Thursday, May 31, 2007

Do Not Make the Americans Uncomfortable

I try to stay optimistic, really I do. But sometimes ...

From Georgetown University's paper, The Hoya:
Kambiz Fattahi (GRD ’08) was sitting in the first row of the commencement audience on the afternoon of May 18 holding a box of cookies for his graduating friend.

But he never got to see her walk across the stage. And he never got to hand her the cookies.

According to Fattahi, about five minutes after historian Bernard Bailyn, the keynote speaker at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ commencement in McDonough Gymnasium, concluded his speech lauding the American traditions of freedom and justice, two Department of Public Safety officers removed Fattahi from the ceremony. Fattahi, who was born in Iran, said that when he asked for a reason, the officers told him that his Middle Eastern appearance was making others at the ceremony uncomfortable and that they had received complaints about his presence.

“They said, ‘You are making some people nervous. We received some complaints,’” he said. “Truthfully, I just didn’t expect it.” DPS Removes Student from Graduation Ceremony

Took the guy out. Held him for a half an hour. Called Arlington to confirm his address. Went through his stuff.
“They kept saying things like, ‘Don’t put your hand in your pocket,’” Fattahi recalled. “They treated me like a suspect. … It was as if they thought they caught a fugitive.”

DPS does not allow its officers to speak to the media.

Yes, I can imagine why.
DPS Director Darryl Harrison arrived in the hallway after the officers verified Fattahi’s identity, but Fattahi said the police chief did not intervene when the two officers searched Fattahi’s bag. He added that they subsequently refused to return his business card, with one claiming that he had a friend in the BBC who he wanted to contact concerning Fattahi.

So this Iranian guy completely missed his friend's graduation.

Look, sometimes something makes you uncomfortable. Somebody might be different from you. Maybe they're from a different country. Maybe they're dressed funny, they have long hair, crooked teeth, acne, whatever. Maybe they're gay.

It's not a crime to make people uncomfortable. Sometimes it's a public service. People need to be uncomfortable sometimes. It's good for 'em.
Fattahi said he holds Harrison responsible for the incident because the guards were allowed to proceed under Harrison's supervision. Harrison declined to comment on his or the officers’ participation in the incident.

Having been detained for about half an hour, Fattahi said he returned to the ceremony after his friend was called to walk across the stage. He said that the guards followed him back to his seat and remained there to watch him.

Ironic that this happened just after the speaker was talking about American liberty and justice.

This guy's an American citizen. I thought maybe he was real scary looking or something, but I found his picture, which is above. I don't see what's so outstandingly terrifying about him. Do you think people actually complained, because a guy from Iran was in the audience?

Link to the BBC account of this incident (written by Fattahi) here: Does US insecurity put liberty at risk?

Oh, Great

I have nothing to add.
MOSCOW (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin issued an acerbic warning Friday to the United States, saying the recent test of a new Russian missile was a direct response to US actions and condemning "imperialism" in world affairs.

"Our American partners have quit the ABM Treaty," Putin told reporters after meeting his Greek counterpart, referring to the landmark 1972 US-Soviet treaty limiting the missile defenses of the Cold War superpower foes.

"We warned them then that we would come out with a response to maintain the strategic balance in the world. Yesterday we conducted a test of a new strategic ballistic missile with multiple warheads, and of a new cruise missile, and will continue to improve our resources."

The United States informed Russia in 2001 that it was exercising its option to withdraw unilaterally from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) pact. It has since stepped up controversial plans, fiercely opposed by Russia, to deploy a missile defence shield in eastern Europe. Putin issues sharp warning to US, vows to counter 'imperialism'

Pilot Test Briefing Scheduled

The members of the citizens advisory committee that evaluated the new sex-ed curriculum received an email yesterday, inviting us to meet for an "an information briefing by school system staff on the superintendent’s recommendations to the Board of Education regarding the revised health education curriculum on family life and human sexuality."

In January, the superintendent's office recommended the new curriculum to the school board. This is a kind of bureaucratic formality that means everybody's gone through it, it's ready to try, and if any school board members wanted to shoot it down, that was their chance. The board unanimously agreed to go forward.

That meant that they would start pilot-testing in six schools: three middle schools and three high schools. Some rules were written up about how that would happen -- announcements to the school community, meetings with parents, some deadlines.

In March, the classes were tested. They implemented the classes as they were outlined, and then collected some kinds of data -- what questions were asked in class, how'd it go, things like that.

After that, the school district went back to their burrow and chewed on the data (sorry, I keep picturing that gopher that you get when you hit a dead-end at MCPS). We hear rumors about how it went, but they have the data, so we don't know what they're looking at. We hear that the "scripting" aspect was not well received, that students had questions that teachers were not allowed to answer. We hope that that information did get back to the school district. Other than that, there did not seem to be anything upsetting or controversial.

There have still been no reports of any students turning gay as a result of the pilot-testing.

Look, what can there be, after two months? My guess: there are some things that will need to be tuned up, and the school district has to decide whether they are willing to ride through the Wall of Fiery Death to make the improvements. Their lawyers will have scrutinized the change suggestions; in my experience lawyers advise you to hold your cards close to your chest and don't do anything. The higher-ups at MCPS will have tested the political waters and realized that they have the public's support, and the school board's support, for making improvements. They will also be aware that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have threatened to sue; some people will advise them to give in to the threat in order to minimize publicity and legal expenses, others will note that there is no basis for a lawsuit, CRC will lose, so MCPS might as well do what's right. We can't guess which way they'll go.

From the start, there has been a push from the citizens committee, the public, and members of the school board to include statements by leading medical and mental-health organizations into the curriculum. These statements come from documents which should be made available to teachers so they can answer students' questions in a forthright and well-informed way.

The question will be whether the Superintendent's office will propose adding those statements, and/or the documents they came from, to the curriculum materials.

Why wouldn't they? There is only one reason, and that is fear of the CRC. Those guys have said they're going to sue anyway, but the school district might just worry that they will inflame them even more by giving mainstream medical and scientific judgments to teachers. (The materials will not affect the outcome of any judgment -- how can a judge find it unconstitutional to teach the American Medical Association's, the American Psychological Association's, and the American Academy of Pediatrics' official opinions on health matters?)

Why should they give teachers this information? There are two main reasons. First, teachers and students alike are frustrated by the fact that no questions-and-answers are allowed in these classes. A kid raises his hand and says, "Is homosexuality a disease?" and the teacher is supposed to tell them to go ask a health professional, which is of course a way of saying that yes, it is a disease -- why else would you ask a doctor about it? If she had the information, she could easily answer this simple question without making a big deal out of it.

Second, it's the right thing to do educationally and morally. Students in these classes deserve to know that the medical and mental-health professionals do not consider it a disease or disorder, that experts agree that gay people can live perfectly happy and normal lives, that doctors and scientists who study the topic agree that gays and lesbians can be perfectly good parents. For one thing, some students in these classes are gay; they're looking ahead to their lives, and it's not too much to give them a clear and honest idea what to expect. For another thing, this is knowledge that even the straight students can carry forward to help them interpret the world around them, to understand the public debate, to know better how to react to their gay friends and neighbors throughout their lives.

There is another aspect to this scenario that people are watching out for: the political aspect. This is a situation where the Superintendent's office recommends to the Board of Education, who vote on it. It could be embarrassing, for instance, if the Superintendent caved in to the CRC and the school board didn't. That is, there is a possibility that the proposal does not include the AMA, APA, and AAP materials, and that the school board will vote to add them. This will not reflect well on the Superintendent, who is known to be, shall we say, a political creature. The recently-restructured school board wants to establish that it has the fortitude and independence to insist on things, but at the same time they want to establish a good working relationship with the Superintendent, and may choose to avoid embarrassing him in this situation. So it is also possible that the Superintendent's office fails to include the medical professionals' statements and the school board fails to ask for them.

I'm not political enough to know which way anybody's going to go on this, I don't know (or care, really) who's taking whose side on what, or how this fits with the other controversies the school district has to struggle with. It is clear though that there is a right thing to do -- include the materials that were strongly recommended by the citizens advisory committee, and there is a wrong thing to do -- give in to the CRC's threats.

We will find out next Wednesday how the testing went, and how the district intends to handle the situation.

The world is watching.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bible Class? I Guess Not

Religion is right in the middle of our controversy over health education in Mongtomery County, Maryland. Specifically, a small number of participants in a couple of religions have insisted that the public schools' secular teachings violate their religious beliefs. It may be that religion is serving as a cover for generic bigotry, or it may be true that these opinions are actually demanded by certain religions, I don't know. But the fact is, religion is being used to justify the anti-gay sentiments expressed by those who oppose the improvements to the health curriculum.

