Bones of young children are so small and soft that few survive.
Scientists are still painstakingly extracting the fossilized bones from the surrounding stone, but they have already made striking discoveries, dramatically reinforcing the idea that the creatures were a transitional stage between apes and humans. Although they had legs like humans that enabled them to walk upright on two feet, they also had shoulders like gorillas that may have enabled them to climb trees; although their teeth seem to have grown quickly, like chimps' teeth, their brains may have matured more slowly, like those of humans.

"This confirms the idea that human evolution was not some straight line going from ape to human," said Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution. "The more we discover, the more we realize that different parts evolve at different times, and some of these experiments of early evolution had a combination of humanlike and apelike features."

The fascinating thing is to imagine how the various changes to the human phenotype were adaptive. In a lot of cases it's clear, for instance in the shape of teeth as a function of diet, but in other cases it's not really obvious how an early change improved the fitness of the organism.

You know these ape-people didn't think of themselves as a stage on the route to development of ... Americans. These early ancestors would have experienced life as if they were the ultimate, the top of the line, and I suppose by our standards, in their day, they were.

They would have felt that all of time led inexorably and pointedly to their own lives, just like we do.

And we might sometimes wonder where it goes from here.
The youngster's fossilized remains, the first to fully exhibit the mixed ape-human characteristics in a child, were found in the remote, harsh Dikika area of northeastern Ethiopia in 2000 when an expedition member spotted the face of the skull poking out from a steep dusty hillside. The surroundings indicate that the child might have drowned in a flash flood, which immediately buried the intact remains in sand that hardened to encase the bones, the researchers said.

Over the next four years, researchers slowly recovered much of the rest of the child's skeleton, including the entire skull, with a sandstone impression of the brain, jaws with teeth, parts of the shoulder blades and collarbone, ribs, the spinal column, the right arm, fingers, legs and almost a complete left foot.

Can you imagine? Looking over and seeing that little skull looking back at you... touching someone who lived that long ago.
Where the child's throat once was, Zeresenay found a hyoid bone, which is located in the voice box and supports muscles of the tongue and throat. It is the first time that bone has been discovered in such an old fossil of a human predecessor. It appears more primitive than a human hyoid and more like those in apes, suggesting that the 1 1/2 -foot toddler sounded more like a chimp than a human.

And so you have the evolution of the speech apparatus -- and remember, evolution doesn't know where it's going, the obvious rule is that an adaptation will increase in the population if it increases the probability of reproduction. So that funky voice-box did something helpful, even if it was only grunts and yells.
"If you imagine how this child would have sounded if it was crying out for its mother, its cry would appeal more to chimp ears than to human ears," said Fred Spoor of University College London, who is helping to study the remains. "Even though it's a very early human ancestor, she would sound more apelike than humanlike."

Just chilling to think of.
The child's lower limbs confirm earlier findings that the species walked upright like humans. But the shoulder blades resemble a young gorilla's. Along with the long arms, curved fingers and inner-ear cavity, the bones provide new evidence supporting those who believe the creatures may have still climbed trees as well.

"I see this species as foraging bipeds -- walking on two feet but climbing trees when necessary, such as to forage for food," Zeresenay said, adding that more research will be needed to be certain of that controversial conclusion.
The discovery of a child also allows scientists to begin to study how the species developed. The child's brain size suggests that the species' brain matured relatively slowly.

"If the brain was developing slower, as in humans or similar to what you see in humans, here might have also been the beginnings of behavioral shifts towards being more human," Zeresenay said.

Three million years ago.

That. Is. Cool.

Paper Ballots in November?

The Maryland primary last week was insane. Montgomery County wasn't the only place with problems, though ours were bad. So now the governor is saying he wants to go back to paper ballots in November.

Here it is in The Post:
A week after the primary election was plagued by human error and technical glitches, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) called yesterday for the state to scrap its $106 million electronic voting apparatus and revert to a paper ballot system for the November election.

"When in doubt, go paper, go low-tech," he said.

Linda H. Lamone, the administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, quickly denounced the plan to swap voting systems just seven weeks before the general election as "crazy." And Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said it "cannot happen. It will not happen." Ehrlich Wants Paper Ballots For Nov. Vote

Well, yeah, it's a little crazy to start in September to prepare for the November election. But ... it was also a little crazy not to prepare Tuesday morning for an election taking place that day. But they did that.

As we saw, the people on these election committees are making pretty nice money for working a couple of days every other year. I didn't notice anybody getting fired over the last round of screw-ups, why don't we see if they can hustle a little bit, and fix things this time around?
Ehrlich said that, if necessary, he would call a special session of the Maryland General Assembly to change the law to allow paper ballots. But Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) dismissed the idea of a special session, saying elections officials should focus instead on fixing the current system.

"We paid millions. These are state-of-the-art machines," said Miller, who called Ehrlich's announcement a political ploy to energize his Republican supporters.

Well, that's an interesting "ploy" then, it seems to me. Trying to arrange so that the public can vote, and the votes can be counted? Very sly.

I am no fan of the governor's, but I will point out one thing: Maryland has two parties. This governor, I'm sure, would like to do some really nasty things, but he can never get away with it, because of real checks and balances. The presence of the opposite party challenges him to come up with ideas that won't make him look like a jerk -- because somebody prominent is sure to point it out in a public place. The state legislature won't just cover for him, like the federal legislature does for the President.

In this situation, the best way to make the opposition look bad is to have better ideas than them. And if there's a "ploy" here, that's it.

Oh, and speaking of crazy stuff, how about that reasoning? We paid millions. These are state-of-the-art machines. The fact that they don't work, that they can easily be hacked (you saw the video from Princeton, right?) ... it doesn't matter. We paid a whole bunch for these things and we ought to use them.

