Monday, April 30, 2007

Four Years Since Victory

Four years ago Our Leader announced our great victory in Iraq.

In the immortal words of Chris Mattews on that day:
What's the importance of the president's amazing display of leadership tonight?
What do you make of the actual visual that people will see on TV and probably, as you know, as well as I, will remember a lot longer than words spoken tonight? And that's the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously. What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a supersonic plane and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin like an actual jet pilot?
Do you think this role, and I want to talk politically [...], the president deserves everything he's doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief? That [...] if you're going to run against him, you'd better be ready to take [that] away from him.
Here's a president who's really nonverbal. He's like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign?

Matthews on another show:
We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like [former President Bill] Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits. We don't want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian Federation President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.

Ah, those were the days, weren't they?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Another Neat Little Story

The theocrats are packing up and shutting down.
FORT LAUDERDALE - The Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, founded more than a decade ago to propagate a largely antiabortion, antigay message, has closed its doors.

The offshoot of Coral Ridge Ministries laid off an undisclosed number of workers Thursday at its headquarters here and at an office in Washington in what was called a "streamlining."

"We're getting back to our core competency, the production of media," said Brian Fisher, executive vice president at Coral Ridge, which was founded by the Rev. D. James Kennedy. "Our heart and soul is the teaching of Dr. Kennedy, and getting it to more people than those who come to church."

Kennedy has been absent from the public view since suffering a heart attack in December. He founded the Center for Reclaiming America in 1996. It has launched e-mail and petition drives for its causes and hosts an annual conference that has attracted conservatives such as Ann Coulter.

Fisher wouldn't say how many people were laid off but said Coral Ridge Ministries, which produces TV and radio programs and publishes books, still has more than 120 employees. Conservative Center Closes Up Shop

A Fact, Not Extremism, He Says

Sometimes I find there is just nothing to say. Go read this article in Utah County, Utah's Daily Herald (this is the county where Provo is):
Utah County Republicans ended their convention on Saturday by debating Satan's influence on illegal immigrants.

The group was unable to take official action because not enough members stuck around long enough to vote, despite the pleadings of party officials. The convention was held at Canyon View Junior High School.

Don Larsen, chairman of legislative District 65 for the Utah County Republican Party, had submitted a resolution warning that Satan's minions want to eliminate national borders and do away with sovereignty.

In a speech at the convention, Larsen told those gathered that illegal immigrants "hate American people" and "are determined to destroy this country, and there is nothing they won't do."

Illegal aliens are in control of the media, and working in tandem with Democrats, are trying to "destroy Christian America" and replace it with "a godless new world order -- and that is not extremism, that is fact," Larsen said.

At the end of his speech, Larsen began to cry, saying illegal immigrants were trying to bring about the destruction of the U.S. "by self invasion."

Republican officials then allowed speakers to defend and refute the resolution. One speaker, who was identified as "Joe," said illegal immigrants were Marxist and under the influence of the devil. Another, who declined to give her name to the Daily Herald, said illegal immigrants should not be allowed because "they are not going to become Republicans and stop flying the flag upside down. ... If they want to be Americans, they should learn to speak English and fly their flag like we do." Convention ends with Satan and immigrants

There's a ton more. Go read it, and think about how nice things are here in our little county.

Coffee Talk

Does it seem like we have the most beautiful Sunday mornings of any place? Summer, winter, spring, fall, we have days like this one, where the sun is clear and warm, the woods are vibrant with vegetation, birds, squirrels, people playing all up and down the streets. I'm in Rockville, and it's just the most comfortable place in the world. Some jazz saxophone is playing on the radio, my cup's about half full, the dog is watching the cat but not chasing her at the moment.

Last night I went out to see one of my favorite local bands. The James Mabry Band played at the Outta The Way Cafe, over in Derwood. I think the only time they play together is at this place, once a month or so. The first time I heard them, I told my wife, "This is what I like about music."

Their repertoire is a pretty straightforward list of blues standards. "Driving Wheel," "Got My Mojo Working," stuff like that. James does Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Matchbox" with a kind of laid-back rocking feel, not like Carl Perkins but not like the original, either. "Crossroads" with a New-Orleans type of syncopation, very nice.

Typically a song starts with Mabry on the guitar. Having been there, I appreciate this. He doesn't tell the other guys what song it is, what key they're in, he doesn't have to get their attention to count it off. He just starts playing. They might come in after twelve bars, or maybe they've done it before and have a way to pick it up. Whatever, there's lots of dynamics, lots of surprises, this is heads-up ball.

The really outstanding thing here is the rhythm section James has put together. The bass player, Jay Turner, is rock-solid, his attack is hard and I have never heard a doubtful note out of him. I'd say he's what holds this whole thing together.

Then, if you're gonna say that, you'd have to say drummer Timm Biery is the force that blows the whole thing apart. I mean that in a good way: he's explosive. This guy is unbelievable, and this little band, playing a neighborhood bar, lets him go to places that drummers don't usually get to go. And I mean go, man. They'll be bopping along on some roadhouse shuffle and all of a sudden you'll hear this swelling underneath, and Biery will fly out of the groove like some insane polyrhythmic ghost that leaves the earth, beats against the ceiling for a while, sticks its head out the window and makes faces at passing traffic, then drops gracefully back, right on the beat. He's riding along back there, tapping on the shells of his drums underhanded (he uses a traditional NARD grip), ringing the bells of the cymbals and damping them, rolling with one beater on the bass drum. This is a level of percussion performance that you just don't see.

Last night I counted through a drum solo, just to see if they were staying with the meter or coming back in on cues, and it turns out that the meter survives intact. But a normal person can't count it, there are layered measures and successions of syncopated misdirections that seem to abandon the underlying count but they never really do: it is technically perfect.

This only works because the bass player is so dependable. I mean, come on, this isn't some timbale player in a salsa orchestra, this is four guys up there. The bass player holds down the fort until the drummer returns.

Last night there were a couple of times that the guitar player, James, was throwing some polyrhythmic licks back at the drummer, and they played some figures together out of time. I haven't heard them try this before, but it was fun. Really, not too many guys are going to try to walk out on the little limbs that Timm goes onto.

James himself, the band leader, is a big affable guy who seems to know everything about music. This isn't just a deal where he's playing all the songs he knows; this is a selection of pieces with a particular place in American musical history, and he bridges styles in a way that makes it palatable to the upcounty crowd, locals and musicians alike. Last night he had four guitars on the stage, which is, to my mind, overkill for a gig like this, but he really is a good, innovative player who surprises me lots of times.

Most of the time their fourth player is Linwood Taylor, a respected blues player with a following of his own. He and James love to get out there on something crazy like "Third Stone From the Sun" or "Hey Joe" -- I think they're both Hendrix nuts, but generally Linwood is an excellent blues guitarist and singer. He wasn't there last night. Last night they had a keyboardist filling in.

Some nights you'll see different guys from the area sit in, maybe a Nighthawk or two, or one of James' students, and that's fun.

See, for me, music shouldn't be something you memorize and reproduce onstage flawlessly every time. Especially blues, but I'd say this about country music, rock, jazz, bluegrass ... live popular music. You want the music to talk to you, you don't want to hear a recitation of phrases but something in the moment. There is a worldwide community of musicians who are "good enough," who can play together -- Bela Fleck is, to my mind, the ultimate exemplar of this, traveling around the planet jamming with people in their local style. Musicianship transcends nationality and genre, these are just players and they know how to play, and it doesn't matter where you're from or what song this is. They know how to listen, and they can anticipate where the music is going.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Great Idea: Jail the Overly Imaginative

I don't know if you have teenagers, but I do. And, look, part of what they're going through at this age is learning to be well-behaved little robots, doing what they're told, thinking what they're supposed to think, standing in line, wearing socks that match and not chewing gum. And guess what -- some of them rebel at that. Exhibit Number One: rock-n-roll.

Exhibit Number Two: Grand Theft Auto.

OK, you see what I'm saying.

In Illinois, this English teacher gave the class an assignment to "write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing." So this 18-year-old named Allen wrote:
Blood, sex and booze. Drugs, drugs, drugs are fun. Stab, stab, stab, stab, stab, s...t...a...b...puke. So I had this dream last night where I went into a building, pulled out two P90s and started shooting everyone, then had sex with the dead bodies. Well, not really, but it would be funny if I did.

and more stuff like that.

Just about guaranteed to upset grownups.


So here's how CNN puts it:
CARY, Illinois (AP) -- A high school senior was arrested after writing that "it would be funny" to dream about opening fire in a building and having sex with the dead victims, authorities said.

Another passage in the essay advised his teacher at Cary-Grove High School: "don't be surprised on inspiring the first CG shooting," according to a criminal complaint filed this week.

