Friday, August 31, 2007

The Sad Case of the Delusional Senator

I haven't been keeping up here much this week, there's been a lot of stuff going on.  But this story about the Senator playing footsies in the men's-room really seems to have got people's attention, and in an interesting way.  It seems like everybody who has something to say about this has something different to say.

(By the way, everybody is saying that Larry Craig will resign tomorrow.  They've already got his successor picked out, the guy's dead meat.  I'm getting to this feeding frenzy a little late, but it's still got a lot for us to think about.)

Like, some people have used this to talk about why anybody would want to have anonymous sex in a public restroom.  That's a good question -- it's dirty, it's not really very private, there's a significantly nonzero chance of getting caught.  Why would anybody want to do that?  Some elaborate this thought by mentioning Mile-High Clubs and pickup bars and things that heterosexuals do with strangers or where they might get caught, the difference being that restrooms are segregated by sex.  OK, good point, same-sex stuff is going to happen in a room where only one sex can go, maybe some straight people do essentially this same sort of thing, just not there.

Others have used this to open the innateness/choice question.  It seems weird to see this Senator saying, "I'm not gay," when he is obviously busted, and stories have been going around for years about him.  Is he gay, or not?

I'll go with this: he's right, he's "not gay," for the simple reason that he says he isn't.  He does not identify himself as a homosexual person, he just ... has sex with guys whenever he can.  How's that feel to you?

Let me go off on a tangent for a second, just to hedge my bet.  It could be -- could be -- that this is just something he does for the addictive thrill of almost getting caught.  Maybe the sexual part is nothing.  The Post had a pretty good story yesterday where a psychiatrist said "What I found is that many of these people are hardworking and struggling hard to be in control. . . . Anybody can have a compulsion, whether it's a sexual compulsion or some other compulsion..."  So to this shrink, it sounds like the sexual component is more-or-less arbitrary.

I'm not thinking so.

Take a heroin addict.  The thing is, you don't become an addict if you don't take the stuff to begin with.  Most people walk around without ever sticking a needle full of heroin in their arm, just like most guys walk around without giving a thought to propositioning the guy in the next stall.  I don't know what makes a person decide to try heroin, and I don't know why a guy starts a game of footsies with an undercover cop in an airport restroom.

But I'm thinking it's not arbitrary, it's something besides just taking a chance on getting caught.  A guy like this feels a need to have sex with another man, specifically.  It's different from drag-racing or playing Russian roulette.

To understand this, you have to peel the onion of sexual identity, at least a few layers.  Because we have an apparent contradiction here.  We have a man who is irresistibly drawn to having sex with other men, and at the same time he describes himself as "not gay" and in fact, has actively pursued legislation to make like harder for guys who have romantic relationships with other guys.  Let's say that's two contradictions: his behavior and professed sexual identity, and his behavior and his position on the policy issues.

Larry Craig's self-contradictions show us several things.  First, he is a great example of the distinction between sexual behavior and sexual identity.  You can have sex with men, over and over again, yet identify yourself as heterosexual, as your innate urges are pushed out of your self-identity.  Conservatives see this as a good thing.  Yes, they agree that some people have these desires, and there's no argument about whether the desires themselves are innate, everybody knows they are.  But what you're supposed to do, when you have these desires, is to construct a sexual identity that defeats them.  You are supposed to make yourself be straight.

This depends on a model where identity and innate physical attraction are independent of one another.  And can we agree that this model has failed in the Larry Craig case?  And also in the Ted Haggard case, and many others?  It fails because the model also requires that the cognitive component, the sexual identity part, has to be stronger than the physical attraction part.  Maybe sometimes it is, nobody knows how many people are secretly homosexual, and are presenting themselves differently from how they feel.  Nobody knows.  The point is, maybe sometimes, if you click your heels three times and grit your teeth for seventy or eighty years, you can live as a heterosexual even though your physical attractions are different from that.

Why would somebody define themselves in such a way that they have to deny themselves not only the physical pleasure of honest sex, but the companionship and love that grows up around it?  I'd say they'd do that because they feel a tremendous amount of social pressure.  It may come from their church community, or it might just be things the guys say on the playground, but the pressure to "be normal" can be very intense and hard to resist.

I guess I need to say out loud what the alternative model is.  The alternative model is a model of psychological health where a person lives happily with the feelings that the Good Lord (and/or Mother Nature) gave them.  This is a model where sexual identity is compatible with physical attraction.  It's the model where guys who are attracted to guys call themselves, right out loud, "gay" or whatever the term du jour is, and their expression is consistent with their actual feelings.

Because, I think this is obvious but I'll say it anyway, when Larry Craig says he's "not gay" he is simply telling us that he is delusional.  He is expressing a kind of denial and a kind of psychopathology where the self-identity has developed around a falsehood.  I agree, he's "not gay," because he says he's not, his social self-presentation does not include his true feelings, maybe he even believes he is "not gay."  But the divorce of innate feelings and socially-presented sexual identity is not an ideal, and it seems to me that unhappiness is the result, whether the person is successful in behaving in accordance with a delusional sexual identity, or not.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Terrorism Scare in New Haven Parking Lot

This international club, the Hash House Harriers, calls itself a "drinking club with a running problem." They have chapters in alomost every major city in the world, and they sponsor runs that are designed so you don't have to be that in shape to keep up. They mark the trail to follow by sprinkling flour on the ground. Sometimes the "hare" who leaves the trail puts in dead-ends and stuff, to slow down the fast ones, and let the slow ones stay with the group. At the end the gather for some "social refreshment."

They have a home page HERE. You can see pictures of them tramping through woods and ... drinking beer. Nice Wikipedia chapter about them, too. Sounds like good fun.

Except in the Age of Fear.
New Haven ophthalmologist Daniel Salchow, 36, and his sister, Dorothee, 31, who is visiting from Hamburg, Germany, were both charged with first-degree breach of peace, a felony.

The siblings set off the scare while organizing a run for a local chapter of the Hash House Harriers, a worldwide group that bills itself as a “drinking club with a running problem.”

“Hares” are given the task of marking a trail to direct runners, throwing in some dead ends and forks as challenges. On Thursday, the Salchows decided to route runners through the massive IKEA parking lot.

Police fielded a call just before 5 p.m. that someone was sprinkling powder on the ground. The store was evacuated and remained closed the rest of the night. The incident prompted a massive response from police in New Haven and surrounding towns. Beer runners’ flour trail a recipe for trouble

Because -- what else could it be, but terrorism?
Daniel Salchow biked back to IKEA when he heard there was a problem and told officers the powder was just harmless flour, which he said he and his sister have sprinkled everywhere from New York to California without incident.

“Not in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate anything like that,” he said.

Mayoral spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the city plans to seek restitution from the Salchows, who are due in court Sept. 14.

“You see powder connected by arrows and chalk, you never know,” she said. “It could be a terrorist, it could be something more serious. We’re thankful it wasn’t, but there were a lot of resources that went into figuring that out.”

Listen people, if we're "thinking" like that, the terrorists have won.

Another One

These politicians and preachers just keep falling out of the closet, one after the other. I haven't commented on most of them -- mostly these are just sad personal stories, but now and then there's one where you just have to say something. Yesterday the media got the story that Republican Congressman Larry Craig from Idaho was busted for lewd conduct in an airport men's room back in June.

The thing is, Craig has made a career out of making life miserable for gay folks. According to Pam Spaulding, Craig:
  • Voted YES on constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. (Jun 2006)
  • Voted NO on adding sexual orientation to definition of hate crimes. (Jun 2002)
  • Voted NO on expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation. (Jun 2000)
  • Voted YES on prohibiting same-sex marriage. (Sep 1996)
  • Voted NO on prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation. (Sep 1996)

Back in October of last year, Craig's office issued a statement that rumors he was gay were "absolutely ridiculous - almost laughable." The rumor was pretty solid, though, based on several people who had had experiences with him. This time he says it was all a big mistake, and he wishes he hadn't pled guilty.

Listen, I sympathize with the "glass houses" thing. Just because you're a leader or an elected official or whatever, does not mean you're a perfect person. Leaders and famous people screw up just like the rest of us. He isn't be the only person who's ever done something stupid.

Here's what makes it a big deal: the hypocrisy. Why does a gay person like him do all they can to make life hard for ... himself? If he likes guys, why would anyone care? I mean ... lewd in a men's room? That sounds pretty desperate to me. If people would just get over it, a guy like him could go to a nice place and meet another guy, if he wanted, not playing footsies between the toilet-stalls. But no, he's got to be creepy about it in a public restroom, because of people like himself. Because it would destroy him if people found out, because of people like himself who make life hard for people like himself.