The Democrats are on the wrong side of this one. Whatever you think, this Diebold system is bizarre. The source code is secret, the sytsems are unsecured -- I saw recently where you can buy the keys to open them on eBay, it's the same key that opens the mini-bar in a hotel. It's been shown that you can easily insert a program into the machines that will change the vote counts, and even that a virus can be written that will spread the secret, self-deleting program from one machine to others.
In Montgomery and Prince George's counties yesterday, election officials continued to count the thousands of paper provisional ballots that could determine the outcome of the 4th Congressional District Democratic primary race between incumbent U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn and challenger Donna Edwards. Prince George's officials cracked opened 26 machines yesterday and retrieved votes that had not been counted.

This whole voting machine thing has been a swindle from the start. If you haven't been following this, check out, which took the early lead on covering these stories, and The Brad Blog, which is really covering it heavily these days. They're not joking when they say our democracy is at stake.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The CRC: Whining As a Way of Life

Hoo boy. The nuts are starting to climb the walls again.

Here's a little story from your favorite Religious Right web site:
(AgapePress) - A group that sued Maryland's largest school system over its controversial sex-education curriculum is applauding some proposed changes to the new curriculum and raising concerns about others.

Last year a federal judge issued an order blocking implementation of the Montgomery County, Maryland, sex-ed program. Michelle Turner is president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, one of the two groups that filed a successful lawsuit alleging the program denigrated conservative religious beliefs about homosexuality and contained misinformation about health risks posed by condom use. Maryland Countys SexEd Material Not Yet Out of the Woods

That statement about "blocking implementation" would be true if the writer had put the words "for ten days" in it somewhere. But ... why worry over something like that? (And was there anything about health risks posed by condom use? No, I don't think so.)
Turner shares that her group approves of Montgomery County's newly revised condom video. "We think that the school system has done a very good job in creating this new one," she says. "It's factual, it's direct, it's to the point, it's clinical, and it's given in a very mature manner."

OK, good, so they're not going to sue again. Good news.

But wait:
Turner says her group is committed to ensuring Montgomery County schools present accurate data from the Centers for Disease Control regarding sexually transmitted diseases and infections. That's one reason she says the new curriculum does not meet all of her group's expectations.

"We're running into some concerns with the written part of the curriculum," Turner adds. "There still seems to be an interest on the part of the school system to introduce anal and oral sex."

I'm dying to say something here, but will let her finish her comments first...
According to Turner, liberal groups are still pushing for condom-based, homosexuality-affirming sex-ed in the classroom. For example, groups like the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and "Teach the Facts" want the county's new sex-education program to include discussion of anal and oral sex, she says. But if the changes advocated by those two groups are adopted, the citizens group leader contends the district may be in violation of the terms of last year's court-ordered settlement.

Ah, so they do want to go back to court.

I am curious about this GLSEN statement. If anyone reading this blog should happen to be associated with GLSEN, will you please say something in the comments about this? Are you lobbying the school district for something? What's this about?

OK, I'm joking. This is a lie, GLSEN hasn't said anything about this.

Listen, here's the deal with the anal and oral sex. I actually think she's talking about something I've said.

Teach the Facts wants the school district to promote abstinence among teens. But listen, here's the definition they're giving students in the first draft of the curriculum:
Abstinence: "choosing not to participate in a specific activity; e.g., sexual activity, alcohol, tobacco, other drug use.

That's it. You're going to tell teenagers over and over again to practice abstinence, but you're not really going to tell them what it is.

We want the school district to use good, reliable information, from government information sources. The definition I submitted for consideration comes from a government web site that our group actually protested when it first came out, They define it this way:
For the purposes of this document, "abstinence" is defined as the avoidance of voluntary intimate sexual contact (oral, anal, genital, or intimate skin-to-skin).

The following activities are NOT consistent with true abstinence:
  • Oral sex is often called a "safe" sexual practice. However, all sexually transmitted diseases can be transmitted this way.
  • Anal sex is a sexual activity that many believe they can engage in without causing pregnancy. However, this is one of the easiest ways of spreading STDs.
  • Intimate skin-to-skin contact, through activities such as mutual masturbation, can spread disease.

See what I mean? The Bush administration gets it. You have to tell teens what not to do. Don't just tell them not to do anything, because ... they won't do that. They will hold hands. They'll kiss. They'll make out. They'll start touching each other. And you haven't told them where to stop. They don't know.

You have to tell them what not to do.

Teach the Facts wants the school district to use definitions that are given on important government web sites, sex-ed sites that give necessary information about, for instance, how to use condoms.

Like, here's what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say about using a condom for anal sex to avoid AIDS/HIV:
Not having (abstaining from) sex is the most effective way to avoid HIV. If people choose to have anal sex, they should use a latex condom. Most of the time, condoms work well. However, condoms are more likely to break during anal sex than during vaginal sex. Thus, even with a condom, anal sex can be risky. A person should use generous amounts of water-based lubricant in addition to the condom to reduce the chances of the condom breaking. Can I get HIV from anal sex?

That's OK for the government to put on the Internet, isn't it? What harm has been done?

Or, here's another one. Here's what the Food and Drug Administration says:
A person who takes part in risky sexual behavior should always use a condom.

The highest risk comes from having intercourse -- vaginal, anal, or oral -- with a person who has a sexually transmitted disease. If you have sex with an infected person, you're taking a big chance. If you know your partner is infected, the best rule is to avoid intercourse (including oral sex). If you do decide to have sex with an infected partner, you should always be sure a condom is used from start to finish, every time. Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases . . . especially AIDS

See? They're not afraid to say it. It ain't pretty, but there is no benefit in beating around the bush.