Allen Lee, 18, faces two disorderly conduct charges over the creative-writing assignment, which he was given on Monday in English class at the northern Illinois school. Student arrested for essay's imaginary violence


When I was about eighteen I guess, I was taking German in college. I didn't do too well with memorizing all the grammatical rules and everything, but I had somehow learned to speak the language. So one time we had a test. I couldn't remember, y'know, the genitive form of some pronouns and stuff, so after I messed up the front of the test I turned it over and wrote a story in German. Just to show I could, really. But ... it wasn't as bizarre as this kid's, but let's say I had a morbid an active imagination at that age.

A few days later the professor asked me to come to his office, and we had a talk. He didn't have me arrested, I mean, c'mon, this was the Nixon years, people still had some shred of sanity. But he did want to make sure I had accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my Saviour.

I hadn't, but he seemed satisfied that I wasn't a mother-stabber or a father-raper, and that was that. Just a few uncomfortable minutes with a boring professor.

Another thing, my kid was given an assignment something like this at an MCPS high school. I should mention, blushing, that he is a very talented writer, and enjoys writing poetry and other things. But, uh, let's say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Some of the stuff he writes is a little over the edge. Well, whatever, that seems normal to me, all you're doing is writing some words, right? So he lets his imagination wander out into the hinterlands, it's OK, he's a great kid with lots of friends. A little lazy, kind of stubborn, but everybody sees he's a cool kid.

He turned in this poem, and that was that. Well, he wasn't exactly on his English teacher's good side, but ... another family tradition.

A couple of weeks later, he got called out of class by security. They walked him down the hall to a special room and locked him in it while a uniformed guard waited outside. They called his mom, who had to come to the school and get him. Sign some papers. Talk with a counselor.

This incident more or less ruined writing for him for a long time.

And the point was?

If they were concerned about his mental health or the chance he would commit an act of violence, they wouldn't have waited two weeks.

The point was, of course, that some administrators had had some meeting where they presented "warning signs" of something-or-other and a checklist for teachers to complete whenever they observed one of those warning signs. And some steps for administration to follow when a teacher submitted a checklist.

I'm sure they were very proud of themselves, when they sat down afterwards and saw that all the checkboxes had been checked, and they saw how safe everybody was.

Unfortunately, they took one half-disenchanted, somewhat rebellious kid and drove him even farther away. Instead of showing him in a positive way how an adult behaves, instead of talking to him about what he'd written and how it could be interpreted by others, instead of encouraging him to channel his creativity into something everyone could appreciate, they taught him that he's frightening and bizarre.

This kid in Illinois:
The teenager's father, Albert Lee, has defended his son as a straight-A student who was just following instructions and contends the school overreacted. But he has also said he understands that the situation arose in the week after a Virginia Tech student gunned down 32 people before committing suicide.

Defense attorney Dane Loizzo said Allen Lee has never been disciplined in school and signed Marine enlistment papers last week.

A conviction could bring up to 30 days in jail and a maximum $1,500 fine.

Hey, but who cares? We live in a terrifying world. You can't be scared enough these days. And anyway, at least all the checkboxes got checked.

Deputy Secretary of State to Spend More Time With His Family

You've been seeing the news about Jeane Palfrey, the "DC Madam," right? She's the one who was going to sell her little black book to pay for legal expenses. For thirteen years she has run a "high-end adult fantasy firm" in the city, running it like a legitimate business, which she considered it to be. She paid taxes, kept good books, maintained all the paperwork any other business would have.

There are said to be tens of thousands of names in that little black book. She has forty-six pounds of "detailed and itemized phone records." Some people in town are ... uncomfortable about this.

This ABC News story quotes her as saying:
"I'm sure as heck not going to be going to federal prison for one day, let alone, four to eight years, because I'm shy about bringing in the deputy secretary of whatever," Palfrey told ABC News. Senior Official Linked to Escort Service Resigns

And ... there goes the Deputy Secretary of State, Randall L. Tobias. Reported directly to Condoleezza.

Deputy Secretary of State Randall L. Tobias submitted his resignation Friday, one day after confirming to ABC News that he had been a customer of a Washington, D.C. escort service whose owner has been charged by federal prosecutors with running a prostitution operation.

Tobias, 65, director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), had previously served as the ambassador for the President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief.

This madam depicts the fight as David versus Goliath, the IRS against a little local businessperson. Seems they came in one day last October and seized all her assets, all her bank accounts and everything, even though she had retired from the business in August.

This story says:
As the Bush administration's so-called "AIDS czar," Tobias was criticized for emphasizing faithfulness and abstinence over condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS.

You see what this is, right?

This is one of those guys who said condoms don't work. He was the Bush administration's guy in charge of AIDS policy.

When he was appointed Global AIDS Coordinator in 2003, Doug Ireland wrote in LA Weekly:
"To administer the $15-billion plan, Bush cynically named someone who has no experience with AIDS and none with diseases in developing countries: Randall L. Tobias, the former chairman of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. Tobias was chosen to ensure that U.S. moneys are given to those who purchase AIDS-fighting meds at top dollar from Big Pharma, instead of giving them to countries so they can themselves buy generic AIDS drugs at the lowest possible prices — meaning the money won’t go nearly as far as it could."

Under different circumstances, I would say this abstinence-promoting family-values guy's sudden resignation was "ironic." This administration, though, seems to have a way of finding the very worst person for every job -- can all this have happened by accident? The logical next step for this guy is the Medal of Freedom.
On Thursday, Tobias told ABC News he had several times called the "Pamela Martin and Associates" escort service "to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage." Tobias, who is married, said there had been "no sex," and that recently he had been using another service "with Central Americans" to provide massages.

How stupid do these people think we are?

Here you got your big-time pro-abstinence guy going out with call girls, and saying he never ... oh, never mind.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Senators Sign Letter

I usually don't get into political material here, but this is, I think, very unusual. The Washington establishment is having a hard time realizing that things have changed, but I think the occasional reminder may turn them around.

Last week, you remember, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a comment that the war in Iraq has been lost. Whatever you think about maintaining morale, you have to see that we don't even know who we're fighting against, things are not getting better, it's a civil war, and victory is simply undefined over there. So, whether you agree with him or not, it seems to me that it was a a point of view that is not completely out to lunch.

Yesterday David Broder wrote a column, published in the Washington Post, that suggested Reid had gone over the edge, that he was not a good leader for the Democrats in the Senate, and they should replace him as their majority leader.

Today the Post has a letter signed by every single member of the entire Senate Democratic caucus:
Friday, April 27, 2007; A22

We, the members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, contest the attack on Sen. Harry Reid's leadership by David S. Broder in his April 26 column, "The Democrats' Gonzales."

In contrast to Mr. Broder's insinuations, we believe Mr. Reid is an extraordinary leader who has effectively guided the new Democratic majority through these first few months with skill and aplomb.

The Democratic caucus is diverse, and Mr. Reid has worked tirelessly to make sure that the views of each member are heard and represented. No one ideology dominates the caucus, so that a consensus can be reached and unity achieved. It is hard to imagine a better model for leadership.

Because Mr. Reid has the support of members of the caucus, is a good listener and has an amazing ability to synthesize views and bring people together, the Senate has accomplished a great deal during his time as majority leader. Armed with his years of service in the Senate and with a mastery of procedure, Mr. Reid has led the chamber with a slim majority and a minority that is, at times, determined to stop legislation with which it disagrees.

In the first 100 days alone, we made great strides under his leadership on long-neglected legislation concerning stem cell research, the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations and the minimum wage, to name three. In addition, under Mr. Reid's leadership, we have fulfilled our obligation, left uncompleted by last year's Republican-led Senate, to fund the federal government. He has accomplished all of this in the face of stiff opposition and with a commitment to giving ideas full opportunity for debate.

Finally, in this age of scripted politicians speaking only to their base or claiming that they "don't recall" anything, the fact that Mr. Reid speaks his mind should be applauded, not derided. His brand of straight talk is honest, comes from the heart and speaks directly to the people.


This letter was signed by Sen. Reid's 50 colleagues in the caucus.

Sen. Reid's Fine Leadership


This might be a good time to update and comment on where we're at with the sex-ed controversy. First, some background information for those who haven't been following the story.

The Montgomery County, Maryland, Public School district developed some new classes for 8th and 10th grade Health. There are two new classes in 8th grade on sexual orientation, well, mainly they're about bullying and harassment, and two new classes in 10th grade that discuss sexual orientation a little more, plus a 10th grade class in condom use: five 45-minute classes in all. The sexual orientation classes in both grades focus on respect, empathy, and tolerance. Sexual orientation is presented in terms of the way a person feels emotionally, romantically, and sexually, and there is no discussion of any sexual behaviors. The condom class has a video where they put a condom on a wooden peg.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum formed in 2004 to recall the county school board after they had unanimously voted to adopt a new sex-ed curriculum, and we formed the same week to support the board's decision. To shorten the story considerably, the CRC complained and threw tantrums and eventually, in May of 2005, they were able to get a judge to issue a 10-day temporary restraining order based on some background materials for the classes that mentioned religion. That restraining ordermeant that classes could not be tested, and forced the school district to negotiate with the CRC, with the result being that the district threw out that curriculum and started developing a new one.

