Friday, November 30, 2007

The Candidates on Sex Ed

Women's E-News has a nice informative article that summarizes the presidential candidates' views on sex education.

They have a nice, brief introduction to the topic and why it's important. Readers of this blog probably don't need that level of introduction, most of us have been paying attention to this subject at least in the last couple of years, especially as it's played out for those of us who live in Montgomery County, Maryland.

So ... click on the link above for more information. I hope they don't mind if I copy and paste their summary of the candidates' positions on this important subject.
  • Joe Biden supports "age-appropriate" and comprehensive sex education but the Delaware senator has also voted to fund abstinence programs.
  • Hillary Clinton has favored abstinence-plus for a decade. In 1996 as first lady she helped launch the teen pregnancy campaign, which has a goal of reducing teen pregnancy by one-third by 2015 through comprehensive education and awareness. Ten years later, as New York senator, she introduced the Prevention First Act, which would have allocated $100 million for family planning services in an effort to curb teen pregnancy.
  • Chris Dodd's Web site says the Connecticut senator is "appalled" by the Bush administration's abstinence-only programs.
  • John Edwards promotes comprehensive sex education according to his Web site. The former North Carolina senator's campaign did not return phone calls.
  • Mike Gravel, former senator from Alaska, said he favored comprehensive sex education in a questionnaire he returned to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group.
  • Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only presidential candidate who is a co-sponsor of the Responsible Education About Life Act that emphasizes comprehensive programs.
  • Illinois Sen. Barack Obama introduced the Communities of Color Teen Pregnancy Prevention Act of 2007 in Illinois. He respects abstinence as a choice but also advocates age-appropriate comprehensive sex education.
  • New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson favors abstinence-plus.

  • Rudi Giuliani, the only Republican candidate still waffling about his pro-choice stance, avoids the topic. He talks about increasing adoptions and decreasing abortions but is mum on sex education. As New York City mayor for eight years, he presided over a major free condom distribution campaign that included public schools. A campaign spokesperson says Giuliani's stance can be compared to what he says about education in general: "The enforcer of standards should . . . be the parent."
  • John McCain promotes abstinence-only programs but the Arizona senator has previously promoted comprehensive sex education.
  • Mitt Romney promoted abstinence education in Massachusetts classrooms as governor of that state from 2003 to 2007. Romney mentioned this in the May South Carolina debates to show his credentials as a "clear and consistent conservative." Alex Burgos, a campaign staffer, said Romney believes schools should "promote abstinence as part of their health curriculum and teach that marriage comes before babies." Romney, however, checked a box saying he supported comprehensive sex education in a 2002 Planned Parenthood candidate survey.
  • Fred Thompson, former Tennessee senator, backs abstinence education.
  • Duncan Hunter, California representative, favors "equal emphasis" on abstinence. He wants to give abstinence the same amount of teaching as the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Mike Huckabee favors abstinence-only and opposes abstinence-plus. In response to a question asking whether his religious beliefs would allow him to support AIDS prevention in Africa that might include contraception, the Arkansas governor compared it with domestic violence and said compromising on either issue is not an option. "We don't say that a little domestic violence is OK, just cut it down a little, just don't hit quite as hard," says the former Arkansas governor. "We say it's wrong."
  • Ron Paul, the Texas representative, favors abstinence-only programs.
  • Tom Tancredo, the Colorado representative, favors abstinence-only programs.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Eighth Grade Classes Have Been Taught At 35 Schools

At the citizens advisory committee meeting last night, Montgomery County Public Schools administrator Betsy Brown reported that the new eighth grade sex-ed classes have been held now at 35 of Montgomery County's 38 middle schools. The district is collecting information now about how it went, but she had some data for the committee.

Ms. Brown said that of the 2,263 students who were eligible for the classes, 2,146 or 95 per cent got parental opt-in and took the classes. 117 students took the alternate units; of those, some parents refused to sign and some kids lost their permission slips, you can't tell from the data.

Last spring's pilot test, she said, had 88 percent opt-in. You remember, that was with the CRC picketing schools, calling homes with automated messages, sending letters and postcards ... For the real classes, three of the 35 schools were below 88 percent by a little bit. She wouldn't say which ones those were, and I can understand that. She gave a hint about one, but it wasn't enough, for me anyway, to guess what schools it was. Had something to do with new health teachers. I wondered if there was an upcounty/downcounty difference -- I don't really know where people live who would opt their kids out of a health class because it taught respect, tolerance, and empathy. The good news is that it doesn't appear there are many people like that in our county.