More details than you probably actually want to know, HERE.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

On The Innateness of Morality

I've been reading a little bit lately about mirror neurons. Let's say, simplifying, that there are parts of your brain that respond in kind when they see somebody else do something. Like when you see somebody raise their hand, there are sections of your brain that kind of raise your hand, too. Sometimes you're aware of this, like you know how it is when you see or hear somebody laugh, it makes you laugh. Or if you see somebody get hurt, it sort of hurts you, too. Well, they've found the way this might work in your brain.

I am not usually too impressed with neurocognitive explanations of mind and behavior, I'd rather understand what "the person" is doing than what "the brain" is doing. But mirror neurons do allow a way to explain some kinds of empathic effects that have otherwise been explained by inference. That is, previously it was believed that you felt the other person's pain by reasoning that if your thumb were hit with a hammer like that, it would feel like this. Now we are seeing that the empathy is more direct, it may be that we actually feel the other person's pain at the same time they feel it, thanks to these interesting brain cells that allow and support intimate social perspective-sharing.

This reading has taken me around the circuit to a most interesting lecture by a professor who studies primate social behavior, Frans B. M. de Waal, director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. The lecture is called Morality and the Social Instincts: Continuity with the Other Primates, and I'm only halfway through it so far, but he makes a most relevant point, which I suspect will be reinforced through the rest of the article (I'll post again later if I finish this article and find he has debunked himself).

First he talks about something he called "Veneer Theory," the view that human morality is just a layer of self-control that is slapped over the surface of a boiling, nearly irrepressible, selfish and amoral human nature. He counters this by describing the warm and harmonious interactions among members of groups of other kinds of primates and suggests that it just makes sense that we humans evolved as social creatures who innately care about what happens to those around us.

You might know that I am involved in some sort of crazy thing called "swarm theory" or somesuch. Well, one of my assumptions, never stated overtly, is that our social nature causes us to be intelligent, and not the other way around. It's not that we learn to get along because we're smart and selfish and figure we can get other people to give us what we want if we're nice and say what they want us to hear. It's that we're innately nice and likeable, people like to do things for other people, and because we talk to each other and tell one another about what we've learned, we all get smarter and smarter, individually and as a culture or species. Never mind what some people think, we actually do know a lot more about the real world than people did ten thousand years ago, a thousand years ago, a hundred years ago. Not only do we accumulate knowledge and cognitive skills as we develop within a lifetime, but over the time-course of our species the state of our common knowledge has improved unbelievably. I attribute that to our tendency to socialize, and I have computer programs that can find solutions to ridiculously hard engineering and math problems, by having a population of very simple individuals interact with one another over time.

It strikes me as very weird to think that human beings are evil to the core, with a veneer of morality, and disagreement about this may be an important part of the controversy we have found ourselves immersed in here in Montgomery County, in a number of ways. I suppose the idea goes back to the idea of original sin, or at least the story of Eve and that apple is used to explain and rationalize Veneer Theory: we are all fundamentally sinful. But I think it's deeper than that, and I don't think that America can ever get well again until we learn to accept human nature in a more positive light.

Think about some of the things that are said about teaching about sexual orientation. How could it be wrong to just tell students that some people are gay and some are straight? It would seem wrong to someone who believed that coiled up inside of each of us was a seething serpent of undifferentiated lustful craving, straining to escape and dominate our outward behavior. That monster will do anything, anything at all, it will make you do things with people of your own sex, even, if you don't stifle it, stomp it, control it -- it is essential, from that perspective, that the veneer of morality be toughened through education. I don't see any other way the CRC's views make any sense at all.

De Waal's thesis is that we are inherently moral, that nature herself has made us that way. We have empathic feelings for those around us and we want them to be happy, it makes us smile when we see a smile. He traces this belief right back to Darwin, in fact the historical lineage is interesting in its own right. He quotes Darwin:
Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well developed, or nearly as well developed, as in man.

Interestingly, de Waal quotes Adam Smith, the father of modern economics and a source of inspiration for Darwin himself. Smith was also interested in human empathy and altruism; he said:
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.

De Waal closes the deal neatly:
The evolutionary origin of this inclination is no mystery. All species that rely on cooperation -- from elephants to wolves and people -- show group loyalty and helping tendencies. These tendencies evolved in the context of a close-knit social life in which they benefited relatives and companions able to repay the favor. The impulse to help was therefore never totally without survival value to the ones showing the impulse. But, as so often, the impulse became divorced from the consequences that shaped its evolution. This permitted its expression even when payoffs were unlikely, such as when strangers were beneficiaries.

In other words, it is our most basic nature to love one another, it isn't something we have to learn, it's really the way we are. We aren't balanced on the edge of a vortex of strange dark desires struggling for release and needing constant suppression -- oh, we have feelings sometimes that aren't very nice but there's usually an explanation for them, and most of the time we manage to keep a grip on ourselves till the feeling passes. We're capable of doing terrible things, but it is our nature to desire peaceful relations with our neighbors.

The sad thing, the dangerous thing, is the fact that people who believe the Veneer Theory of morality think that everybody else needs to believe it, too, because if you and I didn't believe it we might not try hard enough to suppress our inner demons and we would inevitably (according to the Theory) explode into uncontrollable furies of passionate irrationality after mere exposure to any provocative stimulus at all. And so Veneer Theorists feel people need to be punished for failing to struggle hard enough with their inner devils; just listen to these guys -- Coulter, Limbaugh, Malkin, O'Reilly, and the rest -- talk about "liberals" and you'll know what I mean. What is a liberal to them, but somebody who fails to understand the dark potency of the evil inner core of humanity? The idea that the world is a good place is despicable to our modern-day "conservatives."

The result is an inversion of morality. In the intense struggle to retain control of a Theorized beastly soul, the Veneerist attacks his neighbor. It seems to me that in our current historical time we have seen more of this than ever before in our country, and it worries me deeply. We imagine random enemies, unperceived dangers, and respond to them with our fullest force, whether they are in a far-off country or in our own neighborhoods. It worries me a lot.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Yes It Is Hot

I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I think a couple of cars spontaneously combusted in the parking lot of the Twinbrook Library.

Traditional Families

Well, this is interesting. All that stuff about the Christian "traditional family" that you hear, that always struck me as kind of funny. Families in the Bible, it seems to me, might be a guy and a couple hundred wives, several thousand concubines, and then there might be a cutie next door in the tub that catches his eye or whatever. And then, all those olde-thyme families with grandma and grandpa and all their kids and all their kids, a few dozen younguns doing errands on the farm, that seems pretty traditional. War-widows and soldiers' wives raising the kids: traditional. Dad with a gang of kids after his wife died in childbirth: traditional. Stepmom marrying into a family like that: traditional.

A study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Modern History talks about another traditional form of marriage. Science Daily summarizes it:
A compelling new study from the September issue of the Journal of Modern History reviews historical evidence, including documents and gravesites, suggesting that homosexual civil unions may have existed six centuries ago in France. The article is the latest from the ongoing "Contemporary Issues in Historical Perspective" series, which explores the intersection between historical knowledge and current affairs.

Commonly used rationales in support of gay marriage and gay civil unions avoid historical arguments. However, as Allan A. Tulchin (Shippensburg University) reveals in his forthcoming article, a strong historical precedent exists for homosexual civil unions.

Opponents of gay marriage in the United States today have tended to assume that nuclear families have always been the standard household form. However, as Tulchin writes, "Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize, and Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures." Are Homosexual Civil Unions A 600-year-old Tradition?

I admit, I get a certain sense of glee out of this kind of thing. The Family Blah Blah groups have made such a big fake deal out of family-this and family-that, at the same time undermining the love between gay children and their parents, discouraging long-term relationships between people of the same sex... like their One Kind of family is the only "traditional" kind.

This next section is kind of long, but let's go ahead and get the whole thing on the table.
For example, in late medieval France, the term affrèrement -- roughly translated as brotherment -- was used to refer to a certain type of legal contract, which also existed elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe. These documents provided the foundation for non-nuclear households of many types and shared many characteristics with marriage contracts, as legal writers at the time were well aware, according to Tulchin.

The new "brothers" pledged to live together sharing 'un pain, un vin, et une bourse' -- one bread, one wine, and one purse. As Tulchin notes, "The model for these household arrangements is that of two or more brothers who have inherited the family home on an equal basis from their parents and who will continue to live together, just as they did when they were children." But at the same time, "the affrèrement was not only for brothers," since many other people, including relatives and non-relatives, used it.

The effects of entering into an affrèrement were profound. As Tulchin explains: "All of their goods usually became the joint property of both parties, and each commonly became the other's legal heir. They also frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another. As with all contracts, affrèrements had to be sworn before a notary and required witnesses, commonly the friends of the affrèrés."