When I think about this, it seems to me that it should be possible to discuss religious topics in the classroom; in fact, it seems impossible to discuss something like history without bringing religion into it. I would strongly disapprove of substituting religion for science, say, in a biology class, or in sex-ed, for that matter, but I wouldn't think that means you have to ban the subject altogether. Like, if you had a class on the Bible, and you called it "The Bible 101" or something, that wouldn't bother me. There's lots of good stuff in that book, and in fact I'd enjoy a good Bible 101 class.

But of course it doesn't come out that way in real life. It's not like you'll get a discussion of the Bible as a historic reference, or study the evolving function of deity in the Old and New Testament, or learn about the history of the Hebrew people at the bridge between antiquity and modernity, or whatever.

No, what you end up with is: Sunday School. Preaching, praying, proselytizing.

So I am reluctantly changing my mind. I don't think it's possible to have a dispassionate public-school class on the Bible. I just don't think people can pull it off.

Out in Odessa, Texas, they recently started having a Bible class in the public schools. There's a lawsuit now. We'll see how it goes.

A teacher wrote a letter to the editor of the Odessa American which is very poignant and, I think, persuasive. It's a little long, but, you'll see, it's worth the time to follow her exposition:
I am writing as a parent, as a member of the Jewish community in the Permian Basin and, despite concerns about my job, as a teacher in this school district.

I have been respectful and professional in expressing my thoughts about selecting a Bible course in ECISD.

I reviewed the Bible curricula under consideration last spring, and then I spoke at the public forum.

Other members of our Jewish community reviewed the curricula and wrote letters to the school board, as well. And yet, when it came time for a final board decision, Randy Rives said publicly that he hadn’t heard from anyone in the Jewish community.

And most recently, I read in the Odessa American Butch Foreman’s disrespectful response to concerns about the Bible class: “If they don’t have children in the class, they can kiss my butt. They’re looking to impose their beliefs and their views on everybody, and we don’t put up with that crap out here.”

Enough is enough. These repeated public insults of my religion and our legitimate questions about the Bible curriculum are perfect examples of the very concerns I have about a biased presentation of the Bible in our schools.

After all, as some of us pointed out in our presentations to the board last spring, there is more than one version of the Bible. There’s even more than one Christian version.

Furthermore, there have been and are currently Jewish students in Odessa and Midland who are reduced to tears or fighting to defend themselves because of religious harassment.

No, they’re not in the Bible class right now. But does that make their experience any less real?

And make no mistake; just because it’s an elective doesn’t mean it won’t affect my child or others. If we offered an elective promoting white supremacy, it would certainly have an effect on all students, whether they took the class or not.

This is why I object to a Bible class in public school that suggests the supremacy of one religion over another.

You might think one religion IS better than another, but public school is not the place to teach this.

Unfortunately, the Bible curriculum currently being offered does do this. It is not just a class about the history of the Bible, or the history of the Bible in literature. I have read some of the curriculum, and I invite everyone to do the same.

While the writers claim it is not biased, it may be hard to recognize the bias if you have been raised in the particular tradition it teaches.

But the two students in the course who were quoted in the newspaper recently said it clearly. Although one person claimed the curriculum is unbiased, she went on to say, “However, I can see people being upset with it being “only Christian-based.” And another man, in claiming that our ancestors came to American to have Christian religious freedom, seems to have missed two points. First, his ancestors might have been seeking freedom to worship a Christian faith; mine were seeking freedom to follow their own Jewish faith. Second, it is important to remember that our country’s founders wanted to escape the religious tyranny of their country’s government. They set up some safeguards, including the First Amendment, to prevent such tyranny from happening all over again.

Harassment of Jewish children is a fact in our school system. In this atmosphere of religious intolerance, there is no such thing as a “harmless” Bible class that promotes only one Christian perspective.

This atmosphere of religious intolerance is both fostered and legitimized by Foreman’s remarks. My experience as a parent, a Jew, and a teacher in this district is not “crap.” My daughter’s tears are not “crap.” My effort to educate Odessa about the experiences of our children is not “imposing my view on you.”

I am not the only teacher or community member who objects to this particular Bible course. But few will speak out for fear of retribution.

Our founding fathers most likely argued about how to form this new country, but I don’t think fear and intimidation is what any of them had in mind for religious freedom. How long are we going to let this continue?

Yes, we can study aspects of Bible in public school; but this course currently being taught is not the way to do it. There are other options to consider.

I ask this community and the school board to consider carefully what values you want to teach the children in our community and the best way to guide them. Every action you take — or don’t take — teaches something, even if only by example.

If, as I strongly believe, the Christian majority in our community believes in religious tolerance, I urge people to speak up and speak out against the current Bible curriculum and Foreman’s intolerant remarks.

Lisa Roth
One religion shouldn’t eclipse others

Again, I gotta say, I'm glad we live where we do.

Regression Toward the Mean as an Ideal

Dana Milbank has been on a roll lately. His page A-2 narratives about the goings-on inside Washington are readable and informative and a lot of fun. But I have to say, this morning's column about Al Gore and how smart he is gave me the creeps.

It's as if we live in a big Bud-Light commercial, where guys are doofuses and women are cute, and the smart kid is just there to play pranks on.

It starts out OK:
A capacity crowd of 1,500 people jammed into Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University last night for Al Gore's speech and book-signing. But the numbers don't matter: Even if Gore were speaking before a sellout crowd at Verizon Center, he would still be the smartest guy in the room. Is It Wise to Be So Smart?

But -- was that the point? I wasn't there, but I don't think Gore was actually talking about how smart he is, was he? He has a movie out, and a new book, and I would imagine he was talking about the topics that those are about.

I'll skip down a little bit.
"It's the biggest problem he's got," said [audience member] Schwartz, from Germantown. "People don't want somebody who makes them feel stupid."

Imagine the Iowa hog farmer cracking open "Assault on Reason," and meeting Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Lippmann, Johannes Gutenberg, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson and Marshall McLuhan -- all before finishing the introduction.

"The new technology called 'Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging,' or FMRI, has revolutionized the ability of neuroscientists to look inside the operations of a living human brain and observe which regions of the brain are being used at which times and in response to which stimuli," Gore writes.

Still with him? Try this: "The architectural breakthrough associated with massive parallelism was to break up the power of the CPU and distribute it throughout the memory field to lots of smaller separate 'microprocessors' -- each one co-located with the portion of the memory field it was responsible for processing."

Is this so hard? Tell me, do readers of this blog find those statements intimidating?

Has life actually become a Bud Light commercial?

Look, I'm glad there's a guy out there who's keeping track of science and technology, and finding a way to make the new neuroscience fit in with traditional philosophy. And listen, I know lots of people in Iowa, hard-working, honest, and intelligent people, but how in the world can it be better to have leaders who write books for Iowa hog farmers?

This anti-intellectual trend has been building in the US for decades, and the result is the presidency of George W. Bush, a guy who does speak directly to the Iowa hog farmer. At the same time, we look at the surveys and wonder, how did America end up last in the civilized world in mathematics and science?

Maybe somebody ought to do an fMRI of a couple of people's heads to see what parts have gone dim: the smart parts.

The crowd loved it. But would the "average American," the one who, Gore said in disbelief, "now watches 4 1/2 hours of television per day?" (He felt compelled to add that "some of us are not watching it nearly that much.")

"I want the smartest guy around to be president," said Schwartz, in the "Worst President Ever" T-shirt. But, he added, "how do you convince people it's okay to feel inferior to their leaders?"

Just wow.

I'll state a personal preference here. I am not intimidated by leaders who are smarter than me, and would never interpret it to mean that I'm "inferior" to them. I want foreign-policy guys who know more about foreign policy than I do; I want the Attorney General to know more about the law than I do; I want a Secretary of Homeland Security who knows something about security, a FEMA director who knows about emergencies; I want the FDA to know about food and drugs, and I want the President to know more about domestic and foreign policy than I do -- he should also be more articulate, better looking, and funnier than me. Why would anybody feel "inferior" about having great leaders?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What Does This Tell You?

I don't know about you, but I haven't had a real good feeling about the FDA lately. They just told us that pigs and chicken that have been eating that poisoned feed from China are OK for us. They approve medicine and techniques that kill you, and ban others for "moral" reasons.

See what you think about this one.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. But Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone tested its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive test, too.

The Agriculture Department regulates the test and argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry. US on Mad Cow: Don't Test All Cattle

False positive? What about a ... real positive?

The meat industry? What about ... us?

Look, this isn't the government saying that testing is unnecessary. This is the government telling this company not to test.

PTA vs. CRC: The Letters

If you follow our story, you know that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum used the PTA directories from the pilot-test schools to send letters and postcards to families whose children might be in the test of the new sex-education curriculum. They also used that PTA information to call homes and play a recorded scare-message, all of this trying to get people to keep their kids out of the pilot test.

In 2005, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs officially reprimanded the CRC for using the directory information and ordered them not to do it again: the resolution document can be found HERE. Of course the CRC, whose mission is more important than a bunch of rules, ignored the PTA's request. I did not make some PTA people happy with my earlier comments on this topic, but let's say the PTA's response amounted to a big sigh and roll of the eyes.