She talked quite a bit about the parents' information meetings at the schools. Sounds like there was a lot of variation among schools, with parents' attendance ranging from zero to a hundred percent at the different schools. It sounded like high parental attendance at the meetings correlated with high opt-in for the classes; involved and well-informed parents decided to send their kids to the class. That's perfect.

This really shouldn't be news, that the schools held some classes. We have been fighting for three years to see this happen, using facts and reason against some of the most inflammatory and dishonest rhetoric imaginable. A group of extremists tried to take over our school district, and they failed, due to the public and the school district standing up to them. Montgomery County, a prosperous, well-educated, liberal community, should not have to work this hard to teach our children the facts of life, to bring a positive and accurate message of kindness and truth to the classroom.

The alternative would have been to cave in to bigotry, and the county just couldn't do that.

So -- congratulations to Montgomery County Public Schools for hanging in there, and to all the great people who went to public comments before the school board, who served on committees and made phone calls, who signed petitions, who voted for candidates that would do the right thing, and those intrepid souls who commented on our blog, pro and con, so the public could follow the dialogue in real time.

I'm sure the controversy will revive again and again, but for now -- this is a real milestone, and we should be proud to have arrived to this point.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Watch How the CRC Handles This

Lately I've been interested in watching how clusters of beliefs go together, as we've watched the CRC morph from a simple anti-gay group to one that tepidly tried to defend white Christians, to one that recently mobilized the forces to try to keep discrimination against transgender people legal. You're never surprised, but you do wonder sometimes -- what are they thinking?

The CRC and allied groups have made a lot of hay out of the idea that the AIDS epidemic is a result of "homosexual behavior." Because they are <insert_stereotypical_generalization_here>, gays can't control their sexual behavior and so they spread HIV. These groups have numbers, they have pie-charts, they have Surgeons General from the hazy past speaking on this subject.

I am curious to see how they'll address the more recent data, in yesterday's Washington Post:
The first statistics ever amassed on HIV in the District, released today in a sweeping report, reveal "a modern epidemic" remarkable for its size, complexity and reach into all parts of the city.

The numbers most starkly illustrate HIV's impact on the African American community. More than 80 percent of the 3,269 HIV cases identified between 2001 and 2006 were among black men, women and adolescents. Among women who tested positive, a rising percentage of local cases, nine of 10 were African American.

The 120-page report, which includes the city's first AIDS update since 2000, shows how a condition once considered a gay disease has moved into the general population. HIV was spread through heterosexual contact in more than 37 percent of the District's cases detected in that time period, in contrast to the 25 percent of cases attributable to men having sex with men. Study Calls HIV in D.C. A 'Modern Epidemic'

I doubt the CRC and other groups will want to talk out loud about this. And for good reason. There is a certain sensitivity, you might say, about the similarity between the kinds of assertions these nutty groups make about gays, and now transgender people, and the things that were said by ... others, not that many years ago, about black people.

I don't think the CRC wants to get stuck with the racist tag, and really, I don't think they have done anything to deserve it. But it's a nerve that runs near the surface, because the pattern is so similar. So now it will be interesting to see how they interpret these new findings that AIDS is an epidemic among blacks, at least in our area now, more than gays.

Let's see if they start shooting their mouths off about racial minorities like they have about sexual minorities, linking them to people's daughters being raped and young girls being found dead all over the county -- the things they've been saying about transgender people -- and talking about how promiscuous they are, how they don't have any self-control, how they molest children and carry diseases -- the things they've been saying about gay people.

However will they show their concern for those poor African-American victims of AIDS?

Why Does the Government Regulate Marriage?

Lady writing in the New York Times asked a question I've asked here before. I didn't expect anybody to take it seriously, but now that I hear her talk about this, I do wonder, why does the government have anything at all to say about who you can marry?
WHY do people — gay or straight — need the state’s permission to marry? For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity.

For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.

Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.

The American colonies officially required marriages to be registered, but until the mid-19th century, state supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. By the later part of that century, however, the United States began to nullify common-law marriages and exert more control over who was allowed to marry.