There is no government web site that says "homosexual behavior is risky," which is the CRC's preferred wording. Homosexual behavior is not the problem, the problem for men who have sex with men is, as the CDC says:
...Not using a condom during anal sex with someone other than a main partner of known HIV serostatus ...HIV/AIDS among Men Who Have Sex with Men

There are three good reasons to use the term "anal sex" in a class. Let me run through them.

First. There is an AIDS epidemic underway. Our gay citizens are being infected at dangerous rates, and blacks are being targeted at rates many times higher than other demographic groups. The most common mode of spreading the infection, at least in the United States, is through anal sex between men. Even given the most conservative estimates, there is greater than a 50 percent chance that every classroom has at least one gay student in it. They need to be told the risk. They're not going to stop being gay, they need to know what to do in order to avoid catching this lethal disease.

Second. As this survey, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows:
Among adults 25–44 years of age ... 40 percent of men and 35 percent of women have had anal sex with an opposite-sex partner.

In other words, anal sex is an overwhelmingly heterosexual activity. More than a third, nearly half, of people are doing it. They need to know what to do to protect themselves.

Third. As the Journal of Adolescent Health reported last year (as relayed in the Washington Post:
Although young people who sign a virginity pledge delay the initiation of sexual activity, marry at younger ages and have fewer sexual partners, they are also less likely to use condoms and more likely to experiment with oral and anal sex, said the researchers from Yale and Columbia universities. Teen Pledges Barely Cut STD Rates, Study Says

Kids think they are "technically virgins" if they have anal sex. So they're doing that, instead of the regular stuff.

I agree, the phrase is indelicate. It's rude. It's nasty. We don't want our kids thinking about it.

That's why we want to tell them what the risks are, clearly and explicitly.

When prudery clashes with common sense, I say, let's side with sense.

The article that I started with goes on a little further.
"It all depends on whether or not they are introducing homosexuality and homosexual acts and the homosexual lifestyle without telling students that it is possible to leave the lifestyle -- and that there are agencies and organizations that can assist with that," she says.

The proposed changes to the curriculum must be approved by the county's citizens advisory committee, which includes two high school students.

Pretty soon the committee will discuss the sexual orientation part of the curriculum. So far we haven't done that. You use a condom the same way whether you're straight or gay. You could say that it's a little funny to show a video of a guy putting a condom on a penis that's not his, but the CRC doesn't seem to mind that part of it -- though I think it is ironically a plus to them that there are no women in the video.

Ms. Turner is complaining about "homosexual acts" already, when nothing at all has been said about any homosexual acts. This is the condom part.

I'm sure she's got these Family Blah Blah "reporters" on speed-dial for when we get to the sexual orientation part of the curriculum. in the meantime, CRC is just trying to slime the school district and the community, like they did before.

Gay-Hater Cameron on the Daily Show

The Daily Show was too funny last night. Besides having Bill Clinton on -- in the Seat of Heat -- Jon Stewart had a brilliant skit with professional gay-hater Paul Cameron, founder of the Family Research Institute (officially classified by the Southern Povery Law Center as a hate group), explaining why it's sensible to fire all our military Arab translators who happen to be gay.

Well here, watch it yourself.

Cameron is a ridiculous fake researcher of the type that the CRC loves. He publishes his articles mainly in a journal called Psychological Reports, which prints anything as long as the author pays for it. Next thing you now, the "ex-gay" and Family Blah Blah groups are quoting it as if it was really published research.

Guys like Cameron are not only evil, they're morons.

I sure don't want to find out the school district is planning to let any of this guy's ideas into our Montgomery County classrooms.

Monday, September 18, 2006

CRC and the WCTU: Perfect

This was a piece of information I hadn't heard before, but it's kind of fun. I'll get to it, but need to fill in a little first...

The anti-MCPS group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum passed out literature at some voting places last week. They had a little handout that listed the candidates for school board and some quotes, and noted which ones were supported by groups that supported the right to abortion or women's rights (NARAL, NOW, etc.). They had a little note at the bottom that said:
The MCEA (Montgomery County Teacher Association) is part of NEA (National Educators Association). The NEA has endorsed same-sex marriage.

NOW (National Organization of Women) asserts the right of lesbians to live their lives with dignity and security, and the rights of equal marriage for all.

So ... you can see what the message is. Like us, they're a 501(c)(3), so they can't really tell you who to vote for, but they can give you "information." Whatever, I don't care if they do that. People like them are going to do whatever it is that people like them do. These things have a different meaning for them than for the rest of us. These messages are meant to horrify, y'know.

They handed out another thing, a page all full of text, with the title:
Why you need to get involved even if you don't have kids in public schools.....

A couple of points they note. California added "sexual identity" to its anti-discrimination laws. But...
... the teaching of most mainstream religions is that homosexual behavior is a sin. This religious belief is directly in conflict with the gay agenda. Similar laws in Australia and Canada have been used to justify enforcing "tolerance training" or acceptance of homosexual behavior even on the Catholic parochial schools.

Then there's a little piece of a news article, I guess, from Canberra, Australia.

(They do get outraged about the idea that somebody would say you can't discriminate against somebody.)

And there was this.
In Kentucky, the ACLU in the Boyd County school district threatened to force all students to attend sexual orientation and gender identity "tolerance training", with no opt-out capability.

Turns out, back in 2003 some students had sued this school to let them have a Gay-Straight Alliance club on campus. The result was that the club was allowed and the school also had to write up some anti-harassment policies and conduct diversity training for all staff and students. The school complied with that order, but some parents tried to get their kids out of the training, and instead the students were given an unexcused absence.

