Sunday, September 30, 2007

Eschew Binarity

Another ridiculous Sunday morning, beautiful clear sunshine -- it was cold last night, I actually got out my jacket and put it on. I slept in this morning. Last night the greatest movie was on TV, like at one in the morning. They don't tell you the name of the movie at that hour, they just show it, but it might have been called "Door-to-door Maniac," or "Five Minutes to Live," or "Last Blood." As I see it on the Internet, this movie has been released under all those names. Johnny Cash is a bad guy who has a plan to rob a bank by holding the bank president's wife hostage and ... well, it was a really surprisingly good movie. She's the president of the Women's Club, y'know, all in curlers and stuff. Johnny breaks into the house, he says, "Bank presidents might like their women looking like that but I don't." Blurry focus, low budget, Ron Howard is in it, he looks like he's about five -- pre Opie, I'd guess. So anyway, that was over at three or so, and I woke up with the sun burning my face through the window.

But I've been thinking about something.

Being that we live here in the bedroom of Washington, DC, a lot of our readers work for the government. And you guys know, the fiscal year starts tomorrow. Right now, you can't buy anything, you can't sign up for classes or training, you can't plan any travel, because you don't know what your budget's going to be.

Congress doesn't have to decide how many paper-clips you get this year. Their budgeting doesn't go that far. They'll decide though if the program you work for is going to have little things like ... salaries, say. I don't know how it actually looks on the inside, but it seems that they allocate money for particular agencies, and even within the agency they subdivide it down into programs, this one gets this and that one gets that. When you look at how big the federal government is, this is a huge job.

October first is the start of the fiscal year. Last week, nobody in the government had any money, because everything had to be accounted for, these last weeks, and once there's a budget nobody will still have any money because the agencies have to find out how much they're getting and then divvy it up internally. Both houses of Congress vote on it, and then the President signs it. It is never ready at the start of the year. Never. (How do you spell CR?)

This has got to be about a forty-hour-a-day job. Nobody could really do it right, you can't know what's going on in every little office out there, you have to have some kind of policy guidelines and a bunch of people working for you who gather information, and then you juggle the numbers blindly and see what you think ought to be done, who ought to get what.

Looming behind all that, you have a gazillion-dollar-a-month war going on, pointless, ineffective, winning us enemies around the planet, implemented both deceptively and ineptly, sucking money out of the country's bank account at a rate that is unknown but estimated in the cotillions (that's a one with a gazillion zeroes after it, in a floor-length dress). You've got the spectre of China calling in their loans, busting our bank overnight. The constitution is being ripped to shreds, the environment is boiling over, sick people can't see a doctor and poor people can't pay their mortgage.

So now I see Congress is ... censuring

Scuse me, I like to goof off at work as much as the next guy. I'm sympathetic, but ... isn't there a better time for this? put an ad in the New York Times, with a little pun: Petraeus or Betray-Us. Everybody knew the general was sitting over at the White House getting instructions for his presentation at the Capitol. Everybody knew he was going to say the war is going wonderfully great, and everybody knows that's not true. It's a military guy giving a political presentation -- a very dangerous combination. We saw it before, when Colin Powell went out and cashed in all his respect to tell a string of lies at the UN, that was a hard one, because you really did think the guy was honorable, but they sucked it out of him, he betrayed us too. So a general lies to Congress, what's new about that? --Well, it might not be new, but we cannot let it become acceptable.

Certainly we can't make it a crime to say something when the emperor comes out in a transparent, weightless suit of big ol' nothing.

Why did Congress stop everything, in the middle of the busiest time of the year, with all this going on, to discuss and vote on whether they were bad people or not? Do you understand that?

We get the Washington Post, there are full-page ads in there all the time. Israel, Syria, Russia, whole countries buy a page in the Post and put some stuff in there, with a bunch of names at the bottom of the page endorsing it -- hey, isn't the whole first section mostly bra ads? Does Congress want to vote on whether Playtex actually lifts and separates?

The real question is, how did they let this issue, the issue of some group buying an ad in the Times, rise to the top of their list of priorities? I guess anybody with money can buy an ad. So somebody bought an ad that took one side, as opposed to the other, so what?

Somehow the Democrats have let the Republicans define the situation. Again. It's just bizarre that this has happened to us. It seems to me they all -- both parties -- have such a low estimation of the American voter that they think all that matters is slogans. They may be right, that's the hard part, this might actually be what matters to people.

But no. Nobody really cares about, this is bull-oney. Look at this SURVEY. Fifty-six percent of people have never even heard of Twenty-two percent have an unfavorable opinion of them. Look: nobody cares.

Here's the deal, it seems to me. When Aristotle systematized the rules of logic, he included something called the Law of the Excluded Middle. It seemed obvious at the time. Everything is either A or not-A, it can't be both. A sentence is either true or false. The sky is either blue or it's not. Given that, the rest of the principles of logic follow pretty easily.

Problem is, it's wrong, for two reasons I can think of. First of all, there are degrees. If you held up a paint sample labeled "Blue" and compared it to the sky, you'd find that the sky isn't actually blue. It's bluish, but blue doesn't really look like that, it's darker, and you gotta get rid of the greenish tint. This is the basis for fuzzy logic, which allows degrees of truth and is extremely useful as far as engineering applications go, because that's the way the world actually works, your motor doesn't suddenly overheat at whatever number of degrees it says in the manual, it gets hotter a little bit at a time. In between, the statement "the engine is overheating" is partly true.

Second of all, the negation of a statement can be two things: it can be the absence of a quality, or it can be the opposite of it. If I say I'm "not angry" at somebody, for instance, it can mean I actually like them, or it could mean I've never given them a thought. And this is the trap.

MoveOn put an ad in the paper. Seems to me the correct response, if you think they went too far, is to not notice. The general is working for the administration, OK, we've seen this before, there're worse things going on over there. You might think the MoveOn wording was a little harsh, or extreme, or poorly timed (I don't happen to think any of the above), but really -- why does this call for a vote in Congress?

Because if you're dumb enough to stay in the chambers when they call for a vote, you have to say if you're for it or against it. The smart thing is to go get a drink of water, or go out in the hall and talk on your cell phone, or practice your wide stance, something. Abstain, don't vote. Don't encourage them.

Here's the bad thing that's going on, and I don't know if this is new or if America has always been this way. It comes down to the idea that "If you ain't fer us yer aginst us." It's the reduction of the world to a single binary dimension, where you're either at the zero end or the one end, with no middle. In this case, Congresscritters thought they either had to support MoveOn or oppose them. Even Democrats. So they filed into the hallowed halls and sat in their places and voted on whether was being nice when they made a pun on General Betraeus' name.

This need to bifurcate is at the heart of our controversy here in Montgomery County, with the sex-ed curriculum. Here's an example: the curriculum says "Some transgender individuals want to live their life as the opposite gender or have surgery to become the opposite gender. Many others do not want to do so," and somewhere else it says, "While cross-dressers change their clothes, transsexuals sometimes change their body by means of hormone therapy or sexual reassignment therapy to match how they feel." OK, those are facts. You go out into the world, you go out in public, you're going to see somebody like that. It seems sensible to me to take a few minutes out of a kid's long life to tell them what this is about, just so they know. Never mind the ones that are sitting there confused and disoriented about living in a world that requires them to live a lie.

But look how the CRC paraphrases that on their shadow web site. They say the curriculum "directs students to chop off body parts and change their gender." That is it, really, a direct quote from their down-low web site, their paraphrase of the sentences in the curriculum I just quoted to you.

How does that happen? It happens because they are defining the world in extreme binary terms. They are confusing the two kinds of negation. To their minds, you have to either approve of something or oppose it. There's no option to live and let live, you're either with em er yer aginst em. You can't just learn a fact, you have to take sides. And telling a kid a fact is the same as directing them to behave in that way.

Reading through their whining complaint to the state court, I was struck by how much of their case depends on the excluded middle. The fact is, some people are gay, some are transgender, some people speak a different language from us -- you don't have to choose if you're for it or against it, it's just how things are. When I go to Portugal, they eat blood. I don't know how they do it, they bake it or something, and there's just this big blood clot on your plate. They love it. I don't eat it. I have found that people are pretty good if you say, sorry, but in my country we don't eat that sort of thing. They usually laugh -- though three times I have had Chinese people trick me into eating some kind of guts or bugs -- but they don't feel offended, because it's not a binary world. Normal, intelligent people understand that. If you don't like to eat the blood, so what? It just means more for them, right?

No, the CRC would want to go to court to stop Portuguese people from eating stuff like that. Because yer either fer em er aginst em. If you're one of those blood-lovers, you're a liberal and a sissy. And by blood-lover, I mean somebody who doesn't actively oppose the Portuguese diet.