As would be expected, the "new new" curriculum was, shall we say, less conservative than the "old new" one. Though it comprised fewer changes to the existing curriculum, it did contain some materials that encouraged students to think about what it might be like to be a gay or transgender student, as part of the focus on empathy. The CRC and their allies say this is a step backward, and have tried their hardest to interrupt development and implementation of the new classes.

The school district has moved forward admirably in the face of the background noise generated by the CRC, who believe that talking objectively about sexual orientation is a violation of their religious beliefs, and that the classes will lead students to become gay. The curriculum was developed by a team of pediatricians who ensured that it was scientifically and medically accurate, then reviewed by a team of lawyers to make sure there was no legal vulnerability. The district then submitted the new class materials to review and evaluation by a citizens advisory committee, who proposed many changes. Most of these were accepted by district staff and included in the final materials. In March of this year -- last month, the new classes were pilot-tested in six schools without incident, other than CRC disruptions. There were no reports of students becoming gay after the classes; most comments suggested the classes were a little bit boring.

The CRC has two more cards to play out before this is finished. First, they have petitioned the state school board to hold a hearing and overturn the county's decision to implement the new courses. Note that the materials were accepted unanimously by the county school board and did not receive any objections from families or students when they were tested.

It is not clear when or if the state board will actually hold a hearing, or what it will be if they do hold it. The CRC is hoping for a show trial with dozens of witnesses and depositions, but the board could just review written materials and issue a decision. Or, according to an article in The Examiner (which we have not found to be a reliable source), the school board could decide not to decide, postpone any hearing until after the classes are fully implemented, and let the matter drop in that way.

If the CRC loses at the state school board level, they still have one more card to play. Their president and attorney, John Garza, has said that they will sue again in federal court on constitutional grounds. They want to argue that it is their religious right to prevent other people's children from learning about homosexuality. Note that parents actually have to ask the school, in writing, to allow their child to attend these classes; otherwise the student will work on an independent study project in the library. Nobody is forced or required to attend. Regardless, these guys think the classes violate their constitutional right to practice their religion, and want to take that to court.

We are confident that the school district's legal team has studied the class content closely, and there is no constitutional violation here. In several cases, we have thought that the school district was unnecessarily cautious in what they chose to include. Some important materials have been omitted out of fear, we'd have to surmise, that they would create an opening for a legal attack. Overcautious or just cautious, they are being very careful about what is included.

Let's just put it clearly: science is not a religion. The schools are permitted to teach state-of-the-art scientific knowledge in the classroom without fear that they are violating somebody's First Amendment rights. The CRC has tried to argue that this is "secular humanism," which they say is a religion, but ... first of all, it isn't secular humanism -- it's secular, but it isn't humanism, and second, secular humanism isn't a religion. So that's easy.

The current situation is that we are waiting to see what the state school board decides. The state superintendent already sided with MCPS in allowing the pilot testing to go forward, and we do not expect the state Board of Education to take the extraordinary measure of overruling the county, which would amount to a statement that they think one of the highest-rated school districts in the country is incompetent to develop its own class materials.

The question is whether the CRC can find funding to mount one last legal assault in the courtroom. The way things have been going nationally and locally, there is little public support for their nutty ravings, actually, they have close to zero support in our county. If they can get one of the Family Blah Blah groups to back them, or get some of Falwell's lawyers to come up here like they did last time, perhaps they can get this into court. They won't win if the case is tried on its merits, but they may find another technicality to use to get their way over the will of the people -- you can't rule it out.

And so now we wait. Now and then there is a flurry of documents, letters to the editor, or whatever, but at this point the public is comfortable with the classes, and the school district is planning to move forward.

This blog has been the focus of a lot of the discussion on this topic, and will continue to be. There are lots of developments parallel to ours at the national level, for instance the ruling about late-term abortion, the report on the failure of abstinence-only education, revelations about how the religious right has infiltrated the federal government, etc. The culture wars are in a new phase, as the people realize where this was all headed and try to pull the country out of a moral nose-dive. So we'll keep talking about all these things, plus of course you'll want to know what I'm listening to on the radio on Sunday morning, right? Anyway, I might not stay so close to the immediate topic while we wait.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

America Lightens Up A Little

Our mission here at Teach the Facts is to promote a comprehensive, accurate, and fair sex-ed curriculum in the public schools of Montgomery County, Maryland. Really, we formed to counter the attempted takeover of the school district by a small group of fanatics who wanted to recall the entire school board over, basically, nothing. These extremists were saying all kinds of nutty things because the school district was going to introduce some material into the classroom about sexual orientation, and they were organizing for a major attack on our community.

They needed to be neutralized. We did that, with the support of the people of our little suburban county.

Well, it's not over yet, but after two and a half years of this the school board is intact and the new curriculum is moving ahead under full sail.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have tried to tag us as a gay rights group, because one of the things we expect is fair and objective treatment of sexual orientation in the school health classes. One of their legal documents even referred to us as a "sexual advocacy" group, which, hey baby, whaddya say? OK, it's silly. Most of our members are ordinary people who were alarmed by the dangerous kind of corrupt, hypocritical foolishness going on in the Bush administration and in the Red parts of America and didn't want to see it here in our Blue county.

So, OK, now we're a gay rights group. Whatever, I'm OK with that.

In that light, it is rather pleasurable to see a news story like this one in the Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- After more than a decade of government inaction, gay-rights proponents in Congress have gotten several major bills moving through the Democratic-controlled chambers, a development that could result in the greatest expansion of federal protections for gays and lesbians in US history.

This week, a key House committee is set to approve a measure that would in some cases make hate crimes based on a victim's sexual orientation a federal offense, as are crimes committed on the basis of the race or religion of the victim.

Also, a bipartisan group of House members introduced a bill yesterday that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Both pieces of legislation are on track for congressional approval in the coming months.

If Congress passes the bills, gay-rights advocates say, it reflects a dramatic change in the national political landscape. In the dozen years Republicans controlled Congress, GOP lawmakers paid little attention to the gay-rights agenda and kept some gay-friendly legislation from even being considered.

"For millions of Americans, it's a very important affirmation of their lives, and we're not talking about [just] symbolism here," said Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat who is openly gay. "We are talking about real problems that exist in people's lives." Gay-rights proposals gain in Congress

I know the Family Blah Blah groups are going ape ... uh, crazy over this turn of events. Their love-donations depend on people fearing The Attack of the Gay People a-a-a-r-r-g-g-g-h-h-h-h!!! But as America gets to know its gay neighbors, that gets harder and harder to pull off.

More fun news:
The congressional move to expand gay rights is particularly striking given recent history: Besides halting nearly all gay-rights bills while they were in power, the GOP has tried in recent years to get a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

A similar dynamic has played out in the states.

Between 2004 and 2006, voters in 22 states banned gay marriage. But this year, the momentum has shifted : New Hampshire is ready to pass a civil unions bill, and states, including New York and Connecticut, are considering whether to join Massachusetts and draft bills to legally recognize gay marriage.

"The shift has just been seismic in the last year," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group. Of the federal legislation, he added, "It's incredibly important for our community, and it's a profound advance in terms of civil rights legislation."

I think people just got tired of trying to be hard-shelled, tired of being afraid of everybody who's different from them. I mean, sheesh, you can't be like that all the time.

There's some stuff here about the resistance to these changes, then the story continues:
[Frank] pointed out that, despite the GOP's efforts to portray Democratic lawmakers as pushing a "radical gay agenda," Democrats cruised to victory in last fall's congressional elections.

"We have had an affirmation in the last election that the American people support fairness," he said.

Both gay-rights measures enjoy bipartisan support.

Representative Deborah Pryce -- an Ohio Republican who is co sponsoring the workplace protection bill prohibiting the firing or demotion of employees because of their sexual orientation -- said the measure simply ensures that gays, lesbians, and transgendered people are treated the same as everyone else.

"It is by no means revolutionary in its philosophy," Pryce said. "This is the American way."

A Republican said that, and I totally agree with it. The American Way is to live and let live. It's good to see people starting to lighten up a little bit.

Oh, Really?

The first lady, interviewed by Anne Curry on the Today Show, talking about the war in Iraq:
NBC: Do you know the American people are suffering?

Laura Bush: Oh, I know that very much. And believe me, no one suffers more than their president and I do when we watch this.

CRC Tries to Respond to Fishback

On March 29, David Fishback, writing on PFLAG letterhead, sent a letter to the Maryland State Board of Education, CC'ing relevant attorneys and officials. The entire package was seventeen pages long, and I won't copy the whole thing. Here are some pertinent quotes:
Here, MCPS has chosen to discuss sexual orientation in 8th and 10th Grade Health Education classes. The curriculum revisions are important for the well-being of students and reflect the viewpoints of every mainstream medical and mental health professional association. It is certainly proper for any school system to base its health curriculum on information from, and conclusions of, mainstream medical and mental health professional associations. Indeed, MCPS relied upon experts presented by the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in developing and reviewing its curriculum standards.

