Saturday, June 30, 2007

Booting Up a Chromosome System

Wow. Right here in Rockville, these guys are really starting to understand the very most basic essence of life. What they will eventually do is to create new life-forms by engineering new chromosomes, but that's still a long time off. For now, this amazing breakthrough lets a scientist take a chromosome out of one kind of bacterium and put it into a cell of another type. The transported chromosome then takes over the operation of that cell, and when it divides and reproduces you end up with a whole population of, basically, the first type.

There has been a lot written in the last couple of days about this experiment. Here's how The Edge has it:
In a news cycle dominated by Paris Hilton and the Apple iPhone, Craig Venter has announced the results of his lab's work on genome transplantation methods that allows for the transformation of one type of bacteria into another, dictated by the transplanted chromosome. In other words, one species becomes another. This is news, bound to affect everyone on the planet...

The day after the announcement, Edge talked to Venter, who had the following to say about the research underway:
Now we know we can boot up a chromosome system. It doesn't matter if the DNA is chemically made in a cell or made in a test tube. Until this development, if you made a synthetic chomosome you had the question of what do you do with it. Replacing the chomosome with existing cells, if it works, seems the most effective to way to replace one already in an existing cell systems. We didn't know if it would work or not. Now we do. This is a major advance in the field of synthetic genomics. We now know we can create a synthetic organism. It's not a question of 'if', or 'how', but 'when', and in this regard, think weeks and months, not years. Changing One Species Into Another

You also might enjoy this nice radio interview with Dr. Venter and a Stanford professor who considers ethical aspects of the research. It's very clear, good listening: Science Friday (links are on the righthand side of the screen).

He explains what is actually new and surprising in this research. For instance, he talks about the possibility of a chromosome being introduced into a cell in nature, producing a new species. He describes the cholera bacterium as having one chromosome that is just like e. coli, and then another other that is different -- where did that second chromosome come from? He talks about enzymes that have evolved in the cell to restrict the introduction of foreign DNA (the cell he used didn't have such a feature), saying these enzymes probably function to prevent this kind of event happening in the wild.

They are thinking about using a technique like this to create a new kind of fuel. Would that be cool, or what?

If you've got some time, I recommend the radio interview.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Smart Students Oppose Torture

If you're a kid or you've got kids, or if you ever were a kid, you'll be proud of these guys.
WASHINGTON - President Bush was presented with a letter Monday signed by 50 high school seniors in the Presidential Scholars program urging a halt to "violations of the human rights" of terror suspects held by the United States.

The White House said Bush had not expected the letter but took a moment to read it and talk with a young woman who handed it to him.

"The president enjoyed a visit with the students, accepted the letter and upon reading it let the student know that the United States does not torture and that we value human rights," deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.

The students had been invited to the East Room to hear the president speak about his effort to win congressional reauthorization of his education law known as No Child Left Behind.

The handwritten letter said the students "believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions."

"We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants," the letter said. Scholars urge Bush to ban use of torture

He told her the United States does not torture and that we value human rights.

Look, I don't really have to editorialize much here. I think everybody sees who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. We see who speaks truth and who speaks with forked tongue.

I will be curious to see who volunteers to say in the comments section that torture is OK, or that we don't torture, or that "extraordinary rendition" is not used by the US, or that the Geneva Conventions are irrelevant, incosequential, or don't apply.

These are some smart kids -- fifty of them:
The designation as a Presidential Scholar is one of the nation's highest honors for graduating high school students. Each year the program selects one male and one female student from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Americans living abroad, 15 at-large students, and up to 20 students in the arts on the basis of outstanding scholarship, service, leadership and creativity.

"I know all of you worked hard to reach this day," Bush told the students in his education speech. "Your families are proud of your effort, and we welcome your family members here. Your teachers are proud of your effort, and we welcome your teachers. And our entire nation is proud to call you Presidential Scholar."

The scholars travel to Washington each June for seminars, lectures and workshops with government officials, elected representatives and others.

Do you think any of the President's advisors have mentioned to him that torture is wrong? He told these kids the US doesn't torture -- is it possible that he believes that?

Can you imagine that it takes an act of courage to tell the President of the United States that you don't think we should torture people? When will we wake up from this?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Just Think About It, That's All

The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference is going on out in California, and it sounds like they could blow the sad hoax of the "ex-gay" open once and for all.

Yesterday some former "ex-gay" leaders from Exodus Ministries read a statement at the conference. Here's how Box Turtle Bulletin describes these three (edited somewhat for brevity):
  • Darlene Bogle, a former assistant pastor who had directed Paraklete Ministries in Hayward, California until she met her partner at a 1990 ex-gay workshop.
  • Michael Bussee, who was a cofounder of Exodus International in 1975. He left Exodus after falling in love with another volunteer at an Exodus-affiliated ministry in 1979.
  • Jeremy Marks, who had founded Courage U, which began as a classic ex-gay ministry before evolving into a gay-affirming organization.

And what did they say?
As former leaders of ex-gay ministries, we apologize to those individuals and families who believed our message that there is something inherently wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Some who heard our message were compelled to try to change an integral part of themselves, bringing harm to themselves and their families. Although we acted in good faith, we have since witnessed the isolation, shame, fear, and loss of faith that this message creates. We apologize for our part in the message of broken truth we spoke on behalf of Exodus and other organizations.

We call on other former ex-gay leaders to join the healing and reconciliation process by adding their names to this apology.

We encourage current leaders of ex-gay programs to have the courage to evaluate the fruit of their programs. We ask them to consider the long-term effects of their ministry. Statement of Apology from Former Exodus Leaders

Nothing inflammatory, no accusations. They just say, think about the effect of what you're doing to people.

Public Shifting on Facts About Sexual Orientation

There are some kinds of questions that can be answered with a survey or poll -- questions like, What proportion of the people believe X? -- and there are questions that can't be answered no matter what, and there are questions that have real answers. But you can still ask people what they think the answer is, even if you already know. Think of it as Jay Leno's Jaywalking. Like, you saw this one the other day, right? Forty-one percent of people still think Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for 9/11, you saw that, right? So you put the two kinds of questions together and you get a kind of measure of how informed/ignorant the population is.

I think of it as a measure of leadership and education, I guess. Are people being given accurate information? Are they well enough educated to make critical distinctions? You can't really blame people for not keeping up, there're only so many hours in a day, nobody can study every issue that comes up. If you give people accurate facts and good concepts for reasoning they'll come to the right conclusions, but lacking either of those we're in trouble. And lately ... we're lacking.

So this is interesting:
(CNN) -- A majority of Americans believe that gays and lesbians could not change their sexual orientation even if they wanted to, according to results of a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Wednesday.

It's the first time in a CNN poll the majority has held that belief regarding homosexuality.

Fifty-six percent of about 515 poll respondents said they do not believe sexual orientation can be changed. In 2001, 45 percent of those responding to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll held that belief. In 1998, according to a CNN/Time poll, the number was 36 percent.

In addition, 42 percent of respondents to the current poll said they believe homosexuality results from upbringing and environment, while 39 percent said they believe it is something a person is born with -- a close division that reflects the national debate over the issue.

However, those numbers are greatly changed from the 1970s and '80s, in which fewer than 20 percent of Americans said a person is born homosexual. In a 1977 poll, the number was 13 percent. Poll majority: Gays' orientation can't change

This is a major sea-change in just a couple of decades. Major.

Funny thing, what do you think? I'm guessing that the PFOXes of the world, by making everybody stop and think about these questions, got them to realize that it just didn't make sense to say sexual orientation could change. Like, why would anybody choose to be harassed and teased, beat up on the street and discriminated against everywhere they went? If you think about it, you realize it just doesn't make sense -- but that's the deal, you have to think about it. Before, like when I was a kid, when we had the old crank-handled video games before electricity, it was a kind of thing you heard mentioned a little bit, nothing was ever really explained, so you just believed what your buddies told you, which they got from their buddies. Nobody knew anything, actually, and we never gave it much thought.

And now, the Nutty Ones put it on the front burner, trying to polarize the country around the issue, and as people think about it, they're deciding for themselves.
Ten percent in the latest poll said they believe both factors play a role in someone's homosexuality. Three percent said neither, and 6 percent had no opinion.

Isn't that interesting?

On the question of gay marriage, 43 percent of respondents in May said they would not support same-sex marriage or civil unions, which provide many, if not most, of the same legal protections as marriage. Twenty-four percent said they supported same-sex marriage, while 27 percent opted for civil unions.

But a majority of poll respondents -- 57 percent -- said gay and lesbian couples should have the legal right to adopt children. Forty percent said they should not.

Marriage, civil union, I don't know, but they need something -- most people agree with that.

It's nice to see people coming around to our way of seeing things.