By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce.

In the mid-20th century, governments began to get out of the business of deciding which couples were “fit” to marry. Courts invalidated laws against interracial marriage, struck down other barriers and even extended marriage rights to prisoners. Taking Marriage Private (by Stephanie Coontz, professor of history at Evergreen State College and author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.)

Well, that is some interesting stuff. At first, you just ... lived with somebody, that was enough, move in and you're hitched.

And then, you can see that a government would want to regulate procreation and inheritance, this was a way for the guys in power to assert their superiority, that's an old game. But it's not clear why the people would put up with that.
But governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information.

In the 1950s, using the marriage license as a shorthand way to distribute benefits and legal privileges made some sense because almost all adults were married. Cohabitation and single parenthood by choice were very rare.

Today, however, possession of a marriage license tells us little about people’s interpersonal responsibilities. Half of all Americans aged 25 to 29 are unmarried, and many of them already have incurred obligations as partners, parents or both. Almost 40 percent of America’s children are born to unmarried parents. Meanwhile, many legally married people are in remarriages where their obligations are spread among several households.

It's like everything; you get swept into the system, and the system takes over. Marriage has nothing to do with the bureaucracy that manages your insurance policies, your pension, your doctor bills, your mortgage -- a marriage license was a handy way for those institutions to keep track of you and manage your stuff.

So because the bureaucracy needed records, the state needed to be responsible for getting you registered, and if you weren't, you couldn't get your benefits. And then it's just too easy for the state to attach strings to it. You needed a blood test. You had to be a certain age, single, straight. You can't marry without a license because the bureaucracy owns your life, and you can't get a license without meeting some criteria established by somebody with a political agenda.

My thought was that marriage should be registered by religious organizations. You could have the Church of Atheism, the Church of Gay, whatever, if a church would sign your papers you would be married. Of course, you immediately see the problem: could you accept someone else's idea of marriage? What would you do when the polygamists came out of hiding? How about when the ten-year-old down the street is given away in an arranged marriage, as is done in many lands?

That freedom business is a tough one, isn't it? It's fine as long as everybody does the same thing, doesn't always hold up too well when it's put to the test. For some people, the solution to that dilemma is to force everybody to do the same thing. Others see that it's tough, but figure it's worth the price.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Swastikas Versus Peace

This is a kind of ordinary story, some kids in Florida opposed the war, some of the other students used the usual intelligent techniques of name-calling and intimidation to try to stop them, the school administration let it go, etcetera etcetera.

There are a couple of twists though.
COCOA BEACH, Fla. — Students at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High School are waging a war on peace.Recently, sophomore Skylar Stains decided to hold Peace Shirt Thursdays at the school. Skylar and her friend, Lauren Lorraine, started wearing peace shirts and soon recruited more friends to wear them. Now, the “Peace Shirt Coalition” as they call themselves, has close to 30 students from all grades.

“We’ve worn handmade peace shirts every Thursday since the first week of school, without fail,” Skylar said.

But what started out as a light-hearted gesture soon started to be taken out of context.

Students started approaching the group members, yelling obscene things at them, said Lauren.

“People just turned on us like that,” she said. “At least 10 boys stood up and yelled things at me at once, and we couldn’t even walk through the halls without a harsh comment being made.”

The heckling began early in the school year, according to group members. They said they were putting small posters promoting peace on friends’ lockers with their permission.

They thought it was OK, because the cheerleaders and football players had signs on theirs. Eventually, though, group members said they were told by the school’s administration they could no longer hang up the posters.

“People tore them down and drew swastikas and ‘white power’ stuff on them,” Lauren said.

Skylar had similar things written on her posters. Students Wear Confederate Flag Shirts To Oppose Peace-Shirt Group

Will someone please show me the logical taxonomy that places swastikas and "white power" as the counterarguments to peace?

It's funny how this is at once obvious and absurd. Of course swastikas and "white power" slogans are the opposite of what these kids are doing, you can't say you don't see that. It's as simple as left-wing, right-wing. But then again ... how does the desire for peace challenge white supremacists? What's the connection?