Don't fall for the dichotomy. There is always something higher that reconciles the two sides, you need to look for that. Don't react with ones and zeroes, find the continuum in between, we need to take a breath and think some of these things through, you can't live in a constant state of panic. We need to start using our brains again.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

MCPS Slams the Suers

Back at the end of July, several groups filed papers in state court to review the decision by the Maryland State Board of Education to allow implementation of the new Montgomery County, Maryland, sex-ed curriculum for eighth and tenth grades. In early September they filed the actual petition. You can read their whining complaint HERE. This week, Montgomery County Public Schools responded to the appeal with a filing of their own: see it HERE.

The school district gets right to the point:
There is a fundamental flaw in Petitioners' motion for a stay pursuant to Md. Rule 7-205. That Rule does not authorize the remedy that Petitioners seek. Md. Rule 7-205 grants this Court the discretion to stay the decision of the Maryland State Board of Education ("State Board"); it does not grant this Court the power to enjoin the Montgomery County Board of Education ("County Board") from implementing revisions to its health education curriculum (the "Revised Lessons"). Cf. Motion for Stay at 1.

A stay is intended to maintain the status quo as it existed prior to the agency decision under review in this Court. The County Board approved implementation of the Revised Lessons before the State Board ruled, and the State Board upheld the County Board. Therefore, a stay to maintain the status quo is unnecessary.

Petitioners effectively are asking this Court to use Md. Rule 7-205 to alter the status quo and enjoin the County Board because their view of good educational policy differs from that of the elected members of the County Board, who are statutorily authorized to adopt curriculum, and from that of the State Board, which the General Assembly has vested with the last word on educational policy. This Court should reject Petitioners' attempt to employ Md. Rule 7-205 in a way that is not authorized and for a purpose that is unavailing.

Good one. CRC asked for a stay. A stay maintains the status quo, it prevents a change. The status quo is that the curriculum is adopted. Hey, win-win, our favorite. CRC gets the status quo, we get our new classes.

Like I said, I'm no lawyer, but this sounds pretty good to me.

This 22-page document does the usual thing, reviews the facts of the case, and then lays out the argument. I will follow their outline, but omit a lot of the stuff that takes up space (you know, the important stuff). Hopefully I leave enough for you to make sense out of it.

This Court should deny the requested stay of the State Board decision on two grounds. First, decisions of the State Board are entitled to heightened deference, particularly where the agency upholds a quasi-legislative policy judgment of a local board of education. Second, a stay is not necessary to maintain the status quo prior to issuance of the State Board's decision.

There are then sections titled A. Petitioners Ignore the Deferential Standard of Review of State Board Decisions and B. A Stay is Unnecessary to Preserve the Status Quo Prior to Issuance of the State Board's Decision. These sections have text supporting the title statements.

Then, I guess to cover their bases, they have address the CRC's whining complaints anyway:

Petitioners effectively request that this Court use Md. Rule 7-205 to alter the status quo as it existed at the time that the State Board ruled and instead stop implementation of the Revised Lessons by the County Board. Md. Rule 7-205, however, does not authorize such relief, and Maryland courts do not permit expansive readings of the state's Rules of Civil Procedure. See Colonial Carpets, Inc. v. Carpet Fair, 36 Md. App. 583, 584 (1977) (Maryland Rules "are not to be considered as mere guides or Heloise's helpful hints to the practice of law but rather precise rules that are to be read and followed[.]"). Md. Rule 7-205 authorizes only a stay of the "order or action of the administrative agency" under review. Here, the order of the administrative agency under review is neither the County Board's decision on January 9, 2007 to field test the Revised Lessons nor the County Board's decision on June 12, 2007 to approve system-wide implementation of the Revised Lessons. Petitioners' administrative appeal solely concerns the decision of the State Board on June 27, 2007 to "uphold[ ] the decision of the local board to adopt the three additional lessons." State Bd. Op. at 16. Md. Rule 7-205 is, thus, an improper vehicle for enjoining any action by the County Board regarding the Revised Lessons.

And then there is more explanation.

I love that Heloise's helpful hints thing. Sounds like these rule are not something to ignore.

Under this heading there are several sections, titled A. Petitioners Fails to Demonstrate Irreparable Harm from the Revised Lessons, B. The Balance of Harms Weighs Strongly in Favor of MCPS, C. Petitioners Have Little Chance of Success on the Merits of Their Administrative Appeal, and D. A Stay Would Be Detrimental to the Public Interest.

Importantly, under part A:
the opt-in structure of the health education curriculum undercuts any claim of irreparable harm. Parental consent is required before any student enters a class where the Revised Lessons will be taught. See COMAR 13A.04.18.03(B)(3)(b). Any parent who objects to the content of the lesson for any reason can simply decline to provide written consent and their children are not exposed to these lessons. Courts have declined to find an educational, much less a constitutional, harm where a school offers students such an opportunity to forego participation in courses to which they object.

They also make this argument (and we thank them for it):
Petitioners also exaggerate any alleged harm by overestimating the length of time that students who do not opt-in will be out of their regular classroom...

with explanation about how the opt-in/opt-out works,

and this one:
If the harm is so great, why didn't Petitioners ask this Court for a stay when it filed its notice for judicial review on July 26, 2007, instead of waiting until September 4, 2007? Such an unexplained delay by the moving party weakens a claim of irreparable harm because it demonstrates a lack of urgency to the request for relief.

Mmm, yes, because we remember last time, when they did wait till the last second. Let's defuse that idea right from the start.

And under part B:
If the Court employs the preliminary injunction factors to guide its decision on whether to grant a stay, it should find that the balance of harm prong favors Respondent. While there is no harm to Petitioners, halting implementation of the Revised Lessons undermines the statutory authority of the County Board to determine curriculum, ignores the deference to be accorded State Board approval of the material, places little value on the extensive curricular development process, and denies the vast majority of students whose parents decided to opt-in the right to receive important information about the need for tolerance and protection against sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.

Remember, I'm leaving out the bulk of it, this is the Reader's Digest version. But I like it.

Here's another nice chunk from B:
... It would work a significant hardship upon MCPS -and may, in fact, be impossible - to rearrange student and staff schedules so that all Grade 8 and Grade 10 students whose parents have opted-in could receive the information in the second semester.

Accordingly, the balance of hardships clearly weighs in favor of the County Board. Petitioners seek to deny the majority of local students access to a comprehensive health education curriculum vetted by medical experts, approved with broad community support, and upheld by the State Board simply because they object to some content, notwithstanding their ability to avoid any exposure simply by not opting-in.

Hey, didn't I just say exactly that, like, yesterday? They must have read this blog, ran right back to their office, typed out everything I said, and ran to the courthouse with it. Man, I am feeling powerful.

Or, maybe ... great minds think alike.

Or -- maybe this is common sense.

The discussion under this section is substantial. For instance, petitioners have to show a real probability and not just a remote possibility of winning on the merits of the case. MCPS tears apart the Establishment Clause argument, extensively quoting the State Board's own opinion.

Here's a good part in section C:
Contrary to Petitioners' claim, cf. Motion for Stay at 11, the Revised Lessons are carefully tailored to avoid value judgments about any sexual orientation or beliefs about particular sexual orientation. It is Petitioners - not the County Board - who attempt to impose a religious meaning on the Revised Lessons' purely secular message of tolerance. Id. / Petitioners' Establishment Clause allegations boil down to a complaint that community values do not coincide perfectly with their opinions. Yet, the principal bulwark against an improvident curriculum - or any ill-conceived government message - is the democratic process. [they quote another ruling: JimK] ("The curricular choices of the schools should be presumptively their own - the fact that such choices arouse such deep feelings argues strongly for democratic means of reaching them.").

Next they go through the errors that CRC et al. made in interpreting the laws. Again, I am abbreviating:
The first regulatory provision that, in Petitioners' view, the State Board incorrectly construed is COMAR 13A.04.04.01, which prohibits religious education in the public schools. Cf. Motion for Stay at 10. For the same reasons that it rejected Petitioners' Establishment Clause claim, see supra at 12-14, the State Board concluded that the Revised Lessons did not violate this regulation. See State Bd. Op. at 12. The State Board's reasonable, non-arbitrary regulatory determination that COMAR 13A.04.04.01 should be construed consistently with the Establishment Clause is entitled to deference.

Second, Petitioners claim that "teaching impressionable students about anal intercourse runs contrary to the prohibition in Maryland law that erotic techniques of human intercourse may not be taught." Motion for Stay at 12-13 (citing COMAR 13A.04.18.03(B)(3)(b)). This claim is meritless. The State Board reasonably interpreted the term "erotic" by relying on a standard dictionary definition that the material must be "sexually arousing or suggestive symbolism, settings or allusions" ...

Third, Petitioners contend that the Grade 10 condom lesson constitutes unsound education policy in violation of COMAR 13A.01.05.05(B) because it "fails to warn students that the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases through anal intercourse has not been proven to be significantly reduced by the use of condoms." Motion for Stay at 12. The State Board properly concluded, however, that the health curriculum as a whole provided ample opportunity for students' questions about HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. State Bd. Op. at 14. Moreover, the Grade 10 health education curriculum repeatedly emphasizes that abstinence is the only completely effective method to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and infection.