So in February, 2005, those parents filed their own lawsuit. Summarized in a judge's opinion:
Plaintiffs state that they have sincerely held religious beliefs that homosexuality is harmful to those who practice it and harmful to society as a whole. They further believe that homosexuality is not an immutable characteristic. They state that because they must love and care for others, they must inform those who are engaged in a destructive lifestyle that they are wrong and that they are engaging in behavior that is harmful not only to themselves, but to society as a whole. However, Plaintiffs allege that they are prohibited from conveying their views on homosexuality by virtue of the Boards’s policies and practices.

So nice, they just want the right to tell other people how terrible they are.

Hmmm, here's a little tidbit from the judge's ruling that you might find interesting...
Plaintiffs urge that the Fall 2004 student training impinged upon their First Amendment rights as well. Plaintiffs maintain that while the training is replete with positive statements regarding homosexuality, critical or negative statements are prohibited. Plaintiffs argue that such viewpoint discrimination is unconstitutional. However, Plaintiff claim fails on both the law and the facts.


This is, of course, a preview of the lawsuit that will inevitably come when the CRC and PFOX realize nobody is going to play their game. This judge slaps back the "viewpoint discrimination" angle, neatly.

Ah, more interesting stuff ... the judge talks about our little ol' county... This ruling is a tutorial for the MCPS legal team. You guys hear that? This judge tells you exactly what you have to do next time.

In sum: these nuts tried to sue for the right to insult and badmouth gay people, and they lost.

Now, you can take this however you want, but the fact is a United States District Court upheld the order for anti-discrimination training.

Anyway, I suggest you read that judge's opinion, and also the ACLU's description of the event HERE (you have to scroll down). They had a serious problem at that school, with violent harassment, out of control.

The CRC's handout also asked:
Does Montgomery County want to go the way of Massachusetts?

And I know, when I first read that line, my first thought was no. Because I've been to Massachusetts and I can hardly understand them when they talk.

Oh, but they meant the news story where a second-grade class read a story about a family with two princes getting married. You can get a flavor of what's going on up there HERE.

And then the CRC's paper says, in big letters:
Montgomery County Board of Education approved using this language in our health classes as guidance for teachers discussing homosexuality:

Myth: It isn't "normal" to be homosexual or have homosexual feelings.
Myth: Homosexuality is a sin.
The "right" answer to this question is that some religions are "biblically misguided."

And there's a little footnote that says Approved Teacher Resource: Issues and News: Myths and Facts, Family Pride Coalition.

Well, I gotta point out something:

The phrase "biblically misguided" isn't mentioned anywhere in any materials in the curriculum or associated with it. That's something they keep saying, but it's not true. The phrase "biblically misguided" comes from the judge, not the school district. There is also a slightly more clever lie, that the school board approved "using this language in our health classes." No, it wasn't for use in health classes, it was for teachers only.

They know this, it's just that the truth does not serve them well. Or vice versa.

The CRC document has one more quote from the curriculum:
Gender: gender is a social construct and is largely artificial. It is someone's sense of maleness or femaleness based on behavior, identity, and/or how he or she expresses "male" or "female" traits.

And it gives a source. This is another background resource, something teachers might see, but not students.

OK, is that really something you want to fight about? Defining the word "gender?"

I mean, what do you think it means? I don't even get that one ...

Well, anyway, that wasn't even the part I wanted to talk about. The really interesting thing is who was handing their stuff out at one polling place. Because there is a connection here that I wouldn't have made in a million years.

Their stuff was being handed out by the local representative of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. The WCTU.

Remember? That was the group of gals with the hatchets, a-bustin' up the bars and a-sendin' the men-folk scatterin', back in the day. That is, back in the days before Prohibition, which the WCTU can pretty much claim responsibility for. Now, there was a success story for you!

You don't think people drank more during Prohibition than at any time in our country's history? Maybe the history of the world?

The WCTU was the prototype of the CRC, of the group that works to impose its moralistic views on everyone else. And the failure of Prohibition should be the lesson for all, about how these things turn out. It's not to say that alcohol is good for you, it wasn't really about that. It was about people making their own choices.

It turns out this WCTU lady -- and who knew that group still existed? -- has been busy around the county for a long time. She has organized people to oppose the Day of Silence when gay people are recognized. She wants to put the Ten Commandments into courtrooms. The whole thing.

Oh, this is good. In 1999, when Montgomery County passed legislation to give benefits to same-sex partners, The Post reported:
But the measure has inflamed social conservatives, who say the measure undermines traditional heterosexual marriage by extending the rights that come with it to homosexuals. In the front row of the council hearing room, members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union held up yellow signs imploring council members to: "Say No to Sodomy Subsidies."

Bunny Galladora, national public relations director for the group [and CRC founding member: JimK], said the temperance union is consulting with lawyers to determine ways of preventing the bill from becoming law. She noted that sodomy is a felony in Maryland.

Sodomy Subsidies. Wow. That's good, eh? By the way, sodomy was not a felony in Maryland at the time she said that. Not that that sort of thing really matters to those guys.

Well, it's a perfect piece of information, it helps all this fit together. It's just perfect to think of the CRC as the modern day WCTU. Looking back at the first bulletin board of the Recall Group, I see that this association between them and WCTU has always been there, from the start.

They're a-bustin' up the schoolhouses just like they used to bust up the bars. Gonna put a stop to this-here sinnin'.

If we let them.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Take Back Your Country

DENVER (Sept. 17) - Ten Nobel Peace Prize laureates called for world peace and took aim at U.S. policy makers, asking an enthusiastic crowd of 7,000 youth to demand that the United States pull back its military, spread its wealth and offer aid to developing countries.