The letter then quotes passages from policy statements by the AAP, as well as the American Psychological Association.

Fishback continues:
Finally, we note that while a principal gravaman of petitioners' appeal is their assertion that the so-called "ex-gay" viewpoint -- that homosexuality is a disorder that can and should be cured -- should be included in the health curriculum. This approach is directly contrary to the official position of the American Medical Association, which "opposes the use of 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy that is based on the a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation ... The AMA recognizes the dangers of the "ex-gay" approach. MCPS should not be forced to include in its health curriculum a "perspective" that has been rejected by the AMA.

The letter includes some attachments of documents from the AMA, and AAP, and the APA, backing up these statements.

This morning I was trolling around the Internet and discovered that the CRC's attorney has sent a letter to the state board, attempting to refute Fishback's letter.

John Garza's letter starts out with the usual pleasantries, and then gets down to the business of trying to make the other letter look bad:
Mr. Fishback’s letter, while purporting to provide helpful, additional “perspective” in this matter, actually distorts the issues and incorrectly states many important facts.

Mr. Fishback, as he has done in the past with respect to the discarded Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum, continues to provide twisted interpretations of information, misrepresents the facts of organizations and paints a selective picture of what he considers the truth.

I gotta say, I'm just glad I'm not sitting in Annapolis, getting these letters in the mail, one after the other.

Garza's letter is five pages long, and I'm not going to copy the whole thing here. Let me take a few passages.
  • Mr. Fishback’s “viewpoints” are not “mainstream”. They are at best controversial. Non-heterosexuality is a controversial topic; there is much scientific evidence to support other viewpoints, and Mr. Fishback ignores it.
  • Selective viewpoints relied upon by Mr. Fishback come from only a small group of professional members of the Gay and lesbian Committee within the American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics. Mr.Fishback fails to reveal that there are a large number of professionals within these same organizations that share another viewpoint based on scientific research on the topic of non-heterosexual individuals. For instance, a large number of these members share the views of The National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH) ( and the American College of Pediatricians. (, both of which are respected organizations. In this highly controversial issue, there is more than one scientific viewpoint. There is no scientific research that exclusively supports one view over another.
  • Mr. Fishback asserts that all information for the curriculum comes from mainstream medical and mental health professionals when in fact the curriculum contains information from a non-medical gay advocacy group, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). GLSEN is the same organization that provided a workshop for children in Massachusetts on actual techniques of gay sex. This organization is not main-stream.
  • The new curriculum reflects the sole viewpoint of a non-medical individual who was the only author of one section used in this 10th grade curriculum. The author’s statement that sexual orientation is “innate” is refuted by all medical, psychological and psychiatric associations, U S. Supreme Court, Director of the Human Genome Project at NIH and by the mere existence of former homosexuals. This author’s views are not main-stream.

OK. Bullet Number One, nothing to address here, mere assertions that "I'm right and he's wrong." Well, it should be noted that there is no scientific evidence supporting the CRC's viewpoint, and no scientific controversy, just a conflict between religious teachings and scientific facts.

Bullet Number Two: "small group of professional members..." The two groups that Garza cites, NARTH and ACP, are tiny groups with very lax admission standards, formed to politicize the issue of homosexuality. (The URL he gives,, is actually that of the American Center for Physics. You'll do better if you click HERE.) Members of those groups do not conduct and publish scientific research in this field. The AMA, both APA's (Psychiatric and Psychological), and the AAP are real mainstream organizations.

Further, the statements quoted are policies of the entire organization, not some small subgroup.

Bullet Number Three: information from GLSEN. Mr. Garza must realize that scientific researchers often rely on survey data from independent survey organizations, such as Gallup, Pew, smaller polling organizations, and groups like GLSEN.

I must also point out that the pairing of GLSEN with an incident in Massachusetts is misleading. Mr. Garza knows the facts in this matter, but can't pass up a chance to smear an organization whose efforts are aimed at eliminating discrimination and prejudice.

Bullet Number Four: the "non-medical individual." What can I say? Unbelievable. A chapter is used in tenth grade, taken from a textbook published by Holt Rhinehart and Winston, one of the largest and most reputable textbook publishers in the country. The author of the chapter is a woman from the Los Angeles school district with a PhD in education. It is incredible to think that the CRC would try to challenge a curriculum on the basis of the author of a textbook chapter! Especially when this person is perfectly well qualified to produce this work.

By the way, Mark Grayson, the Executive Editor over Secondary Health and Science at Holt, has volunteered to stand up for the textbook chapter and its author. Holt doesn't take these allegations lightly.

Further, there is no refutation of the statement that sexual orientation is innate. No one has refuted it. The Human Genome Project may sound very authoritative, but that mapping of the components of human DNA has nothing at all to do with innateness of anything, or say anything about sexual orientation. A former director of the Project, now known for his speeches trying to reconcile religion with science, is quoted in an article on the NARTH web site, where he does acknowledge that there is an apparent genetic predisposition for homosexuality; he has not conducted research on the topic, however. Further, the "mere existence of former homosexuals" is still a matter of doubt.

Garza then writes:
Mr. Fishback misrepresents a Clinical report written by a few pediatricians from the American Academy of Pediatrics as representing the exclusive views of the entire American Academy of Pediatrics. However on the front page of this report, a statement reads, “The guidance in this report does not indicate an exclusive course of treatment or serve as a standard of medical care. Variations, taking into account individual circumstances, may be appropriate.”

In fact, the statement, which you can read HERE, is a policy of the American Association of Pediatrics, published in their official journal, Pediatrics.

The quote that Garza has selected, from a footnote, is not relevant to his assertions at all: of course variations are appropriate. The paper does state, on its front page, not in a footnote: Not all pediatricians may feel able to provide the type of care described in this report. Any pediatrician who is unable to care for and counsel nonheterosexual youth should refer these patients to an appropriate colleague. The report is well worth reading, and seriously undermines the CRC's position, no matter how much cherry-picking they do.

Garza further writes:
Mr. Fishback mischaracterizes the American Medical Association statement on reparative therapy by suggesting the AMA completely condemns this treatment. Actually, the AMA statement only discourages reparative therapy for people experiencing same-sex attraction if treatment is coupled with an assertion that the person’s sexual orientation must be changed. The AMA statement does not address voluntary treatment of individuals wishing to change their unwanted sexual orientation.

The AMA's statement, which Fishback submitted to the school board, says the organization opposes the use of "reparative" or "conversion" therapy that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or is based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her sexual orientation.

Can you imagine somebody wanting to change their sexual orientation? Would you ask for that? No, neither would I, and there's a reason for that. I don't think there's anything wrong with my sexual orientation. I cannot imagine a person going in for therapy to change their sexual orientation without the a priori assumption that everybody should be heterosexual. It wouldn't make sense. This whole argument is based on assumptions that are nonsense. By this reasoning the AMA would only approve changing your sexual orientation for purely cosmetic reasons, like you'd get liposuction or a nose job -- "I'd be so much more attractive if I were straight." No, people don't want it for that reason, sorry, they want to change because they think there's something wrong with them.

There's a little bit more, criticizing Fishback's choice of words etc., but you get the gist. The letter winds down with personal criticism of David Fishback and complaints about the "old new" curriculum, which was thrown out in a legal settlement in 2005.

The hard part for me is imagining this from the state school board's perspective. You get these letters from one side and the other. These messages are not dropping into a vacuum, everybody has some knowledge and some opinion on these topics. On the other hand, most people have not studied these issues in any amount of detail -- who, outside of the handful of people involved in these controversies, has ever even heard of an "ex-gay" before?

Groups like CRC try to capitalize on the fact that most people don't know about these things. You hear the phrase "ex-gay," and you might be tempted to think that there are actually "ex-gay" people walking around, you wouldn't think to guess that this is a hoax dreamed up by some conservative organizations to support their anti-gay mission. You hear about a group like NARTH, with its impressive name with the word "research" in it, and you might think it's a for-real organization, not a handful of weirdos trying to make a living convincing gay people they can become straight. Or the American College of Pediatricians -- that sounds impressive, you can't tell by the name that it is purely a political organization dedicated to the promotion of conservative policies.

These school board members have seen a lot of stuff come through their boardroom. But I can't imagine what it's like getting these letters without knowing about all the twists and turns this controversy has taken, the lies and the misconstruals, the threats and insinuations. It's gotta be hard, figuring this out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sleepless Nights in Arkansas

Check out this story, carried here in the UK's Metro news site:
A father in Arkansas is looking for $20,000 in compensation for his teenage sons, after they found a book in a public library called The Whole Lesbian Sex Book.