July Fourth -- Take A Picture in Silver Spring

A couple of days ago we talked about the ban on photography in downtown Silver Spring. Seems the city fixed the neighborhood up, condemned it, and sold it cheap to some corporation, who then decided you couldn't take pictures there. Because they said so, that's why. Downtown isn't a public place any more.

Some people didn't like the sound of that.

This Fourth of July at noon they're going to have a Downtown Silver Spring Photo Outing.

I mean, look at this, there's a whole web site about the fact that you can't take pictures in Silver Spring. This is what's great about the Internet, if you ask me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

There's No Gay Gene

The biggest thing upsetting the CRC-PFOX contingent right now is the idea that the Montgomery County schools would say that sexual orientation is "innate." There's no real argument otherwise, everybody knows it's innate, but this just drives them over the edge. They love to repeat the statement "there is no gay gene," over and over again, as if genetic and innate were the same thing.

The Toronto Star had a nice calm story this week about genetics and sexual orientation. How much of it can I include here? Let's see...
Gay men believe their sexual orientation is inextricably bound up with their very being. It is not a choice – let alone the "wrong choice," as religious and political critics have counter-claimed for years.

Many believe they simply were "born that way," and long for proof that their sexual proclivity is biological or genetic, a variation, not a deviation, of human nature. And how can an innate instinct be the subject of discrimination?

But just as many gay men don't want to know. It's a predisposition, they say, what does it matter what kind? If science delves into the cause, then bet on it, someone will set about finding a "cure." More to the point, they argue, determining the why of homosexuality won't end prejudice.

"The emphasis on finding a biological cause is much more widespread among activists in the U.S. than in Canada," says political scientist David Rayside, director of the University of Toronto's Sexual Diversity Centre.

"Most people here don't care or think the fight for gay rights shouldn't hinge on finding a cause." Hunting the gay gene

Interesting to contrast the US and Canada. I think we'll hear more about that in the comments.

I have talked to people who think this is a huge deal. I personally don't think it matters that much -- for instance, I think it is proper to respect a person's religion, even though that is obviously a choice and not something that is innate. It doesn't mean I should discriminate against them on the basis of their religion. But sexual orientation is different, it's not something a person chooses, it's clearly got a biological aspect to it, and that would, I think, entirely justify rejection of variation in sexual orientation as a dimension for judging people morally.
Theories have been floated for more than a century on what triggers homosexuality. Nurture – a psychologically troubled relationship between parents and child – held top billing until the start of the 1990s, when the tide shifted toward nature.

Two American scientists set the research and the debate in motion.

In 1991, Simon LeVay, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in California, examined the brains of 41 individuals; 19 gay men who died of AIDS, 16 heterosexuals of drugs-related AIDS and six women, of whom one had died of the disease.

Already aware that certain areas of the brain are bigger in men than in women, LeVay checked to see if there was a size variation with the gay men.

To his surprise, he found that one grouping of cells associated with sexual activity was twice as large in straight men as it was in both gays and women.

LeVay emphasized that his work didn't show "how or when sexual orientation is determined, only that it is an aspect of human nature that can be studied by biologists." But the media ran with it, playing down widespread criticism that he hadn't factored in the effect of AIDS on the brain.

Yeah man, that's just a start. One study with a few dozen subjects is not going to answer this question. For one thing, this is pure correlation, and you know what they say.

The story then talks about a study by Dean Hamer, who found some places on the chromosome that seemed to correlate with sexual orientation. The newspapers all went on about a "gay gene" being found.
Wrongly so, said the genetics community. The coverage was inflated, simplistic and misleading. No "gay gene" had been found, nor ever would be. Why? Because behavioural genetics is much more complex than "Mendelian" genetics. In other words, traits such as eye colour are 100 per cent inheritable but the genetic contribution to various behaviours, aggression, shyness, extroversion and so on, is considerably less, below 50 per cent.

Ruth Hubbard, Harvard emeritus professor of biology and biochemistry and author of Exploding the Gene Myth, has said that searching for a gay gene "is not even a worthwhile pursuit.

"I don't think there is any single gene that governs any complex human behaviour. There are genetic components in everything we do, and it is foolish to say genes are not involved, but I don't think they are decisive."

I saw the CRC's resident MD give a talk once where she showed data from a twin study that found that when a twin was gay he was ten times more likely than average to have a gay brother. She argued that the data actually showed that sexual orientation is not genetic, because if it was, they would both be gay a hundred percent of the time. Just goes to show you, people see things differently.

Ooh, there is something deliciously ironic in this next sentence:
By the end of the '90s, interest in the hunt for a gay gene had waned. Why, skeptics asked, would there be one when it plays no role in the evolutionary scheme of things?

This next guy has been at the center of a lot of the recent discussion; his name was first mentioned by a conservative writer as supporting their view that orientation is a choice, but he then explained: "The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality."
Since then, the scientific consensus is that sexual proclivity is influenced, but not hardwired, by DNA. Geneticist Francis Collins, head of the international Human Genome Project, has written that "whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations."

But the debate hasn't entirely gone away, or, indeed, all of the research. Next year at Northwestern University, 1,000 pairs of gay brothers will be studied to see if Hamer's X-chromosome findings finally can be reproduced. (Driven by AIDS, as well, critics would argue, by cultural bias, science has focused overwhelmingly on men, not gay women.) U of T's Rayside is leery about yet another study, concerned at society's increasing temptation to interpret all kinds of human behaviours in biological, particularly genetic, terms.

"These scientists think they're doing good, but they don't realize there's a political component to their work. It contributes to the trend toward genetic selection."

I suppose there's always the threat that knowledge will be used for foul purpose, but I don't see that as a good reason to remain ignorant. Who knows, maybe they'll find the gene that causes people to use knowledge for foul purpose, and use that knowledge to make people nice.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New Citizens Advisory Committee Appointed

Last night the Montgomery County Board of Education named the new members of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. Here's how it breaks down:
  • Benjamin Elkind (student) representing the Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Councils
  • Tracy Fox representing Montgomery County Council of PTAs
  • Ruth Jacobs representing Citizens for Responsible Curriculum
  • James Kennedy representing
  • Richelle Meer representing NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland
  • Peter Sprigg representing Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays
  • Emily Wurtz representing Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

Community at Large
  • Margaret Ellen Johnson (student)
  • DeBora King
  • Catherine Lane
  • Isabelle Melese-d’Hospital
  • Matthew Murguia
  • Esther Pinder
  • Carol Plotsky
  • Elinor Walker

Carol Plotsky: chair
Elinor Walker: vice chair

So, interesting. I'm on it again. CRC and PFOX people got re-appointed, even though I didn't think the legal settlement required it. Well, the wording of the Board's resolution seems to assume they are still bound by the agreement, so ... I don't know. There are a couple of new people ... Subash is gone, Victor is gone, Maria is gone. Elinor got promoted to "vice chair."

As I understand it, there is a new STD unit in the works. This term ends in June 2007, one year.

And the fun continues.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday at the Edge of Chaos

It's another ridiculously beautiful Maryland morning, sunny, warm. I slept till noon today. We were up late with the kids, talking till three or four in the morning. There were lots of hugs, lots of questions, I find I really like these young adults who live in our house.

This has been a tough fight, these two and a half years, and it looks like it could be winding down. The CRC's last appeal was nonsense, I'm not sure why they even bothered. America is changing, and Montgomery County ... has changed.

The big change is worldwide. It's not just gay rights, it's everything. It's like reading about the liberal and conservative moralities a couple of posts down from this one. The conservative morality makes sense in a small town. You have your ways, you have your reputation; whatever you do, everybody's going to know and you're going to have to live with it. Everybody's just like you, their people came from the same place, they're the same color as you, they talk like you. It's familiar and cozy and suffocating all at the same time.

But people have moved to the city. The whole economy has changed, it's like a mass migration, at least in America. Now you're dealing with all kinds of people. You can't assume anything, their people are from another continent, they look different and talk different from you.

And so you have to think about it all differently. You don't have to appreciate the differences, exactly, though that turns out to be a pretty cool way to handle it. But you do have to put up with people being different from yourself. You can't live like you're in a little town any more. In a small town, you can give somebody a dirty look when they step out of line, and it shames them, and they stop doing whatever they're doing. At least where you can see. In the city, that doesn't work. Some person on the street doesn't know you, and if you give them a dirty look they just assume you've got a twitch or something.

So we come to tolerate differences; there are so many different kinds of people, you just can't bother with it. The flipside of that is that "different" people have the freedom to express themselves. There's a kind of vivacious near-chaos in the city, with people from different ethnic groups bumping into each other on the street, different languages ringing out, different costumes. There's less pressure in the city for people to blend in.