Thousands of families give their personal information to their school's PTA and let them publish it for the local community. These directories are really handy, but they depend on a level of trust. Businesses can't be mining them for addresses to mail junk to, for instance. The PTA puts a statement on every directory to that effect, and it seems that just about everybody figures out how to respect that ... everybody but the CRC.

Today the PTA released an exchange of letters between them and the CRC's President and lawyer, John Garza.

First, the PTA writes to the CRC:
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

That seems pretty clear. A short apology would have been a good response, don't you think?

Instead, the PTA received a lesson in passive aggression:
P.O. Box 183 Damascus, Maryland 20872

May 3, 2007

Jane De Winter
Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher-Associations
2096 Gaither Road
Suite 204
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Dear Ms. De Winter:

On behalf of Citizens for Responsible Curriculum I respond to your letter of March 6, 2007. In order for us to determine whether we should comply with your demand, kindly forward to me a list of all the specific reasons you assert to limit our free speech rights. Kindly identify exactly what it is about our communication that you find offensive, exactly why our right of free speech should be limited, and exactly how parents of Montgomery County High Schools have been harmed by our mailing. Once we are receipt of this detailed information we can properly access whether we should acquiesce to your demand.

We very much want to please the PTSA and have friendly relations with all the parents of Montgomery County High Schools. To further this goal, I ask that you kindly allow one or more representatives from CRC to come meet with as many parents as possible or members of the PTSA to work out any differences that we have and to see how we can work together in the future.

Because we believe the tolerance of other's view point is an important attribute to cultivate, we would like to learn more about your position and invite you to learn more about our position as well.

I look forward to hearing from you, you are free to contact me on my cell phone, 301-706-5557 to schedule a meeting.

If we can be of any service to you or the PTSA please let us know, we would like to help in any way possible.

Very truly yours,

John R.Garza

cc: Board of directors -Citizens for Responsible Curriculum

So Garza pretends that the PTA is trying to "limit our free speech rights;" he couches this in a bunch of friendly-sounding verbiage, and tries to flip it around to arrange a big meeting between the CRC and parents. Oh, and preaches about tolerance while he's at it.

You tell me -- is it possible that he doesn't understand what the issue is?

That's always the question with these guys: do they not understand, or do they distort things intentionally? I swear, sometimes I can't tell. I'm not being ironic, I really can't tell.

This week, the PTA responded to the CRC:
John Garza, President
Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum
P.O. Box 183
Damascus, MD 20872

May 25, 2007

Dear Mr. Garza:

Thank you for your May 3, 2007, letter responding to MCCPTA’s request that you stop misusing PTA/PTSA directories. I have shared this letter with our membership.

Contrary to your assertion, MCCPTA has no interest in limiting your free speech rights. Our interest is protecting the integrity of the information that is collected solely for PTA approved purposes.

Specifically, as you are no doubt aware, "Directories and the information contained in them are the property of the PTA, Inc. The directory is provided to you for use only in connection with PTA-sponsored activities and PTA-approved purposes. The directory and the information in it may not be used for any solicitations, advertising, mass mailings, or any other purposes unrelated to the mission, objects and policies of the PTA or by any other organization other than the PTA."

Your organization's use of PTA student directories is clearly contrary to our expressly stated purpose and expectations. My communication to you was to cease and desist from using that information. Such a use violates the express permission for which people provided this information.

MCCPTA routinely denies requests from dozens of other organizations for our directory information out of respect for the commitment that we have made to individuals who have released this information to us. There are proper channels of communication open to your organization, like all other organizations, that would not require you to violate our directory
disclaimer. You have willfully decided to violate our disclaimer, even after your organization was informed that its use of PTA directories is improper.

Our membership has directed us, through the resolution previously provided to you, to zealously guard directory information. We find your total disregard for our clearly articulated disclaimer to be very disrespectful of MCCPTA and local PTAs.


Jane de Winter

If the PTA had any teeth, there'd be a lawyer talking to Mr. Garza. There would be papers filed. A precedent would be set, and quick. The county PTA should have the state PTA backing them up, and the national PTA should be backing up the state. But when they say they have been directed to "zealously guard directory information," they mean they will send a letter that they know will be ignored.

Gallup -- This is Good News?

Fascinating results in the new Gallup poll. Well, fascinating questions, anyway. You look at how they frame these items, and see how in the world they came out with such a rosy conclusion.

Their summary is, people are more approving of homosexuality than ever before. OK, good. Glad to hear it.
PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, conducted each May, finds current public tolerance for gay rights at the high-water mark of attitudes recorded over the past three decades. There is still considerable public opposition to complete equality for gays, particularly with respect to marriage. However, after several years of lower support for gay rights, support is now springing back to the relatively high levels seen in 2003, just before the Supreme Court's June 26, 2003, decision striking down a Texas sodomy law. (According to Gallup trends, that ruling appeared to produce a backlash of public opposition to gay rights.) Tolerance for Gay Rights at High Ebb

Does that seem weird to you to say "high ebb?" Wouldn't you say "high tide?" Well, what do I know, I grew up in the desert.

Uh, but I lived on the coast for ten years. No, we didn't say "high ebb." We said "high tide."

This Gallup site gives a lot of results from different questions. Like 59 percent of Americans think that "homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal."

Excuse me, but that doesn't sound like something to get excited about. Think it should be legal? You mean nearly half of Americans think the government should step in and arrest people for sharing their lives with someone they love? Sorry, I see the numbers are higher than they used to be, but ... that's sickening.

Oh, and you love this question: Do you feel that homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle? Are you kidding me? They asked people that? Fifty-seven percent said yes, but what did they mean by that? That it's acceptable? That it's an alternative? That it's a lifestyle?

Who writes these questions?

The poll shows support for marriage equality increasing, naturally.

Forty-nine percent of people said homosexual relations are not morally acceptable; forty-seven said that they were.

Now, I'm thinking about that one. I'm guessing that people who are asked that question apply it to themselves: would it be moral for me to have homosexual relations? And the answer, for straight people, would likely be no. Because it would mean, I guess, depending what a "relation" is, having sex or dating somebody who is not especially attractive to you. And why would you be doing that? Would it be because you have absolutely no standards in your sex life? Would there be a moral issue there? Why, yes, I think there is a possibility of that.

What if Gallup asked questions like these:
  • Do you think it's any of your business if two people you don't know fall in love?
  • Do you believe the government needs to regulate people's dating behavior?
  • Do you think it is important for people to pick a mate that the public agrees is appropriate?

See, if they asked those questions, the American people I love wouldn't look like such flaming idiots.

<walks_off_muttering>lifestyle ... moral ... alternative ...</walks_off_muttering>

Monday, May 28, 2007

Gore and American Values

In keeping with a Memorial Day theme, we are reflecting on the values that guide our country's military presence in the world. A piece extracted from Al Gore's The Assault on Reason and reprinted in The Guardian starts like this:
The pursuit of "dominance" in foreign policy led the Bush administration to ignore the UN, to do serious damage to our most important alliances, to violate international law, and to cultivate the hatred and contempt of many in the rest of the world. The seductive appeal of exercising unconstrained unilateral power led this president to interpret his powers under the constitution in a way that brought to life the worst nightmare of the founders. Any policy based on domination of the rest of the world not only creates enemies for the US and recruits for al-Qaida, but also undermines the international cooperation that is essential to defeating terrorists who wish to harm and intimidate America. Instead of "dominance", we should be seeking pre-eminence in a world where nations respect us and seek to follow our leadership and adopt our values. A drive for global domination has put us in greater danger

Again, there's so much to say.

Cheney and American Values

I won't comment. From our nation's spokesman and second in command, Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking this past week to the graduating class of West Point:
As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for. Capture one of these killers, and he’ll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away.

There's just so much to say...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

This Advice-Giver Might Need Some Advice

One of the most basic things I believe is that people shouldn't have to be like me. Most of the time, I wouldn't even want people to be like me, I wouldn't wish this on anyone. What I want is for people to have the freedom to be whatever it is they want to be.

So for instance the other day I found myself discussing conversion therapy with a reporter, and heard myself saying that I sympathize with guys who are torn between their religion and their feelings: gay evangelicals and Mormons, for instance. And I said I can imagine the situation where the rational choice for them is to suppress their feelings, to pretend they're something they're not, because their religion means so much to them.

I hate the fact that that's true, but really, it's not for me to decide what's right for that person. In a perfect world, religion brings out what is beautiful in a person and gives them strength to express their spiritual gifts. In the real world ... that doesn't always happen, you might say. I remember talking with a top researcher on sexual orientation from the University of Utah at a psychology convention, and she said some Mormon guys come to her and tell her that "being gay isn't a possibility" for a Mormon. They've grown up their whole lives in that community, and they can't leave it, those are the people they love, and who love them. So what do you do? You pretend. You lie. You live without love. I'm sorry that happens, but for some people the cost of coming out is just too great. It isn't for me to decide, they have to weigh the alternatives.