Tulchin argues that in cases where the affrèrés were single unrelated men, these contracts provide "considerable evidence that the affrèrés were using affrèrements to formalize same-sex loving relationships. . . . I suspect that some of these relationships were sexual, while others may not have been. It is impossible to prove either way and probably also somewhat irrelevant to understanding their way of thinking. They loved each other, and the community accepted that. What followed did not produce any documents."

He concludes: "The very existence of affrèrements shows that there was a radical shift in attitudes between the sixteenth century and the rise of modern antihomosexual legislation in the twentieth."

I don't have anything to add to this, just wanted to make sure you didn't miss it.

Three Gigs This Week

Our family has been hearing a lot of music this week. Wednesday night my wife and I went to the greatest show at the Strathmore. It was a tribute to Bob Dylan, by a whole bunch of local musicians, including some kids just out of school and a bunch of people that have been playing around the area since the sixties. They got together in all kinds of configurations, players from different bands jamming, a string quartet, banjos sometimes, accordians on some songs, fiddle, pedal steel, lots of blasting Telecasters, a couple of 12-string Rickies, plenty of acoustic guitars of course, a marching band with horns, and they all played Dylan songs. I'm not going to go completely into it, but the sold-out house loved it, the players were great, there was lots of spontaneous and heads-up and excellent musicianship, just like I like.

The same day, The Boy was up in Camden at Ozzfest.

See, at our concert, as people came into the auditorium, they would go to a row with empty seats and ask, "Is this seat taken?" And people would chat, and eventually they'd find a seat they liked, and they'd be careful they didn't block somebody's view. In contrast, The Boy was in the Wall of Death (he says they can't call it that any more, because sometimes people actually die in it) at Ozzfest. This is apparently where a few thousand teenagers line up on each side of the field, and on some cue they charge into one another as violently as they can. Lovely.

He said he had a lot of fun up there; he went with another kid and his mom and came home without obvious broken bones or serious injuries. I notice that whenever his phone rings, he says "Hello," then a pause, listening, then "Yeah, it was awesome, uh, let me go outside, just a minute." So I guess grown-ups aren't supposed to know about whatever mysterious things teenagers do at awesome rock concerts. And so be it, the seasons change, the generations discover entirely unheard-of awesome new things to do that their parents can't know about.

Then last night, The Girl wanted to go see some friends play; well, she's eighteen. We drove her to a restaurant in Burtonsville where a bunch of Hispanic heavy metal bands were playing. These guys are friends of hers, and I don't know how that works, because they all speak Spanish and she speaks English, but they seem to understand each other.

We drove her up there, what a scene. The parking lot was full of clumps of people, all in black, chains and pierced stuff hanging everywhere. Sure enough, there were her buddies, she hopped out of the car and ran and gave some big ugly guy a hug ... and ... we ... left ... her ... there.

This morning she is happy, bouncing around the house giggling about things. Sounds like she had a good time. Go figure. Maybe life is about music.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Weast, Navarro, MCPS Honor Garza

You might have noticed on the CRC's web site, a link that says "John Gaza awarded Certificate of Appreciation from MCPS." (Sorry, they spell it that way.) John Garza, you might not have forgotten, is the president of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, their lawyer, who has sued the school district and campaigned for years to undermine the implementation of the new sex-ed curriculum. He is also a member of the advisory board of the group that brought the "gum game" into classrooms, where students passed a piece of gum around, taking turns chewing it, to learn how germs are spread; this was the source of great embarrassment to the district recently when The Post picked up on it.

Clicking on the link takes you to a PDF file of a "Certificate of Appreciation" made out to John Garza, signed by MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast and Board of Education President Nancy Navarro, "in recognition of outstanding volunteer service."

You just might wonder why they gave him an award. Turns out he participated in a career fair last year at Twinbrook Elementary School, to tell kids what it's like to be a lawyer. MCPS has something they call the Connection Resource Bank, a list of people who can volunteer to help out, scientists who can talk to classes, mentors and tutors, that sort of thing -- I've done it, I went around one year talking about science, and another time I talked to grade-school kids about the Internet, which was still something novel at that time. My wife went to classes one year, too, to talk about being a nurse. It's a great idea, and it sounds like it is very successful for the school district. Somehow Garza got on the list, well, there's no problem if he goes to a school and talks about his job, as far as I'm concerned. As long as that's all he talks about.

So ... why is this on the CRC's web site with no explanation? They wouldn't want to give you a false impression, would they?


Brits Prepare to Leave Iraq

Normally we don't talk much here about the invasion and occupation of Iraq and how it's going. But these two stories from the UK fit together to paint a picture that we might want to be aware of.

First, from the Independent:
Senior military commanders have told the Government that Britain can achieve "nothing more" in south-east Iraq, and that the 5,500 British troops still deployed there should move towards withdrawal without further delay.

Last month Gordon Brown said after meeting George Bush at Camp David that the decision to hand over security in Basra province – the last of the four held by the British – "will be made on the military advice of our commanders on the ground". He added: "Whatever happens, we will make a full statement to Parliament when it returns [in October]."

Two generals told The Independent on Sunday last week that the military advice given to the Prime Minister was, "We've done what we can in the south [of Iraq]". Commanders want to hand over Basra Palace – where 500 British troops are subjected to up to 60 rocket and mortar strikes a day, and resupply convoys have been described as "nightly suicide missions" – by the end of August. The withdrawal of 500 soldiers has already been announced by the Government. The Army is drawing up plans to "reposture" the 5,000 that will be left at Basra airport, and aims to bring the bulk of them home in the next few months. Military commanders tell Brown to withdraw from Iraq without delay

Sixty rocket and mortar attacks a day, showering down on the palace where the British army is staying? It does sound it might be time to leave.
Before the invasion in 2003, officers were told that the Army's war aims were to bring stability and democracy to Iraq and to the Middle East as a whole. Those ambitions have been drastically revised, the IoS understands. The priorities now are an orderly withdrawal, with the reputation and capability of the Army "reasonably intact", and for Britain to remain a "credible ally". The final phrase appears to refer to tensions with the US, which has more troops in Iraq than at any other time, including the invasion, as it seeks to impose order in Baghdad and neighbouring provinces.

The British actually seem to be able to talk about this among themselves, and their media seem to be able to report the news without simply parroting government talking points.

Like this:
There are fears that the bloody power struggle in Basra will escalate sharply if and when British troops depart, but commanders point out that up to 90 per cent of the violence is directed against their forces.

You'd never see that in the Washington Post or the New York Times.

Editor & Publisher has a related story:
LONDON An adviser to the U.S. military said British troops have lost control of the Iraqi city of Basra and face an "ugly" withdrawal in the coming months, a British newspaper reported.

Stephen Biddle, a member of a group that advised U.S. Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq last year, told the Sunday Times that "insurgents are calling the shots" in the southern city.

"I regret to say that the Basra experience is set to become a major blunder in terms of military history," Biddle was quoted as saying by the newspaper. The insurgents "in a worst-case scenario will chase us out of town." U.S. Adviser Tells London Paper: Brits Have Lost Basra

I don't think there's any way you can spin this to make it look like the good guys are winning.
Biddle, a military analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, said insurgents and militia groups were likely to target British soldiers with ambushes, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades as they leave.

"It will be a hard withdrawal. They want the image of a British defeat," Biddle told the paper. "It will be ugly and embarrassing."

A total of 168 British personnel have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Sounds like they're outta there. Sometimes you win one, sometimes you lose ... whatever it was Kenny Rogers said.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Anti-Gay Bigots Crash Church Services

Somebody's going to have to explain this one to me.
A conservative Christian values group has been interrupting services at two central Ohio churches to protest their support for homosexuality.

Minutemen United vowed to attend services every Sunday.

The group started its crusade when First Baptist Church in Granville hosted "Love Makes a Family," a traveling exhibit by the Family Diversity Project showing photos of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families.

The night the exhibit opened in July, members of Minutemen United stood outside and protested the exhibit and the church's open attitude toward homosexuality, said the Rev. Kathy Hurt, senior pastor at the Granville church.

Since then, the group has been visiting the church every Sunday, she said.

On one of the first Sundays, six people came to the church's 11 a.m. service and addressed the congregation during a time designated for prayer requests and comments.

Hurt said a man, who introduced himself as a minister from the New Beginnings Church in Warsaw, Ohio, started to give a sermon about how the church was acting against God's word by accepting homosexuals.

Members of Minutemen United also visited King Avenue United Methodist Church in Columbus that same morning, said the Rev. John Keeny.

"They rebuked me as a pastor for preaching that God's love is for everyone," Keeny said. Anti-gay activists crash worship services

This has got to put the church in a strange position, don't you think? They can't have bouncers to throw these idiots out, that wouldn't be very Christian of them, but at the same time, what are they supposed to do? Just let them disrupt their services?