Here in MoCo we've been talking about sexual orientation. Gay people. In a small town, if you're gay you pretty much have to keep it to yourself. It's just one dimension of differentness that you keep undercover, but it's an important one, because it determines who you're attracted to, who you'll date, who you'll fall in love with. In a small town, coming out can subject you to violence. Certainly there will be rumors, which can be just as bad. In the city, or in the new citified world, there's a different way to look at it. It's just another color in the swirl, another sound. There's no sense in giving gay people a dirty look, they'll just assume you have a twitch. In the city, in the new cosmopolitan world, it's just another way to be, something the person on the street can't control and wouldn't want to.

The world has changed, it's just taking a little time for some people to catch up with it. Some of those people want to take it back to the way it used to be when we all lived in little towns, and some of us want to move it forward to the next phase. And so we fight over it.

In chaos theory they talk about "phase transitions" as a place where you see something called "the edge of chaos." The classic phase transition is when water goes from a liquid to a solid; you know how little fingers of frost form on the window. It doesn't happen all at once, one molecule freezes and then another, and the result is a pattern that is both random and orderly -- those little branching fingers of frost. This is a most interesting state of things, somewhere between order and randomness, it's the state where living things exist -- your heartbeat is not a perfect cycle, every beat is different, you can't predict exactly when the next beat will come, but at the same time it's regular and robust and it keeps you alive. So a society lives at the edge of chaos, there are always new things and surprises but at the same time we have the familiarity of our traditions. Sometimes things break off and new processes start; at the edge of chaos you can't predict what will happen.

Speaking of which, we have been surprised to have a beautiful goldfinch on our birdfeeder the past couple of days. He is very wary, and flies away if he sees you sitting at the kitchen table -- the sparrows and flickers and nuthatches don't mind, but this bright-yellow guy is jumpy. I've seen them in the trees across the street, along Rock Creek, their yellow catching the rays, I think they are a little shy for coming this close to the house. But we've got one now.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Post Wants Your Opinion

This isn't the kind of thing I want to make too much of, but it is something we should do. The Washington Post is asking people to send them comments about the new sex-ed curriculum that was approved on the 12th.

Here's what they're saying:
The Montgomery County school board last week approved new lessons on sexual orientation for all middle and high schools for the fall. The two 45-minute lessons introduce homosexuality and gender identity in health courses in the eighth and 10th grades, along with a 10th-grade lesson and instructional DVD on the correct use of a condom. Opponents have appealed to the Maryland State Board of Education and to State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

What do you think? Send your comments about whether you think such lessons are appropriate in the classroom, and why.

Send your letters, which may be edited for space and clarity, by June 29 to, or by mail to Letters to the Editor, The Washington Post, 51 Monroe St., Suite 500, Rockville, Md. 20850. Please include your name, address and day and evening telephone numbers so that authorship can be verified.

Typically, the other side gears up for these things: see AstroTurfing. You can expect letters from all over the world comparing MCPS to Satan. They like to say, the paper received ten thousand letters opposing the curriculum, but we'd be happy to say they received a reasonable number of articulate letters supporting it and giving good reasons.

Readers of this blog have an interest in this topic, and have knowledge and opinions. It would be a good idea to write a nice, lucid letter to The Post, explaining how you feel about the classes and why.

If you live in the county and/or have a kid in public school who will be taking the courses, it would be good to mention that.

If you're serious about supporting comprehensive and inclusive sex education, write a letter and send it to The Post.

The Morality of Liberals and Conservatives

You might find this lecture interesting. Jonathan Haidt, associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, has been studying the psychology
of morality. At a recent New Yorker conference, he presented a summary of his findings on the differences in morality between conservatives and liberals. The video of his talk is online HERE.

In general, he describes liberals as having a kind of morality based on two foundations:
  • do no harm and
  • be fair (don't cheat people)

He notes that this is a sufficient and reasonable moral basis for a diverse society, where you have to accept the differences between people. He also points out how the Blue counties are all either along the coasts and along the Mississippi River -- areas with shipping, with a lot of trade and a lot of different kinds of people.

Conservative morality includes those two foundations, he said, but also includes principles of:
  • in-group loyalty
  • respect for authority, and
  • purity

The five-foundation system of morality has been the prevalent one everywhere in the world where societies have remained distinct from one another and where it was possible to live your whole life within your in-group, he said. Note that until modern times, this was just about everywhere.

Of course he elaborates more in this presentation, as he makes the point that by understanding these differences in the foundations of morality, liberals can understand why conservatives feel the way they do.

It all sounds fine, that conservative people are just looking out for threats to their loved ones, trying to prevent disruption, hoping to preserve cultural values that have sustained people for a long time. I can see that.

But something about it started to bother me a little bit. Because I grew up in a Red State, in Barry Goldwater's own state of Arizona. And I never had any trouble with conservative people. I mean, I wasn't one of them, but they were my friends and neighbors, we just had a different way of looking at things. In November we'd go to the polls and vote and they'd win. No problem.

Haidt refers to the "culture wars" a couple of times in this talk, and I think I see what the problem is.

See, he's talking about conservative people, in the traditional sense. There has always been debate in the US about ... well, about everything ... and it's always had two sides to it, and one side gets called "liberal" and the other side gets called "conservative." Been that way for my whole life, at least.

But the culture wars, that's not just a new label for an old dialectical process. The culture wars are a recent phenomenon. And the problem isn't that "conservatives" want to protect their families from threats and maintain traditional values, the problem is that they have moved so far to the right that they have left real conservatives like Barry Goldwater looking like liberals. The problem is that the "conservatives" are convinced that their mission (whatever it is) is so important that they are entitled to lie, accuse, cheat, to declare wars and reinterpret the Constitution in any way they can get away with.

I don't see that in this "five-foundation" moral system. Where does it say it's OK to lie? Liberals and real conservatives reject that sort of thing equally, though it has become status quo among our political leadership and in the Family Blah Blah organizations and groups like the CRC that are trying to push their narrow value system on the rest of us. We're only just starting to see the indictments and convictions roll in at the highest levels of the federal govenrment. The standard behavior of our government officials has not just been unethical, it's criminal.

Hey, d'ya hear the guy on the news the other days, saying he didn't think it was right to send Scooter Libby to jail without DeLay?

The kind of Assault on Reason we have witnessed in recent years is not an ongoing debate between honest liberals and honest conservatives who just see the world with different priorities. The "culture wars" reflect an attempt by radical elements to remake the United States in their image, removing elementary Constitutional rights and institutionalizing bigotry and belligerence, to create a fundamentally different America based on authoritarianism and rejecting personal liberty.

This guy is correct in general, in describing, say, the difference between City Mice and Country Mice, between liberals and conservatives in ordinary times, but he isn't even in the ball park when it comes to understanding how things have gotten the way they are, where behavior that is outside the bounds of any system of morality has become status quo.

Reporting On The Latest Diversion

The Post yesterday had a little paragraph about the CRC's latest appeal to the state. The Gazette had a full story on it this morning.
A coalition of activist groups has filed another appeal with the Maryland State Board of Education to halt Montgomery County's sex-ed curriculum before it is implemented in all middle schools and high schools this fall.

In February, the groups — Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) and Family Leader Network — asked the state board to stop the controversial curriculum before it was piloted. State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick denied the request for a stay and allowed the pilot tests to continue. The state board has yet to make a ruling in that case.

On Wednesday, the groups asked the state board to throw out the curriculum before the start of the school year. If the state board does not stop the curriculum, the critics said they would sue the county school system, claiming it released factually inaccurate information and did not put out material for public review before approving the curriculum.

The groups also claim the lesson plans violate students' constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and the right to freely exercise religion. Activist groups try again to block Montgomery's sex-ed curriculum

You know ... what can you say? They can try, I guess.
"Montgomery County is showing incredible arrogance by voting to adopt the revised health education curriculum before the State Board renders a decision on the legality of this very controversial curriculum," John R. Garza, the groups' attorney, said in a statement. "We don't understand why Montgomery County is ignoring the process in this case, especially given Dr. Grasmick's opinion that both sides have equally matched arguments."

Man, they are trying to get some mileage out of that, aren't they? She didn't say the two sides were equally matched. The CRC's arguments lost, flat out, in two out of the three sections. In the third section, the state Superintendent said the CRC's arguments were matched by the county's. Of course the CRC tries to make that sound like it was really a tie. No, it wasn't: they lost.

And the idea that the schools should have just stopped and waited -- listen, who is he talking to? The school district knows that wasn't what they were supposed to do. The state Superintendent and school board wouldn't have expected them to stop; if they'd wanted that they would have ordered a stay, and they didn't. People in general, the newspaper-reading public, might pause and think that MCPS has done something wrong, but anybody following this story knows better.

So you see that Garza is not addressing the participants in this controversy here, he's talking to people who don't have any idea what's going on. Why would he do that?
Montgomery board member Patricia B. O'Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda, who has been involved with the sex-ed discussions for five years, said the board showed "courage in the face of bigots" in adopting the lesson plans.

"It's more of the same," she said. "I'm not surprised. When we adopted the curriculum, I said, 'Bring it on,' because we will fight you tooth-and-nail. I am happy we did what we did and confident it will stand up at the state board, in federal court, or wherever."