In that light, I'm reading these sad stories about Laura Schlessinger. Doctor Laura.

I don't like Doctor Laura. I think she's petty, hateful, mean-spirited. Her advice to people only makes things worse. She dresses up in social desirability and parades around in it, saying stuff that can't be true but some people wish it was.

You might remember a few years ago when her nude pictures appeared on the Internet. Like others in her position, she was full of excuses. She was young, she didn't know what she was doing, the guy shouldn't have shown anyone those private pictures, etcetera etcetera. It seems reasonable to her: she got to play and make her own mistakes, then made a career out of condemning other people who do that.

Doctor Laura has lots of ideas about how to raise kids, she's one of the original "family values" spokesmen. She preaches that women should be subservient to their husbands and that kids need lots of discipline.

Her kid is now in the Army.

And look, I said the other day, "don't think it can't happen to you."

Looks like Doctor Laura's going to take a few days off.

From the Salt Lake City Tribune:
The soldier son of talk radio relationship counselor Laura Schlessinger is under investigation for a graphic personal Web page that one Army official has called "repulsive."

The MySpace page, publicly available until Friday when it disappeared from the Internet, included cartoon depictions of rape, murder, torture and child molestation; photographs of soldiers with guns in their mouths; a photograph of a bound and blindfolded detainee captioned "My Sweet Little Habib"; accounts of illicit drug use; and a blog entry headlined by a series of obscenities and racial epithets.

The site is credited to and includes many photographs of Deryk Schlessinger, the 21-year-old son of the talk radio personality known simply as Dr. Laura. Broadcast locally on 570 KNRS, "Family Values Talk Radio," the former family counselor spends three hours daily taking calls and offering advice on morals, ethics and values. She broadcast a show from Fort Douglas, in Salt Lake City, last week. Dr. Laura son linked to lurid Web page

I know what you're thinking: at least he's not gay.
"Yes . . . F---ING Yes!!!" said one blog entry on the Schlessinger site. "I LOVE MY JOB, it takes everything reckless and deviant and heathenistic and just overall bad about me and hyper focuses these traits into my job of running around this horrid place doing nasty things to people that deserve it . . . and some that don't."

Deryk Schlessinger joined the Army in 2004, telling a crowd of Santa Barbara, Calif., Army reservists gathered for an appearance by his mother that he resented the way Americans criticize the war without recognizing soldiers' sacrifices.

"Real people were fighting, and I wanted to be part of that," the younger Schlessinger said, according to The Associated Press.

If you're raising kids, brace yourself. There will be times they'll disappoint you, they'll do the stupidest things, you'll find yourself trying to help them out of ridiculous situations.

But I don't think your kids will be monsters. I hope this is right: I don't think your kids will go out and represent the United States of America as a depraved nation. This isn't a guy with an overactive imagination, this is a guy who has right and wrong totally turned around, as a philosophy, as a way of life. Your kids won't be like this.

This is about how to raise kids -- this whole web site is about how to raise kids. Some people take the authoritarian path, they teach their kids that obedience is the highest duty, that they must do as their told. In sex ed, that means you tell them not to have sex, and that's it. You tell them gay is bad, and that's it. If they have sex anyway, or if they're gay anyway, they're simply bad people. There was nothing you could've done. They wouldn't listen.

There are others who think you show respect to your kids. You prepare them for life, you don't hide it from them. You talk to them, and you listen to them, it goes both ways.

Well, I don't like to tell anybody how to raise their kids. I'm just saying, y'know?

Friday, May 25, 2007

XGW Clears Something Up

Ex-Gay Watch has done a real service by following up on a potentially important story.

Francis Collins is a geneticist who led the Human Genome Project -- one of the most spectacular scientific accomplishments of our lifetime. He is also an evangelical Christian with a book out called The Language of God, where he tries to reconcile his flavor of Christianity with science. Whether he's successful at that, I don't know.

He also lives in Montgomery County.

In case you don't follow this story, there is a small but noisy organization called NARTH -- the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality -- that works on the premise that psychotherapy can change a person's sexual orientation. At least, they assert you can make gay people straight, I don't think they've tried to go the other way with it. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the organization, which I won't go into, but let's say the word "nut" is useful in discussing them.

Dean Byrd is a leading NARTH shrink who has commented on the MoCo sex-ed curriculum, among other things. The CRC and PFOX love this guy, because it says "PhD" after his name and he will say things to support their bigotry. He writes a column at the NARTH web site, including a recent article with the headline: "'Homosexuality Is Not Hardwired,' Concludes Dr. Francis S. Collins, Head Of The Human Genome Project." The article has a couple of quotes from Collins mixed in with a bunch of anti-gay junk, to make it look like Collins believes that sexual orientation is not genetic -- in NARTH's view of the world, this would support their view that sexual orientation can be changed.

Well, David Roberts at Ex-Gay Watch got to wondering about this, and contacted Collins to ask him what he really thinks.

Here's what Collins told them:
It troubles me greatly to learn that anything I have written would cause anguish for you or others who are seeking answers to the basis of homosexuality. The words quoted by NARTH all come from the Appendix to my book “The Language of God” (pp. 260-263), but have been juxtaposed in a way that suggests a somewhat different conclusion that I intended. I would urge anyone who is concerned about the meaning to refer back to the original text.

The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality — the observation that an identical twin of a male homosexual has approximately a 20% likelihood of also being gay points to this conclusion, since that is 10 times the population incidence. But the fact that the answer is not 100% also suggests that other factors besides DNA must be involved. That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable.

Your note indicated that your real interest is in the truth. And this is about all that we really know. No one has yet identified an actual gene that contributes to the hereditary component (the reports about a gene on the X chromosome from the 1990s have not held up), but it is likely that such genes will be found in the next few years.

It is false to dichotomize behavior as being either genetic or chosen. Genes work by interacting with the environment; it may be the influence of the mother's hormones and other factors in the womb, or any of a number of things after birth. Why can you have identical twins, where one is right-handed and the other is left-handed? It doesn't mean you choose which hand to use, it just means there's more to it than just genes, which are the same between identical twins.

On the other hand, as Collins notes, if one identical twin is gay then the chance that the other one is gay is about ten times what you'd expect by chance. So there is clearly a genetic component to it.

But you know what? It doesn't matter. We can respect people without having a full scientific explanation of why they feel the way they do.

Thanks to Ex-Gay Watch for clearing this up.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Felony Hate Crime: Not So Simple

This post got a little longer than I'd expected, sorry. It's just, sometimes these things are fascinating, trying to peer through the fog of media ambiguity and spin to figure out what really happened. I found things by dribs and drabs, and I'm afraid that's how this post will be "organized."

The story is going around the Internet about two girls in Crystal Lake, Illinois who were arrested for hate crimes and other things after they handed out what the media called "anti-gay fliers." I haven't said anything about it, because the stories are so vague that ... well, no good can come out of talking about this. If the fliers said "Homosexuality is a sin," then that wouldn't be a hate-crime. If they said "Kill all the fags," then ... I suppose that would be. Since we don't know what they said, we can't judge.
WOODSTOCK – A judge Tuesday ordered that one of two teens charged with a hate crime for distributing fliers that contained hateful messages toward gays at a Crystal Lake high school remain in custody at a juvenile detention center until her trial.

“I’m very nervous about your daughter being home without supervision,” Judge Michael Chmiel told the girl’s mother.

The 16-year-old girl has had about 12 other run-ins with police over recent years, Chmiel said.

“I know several of those, or quite a few of them were from this summer,” the girl’s mother said in court. “We’ve had rough spots – lots of them.” Student still in custody on hate-crime charges

I'm sympathetic with the mother here because -- tell you what, don't think it can't happen to you.

This girl has had, they say, now, thirteen "run-ins with police." I'd say this puts her in the tail of the bell curve, even without this national news. Kid's having trouble.
Attorneys also said the girl had been suspended from school as a result of the incident and could face expulsion.

McHenry County Court Services, which completed an evaluation on the girl’s home, reported that the girl’s bedroom contained inappropriate posters and writings on the wall.

Oh man, I hope they never come to my house...

There's another girl, it sounds like she was not quite the instigator, but who knows?

Part of the question is -- what did these fliers actually say???

I've looked at a lot of news stories about this now. Here's a clue:
The girls were arrested this month after they allegedly were caught distributing the fliers in Crystal Lake South High School’s parking lot. The fliers depicted a male student kissing another boy, along with hateful statements about gays.

Students told the Northwest Herald that the girls produced the fliers to get revenge on a friend after their relationship soured.

The alleged victim of the hate crime also is the neighbor to one of the girls charged, according to court testimony.