Fourth, Petitioners claim that the County Board "den[ies] the existence of other sexual variations such as those who are ex-gay or attempting to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions or gender confusions." In Petitioners' view, this deficiency violates the requirement in COMAR 13A.04.18.03(B)(3)(c) "that 'sexual variations' be taught and not just the ones the appellees/respondents favor." Motion for Stay at 8-9. The Revised Lessons, however, make clear that all students should be treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation...

Fifth, Petitioners allege that inconsistencies between the Grade 8 and Grade 10 Lessons regarding sexual orientation violate COMAR 13A.04.18.03(C)(2), which requires curricular materials "to be factually correct." See Motion for Stay at 7. This claim, too, is wholly without merit. Petitioners misconstrue - and take out of context - statements in the Revised Lessons in an attempt to manufacture inconsistencies that do not, in fact, exist. Cf. Motion for Stay at 6. Surely, the expression of an "innate" characteristic, the term used in a published textbook excerpt in the Grade 10 Lesson, can be influenced by "the interaction of other cognitive, environmental, and biological factors," as the Grade 8 Lesson explains. There are many innate factors in human beings that do not necessarily express themselves absent certain environmental or psychological triggers. Innate intelligence, for example, may or may not find expression in academic success. In sum, Petitioners present no compelling reason why this Court should not defer to the State Board's conclusion that it was reasonable for the County Board to exercise its quasi-legislative judgment to adopt Revised Lessons reviewed by an expert medical panel as accurate and age-appropriate.

Why, you could knock me over with a feather -- you mean, the CRC misconstrued and took something out of context? I am flabbergasted. Don't know what to say, never dreamed of such a thing.

I for one am glad that they addressed the challenges on the basis of content as they did, succinctly, directly, and lethally. It's fine for a lawyer to argue on the basis of the law, but it's good to have these things on the record -- not only should CRC be thrown out of court for not knowing what a "stay" is, but if they aren't, they'll lose.

Under D, they make a good case:
Halting implementation of the Revised Lessons does not advance the public interest. It would deny many current Grade 8 and Grade 10 students access to necessary and potentially life-saving information, as described above. See supra at 10-11. Both the State Superintendent and the State Board commended the Revised Lessons for addressing "[o]ne of [the] serious problems in our schools today": bullying and harassment of students. State Superintendent Order at 5; accord State Bd. Op. at 10-11. They further noted that the Revised Lessons' emphasis on promoting tolerance and reducing bullying meshes well with state law requiring school systems to report all incidents of harassment, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity. See id. (citing Md. Code, Educ. § 7-424 (2006)). It is difficult to see how the public interest is served by halting lessons that address these vital concerns.

Moreover, Maryland courts have long recognized that it is not in the public interest to second guess school administrators' expert judgments in any but the most exceptional cases ...

I am hoping some legal minds will say something in our comments section about this. To my mind it appears comprehensive and devastating. Not only does CRC et al. not have any basis for asking for maintenance of the status quo, but all their complaints are baseless, too.

Remember, I'm an idiot when it comes to law, I only know what I've seen on TV -- don't trust my judgment on this subject, in other words. But I like the way this sounds.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Last Paragraph

I wanted to go back to the latest post on the CRC's down-low web site. They say these things, and they get quoted on the news, and people might believe them -- and that's where we come in. Here's the start of the last paragraph of their recent post, which I won't link to.
Weast and the Board have a chance right now to remove the “innate” teaching before another court rules against them. Don’t forget, the sex ed curriculum does not discuss families (although the curriculum is called Family Life) spends much time pushing the gay agenda and directs students to chop off body parts and change their gender. (A whole separate topic coming soon)

When they say before another court rules against them, they are sort of stretching it. In 2005 a court hastily issued a temporary restraining order, holding up implementation of an earlier curriculum, so that a proper lawsuit could be filed and a proper ruling received, based on proper evidence introduced in a thorough and proper trial; instead, the schools and the suers worked out a settlement agreement. There is nothing in this curriculum that was in that one, no court has ever said there was anything wrong with this one.

In fact, this curriculum has been reviewed and accepted by the MCPS Superintendent's office (including their legal team), the Montgomery County Board of Education, the State of Maryland Superintendent of Schools, and the State of Maryland Board of Education. All of those entities ruled that the curriculum was just fine the way it is. The CRC and a couple of other groups are now appealing the state's decision to a state court.

I think that they are trying here to imply that they have some momentum.

Don't look down, Wile E.!

It is not true that "the sex ed curriculum does not discuss families," just wrong. I don't think the sections on Respect for Differences in Sexuality talk about families, but that's just two days in eighth grade and two days in tenth. Those classes have a topic they talk about, and it is not a criticism to note that there are days that the sex-ed curriculum talks about something other than families.

The CRC is saying this because they know they can trigger a whole cascade of Family Blah Blah reaction by asserting that the schools are somehow opposed to families, which is absurd. But ... we're not talking about real deep thinkers here.

They say it's "pushing the gay agenda," well that's original. They said that about the other curriculum, too. In fact, you can bet money they'll say that about any curriculum anywhere, ever, that talks about sexual orientation in an objective and unbigoted way. They're saying it pushes the gay agenda because that's what they're supposed to say, orders from headquarters. That's their biggest talking point. It's a meaningless assertion, since nobody actually knows what a "gay agenda" is, beyond that it's a conspiracy plot where gay people are trying to take over the world, but it is their duty to say it.

But that last bit gets you. They are saying the curriculum directs students to chop off body parts and change their gender. I guess it needs to be said: this is a lie.

Of course the curriculum doesn't direct students to do that. The other day I quoted what it says; one topic that is discussed in tenth grade is gender identity and the fact that some people are transgender. And the fact that some of those people choose to have sex reassignment surgery and hormones, and some don't. That's all.

I challenge any reporter who reads this -- and I know you all do -- to ask the next CRC member who tells you something like this to show it to you in the curriculum. They have the documents, we have them posted on our web site RIGHT HERE. Look through it, search the files. And when you interview these people and they're saying this, ask them to show you where it is. Don't just repeat their lies. You owe it to the community.

But there's more to this paragraph.
Oh, if you have ANY negative feeling about homosexual conduct, you are labeled a “homophobe” according to the sex ed curriculum. Stay tuned, we expect the Rockville Circuit Court to send the curriculum back to the trash heap where it belongs. How much will this cost you and me?

The homophobia allegation is an interesting one. We've gone over it before. Homophobia is a tenth grade vocabulary term, and it is also discussed in a textbook section.

Here's the vocabulary item from the tenth grade curriculum: Homophobia -- "an extreme or irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people." (Random House Webster’s Dictionary, 2001).

OK, that's not too bad, is it?

I think the part they complain about is from the Holt textbook, which says: Homophobia is a fear or hatred of people believed to be homosexual. The term is used broadly to describe any range of negative attitudes toward or about gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgender people. Homophobia may be shown in ways as mild as laughing at a gay joke or as severe and violent as gay bashing or murder. Like any other prejudice, homophobia is learned. Children are not born hating; they learn to hate and fear from messages they receive while growing up.

In fact, the term is used broadly just as it's described here. Notice how the CRC capitalized "ANY" in their rant? That's because they want to interpret the phrase "any range of negative attitudes" in a special way. I would have said "a range" instead of "any range," but then the person who wrote this never imagined that a group like the CRC was going to try to go to court over what the word "any" means. The problem of course is that the word "any" can mean one, some, or all -- the CRC is choosing to use the third meaning, and then clutching their pearls in indignant horror.

You may find that the word homophobia as it's described here applies to you sometimes -- I'm as guilty as anybody -- but that doesn't mean it's wrong. This is how the word is used. And hey, I'm not as guilty as anybody, in the sense that "any" means ... oh, never mind. (The CRC would say that I just admitted being as bad as the guiltiest, most homophobic person in the world. See how that works?) (And anyway, some gay jokes are actually funny, this doesn't mean any gay joke. I mean, it ... I give up.)

And OK, they expect the circuit court to take their side, if they didn't expect that they wouldn't file, right?

You should look carefully at that last question, because that's what it's all about, really. How much will this cost you and me? They love the fact that this is a big drain on the taxpayers. There's a game you can play. You can sue somebody, and they'll be forced to come to an agreement with you because it would be too expensive to fight. Lawyers aren't cheap, and the CRC thinks they can get the school district to accede to their bizarre demands just because it will be expensive to fight them. I'm sure it's tempting for MCPS, and the district needs to be careful not to cause unnecessary expense, fighting fights that they can't win or that don't matter.

But the school district knows there's a county full of people out here watching, and we are counting on MCPS to do the right thing. This curriculum has met every standard. These are good classes, and the change is long overdue.