Yay, Pat.
"They're going to do everything they can do," said James Kennedy, president of, a group that supports sex education in schools. "There's no reason to think that the state board is going to override the local school board."

Board Vice President Shirley Brandman saw the new effort to stop the lessons coming.

"I still stand behind the curriculum," said Brandman (At-large) of Bethesda. "My further hope is that nothing will derail it at this point. This doesn't shake my confidence as to the appropriateness of the curriculum."

The CRC's plan succeeded. They got their name in the papers. This is just another in an ongoing string of great victories for the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Are They Out of Control Yet?

From The Blotter at ABC News:
Vice President Dick Cheney has asserted his office is not a part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, and therefore not bound by a presidential order governing the protection of classified information by government agencies, according to a new letter from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to Cheney.

Bill Leonard, head of the government's Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), told Waxman's staff that Cheney's office has refused to provide his staff with details regarding classified documents or submit to a routine inspection as required by presidential order, according to Waxman.

In pointed letters released today by Waxman, ISOO's Leonard twice questioned Cheney's office on its assertion it was exempt from the rules. He received no reply, but the vice president later tried to get rid of Leonard's office entirely, according to Waxman. Cheney Power Grab: Says White House Rules Don't Apply to Him

Do you remember seeing Alberto Gonzales sitting there in the Capitol, smirking at the Senate Judiciary Committee and telling them that "The Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas?"

This is just amazing, watching this happen to us.

The Thing About the KKK

OK, I was wrong, sort of. An MCPS schoolteacher did say something about the KKK in an email.

To recap: yesterday the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum filed an appeal with the state school board to stop the implementation of the new sex-ed curriculum. This paragraph appears near the end of their complaint to the board:
In the Order of the Superintendent, the State Superintendent cites the proposed curriculum's attempt to address harassment problems relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. In subsequent submissions filed before this Board, Appellants have documented how the curriculum fails to provide instruction on tolerance and acceptance of the only sexual orientation/gender identity group that is actually the object of derision and rejection by the Montgomery County public school system staff and students, which Appellees do not deny. Appellants attach as exhibits further documentation of this failure of the curriculum. Attached are even more correspondence from another Montgomery County school teacher that misrepresents the mission of Appellants, stereotypes former homosexuals, compares ex-gays to the KKK, and warns the ex-gay community to stay out of Montgomery County public schools.

Hence, the proposed curriculum fails to satisfy the concerns of the Order of the Superintendent and should not have been approved as a final curriculum by the Montgomery County Board of Education.

I searched the CRC's web site and couldn't find any mention of the KKK or the Klan, and I figured they were just lying again. But the person who wrote the letter identified himself in yesterday's comments on this blog, and showed me where to find the letter in question.

The email was sent to the CRC, but is posted on the PFOX web site. That's why I couldn't find it.

Here's what the teacher actually said:
To: <>
Date: Fri, 1 Jun 2007 16:48:05 +0000

Yes, it is called Freedom of Speech unless it is hate-based and you people are sadly full of only that, hate.

You say we are not being "tolerant" of ex-gays... and PFOX says it is not anti-gay...yet you people seem to HATE anything and everything that has to do with the way God wanted gay people.


You people are like the KKK but only in the form of should be ashamed of yourselves! Only God has the right to judge others, not other people.

Now, I can't say that's a great letter. You should see the stuff we get -- whatever, we don't put it on the Internet, at least. The guy's blowing off a little steam.

Anyway, the CRC told the state Board of Education that this letter:
compares ex-gays to the KKK

Do you get that? Is there some reason to think that the phrase "you people" refers to "ex-gays?" No, the acronym "KKK" does appear in the email, but there's no reason to think it refers to "ex-gays." Again, it's apparently a reference to PFOX, which is Parents and Friends of "ex-gays." I don't think there are any "ex-gays" in PFOX, are there? If there are, they are clearly not who this letter was referring to.

I can't imagine why an email from a Spanish teacher would be the cornerstone of the CRC/PFOX/Family Blah Blah appeal to the state. But, just for the record, let me put some context around this.

There was a strange event at Thomas S. Wootton High School in early May or late April, which I just barely mentioned in a post HERE. Didn't want to make a big deal out of it, but it did deserve mentioning.

PFLAG -- Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays -- is a group that promotes actual family values, they think people can love their own family members even if they're gay. They have occasionally sent home fliers in MCPS students' backpacks. Well, at Wootton High School, the fliers were all ready to go out, they had been passed out to the homeroom teachers, and the administration decided to call them back. They gathered up all the PFLAG fliers and threw them in the trash. I called the school when I heard about this, and a very rude and defensive administrator made it clear they weren't going to talk about it. I went through the main district offices, and they dismissed it, until I got a teacher from the school to call them. Then MCPS called me back, sweet as pie, apologetic and explaining how it was nobody's fault etcetera.

PFLAG talked to the school district, and they agreed not to make a big deal out of it. I mentioned it at the bottom of a blog post that nobody read, and that was that.

A teacher at Wootton who is a co-sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school met with the administration at his school about this incident and ended up satisfied that it was an honest mistake. In the meantime, though, he had sent a nasty letter to PFOX in response to their fliers, and the CRC published his letter on their web site HERE.

Actually, it was funny, he first mistakenly sent a nasty note to us, which I blogged about HERE. I think he got TeachTheFacts-dot-com mixed up with TeachTheFacts-dot-org. Then, apparently, he wrote to PFOX, and the CRC posted it online.

I'm leaving the teacher's name off of all this, but it's no secret.

After the CRC posted his email to PFOX, he wrote back to the two groups:
Good morning.

I understand why you posted my comment to your organization on your website. While you have all the right in the world to do this, I would like you to also know that I do not teach sex ed at my school nor do I discuss these issues with my students. I am a Spanish teacher and that is all I teach: Spanish.

While we all have our personal views and opinions, this is not something I discuss in class with my students nor do I press my personal or political views upon them, as that is not my job but rather that of the BOE and curriculum/policy makers.

I request that you kinly post this reply with the one you posted on your webiste or you take the post down from your website as it suggests that I discuss these issues and ideas with my students, which I do not.

All my best,


Naturally, they didn't post this letter.

This might be shocking to the CRC and to PFOX, but there is a rumor that some teachers are human beings and have opinions, and it has been revealed that there is no law against a teacher expressing his or her opinion, even in public.

He wrote another email to the CRC at the start of June, I don't know why, but that's the one quoted at the top, that mentiones the KKK. PFOX posted that one on their web site.

This had all gone to sleep until June 15th, when that same teacher received an email from a guy who apparently belongs to a group called "ValuesUSA." The subject line was "Crucufying Our Future With The Gay Gene," and the email was CC'ed to a bunch of people, including some big-time rightwing leaders. It said:

That any school would teach their students that there is a 'gay gene' without a shred of truth or scientific evidence is a betrayal of the public’s trust in them that educators teach the truth, in order to ensure a stabile future for America.

That confirms what I’ve suspected for a while, that radical homosexuals will say and do anything, sacrifice the well-being of any others, in order to advance their agenda of perversion.

It’s not only about genital worship, it’s also incredibly self-centered.

If you were infected with Ebola, would you teach children that we should be tolerant of it? So to promote a lifestyle that can result in a similar end as Ebola (and it often does) is almost beyond belief.

To promote homosexuality in any way is to crucify our own future.

Guy Adams

Dir., ValuesUSA [.net] Coalition

This teacher was upset to get this letter, which was about stuff he had never heard of, and he naively tried to respond to the guy. Anyway, that didn't work out well, you might say. The teacher reported this incident in an email to the school board.

This "gay gene" email was almost certainly inspired by a bizarre June 13 press release from PFOX, titled "Montgomery County, Md. School Board finds “gay gene”: Violates State Board of Education’s Order," which mentioned down in the middle that:
At Wootten High School, a gay teacher and co-sponsor of the school’s GSA club warned PFOX to stay out of the public schools, compared sexual preference to African-Americans’ skin color, and also compared PFOX to the Ku Klux Klan.

After this last letter, the teacher composed a nice, longish email, which he sent to the school board, the teacher's union, and his school's administration, with the subject line "MCPS teachers under attack." I won't quote it all here, but the gist of it is:
These organizations have used hatred, lies, and non-scientific based evidence to attack anyone or anything associated with the word “gay”. They believe that people who happen to be gay should not teach children as, for their belief, gay people are perverse and child molesters. We all know that these groups and organizations simply use these hateful lies to try to discredit reality.

They also have blamed MCPS for teaching that there is a “gay gene” in sexual education health classes, of which is also a lie invented by PFOX to anger religious organizations. These people will scoop to the lowest level possible and lie about anyone or anything to anger people.