I remember once standing -- this was years ago -- outside a restaurant-bar in some college town in North Carolina, where a guy was playing spacey psychedelic melodies on a flute, sitting cross-legged on a sheepskin, wearing harem pants ... you get the picture. I was in a Southern rock band at that time, we were on a break and I was out there with our other guitar player, Dale, who was from Alabama, and was, as usual, drunk. He stood there studying this guy's poster outside the door; the guy wanted to save the whales, heal the ozone layer, he wanted world peace, mmm, legalized marijuana, I think. And Dale stood there, wobbling, reading that poster with one eye shut, and then he looked at me, un-crossed his eyes, and said, in that big Alabama accent, "Well, hey, I'm for all that stuff too."

Because even to rednecky Dale it just made sense. You take care of the place where you live, and you treat people with respect. Good ol' boy that he was, he couldn't find anything to disagree about with that patchouli-smelling, braided-haired, wispy-bearded hippie. See how easy that is?

But there in Florida, these days, you oppose the war, the response is "white power" and swastikas.
“Someone taped an ‘I Love Bush’ sign over my ‘Wage Peace’ sign,” she said. “So I tore it down, threw it away, and the whole commons starting booing. I walk by later and find that someone has completely tore my sign down and placed an ‘I Love America, Because America Loves War’ sign up.”

Let's just say, when I read this I'm glad I live in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Skipping down ...
Soon, a second group started to wear Confederate flag shirts to oppose the peace group, Skylar said. She saw shirts with sayings such as “This is America, get used to it,” and “If peace is the answer; it must be a stupid question.”

“Now there are even ’support our troops’ kids who don’t like us because I guess they think you can’t say peace and support the troops at the same time,” Lauren said.

Skylar later passed out yellow ribbons for her group to wear to show they support the troops as well as peace.

However, Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High sophomores Lydia Pace and Joseph Marianetti said the Confederate shirts they wear express support for the troops in Iraq, and nothing more. Joseph said the shirts have nothing to do with racism.

“Someone took something that stood for peace and twisted it” in regards to the swastikas (drawn by a third group) and the Confederate flag, he said.

Um, yeah. Symbols of peace, sure.

The interesting thing to me is that two contradictory things are obvious. First, it's obvious that supporting the war or opposing it has nothing logically to do with race or attitudes about race, nothing to do with Hitler's Germany, it has nothing to do with the outcome of the Civil War nearly 150 years ago, or the division between the Northern and Southern states in general -- it seems to me that Red and Blue correlate with proximity to the coastline, not North and South. But the second thing is equally obvious, that there is a cluster of beliefs and attitudes that go together, including racism, homophobia, the belief that abortion is murder and the death penalty is a good thing, fear of immigration, support for the war in Iraq.

We all see this. Take your neighbor, the card-carrying CRC member, anti-gay, up in arms over the idea that you won't be able to discriminate against transgender people in our county any more -- go over and ask them what they think about abortion, about the war, about the death penalty, about immigration. You know what they'll say before you even ask.

Maybe somebody here will be able to explain how those things go together.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Faith and Science

This morning is not as cold as it's been but it's chilly and sort of gray out. I got a new jacket last week, and have been a little shy to wear it -- it's fur, and maybe it's too much. But I wore it last night and this morning when I walked the dog, and it's possible I'll get used to it. Back in the day nothing was too much, I guess I'm mellowing with the years.

Or maybe not.

Yesterday my friend and I played music for six hours straight. We ended up doing a bunch of Roy Orbison songs, and today my throat is a little sore. My fingertips are also kind of crunchy, but I have been picking up the guitar every day and playing a little, so there are at least some callouses now. He plays bass and I play guitar, and we stood there in his basement drinking sangria out of a box and playing old songs. It turns out I know a whole lot of Buddy Holly songs. And Merle Haggard, too, but he doesn't like to play that country stuff, we generally stick to old rock and roll, which is centered on the early Sun recordings but includes Elmo James and George Jones, if you know what I mean. I am thinking about getting some software so I can set up a kind of home recording studio; I recently watched a documentary about Les Paul and Mary Ford, and how they recorded everything in their house, and I think that would be fun. I've been writing songs again -- actually, yesterday while my friend was trying to burn me a CD I played some of my old songs, just by myself, and they sounded pretty good. Well, I've got enough going on already without that, but it's fun.