So it appears a girl made a flier of her ex-boyfriend, maybe Photoshopped something so he was kissing another boy -- maybe it was a real picture, I wouldn't know. Kids these days, y'know? She was putting this flier all around the school.

The comments on this online news story are interesting. There are the usual, mostly defending the girls. The last comment at this time is from a person who knows the boy. She meanders a bit, here are a few quotes from her comment:
... I know the victim in this case and the parents have contacted a law professional about taking this to a civil court, but the advice of the lawyer is to wait until the state prosecutes their case. The victim is exactly that "a victim" and the law should represent the victim in this case due to the FACT that these girls were caught red handed putting these fliers on every car in the parking lot of CL South High. (Isn’t this why we pay taxes) When noticed, these fliers were removed by the school officials then a short time later the girls came back and continued to post the fliers again. When approached, they both took off running away from school officials and the schools liaison police officer. This is why the police were now brought into the picture...

...This is a “Hate Crime” and like many of these comments stated ... ”what if this was happening to you” or “you are the parent of the victim”? What would YOU do? How would you feel then? Would you still want to just give these girls a slap on the wrist and be done with this... ..meanwhile they are planning the their next step to do something even worse since they got away with this stunt. Also, this is not the first incident that these girls have done to this victim and his family. How much more needs to continue before the law does step in. Will someone have to get hurt physically or even killed because these types of incidents keep going on? These girls have HURT the whole family with their words and actions against this victim and they must be stopped and held responsible for their actions. (Yes, I have seen the fliers!)

Oh, hang on, here's a little more in the Chicago Tribune:
The fliers had a photograph of two males kissing and included "words of an inflammatory nature," said Police Chief Dave Linder. One male in the photo was identified, Linder said.

The girls were charged with a hate crime because the fliers "were not written for informational purposes but rather were to incite a breach of peace or cause injury to the person or persons the message was directed against," said Thomas Carroll, McHenry County first assistant state's attorney. Teens face hate-crime charge for anti-gay flier

Ah, and here's another story about how upset the other students are that the girls were arrested. It has another tidbit:
Investigators and school officials would not specify the flier’s contents or whether the students remained in school this week. But classmates said the flier showed a picture of two boys kissing along with the words, “God hates fags.”Hate-crime charges upset classmates

Hey, you might find this interesting, especially if you follow American Idol. A guy who was a finalist on that show a few years ago, Jim Verraros -- do you remember him? -- I don't -- grew up in Crystal Lake, the town where this happened. A web site called "Boy Culture" (look, I don't make this stuff up, I'm just following the links) purports to have an email from Verraros, which is worth quoting. Oh, I should mention that Verraros seems to be best known as the first openly gay American Idol contestant.

He emailed this other guy (I'm editing some of the chaff out of it):
My name is Jim Verraros, and unfortunately I am from Crystal Lake,Illinois. I refuse to use the term, "hometown," as I am sickened and embarrassed at the turn of events that happened on Wednesday, May 16th 2007 at my former High School, Crystal Lake South High School, which I graduated from in 2001.

Two girls were arrested on Hate Crime Charges. Both just 16 years old. As I begin to write this, I am infuriated by this detailed account ( of an attack on a fellow male student. Whether he is gay or not, this is a serious issue that has not been taken lightly, thank God.

This is not the first time Crystal Lake, Illinois has been associated with homophobia. How long will it take the people, especially the PARENTS of these misguided children, to see that they're actually raising HOMOPHOBIC, IGNORANT kids? The problem lies at home, people. No matter what way you slice it.

When I was 17 years old, attending the very same school these girls were arrested from, my brake lines were cut on my 89' Buick Century. I was a decent student, had friends, and was heavily involved in extra curricular activities. I just happened to be a 17-year old boy too afraid to come out to my fellow peers in high school. And the article below proves why.

So, good for you, Crystal Lake. For continuing to prove time and time again, that you breed hatred. You breed ignorance, and most of all you're breeding an entirely new generation of people that will do nothing but continue the hate crime acts. Boy Culture

They cut his brake lines. That's no prank, that's attempted murder.

Kind of supporting that account, we see HERE where a 19-year-old from Crystal Lake is busted at the university in Madison, Wisconsin, for ripping down a gay poster and writing on the wall, "“I hate f-cking f-ggots! Die.” Well, that's how the Badger Herald abbreviated it.

So it sounds like Crystal Lake is a town in need of an attitude adjustment.

Like, listen to this, from Wikipedia:
Controversy erupted in the community in February 2006, when it was announced that the Gay Games, which were scheduled to begin July 15, 2006 in Chicago were seeking to hold the rowing events on Crystal Lake. The lake is uniquely suitable to hold such events because of its considerable length and width, and shape. However, Crystal Lake, situated in strongly conservative McHenry County, is home to many conservative Christians, who were opposed to the events on moral grounds. On March 2, 2006, the Crystal Lake Park District voted to reject the Gay Games' application to use the lake for their rowing events, after a tense meeting where over one hundred residents spoke before the board, the majority in opposition. The vote was 2-2, as Crystal Lake Park District President Jerry Sullivan was absent. The deadlocked issue was considered dead. The Gay Games indicated they may seek legal action against the city and the Park District, citing a recently passed Illinois law which prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation.

However, the very next day, March 3, 2006, the president of the Crystal Lake Park District, Jerry Sullivan, who had been on vacation in Mexico, returned and set aside the previous night's vote, and set a new meeting for March 7, 2006. The meeting was held in a local banquet hall in anticipation of great attendance, but the hall proved too small as many people were turned away and cars had to be assigned to an overflow parking lot. The result of the single-issue, four hour meeting was a 3 to 2 vote allowing the use of the lake for the Gay Games. Several weeks later, in April, the Crystal Lake city council approved the event by a vote of 6 to 1, as mayor Aaron Shepley sharply reined in any discussions of morality. The next week, the Lakewood board of village trustees also approved the event, allowing the Gay Games to take place as originally planned. The community remained divided over the event. The rowing competition took place as scheduled on July 16, with no altercations between the estimated 650 spectators and 15 protestors. Organizers of the games said they considered the protests to be a non-event and that the Crystal Lake crowd was one of the largest at any July 16 event.Crystal Lake, IL

You will be interested to know that the gay sites I see that comment on this mostly seem to agree that calling somebody a name shouldn't be a hate crime. For instance, Gay City News and Gay News Blog play it down, Queerty calls it an "anti-gay prank."

It sounds like this girl has problems and the judge is trying to keep her out of more trouble. I don't think anybody wants to see America turn into a place where you get charged with a felony for insulting somebody. If the laws in Illinois were written that way, then maybe there will be a constitutional challenge and something will change. Because I'm no lawyer, but I'm thinking the First Amendment ain't gonna let that happen. But I also have the feeling there is a lot more to this case than just some girls gone wild trying to torture an ex-boyfriend. We don't know what the fliers said, for one thing, and we don't know what else they've been doing to hassle this kid.

It also sounds like Crystal Lake, Illinois is one stinkin' hell-hole of a place to live. They have less than 40,000 people in this little place, but they seem to get in the news a lot, in the worst way. There was another story I didn't link to, where a guy in Crystal Lake went into a market looking for minorities and killed somebody named Naoki Kamijima. Hate crime? Yep.

Here in Montgomery County we have some background noise, but nothing like this -- just be glad you don't live in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

Twenty Years

It's hard to believe, twenty years ago today I was all decked out in a white tux. I had to have some tailoring done to it, because my waist was narrow and my shoulders were broad from days in the gym ... yes, hard to believe. I had a sip of Yukon Jack with the best man before the service, out back, waiting. My bride was beautiful, I gulped when I saw her walking down the aisle with her father; her uncle performed the service in the old chapel and at the end threw his hands up and shouted "Blessed be!"

My musician friends hung out around the bar, her nurse friends danced all night. A bunch of people came to the reception from the Renaissance Fair, in their costumes. Family all over the place: I danced with her mom. My old buddy from the sixties came, he's a twelve-stepper now. A teenager got drunk and caused some consternation, which was ... dealt with, you might say, by his parents, poor kid.

A guy who followed the band I was in did the cooking. We had a ton of tri-tip, which is traditional in that part of the country (San Luis Obispo, California), and after everybody ate there was one little slice left -- we had bought the exact perfect amount. My brother-in-law and I sat in with the band, he played lead guitar on Johnny B. Goode, scared to death. We had just about the same number of party-crashers as no-shows.

Now the kids are big -- the youngest is six foot, can you believe that? All we've gone through -- graduate school, different jobs, traveling, scouts and baseball and PTA and teachers' conferences, working things out -- it's just hard to believe. It's been an adventure, and a blessing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Hollow Eulogy for Jerry Falwell

I didn't say anything when Jerry Falwell died. There was a time to let his family grieve, to let his victims reflect on their pain, and that was a time to be quiet, it seemed to me.