While sometimes it is hard to not respond to these groups and their bogus ideas I have simply come to the conclusion to ignore their mean-spirited and harassing e-mails by simply deleting them without first reading them.

On Friday, June 15th, the last day of school for teachers, I received a random and hateful e-mail from Mr. Adams of ValuesUSA . It said it was addressed to “officials” of MCPS, although I really did not recognize any of their names. I, being completely taken aback by this e-mail, responded to him but have since then have stopped doing so as he seems to be a little “over-the-top” with his hate-based tactics.

Now the CRC and PFOX and another group have appealed to the state of Maryland to block the new sex-education classes that are scheduled for the fall. For some reason, they have chosen to feature one of the emails in this long and lurid chain of correspondences, apparently to prove that even teachers are harassing "ex-gays," even though the letter itself does not actually do that at all.

This is ugly business, all the way around.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

You - Yes You - Can Get Rich Without Working

While they're planning how to trim back the Smithsonian, what they can charge the public for ... we learn this:
Former Smithsonian secretary Lawrence M. Small took nearly 10 weeks of vacation a year during seven years running the vast museum complex and was absent from his job 400 workdays while earning $5.7 million on outside work, according to an independent commission report to be released today.

The Smithsonian's second-ranking official, Sheila P. Burke, was absent from her job as deputy secretary for 550 days while earning $10 million over six years on non-museum work. Report Slams Small's Tenure: Smithsonian Had 'Ill-Suited' Leader

Hmmm, I'm thinking ... Ill-suited leader ... ill-suited leader ... ill-suited leader... Why does that ring a bell?
"Mr. Small's management style -- limiting his interaction to a small number of Smithsonian senior executives and discouraging those who disagreed with him -- was a significant factor in creating the problems faced by the Smithsonian today," the report concluded. "His attitude and disposition were ill-suited to public service and to an institution that relies so heavily, as the Smithsonian does, on federal government support."

Yeah, I ride the Metro, and the tourists are back, blocking the escalators, standing in the doorways, their noisy kids swinging on the poles -- you bet they come from the Red States to see the beautiful museums.

[error removed: jk]

These past six and a half years have just been so sad.

CRC Files Another Appeal With the State

I suppose the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum needed to see their names in the papers again. There really wasn't any other reason for this one.

Their press release says:
Montgomery County, MD – Today, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, and Family Leader Network are petitioning the Maryland State Board of Education to reverse a June 12 decision by the Montgomery County Board of Education to implement its controversial sex ed curriculum in the county’s 8th and 10th grades this coming fall.

“Montgomery County is showing incredible arrogance by voting to adopt the revised health education curriculum before the State Board renders a decision on the legality of this very controversial curriculum. We don’t understand why Montgomery County is ignoring due process in this case, especially given Dr. Grasmick’s opinion that both sides have equally matched arguments,” according to John Garza, attorney for the groups...

... and so on.

They seem to think that when somebody files a spurious complaint against you, you're supposed to stop everything and wait months for a decision. I don't think so.

They asked for a stay of the pilot testing. They didn't get it. Nobody has told the school district not to proceed.

As for the "equally matched arguments" thing, we've already gone through that one thoroughly enough HERE. Dr. Grasmick was just softening the blow, the CRC lost in every way, but the Superintendent gave them a point for the Constitutional assertions because, well, I can't read her mind but I think it's because she's not a lawyer and it's not her place to judge those kinds of arguments.

Today's press release has a bunch of the same old junk in there, about how the team of pediatricians who designed the curriculum filled it with "politically correct misinformation," they repeat the lie about a statement by geneticist Francis Collins, which he himself has clarified as reported HERE, they wanted it to say more about anal sex ... it's really the same old stuff. They could write these things in their sleep. Any of us could, after this many years of hearing the same old same old.

The Request for a Stay itself is no better.

"Usurps the authority" "tramples on parents' rights" "ignoring the Order of the Superintendent" -- ooh, you'll enjoy this one: "In subsequent submissions filed before this Board, Appellants have documented how the curriculum fails to provide instruction on tolerance and acceptance of the only sexual orientation/gender identity group that is actually the object of derision and rejection by the Montgomery County public school system staff and students, which Appellees do not deny."

Get it? (Hint: it starts with an "x" and ends with "g-a-y" and the leader of the "ex-gay" movement says he doesn't think they exist.)

Then they apparently have attached a letter from a teacher that:
... misrepresents the mission of Appellants, stereotypes former homosexuals, compares ex-gays to the KKK, and warns the ex-gay community to stay out of Montgomery County public schools.

I kind of wonder about that one -- I've never seen this letter. Google doesn't find the word "Klan" or "KKK" anywhere on their website. They have posted a couple of letters and phone calls from mad teachers, but none that say anything about the KKK.

Hey, you don't suppose they were lying about that, do you? They wouldn't have meant THIS, would they? Because that letter doesn't stereotype "former homosexuals," it doesn't "compare ex-gays to the KKK" -- but it does, in capital letters, tell PFOX to stay out of our schools and leave our children alone. I'll second that one.

I don't know, maybe they meant a different letter from a different MCPS teacher.

A reporter asked me about this appeal today. What can you say? I said, "Well, I guess they have the right to do whatever they think they have to do."

People, do you figure the people over at the state board have figured out what's going on yet? I'm guessing they have.

Dogfight at the Ex-Gay Corral

The "ex-gays" are imploding after Exodus International President Alan Chambers' recent comments to the LA Times that sexual orientation doesn't really change and that there might not be any such thing as an "ex-gay."

Professional heterosexual Stephen Bennett jumped into the fray immediately. Here's how the Christian NewsWire puts it (I just love this language, just beautifully impartial):
HUNTINGTON, Conn., June 19 /Christian Newswire/ -- Stephen Bennett, President of Stephen Bennett Ministries, a pro-family organization advocating for the traditional family, the protection of children and proclaiming the truth about homosexuality, condemned the irresponsible and disturbing remarks attributed to and made by Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, an organization claiming to be "The largest information and referral ministry in the world on homosexual issues."

Bennett, along with many others pro-family leaders, were shaken Monday by Chamber's remarks and are eagerly awaiting Exodus International's official response to their President's misguided statements. Sorry Exodus, Homosexuals Can COMPLETELY Change

You ought to go read that one, it is over the top, a laugh a minute.

Then you had the the "leather-loving, undercover gay fornication investigator" Peter LaBarbera (to use Pam Spaulding's inimitable description), of Concerned Women for America ... listen, somebody tell me, why are all the concerned women men? Well, anyway, he wants you to know that Alan Chambers is wrong. And here's his take on it:
There is a whole homosexual activist cottage industry, led by [Wayne] Besen and ExGayWatch, that — like the enemy of our souls — essentially gloats over failure. This decidedly evil movement heralds the latest stories of failed “ex-gays” who return to homosexual behavior, while ignoring (or ridiculing) the obvious successes and the fact that many people who’ve overcome homosexuality don’t care to talk publicly about the sins they left behind. The Question Is Not ‘Can Gays Change’ but How Many Already Have?

That cottage industry. Like, you know, when they stop traffic on Rockville Pike so the ExGayWatch motorcade can pass, with the rainbow bunting draped over their pink Cadillacs. But you must agree -- the whole homosexual activist cottage industry is just ... so ... fabulous. And the cottages, they're so nicely decorated.

Look, you guys, here's the deal. Alan Chambers said there're no "ex-gays" for a simple reason: there are no "ex-gays." He's been right in the middle of the whole thing for many years, if there was one he'd know about it, and he says he doesn't think he's ever met an "ex-gay." I'm not saying the guy's not full of it, but in this case he's just saying what everybody already knows.

PFOX sued our schools, they send home fliers in our county's schoolchildren's backpacks, telling them that "change is possible." It's not. It's possible to learn to live without love, it's possible to be celibate, it's even possible to pretend you're attracted to somebody you're not. I don't know why somebody would want to do that, but you can if you want.

I'm going to go make some popcorn and come back and see how this turns out.

Euthanasia or Murder?

Tell me, what would you do here? You're a nurse taking care of helpless, terminally ill patients. There's a flood, the water is rising in the hospital, ten feet deep on the ground floor. There is no way to get medical supplies, there's no electricity in the suffocating 100-degree heat, no water to drink. With FEMA in charge, the hospital is a low priority for evacuation. Your patients are almost certainly going to die from dehydration, lack of medication, and overheating, a slow, painful way to go.

It appears that during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, some hospital staff gave their patients lethal doses of morphine to speed them to a quick, painless death.
(CNN) -- Two nurses accused in the post-Katrina deaths of four patients at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center have been offered immunity to testify before a special grand jury, sources close to the investigation tell CNN.

Sources also told CNN the grand jury has been told as many as nine patients may have died after being administered what Louisiana's attorney general called a "lethal cocktail" of medications by hospital staff.