The New York Times had an opinion piece yesterday by a professor at Arizona State University, which I attended for two unimpressive years back in the sixties. This guy, Paul Davies, is a physicist, calls himself these days an "astrobiologist," which sounds cool but ... well, I'm not going to criticize his science, it looks like he's a person who takes a broad view of things, and I'm in favor of that, sometimes researchers narrow their field too much.

The piece is long, and I want to show you but don't want to paste the whole thing in here. Here's the start, which I think catches the gist of his case:
SCIENCE, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term “doubting Thomas” well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.

The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs. The laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws that regulate the world within the atom, the laws of motion — all are expressed as tidy mathematical relationships. But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do? Taking Science on Faith

First of all, he does overstate the case. Nobody thinks science is perfect, it's just the best we've got. As biological agents we are limited in our ability to be objective, we can only sense the world through human senses and interpret what we see from the point of view of human beings. The endeavor to improve measurement and analysis, and to design experiments that test important hypotheses, has been very successful, but it is not perfect. In the long run, all we are doing is making adjustments to the brains that nature gave us, programming the meatware.

I think he's wrong to contrast scientific belief with faith. True, they're different things, but not that different; scientific knowledge is based on carefully developed evidence, but every skeptic realizes that a leap of faith is required in order to believe that the empirical world exists at all. Without that grain of faith you'd be schizophrenic, living in your own self-absorbed universe, solipsistically doubting the existence of everything; I don't think any serious thinker would say that you could have science without faith.

It seems to me that the difference between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge has to do with intention, as contrasted with causation. The scientist finds that things are the way they are because something caused them to be that way. The religious believer finds that things are the way they are because somebody made them that way.

What would be the difference between a world that someone made intentionally and the exact same world without intention? I'm asking if an atheist and a believer walk around participating in the world, what will they see that's different?

The only difference will be the way they feel about it. Say, I have a drawing on my refrigerator that my daughter made for me when she was four. I look at that drawing with a certain feeling that you, coming into my kitchen, would not have, because I know her and I know she made the drawing for me. The religious believer feels like that in the world, has a sentimental connection to existence, a feeling that the world was intentionally made just the way it is, with love.

There would not have to be any difference in what the believer and the skeptic predict will happen next, no difference in understanding how the world works, so the pragmatist sees the distinction between faith and no-faith as meaningless, having no cash value. But there's the rub: meaning. If the world is made by an intentional being, then meaning is actually a property of the world itself. If that is the case, then the human intellect is an instrument for revealing meaning. The alternative is that meaning is something socially constructed by humans with brains, transparently experienced as a quality of the world, as part of the package we call "the human condition." I am talking about the difference between discovery and invention.

So maybe faith is the unskeptical acceptance of meaning as a quality of the world, intentionally put there by a divine creator. Wouldn't it be nice to walk around in a world brimming with true meaning, made with love? I can't really see anything to object to there, and I also don't see why that feeling would be incompatible with any aspect of science. Well, I don't personally choose to feel that way, but I'm saying it's fine if other people feel that way.

The problems begin when I insist that my daughter's drawing is better than some other kid's drawing, when I confuse my feeling of special significance with objective knowledge. Of course I feel that way, the drawing means something special to me, but the drawing on your refrigerator has special significance to you, and you might think your kid's drawing is better than my kid's. Because our own kids' drawings are special to us, we may reify our feelings and think they are objectively special, especially if we believe that meaning is a true quality of the world that is revealed to our minds, and that's a problem. Someone coming into my kitchen would sadly fail to see what I see in that drawing, which could be as bad as being blind as far as I'm concerned.

Similarly, if I believe with all my heart that my God created the world and gave it meaning, and you believe otherwise, we will each think of the other as deluded. And that is not a good basis for a friendship.

There's really nothing wrong with believing that God set up the big bang and the process of evolution, carefully designing the cosmological constants so that the universe would remain stable through human lifetimes and so on -- that's all fine, it doesn't change a thing. You can't prove that there is intention behind the world, or that there isn't, so you choose whatever makes you feel better. Either view may be correct, and either may be illusion -- you'll never prove it either way.

I am ignoring the ones who say that the world was literally made in seven days, 6,000 years ago or whatever they believe. They are free to believe that, but they are simply wrong. There is no point in arguing with authoritarians.