According to Earl Adams, his sons – aged 14 and 16 – were 'greatly disturbed' by Felice Newman's classic lesbian sex manual, described by its publishers as 'the most comprehensive sex guide available for lesbians.'

And now he is demanding $10,000 from the city of Bentonville for each boy. The volume has already been withdrawn from the library shelves, and the director of the library has resigned – although she is adamant she left for personal reasons, not in response to the complaints. Man seeks compensation for lesbian trauma

If you follow the link, you will notice that there are several categories of topics at this British news site:
  • Home
  • News
  • Sports
  • MetroLife
  • Fame
  • Weird
  • Pictures
  • etc.

You will also notice that this one is put in the section titled "Weird." Other stories in this category are
  • 'Captain America' arrested over pants-burrito
  • Pregnant cow in £17,000 rampage
  • Drunk man rides horse into bank
  • Old guy wins bet by not dying
  • Camel sex destroying enormous fence
  • etc.

They may have the correct perspective on this mad dad in Arkansas.

More from the story:
Adams said that the book is 'patently offensive and lacks any artistic, literary or scientific value.'

Listen, can you imagine if books were removed from libraries on those grounds? Like, if libraries only stocked good books? One of my favorite authors is Nicholson Baker. His books are jam-packed with "artistic, literary, and scientific value." His ear for language reminds me of Wallace Stevens', his fascination with time rivals Faulkners', and his knack for disorienting, gut-twisting subject matter is uniquely his own. I am pretty sure, however, that this Bright Fellow in Arkansas would see Baker differently. So -- whose vote counts?

I say I should be the one who decides. Stalemate.
The publishers note that the critically-praised book covers 'G-spot stimulation, oral sex, vaginal fisting, dildos for fun and fashion, dynamics of butch/femme sex, anal sex, the pleasures of lube and latex, where to cop the best cybersex, and leather, piercings, tattoos, high heels, and other fetishes.'

Hey, isn't this what the CRC's Ruth Jacobs' said to the Montgomery County school board at public comments? Except they they took out the part about "swirlies."
According to Adams, his teenage boys' discovery of the book was the cause of 'many sleepless nights in our house.'

Somebody stop me, please. The humor is too close to the surface here. These teenage boys discover all this wild lesbian sex stuff and now ... they don't sleep?

You wonder -- what are they doing?

Somebody stop me.
The city's attorney, Camille Thompson, was sceptical that Adams legal complaint had any merit: 'There is not a valid legal concern here. In fact, (the request for money) made me question his motivation.'

Adams says the boys found the book while trying to locate books on military academies. That'll be that crazy Dewey Decimal Classification at fault, then.

The book was recommended by Library Journal as being suitable 'for all public libraries.' And you can also find The Whole Lesbian Sex Book on the internet, if you'd like to judge just how disturbing it must have been for teenage boys to find.

Well, naturally, I as a concerned reader would like judge just how disturbing it must have been for them. It turns out this news story even links to the book: HERE.

Ah, well, it's not all on the Internet, but a lot of it is. Whatever, you can get the idea. This is a book about sex, for lesbians. A how-to book, like The Joy of Sex or one of those, of which there are a bunch, but not mostly for lesbians.

You wonder then, are these teenage boys lying awake at night ... thinking about this ... because the book is about sex, or because it's about lesbians? How much does this guy sue the library for if his kids are lying awake thinking about a book of straight sex? What if they ever came across a Playboy magazine at the library, for instance -- how much would that be worth?

A library is a place that provides access to information. If you think about it, most of the books in a library don't appeal to most people: nobody goes shelf by shelf, reading every book there, you go to the topic you want and find a book that interests you, and read that, ignoring all the thousands of other books on the shelves.

Some people are interested in sex techniques, for legitimate reasons. Maybe they are in a relationship and hope to improve their ability to satisfy their partner in bed, y'know, that seems legitimate. And maybe they are a lesbian. This book is a straight-talking, no-holds-barred book about sexual things you can do as a lesbian or as a single woman, for that matter. In fact, here's something funny: I expect some men might learn a little something here about what women enjoy sexually.

I worry about people who think the whole world needs to be kept at a level that is acceptable for children. There are actually adults out here, and some have need for advice about personal things, including sex, that are not part of a child's life.

I doubt that teenage boys need to know how to please lesbians in bed, but ... do you really think they came across this while looking for something about military academies? I mean, come on.

And how did this happen? Did these boys check this book out and bring it home? Did they run home and tell their dad all the wonderful things they had read about? Did this come out after he questioned them about their insomnia? I have trouble picturing this, somehow.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Great Letter in the Post

The other day we looked at the new government report showing that abstinence-only sex-ed doesn't work. The Washington Post had a pretty good story, I thought; I didn't write too much about it, and didn't mention the way the story was covered. A day or two later they had an editorial reinforcing the study's findings. It didn't seem to add anything to the debate, so I didn't mention the editorial here.

A guy wrote to the Post this morning to point out a distortion in the editorial, and actually, it was a distortion of our views -- I can't think of anybody else they'd mean by this. He makes a really good point.

Here's the letter:
Your sensible April 18 editorial "Let's Talk About Sex" included a pointless reference:

"Maybe this report will be a bridge between the two extremes of the sex-education debate: the unrealistic no-sex-until-you're-married-crowd and the untenable it's-okay-as-long-as-you-use-contraception gang."

Many groups fall into the former camp, but I am unaware of any in the latter. Certainly many people, and maybe even groups, believe that sex between unmarried consenting adults is "okay," but I have never seen or heard of any organization whose stand is that sex involving unmarried teens or pre-teens is "okay."

The editorial's incorrect characterization did a disservice to readers and misrepresented the views of those who advocate contraceptive-condom education in sex education curricula. Unless you have a specific group in mind, it's neither good journalism nor good public discourse to invent an extremist position just to be "balanced."


Silver Spring Wrong Approaches to Sex Ed

Man, that's good; thanks, Jeffrey.

The fact is, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum in particular have made it clear that they believe schools should teach that sex is something that married people do. Most people want their kids to wait, but almost nobody does wait till they're actually married -- as I recall, about one or two percent of the population are still virgins when they marry. I would say that most people -- definitely most people in our group -- believe that it is important to persuade teens to wait until they're mature enough for sex, without necessarily defining the criterion as the ceremony of marriage.

So the Post was correct in that there are two points of view. They did correctly characterize the first group, who think it's worthwhile to invest energy in trying to persuade students to wait until they're married to have sex.

The second group must be us, we're the "other side" in this debate. And none of us think that "it's-okay-as-long-as-you-use-contraception." I have never heard a private comment to this effect by any parent in our group, and it is certainly not our public position.

Activist parents like those in a group like Teach the Facts probably tend to have stronger views than the majority of people -- there is no evidence that any of us hold "extreme" views about sexual choices, we just hold our views strongly. The TTF parents that I've talked to seem generally to be of the sort that give their kids all the information as soon as they ask for it, which is not an extreme view, and it is usually part of a general attitude of respect and caring for our children as human beings that most TTF parents strongly believe is a positive family value.

It's not like we've choreographed this or anything, but it seems like families that associate themselves with our side of the issue tend to see sex as a part of nature and an expression of love, with the understanding that sexual feelings can be manipulated and exploited; the conclusion is that teenagers should be given all the facts, so they know the dangers -- not only the dangers of pregnancy and infection, but risks to their reputation, to their feelings, to the way they see themselves. The original "old new" curriculum, adopted in 2004 and thrown out in 2005, addressed these issues very clearly; the "new new" curriculum is very much reduced in scope, and doesn't get into these issues one way or the other.

As I think about it, there are lots of interesting questions about how "our side" and "the other side" interpret and judge sexual beliefs, behaviors and attitudes. I expect we'll be talking about some of those questions here as we move forward in time. It's more than a "culture war" of our time, there are questions since the dawn of time about the proper relationship between our socialized selves and our natural selves.

I don't really need to add anything to this letter. I think he totally nailed it with that last part, about inventing a position just to be balanced. There is no "it's-okay-as-long-as-you-use-contraception gang." The Post just made that up.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunshine and Gypsies

Yesterday we went to an event at a church in Rockville. The flyer had been titled: "First Annual Baltimore Washington Herdeljezi (Roma/Gypsy) Festival." It was going to have dance classes, art and crafts, music, food, and it sounded like fun.

See, way back in another life I played in a band in the Seattle-Tacoma area that became the house band, I guess you'd say, for the area's Gypsy population. They have their own festivals and holidays, their own language, their own music -- the Gypsies have set up an alternative society interwoven with ours but transcending national borders. Gypsies aren't from any place like the rest of us are, there are Gypsies everywhere. Most of them can't read, they usually don't go to school, but they learn the local language and customs well enough to blend in and make a living.