Sources: New Orleans nurses offered immunity in deaths

Nobody knows how often this happens in regular hospitals, how many patients get a merciful shot that ends their lives. Of course it's not supposed to happen at all. But it does, without a doubt, it happens sometimes.
Attorneys for Landry and Budo did not immediately return calls from CNN regarding their testimony. Pou's attorney, Rick Simmons, provided a statement saying Pou has had no role in the grand jury proceedings.

"We remain confident that once all the facts are known, all medical personnel will be exonerated of any criminal charges," the statement continued. "The fact that certain witnesses may or may not be talking to the grand jury does not change that fact."

As you read this story, you see that the justice system is dragging its feet any way it can. Family members charge that the nurses wanted to kill the patients to they could flee the building, but nobody else believes that. For one thing, they didn't flee, they stayed and took care of people.
The investigation determined that the four patients -- ages 63, 68, 91 and 93 -- were given a "lethal cocktail" of morphine and midazolam hydrochloride, both central nervous system depressants, [Louisiana Attorney General Charles C.] Foti said.

None of the patients had been prescribed the drugs by their caregivers and none of the accused treated the four before the injections, Foti said.

"This was not euthanasia," Foti said at a news conference last summer. "This was homicide."

Pou, Landry and Budo have denied the charges, and their attorneys have said they acted heroically, staying to treat patients rather than evacuating.

The case has languished since. Foti said he turned his findings over to Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan, who by law must either file charges or reject the case.

This is a pretty long and fascinating story, you ought to follow that link and see what you think.

Sometimes people have to make decisions that they would never have dreamed of. This might have been one of those times.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What Is Going On?

You might remember about a year ago when I blogged about a schoolteacher who used to be a porn actress and got fired. She was all born-again and everything, and wanted her job back. Whatever, it was kind of an interesting twist, you could call it a Reverse Clinton. Somebody screwed up, and the radical religious right wanted to forgive her, they thought she should get her job back.

Anyway, that was a year ago.

I noticed yesterday we got a comment on that post. Somebody wrote something as if I had just posted the thing. Well, that does happen sometimes, somebody will come across an old post in Google or somewhere and read it, not realizing it's been there a long time. It's easy to forget, we put this stuff online every day, but it's available forever, at least forever in dog-years, or surfer-years, or ...

Also, sometimes the spam-bots will find a particular post and start peppering it with their nonsense. Sometimes I turn off the comments to that post, sometimes I just delete all the spam. I actually think the new Blogger must have something in it that blocks spam, it has been much better lately.

Anyway, today we just got another comment on that same post. Weird, huh?

So I went into our web-tracker log, that records all the hits we get at this site. And man, this is strange: probably three quarters of the recent visitors to our blog arrived here from some kind of search for this story. Here are some of the search strings that brought people here:
  • anderson&btnG=Google Search
  • anderson&btnG=Google Search
  • anderson porn&*:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7DKUS
  • anderson&spell=1
  • anderson&btnG=Google Search
  • anderson porn&*:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7DKUS
  • anderson&spell=1
  • anderson
  • anderson&sourceid=mozilla-search&start=0&start=0&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:officia
  • porn star teachers
  • anderson%22 pictures&hl=en&start=20&sa=N
  • fired for being former porn star&btnG=Google Search
  • andersen

That's just the first few ... really, more than half of our hits today come from people looking for this nasty schoolteacher.

And they're coming from all over the country -- all are American, as far as I can tell, but they're from all over.

I checked Google News and there's nothing recent about her. Regular Google doesn't show me anything recent, either.

Does anybody know what's going on here?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Downtown Silver Spring is Private Property?

I don't live in Silver Spring, I live in Rockville, but I go over there pretty often. My kids like to hang out in the new downtown area, go to the movies, shop, walk around.

So I was just reading at the Silver Spring, Singular blog about something weird that happened over there. I would quote the blog post, but the guy that it happened to actually told the full story in their comments section, so I'm going to use that instead -- he says he sent this letter to the papers, the city council, some officials.

I can see this turning into a real nightmare, where laws are overwritten with corporate rules and policies and we don't have any rights because we're always on private property. Let me know if this worries you any:
To Whom It May Concern:

I am a longtime resident of Silver Spring. Back in the mid nineties through my involvement with the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce and what was then called the Silver Spring Urban District, I participated in many of the activities leading up to the development of the new Downtown Silver Spring.

I have many hobbies and one of them is Photography. One could describe the kind of pictures that I take as "Urban Landscape". Through the popular photography website Flickr, I participate in a photography group known as "DC Neighborhoods" where we pick a neighborhood, photograph its character and ambiance, and then post it to this site to share with the group and others.

This past Tuesday, I went to downtown Silver Spring, had lunch, and then took out my camera and standing on Ellsworth Avenue, I began taking shots of the buildings with the blue sky and clouds as a backdrop. Almost immediately, a security guard approached and told me "there was no picture taking allowed in Downtown Silver Spring." "What do you mean" I said, "I am on a city street, in a public place, taking pictures is a right that I have protected by the first amendment." The guard told me to report to the management office.

There, Stacy Horan informed me that Downtown Silver Spring including Ellsworth Avenue is private property, not a public place, and subject to the rules of the Peterson Companies. They have a no photography policy to "Protect them from people who might want to use the photographs as part of a story in which they could write bad things about us." And she told me that many of the chain stores in Downtown Silver Spring don't what their "concepts" to be photographed for security reasons. There was also a concern that I might sell my photographs and that is not allowed. I told her that I was well aware of my rights to take pictures on public property, any pictures that I take I have a right to sell, and questioned how they could
have a policy that limits our individual rights when Downtown Silver Spring was built with public money.

I found out later that it is true Ellsworth Avenue was turned over to Peterson Companies through the process of condemnation.

So now I'm wondering: If this is a $1.2 billion public/private investment as stated in Tuesday's New York Times article about the downtown renaissance, where do the public's rights end and the private corporations policies takeover?? In discussing this with fellow Silver Spring residents I have been told that we are not allowed to campaign, petition or protest in Downtown Silver Spring. These are basic American values, true to our beliefs, and in the Downtown Silver Spring they are banned?? In this age of eroding individual rights should the people of Silver Spring accept this??

It is my understanding that the county continues to spend public funds promoting Downtown Silver Spring and I wouldn¹t discourage this, but I think that the county should have a conversation with the Peterson Companies about their policies in regards to these basic American values and freedoms.

I don't think that the people of this county are willing to trade their rights of free speech or the right to petition assemble and protest in their own downtown for a Starbucks or a Potbelly's.

The comments are pretty good, some people have looked up some stuff, somebody suggests a "group photo tour" of maybe 100 people.

I don't get how this happened. I know we have a few Silver Spring people who comments here, maybe you can explain how this happened. Is this right -- that the city built up this property and then condemned it, and this corporation bought it?

I don't want to judge this before we find out the facts, I do hope somebody will explain.


This post doesn't say anything about sex-ed, I'm just talking for a second here.

Both our teenagers are driving now. It seems like I'm handing out twenties-for-gas like candy these days. They say they're looking for jobs but ...

It seems like the news recently has been full of teenagers and car accidents. Those four Virginia kids, killed after graduation, unthinkable. Really, I just can't think about it.

I'm a person who can't stand to watch the news stories about bad things happening to young people. I'm not usually like this about things, but that's something I just have to put out of my mind.

So you can imagine how I felt yesterday when my wife called me from Iowa to tell me that our daughter, who was over in Ocean City with friends, had just been in a pretty bad accident. Not that mothers are psychic or anything, but my wife "just happened" to call her right after the wreck.

I immediately called my daughter's cell phone. She was still standing there at the scene. They were flying the driver to the hospital in Salisbury. My daughter had been in the back seat with a seatbelt on, and had bumped her head a little bit, but she was OK. In a strange town, the girl driving had taken a wrong-way turn onto a one-way street, and they got t-boned and spun around into the median. The car was totalled. There was no drinking or anything involved, they were just going back to their room from the beach to get their stuff to come home. Youthful inexperience combined with bad luck.

My daughter, who's eighteen now, was very cool on the phone. She gets that from both sides. My wife goes into nurse mode when disaster strikes, she figures out how to stop the bleeding and triages everybody and then starts cleaning up the mess. She breaks down afterwards. Me, I get analytical in those situations, looking at what needs to be done and who can do it, and making sure everything is taken care of. Sometimes I break down afterwards, sometimes it's years later -- once I was on an airplane that landed with some mechanical problems after circling National about a dozen times, and I was a mess for about a week, just jumpy and strange. But at the time stuff is going on, I'm cool, my wife's cool, our daughter is cool. On the phone she spoke slowly and clearly, sentences were packed with facts, precise, concise; I was proud of her. Of all the flaws she could have inherited, at least she got something good.

My son is friends with the kid who owns the car, which he had loaned to these other kids. He was so proud of that car. He'd done the whole woofer, neon thing to it, he'd make you wipe your feet before he'd let you in. And now it's scrap.