Only the Dalai Lama, whose speech at the three-day PeaceJam convention at the University of Denver was interrupted when a fire alarm went off, did not take a direct jab at the U.S.

"After the painful events of September 11, I wish that America would have built a school in Afghanistan in the name of every victim," said Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian judge and 2003 Peace Prize recipient. "When someone claims he has a vision from God to bring war to Iraq, this is a kind of terrorism."

The Dalai Lama called on the world to open itself to religious tolerance. Nobel Peace Prize Winners Take Aim at U.S.

I don't know how many Nobel Peace Prize winners are alive today, but this had to be most of them. These aren't some cranky pacifists, this isn't PETA here, or the Earth Liberation Front, every one of these guys has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, each has made a major contribution to solving the world's most difficult problems.

It is impossible for Americans to know how badly their government is behaving in their name. Oh, they sense something is wrong, but the truth is, the noise level isn't any higher now than it was when Clinton was accused of having a sexual relationship with an intern. In the meantime, we are digging ourselves into a very serious hole morally, economically, diplomatically, militarily -- every way you can think of.

I'll skip down a little.
One after the other Saturday night, the laureates called on Americans to do something about their government's foreign policy. From efforts to close the border with Mexico to Iraq to arms exports, the Nobel laureates had words for the U.S. government.

"Stand up. Take action," said Jody Williams, the 1997 recipient for her work opposing land mines, and the only American to take the stage. "Don't try to bring democracy to people you don't understand through the barrel of a gun and leave them with civil war."

The Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who praised the U.S. for its fight against South Africa's apartheid and its history of justice and democracy, also had stern words for the Bush administration.

"You taught us no government worth its salt can subvert the rule of law. We believed you," he said. "That's part of what you have as a gift for the world. Then how can you commit Guantanamo Bay? Take back your country."

I'm curious, how much time did they give this on CNN today? MSNBC? Fox?

How Has This Happened?

I'm not going to talk too much about this, but readers should be aware of the fact that our country has developed a web of gulags imprisoning thousands of individuals, none of whom are charged with crimes.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law.

Disclosures of torture and long-term arbitrary detentions have won rebuke from leading voices including the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. Supreme Court. But the bitterest words come from inside the system, the size of several major U.S. penitentiaries.

"It was hard to believe I'd get out," Baghdad shopkeeper Amjad Qassim al-Aliyawi told The Associated Press after his release - without charge - last month. "I lived with the Americans for one year and eight months as if I was living in hell."

Captured on battlefields, pulled from beds at midnight, grabbed off streets as suspected insurgents, tens of thousands now have passed through U.S. detention, the vast majority in Iraq. U.S. war prisons legal vacuum for 14,000

What have we become?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Server Weirdness

Well, that was strange! Our web hosting company decided to move us to a different server. That's all fine -- we had noticed indications that the host was getting overloaded -- but it took all day for the new server information to get out to the Internet. The site's been down all day.

Glad to be back.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Changes in Chile

I understand this wouldn't happen in the USA, but you might find it interesting anyway. Chile has had a problem with teen pregnancy. They could have done like the US -- they could've implemented a systematic campaign to stop teaching young people about sex, and instead tell them not to do it. And, you know, some people in Chile think that's what should be done.

But they're trying a different approach. From The Christian Science Monitor:
SANTIAGO, CHILE – This month, Chile began to combat the problem of high teen-pregnancy rates by distributing free morning-after pills to girls as young as 14 years old.

Government support of emergency contraception is not unusual in Latin America or in Europe. Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sale of morning-after pills (known as Plan B), for women over 18. Girls age 17 and under must have a doctor's note.

But the Chilean government, by giving away the pills to such young girls, is igniting a storm of opposition from critics who say it undermines parents and is tantamount to abortion.

On Sept. 2, Chile's health minister, Maria Soledad Barria, announced the distribution of morning-after pills in public health clinics as part of a broader set of new regulations on fertility. Since then, the outcry has been building from religious groups, the political right, and even some of the government's own coalition partners in Congress. Many are up in arms about the measure, which they say encourages early sexual activity. In Chile, free morning-after pills to teens

Well, it sounds like there was a lot of "early sexual activity" going on already, don't you figure?

Skipping the part where the Catholic and Episcopalian Churches are against it...
On Friday, two conservative mayors in Santiago asked Chile's courts to halt the government's program until the courts consider arguments that it violates the constitutional rights of parents to protect "the physical and psychological integrity" of their children.

President Michelle Bachelet responded to the uproar, arguing that the state has a responsibility to prevent unwanted pregnancies. "There are roles that the family undertakes and which no one can replace," Ms. Bachelet said in a national radio interview last Wednesday. "But naturally the state has another role to fulfill, and that is to offer a range of alternatives, which people can choose between - according to their own family values and principles."

Oooch! That's a nice one -- passing out free contraceptives to support family values. I like that.

This article is a pretty long but really good article. People in Chile aren't that different from people here. Some people think that teens need to be protected from the temptations of the world, and some people think they should be raised to make responsible decisions. I don't see any reason to call either of those points of view "evil," it's just how folks are.

From there, you have to choose how you want your country to be. Should the government protect people from temptation, or should they be free? Nobody ever said it was easy, we struggle with it every single day.

Two Interviews

I did two interviews recently, one with a reporter from a Family Blah-Blah organization, and one with a reporter for a gay-oriented newspaper.

And I'll tell ya, you can't please everybody in this business.

The Family Blah-Blah guy asked me what I thought of the video. I mostly gave him my regular thoughts, the same thing I tell everybody: I thought it was a good start, I was glad the conservative members of the community approved of it, I said it needed more information.