Once again, it's not a matter of what somebody believes -- I don't agree with these guys but they have the right to think whatever it is they think, I wouldn't be writing about it here just to criticize them for their ideas. But they feel it is their place to barge into somebody else's church and tell them that their Christianity is wrong, and that's just obnoxious.
"At our church, we welcome all people," [Keeny] said. "We would welcome them in worship, too, but we expect hospitality and acceptance to be demonstrated by all who come to worship here."

Max Erwin Sr., an evangelist with the New Beginnings ministry and a member of Minutemen United, said he attended services at King Avenue and First Baptist churches.

"What I do is not about hate; it's everything to do with love," Erwin said. "Homosexuality is a sin."

He said he plans to concentrate his efforts on First Baptist Church. He will be outside the church building every Sunday, as long as it doesn't rain.

"There are people there who are truly hungry for the true word of God," Erwin said. "The word of God is the word of God. It is not subject to private interpretation."

And as if to prove his point, he continued:
"People point us out to be haters," he said. "Jesus loves the homosexual, but he doesn't love homosexuality. This is about holding each other accountable."

Of course Jesus never said he doesn't love homosexuality, this is pure "private interpretation.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Mormon Church Calls for Tolerance of Homosexuality

The attempted coup against the Montgomery County school board started in 2004 with a group we lovingly called the Recall Group, who had a web site Pretty quickly the smarter ones there realized that the direct approach just might turn people off, so they chose a snappier name: Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, and a new URL that sounded like they were part of the school district. (When we started as, they also bought the domain name and pointed it to their site, but that's another story).

Last year there was some kind of shake-up over there, they switched presidents, and another group joined up with them. The new group was a branch of the Family Leader Network, a nationwide Mormon group. The FLN has joined the CRC and PFOX in a couple of recent legal actions. The former president of CRC, Michelle Turner, is Mormon, as is their resident physician, Ruth Jacobs, and at least one PTSA-President-slash-parent who speaks for them sometimes.

So I'll be interested to see how the Family Leader Network and the Mormon CRC members react to a recent shift in policy by the Mormon Church on the topic that they call "same-gender attraction."

The LA Daily News has the story:
The Mormon Church has quietly moved further from defining homosexuality as evil and the result of faulty parenting.

An unheralded new church publication, "God Loveth His Children," says gay feelings are neither learned nor chosen, and it counsels against rejecting a gay child.

Seemingly aimed at young people, the statement gently counsels individuals who feel attraction to and love for same-gender people to trust in God's plan and not act upon the transitory desires of mortal life - a period of "probation during which we face a variety of temptations and challenges."

"Attractions alone do not make you unworthy," the pamphlet says. "If you avoid immoral thoughts and actions, you have not transgressed even if you feel such an attraction."

It also says: "The Lord's command to `forgive all men' includes the requirement to forgive yourself."

Spokesmen for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would not say what led the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency - the two highest governing bodies of the church - to publish the pamphlet at the end of July.

"I don't know either," said Jan Shipps, a scholar and historian specializing in Mormons. But its placement on the church's Web site makes clear "that it would have to have been approved by the general authorities of the LDS Church." Mormons soften stance on homosexuality

You can see the pamphlet online HERE.

It's actually quite interesting. The pamphlet makes a point that having a homosexual orientation is not itself a sin, though it is God's will that you not act on your feelings. The overriding point is, as the title says, "God loveth His children" -- all of them. Even the gay ones.

Here's a passage that addresses the perceived problem that God wants people to marry and multiply, and some gay people are uninclined to marry someone of the opposite sex. Does the Church urge them to become "ex-gays" and marry anyways?

Heaven is organized by families, which require a man and a woman who together exercise their creative powers within the bounds the Lord has set. Same-gender relationships are inconsistent with this plan. Without both a husband and a wife there would be no eternal family and no opportunity to become like Heavenly Father.

In some circumstances a person defers marriage because he or she is not presently attracted to a member of the opposite gender. While many Latter-day Saints, through individual effort, the exercise of faith, and reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement, overcome same-gender attraction in mortality, others may not be free of this challenge in this life. However, the perfect plan of our Father in Heaven makes provision for individuals who seek to keep His commandments but who, through no fault of their own, do not have an eternal marriage in mortal life. As we follow Heavenly Father’s plan, our bodies, feelings, and desires will be perfected in the next life so that every one of God’s children may find joy in a family consisting of a husband, a wife, and children.

So, maybe you don't marry in this life, you'll get another chance.

The LDS Church takes a firm stance against homosexual behavior, but they accept the fact that some people feel that way.
Many people with same-gender attractions have strong testimonies of the gospel and, therefore, do not act on those attractions. Attractions alone do not make you unworthy. If you avoid immoral thoughts and actions, you have not transgressed even if you feel such an attraction. The First Presidency stated, “There is a distinction between immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behavior” (letter, Nov. 14, 1991).

I don't think there's anything in the MCPS curriculum that conflicts with the Mormon Church's position.

We will be watching to see if the Family Leader Network and Mormon CRC members are going to conform to these expectations of the Church:
Some people with same-gender attraction have felt rejected because members of the Church did not always show love. No member of the Church should ever be intolerant. As you show love and kindness to others, you give them an opportunity to change their attitudes and follow Christ more fully.

If you're interested, follow the link and see what they have to say. This is an official LDS publication, found on the website.

The Mormon Church is taking a strong position here, that "No member of the Church should ever be intolerant," and recommending that the intolerant ones need to "change their attitudes and follow Christ more fully." Will the Family Leader Network and the Mormon CRC members go along with these policies of the Church, or will they rebel against Mormon leadership? Let's watch and see.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

About Blogging

Today I turned off the air conditioner for most of the morning. Last night my wife actually put on a light jacket to go outside. Since I moved here, I'm always surprised, the seasons change like they're reading a calendar or something. Pools are open till Labor Day, and the day after Labor Day it is actually too cold to swim. Growing up in Phoenix, we didn't have anything like that; there're basically no seasons, just colder and hotter months. But now here I'm seeing solitary leaves falling when a breeze wafts through the trees, the yard is freckled with their yellow, you can feel the change coming, a couple of weeks before September hits, right on schedule.

I found it really kind of odd and startling that CNN Headline News quoted our web site to prove that the new MCPS curriculum is "advocacy." I saw the CRC's Michelle Turner give a talk once where she took some quotes from this blog and put them into a Powerpoint slide and showed them to people. They were mainly statements from the comment section, as I recall, I think somebody used a strong word or something, though some of it quoted me. It was one of those stupid ad hominen things, proving that I was unworthy to serve on the citizens committee or something. I'm no angel, I guarantee that, but the curriculum doesn't depend on my sterling character.

Luckily for all of us, it's not about me. I'm just a guy who says what he's thinking about what's going on. I just write my thoughts from time to time here.

This makes me think I need to state the obvious: this is a blog. We don't get together and vote on everything that's said here, and in fact if you look at the comments you'll see there are plenty of times that's own officers and board members disagree with me. The blog is a new, vaguely defined literary mode that allows a kind of spontaneous self-expression, unedited, an instantaneous response to anything that's going on.

When I first got involved in this controversy, two and a half years ago, I didn't know anything. I had never actually given much thought at all to gay issues, that's for sure, and didn't have any real position on any of it, beyond a basic sense that people should be reasonable and should not harass other people for being different from them. Mainly I just had a gut reaction when I saw that people who call other people "sodomites" and "perverts" were going to try to take over my county's school district.

This blog is not a place where I make ideological statements, it's a place where I tell you what I'm thinking. I don't even know what "ideology" I'd represent. Sometimes I describe myself as a "Goldwater liberal," but I'm not as excited about military solutions as Goldwater was. I'm sure I'm more rednecky than most of my colleagues -- I did spend a lot of years playing and singing country and Western music for a living, from Tucson to Kodiak -- and I'm probably more libertarian than most of them, as well as more understanding of ordinary people who just want to continue living their lives the way they always have. But that comes out of me, it's just how I am, it's not something that I was taught or anything I got from a favorite book or anything. I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy, I like to have a little room around me, to think about things the way I want, and I expect other people need that, too.

As this situation has evolved, the anti-MCPS forces have thrown up one kind of obstruction after the other, and it has been a kind of personal challenge for me to figure out how to understand the issues and respond to them. Usually this comes down a matter of asking myself what I really believe, in general, and then applying my general philosophy to a particular case. Sometimes this method reveals contradictions in my personal philosophy, which, because I write in this stupid blog every day, are exposed to the whole world. And there are people who have designated themselves umpires, who will point out the times when I have stepped out of bounds. OK, fine, that's a benefit I had not expected when I started this, everybody wants to help make me smarter.