The driver got CAT-scanned and x-rayed and she had a broken arm and chemical burns from the airbag, but otherwise it doesn't appear there were serious injuries. My daughter got home about three in the morning, she's got a bump on her head -- this was a convertible with the roof down, and she hit that with the back of her head. Can you imagine if they hadn't had their seatbelts on?

I'm not going to think about it.

PFOX Will Not Like This

To rehash for newcomers, the Montgomery County, Maryland, Public Schools came under attack a couple of years ago by a radical religious cell that opposed teaching about homosexuality. Besides the usual stereotype stuff -- that gay people are dirty, promiscuous child molesters who spread diseases and undermine decency, etc. -- the radicals claimed that gay people could become heterosexual. "Change is possible," their billboard announced, on 355 near the MCPS office building. It's their motto, their mantra, they repeat it over and over again, and some uncritical, wishful-thinking people seem to buy it.

In 2005, a lawsuit was filed by two groups, our local nuts and an organization based in Virginia called Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays or PFOX, or, if you believed the "and Gays" part and used all the letters, PFOX-GAG. They were represented by a national-level legal group, based out of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

PFOX's mission is to make gay people think they can become straight. Their typical approach is to do something obnoxious, and then when people object, they claim that as proof of widespread discrimination against "ex-gays." Oh, and they claim there are tens of thousands of these "ex-gays" out there, though if you ask to talk to one you always get one of the same handful of them, guys who make their living being "ex-gays" or have some public investment in the whole hoax.

You might not remember last summer, I blogged a thing called "Ex-Gay" Label to be Retired. It reported on an interesting discussion on Warren Throckmorton's blog (wow, twice in a row), where a bunch of the originators of the "ex-gay" movement were talking about the obvious fact that nobody is really "ex-gay." You may be able to act straight or commit yourself to celibacy, but those who are innately homosexual will always be that way. Everybody knows that. And these "ex-gay" leaders were discussing among themselves the inadequacy of the term and the fact that it needed to be retired.

It looks like they're finally getting around to it.

The LA Times has an interesting article this morning, pointed out in the comments section by Orin.
Alan Chambers directs Exodus International, widely described as the nation's largest ex-gay ministry. But when he addresses the group's Freedom Conference at Concordia University in Irvine this month, Chambers won't celebrate successful "ex-gays."

Truth is, he's not sure he's ever met one.

With years of therapy, Chambers says, he has mostly conquered his own attraction to men; he's a husband and a father, and he identifies as straight. But lately, he's come to resent the term "ex-gay": It's too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. "By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete," Chambers said.

His personal denunciation of the term "ex-gay" — his organization has yet to follow suit — is just one example of shifting ground in the polarizing debate on homosexuality.

Despite the fundamental gulf that divides them, gay-rights activists and those who see homosexuality as a sinful disorder are starting to reach agreement on some practical points.

Chambers and other Exodus leaders talk deliberately about a possible biological basis for homosexuality, in part to explain that no one can turn a switch and flip from gay to straight, no matter how hard they pray.

New ground in debate on 'curing' gays

I mentioned in a previous post, and other places. that PFOX represents Denial. Their Executive Monkety Monk Regina Griggs has a gay son, and she has to keep going "Lalalalalalalala change is possible lalalala" rather than accept him for what he is. Sad, delusional, but attractive to a certain kind of religious fanatic who insists that a certain handful of passages in the Bible -- especially those that seem to denounce homosexuality -- are literally God's word.

I don't know these other guys, Chambers for instance, and I do wish they'd just find a community that will let them live as they are, but that's not the way they want to do it. They want to try to suppress their natural feelings so they fit a religious expectation. Okay, it's a free country. I think that's kind of dumb, I wouldn't do that if I were you, but ... I can't see how it's entirely different from a Catholic priest practicing celibacy. Again, it'd drive me crazy, but for some guys it's worth doing.

And some of these guys, it seems to me, are very honest about their feelings and the difficulty of adjusting to the church's demands.
A leading conservative theologian outside the ex-gay movement recently echoed the view that homosexuality may not be a choice, but a matter of DNA. To the shock and anger of many of his constituents, the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote that "we should not be surprised" to find a genetic basis for sexual orientation.

That's heretical to many conservative Christians. But it's a view increasingly embraced by the public at large; a Gallup Poll last month found that 42% of adults believe sexual orientation is present at birth. (Three decades ago, when Gallup first asked the question, just 13% held that view.)

Yes, the CRC and PFOX love to roll their eyes and complain that the school district tells students that sexual orientation is innate.

Well, it is.

And now we see that people on their side, evangelicals and fundamentalists, are realizing you can only deny reality for so long.

This article takes an interesting turn just about here ...
"Something's happening. And I think it's very positive," agreed Michael Bussee, who founded Exodus in 1976, only to fall in love with another man — a fellow ex-gay counselor.

Now a licensed family therapist in Riverside, Bussee regularly speaks out against ex-gay therapies and is scheduled to address the Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference at UC Irvine at the end of the month.

But Bussee put aside his protest agenda recently to endorse new guidelines to sexual identity therapy, co-written by two professors at conservative Christian colleges...

Skipping down ...
"It's about helping clients accept that they have these same-sex attractions and then allowing them the space, free from bias, to choose how they want to act," said Lee Beckstead, a gay psychologist in Salt Lake City who uses this approach.

The guidelines for this type of therapy — written by Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and Mark Yarhouse of Regent University — have been endorsed by representatives on both the left and right. The list includes the provost of a conservative evangelical college and the psychiatrist whose gay-rights advocacy in the 1970s got homosexuality removed from the official medical list of mental disorders.

"What appeals to me is that it moves away from the total polarization" common in the field, said Dr. Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist.

In my perfect world, people just accept one another. Yeah, sure.

A guy goes to the shrink. He says, "Doc, I am attracted to guys but my religion doesn't allow me to be gay. What should I do?"

To me, the shrink should say, "Find a church that accepts you." But -- I am not King of the World. An alternative is, some shrinks might say, "You will always be attracted to men, but maybe we can work out a way that you can still live within the rules of your church."

Given that this is not My Perfect World, that might be reasonable. I don't know, tough call.
"For many years, mental-health professionals have taken the view that since homosexuality is not a mental disorder, any attempt to change sexual orientation is unwise," said Spitzer, a Columbia University professor.

Some therapies are widely considered dangerous, and some rely on discredited psychological theories. "But for healthcare professionals to tell someone they don't have the right to make an effort to bring their actions into harmony with their values is hubris," Spitzer said.

And I look forward to some good comments about how people feel about that.
Critics of Exodus note the group still sponsors speakers who attribute homosexuality to bad parenting and assert that gays and lesbians live short, unhappy lives.

And though Chambers has disavowed the term "ex-gay," his group's ads give the distinct impression that it's possible to leave homosexuality completely behind.

The Irvine conference, for instance, is being promoted with radio spots that talk of "sudden, radical and complete" transformation. (Chambers apologized for those ads in a recent interview, saying they were meant to urge church leaders to radically change the way they treat gays and lesbians, not to imply that conference-goers would magically transform their orientation.)

Yes, there has been some talk on the Internet about a possible contradiction between what Exodus believes and what they say they believe. This last "apology," for instance, does have the ring of bull-oney, don't you think? Chambers knows how people will take it when he says you can have a "sudden, radical, and complete" transformation.
The American Psychological Assn. set up a task force this spring to revise the group's policy on sexual orientation therapy. The current policy is a decade old and fairly vague; it states that homosexuality is not a disorder and that therapists can't make false claims about their treatments.

The new policy, due early next year, must help psychologists uphold two ethical principles as they work with patients unhappy about their sexuality: "Respect for the autonomy and dignity of the patient, and a duty to do no harm," said Clinton Anderson, the association's director for lesbian, gay and bisexual concerns. "It's a balancing act."

(By the way, one of the more thorough articles on this APA task force was written a couple of weeks ago by Josh Lynsen at the Washington Blade.)

The problem here is simply polarization; the right has used "ex-gays" as a wedge issue, intentionally. Some groups formed to help gays adjust to a church whose God requires them to live without romantic love. Then somewhere along the way, stupider people got hold of the concept and started saying you could stop being gay -- this meant of course that sexual orientation is a kind of choice, and that meant that gay people were that way because they chose to be, which makes it a moral choice, which is a bad choice because a couple of verses in the Bible can be interpreted to say men shouldn't have sex with other men (I don't think there's anything to discourage lesbians in the Bible, is there?). So then the whole "ex-gay" thing became a big hoax to badmouth gay people. Now it sounds like some of these guys are trying to de-polarize the situation and disentangle themselves from the nuttiness.

How about this: they stop trying to recruit people. If somebody wants to live their life differently, that's one thing, they'll look for help with that; going around putting up billboards and sending home fliers ... no, that's just rude.