He asked me, What kind of information?

I told him, Well, first of all, it needs a good definition of abstinence. We want our kids to abstain from sex, but -- and then I read him the definition of abstinence that's in the curriculum:
Abstinence -- "choosing not to participate in a specific activity; e.g., sexual activity, alcohol, tobacco, other drug use."

I told him that if we're serious about young people abstaining from sex, we need to make it clear what they should abstain from.

Then he got me, he really got me. He asked me, What about ex-gays? What do you think about the fact that the video ignores those who have chosen to leave the gay lifestyle?

Remember, I'm paraphrasing all this, as it is not perfectly recorded in my memory. I said, First of all, I have a little problem with that word "lifestyle," but if you're talking about people who used to be gay and aren't any more, well, I guess that person would be straight, and this video would suit their needs just fine.

I can't really think of any way you would make this curriculum different to accommodate someone who has a different sexual orientation from what they used to have, can you? I mean, I know how much they love being persecuted, but ... I don't see it here.

So that was one interview. Oh, by the way, I just checked the web site, and the guy didn't use a single word of mine. It says somewhere in the story -- which quotes CRC's Michelle Turner and PFOX's Regina Griggs -- "Critics call the new video impersonal, but Turner says not it’s appropriate for teens." I can't tell if "critics" reflects my discussion with him, or if they told him that. Also, I can't figure out at all what that sentence is supposed to mean. "Not" what?

The other interview was with The Washington Blade, which is marketed mainly to a gay and lesbian readership. Same thing, what do you think of the video, the usual. A comment I made -- a comment lots of people have made -- was that one problem was that there were no females in the video. There was a pause, and the reporter said something like, Why would you want females in the video? I said, well, most of the time when people have sex, there's a female involved. But I could tell I was losing him. His article came out today, you can read it HERE.

The article is just fine, I'm not complaining. I mean, he might overplay the controversy a little bit, whatever, the story's fine.

But it just hits you sometimes, how much people live in their own world.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Citizens Committee Approves Revised Video

Last night the Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development met, and after a mini-marathon agreed to approve the new condom video, with revisions. The final vote was 11-1, with the CRC member opposing, and the PFOX member joining the majority.

These discussions are fascinating, I think. We have a room full of intelligent people, each with his or her own idea about how things should be. There was the much-discussed video and its asociated curriculum materials, and members of the committee had sent in comments and suggested revisions, which were compiled and organized by staff from the Superintendent's office. There were more than sixty suggested changes.

Last night, the committee (which I am a member of) discussed the video only, not the classroom materials. We adopted a number of changes, including (these are approximate only, taken from my scribbled notes -- the MCPS minutes will be more accurate here):
  • Adding a female voice to the video
  • Showing a close-up of the date and the word "Latex" on the package, followed by hands tearing the package open and the narrator explaining not to use your teeth or scissors
  • We would like to add 60 seconds of more information, mostly taken from the classroom documentation
  • We want to substitute the words "vaginal, anal, or oral contact" for "sexual contact" (or something close to that, I didn't write down the final wording)
  • The statement about abstinence being the "only way to prevent" stuff should be changed to "the only 100 percent effective way"
  • We want to remove mention of the word "reservoir"
  • "Doctor" should be changed to "health care provider"

I think that's it.

The committee only makes recommendations, so the school district may or may not decide to implement these changes. But then ... the committee may or may not decide to approve it ...

It seemed to me that the main issue, really, was in deciding what the video was supposed to accomplish. Some thought it should just be a minimal demonstration of how the condom goes on, period. Here's the penis, here's the rubber, the rubber goes on the penis. Some -- including me -- felt that the video should give instruction in the right way to use a condom. That would require a little more information, a little more detail.

Well, let's just say the discussion was dynamic. The issue of whether there should be a female presence in the video was interesting -- some members feel that it's the guy's responsibility, and so it should be a guy in the video. Others thought that women should take responsibility for their own sex lives. The issue of saying "anal, oral, or vaginal," is a tough one. Well, it's a strange issue. To me, it's like when you have kids, and they try to mess with you, like they'll say, "Daddy, is it OK if I use the word X?" And of course they have to use the word X to ask the question, so even if the answer is no, they've still already gotten away with it. Come on, your kids did that, too. You did it when you were a kid, don't lie to me. In the same way, you have to tell students what they shouldn't do, and that includes anal sex, especially, because it is such an important way for disease to spread. You might worry that you're putting ideas in their heads, or that you're making them think it's OK to do as long as they use a condom. I don't know, but I think teenagers hear about these things anyway. And to me, the value of telling them how to do it safer is worth the risk of suggesting something to them.

One member was concerned that there's not enough research specifically testing whether condoms are effective at preventing the spread of disease in anal sex. So we shouldn't recommend it. But really, that's a kind of argument that can blow up in your face. Like, we could say the weatherman shouldn't tell us if it's going to rain tomorrow, because we don't sufficiently understand the Brownian motion of atmospheric molecules, or the fractal nature of the dynamics of gases in an unbounded space. In fact, the weatherman's forecast is better than a naive guess, and the CDC and other government and medical organizations do recommend using a condom for anal sex. Even without perfectly well focused research, it is clear that a condom makes anal sex safer, for those who, for whatever reason, decide to practice it. And it's not our place to judge those people or their reasons. We just don't want them spreading diseases. It seems to me.

At our next meeting, we need to get through the rest of the curriculum materials. That was where the bulk of the comments were, but personally, I am optimistic about reaching consensus fairly rapidly. Most of it was wording changes, there will still be some controversy, but we'll get through it OK, I think.

Then we move on to the sexual orientation part.