Often, what I see in this controversy appears to me to be pure insanity. Some of the things that are said are so ludicrous that I can't imagine any mentally sound person saying them. But the other side seems to be made of people who function in society, and there are other people around the country saying similar things. So I can't really write it off as mental illness (though referring to them as "nuts" may seem to suggest that) (but come on, somebody has to say it). Here's how I understand this: it seems to me that they have decided they'll say anything in order to interrupt the deployment of the curriculum. The result is an unusual kind of discussion, where you aren't actually arguing with the content of their speech, but with their intent.

Take an example. The CRC wants to make a big deal out of the curriculum's use of the word "innate" to describe sexual orientation. They would throw out the whole set of five classes just because the word "innate" will be uttered twice. They can't really mean it, of course, you wouldn't find a one of them that would say their own sexual orientation was not innate. So you're not really arguing about whether sexual orientation is innate, you're arguing about whether the CRC should succeed in stopping the new curriculum.

This whole experience has been a good one for me, I've never been involved in public matters like this before, and I've learned a lot. But after seeing that on CNN-HN I just wanted to post this explanation to say, this is just a regular idiot sitting in his house typing on a computer. I could be right, I could be wrong, I don't know, I'm just saying what I think at the moment. The sex-ed curriculum isn't mine, I didn't write it, and it will be judged on its own qualities, not by anything that anybody in TeachTheFacts says about it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Can the Muslims Conquer America?

There has been a lot of discussion in the blogs this week about this, and it has led me to understand something about the political atmosphere that had never actually sunk in before.

Let's start it with this exchange between Naomi Wolf and Melanie Morgan on Hardball the other day:
Wolf: It gets back to what I was saying earlier about the nature of lying. Let's not forget that they got us into this war on the basis of a series of lies.... This weaving out of lies was a pretext for an invasion that served their own political purposes. In the wake of the invasion, they were able to terrify the American people, subjugate the American people, drive through a series of laws that dismantled key checks and balances, allowed overreaching executive power, and completely eviscerated what the founders set in place, thus weakening America.

Morgan: Keep attacking, keep attacking Naomi, because you're going to look great in a burka. You're going to look super in a burka.

Some people thought that was a kind of strange response. I think it was a strange response, like Ms. Morgan was listening to a different conversation or something. A burka? Weren't we just talking about lying? How did she get to burkas from there?

To some people this makes sense, and I guess I'm slow but I'm just beginning to comprehend the magnitude of it. There was a recent statement by writer Roger Simon on the conservative site Pajamas Media, in a piece titled Gay marriage and the war on terror. Part of it:
I never cease to be amazed – and perhaps it is my own myopia – that my former colleagues on the Left can be blind to this situation. They act as if the threat is not real and is only a blip caused by a post 9/11 overreaction by George Bush, thus ignoring virtually all of Western history since the year 800, not to mention the overwhelming demographic changes of recent decades. (John Edwards – interestingly an opponent of gay marriage - recently called the “War on Terror” a bumper sticker. At least, he’s consistent.) The very people most threatened by the ideology of Islamism and the institution of Sharia law – gays, women, freethinkers - are often the very people least likely to defend themselves against it.

Again, this strikes me as bizarre thinking. Do these people actually think that Muslims are going to conquer America?

Well, yes, apparently that's what they're afraid of.

Glenn Greenwald is a well-respected blogger at Salon who perfectly summarized the situation:
Every now and then, it is worth noting that substantial portions of the right-wing political movement in the United States -- the Pajamas Media/right-wing-blogosphere/Fox News/Michelle Malkin/Rush-Limbaugh-listener strain -- actually believe that Islamists are going to take over the U.S. and impose sharia law on all of us. And then we will have to be Muslims and "our women" will be forced into burkas and there will be no more music or gay bars or churches or blogs. This is an actual fear that they have -- not a theoretical fear but one that is pressing, urgent, at the forefront of their worldview.

And their key political beliefs -- from Iraq to Iran to executive power and surveillance theories at home -- are animated by the belief that all of this is going to happen. The Republican presidential primary is, for much of the "base," a search for who will be the toughest and strongest in protecting us from the Islamic invasion -- a term that is not figurative or symbolic, but literal: the formidable effort by Islamic radicals to invade the U.S. and take over our institutions and dismantle our government and force us to submit to Islamic rule or else be killed.

I have never thought about this before, but of course that's what's going on. There are people who really think that this country is in actual danger of being conquered by Muslims.

I don't know how you're supposed to reason with that.

Two Good Boys

I'm going back a few years, so the memories are a little hazy here. These little boys. They stayed with their grandmother in the corner house near us. Their dad had this beautiful early-60s Chevy that he kept in the carport, out of the rain and the sun. Every time you'd go by, he was out there working on it, cleaning it, shining it up. I talked to him a couple of times about it, he was proud of that car.

The boys would come around, I'd say this was seven or eight years ago. The older one was wiry, little, hyper. He'd come into the house and start wandering around looking at things, touching things, could not keep his hands in his pockets. We laughed about it. We'd say, "Justin, just stand there, the kids will be down in a minute." And it was like torture to him, until he forgot, and he'd start playing with stuff on the counter-top or whatever, wandering around the house. Just could not hold still.

The other one was younger but bigger. Kind of a heavy kid, and funny. He loved my daughter. He always found a reason to sit next to her or talk to her, he'd come over for no reason, just to tell her something, making moon-eyes at her the whole time, a total goofball. The kids were in grade school at that time, and then the boys moved away. Jeremy dropped by a year or so ago, this tall, handsome young man, found our new house and came by to see my little girl, who is also not so little any more. They stood out in the front yard talking for the longest time, which is what teenagers do when they don't want their parents to hear what they're saying. It seemed to me she was glad to see him, but nothing ever came of it, he just came by that once.

July 30th, their father went into the boys' rooms, one after the other, and put a bullet in each of them while they were sleeping.

I don't have anything to say about this.

News stories HERE HERE HERE HERE HERE HERE HERE Kennedy High School has a site HERE.

CNN-HN Has Their Own Theory

CNN Headline News has a show called "Prime Time," which this week featured the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum's Michelle Turner, plus Martha Kempner from SIECUS -- the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States, talking about our county's sex-ed curriculum. The host, Mike Galanos, is ... look, have you ever watched Glenn Beck? How about Nancy Grace? They're on this channel. Mike Galanos is like that. It might be infotainment, except for the info part.

This one turned out to be interesting. CNN Headline News has a theory, and we -- -- are right in the middle of it.

Galanos was talking with Ms. Kempner, who, by the way, we've never met.

He said:
Now you work with another group of parents, in crafting the curriculum, is that correct?

One. SIECUS: great group, we agree with them on everything, we just ... don't ... know ... them.

Two. Notice how he has little ol' us,, "crafting the curriculum." I don't know how he found out that the school district had turned over the responsibility to a bunch of parents with a web site. Wasn't that supposed to be a secret?

Ms. Kempner said:
We didn’t help them craft the curriculum but we did help them gain community support because there is a lot of support in Montgomery County and across the country for teaching programs like this. So we did work with other parents.

I would not be surprised to know that SIECUS was working with various MoCo groups, explaining the new curriculum, promoting it, smoothing the way -- that's what they do. And it is true, there is a lot of support for this curriculum.

Oh, and note how once this guy establishes the truthiness of crafting the curriculum, she just says no, we didn't help them craft the curriculum. As if we really did craft the curriculum. Hoo-hoo-hoo.

Then he springs his big point on her:
Let me read you something, this is from their website, the first page of their website. They say, “We support a new curriculum that recognizes that sexual orientation is not a choice, that homosexuality is not a disease,” goes onto say that religious extremists are attempting to impose their beliefs. I read that, that sounds like to me advocacy. Is that what’s at the heart here: if you don’t accept homosexuality then you’re intolerant?

Is this great, or what?

There's this nice lady from this big organization and CRC's former President on the screen, talking about a new curriculum, and the guy is reading from our web page.

And it sounds to him like advocacy.

Look dude, yes, we are advocates. It may be wild and weird and wacky, but we think the schools should teach the facts as they are understood by mainstream science and medicine. Most of us aren't gay, and the world isn't about gay people, but if you're going to teach it you ought to at least get it right. If that makes us "advocates," then OK, we're advocates. Cool. Somebody needed to step up to the plate, and that was us.

Also, you will not find anybody over here saying "if you don’t accept homosexuality then you’re intolerant." We don't care if you're tolerant or not, and you have every right to feel however you want about homosexuality. We will insist though that our students learn accurate facts, and we support the idea that they will learn to be good citizens and show respect for others.

Look at what he reads from our site, and then look at how he paraphrases it. Man, that's a leap.