It Starts When You're Always Afraid

I had never heard of Joppatowne, Maryland, before, had to look it up when I read this.
Dedicated to everything from architecture to sports medicine, "career academies" claim to offer high school kids focus, relevancy, and solid job prospects. Now add a new kind of program to the list: homeland security high. In late August, Maryland's Joppatowne High School became the first school in the country dedicated to churning out would-be Jack Bauers. The 75 students in the Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness magnet program will study cybersecurity and geospatial intelligence, respond to mock terror attacks, and receive limited security clearances at the nearby Army chemical warfare lab.

The new school is funded and guided by a slew of federal, state, and local agencies, not to mention several defense firms. Officials say it will teach kids to understand the "new reality," though they hasten to add that the school isn't focused just on terrorism. School administrators, channeling Cheneyesque secrecy, refused to be interviewed for this story. But it's no secret that the program is seen as a model for the rest of the country, with the Pentagon and other agencies watching closely.

Students will choose one of three specialized tracks: information and communication technology, criminal justice and law enforcement, or "homeland security science." David Volrath, executive director of secondary education for Harford County Public Schools, says the school also hopes to offer "Arabic or some other nontraditional, Third World-type language."

Black Ops Jungle: The Academy of Military-Industrial-Complex Studies

The new reality. It's like America just isn't paranoid enough.

You're reading the stuff about the kind of data the TSA is compiling about travelers. Like this, from Wired:
Privacy advocates obtained database records showing that the government routinely records the race of people pulled aside for extra screening as they enter the country, along with cursory answers given to U.S. border inspectors about their purpose in traveling. In one case, the records note Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Gilmore's choice of reading material, and worry over the number of small flashlights he'd packed for the trip.

The breadth of the information obtained by the Gilmore-funded Identity Project (using a Privacy Act request) shows the government's screening program at the border is actually a "surveillance dragnet," according to the group's spokesman Bill Scannell.

"There is so much sensitive information in the documents that it is clear that Homeland Security is not playing straight with the American people," Scannell said. U.S. Airport Screeners Are Watching What You Read

You ought to read that one. They write down anything, like what it says on your t-shirt; they noted that one guy had a picture of a marijuana leaf on his flashlight.

And what does it come down to?

Here we are being safer. This MIT student is lucky to have gotten away with her life, the officials say, after she went to the airport to pick somebody up, directly from an MIT career fair where she had been showing off a project of hers.
It was an art project, meant to entertain career-day visitors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.I.T. sophomore assured security officials after she had been arrested at Boston’s airport yesterday.

But the officials were not amused. The student, Star A. Simpson, 19, is “very lucky to be alive,” said Maj. Scott S. Pare of the state police, commanding officer of the airport’s security contingent. “Had she not followed our instructions” when confronted by state troopers, “we would have used deadly force,” Major Pare said.

The trouble began when Ms. Simpson, wearing a lighted circuit board sewn to her black hooded sweatshirt, walked up to a customer service desk at Logan International Airport and asked about an arriving flight carrying a passenger she was to meet. A nine-volt battery was attached to the circuit board, and Ms. Simpson carried a wad of modeling clay in one hand. Her Taste in Art? Scary, Police Say

Fear is self-amplifying. You get scared, you jump, the jumping scares you... I'll tell you, I didn't like the idea of going to work on September 12th, 2001, but like hundreds of thousands of workers in New York and Washington, DC, I did it, we got on the Metro and took our chances. You're frightened, you don't know what's going to happen, but you've got to deal with it.

Fear is easily manipulated by politicians. You make decisions you wouldn't ordinarily make when you're afraid, you're less trusting, less thoughtful. It doesn't mean you make better decisions, you just make different ones.

Can you imagine if they'd killed that girl, which they were fully prepared to do? As it is, they're threatening her with a long prison term for bringing her art project to the airport, which is just insane.

I often wonder what would have happened if Bill Clinton had reacted to the Oklahoma City bombing the way George Bush reacted to 9/11. The Democratic Party could easily have gone on the offensive against right-wing radicals; it wouldn't have been hard to drum up a pretty convincing conspiracy theory, and it would have been politically expedient, as it would cast suspicion on the Republican Party. But they didn't do it. The Republicans though took the attacks of 9/11 and turned them into a gigantic propaganda tool, allowing them to undermine fundamental principles that we had understood to be the American way.

Now high school kids are being sent to paranoia school, personal database records are being compiled on innocent travelers, a geeky MIT student is on the brink of being executed if she doesn't get her hands up fast enough. We've got to stop this.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Morning Ramble About Being Less Stupid

Ridiculous. That's the only way to describe this sunny fall morning. Yellow leaves are drifting down on a light breeze, the sun at an angle illuminating them as if from within against the morning shade on the hedge across the street. There are a few cars on the road, but not many, I think lots of people slept in today. I probably should have, but I woke up and decided to come downstairs -- I'm thinking there will be a nice, brisk nap in my future.

I've been thinking about something recently that's hard to put into words, which means of course I'll try and probably end up offending someone, well, it wouldn't be the first time.

There is a debate in Montgomery County over the sex-ed curriculum. Nominally, the controversy is about the content of some classes, whether they are objective or if they "go too far" or something. But except for a couple of reporters who misunderstand what's going on, I don't think anybody really thinks this is just about a couple of health classes.

It's about two kinds of ways of thinking. The people in the CRC are certain that they're right and everything else follows from that. They make up facts, they distort what people say, they ignore the obvious. Some people call this "faith-based reasoning," which is to say, not reasoning at all, but a belief that they are doing what God wishes and so everything is justified. There is a right way to live, a straight and narrow path of righteousness surrounded on both sides by temptation, and anyone not on that path is lost and needs to be saved. Oh, and anyone not on the path is also contributing to the temptation and must be opposed in every way -- this is the "love the sinner, hate the sin" paradox, they want to love everybody and hate who they are at the same time.

Our side takes it differently. We tend to think there are many paths to wisdom, and someone on a different path from ours might have something to teach us.

Well, I'm just stating the obvious here. The point is, these are two entirely different ways of thinking. I don't mind if people think the way the CRC folks do, I was never offended by religious or conservative people, but when their narrow views become the driving force for prejudice it is necessary for reasonable people to speak up. We could just as easily be fighting about evolution, or book-banning, or preaching in the classroom, this controversy isn't just about what some teachers will say in some health classes.

Teach the Facts has some gay and transgender members, but most of us are straight, and only a couple of our members are in this specifically because of their advocacy of gay rights. I think I can say that our members are people who see something going terribly wrong with our society, America becoming the opposite of what it should be, and we are people who believe that if we work together we can turn it around.

Because the issue of sexual orientation is on the table in our county, that's what we talk about. Well, it is an important issue, and the school district has gotten itself into a position where it has to tip one way or the other, there is no neutral position they can get away with. Gay and transgender people have come a long, long way in the past several decades, it is amazing to see how our society's views have changed. They've changed our minds deliberately, consciously, taking every opportunity to explain their perspective, to portray themselves in a sympathetic way, to argue for fairness, and people have listened and mostly come around. The sea-change is built on little events, one at a time, and the sex-ed curriculum in our county is one of those events.

Gay folks are watching what's happening with their fingers crossed, hoping the school district is able to do the right thing and get this curriculum implemented. It's not a big thing, but ... well, yes, it is a big thing. It might make a lot of difference if students could get accurate facts in the classroom, it could prevent a lot of ugliness and pain. But mostly, my point here is that the gay community is watching from the sidelines, they haven't been a big part of this battle.

We at Teach the Facts are what the gay activists call "straight allies," or at least most of us are, the straight ones. We support their cause, we believe that sexual minorities should be respected like anybody else, we oppose discrimination and hatred based on somebody's sexuality, even if the outcome of the debate doesn't really affect us personally. They are correct in seeing us as allies.

And now I want to try to talk about something that is kind of difficult, and I'll probably say this wrong. It seems to me sometimes that gay people, including the "activist" ones, don't really understand straight people very well. I can understand why, and of course it goes both ways, but I don't think I've ever heard anybody talk about this.

One thing about straight allies is ... we're straight. It is a different experience, being a straight person in the world. We don't worry about how people will react when they find out. We don't feel like a minority everywhere we go. Our gay-dar is mostly pretty bad. Our orientation is not something we are reminded of every time we talk to another straight person.

Over the years, we have talked with people from some of the gay rights organizations, and they seem to have figured out the best way to fight their particular fight. Almost universally, they have counseled us not to engage the opposition, not to name them, not to talk about what the other side says. They advise us to develop a positive message and stick to it. I see the sense of this, and it is a strategy that has worked well for them, but it seems to me that this is how you act when you're outnumbered. But we aren't outnumbered in any sense, being straight in a straight world, blue in one of the bluest counties in the country; we are free to speak out. If we catch the CRC telling a big fat lie, man, we want to stop them. I don't see anything wrong or even risky about pointing out their inconsistencies, with explaining to the world why they are saying the nutty things they say, with pointing out the insanity of their distortions. It seems to me, somebody has to do it, somebody has to keep track of the facts, and when the CRC says something it needs to be dragged out into the light of day and exposed for what it is.