There have been religions that stopped just before the point we've come to, where the seeker learns to sense the presence of the divine in every moment, and discounts other thoughts as vanity and illusion borne necessarily by mortal nature. Unfortunately most people are not content with that. People want some intervention in their lives, they want a personal contact with the spirit world, they want an explanation for why things are the way they are and somebody to hold accountable for it all, they want to know that the world was made for their own happiness. Next thing you know, you've got competing deities, and worse, you've got explanations that conflict with empirical evidence, challenging good-hearted faith.

I don't usually talk here about my own beliefs, but I will say I personally am most comfortable with a flavor of panpsychism that keeps bringing me back to the teachings of Lao Tsu. My intuitions on this topic are pretty well described in THIS paper, if you're interested. I don't think consciousness could possibly be created in a brain, I think the brain exploits the subjective quality of the world by making it reflexive and giving it content; what's different about us is not that we're conscious, but that we're conscious of things. Intention, I'm afraid, presumes embodiment, and so I don't see that anything is gained by believing that a disembodied will lies behind the machinations of the universe; but that doesn't mean the universe is barren or uncaring. That's just what I think, I don't expect anyone else to walk down that road with me.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ike Signs, The Post Suckers for the Re-Framing

I saw a blogger yesterday who linked to the Washington Post, noting that they had said that places with nondiscrimination laws like our new one had experienced no problems with men lurking in ladies rooms. And, yes, it's true that's in there, about three-quarters of the way down. That fact was certainly not featured in their telling of the story.

Oddly, The Post is the only real paper -- I am not including the Family Blah Blah newsletters -- that has opted to go along with the red-herring message of the pro-discrimination groups.

In case you haven't been following: Montgomery County just passed a law prohibiting discrimination against people on the basis of gender identity, and the Nutty Ones have been attempting to re-frame the message, to re-write the narrative so it's not about discrimination, it's about men going into ladies restrooms and shower-rooms, exposing themselves or looking at ladies and girls. No real news organization has adopted that absurd frame except The Post. Yesterday was the second story that played along with it.

We saw where PFOX's webmaster wrote the County Countil to tell them that "Hopefully, it will be one of your daughters who gets raped first!" The frame they are trying to impose here insists that failing to discriminate against transgender people will inevitably result in the rape of someone's daughters. Q: Are there any steps missing from that logic? A: Yes.

Even better, that local leader of the Republican Party, shouting at the Council meeting: "Wait until little girls start showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature."

Daughers raped, little girls dead, because the phrase "gender identity" was added to the existing law against discrimination.

Nobody buys it.

Except The Post. Here's how yesterday's story started out:
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) signed off yesterday on legislation to protect transgender individuals from discrimination, over the objections of religious and community groups that say the measure would give male cross-dressers access to women's restrooms and locker rooms.

Opponents said they plan to gather signatures for a referendum to overturn the protections, and they have enlisted a California lawyer to consider filing a lawsuit.

"Leggett has broken the biological barriers that separate male and female facilities," said Michelle Turner, spokeswoman for a coalition of opponents who have created a Web site,, for their campaign. Leggett Signs Bill For Protection of Transgender People

The newspaper brings the bathroom frame right into the first sentence of the story. They call a leader of the MoCo anti-gay groups for a quote -- and then they publicize this weird web site, which is really just a page on the CRC's domain, it looks like.

Of the eighteen paragraphs of this story, fifteen talked about the opposition to the law or the "bathroom issue." The law protects a vulnerable subpopulation of our community, but The Post mostly ignores that, and treats it as if it were a law allowing men to go into women's showers.

I have said before, the story here, in the long run, will be about the campaign by these extremists to get the media to go along with their entirely artificial framing of this new law. The law is about discrimination against transgender people, the radical groups say it's about the innocence of women and girls. The law itself is boring bureaucracy, a modification of existing law to cover a group that most people are unaware of; the new frame is vivid, shocking, frightening, and irrelevant.

OK, here's your question: what sells more papers in the long run, thrills or accuracy? Most news organizations are betting on accuracy, in this one.

The media have been under suspicion throughout the Bush years, and need to make a display of getting their facts straight. The public remembers the WMD stories, the active role that the press played in promoting an unjustified war. We might expect a smaller paper to do this -- I would not be surprised if The Examiner ran with the CRC's framing of this story (and they didn't, in fact look HERE at how The Examiner summarized The Post's story) -- but we expect to open The Post in the morning and get some facts.