Let me spell this out for the record. We are, a group of Montgomery County parents and other citizens who formed two and a half years ago to support our school district's decision to implement a new sex-ed curriculum. We don't write the curriculum, we don't work for the school district, we're just mostly people with kids that attend or have attended the public schools, we want to see them get a good education, and beyond that, we're proud of our community and like to see it do the right thing.

We have the right to promote a point of view -- why would we care if this eye-rolling talking head thinks our web page sounds like advocacy?

Oh and hey, his final statement on the show:
Thanks again Martha Kempner with SIECUS and also concerned parent, Michelle Turner. We appreciate your time, both of you and again Erica, classes begin – now there’s an appeal under way from that group Michelle Turner’s a part of. It’s probably not going to stop the classes from going forward. Again, classes start August 27th.

No, it’s probably not going to stop the classes from going forward. But it will waste the taxpayer's money, and that's just as good.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The NYT Crosses Over

The New York Times had one of the strangest stories ever yesterday about the Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum. The CRC should be proud of this one, they really got one reporter, Diana Jean Schemo, to relay their message faithfully. I'm going to have to pick this one apart piece by piece.
After five years, one legal defeat and a challenge on the way, Montgomery County, Md., is at the frontier of sex education in the United States. This fall, barring last-minute court action, the county will offer lessons on homosexuality in its 8th- and 10th-grade health education courses. Lessons on Homosexuality Move Into the Classroom

First of all, nobody would really call a 10-day temporary restraining order a "legal defeat." It was a setback, and the only thing that the CRC has ever tried that worked at all; it did get the school district to negotiate with them, which was good for them, but it was still ... a 10-day restraining order.

Second, you're going to wonder how it is that they portray this as "the frontier of sex education in the United States." Lots of school districts cover this same territory. For instance, a Washington Post story earlier this year concluded, "school systems in politically liberal communities are expanding the lexicon of sex and gender identity in health classes. Homosexuality is one of many topics covered under the umbrella of "comprehensive" sex education, which teaches students how to be comfortable with their sexuality and safe in sexual practice."
To school officials, the lessons are a natural outgrowth of sex education and of teachings on tolerance and diversity. They consist of two heavily scripted, 45-minute lessons for each grade and a video demonstrating how to put on a condom. The lessons’ central message is respect and acceptance of the many permutations of sexual identity, both in others and in one’s self.

School officials said they were not seeking to promote a political agenda, beyond tolerance and a kind of cultural literacy. “Our charge starts with educating students,” said Betsy Brown, who supervised the curriculum’s development in consultation with the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This is part of education.”

Very sly: "to school officials," "school officials said." The implications are clear: the school officials are deluded.

(Clue: the word "accepted" is a CRC word, it's not part of the curriculum. Tells you whose notes they're copying from.)

Look, I'm proud of our school district, but let's just say they were not that eager to plunge headlong into controversy. They were extremely careful to keep the curriculum content as unprovocative as they could. Nobody watching this process could accuse MCPS of pursuing a political agenda with this; they were brave, yes, they did what the community wanted them to do, but I'm pretty sure they'd be more comfortable if we were all reading Silas Marner.
But critics, who have filed lawsuits seeking to stop the lessons, contended that the Montgomery County schools, just north of Washington, have gone too far. John Garza, president of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, a group leading the opposition, said parents can block television shows they deem morally questionable, “but then we have the schoolteacher affirming unhealthy behavior.”

The NYT might have noted that these "critics" are very few in number. And it might have been a good idea for the reporter to flip through the curriculum materials, just to see what behaviors are being affirmed. She may have been surprised to find that none of the sexual orientation classes say anything about "behaviors" at all. The classes are about romantic feelings and feelings of attraction.

How do you affirm something without mentioning it?

Oh yeah: Covert Politically Correct Code Talk.
Montgomery is a mostly well-educated, politically liberal enclave. But opponents of the new curriculum, portrayed as a vocal minority by school officials, may be more in sync with the mood of parents nationally.

I love that "portrayed as a vocal minority by [deluded] school officials." No, they are a vocal minority. They are portrayed as that by everybody who lives here.

Now the reporter has spilled the beans -- this is what she wants us to think. Montgomery County is some weird place, but the rest of the country is more like the CRC.

We want to see her support that idea. --Ah, good, she's got data.
According to a 2004 national poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and National Public Radio, roughly three out of four parents say it is appropriate for high schools to teach about homosexuality, but about half say it is appropriate in middle school.

Uh, that's the opposite of what she just said -- this survey finds that most people agree with what we're doing in Montgomery County.

Is that weird, or what? I mean, isn't she embarrassed to say one thing, and then show the data proving she's wrong?
When asked about the issue in greater detail, more than 50 percent of high school and middle school parents supported teaching what homosexuality is about “without discussing whether it is wrong or acceptable.” Only 8 percent of high school parents and 4 percent of middle school parents said schools should teach “that homosexuality is acceptable.” The survey had a margin of error of 6 percentage points.

Montgomery County may be ahead of the country on sex education, but it may also just be out there, stranded on its own.

OK, so once again -- the majority of the country agrees with MCPS. How did she spin this to say that we're out ahead somewhere? Nothing in the curriculum says that anything is right or wrong or acceptable. It just says some people are like that, and we should show them the same respect we show anybody else.

It sounds like they talked to some of our anti-MCPS radicals, and reported what they said as fact. Which is sad for a paper like The Times.

I'm skipping a couple of paragraphs...
But for a raft of reasons, many of them unconscious, teaching about sexuality is different, said Susan K. Freeman, a historian at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

-- Wha? Minnesota State University, Mankato? They had to go to Mankato, Minnesota to find somebody to say what they wanted to hear? A historian? I think they have a little splainin to do here.
For many parents, boy-girl dating may not mean that their child is sexually active, she said. By coming out as gay, though, “they’re announcing their sexuality.” Parents make a tacit assumption of sexual activity, and “that presents a problem for a lot of people,” she said.

OK, stop.

Gay people often know by middle school or earlier that they're gay. At some point they tell somebody. That doesn't mean they are "sexually active." Has nothing to do with it. Where does this historian come up with the idea that parents assume this? Is this supposed to be an actual argument against teaching about sexual orientation?

I don't understand how a reputable newspaper can print something like that.

I have only seen the online version of this story -- maybe it was in, like, "The Onion" section of the paper. Can somebody please check that for me in the print version? Thanks.
The Montgomery County lessons begin by defining terms like “prejudice,” “homosexual” and “transgender,” and warn students not to assume that because they are not yet attracted to the opposite sex, they must be gay. The eighth-grade curriculum tells gay students that “concerns about how family and friends will accept the situation are reasonable, and fears about being teased or even attacked are not unfounded.”

OK, so much for making it sound like a walk in the park.
In the 10th grade, the lessons, which presume that sexual identity is innate, again discuss the stresses of coming out, but add, “Many people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender celebrate their self-discovery.”

Just for the record, let me show you what the curriculum really says -- this is from the Holt resource, Grade 10, second day:
Many people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender celebrate their self-discovery and feel relief and a new sense of joy when they can be honest with themselves and their loved ones. Others may feel isolated while coming out and may even turn to drugs, alcohol, suicide, and other dangerous behaviors. Because many youths who come out are met with hostility, they are at greater risk for engaging in harmful, damaging, and even life-threatening behaviors and for being the targets of violence and harassment.

Let me point out, just taking the first half of the first sentence, and using it to cast the curriculum as gay-affirming or gay-promoting is no better than a lie.

And this is the New York Times.
Kevin Jennings, the executive director of the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said the curriculum could reduce bullying over sexual identity.

“I don’t know how denying information to young people about sexuality or sexual orientation does anything to promote their health and well being,” he said.

True, that.
Mr. Garza objected to schools teaching that homosexuality is not subject to change and failing to mention higher rates of some venereal diseases among gay men. “When you get into these hotly contested areas of moral judgment, that’s where the school needs to get out of it, or at least teach all sides,” he said.

Sheesh, we've heard all that before. 1.Nothing says it "is not subject to change." 2.there is a "venereal disease" section of the Health curriculum for mentioning diseases, it doesn't belong here. 3.there aren't "two sides," the American Medical Association and other medical and scientific professional organizations are very clear on the facts.

This article is a little more sophisticated propaganda push than we have seen in the past from the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. I take it to mean that somebody at the Thomas More Legal Center knows somebody at The Times, I'm guessing somebody got to be buddies during the Dover fiasco.