Every couple of weeks we'd play at one of their events. They would rent the finest hotel ballroom in the area and fill the parking lot with Cadillacs. Beautiful women in flowing evening dresses, handsome men in the best suits, they would dance and sing along with the music, drink a little, eat a lot, and usually leave the room absolutely trashed. Our tambourine disappeared at the first gig we played for them, and there was a little problem about getting paid, but after that first gig we worked it out and played a lot of really fascinating and cool parties for them, all up and down the West Coast.

My family has heard me talk about this for years, and I thought it would be fun if they could get a chance to see what this Gypsy thing was really about. I'd never heard of this particular festival, Herdeljezi, but we had played for some different ones, and it would be no surprise if they had different names for it -- for instance, Gypsies have two names, a Gypsy name that you never hear unless you're one of them, and another name that they use when they deal with members of the host society. Plus they pick up words wherever they go, so I wouldn't be surprised if one group had a different name for a holiday from another.

A couple of years ago I talked with someone at a flea market in Silver Spring who admitted being "half Gypsy" and said they lived nearby. I've seen their signs, and know there is a local population of them.

So we went to this church yesterday afternoon. I didn't see any Cadillacs in the parking lot, but, well, it was -- as you know -- the most beautiful day we've had in a long time, sunny and warm, clear skies. So who's complaining? As we got out of the car we heard some music, pretty loud, and there were a couple of young hipsters lounging around in the grass out front, just being cool in public.

We managed to talk our way past the admission charge and went into the room where the band was playing. There were actually quite a few people there, I'd say more than fifty, mostly women, it seemed to me, though I may have a kind of perceptual selectivity that oversamples particular features of the environment. The band sounded sort of like a klezmer band, amplified pretty loud, playing fast, improvising in strange minor keys and modes typical of the Mediterranean. Women on the dance-floor were swirling, undulating, scarves and skirts a'flying, all smiles, all fun and happiness.

We looked over the booths, which were mostly musical instruments, CDs, and "Gypsy" clothes. I thought it was possible that the girl behind the booth with the "Honorary Rom" t-shirts might have been a Gypsy, but ... I didn't see anybody else. The rest of them looked like Presbyterians to me (that's what kind of church it was). I mean, nice-looking Presbyterians, no offense, but they were at most pretend Gypsies.

When one of my kids was very young, we took them to a birthday party where the parents had hired a clown to entertain the kids. And one of the kids shouted out, "Are you a real clown, or are you a pretend clown?" I still think this was the most intelligent question in the world. Well, you could say that Ronald MacDonald is a pretend clown, but, no, even crass commercial clowns trying to sell you trans-fats are real clowns.

The distinction is meaningless for clowns, of course. Anybody at all can dress up as a clown and be a clown. There are lots of things like that, roles that we play, social identities that we take on, and they are as real as any other, just because we say they are.

On the other hand, a girl in a flowing gauze skirt, twirling and smiling and rocking on the dance-floor to exotic music, is not a real Gypsy, not that I'm knocking it. Real Gypsies know the language, they know their culture, they have norms and rules and they adhere to them. It's a serious thing, being a Gypsy. There have been people who claimed to be accepted by the Gypsies, and I have met some of them and seen them with the others, and I have never seen a case where it was really true that they had become one of the community. Even in marriage, there is a border, a frontier, that you can't cross.

I'm sure there are romantic stories with plots that spin around the Gypsy orphan raised by outsiders, who has "Gypsy blood" and a strange wanderlust and blah blah blah. I doubt that happens. I imagine if you raise a Gypsy kid in a non-Gypsy society they end up just like the other kids. So to say they're "real Gypsies" is not to say that there is something genetic or physiological about them that sets them apart from other people -- I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem that way to me.

In this way, culture, even Gypsy culture, is sort of like religion, in fact in a lot of places they are really the same thing. If you raise a Moslem orphan in a Christian home, he will be Christian like any other kid in the home, there won't be strange longings for Allah. And vice versa.

An orphaned and adopted person who has been raised in a different religion from that of their parents -- do we say "He's raised Moslem, but he's really a Christian?" No, I don't think so.

On the other hand, there are traits you're born with, both unique personality traits and traits general to your ancestry. The shape of your eyes and of your teeth, the shade of your skin, the color and texture of your hair, all the features of your face and your build are innate. Not just your inherited characteristics, but other things: your artistic or musical talent, your sense of humor, your interest in and aptitude for sports -- a gazillion things. These things aren't necessarily genetic in the strict sense, that is, I doubt they will ever find a gene that makes you funny or popular, but that doesn't mean anybody can be that way, it's simply innate in some people.

We actually had fun at the Gypsy festival. Everybody seemed happy with their pretend-freedom, pretending they could travel away at any moment to a new, more exciting place, where they could have adventures and be a new, exciting person. Dancing to the strange music, swirling their colorful skirts, it was good.

Remember when we met that guy at the CRC meeting who told us he had once beaten up a gay man and then took his wallet to make it look like a robbery? Oddly, in his mind he thought he was pretending to rob the man, but in fact it was a real robbery. After all these years, after telling that story a thousand times, that had never occurred to him, and it didn't occur to him after I pointed it out, either.

Sometimes when you're pretending, like when you pretend to be a clown, or a robber, you really are that thing. But some Gypsies are real Gypsies, and some are not.

This can be a hard distinction to make, and most of the time it doesn't matter. These days, I'd say, it matters more and more, when people claim to be one thing and they're not, and it matters -- say people die, or lose their savings, or get sick because somebody who said they could do a job really couldn't, or somebody who pretended they were a leader couldn't actually lead when the time came. The ability to pretend gives us a lot of fun, it lets us try things, it gives us a kind of power to try on different roles, so we can do things we can't do in our boring old regular lives.

But there is a time at the end of the day when the wise person knows the difference.

Friday, April 20, 2007

PTA Responds to CRC

You will remember that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, in their last gasp effort to interrupt the pilot testing of the new Montgomery County Public Schools sex education curriculum, sent letters and postcards and also robo-called homes of families with children in the test schools, trying to convince people to keep their kids out of the test classes. They got the names, addresses, and phone numbers from PTA directories.

When the CRC pulled something similar a year or two ago, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs passed a resolution demanding that they stop. The resolution had no effect on the group, who feel that their mission is too important to be bound by common decency.

We have just learned that the PTA sent an official letter to the CRC this week. Here is the text of it:
April 16, 2007

John Garza, President
Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum
P.O. Box 183
Damascus, MD 20872

Dear Mr. Garza:

The Montgomery County Council of PTAs is aware that your organization has misused the property of several PTAs in the county. Specifically we are referring to your organizations’ use of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Westland, Sherwood, Julius West, Watkins Mill, and Beall PTAS/PTA directories.

Washington Post reporter, Daniel DeVise, informed us that Ms Michelle Turner stated on the record that the CRC used the directories because it had no other way to reach parents.

Many of these PTSAs have written directly to your organization and other PTSAs wrote to you in 2005 to protest your use of their directories then. MCCPTA wrote to you in 2006 to inform you that your use was improper. You are well aware that these directories are the property of their respective PTSAs and that your use of them constitutes misuse as defined within their disclaimer which appears in their directory.

Please cease and desist immediately and destroy all information obtained from these directories.

Jane de Winter

The CRC has made a database of information from these directories, and I'd be pretty sure they aren't going to delete it just because the PTA asked them to.

America and Iraq

The other night, Jon Stewart had Ali A. Allawi, a former Iraqi government official with a book out titled The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace, on the Daily Show. One exchange toward the end of the interview stuck with me, both for the way Stewart handled this difficult subject and for the obviously heartfelt answer he received:
Jon Stewart: I don't even know it it's appropriate to broach it, but we, in this country, we've just had a very tragic situation occur at one of our universities. And it really has taken the country aback, and there's a real grieving process that we're going through. And going through it, mourning by learning about the victims, and learning about it and showing our support. You know, I hesitate to say – how does your country handle what is that type of carnage on a daily basis? Is there a way to grieve, is there a numbness that sets in?

Ali A. Allawi: Well, I think the scale of violence in Iraq is really inconceivable in your terms. We have, on a daily basis, what you had the other day at Virginia Tech – I mean, massacres of that scale. Practically on a daily basis. And it's very hard to grieve ... the scale of violence and its continuity is such it really numbs you.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nudity There and Here

I've been trying to learn a few words of Flemish, which is a form of Dutch -- I think it's nice to be able to say "please," "hello" and "good-bye," and "thank you" in the language of a country you visit -- so maybe my radar is just tuned to this frequency. Today Dara Colwell, a writer at AlterNet, has a little piece called "Why Are Americans Afraid of Being Naked?" She compared us to the Dutch, and I think the article is kind of fun. Check this out:
When Catholic protesters recently shut down a New York exhibit displaying a naked, life-sized Jesus sculpted from chocolate, the outcry wasn't totally unexpected. Labeled offensive by critics, the artwork touched an angry nerve by pushing religion and nudity -- two substances that historically don't mix -- into the limelight. While the media was quick to exploit the story, it also expressed surprising modesty when it came to the naked Christ, avoiding the full frontal and opting for photos of the Lord's backside.