The Wall of Separation is a blog put up by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It's a thoughtful site, not the place for ranting and hasty judgments, a site that reports on and analyzes a powerful and dangerous trend in our contemporary American society. So it was interesting yesterday to see how they reacted when the White House sent a guy to Falwell's funeral to say what a "friend of the administration" Falwell had been:
The Rev. Jerry Falwell’s funeral was yesterday and, predictably, President George W. Bush sent a representative. Tim Goeglein, White House liaison to religious groups, stepped into the pulpit of Thomas Road Baptist Church and praised Falwell as a visionary.

As the Associated Press reported, “The White House sent Tim Goeglein, its liaison to religious groups. He called Falwell a ‘great friend of the administration’ and told mourners that Falwell had trained young people now serving in the Bush administration – ‘so a man of great vision has seen a vision fulfilled.’”

A man of “great vision”? What vision might that be? Falwell’s vision was one of an officially “Christian America” – Christian by his narrow definition of that faith, of course. His “vision” would have excluded not only Americans who happened to be Jews, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists and other non-Christians but also millions of Americans whose Christian faith is less rigid.

Is Falwell’s great “vision” his legacy of ugly gay bashing and his crude personal attacks on anyone who dared to stand up to his narrow-mindedness? Perhaps the “vision” the White House celebrates is Falwell’s constant attacks on the great constitutional principle of church-state separation (which he repeatedly said was a lie and a myth) or his often-stated desire to tear down the public schools.

But maybe the “vision” Goeglein celebrates is the one Falwell outlined two days after Sept. 1, 2001. With the wounds of that horrific attack still fresh, Falwell went on national television to blame the mass killings of nearly 3,000 people not on the evil terrorists who executed it but on Americans who disagree with him on political issues.

It’s worth recalling exactly what he said: “The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this. And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gys and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”

The misery that this one man generated in the world is immeasurable. He was no friend of America. Our elected government has no business sending somebody to his funeral, saying what a wonderful "friend" he was.

No News

From a recent New York Times article on gays in the British military -- this paragraph sums it up:
Since the British military began allowing homosexuals to serve in the armed forces in 2000, none of its fears — about harassment, discord, blackmail, bullying or an erosion of unit cohesion or military effectiveness — have come to pass, according to the Ministry of Defense, current and former members of the services and academics specializing in the military. The biggest news about the policy, they say, is that there is no news. It has for the most part become a nonissue. Gay Britons Serve in Military With Little Fuss, as Predicted Discord Does Not Occur

Gore on God in Government

Thanks to Blog From the Capital for catching this one.

Al Gore was on Larry King yesterday, promoting his new book, The Assault on Reason (BTW, I love that title -- it perfectly explains the situation that caused TeachTheFacts to come into existence). The discussion came around to the candidacy of Mitt Romney, and Larry King got Gore onto the subject of religion.

This strikes me as a very credible way to look at it:
KING: Is Mormonism a fair issue or not a fair issue?

GORE: I do not -- I don't think it's a fair issue. I really don't. I would like to think we are past that. People say, well, this is a special case. I don't think it's a special case. I think that he's entitled to his own beliefs. And incidentally, Larry, in "The Assault on Reason" there is a very long hard-hitting section on this that goes back to our founding fathers, goes back to the debates that we had more than 200 years ago about why religion should be kept out of the way in which our decisions are made.

Except to the extent that individuals, of course, who are motivated by their religious faith, as I am, as so many people are, are going to make that a part of their decisions. But here's the critical distinction. When America was founded, they -- our founders said, OK look, we are not going to pretend that whoever is elected to office has been ordained by the almighty to be the decision maker. The person who is elected is elected by us, the people of this country. And the divine right of kings was rejected by the founders of the United States.

And what replaced that, the divine right of individuals in this sense, we believe that we are all created equal. And that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. So the relationship that our founders believed was appropriate for -- between America and God was their belief that every individual has certain rights and has dignity because that person is a child of God.

Now, for those who don't believe in God, I'm not proselytizing. I'm just telling you what I believe and what our founders believed. But what -- but this has been twisted around in recent times by some people who want to convey the impression that God belongs, if not to a particular political party, that God has a particular political ideology and that those who disagree with a right-wing approach to this or that are against God.

That is an anti-American view. That is completely contrary to the spirit of America. It is an American heresy and people in both parties ought to reject that and fight against it. CNN LARRY KING LIVE

I'm glad to know America still has somebody who can be this cool, clear, and articulate. This is exactly the right way to think about the interrelationship of religion and political leadership.

Results Should Be Reported Soon

Pilot testing of the new sex-ed classes was conducted in six schools in March. As far as we heard, the testing was more or less uneventful, despite the CRC's best efforts to disrupt it. So far there are still no reports of any students becoming gay as a result of exposure to the material. About the worst anybody reported was that the classes were boring.

They were boring because the teacher's role is strictly scripted (say "strictly scripted" real fast ten times). Teachers were not allowed to answer students' questions, even.

You can see why the district wanted to prevent teachers' ad-libbing. For one thing, sexual orientation is not something most teachers have been trained in; they probably don't know much about it. So if they start answering questions off the top of their heads, it's not guaranteed that what comes out of their mouths will be absolutely accurate.

That's one reason.

Of course the real reason is that there is so much focus on these little classes that the district can't afford for anything to go wrong. Imagine if a teacher said something like "There's nothing wrong with being gay" to a classroom of 10th-graders that included a CRC kid. The Right Blogosphere would explode with complaints, papers would be filed, the schools would be accused of promoting something-or-other, and this thing would drag on forever. The school district is afraid of a lawsuit, and that makes sense, because the CRC has said they will sue. A gang of lawyers has gone over the classroom materials again and again to make sure there's nothing sketchy in them, but MCPS can't take a chance on some teacher saying something that the anti-education groups can use in court.

It's easy to relieve this situation without jeopardizing the schools' position at all. The citizens advisory committee had strongly recommended the addition to the curricula (both 8th and 10th grades) of some written materials created by the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association. There were informative brochures and journal articles that provided guidance to members of those organizations in understanding sexual orientation and gender identity and dealing with various related issues. These materials spell out exactly what the experts have decided about homosexuality, and explicitly note that they do not consider it a disorder or disease; that they believe gay and lesbian people can live normal, full lives; that gays and lesbians can be perfectly good parents, etc.

These documents should be provided to teachers and handed out in class. It's not to late to add them.

It is not possible that the school district would be legally vulnerable if teachers quoted official documents from these respected organizations.

I don't see how it will be possible for teachers to read these lessons verbatim to classes for the next however-many years. Well, whatever, it isn't my place to tell them how to teach, but I do expect that as they get comfortable with the new material they will be able to relax a little in class and deliver the lessons naturally, at least. And that would be a lot easier if they had some materials to prepare them for the inevitable questions.

There has been some talk among citizens committee members about the possibility of scheduling a meeting to learn the results of the pilot testing. The point of the testing was to find problems with the classes and correct them, and the citizens committee should be made aware of that information. I haven't heard a date for any meeting yet, but I understand discussions are being held, and I'll let you know when a date is set. There will probably also be a report to the Board of Education; if that is presented at their regular meeting you ought to be able to watch it on the web or on TV.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

US Broadcasting Terrorist Messages

Great. Just great. So good to see such a focus on competence.
Al Hurra television, the U.S. government's $63 million-a-year effort at public diplomacy broadcasting in the Middle East, is run by executives and officials who cannot speak Arabic, according to a senior official who oversees the program.

That might explain why critics say the service has recently been caught broadcasting terrorist messages, including an hour-long tirade on the importance of anti-Jewish violence, among other questionable pieces.

Facing tough questions before a congressional panel last week, Broadcasting Board of Governors member Joaquin Blaya admitted none of the senior news managers at the network spoke Arabic when the terrorist messages made it onto the air courtesy of U.S. taxpayer funds. Nor did Blaya himself or any of the other officials at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the network.

"How does it happen that the terrorists take over?" asked Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, D-N.Y., at a hearing last Wednesday of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee he chairs. "Is there no adult supervision?" U.S. Government Gave Airtime to Terrorists, Official Admits

Brilliant idea to give management of the Arabic-language media over to some guys who don't speak Arabic. I'm sure they were sitting in their offices beaming happily at the nicely-produced program, just as proud as could be.
It has never been al Hurra's policy to "provide an open, live microphone to terrorists," Blaya assured lawmakers. "It should not have happened."

Oh, good, it's not their policy -- it's just something they do. We feel so much better.

I wonder why they didn't have anybody who spoke Arabic?

APA Forming Task Force on Sexual Orientation Therapy

I've been a member of the American Psychological Association for more than fifteen years, you'd think I'd have some idea what was going on there, wouldn't you? They are forming a task force, and I am a little curious about what way the wind is blowing.
The American Psychological Association will review the current scientific research on therapeutic response to sexual orientation with an eye toward updating the Association's 1997 policy statement on the topic.