In a related story...
LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Jennifer Granholm has issued an order that bars discrimination against state workers based on their "gender identity or expression," which protects the rights of those who behave, dress or identify as members of the opposite sex.

The order, which Granholm signed Wednesday, adds gender identity to a list of other prohibited grounds for discrimination that includes religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, height, weight, marital status, politics, disability or genetic information.

"State employment practices and procedures that encourage nondiscriminatory and equal employment practices provide desirable models for the private sector and local governments," says the resolution. Mich. Governor Guards Transgender Rights

The Maryland legislature failed to pass such a bill this year when they had the chance, so now the county has had to do it, in the face of threats and irrationality.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


They said it was going to rain today, but here at my dining-room table I can barely see what's on the computer monitor with this sunbeam glaring over my shoulder. Now and then a cloud passes in front of the sun, but at least at this noontime hour there doesn't appear to be any rain coming. At our house, the leaves have mostly fallen now; I noticed the mulberry tree let loose this week, I guess I have a little more raking to do, around the side. Now and then a maple leaf floats by the window; ours are yellow, but the tree next door is one of those outrageous red ones, leaves of the two trees mix as they descend past the bay window. When a car passes on the street the layer of yellow and orange leaves in the street jumps up and follows it like a multicolored river; when another comes from the other direction the river reverses itself without any sense of contradiction, following a different way.

My wife has been busy in the kitchen since before I got up this morning. She's going to use pineapple juice instead of orange juice in the cranberry-pomegranate sauce, what do you think? I think it will be good. She stood at the counter for hours last night picking the seeds out of the pomegranates. Pies are in the oven, turkey's loaded up, ready to slide in when the pies come out.

Of all the wise things, the brave strangers who traveled to this land in search of freedom and opportunity remembered to set aside a day just for giving thanks, even though things were hard for them four hundred years ago. Thanksgiving is in some ways the holiday that Hallowe'en could have been, a day for remembering, a harvest festival that celebrates the fecundity of the earth, the indefatigable kindness of people, the passing of another year from light into the inevitable darkness of winter, and the just-as-inevitable return of life and sunlight, once the forces of darkness have been defeated in heaven.

I hope all of our readers get to spend this day in homes as warm and good-smelling as mine, with people who love you. Today we'll forget our differences and share the lucky fact that we are blessed to exist on this earth, to breathe the air and feel the vibrancy of life within our bodies, animating us and driving us irresistibly to share our love with others, today we give thanks for all that came before and the infinitely fertile potential of the future.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On-Line Reading, Normal Compared to Conservative

You've got to find this interesting.

Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It's an amazing experiment. Almost everyone, when they first hear the idea, expect that people will write stupid stuff on purpose and vandalize the texts, but it doesn't work that way. Instead, people who read an entry and spot a mistake tend to fix it. So the chapters get better and better. Oh, there are legendary exceptions, of course, but in general Wikipedia has gotten a lot bigger than Encyclopedia Britannica, and where it might take ten years to fix an error in Britannica, Wikipedia can do it in a couple of seconds.

From Boing Boing (motto: "A Directory of Wonderful Things"), we learn the Top Ten most viewed pages on Wikipedia:
1. Main Page [30,090,900]
2. Wiki [904,800]
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [413,400]
4. Naruto [401,400]
5. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock [396,000]
6. United States [330,000]
7. Wikipedia [329,400]
8. Deaths in 2007 [321,300]
9. Heroes (TV series) [307,500]
10. Transformers (film) [303,600]

Well, I can't say I've looked up, uh, any of those things, I think the terms I search for are probably in the Bottom Ten. But there's not a lot of surprises there, new and popular stuff, leaning toward the geeky end.

Conservapedia has a similar format, it's a wiki. It was invented because some people thought Wikipedia had a liberal bias. I am biting my tongue here, of course. Conservapedia describes the world from the "conservative" point of view. Woops, the tip of my tongue just fell on the floor, better find somebody to sew it back on.

Since we saw what interests the Internet world in general, leftward-leaning as they may be, of course it's interesting to see what people look for on the conservative alternative wiki. Probably stuff about smaller government, liberty, some economic policies, accountability, entrepreneurship, maybe ... guns?