Years ago, a friend stitched this little sampler with a favorite saying of mine on it: Be less stupid. I doubt you can actually increase a person's intelligence, but you can decrease their stupidity level. In our controversy over this topic of sexual orientation, it is easy to forget what the issue is. To read the papers, you'd think it was about gay people: it's not. This is about straight people. This is about straight people becoming less stupid. Gay people have staked out their turf, they are not unclear about what they want, they want to be treated like everybody else, and that is perfectly reasonable. They may disagree among themselves about where the lines should be drawn, if they should demand marriage, for instance, or settle for civil unions, how outrageous they should be in public, and why or why not. Stuff like that. But we aren't involved in any of that, every community has its issues to work out. This isn't about gay people, they are what they are and they do what they do. What we care about is getting other straight people to be less stupid.

Let me tell you what this is to me, this Teach the Facts thing. This is about living a multidimensional life in a multidimensional world. It is human nature to simplify, to reduce the number of factors you have to think about at any one time. I do it, you do it, it's the only way to survive without bumping into things. But life is so much richer than that, there are so many really cool things going on, great people and interesting thoughts, and I hate missing out on all that good stuff. If all you can do is evaluate whether something is consistent with the Bible, or what effect some event will have on your particular community, then you are reducing the world to one dimension, and it will be impossible to understand really how things fit together.

I am sure it is possible to see the numerous moving parts and how they all work together without becoming remote and coldly intellectual about life. Personally I love the complexity of the world, the impossibility of resolving some things, simultaneous with the absolute necessity of resolving them. I love engaging with that. You have to keep expanding, you have to spread your arms wider and wider to sweep it all in. I don't recommend it for everyone, but for me, that's what this is. This is not about taking one side or the other, it's about transcending sides.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Innateness, Immutability, and CRC Distortion

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have a shadow web site that they link to under several names, none of which I'm going to give here. Sometimes there's offensive, ignorant stuff they are dying to say, but somewhere down deep inside they know how ridiculous it sounds, so they put it on a different web site than their official one, and link to it. I take it as a good sign, they do know when they are being offensive, and they know that people can tell. They can't control their impulses so they do it on the down low.

If it's any surprise, the domain is registered to the same guy who registered the old, as well as the current official CRC web site.

So now they've put up a new statement, trying to tie the recent ruling against marriage equality to the MCPS sex-ed curriculum. I'm going to take one piece of this idiocy for now (don't worry, there's more than one meal in the oven), just the first two paragraphs.
Weast and Nancy Navarro must be sick about the landmark decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals. As reportedhere on June 14th, Weast, Navarro and the rest of the Board, except Steve Abrams voted to sneak into the unconstitutional sex ed curriculum a statement that homosexual conduct is “innate.” At the hearing, parents pointed out that there is no credible scientific evidence for the existence of a “gay gene.” Weast and the Board refused to listen to the parents and boldly proclaimed that the gay gene exists and homosexual conduct is most assuredly “innate.”

It's pretty hard to be sneaky when you're sitting in a crowded boardroom, surrounded by people with signs and TV cameras, with your image and every word you say streaming out on the worldwide web and live television.

The wording that sexual orientation is "innate" has been in the curriculum since it was first proposed by the team of pediatricians. The Superintendent's office and all their lawyers discussed it and decided to keep it, the citizens advisory committee discussed it and kept it, the school board read it, talked about it, and kept it. The CRC is whining because on the day of the final vote some wording used in the the tenth grade class was added to the eighth grade class, to make them consistent.

Here, they start out talking about the word "innate," and then seem to think they're really hitting hard when they say, At the hearing, parents pointed out that there is no credible scientific evidence for the existence of a “gay gene.” Because to them, "innate" and "gay gene" are the same thing.

Oh, love this: Weast and the Board refused to listen to the parents and boldly proclaimed that the gay gene exists and homosexual conduct is most assuredly “innate.”

No, that little sentence has two lies, very efficient. They never said there was a "gay gene," never mind "boldly proclaiming" it. And neither Weast nor the school board said a thing about "homosexual conduct" being innate. Nothing is said anywhere in the whole curriculum about "homosexual conduct" or anything that gay people do. No "homosexual behavior," no "homosexual sex," no nothing. It's just about how people feel. No conduct.

We're going on three years of this, non-stop.

By the way, the marriage ruling they're talking about does not use the word "innate," even once. It talks about immutability, but never innateness.

Sexual orientation is innate. Everybody knows that. I can't tell you why some people are funny, some are good-looking, some get fat easily -- I don't know if there's a funny gene, or a good-looking gene, or a fat gene. I doubt that there are any of those. But these are ways some people are, innately.

But the down-low CRC haven't made their point yet. All these lies are just being told so they can get to the good part, this has just been the set-up.
Unfortunately, the Maryland Court of Appeals has determined quite the opposite. The Court stated repeatedly that homosexual conduct is not immutable (the term lawyers use for innate, for example, skin color is immutable, sex was thought to be immutable, but the Board also tells kids to change their sex so the Court of Appeals would disagree with the Board on that as well). The Court quoted legal decisions from all over the country, even California, which have ruled likewise. The Court also quoted laws from every state in the union except Massachusetts to support its finding that no gay gene exists.

To review. In the first paragraph they pretended that "innate" meant "gay gene." They also pretended that "sexual orientation" was the same as "homosexual conduct."

Now they assert that "innate" is the same thing as "immutable," which is simply bizarre. The two concepts are not the same at all.

Listen, this is weird: the CRC should like "innate," because it doesn't mean "immutable."

Somebody who is innately funny doesn't have to be funny all the time, and in fact if their life is full of tragedy they may never be funny. The innately good-looking person might dress badly and have a bad haircut, or slump, or get burned. People who innately tend to be fat can lose weight. They aren't immutably fat. (I am glad of this, by the way.)

You can get your crooked teeth straightened, you can dye your hair, and if you're gay you can stuff yourself into the closet. All these things are innate and not immutable.

Immutable means that something can't be changed. If the schools had said that sexual orientation was immutable, a legitimate argument might ensue, but they didn't say that. Innate and immutable are not the same, in fact the concepts hardly overlap.

For purposes of law, the courts have to decide what kinds of traits deserve to be protected from discrimination. I'm no lawyer and I don't know how it all works, but it seems they give extra points to "immutable" traits. I can see the sense of that, but of course it's not absolute -- religion, for instance, gets protection, even though it's not immutable.

And I should point out that it is not true that The Court stated repeatedly that homosexual conduct is not immutable. The opinion against marriage equality does discuss laws about various forms of sexual activity, and it does discuss the immutability of homosexuality, and concludes that even though some courts have ruled that it is immutable, this particular court doesn't think there is enough evidence to say that it is. It says this once: "we decline on the record in the present case to recognize sexual orientation as an immutable trait and therefore a suspect or quasi-suspect classification." Where, in their legal-eagle-lingo, "suspect" means something special having to do with whether it is OK to discriminate on the basis of a trait.

There's just so much in this posting on this gross web site, even in these two ugly paragraphs. Like, look what they threw into the middle of that bizarre, rambling sentence: the Board also tells kids to change their sex.

I know, not everybody is going to back and read the curriculum. But people, I guarantee, you won't find any place that "the Board also tells kids to change their sex." The tenth grade curriculum says, "Some transgender individuals want to live their life as the opposite gender or have surgery to become the opposite gender. Many others do not want to do so." A little later it says, "While cross-dressers change their clothes, transsexuals sometimes change their body by means of hormone therapy or sexual reassignment therapy to match how they feel."

Those statements are absolutely true. Nobody tells kids to change their sex; this kind of disregard for truth only proves that you can't believe anything the CRC says. It's not just a matter of disagreeing with their opinion. They will say anything, it is irrelevant to them whether it's true or not.

The CRC talks like they've really got the school district over a barrel here. If that was true, why would they have to lie about what's in the curriculum and what the superintendent and board members say? Why do they have to pretend that "innate," "gay gene," and "immutable" all mean the same thing? Do they expect to convince the people of Montgomery County, using a technique of misquoting people and redefining the English language?

Duchy, Valerie, Marc: Thank You

The marriage ruling this week was a setback, but I believe those who promise to work twice as hard in the coming year, and as we can see everywhere we look, the tide is turning, no doubt.

This was in The Sentinel this week -- it's behind a firewall, so I'll just put the whole thing out here:
Legislation proposed to help transgender people

By Sarah Barr
Montgomery Sentinel Staff Writer

New legislation would create a protected class for transgender people by adding gender identity to the County's non-discrimination laws and could also help bolster awareness and support for the rights of transgender people.

Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large) described the legislation as "not radical" at its introduction to the County Council last week, noting that 13 states, the District of Columbia and 91 local jurisdictions have adopted similar nondiscrimination legislation, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

The bill would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, cable television service and taxicab service.

She's right, this isn't a radical idea. For one thing, this feeling that their subjective gender is different from their physical sex not something transgender people feel now and then, or something they made up -- just think what it'd be like with everybody thinking you are whatever it is you aren't, like they're talking to somebody else but looking at you. This is a real, persistent, distressful experience for many people every day.

The other thing, there is no question that this is a group of people who are discriminated against.

I wonder if anybody we know would have anything to say on this topic?
"Passing a law like this sends a message that you don't have to be afraid," said Dana Beyer, a senior advisor to Trachtenberg who also serves on the board of the National Center for Transgender Equality and Equality Maryland, which advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

Beyer, a transgender woman herself and whose 2006 campaign for a Maryland delegate seat was one of the first by an openly transgender person, said that the law is a step against the "overt discrimination" that has been perpetrated against members of the transgender community in some cases.

"I know too many people who have been afraid," she said.

When discrimination does happen, it can lead to unemployment and homelessness for transgender people, making them prone to be victims of violence and experience other difficulties, according to Beyer.

The legislation is also a way to increase awareness and consciousness among Montgomery residents about transgender issues, thus spreading knowledge and acceptance throughout society. "This is just one more part of the conversation," said Beyer.

According to the staff report submitted with the legislation, it is unclear whether current County antidiscrimination law would cover gender identity discrimination; the new legislation would make it explicit.

In the current language of the proposed law, gender identity is defined as "an individual's actual or perceived gender, including a person's gender-related appearance, expression, image, identity, or behavior, whether or not those gender-related characteristics differ from the characteristics customarily associated with the person's assigned sex at birth."

The language is similar to the definition included in the Baltimore City Code, the only Maryland jurisdiction with a non-discrimination law that protects people on the basis of gender-identity. An attempt to pass a similar measure in the Maryland legislature was voted down in committee this spring.

The Montgomery bill is cosponsored by Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-5) and Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large). A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Oct. 2.

Once again, somebody doing the right thing. Let's keep this ball rolling, Montgomery County isn't a place that wants to discriminate against people for the way they feel.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Mayor of San Diego Does the Right Thing

Man, you don't see politicians act like this very often. Watch this video, all of it: CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO.

It is a very emotional presentation; he can hardly get through it. Mayor Jerry Sanders was a cop for 26 years, including serving as Chief of Police of the City of San Diego from 1993 until 1999.

Here is the text of the statement by San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, as he announces that he will not veto the Gay Marriage Resolution that had been passed by the City Council.
With me this afternoon is my wife, Rana.

I am here this afternoon to announce that I will sign the resolution that the City Council passed yesterday directing the City Attorney to file a brief in support of gay marriage.

My plan, as has been reported publicly, was to veto that resolution, so I feel like I owe all San Diegans an explanation for this change of heart.

During the campaign two years ago, I announced that I did not support gay marriage and instead supported civil unions and domestic partnerships.

I have personally wrestled with that position ever since. My opinion on this issue has evolved significantly -- as I think have the opinions of millions of Americans from all walks of life.

In order to be consistent with the position I took during the mayoral election, I intended to veto the Council resolution. As late as yesterday afternoon, that was my position.

The arrival of the resolution -- to sign or veto -- in my office late last night forced me to reflect and search my soul for the right thing to do.

I have decided to lead with my heart -- to do what I think is right -- and to take a stand on behalf of equality and social justice. The right thing for me to do is to sign this resolution.

For three decades, I have worked to bring enlightenment, justice and equality to all parts of our community.

As I reflected on the choices that I had before me last night, I just could not bring myself to tell an entire group of people in our community that they were less important, less worthy and less deserving of the rights and responsibilities of marriage -- than anyone else -- simply because of their sexual orientation.

A decision to veto this resolution would have been inconsistent with the values I have embraced over the past 30 years.

I do believe that times have changed. And with changing time, and new life experiences, come different opinions. I think that's natural, and certainly it is true in my case.

Two years ago, I believed that civil unions were a fair alternative. Those beliefs, in my case, have changed.

The concept of a "separate but equal" institution is not something that I can support.

I acknowledge that not all members of our community will agree or perhaps even understand my decision today.

All I can offer them is that I am trying to do what I believe is right.

I have close family members and friends who are members of the gay and lesbian community. These folks include my daughter Lisa, as well as members of my personal staff.

I want for them the same thing that we all want for our loved ones -- for each of them to find a mate whom they love deeply and who loves them back; someone with whom they can grow old together and share life's wondrous adventures.

And I want their relationships to be protected equally under the law. In the end, I could not look any of them in the face and tell them that their relationships -- their very lives -- were any less meaningful than the marriage that I share with my wife Rana.

Thank you.

And so, one person at a time, the tide is turned.

NYT: Boomers Worse Than Kids

I almost missed this great piece in the New York Times the other day. It touches on several of my favorite themes -- Chicken-Little decision making, the pseudoscientific overemphasis on brain measures in research, and of course the fact that we're over the hill and the younguns are cooler than us.

Especially if you've got teenagers, check this out.
A SPATE of news reports have breathlessly announced that science can explain why adults have such trouble dealing with teenagers: adolescents possess “immature,” “undeveloped” brains that drive them to risky, obnoxious, parent-vexing behaviors. The latest example is a study out of Temple University that found that the “temporal gap between puberty, which impels adolescents toward thrill seeking, and the slow maturation of the cognitive-control system, which regulates these impulses, makes adolescence a time of heightened vulnerability for risky behavior.”

We know the rest of the script: Commentators brand teenagers as stupid, crazy, reckless, immature, irrational and even alien, then advocate tough curbs on youthful freedoms. Jay Giedd, who heads the brain imaging project at the National Institutes of Health, argues that the voting and drinking ages should be raised to 25. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, asks whether we should allow teenagers to be lifeguards or to enlist in the military. And state legislators around the country have proposed raising driving ages.

But the handful of experts and officials making these claims are themselves guilty of reckless overstatement. More responsible brain researchers — like Daniel Siegel of the University of California at Los Angeles and Kurt Fischer at Harvard’s Mind, Brain and Education Program — caution that scientists are just beginning to identify how systems in the brain work.

“People naturally want to use brain science to inform policy and practice, but our limited knowledge of the brain places extreme limits on that effort,” Dr. Siegel told me. “There can be no ‘brain-based education’ or ‘brain-based parenting’ at this early point in the history of neuroscience.” This Is Your (Father’s) Brain on Drugs

It's funny how research that talks about some brain function, or uses some brain imaging technique, gets everybody's attention, when straightforward psychological research just bores them. We had a story the other day about the differences between liberals and conservatives, and everybody was taking the differences in brain activity to mean that people are born liberal or conservative. No, the brain activity just shows how you're thinking, and liberals and conservatives think differently -- the research didn't say anybody was born that way. You have to be careful there.
Why, then, do many pundits and policy makers rush to denigrate adolescents as brainless? One troubling possibility: youths are being maligned to draw attention from the reality that it’s actually middle-aged adults — the parents — whose behavior has worsened.

Our most reliable measures show Americans ages 35 to 54 are suffering ballooning crises:
  • 18,249 deaths from overdoses of illicit drugs in 2004, up 550 percent per capita since 1975, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
  • 46,925 fatal accidents and suicides in 2004, leaving today’s middle-agers 30 percent more at risk for such deaths than people aged 15 to 19, according to the national center.
  • More than four million arrests in 2005, including one million for violent crimes, 500,000 for drugs and 650,000 for drinking-related offenses, according to the F.B.I. All told, this represented a 200 percent leap per capita in major index felonies since 1975.
  • 630,000 middle-agers in prison in 2005, up 600 percent since 1977, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  • 21 million binge drinkers (those downing five or more drinks on one occasion in the previous month), double the number among teenagers and college students combined, according to the government’s National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  • 370,000 people treated in hospital emergency rooms for abusing illegal drugs in 2005, with overdose rates for heroin, cocaine, pharmaceuticals and drugs mixed with alcohol far higher than among teenagers.
  • More than half of all new H.I.V./AIDS diagnoses in 2005 were given to middle-aged Americans, up from less than one-third a decade ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

What experts label “adolescent risk taking” is really baby boomer risk taking. It’s true that 30 years ago, the riskiest age group for violent death was 15 to 24. But those same boomers continue to suffer high rates of addiction and other ills throughout middle age, while later generations of teenagers are better behaved. Today, the age group most at risk for violent death is 40 to 49, including illegal-drug death rates five times higher than for teenagers.

Wow -- soak that one up for a minute. Turns out the kids are all right, after all, compared to us olde folke.

Kids, cover your ears, I'm talking to the grown-ups now. [I've always thought that the main thing we worry about is that our kids are going to do the things we did when we were that age. True, we lost a few good ones along the way, but most of us survived it.]