"I am pleased to announce the initiation of this Task Force. Its work will be of significant value as it will help inform all mental health practitioners about appropriate and effective therapeutic responses to sexual orientation. I look forward to the group's report," said APA President Dr. Sharon Stephens Brehm.

Task Force members were selected after an open nominations process. All nominations were reviewed by the APA Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns (CLGBTC) which forwarded the complete list of nominations and a suggested slate of nominees to the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) for review. The CLGBTC and BAPPI recommendations as well as the full list of nominations were then sent to the APA President who made the final appointments to the task force in consultation with the APA Board of Directors. APA To Review Recent Science On Therapeutic Responses To Sexual Orientation

I see two levels of debate here. First, there are those who whisk helpless young gay people off and force them to endure "therapies" that they don't want -- some of the stories are unbelievable, things they try to get these kids to go straight. It doesn't work, and there's really no controversy about it: this is a bad thing to do, and the APA will never approve it.

But there's another level, having to do with the gay person who wishes they were straight and goes to a therapist for help "converting." Here there is controversy. On one hand, some therapists argue that the person should be able to request his (it's always a "he") own therapy goal, and if they want to be straight the therapist should help them attain that. That's pretty easy logic: therapy is a product, and the customer chooses what brand they want.

You can see that there are assumptions in that viewpoint that don't hold up. It is assumed that the therapy-customer is capable of weighing his options rationally, and will choose what is best for himself. You can imagine an alcoholic going to his doctor and saying, "Doc, I've got a problem. After about ten drinks, I pass out. Can you prescribe something to keep me awake, so I can drink more?" Or you can imagine the eighty-pound anorexic going to the doctor, asking for something to suppress her appetite so she won't eat so much.

Hey this is fun. What about the schizophrenic who wants the therapist to help him hide his thoughts from the aliens?

See what I'm talking about? The patient isn't necessarily a rational customer, and their interpretation of their situation may not be the one that leads to a healthy choice.

Everything is not a free market or a democracy. Sometimes somebody knows better than somebody else. This goes for education as well as psychotherapy.

The doctor or therapist learns to "first, do no harm." This task force will have to decide whether to allow the patient-as-customer paradigm to prevail even though there is a huge chance that it does harm, or to promote the therapist-as-expert view, which assumes that the therapist can understand what is in the best interest of the patient, even when the patient can't.

There will be a lot of political pressures leaning on these discussions, both ways -- it would be great to be a fly on the wall at this team's meetings. I don't know what way they will go on this.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Smithsonian Dumbs Down the Science

If you live in Montgomery County, you know people who work for the CIA, the Secret Service, the Smithsonian. You hear stories. I had a friend from the Smithsonian a while back, telling me about his job. Huge amount of responsibility, he was supervising a bunch of people -- and they had him at a GS-9. The whole place had jobs graded way low, because there's never enough money. They're so glad to work there, the museum gets them cheap.

And you know, when people come to town, what do you tell them? Go see the museums. They're free, and they're great. Air and Space, Natural History, Gallery of Art, all of those, go see them.

Yeah, well, it's not what it used to be.
The Smithsonian Institution toned down an exhibit on climate change in the Arctic for fear of angering Congress and the Bush administration, says a former administrator at the museum.

Among other things, the script, or official text, of last year's exhibit was rewritten to minimize and inject more uncertainty into the relationship between global warming and humans, said Robert Sullivan, who was associate director in charge of exhibitions at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Also, officials omitted scientists' interpretation of some research and let visitors draw their own conclusions from the data, he said. In addition, graphs were altered "to show that global warming could go either way," Sullivan said.

"It just became tooth-pulling to get solid science out without toning it down," said Sullivan, who resigned last fall after 16 years at the museum. He said he left after higher-ups tried to reassign him. Smithsonian Accused of Altering Exhibit

Man, I'm sick of this. These guys decided to make global warning a political issue -- see their talking-points memo HERE (scroll to page 137) -- and now the Smithsonian, an institution that we are proud of -- it's more than just a museum, it's our national museum -- is distorting the scientific results, just so some politicians won't cut off their funding.
Smithsonian officials denied that political concerns influenced the exhibit, saying the changes were made for reasons of objectivity. And some scientists who consulted on the project said nothing major was omitted.

Sullivan said that to his knowledge, no one in the Bush administration pressured the Smithsonian, whose $1.1 billion budget is mostly taxpayer-funded.

Rather, he said, Smithsonian leaders acted on their own. "The obsession with getting the next allocation and appropriation was so intense that anything that might upset the Congress or the White House was being looked at very carefully," he said.

White House spokeswoman Kristen Hellmer said Monday: "The White House had no role in this exhibit."

Again, you live in Washington, you know what they're saying. Of course the White House didn't send a guy over to say, this-this-this-and-this gotta go. You've got Congress on the Hill, looking for anything they can do to defend their greedy spending. They found this global-warming cash cow, and they're milking it for all it's worth. You're at the Smithsonian: you know what you have to do.

And the ones that work there now -- same thing: they know what they have to say.

You can see stuff from this exhibit HERE.

Mad MCPS Teacher Calls PFOX

In a fit or boredom I followed a link on the CRC's web site, that said "MC parents and other parents listen to this." The link goes to a web page with a big title, "Stop The Hate Now ... the hate towards the ex-gay community." It appears that this is a site is where PFOX intends to collect angry email and voicemail messages and post them, to prove that the world hates "ex-gays." They actually have two emails linked, and one phone call. The CRC linked directly to the phone call.

If you haven't been following this, let me explain. PFOX is the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, supposedly, though of course that would be PFOX-GAG. For some reason they leave the "And Gays" part out of their acronym. They are a tiny but noisy "organization" (it might be one person) that tries to push the idea that gay people can stop being gay. They claim there are thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of "ex-gays" out there, but they never produce one that isn't on the payroll or somehow making a name for themselves through the ministry.

The organization is led by Regina Griggs, who has a gay son ... it's sad. She keeps saying gay people can change, but they don't.

One of the major objectives of PFOX is to get people to pity them. They incessantly claim that everyone is prejudiced against "ex-gays," though most people have never heard the term and couldn't care less. People are offended, though, that these people go around trying to get unashamed gay people to think there's something wrong with them; it just doesn't sit well, somehow. Nobody cares if somebody stops being gay, but people definitely do care when some betterthanyou group goes around telling perfectly happy people that they need to change.

PFOX has lately been sending home fliers in MCPS students' backpacks. We have heard from a number of teachers who are very unhappy with the situation.

When you click on the link, you hear PFOX's voicemail:
Hello, I'm a teacher at a Montgomery County school, and today we were forced by our administration to hand out your fliers about children who need to quit being gay. I want you to know, number one, I find this extremely offensive that any student would be forced to read material alongside their report cards and not get an affirming document from an organization like SMYAL, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, that would promote, that actually did promote tolerance, awareness, and respect for individuals regardless of their orientation or their personal self and their self identity.

I think that you as an organization owe some responsibility to the county, distributing materials to impressionable young people to make sure that both sides of the story are getting out. And I think that if you actually promoted tolerance and awareness in the community of people's different sexual orientations and different sexual identities that you would have partnered with an organization that is willing to partner, like SMYAL, like ** used to be, like Different Avenues. One of the organizations that actually does support and affirm youth even when they become homeless because their parents have refused to support them because their parents quote PFOX things to them, if you could have reached out to one of those organizations and sent out a flier that actually did promote both sides of the issue, and give both sets of resources, then I would have been more willing to pass out your reprehensible materials to youth. Rather than to force them to feel like they are broken or somehow un-whole.

In the meantime, being forced to pass out these one-sided, there's-something-wrong-with-you type message is just so offensive to me and so underhanded that an organization would do that to a bunch of impressionable young people who are trying not to commit suicide over their personal identity. It saddens me, it is sneaky and underhanded that you would put your fliers out in that manner. I hope that you will seriously consider the way *** think and the way you're introducing yourself to an entire community of people who are truly in need before you do this again. I appreciate that your fliers weren't openly hostile and for that I give you credit. But I strongly recommend you to reach out to another organization if you've got some sort of in, before you wallpaper an entire county with this kind of material.

It is offensive and one-sided and totally disrespectful of the sexual identity of about ten percent of the teenagers at every high school in Montgomery County. And for you to send this message out this way and twist the school district's arm into distributing this material is so offensive when you've made no attempt to distribute other kinds of material. It is ridiculous, self-centered, and judgmental, and I hope that you will seriously consider doing this another way the next time report cards come out.

I am raising this complaint to the administration in my building and eventually to the administration of the entire school district, so they invite other organizations like SMYAL to present other sides of this issue. In the meantime, I really would hope you don't do this again. This is totally offensive. LINK HERE

Wow, I would love to hear from this teacher -- it sounds like she was doing this off the top of her head. She obviously has given this some thought, and she was very obviously extremely unhappy with the situation.