But in Europe, and particularly the Netherlands, where bakeries display anatomically-correct marzipan nudes in their front windows right next to chocolate bunnies and chicks, such furor over confectionary draws a complete blank. On this side of the Atlantic, when it comes to nudity, Europeans happily assert they've got absolutely nothing to hide.

"The Netherlands is a liberal country where public nakedness is allowed, and that's the way it should be -- that's why there's a law for it," says Ragna Verwer of the Dutch Naturist Federation (NFN), a 70,000-member-strong organization established to expand naturist activities.

According to Verwer, 1.9 million Dutch regularly get nude, going to nude beaches or stripping down in their own gardens, though she estimates the numbers are much higher as NFN doesn't include sauna-goers in its research. "Naked recreation is well accepted here. But we have to take care that things stay this way, which is why we often discuss these matters with local city councils and recreation areas to create more places."

Legally, in Netherlands people are allowed to be naked anywhere except public roads or when they annoy others, a law in play since 1986. It is not uncommon to find nude swimming sessions at public swimming pools, nude or topless beaches...Why Are Americans Afraid of Being Naked?

Our family went to Denmark a few years ago, and you should have seen my kids' expressions the first time somebody at the beach stripped down to change into their bathing suit. Hilarious. Some family comes up, plops down a towel a few feet away from you, and then they just ... take ... their ... clothes ... off. Somehow we survived it, and in fact after the first surprise there wasn't much said about it.

I read a theory years ago about why humans don't have an annual breeding cycle like many other animals. This guy thought it was because of clothes, like, we control presentation and access to our sexuality through the use of clothing. Thus, we can breed year-round. I can see that. Generally, clothes operate in the modest direction, right? They cover up stuff. But, once you've established a sort of norm or standard, you can see plenty of times that clothing operates in the immodest direction -- what we'd call sexy clothes. Certain styles seem to elicit thoughts of, uh, reproductive behavior, typically by giving a glimpse of some skin that would only be concealed in the first place out of modesty. And of course norms of modesty vary from one society to another, and from time to time within a society. Are we a strange species, or what?

Anybody who has ever been to a nude beach knows that the excitement wears off very quickly. What you'd die for a glimpse of is constantly displayed; the game is off. It's almost disappointing, but it turns out nudity is, as the Dutch seem to have discovered, no big deal.
"Nudity is definitely not shocking or even arousing," says Mandy Servais, a customer at Amsterdam's Sauna Deco, in a robe wrapped loosely around her body, which for all intents and purposes, was naked, as Dutch saunas are visited in the buff. Says Servais, who has frequented saunas since she was a teen, "I think as a society we're very simple and take a practical approach to sex and nudity. We think that everything that exists is normal so there's no need to make a fuss. We're not really occupied with what others think."

Verwer mirrors Servais' response. "I think the Dutch believe let everyone have their dignity and do what they enjoy most. This isn't just how we think about naked recreation, the same goes for gays --everyone's accepted," she says.

For the life of me, I can't figure out what's wrong with that way of looking at things. I'm not here to tell anybody else they need to be this easy-going, but ... I don't see any sense in judging everybody all the time for everything they do.

Americans are not the biggest prudes on the planet -- I think the winner of that award will probably come from the Middle East somewhere -- but we are the biggest prudes of the Western World.
While the Dutch seem to accept that underneath their clothing everyone's naked, the same laissez-faire attitude doesn't apply in the States, where the public has been schooled in the cultural ideology that "nude is naughty," and nudity is regarded as sexual.

Perhaps much of this attitude can be chalked down to America's cultural forefathers, the Puritans, whose deeply religious moral zeal made them fear nudity so much they refused to bathe, ensuring a future of national prudishness.

This might appear a huge contradiction given the American media's rampant appetite for sex, but how else to explain the fury over Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" and the network's rush to cleanup before facing clampdowns and stiff fines? Or PBS's need to position the disclaimer "For mature audiences only" when broadcasting footage of Michelangelo's David.

I generally think of human irrationality as a fun thing. We contradict ourselves, very well then, we contradict ourselves, we are large, we contain multitudes.

I only feel sorry for anybody who expects to make sense of it.

Ah, this is the real problem: naked old people:
A further inconsistency when it comes to nudity is what Americans regard as risqué: barely clad Victoria Secret models strutting their way across television or nude grandmothers? As Dove soap found out this March, it's the latter. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates America's broadcast media, banned a series of prime-time ads depicting six middle-aged women posing nude for Dove Proage products, claiming it was inappropriate, though the ads ran successfully in Europe and Canada.

Ironically, Dove's parent company is the Anglo-Dutch giant Unilever. While a number of pro-family and women's groups complained the ad contributed to the further commercial sexualization of women -- an ongoing and valid debate -- clearly, older nudity is threatening because our culture rarely separates nakedness from sex, which is something the elder crowd, at least until Viagra, wasn't supposed to be having.

My head is spinning.
On a similar note, in 2004 Wal-Mart, never one to balk at profits, refused to sell Jon Stewart's book "America," which featured doctored nude photos of Supreme Court judges. Old, saggy bodies were simply too offensive compared to, say, the number of slasher films Wal-Mart also carries.

Yes, well, moralistic hypocrisy has been a theme here for the past couple of years. I guess we are not surprised.

And look, here's the point:
Another, perhaps sobering, reality: America has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the industrialized world, according to the American Association of Pediatrics, and a rate that exceeds the Dutch by nine-fold. A healthy attitude to nudity as well as sex, something the Dutch are regaled for, might have a positive impact as more exposure typically leads to greater information.

Basically our debate over sex education in Montgomery County has given people a choice between Prudish and Extremely Prudish. I sometimes hear people argue for a "sex-friendly" attitude in education, but that's not on the table here. The basic message in our county is abstinence, health teachers give students lots of reasons not to have sex, and I don't think there's anything anywhere that tells them why anybody would want to ... do that.

The Puritan explanation is probably as good as any. It seems like a long time ago that those stuffy folks stepped onto the dry land of our continent, but their ways didn't die out. The result is this sex-obsessed self-contradicting prudishly-fetishistic society that's half-afraid to tell teenagers anything, terrified that if you let the sex-cat out of the bag it's going to run around scratching everybody. Meanwhile, in other places in the world, kitty sits in somebody's lap and purrs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Considering the Endgame

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum's President, John Garza, said something interesting on TV a couple of weeks ago. He said:
We just want factually correct information given to the students and also just stay away from the religious implications of homosexuality. If they could do those two things we would probably back away and not be opposed any more.

They must know they can't win this. They've got no community support, the school district has totally sewn up any legal openings, the curriculum was developed by a team of doctors who made sure everything was medically accurate ... there's no way to stop implementation of this curriculum.

So it would not be unreasonable for them to begin thinking about how they can end this, and it appears from his comments that they have given it some thought. Because, the truth is, their persistence is wasting their own time as much as it wastes everybody else's.

Garza specifies two conditions that the CRC wants to see met, so they can "back away" from their opposition. Looking at the new curricula, it is possible to conclude that these conditions have been met.

The first thing is "factually correct information." I don't think they have ever pointed to any information in the curriculum that is factually incorrect. What they really mean is that they want different information. There are two main kinds of information they want. The number one thing has to do with anal sex and condoms, that's where they usually steer this kind of comment. So let's look at their complaint about that.

One of the new classes is a lesson in how to use a condom. The video that accompanies it says things like, "Condoms reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of unwanted pregnancy or contracting sexually transmitted infections and disease, whenever there is oral, anal, or vaginal contact." Now, when the CRC says they want "factually correct information," what they usually mean is that they want the schools to add some statements about the dangers of anal sex.

There are two statements they specifically ask for. One is what they call "the Surgeon General's statement," though they typically forget to mention that the statement was made by a Surgeon General nearly twenty years ago, and that he was not even in office any more when he made the statement. The other thing is one quote out of an NIH report on the effectiveness of condoms for preventing STDs. The report shows that condoms are very effective in preventing a wide variety of kinds of infections, but there is one statement that notes that HIV is most frequently spread through anal sex, and that's what the CRC wants in the curriculum.

There is a similarity between these two statements, and that is that there is nothing to back them up. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop was writing informally during the height of the AIDS epidemic, and he was perfectly right to warn gay people not to have anal sex. But the fact is, anal sex itself is not the culprit. Lots of people have anal sex -- about forty percent of American adults have done it, according to the CDC -- and most never got infected with anything. It's not a fact that anal sex itself is dangerous -- it was timely advice in its day, and gay men should still be aware of the risks of having anal sex with a partner whose HIV status is uncertain, but there is no fact about anal sex here.