Remember, the video was not part of last year's legal ruling, and was not mentioned in the settlement agreement at all. The Superintendent decided to re-do the condom demonstration video for some reasons that he never really explained. Said it was "insufficient," as I recall. So they did it over again, but Virginia, they didn't give you quite enough information (sorry, I just heard Billy Joel on the radio on the way to the Metro station). So the committee is tuning it up a little bit.

And then we will move into the part of the curriculum that was central to the litigation. I will be very interested to see what the school district puts on the table. Though there is a lot of latitude as far as what to include and what not to, and how to put things, there will be some things that are just unacceptable. A single word about "ex-gays" in the materials will send a signal that MCPS has abandoned their academic standards out of fear. For example. (Though of course their lawyers must realize that trying to bring Christian ministries into the classroom would open them up to legal attack from the other side.)

So ... the real hard part is still ahead of us. As long as people keep talking, express what they believe, explain their points, and listen to each other, we will be able to hack together something that serves our community well. None of this is easy, and the constant threat of legal ambush only makes it harder, but ... if that's the world we live in, then -- let's get to work.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fox on Sex-Ed

This column on the Fox web site seems to be generating a good amount of discussion around the Internets.

I guess "Lis on Law" is a regular feature ...? They say she's a law professor at the New York Law School.
One in five teens report having sex before they turn 15.

In fact, nearly half of American teens ages 15 to 18 are sexually active, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in its 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey — and that number has been hovering around the 50 percent mark since at least 1991 when the biennial survey began.

But intercourse isn’t the only kind of sex kids are having. By the age of 18, 80 percent of males and 59 percent of females have masturbated; 75 percent have engaged in “heavy petting;” about 55 percent have had oral sex; and by age 19, 11 percent of have had anal sex.

It is against this backdrop that a fierce battle is being waged regarding how best to educate our nation’s children about sex. Lis on Law: Just Say 'No' — To Sex

Yes, and we're right in the middle of it.
On one side, there are proponents of “abstinence-only” education that does not include information about contraception or disease prevention. This side is currently being led by President Bush as well as citizens like Cindy Wright of Lubbock, Texas, who contend, "The Bible says you are supposed to get married before you consummate a relationship — I don't think teaching anything other than abstinence is right.”

On the other side, are those who favor a more comprehensive approach which includes information about contraception and disease prevention. This side is made up of every prominent American health organization, including the American Medical Association, as well as over 90 percent of American parents.

Nevertheless, by all accounts, the abstinence-only side is winning.

I hate the idea that these two approaches have to oppose one another. It must be possible to come up with some way to bring the two sides together.

Ah, I just remembered why that won't happen. Never mind.
Federally funded abstinence-only programs have been around since President Clinton, who amidst a swirl of criticism from his own party, placed his signature on the Republican Congress’ 1996 welfare reform bill. Though Clinton himself admitted the bill was "far from perfect," he offered, "We can change what is wrong. We should not have passed this historic opportunity to do what is right." (Among the law's most controversial features were several provisions promoting abstinence-only education.)

In the meantime, under President Bush, funding for abstinence-only programs has skyrocketed — going from $80 million annually by the last budget of the Clinton administration, to $170 million in 2005. "When our children face a choice between self-restraint and self-destruction, government should not be neutral," Bush has explained.

By contrast, no federal funds are dedicated to supporting programs that teach comprehensive sex education. In fact, to receive federal funds for sex education programs, grantees must offer curricula that have as their "exclusive purpose" teaching the benefits of abstinence.

Oh, so that is what they mean by "winning." The abstinence-only side is winning like we're "winning" the war on terror.
Even more troubling, a recent federal survey lambasted the erroneous information being propagated by several abstinence-only programs. One such claim, shamefully unrefuted by Senate majority leader (and medical doctor) Bill Frist (R-TN) on ABC’s "This Week," stated that HIV can be transmitted via sweat and tears. Another assertion was that condoms fail one in seven times — a statistic that is accurate only if people are counted who use condoms incorrectly or forget to use them at all.

So is the “just say no” approach working? As abstinence-only programs have become more common, rates of teenage pregnancy have indeed dropped — by one-third for girls ages 15-19 from 1991 through 2003. In addition, a study by the conservative Heritage Foundation concluded that girls who took the pledge were 12 times more likely to forgo premarital sex.

Funny, so far I can't tell which way she's going with this. It is Fox, and I can hardly believe she's going to make the point that kids should be taught facts... so far she hasn't tipped her hand.
But the big picture contains several caveats. Two prominent researchers of adolescent sexuality, Peter Bearman of Columbia and Hannah Brueckner of Yale found that while teenagers who took virginity pledges as part of abstinence-only programs were more likely to delay sexual activity (by about 18 months), they were just as likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases — and tended not to use contraceptives once they did become sexually active. Moreover, virginity pledgers are five times more likely to have oral or anal sex in the belief that such activities do not violate their pledges.

Ultimately, more data is needed in order to determine what, if any, positive effect abstinence-only programs have had. Unfortunately, many abstinence-only proponents are opposed to the kinds of surveys researchers rely on to gather such data because they include specific questions about sex. “Questions plant ideas,” warned Peter Brandt of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. "Individuals involved with condom programs shouldn't have a role in evaluating abstinence programs," he argues. "And who cares what those people think, anyway?"

Yeah, who cares what a bunch a dumb ol' scientists and professors think? They're not on our side, they're not going to give us the answers we want.