It is interesting that PFOX tries to pass this sort of thing off as "hate." What has this teacher said that is remotely hateful? She is angry, oh yeah, no doubt about that, about having to hand out immoral materials to vulnerable students.

Here you've got a teacher who has a sense of right and wrong, and has been forced by the school district to do the wrong thing. PFOX wants you to interpret her distress as hate: shame on them. They have good reasons to confuse people; if you want to see hate, look at PFOX. They are in no position to call names, especially when it's one hard-working schoolteacher, outraged at being used by the county to spread this ugliness.

How long do you think good teachers are going to allow themselves to be used this way? They're already overworked and underpaid, and now they have to pass out propaganda that undermines their most vulnerable students. How long can they be expected to keep doing this?

If the teacher who made this call happens to see this, how about sending us a note at ? We'd definitely like to follow your story and see what kind of progress you're making.

Is This Satire, Or For Real?

Sam Brownback is a Republican Senator from Kansas, very conservative. He cites Jesse Helms as his hero and role model. Favors teaching intelligent design and opposes marriage equality. You know the rest.

His followers have a blog site, called Blogs4Brownback. OK, lots of politicians have blogs supporting them. As you would expect, this is mostly more-or-less over-the-top ranting, we've seen it before, our county's CRC would be comfortable there. We will have some anynomous comments on this post about what a great American Sam Brownback is.

So now we have to figure out something. Like, when Conservapedia came out, and you looked at it, and you had to decide -- are these guys for real? An encyclopedia of alternate reality? And after a couple of months you knew, well, yes, apparently they actually are for real.

Blogs4Brownback has a post from the other day that challenges Copernicus. It goes on and on, I'll paste some of it here, you help me figure out if this is a hoax, or for real:
What's even worse than the debate raging in American schools about the teaching of the soulless doctrine of evolution, is the non-debate over an issue that rational Americans have foolishly conceded to the secular among us: the issue of Heliocentrism, or the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Now, it has to be granted that there may be some mathematical evidence going either way; mathematically speaking, Copernicus may be on ground nearly as firm as that of Tycho Brahe. Right-thinking people know the correct doctrine, however:
Heliocentrism is the view that the sun is at the center of the universe. It was proposed by some ancient Greeks,[1] and became the dominant view in the 1700s and 1800s. It was abandoned in the 20th century.

Since the advent of relativity theory in the early 1900s, the laws of physics have been written in covariant equations, meaning that they are equally valid in any frame. Heliocentric and geocentric theories are both used today, depending on which allows more convenient calculations

It seems clear that it may occasionally be convenient to assume that the calculations of Copernicus and Kepler were mathematically sound. However, for both moral and theological reasons, we should always bear in mind that the Earth does not move. If it moved, we would feel it moving. That’s called empiricism, the experience of the senses. Don't take my word for it, or the evidence of your own senses, Copernicans. There's also the Word of the Lord:
"He has fixed the earth firm, immovable." (1 Chronicles 16:30)
"Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm ..." (Psalm 93:1)
"Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken." (Psalm 104:5)
"... who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast ..." (Isaiah 45:18)
"The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose." (Ecclesiastes 1:5)
"Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” (Joshua 10, 12-13)

Moreover, as Answers in Genesis points out,
... [S]omething well known to high-school physics students, but apparently not to bibliosceptics—that it’s valid to describe motion from any reference frame, although an inertial one usually makes the mathematics simpler.3 But there are many times when the Earth is a convenient reference frame; i.e. at some point we all use the geocentric model in one sense. For instance, a planetarium is a geocentric model. Calculation of rising, transiting, and setting of various celestial objects is calculated geocentrically. There are numerous other examples. Since modern astronomers often use an Earth-centred reference frame, it’s unfair and anti-scientific to criticise the Bible for doing the same.

OK, you get the picture.

This writer does not want his kids learning heliocentrism in school -- he says:
... I think this doctrine encourages atheism, Darwinism, and anti-Americanism. I don't want my tax dollars going to finance this kind of false science. It's complete rot, and I hope that those of us who come to realize this can ultimately prevail against its propogation amongst OUR children with the money from OUR salaries.

What are you going to do when some group forms in our county to oppose the atheistic teaching of heliocentricity? Oh, the TV cameras will love them. They'll get a seat on the committees, they'll send their fliers home with the kids, they'll come into the classrooms -- because it wouldn't be fair to exclude one point of view, would it?

OK, I toss it to you. Do you think this is a hoax perpetrated from inside the radical right Blogs4Brownback, or are these guys for real? I think it's for real.

Friday, May 18, 2007

News From Canada

From the Globe and Mail:
The teenage pregnancy rate in Canada has hit an all-time low and the teen abortion rate has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade, according to a new report.

The number of unwanted pregnancies among adolescents and young adults has fallen principally because they are using birth control, said Alex McKay, research co-ordinator at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, and author of the study.

"It's due to greater contraceptive use, not teens having less sex," he said. Teen pregnancies drop to a new low, abortions continue decline

In case you were wondering.

A little elaboration down in the story:
While the pregnancy rate is falling, sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are soaring among young people, and that points to poor sex education, Linda Capperauld, executive director of the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, said in an interview.

"We continue to focus on unintended pregnancy, but we're neglecting to give young people the tools to ensure their long-term sexual health," she said.

Ms. Capperauld said that oral contraceptives (commonly referred to as the Pill) remain the birth control of choice among teenage girls and that they and their partners are neglecting to use condoms to protect themselves from infections.

You can see why it is important to have good sex education. The pill keeps you from getting pregnant, but the condom also blocks microbes. We're on track to do the right thing in our county.

Nobody Listens to the Nuts

I haven't said much about it here, but the big Famiy Blah Blah groups have really been fighting the new hate-crimes bill, which will include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. They keep trying to say it will create thought crimes, but ... there are just so many things wrong with that. For one, you didn't hear them complaining when religion was protected, did you? For another thing, the law doesn't say anything about speech. You can say what you want: bigots are not required to suppress their utterances.

Well, you know, it's another wedge issue that the nuts can use to drive Americans apart. I'm sure we don't need to call up the CRC to see how they feel about it, by and large the line is drawn in the sand, and extremists like CRC know where to stand.

Not everybody is falling for it this time. Here's what Gallup reported this week:
PRINCETON, NJ -- A substantial majority of the American public favors the expansion of federal hate crime legislation to include crimes against people based on their gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed such legislation, which is now being considered by the Senate. Republicans, conservatives, and religious Americans are slightly less likely than others to favor the expansion of hate crime legislation, but a majority of those in each of these conservative and religious groups favors the proposed legislation. Public Favors Expansion of Hate Crime Law to Include Sexual Orientation

These numbers are surprising, even to me. Well, I guess I would admit that a certain part of me has become a little ... cynical ... over the past few years.

In general, 78 percent of the American public likes the idea of hate-crime laws, 18 percent oppose them.

And look at this (note: I am re-formatting the tables for display on the blog):
There is a proposal to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim's gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Would you favor or oppose expanding the federal hate crime laws in this way?

2007 May 10-13
Favor 68%
Oppose 27%
No opinion 5%

Listen, that's not close. The big Christianist organizations can cry and scream all they want, but people think this is a good idea, overwhelmingly.

Ah, but you're thinking it's probably one of those red-state / blue-state things. I'll bet you find the Republicans, the evangelicals, oppose these things, and the liberals on the coasts like it.

Favor 68
Oppose 27

Favor 60
Oppose 34

Favor 69
Oppose 27

Favor 75
Oppose 21

Favor 57
Oppose 37

Favor 74
Oppose 22

Favor 82
Oppose 15

Protestant and other non-catholic Christians
Favor 65
Oppose 30

Favor 72
Oppose 23

Other religion
Favor 74
Oppose 23

No religious identity
Favor 74
Oppose 25

Attend church weekly
Favor 64
Oppose 30

Attend church almost every week/monthly
Favor 67
Oppose 29

Attend church seldom, never
Favor 73
Oppose 23

They couldn't find any way to slice the pie that showed any group where the majority did not feel these things should be added to the hate-crimes law.

This is an extraordinary result. For years the extremists have used these kinds of issues to cultivate their "base." They could count on a certain knee-jerk reaction that resulted in votes at election time. In this case, the Dobsons, the Tony Perkinses, got out there and talked this up, ooh, the gay agenda is trying to take over the world -- and this time nobody bought it.

It's time for Americans to go toward the light. The divisiveness worked for certain political interests for a number of years. But my American people are not hateful. Everybody knows what it's like to be on the losing end of a no-win situation -- I mean, c'mon, you don't need to have the blues explained to you, do you? -- and we don't have any desire to put somebody else in that situation.

This is a good sign, a real good sign.