By the way, the post immediately before this one talked about an "Ex-gay survivor" conference. I think this LA Times article is a direct consequence of that conference. See? Already some good has come out of it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I Wonder If This Will Catch On

For the last few years our Montgomery County schools have been under attack by anti-gay forces, including a strange organization called PFOX -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays -- that goes around saying that people can stop being gay. I think most people have never heard of this tragic hoax before, but PFOX turns out to be the tip of the iceberg, there are groups and ministries all over the place that try to convince gay people that they can and should become heterosexual.

There seem to me to be two levels of this business, though they are not distinct. One level is the Pure Denial approach epitomized by PFOX: they tell gay people flat out that they can overcome their homosexual feelings and live as genuine heterosexuals. Usually there's some praying and some counseling or psychotherapy involved. The other level is, I think, somewhat more honest about it. These groups seem to recognize the dilemma of being gay and participating in a religion whose God doesn't accept you. If it was me, I'd switch religions, but some people consider their religion so important that they decide to give up their sexuality; they might pretend to be heterosexual, or maybe just don't have a love life. They don't deny that they have feelings, they just try not to act on them.

Some of the therapy techniques that are used to try to change people are brutal, besides the fact that they don't work. The whole movement leaves a lot of heartbroken, disappointed people along the wayside, people whose hope was jacked up and then dashed.

From Warren Throckmorton's blog we learn that Beyond ExGay (motto: "An online community for those who have survived ex-gay experiences") is planning a conference later this month in California for ex-gay survivors.

From their web site:
The Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference
Undoing the Damage; Affirming our Lives Together

June 29th-July 1st, 2007. University of California at Irvine

(Please note: This will possibly be a one-time-only event)

The ex-gay experience is unique in many ways. No one understands it better than those of us who have been through it. Creating a communal space for ex-gay survivors to tell their stories allows us to share what led us into an ex-gay lifestyle and ways we have been able to recover from it.

This conference is for you
  • If you have ever been through an ex-gay experience.
  • If you been damaged by the message that God does not love and affirm you.
  • If you are confused about the Bible and homosexuality.
  • If you are currently in an ex-gay program and wondering if change is really possible.
  • If you are the spouse, parent or partner of someone who has been affected by ex-gay experiences.
  • If you are thinking about trying to change who you are.
  • If you want to stand in peaceful solidarity to lovingly confront the damaging consequences of the ex-gay movement.
  • If you want to learn how to be a powerful ally.
  • If you are a mental health professional and want to learn more to effectively help your clients.

Wow, it looks like they've got some good people coming to this thing -- Jim Burroway from Box Turtle Bulletin, Mel White from Soulforce, others who are probably more famous to those who have been around this stuff and I wouldn't know, there will be entertainment and even an "Ex-Gay Survivor's Film Forum" featuring five filmmakers showing clips from their work.

Interesting they say it might be a "one-time-only event." I'll bet we hear some stories afterwards; I'll be curious to see if there isn't more of a demand for this sort of thing than they realize.

National News

Just a little bitty quote from the Chicago Sun-Times:
BY DEB RIECHMANN Associated Press

CRAWFORD, Texas---- President Bush warned Congress on Saturday that he will use his veto power to stop runaway government spending ...

Bush says he'll use his veto pen on excessive spending bills

I'm just saying what's in the paper, yuh note amean?

A Postdecisional Sunday Morning Rumination

Another ridiculous Sunday morning. They say it's going to get hot today, but so far I've got the windows open and there's a little breeze, the sun is streaming in, Bela and Chick are jamming on PFW, what more can you ask for? Oh, yes, it's Father's Day, which I always figure they just added to be fair and balanced -- everybody knows Mother's Day is the big one. My wife is out of town, taking care of her sick father, and both my teenagers are at the beach with their friends ... so, oh, this is terrible, Father's Day and I have to suffer through the morning with the whole coffee-pot to myself, great music on the radio, a beautiful summer day on the other side of the glass. Just terrible.

We are in the postdecisional phase of the sex-ed process, waiting to see if any other shoes drop. There was a swell of intensity as we approached the school board's vote, a lot of phone calls, a lot of talk, anticipation. And then they voted. I talked to a reporter immediately afterwards, and I couldn't remember anything, what day anything had happened, who said what, where I was. Now we're in the settled-down phase that follows.

Oh, hey, Superintendent Jerry Weast sent a memo to the members of the citizens advisory committee, dated the day after the vote. He says:
The action by the Board of Education of Montgomery County yesterday in approving the implementation of revision to the family life and human sexuality curriculum of the Montgomery County Public schools reflects an important milestone that was achieved in no small measure by the contributions of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development..."

It's actually quite a nice letter, reminding us that our terms are up at the end of the month unless we re-apply, and expressing Dr. Weast's support for Carol Plotsky, the committee chair. And I have to say I applaud her, too -- she did a magnificent job of managing a situation that had train-wreck written all over it from the start.

Looking back, I still wonder why this is so hard. For instance, take the controversy over including the statements by the medical organizations. Richelle was absolutely right when she told The Post, "I can't explain it, and I don't understand it, and I wish I did, why they're not putting this information in the curriculum." These were common-sense statements with the support of scientific and medical researchers and practitioners, and clearly they were statements that most citizens of our county would agree with -- they accurately reflected our community's values. It should have been automatic, here's some good stuff, let's put it in.

I can't speculate on what they were thinking inside the school district. They say there was too much material already, but then at the same time they won't allow teachers to answer any questions or elaborate on the material at all. If these few documents were available, at least they would have given teachers the answers to the most likely questions.

Well look, there's no sense treating this like it was something that had logic behind it. The obvious reason the school district didn't want to include these statements was fear.

I understand that the taxpayers don't like to see their money flushed down the toilet in a lawsuit, and so somebody who threatens to sue has a certain kind of power, they can get somebody to pay attention. It is interesting in this case to note that the AMA, AAP, and APA materials would not have changed the chances of losing in court, but there was some chance that their inclusion would motivate the radicals to file a complaint they might otherwise not pursue.

It wasn't fear of doing something wrong, it was fear of making somebody mad.

The CRC has never had more than a dozen or so active members, in a county of nearly a million people. Oh, you can get people in church to sign petitions that say homosexuality is a sin, whatever, there are really only a handful of extremists fanatical enough to push their anti-gay message out into the public eye.

And the message those few people delivered was complete nonsense. "No unisex bathrooms," indeed. They lied, they twisted the wording of everything in the curriculum to make it sound like something else, they accused people of things that were purely false -- there really wasn't much in the actual curriculum itself to complain about, but that didn't stop them.

The poor folks at the school district are paid to do a job, and part of their job is to make sure there is community input to public school decisions. Unfortunately, that assignment assumes that members of the public are being honest and that they want to make the schools better. The school district can't screen out a group like the CRC who seek to undermine public education and will say anything, true or not, to promote that end. It just isn't set up that way, they have to listen to everybody.

Imagine if the school district could listen for a few minutes and then say, "You're an idiot, go away." Imagine how much faster things would go.

But you see what I mean? They can't do that. The ordinary person is bound by some norms of politeness to water down their message, but in the end you and I don't have to listen to idiots, we can walk away. A formal institution like MCPS, though, has to take them seriously. So when a group like the CRC lists a hundred totally fictional complaints about the curriculum, somebody over at Carver has to write a memo or a brief to address every one of them. They're doing this instead of working on the curriculum, which is what most of them would prefer to be doing.

This curriculum has been under development for five years, at least. Why would it take five years? It's not that there's five years' worth of stuff to talk about in a few health classes. All that time has been spent trying to find a nonexistent middle ground between what the CRC wanted -- bigotry in the classroom -- and what the rest of the community wanted.

The whole process is built on fear. The sad thing is that it's not fear of doing something wrong, it's fear of offending somebody who's just walking around looking for something to be offended by.

In the end, Jerry Weast made a wise decision, maybe a courageous one, when he decided the day before the vote to add the one statement about homosexuality not being a disease. It ain't much -- I mean, look, you're just stating the obvious. Why does this require an act of courage? See what I'm saying? Why in the world would anybody be afraid to say, in the year 2007, that homosexuality is not a disease?

We can't read Weast's mind, and don't know why he made the decision he did at the last minute. He explained it in terms of conscience, in terms of doing the right thing, but Steve Abrams' theory that there was political pressure is not entirely paranoid, either. I'm sure there was pressure on Weast, who would look very bad if the board adopted something against his will, or if they all adopted something that disappointed the good people of our community. He made the right decision, and we applaud him for that, but you wonder ... why is it like pulling teeth to get somebody to do the right thing? Why was it ever a question in the first place? The answer is: fear.

Well ... they were right. It is definitely getting steamy out. I have now turned the AC on for the first time in several days. I think it's time to fill my cup again and maybe crack an egg over a skillet.