We have been lucky to have had good local reporting over the past two and a half years we've been involved in this controversy, where "local" includes the Washington Post and some very strong smaller newspapers. We've seen a couple of turkeys, and we've even seen the big guys succumb to the pressure once or twice, but in general our local reporters have been fair to both sides. I would've expected the prestigious New York Times to do their homework before they blurted out something like this.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

And You Thought Baptists Didn't Curse

The group Americans United for Separation of Church and State is, it's not hard to figure out, opposed to the fudging of the line between religion and government. When they think a church is getting too political, they tend to publicize the fact, sometimes file a complaint -- that's what they're there for. The group exists to see that the strict and extremely-necessary wall between religion and government stands firm.

Turns out the churches don't always really appreciate this. So what can the churches do to defend themselves? Who can help them? Ah, yes ... (From USA Today's blog):
God is being called upon in a bitter dispute between a California Baptist pastor and the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Specifically, Rev. Wiley Drake of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., is asking his supporters to use "imprecatory prayer" to curse Americans United and its leaders.

The argument centers on whether Drake violated federal tax law by "electioneering" when he recently endorsed the presidential candidacy of Republican Mike Huckabee. Americans United on Tuesday asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate.

Today, Drake told us by telephone that he has called for prayers aimed at smiting the AU and its leadership not because they oppose him personally, but because "they are attacking God's people." Dispute over pastor's politics escalates: He wants prayers cursing his foes

They must not have heard about the guy the other day who got hit by lightning out of a clear, blue sky while he was passing out religious literature. I'd think there's a chance this might backfire.
Drake also said he had been careful to state that he was "personally endorsing" Huckabee, not throwing his church's support to the candidate. He put the endorsement on the church's letterhead, Drake said, "because I'm not going to let anyone tell me I have to hide who I am. I use letterhead to pay my phone bill and to send my mother a note."

AU, meanwhile, today issued a statement that condemns "the tactics of a political pastor in California who has urged followers to pray for the demise of staff members of the religious liberty watchdog group."

"Instead of addressing our concerns of illegally melding religion and partisan politics, Dr. Drake has launched an outlandish attack on us," Rev. Barry Lynn, AU's executive director said in the statement. "Calling for curses on us might distract Drake's supporters, but it won't help him with the IRS."

Yeah, can you imagine Jesus looking down at this? His disappointment must be immeasurable.

The Associated Baptist Press has a little more on this:
Wiley Drake, pastor, radio crusader and Baptist gadfly, issued an Aug. 14 statement calling for "imprecatory prayer" from his supporters against two communications staffers for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The term "imprecatory prayer is used to describe prayers, mostly in the Bible's Old Testament, that the righteous used to call down God's wrath against their enemies.. Drake, SBC presidential candidate, calls for God's wrath against AU

Funny, I never heard of that before, have you?

You think it'll work?

Losing Stature

The General Accountability Office is the office in the Legislative branch of the federal government that conducts investigations, audits, and evaluations of government policies and practices. It's a nonpartisan office headed by the Comptroller General, who is appointed by the President and remains in office for a fifteen-year term.

The current Comptroller General, David M. Walker, has been in office since 1998, and he's issued a lot of reports in the years since then. This past week he published one that is, I think, like no other. From Financial Times:
The US government is on a ‘burning platform’ of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country’s top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country’s future in a report that lays out what he called “chilling long-term simulations”.

These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

“Sound familiar?” Mr Walker said. “In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.” Learn from the fall of Rome, US warned

This guy is a big-time CPA, former executive in both private industry and government. He's seen a lot of stuff, this isn't any time to be crying wolf and making political statements.

He's comparing these times to the end of the Roman Empire.

You can read the report HERE.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Walker said he had mentioned some of the issues before but now wanted to “turn up the volume”. Some of them were too sensitive for others in government to “have their name associated with”.

“I’m trying to sound an alarm and issue a wake-up call,” he said. “As comptroller general I’ve got an ability to look longer-range and take on issues that others may be hesitant, and in many cases may not be in a position, to take on.

“One of the concerns is obviously we are a great country but we face major sustainability challenges that we are not taking seriously enough,” said Mr Walker, who was appointed during the Clinton administration to the post, which carries a 15-year term.

The fiscal imbalance meant the US was “on a path toward an explosion of debt”.

“With the looming retirement of baby boomers, spiralling healthcare costs, plummeting savings rates and increasing reliance on foreign lenders, we face unprecedented fiscal risks,” said Mr Walker, a former senior executive at PwC auditing firm.

Current US policy on education, energy, the environment, immigration and Iraq also was on an “unsustainable path”.

“Our very prosperity is placing greater demands on our physical infrastructure. Billions of dollars will be needed to modernise everything from highways and airports to water and sewage systems. The recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis was a sobering wake-up call.”

In other news... growing up -- remember? -- Americans were the tallest people in the world, on average. It was because we had the best health care, ate the best food, worked the best jobs, lived the best lives.

Here's the Washington Post:
U.S. adults lost their position as the tallest people on Earth to the Dutch, who average about two inches taller than the typical American. In fact, American men now rank ninth and women 15th in average height, having fallen short of many other European nations.

"Americans, who have been the tallest in the world for a very long time, are no longer the tallest," said John Komlos of the University of Munich, who has published a series of papers documenting the trend. "Americans have not kept up with western European populations."

The idea that many Europeans are looking down on Americans has led to a flurry of interest in trying to explain the trend, with debate focusing on whether to blame the lack of universal health care and other holes in the nation's social safety net, particularly for children.

"We conjecture that perhaps the western and northern European welfare states, with their universal socioeconomic safety nets, are able to provide a higher biological standard of living to their children and youth than the more free-market-oriented U.S. economy," Komlos wrote in one of his latest papers, published in June in the journal Social Science Quarterly. America Loses Its Stature as Tallest Country

They even tried analyzing the data with recent immigrants taken out. Turns out, we reached our height in the 1950s and stopped, while Europeans kept growing.
Height is considered a bellwether of a society's well-being. As wealth increases, often so does height. Wealth usually improves nutrition and medical care, enabling people to reach their maximum growth potential and live longer. The key years are early childhood -- with those children receiving the best nutrition and suffering the least illness growing the best.

Komlos and others noted that the contemporary American diet, while plentiful, has become less nutritious in some ways, especially in recent years, which has helped fuel the obesity epidemic, particularly among children. So while Americans are no longer the tallest, they are among the widest.

"The culture of food here is different than other countries," said Richard H. Steckel of Ohio State University. "Children tend to watch more television and snack and eat fast food. When they do this, the fuel they are consuming is not the optimal blend."

The United States also lags far behind other countries in a host of important markers for childhood well-being. Rates of infant mortality, low-birth-weight babies and childhood poverty remain well higher than those in many European countries, and rates of childhood vaccination are much lower.

"American children are not as well taken care of as one would expect, given American incomes," Komlos said.

Oh, and here's another story along those lines:
Officials blame a lack of health care in the US for its latest ranking in life expectancy, which placed the country behind 40 other countries.

The US lagged behind countries like Guam, Jordan, Japan and most European countries. The highest life expectancy is found in a small country in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain called Andorra. Japan was second.

Andorra's life expectancy was 83.5 years while the US has a life expectancy of 77.9 years.

Dr. Christopher Murray, head of the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said, "Something's wrong here when one of the richest countries in the world, the one that spends the most on health care, is not able to keep up with other countries."

Forty-five million Americans live without health coverage. Many other counties, who had better life expectancies than the US, have universal health care coverage where everyone is insured. One of these countries is Canada. But McGill University in Montreal epidemiologist Sam Harper said it's more than that... US Life Expectancy Years Behind 40 Counties

One more thing. You ought to read this interview at AlterNet HERE, about how companies produce two sets of products. They make healthy versions of their products for the European market, and toxic versions for the US. Why? Because we let them.
The American industry argues that the more loose system in the United States helps encourage innovation, and to some extent, perhaps at a certain point in our history that might have been true. But, now if you look at it, the imposition of principles to take the most toxic chemicals out of products in Europe, which is happening now as we speak, is giving rise to a huge industry in green chemistry that is being prompted by the industry.

Go read that one -- it's an eye-opener, but this post is already too long and depressing. We need to realize what has happened. The rest of the world, especially Europe, has progressed, they've moved past us. They look out for their people, they take care of each other and they take care of their environment. Meanwhile the USA has committed itself to the philosophy of greed.

When I sat down at the computer today I wanted to write something funny.

We're glad because this sex-ed battle is pretty much behind us, the suers will continue to file papers in court but they've just about exhausted their options, all they're doing now is whining without any substance. School's starting in a few weeks, the kids will sign up for Health class and they'll learn the new material, which is all we ever really wanted.

We see that the neoconservative national experiment has failed and the radical right is in a state of collapse, even the big-bucks religious extremists have to shout to get anybody to listen to their ugliness. The Democrats in Congress don't seem to have quite understood what they were expected to do, but at least there're checks and balances again, to some extent, and it looks like the 2008 candidates are being forced to deal with the message that people want this country turned around, and fast.