The other statement, from the NIH report, well, that one's just weird. Out of the whole report, they pick out one sentence. Look, HERE is the 49-page report. On page 13, in the "Background" part of the HIV section, the report says, "HIV/AIDS can be sexually transmitted by anal, penile-vaginal, and oral intercourse. The highest rate of transmission is through anal exposure." There is no citation for this statement, and it is not a conclusion of the workshop. This is just a statement made in introducing the topic of condoms and HIV/AIDS.

This might be a fact, I don't know. Since gay men seem to make up about half of new HIV diagnoses, I'm pretty sure male-to-male anal sex is an important vector of transmission for the virus. But it is common for someone not to know exactly when the virus was contracted, and what they were doing at the time. So there's no study that says how many people caught the disease through what exact behavior, and the "fact" is not really known.

If the schools are going to teach about the risks of anal sex, this would not be appropriate in the condom-usage class, but would go in the sexually-transmitted-infection section, which is not currently under consideration. This is probably the most important fact of all here -- these statements don't fit where the CRC wants them to fit. Dr. Jacobs' recent comment on CW-TV reveals that they are starting to realize this, too. She said, "You must immediately improve your infectious disease section of the curriculum. The school has not done this so the school is presenting homosexuality but they haven't updated their infectious disease prevention curriculum to match it." If this information is to be added, yes, this is how it should be done -- it does not belong in the new sections, it should be in the STD unit.

When the CRC says that the curriculum has incorrect facts, they usually mean that they want these two not-necessarily-factual statements added to the class materials.

Sometimes the CRC puts this in terms of "the health risks of homosexual behaviors," but that term is needlessly vague. For one thing, due to the equality of the number of available orifices and erogenous zones for gay and straight people, there is no such thing as a uniquely homosexual sexual behavior. There is a health risk in having sex with someone who is infected with an STD, and that includes having sex with someone you don't know very well. There is a special risk for gay men, because HIV spread through their community first in the US and Europe. But within a monogamous, faithful relationship, there's no more risk for gay people than for straight ones.

There is one other statement that the CRC argues is not factual in the curriculum, and that is the part about innateness. The Holt textbook section used in the first day's class in tenth grade says:
Sexual orientation and gender identity are deeply personal, innate, and complex parts of one's personality that define how people see themselves as individuals and in romantic relationships.

On January 9th, when the school board was preparing to vote whether to adopt the new curriculum, a representative of the Superintendent's office, which managed the development of the curriculum, asked to add the word "innate" and its definition to the eighth grade class, too, in order to make the two sections consistent. There was not much discussion, but some, and the board accepted this little change.

There really isn't any question of innateness. People are what they are, for reasons they have no control over. Whether sexual orientation is strictly genetic, or influenced by the developmental effects of hormones in the womb and after birth, it is agreed by all serious observers, including social conservatives, that sexual orientation is innate. Some try to argue that there is a distinction between sexual attraction, which is innate, and self-identification, which is a personal or social aspect of sexual identity, but most people don't recognize such a distinction, and simply self-identify as what they are.

It is impossible for science to prove that sexual orientation is innate, but it is every person's experience that they sense the attractiveness of some individuals and not of others. This attraction is not determined by the individual, but comes to them: the differential attraction is innate. It would be silly to limit the universe of facts to those that have been proven by science. For instance, the fact that Einstein taught at Princeton has never been scientifically proven, yet it is an indisputable fact. I don't need scientific proof that my boots are brown. The fact is, sexual orientation is innate, and everybody knows it.

The second thing he says they want is for the curriculum to "just stay away from the religious implications of homosexuality." This is a strange request. Partly because of sensitivity raised by the previous lawsuit, the school district was ridiculously careful not to mention anything at all about religion in these classes. There just isn't anything.

So why would they say this? In the CRC's complaint to the state, they tried to argue that "secular humanism" is a religion, that the schools are teaching religion in the classroom.

If they really wanted to try to prove this point, the CRC would first of all have to be able to prove that the classes really were examples of secular humanism. Secular, yes, of course, but the class content does not conform with the definition of humanism.

The fact remains, even if they could prove that these classes did comprise an expression of secular humanism (which would be nearly impossible), the courts have not agreed that secular humanism is a religion. You can follow the legal argument at Wikipedia, and read about the 1994 ruling where the court said "We reject this claim because neither the Supreme Court, nor this circuit, has ever held that evolutionism or secular humanism are 'religions' for Establishment Clause purposes." (Scroll down to "Legal Mentions (United States)".) In fact, the cited case, Peloza v. Capistrano School District, is quite relevant to our debate; a teacher claimed he should be exempt from teaching about evolution, since that amounted to teaching a religion. He lost.

As I understand the CRC's view here, the problem is that they feel their children should not be exposed to secular viewpoints in the public schools, when these conflict with their religious beliefs. I think you can see the problem with that. Secularism is the absence of religion, by definition. In America, it is the common currency of the exchange of ideas among people of different religions. Pork is still a food, whether your religion allows you to eat it or not, and there is a range of sexual orientations, regardless of your church's interpretation of them. Civilized people can discuss secular phenomena without reference to their religious perspective.

The school district has gone to enormous expense and trouble to take out everything with even the most remote religious implication. But they can't take out the science and medicine -- those are secular, nonreligious, and if the facts as they are understood by science conflict with somebody's religious belief then it has to be up to that person to find the workaround. The whole society is not going to accommodate one group's religious prohibition, especially when most of the population feels that that prohibition amounts to bigotry. Nothing forces any child to take these classes, in fact parents have to petition the school for permission. No one is forced to be exposed to something they can't accept.

In sum, the CRC might congratulate themselves at this point. They held the school district's feet to the fire, made them concentrate on details that might have otherwise gone unexamined. The new curricula attain a standard of scientific credibility that is extraordinary for public middle and high school classes -- every word of every class has been scrutinized and forced to pass a most rigorous inspection. The CRC might have wanted more, just as we want more, but they cannot point to any incorrect fact in the classes. Further, the CRC has forced MCPS to excise any implication, any hint of religious language from the classes. At one point, the citizens advisory committee wanted to discuss adding a sentence noting that some religions disapprove of homosexuality while some don't, and MCPS staff made it clear that sort of wording wouldn't be allowed. Even that. The CRC can pore over the materials all they want, but there is nothing anywhere that is vaguely religious in nature.

It would not be a bad idea for them to claim victory, and it would not be an embarrassment. Everyone was surprised that an uprising like theirs would gain any traction at all in a liberal stronghold like Montgomery County, but they had as many as two hundred people attend one of their meetings, in their heyday two years ago, back when there was a "mandate" and Bush's popularity was still in the fifty-percent range nationally.

I don't expect them to quit, even though it seems clear to me that the criteria spelled out by John Garza have been met. He told the interviewer at CW-TV that they plan to fight the curriculum at a hearing with the state school board, and then they plan to take it to federal court. But I think, from this other comment, that he might realize that they cannot stop these classes now. The community does not support them, and the school district has been very careful in preparing a fact-filled, religion-free curriculum that will probably be supported by the state and has no openings for an attack on Constitutional grounds.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


When you're walking down a crowded city sidewalk, thinking about your daily stuff, the last thing on your mind is that any person walking past, any stranger, could end your life. But they could. They could shoot you, stab you, throw acid on you, punch you, trip you -- the fact is, the list of terrible things that someone could do to you is endless, and there's nothing you can do to protect yourself from every possible threat. Chaos is just a blink away.

People know this, and yet we walk in public without dread.

Occasionally -- not very often, but sometimes -- somebody makes a decision to violate our trust. It happens just often enough to keep us aware of the possibility, but not often enough to turn us against one another.

In Blacksburg yesterday, somebody tore a hole in the web of trust. We don't really know what caused this, or what motivated anybody, but the unthinkable happened, the thing we know is possible, and innocent people were murdered.

It could happen anywhere, at any time. But it doesn't. Yesterday's incident dominates today's news because it is so extraordinary. Think about how many guns are out there in America, how many angry people, how many people who have been mistreated or feel they have been mistreated, and yet, this sort of thing almost never happens. Even the dispossessed help maintain the pliant fabric that is woven of our lives.

The rest of us will never know what made one person do such a horrible thing. Some may try to empathize with him, to see his point, and some may simply choose to blame him for the violation. I think that will be an expression of your personality; neither approach is wrong, necessarily. We all are going to try to reconcile this with what we know from our own lives.

Over the coming days we will come to know the victims and their families, and we will see some funerals, mothers crying, fathers biting their lip, people wiping their eyes. We will hear the question "Why?" a lot of times, and those who attempt to answer it will only look like fools. Brace yourself.

As we look at the large-font headlines and the news reporters standing out in the wind searching for something to say, I just want to point out the contrast between this event and our ordinary lives, which are peaceful. I want to acknowledge, in my awkward way, the web of trust that includes us all, and which enables us to find love in the world and to live to our potential. It is our duty and pleasure to take good care of one another. We should be thankful every day for that respectful interdependence that binds us together and makes happiness, if not certain, at least possible.