Really, it's unbelievable that she was able to get somebody to say something like this. It's like this Family Blah Blah guy is the one wearing the "I'm Stupid" shirt.
Interestingly, California (one of three states that refuse to accept federal sex-education funds and opt instead to provide a more comprehensive sex education) saw its teen pregnancy rate drop 40 percent between 1992 and 2000, well ahead of the national average during that period of 24 percent. And the Netherlands, which has long had a comprehensive sex education curricula has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world — just 8.1 per 1000 for girls ages 15-19.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world at 93 per 1000 — at least twice that of Canada, England, France, and Sweden, and 10 times that of the Netherlands. “As a direct result, abortion rates are twice or three times as high as European countries,” said Sharon L. Camp, president of the Guttmacher Institute, a non-partisan research organization. Moreover, one of every two young Americans will get a sexually transmitted disease by age 25, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Don't you love the way she compares California to America? That's just fun.

But the point in that last paragraph is important. Despite our phobia/obsession with sex, or probably because of it, we have a mess on our hands. We just can't figure out how to let sex be part of life, without going flat-out insane about it.

C'mon, people, simmer down a little bit.
So what’s the bottom line? Abstinence-only education is short-sighted, dangerous, and against the will of both health professionals and parents. In a country where 93 percent of men and 79 percent of women report having sexual intercourse prior to marriage, a federal policy that seeks to prevent its citizenry from obtaining the information it needs to protect itself is unconscionable. As Isabel Sawhill wrote for Brookings Institution, “Family and community values, not a federal mandate, should prevail, especially in an area as sensitive as this one.”

Well, hey, cool -- good for Fox.

We are currently working on a new curriculum. Montgomery County schools are some of the best in the country, and this should be a flagship program. We can't cut corners, we can't mamby-pamby this. We need to stare it right in the face and do what's right.

Students need to be given facts so they can make good decisions. It's as simple as that.

Naked in Vermont

Personally, I'm thinking this is funny. I'll bet you we have some readers who won't.

Seems that the Brattleboro, Vermont (not known as "New England's Las Vegas") has a problem with naked teenagers. There's a big parking lot known as the "Harmony Lot," where kids hang out, pun intended. Hmm, looking around on Google, I see that the Law Enforcement News was writing about this hang-out way last year:
Harmony Lot - a popular teenage hangout bordered on nearly all sides by commercial buildings in downtown Brattleboro - has been a hot spot for drug dealing, vandalism, fights and car accidents, the police chief said.
"I think they should get off their (duffs) and out of the cars and do some community policing," said [Nancy] Braus, whose store has entrances from Elliot Street and Harmony Lot. "I never see the police patrolling the downtown on foot." Brattleboro, Vermont Police Plan Cameras Downtown

I love the fact that, whatever this lady actually said, they paraphrased it with the word "duffs." Is a duff ever anything, except something you get off of?

OK, so anyway, the kids, it appears, have always hung out in the parking lot. And I guess some of them realized there was no law against going naked.

So they did.

Last week, the Selectboard (like a city council) decided not to pass a new law.

Remember, this is Vermont.
The Selectboard decided to hold off until next year on an anti-nudity ordinance, calling it a "knee jerk response to an isolated incident."
"Winter is coming. If spring comes and we still have a problem, we'll take another look at it," said Selectboard Chairman Steve Steidle. Board puts off nudity decision

Ah, yes, the wise elder speaking.

We'll just let those kids freeze their duffs off.
Board member Dick DeGray suggested young people in the Harmony Lot police themselves and be considerate.

"It's a respect factor," he said. "Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should do it."

Ian Bigelow, who hangs out in the Harmony Lot, said it will probably blow over and suggested it's time to move on.

"There's not a movement in Brattleboro," he said. "It's just silliness that got out of control. It's cold here most of the time and I think we should forget about it."

See, part of the problem is figuring out ... what's wrong with it. I mean, we're all naked under our clothes, right?

So this little town ended up on Dr. Phil and those kinds of shows. Embarrassing to the city fathers, I'm sure.
Tuesday's debate on nudity was in response to resident Theresa Toney complaining at a previous Selectboard meeting about a woman in the Harmony Lot who walks around topless.

"I just think it's anarchy, because they won," she said Tuesday after the meeting. "It's inappropriate behavior for downtown. It has nothing to do with the weather. There's good behavior and there's bad behavior and that's bad behavior."

Yes, I love that reasoning. Good and bad behavior are defined, I assume, in Heaven, and certain people, such as Theresa Toney of Brattleboro, Vermont, have the gift of seeing the difference.

Is there another point of view? --Of course.
Adhi Palar, guilty of parading around in his birthday suit last month, spoke of upholding freedom and the value of the human body.

"Our acting in nudity is an act of celebration of this history and traditional values as a place where you're allowed to be nude," he said. "I find that important and I find that proud."

OK, kid, sure.

Here, wrap yourself in this flag.
Peggy Frost, a Vernon resident, found it disturbing. It's traumatizing to children, she said. Parents should teach their children the difference between the male and female anatomy -- they shouldn't see it on the street. She said she refuses to shop in Brattleboro until the issue is resolved.

"How can children tell the difference between a nudist and a pervert?" she asked. "They can't until it's too late."

What a terrific question.

I just love that question.

More differences of opinion:
Rev. David Garrecht, from Guilford, said the media attention to the public display is painting Brattleboro as an X-rated town that tourists will simply pass by.

Remillard said the incident has done damage to the town, and wanted to know how it could be resolved.

"We have been the brunt of phone calls from all over the world," Remillard said. "The media has made this into nothing less than a circus. I want to know how they are going to fix it.

"The effect was beneficial," said resident Spoon Agave. The sidewalks were packed on Friday night (for Gallery Walk)."

Hey, look at those works of art over there!

I do wonder, though, what it means to be the "brunt of phone calls from all over the world." Like, people call up from foreign countries and make jokes about it?