We hope to hasten the end of the age of imperialistic gluttony, but these past years have set us up for hard times. The 2004 election made it impossible to say that our leaders were going against the will of the people; now the whole world holds all of us individually accountable for what we've done. Chasing the road-runner of unrestrained greed, we ran off that cliff, and now we're looking down and seeing nothing but air.

I wanted to write something funny, really I did. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Justice Breyer Offers A Useful Dichotomy

The terms "liberal" and "conservative" seem silly and superficial these days, when liberals are more conservative than conservatives ever were, and conservatives believe in comprehensive government control over the minutiae of citizens' personal lives. The classic terminology fails us, it provides no insight into the true nature of the most important issues we concern ourselves with.

WTOP had a little story the other day about a talk Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer gave at the American Bar Association's annual meeting. One statement of his seems to shed some light on the situation, maybe this is a better dichotomy than the familiar ones:
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Breyer said: "I began to see that the true division of importance in the world is not between different countries. The important division is between those who are committed to reason, to working out things, to understanding other people, to peaceful resolution of their differences ... and those who don't think that." Breyer Says Last Term Was Difficult

Our sex-ed controversy in Montgomery County has been, since the start, a battle over the process. The school district is managed by an elected board, and the organization has clear and effective ways for developing new curricula, with lots of community involvement, expert advice, it's all slow and steady and deliberate. But this time, in the middle of a routine Health curriculum revision, a handful of extremists decided they would agitate to recall the entire Board of Education, they would undermine and slime the whole process, because it wasn't coming out the way they wanted.

I talked about this a couple of years ago in a post about the third group, which was picked up and passed around the Internet a little bit at the time. There are, obviously, more conservative and more liberal views about what sex-ed should be. Some parents believe their children should be given the facts, should be told what the real consequences of various sexual behaviors are, and trust that when the time comes they will be able to make responsible choices. Other parents are concerned that their children will be exposed to too much too soon, they believe that sexuality is a personal matter that should be learned in the home more than the schools. In fact, all parents feel both ways to some extent. The trick here is to find a balance or compromise, a way to present the topic that satisfactorily meets both standards -- a vast majority of citizens everywhere agree that sex-ed belongs in the public schools, there's very little debate about that, the question is what to present, and how.

That means people have to be able to talk. "The liberal side" understands the concerns of a parent who worries about influences that might affect their child's values. "The conservative side" understands that things need to be talked about in school, and that sometimes their kids will learn things that make them uncomfortable. There's plenty of room there for discussion and adjustment.

Those two sides of the lower-level dialectic are one side of Breyer's dichotomy.

The other side believes they are absolutely, divinely right, that there's no need to talk about it, that discussion will only result in a dilution of their "truth." This group feels obligated to interrupt the dialogue in any way they can, they will only declare success when the process has been dragged to a standstill.

We have looked at the news about the next legal phase, as described on the Thomas More Law Center web site. Some of their complaints are pure fiction, and some simply insult your intelligence. The gist of it is that they don't like the new curriculum. That's a great back-fence talking point, it's fine when you're yakking with your friends, but it's not a legal argument. We have seen the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, through a bogus web site (linked to from their home page), bragging about how much another lawsuit will cost the taxpayers, and all the good things the schools could have done with that money. It's a joke to them.

It's true, it will be expensive for the school district to defend itself. At some point, the anti-MCPS groups hope, they will wear the system down until the other side can't afford to fight any more: this is the great victory they dream of. As civilized people, we must prevent that outcome. "Those who are committed to reason, to working out things, to understanding other people, to peaceful resolution of their differences," must win this one.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Word Verification Is Turned On

We could have required everybody to register with Blogger and use an identifiable name consistently, every time they comment here. But no, we gave our Anonymi a break, just because they're so cute and cuddly with their troll-like features.

Now if you go to leave a comment, you will be shown a box with some letters in it, and you'll have to type those letters into another box. It shouldn't be too hard, though I admit sometimes I can't tell what letter they intend.

Also, it looks like if you have a Blogger account and you stay logged in, it doesn't make you type the letters. When I first set it up, I thought it wasn't working, until I logged out and tried it. So a lot of you won't notice any difference.

Hopefully this fixes the comment-spam problem. When I have lots of time, I'll go through the hundreds of posts that got hit today and delete the junk.

Comments temporarily suspended

Comments to this blog are being spammed and so we've just turned them off until we can figure out how to stop the spammers.


UPDATE (JimK) This afternoon we were hit with a couple hundred spam comments within a few minutes, so we shut off the comments. I am going to implement a word verification method; you will be shown some letters in strange writing, and will be asked to type that into a box in order to verify that you are a human being. Unfortunately, right now the Blogger service is not publishing correctly (we've had problems on and off all week with it), so I can't get that to work.

If we get spammed again, we'll have to turn the comments off. In the meantime, have at it, kids.


That Speech By Giuliani

A lot of the blogs have been talking about this, and it caught my attention, too; Rudolph Giuliani gave a speech the other day with a couple of discussable tidbits in it. These are the kinds of thing that you hear all the time; I'm taking a few lines out of context just to give us a minute to pause and think them through.
As Americans, we're not sure we share values. We're sometimes even afraid to use the word values. We talk about teaching ethics in schools -- people say, "What ethics? Whose ethics? Maybe we can't." And they confuse that with teaching of religion. And we are afraid to reaffirm the basics upon which a lawful and a decent society are based. We're almost embarrassed by it. 'Freedom Is About Authority': Excerpts From Giuliani Speech on Crime

OK, that's a handful right there. I'd have to put the pronouns "we" and "they" and the noun "people" in the category strawmen.

Who is afraid to use the word "values?" You? Me? I don't think so. Teach the Facts, for instance, is all about values, the values of kindness, truthfulness, clear critical thinking, fairness. The CRC is also about values, different values from ours, of course -- but that's what this whole controversy is about. Not sure we share values? That's an understatement. It's perfectly clear we don't share values.

And who are "they" who confuse ethics with religion? Well, there are those who believe that only God can provide knowledge of right and wrong. The rest of us are just fine with understanding ethics as a system of human judgments. Do you get the deal about being embarrassed to "reaffirm the basics upon which a lawful and a decent society are based?" Yeah, me either. I believe, like our Founding Fathers, in taking a good, reasoned, skeptical view of human nature, bracing for the worst, and living the best. What's embarrassing about that?

But, rich as that paragraph was, there's more here.
We look upon authority too often and focus over and over again, for 30 or 40 or 50 years, as if there is something wrong with authority. We see only the oppressive side of authority. Maybe it comes out of our history and our background. What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.

[ Interruption by someone in the audience. ]

You have free speech so I can be heard.

[ Another interruption. ]

Wow, beautiful. You have free speech so I can be heard. Rudy's a master, nothing less, a master of irony.

I do want to dwell on this paragraph for a minute, because it seems to me that stands reality on its head and 2.a lot of people will agree with him.

Freedom is about authority.

This sentence is a work of art. Here, Giuliani has crystalized the culture wars into one clear, short, four-word slogan. For many people, the liberty our Founding Fathers fought for and crafted for us was the liberty to obey. Our freedom is the freedom to "cede to lawful authority." We are free to do as we are told.

Let me spell it out: this is exactly the opposite of what the word "freedom" means. The freedom of our forefathers was freedom from authority, from a king who was an unjust and harsh ruler. Freedom doesn't suddenly mean something new, it's always meant the same thing: Webster says:
1 : the quality or state of being free: as a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another...

There's nothing ambiguous about that.

Look, we grew up with this stuff in the fifties and early sixties, during the McCarthy years. Conformity was an ideal and obedience to authority was an ideal, and the kooks were suspected to be communists, leading us all toward a depersonalized robotic totalitarian state with their nonconformity. I really used to think that America had passed that stage, that we had learned our lesson and would never go back to that. But here it is in a nutshell, this guy is running for President on the United States talking like this.

Let me try a generous interpretation. Let's say he means that we are free to choose to obey authority. Whaddya think? Of course he doesn't mean that. He may think he means that, but how does he feel about those who actually exercise their choice, and refuse to accept authority? Of course he rejects the validity of that option. It's not a choice.

Why is this worth talking about? It's because these kinds of statements ring happy bells for many people. These are some soul-stirring slogans here, people will get worked up about this sort of thing, but when you get down to it they are self-invalidating statements. Freedom is not obedience. Values are not embarrassing. American values are not homogeneous, and diversity -- even diversity of belief -- is not dangerous.

These are times when you need to listen with your mind. You need to be careful to think about what these guys are saying: they're counting on you not to.