Okay, kids, you can uncover your ears. As I was saying, when we were young, we never did any of those crazy things the kids do nowadays.
Strangely, the experts never mention even more damning new “discoveries” about the middle-aged brain, like the 2004 study of scans by Harvard researchers revealing declines in key memory and learning genes that become significant by age 40. In reality, human brains are highly adaptive. Both teenagers and adults display a wide variety of attitudes and behaviors derived from individual conditions and choices, not harsh biological determinism. There’s no “typical teenager” any more than there’s a “typical” 45-year-old.

Commentators slandering teenagers, scientists misrepresenting shaky claims about the brain as hard facts, 47-year-olds displaying far riskier behaviors than 17-year-olds, politicians refusing to face growing middle-aged crises ... if grown-ups really have superior brains, why don’t we act as if we do?

Put that in your bong and smoke it, grandpa.

Good That This Guy Is Caught

This prosecutor from the Justice Department got caught on his way to have sex with a five-year-old girl.

Yes, five years old.
DETROIT—An assistant U.S. attorney from Florida was arrested in an Internet sting operation after flying to Michigan to have sex with a 5-year-old girl, authorities said Monday.

John D.R. Atchison, 53, was arrested Sunday at Detroit Metropolitan Airport after several weeks of Internet conversations between the prosecutor and a detective posing as the mother of a 5-year-old girl, authorities say.

"There wasn't much reaction from him at all," Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel said. Atchison was cooperative with authorities, he said.

He was charged with using interstate communication to entice a minor to have sexual contact and traveling across state lines with the intent of engaging in illicit sexual contact. If convicted of both charges, he faces up to 40 years in prison.

According to court records, Atchison initiated an online chat Aug. 29 with an undercover officer posing as a mother interested in letting men have sex with her daughter.

At one point, Atchison said: "I'm always gentle and loving; not to worry; no damage ever; no rough stuff ever ever," according to an affidavit filed in court.

Atchison, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., is a prosecutor for the U.S. attorney's office for northern Florida, based in Tallahassee. He requested a court-appointed lawyer at his hearing Monday. Feds: Prosecutor sought sex with girl, 5

The implication of that quote is that he's done this before, more than once. He didn't say "the other time" he was gentle and loving, or "I promise to be" gentle and loving. He said he's "always" gentle and loving. Now they'll have to trace his steps and see who else he's done this to.

Other news stories quote him as saying, "I can be absolutely sure; just gotta go slow and very easy is how; I've done it plenty."

It's just mind-boggling to think of this guy raping preschoolers and then going to work putting other people in prison.

This character was the pillar of the community, a husband and father of three, president of the Gulf Breeze Sports Association, which runs youth baseball, softball, cheer leading, soccer, football and basketball programs.

He's every parent's nightmare. I'm glad he got caught.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Madaleno Deconstructs the Ruling Against Maryland Marriage Equality

Yesterday, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a 244-page opinion that said the state's ban of same-sex marriage was legal. It would also be OK if the legislature passed a law approving it, but for now it won't be the courts who decide, it has to be the legislature.

You can read the entire ruling HERE. As you can imagine, it's a pretty big file.

Delegate Rich Madaleno sent around an email after the ruling that summarized his disappointment and his criticism of the opinion, and he does know how to put things. I'm just going to paste his whole message here. (I emailed him and asked if was OK, but haven't heard back yet. Rich, let us know if you want us to un-post this.)
As I am sure you have heard by now, today the Maryland Court of Appeals denied equal rights for gay and lesbian couples in our state. While I am disheartened by this decision, I am more incensed by the poor quality of the majority opinion, which relies on several flawed arguments.

The Court held that the current law does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of sex because it "prohibits equally both men and women from the same conduct." If that argument sounds familiar, it should: it is the same discredited argument that southern racists used to claim that anti-miscegenation laws did not discriminate on the basis of race, because everyone was subject to the same restriction. In fact, Judge Lynne Battaglia noted in her dissent that "In reaching this result, the majority breathes life into the corpse of separate but equal…" The US Supreme Court saw through that twisted logic four decades ago. It is sad that the Maryland Court grasped onto such a discredited argument today.

After reciting a long history of the often-brutal discrimination that gays and lesbians have faced in our society, the Court went out of its way to hold that laws discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation are nevertheless not subject to the same elevated level of scrutiny as those based on race or sex, in part because the gay and lesbian community is not so politically powerless that they constitute a suspect class. Under that reasoning, race and sex should no longer be suspect classes. As General Counsel to the General Assembly, Robert Zarnoch, pointed out in his argument against upholding Judge Murdock's decision, "In Maryland, we have openly gay legislators who, in fact, are legislative powerhouses in leadership." While I and my openly gay colleagues are flattered at the idea of being legislative powerhouses, to say that we as a class are more politically powerful than our African-American or women colleagues is a bit of a stretch.

Another reason that the Court said discrimination against gays and lesbians is constitutionally permissible is that sexual orientation - unlike race or sex - may not be immutable. That's certainly an interesting viewpoint, totally at odds with reality. Do the judges who are in the majority routinely change their sexual orientation? I doubt it. Regardless, we prohibit discrimination - and rightfully so - on other bases that are not at all immutable - religion being chief among them.

Perhaps the worst argument the court used to deny marriage equality was the one that right-wing activists have espoused all along: that marriage is explicitly about procreation. Judge Irma Raker recognized the failed logic in her dissenting opinion, stating that "This disparate treatment of committed same-sex couples, exhibited in a multitude of Maryland laws discussed supra, directly disadvantages the children of same-sex couples, and there is no rational basis to allow such disadvantages when the State's proffered interest is to promote a stable environment for procreation and child rearing. Each child raised in a household headed by a same-sex couple in Maryland needs and is entitled to the same legal protections as a child of married parents." For those of us who are lucky enough to be proud gay and lesbian parents, the idea that the state has less desire to protect our children than those of our heterosexual neighbors is particularly disturbing.

Today, gay and lesbian Marylanders feel a devastating kick in the gut, as the Court blithely writes us out of our own constitution with little or no thought to the impact on real people. Regardless of what the Court says, those of us who are prohibited from civil marriage by the state can attest that we are being denied a fundamental right. And the glee with which this decision will be greeted by anti-gay forces intent on dehumanizing us by denying us the fundamental human right to marry indicates that the reason behind retaining the discriminatory law is animus, and nothing more.

Yet, our struggle does not end with this decision. As the Court makes clear, there are no constitutional barriers to the General Assembly and the Governor taking action on expanding the legal recognition of same-gender couples. I fully expect bills to legalize marriage equality will be introduced next session as well as bills to authorize civil unions and the like. Rest assured, I will be advocating for full marriage equality. However, as a community, we will face a major decision over the next few months as to what we might accept out of the legislative process. I hope you will stay engaged with me and Equality Maryland as the debate unfolds.

I would like to leave you with a comment I read today on the blog "SCREW DESPAIR! It's time for a strong pot of coffee and some political work ethic." Let's get to work and redouble our efforts in Maryland. Make no mistake, we will prevail. Not as soon as you and I had hoped, but it will happen. Please stay involved and let your elected officials know that you want action now that our courts have let us down.

With hope for the future,

Rich Madaleno

Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr., writing for the majority, said "Our opinion should by no means be read to imply that the General Assembly may not grant and recognize for homosexual persons civil unions or the right to marry a person of the same sex,"

This was a 4-3 vote, and the tide is turning.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Anti-American Values

You know that yesterday there was a kind of "Values Voters debate" among Republican presidential candidates. Well, it wasn't a debate, really, it was kind of a ... I don't know what you call that, everybody took turns getting up on the soap box. And also, none of the real Republican candidates dared to show up.

But this is incredible. They opened with a choir singing something that sounded like "God Bless America." Except it wasn't "God Bless America." They changed the words, so it was against America.

The crowd went wild, they loved it. This is what we're up against, people who think America needs to be punished.

Here's what they're saying:
Why should God bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back
On everything that made her what she is.

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sin and heal our land

The courts ruled prayer out of our schools
In June of ‘62
Told the children “you are your own God now
So you can make the rules”
O say can you see what that choice
Has cost us to this day
America, one nation under God, has gone astray

Why should god bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land

In ‘73 the Courts said we
Could take the unborn lives
The choice is yours don’t worry now
It’s not a wrong, it’s your right

But just because they made it law
Does not change God’s command
The most that we can hope for is
God’s mercy on our land

Why should God bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land

Just unbelievable. Fred Phelps and his God Hates Fags congregation would be right at home there.

Postscript: I started wondering where this song came from. Maybe it's something they've been singing in their churches and stuff all along, and I just never heard of it. So I googled the name, and got 1,490 hits -- all different sites, where bright and original people came up with that same line. Look:

OK, that's enough cutting-and-pasting, but there are a ton more. I saw at least two books titled that, lots of forums and bulletin boards discussing the subject.

It turns out, this isn't just some freaked-out gospel group that stopped taking their meds and pole-vaulted over the outer boundaries of the realm of good taste. This is a core concept for these people: they are praying for bad things to happen to America.

One Way It Can Work

I've been to a lot of back-to-school nights where the teachers, the PTA, the administrators talk about how they want parents to get involved, and most of the time I can't figure out how to do that without making somebody mad, or getting mad myself. Because they've got their routine in the school, they've got their roles, they've got their acronyms and their habits and philosophies, and I don't even know what those are, never mind agree with half of them. Sometimes when I talk with a teacher, I end up not ... having a good experience. And it appears it is not always a joyous occasion for the teacher, either. And it's not just me, I hear the stories.

So it's nice to read in the Washington Post about some parents here in MC who had a problem with their school, and they ran into a brick wall, and then it worked out.
It was "The Case of the Missing French Teacher." Last month, one week before school started, parents learned that because only 77 fourth-graders had enrolled in Maryvale Elementary School, one of the two French immersion teachers at that grade level would have to be dropped and some students shunted into a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class.

Outraged parents flooded the Rockville school with complaints. "Our children and staff are expendable," one wrote in an e-mail. "This is completely unacceptable," wrote another. The school system's response seemed to them limp and unconcerned. "I am confident that all Maryvale students will have a successful school year," wrote Stephen L. Bedford, a Montgomery County school official. "Thank you for your interest in Maryvale Elementary School." Parent-School Conflict Is Lesson on Efficacy

I hate it when they do that.

Maryvale is not too far from our house. One of the kids used to practice some sport there, or maybe it was in a park next door. The French immersion program always sounded kind of cool, except for the part about it being French. Once when we were having guests from France, I thought I'd learn a few words. But I don't think that's something you teach yourself. Another language, yes, I've learned (and forgotten) a couple of them, but I could not tell one sound from the other. I didn't learn any French.

You see how these parents felt when they took that old advice to get involved. It sounds like a good idea, but the system really isn't in place to make it work.
It had all the makings of a typical parent-school battle, full of frustration and resentment. Yet these particular parents and educators began to look for a way to work it out, exchanging information rather than epithets, trying to stay positive and employing several methods that experts in the growing field of school-family partnerships say are essential to reaching solutions rather than creating long-term feuds.

Washington area school leaders have shown increasing interest in advising parents on how to complain. Montgomery, for instance, is starting a Parent Academy. But school systems often limit guidance to where parents should send objections and how long they should wait for an answer. Experts on school-family relations say it is also important for parents to know how to mobilize and how to word complaints. Likewise, it is critical for school officials to know how to respond.

Storming in while the buses are pulling up and trying to solve your problem with the two ladies who happen to be standing in the attendance office, it seems to me, is not probably the best strategy. But people seem to do that. I've seen it. I have also tried to talk to somebody when the ladies at the front desk really didn't want me to. It can be very frustrating, especially when you're seriously concerned about what's happening with your kid.
At the heart of the Maryvale dispute were a PTA president, Anne-Marie Kim, and her husband, Caius Kim, a nonprofit-company executive with a business and science background and a fondness for breaking down conflicts into comprehensible parts. They began a dialogue with two Montgomery school officials: Sherry Liebes, a community superintendent; and Bedford, the chief school performance officer.

School administrators are often uncomfortable, experts say, when parents such as the Kims seek to insert themselves into management decisions. But "being defensive and saying, for example, that parents have 'no business inquiring about personnel decisions' and 'no right to interfere with administrators' professional judgment' is not just insensitive but poor public relations," said Anne T. Henderson, a senior consultant with the Community Involvement Program at Brown University's Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

In a letter to Caius Kim three days before school started, Bedford explained that class-size guidelines called for adding a teacher when the student-teacher ratio exceeded 28 to 1. He said officials were doing their best to ease any difficulties caused by the loss of a teacher. Liebes attended a parent meeting at the school that day, Aug. 24, to answer questions.

Oh great, there's a memo somewhere. You lose, this doesn't meet a criterion. That's the rule.

But wait.
At that stage, the administration's response was not making parents feel much better. "Creating a combination class is not only detrimental to the learning environment of students but defies the strong educational objectives of Montgomery County," Maryvale parent Bahram Meyssami wrote in an Aug. 26 e-mail to Liebes.

The Maryvale parents adopted what experts say is the best approach to such disputes: getting as many people as possible on their side with a strong argument. "One parent complaining is a fruitcake," Henderson said. "Two parents are a fruitcake and a friend; five parents will get some attention; 20 parents can be seen as a powerful organization."

Fruitcake? What do those have in them, I can't remember. I'm sure it's not fruits. Is it nuts?

Here the story takes a fortuitous twist. The memo is still lying on the countertop, parents on one side and administrators on the other, scowling across the well-Listerined linoleum at one another, when ...
To organize parents, Caius Kim sent a long message the week before school started with precise data on Maryvale's staffing situation and exact quotes from relevant county policy guidelines. He argued that although the 77 students were not enough for four teachers under the usual staffing ratio, 43 of those students were in the French immersion program and should be considered a separate part of the fourth grade. Combining fourth- and fifth-grade French students in one class would overburden the teacher and betray previous promises to parents, he said, as well as contradict Superintendent Jerry D. Weast's plans to reduce class size and the number of combined classes.

The two sides went back and forth, keeping the conversation going. Family-school experts Henderson and Karen L. Mapp, a former Boston school administrator and a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education -- asked by The Post to review a sample of the Maryvale messages -- said they were "on the whole, respectful, courteous and trying to understand the other's position."

Henderson and Mapp noted, however, some missteps, including an administrator's failure to thank parents for their diligent research and a parent's dismissal of any hope that an official would respond to her message.

On the morning of Aug. 29, two days into the school year, good news arrived in a telephone call from Liebes to Anne-Marie Kim. Kim was out walking the family whippets, Devo and Ella, so Caius Kim chatted with Liebes until his wife returned. She was the first parent to hear that two new students had enrolled, and one previously registered student had shown up late. The new students brought the class sizes to a level where she could justify a fourth classroom teacher, Liebes said. In the end, the school wound up with a 20-to-1 student-teacher ratio in fourth grade.

Win-win! Our favorite! Everybody gets what they wanted.

Oddly, some parents seem to have been skeptical.
Several Maryvale parents said they thought the slight enrollment bump provided the school system a convenient excuse.

"I truly believe that [Montgomery County Public Schools] only changed its position and reinstated the teaching slot because of the enormous pressure from parents and the overwhelming facts that they presented," Martha Desnoyers said. Mary Ann Holovac said, "Obviously, the squeaky axle gets the grease, and we made a lot of squeaks."

Reading this, I'm thinking, no. The memo said what ratio they needed. So some parents are mad, parents are always mad. Who hasn't been mad at the ridiculous rule-following people who run the schools? I don't think that makes them change their mind.
Some experts advise school systems to involve parents in decision-making before complaints arise

But schools often don't know what their class sizes will be until the last minute, as happened at Maryvale. "Just because we may not end up agreeing on a particular issue doesn't mean that we haven't listened," Liebes said, "and that is important for parents to always keep in mind."

The Kims said they were happy to send their daughter Chloé and son Caius off to a school where the French program was back in shape. Anne-Marie wrote in a bulletin to parents: "Congratulations on your professionalism, letters and phone calls. Our children will benefit from your dedication."

It's good to see that everything worked out for these guys. It seems to me that a school is a kind of organization that needs to be stable. Well, for one thing, when you've got a gazillion screaming kids running around, the administration needs to provide a reliable and sturdy framework for teachers, or they'd lose their minds by the end of the day. They need their acronyms, and their memos, and those ladies in the attendance office screening complainers.

On the other hand, it can be very frustrating watching your kid fall through the net, and nobody doing anything, no acronym assigned to them, no policy or program they can go into. The schools need to be responsive to families, because they don't know what kind of people they are -- you can't just treat every kid like a normal kid, and ignore them when they deviate from that. If you're going to educate them, you've got to know who they are, and you're going to have to bend the rules sometimes.

There should be a flexibility rating on every memo, telling administrators and teachers just how far they can bend it. Some are strict, some are just guidelines, really. The 28-to-one rule shouldn't apply a hundred percent here, because this is the French immersion class, which is a reason people move to this neighborhood and send their kids to this school (and I should tell you, Maryvale is not in a fancy neighborhood, you might say, it's just regular folks). They need to have these classes, more than they need to have some geography class, or PE or something. The rule needs to loosen up here.

I'm glad it worked out. The Post plays it up as if the parents and the school worked it out. They didn't. They demonstrated what happens if the two sides stay out of each other's faces, and I guess the lesson is that there's no sense burning your bridges when things can still change for the better. This was resolved by sheer luck. Those parents were going to get the short end of the deal, but three kids happened to show up to tip the ratio and then the rules worked in their favor.