Here are the Top Ten search items for Conservapedia:
1. Main Page [1,906,729]
2. Homosexuality [1,572,713]
3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis [517,086]
4. Homosexuality and Promiscuity [420,687]
5. Gay Bowel Syndrome [389,052]
6. Homosexuality and Parasites [388,123]
7. Homosexuality and Domestic Violence [365,888]
8. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea [331,553]
9. Homosexuality and Mental Health [291,179]
10. Homosexuality and Syphilis [265,322]

What would Barry Goldwater think, to see what conservatism has become?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

They Get Creepier and Creepier

Here's something somebody found ...
Office of Curriculum and Instructional Programs
Rockville, Maryland

November 19, 2007


To: High School Principals

From: Erick J. Lang, Associate Superintendent

Subject: IMPORTANT: Health Education Alert

The purpose of this memorandum is to bring to your attention recent incidents within our high schools related to implementation of the health education curriculum. It appears that individuals in the community are attempting to heighten anxiety among parents regarding the health curriculum and others are attempting to entrap high school staff members.

In at least one high school, students report receiving mailed postcards addressed to parents of Grade 10 students and signed by "Concerned Parents." The postcards warn that the "Montgomery County Board of Education does not want you to know ...
  • "The details of the curriculum for 10th Grade health, family life, and human development class.
  • "That you must choose to 'opt-in' your child or the school must provide an alternative program.
  • "The details of the alternative curriculum."

The postcard gives the date of the school's scheduled parent information meeting on health education and encourages parents to attend or to contact the school and ask to see all the choices available.

In a second incident, a health teacher reports receiving an e-mail message from an individual claiming to be a student in the teacher's class. The message requests specific information about birth control and sex education. A search of school records revealed that a student by the name given is not enrolled in the teacher's class and does not attend the school.

High school resource teachers who supervise health education have been advised to inform their teachers that it is very important not to dispense advice or answer explicit questions regarding curricular content via e-mail on these topics. They were reminded that parents have the opportunity to come to a parent meeting to review materials and ask questions. Additionally, students have the opportunity to ask questions during class where the identity of the student can be confirmed, parent permission is on file, and the answers can be provided within the approved Montgomery County Public Schools curriculum...

Then there's some contact information for the principals, in case they have questions or something else happens. The memo is approved by Frieda K. Lacey, Deputy Superintendent of Schools.

The groups who are trying to sabotage public education in Montgomery County don't seem to have any concept of "over the line." They will say anything, do anything, to disrupt the process and stop these classes from being taught.

The sad thing is, if they were really concerned about the classes' effect on their kids, the few who actually have kids in the public schools could simply not-sign the permission slip. There's nothing to it.

Sometimes you really don't know where they'll stop, or if.

Remembering the Dead

November 20th is designated the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Nobody is treated worse than those who dare to violate gender stereotypes. If you doubt it, go over to the Remembering Our Dead web site. Click on some links, there's just a sentence or two about each person. It's not much. Take a few seconds to think about what hate can do to real, living persons.


[h/t Box Turtle Bulletin]

Young Love, Old Love

We talk here all the time about young people and sex. But older people have their issues, too.

Recently I was talking with a European friend, a lady of approximately my age; her kids are grown up, she and her husband are starting to think about retirement. She made a comment about a man we both know, and I playfully asked her if she was thinking of having an affair with him. She looked at me for a minute, not because she didn't know the answer, but because she wasn't sure how much to tell me.

"Sure," she finally said, matter-of-factly.

"What if your husband found out?" I asked.

She sort of smiled. "He won't find out." I believe she has thought this through, there was a kind of deliberate confidence in her voice.

"Well," I said, "What if he was having an affair? How would you like that?"

Again, she paused, not because she didn't know the answer, but because she wasn't sure how much to confide in me. She said, "If we were young, I'd kill him. But now," she shrugged and smiled conspiratorially, "Life's short, he should have fun."

I understand that this is not a common American attitude, at least out loud. We expect abstinence in youth and fidelity throughout adulthood till death. But it seems that the white-knuckle "traditional marriage" is not especially traditional, except maybe in the United States since the Industrial Revolution. Most cultures find a way to allow some romantic excitement in mature life, even if it calls for a wink and looking the other way.

It's not always a joke, not always fun and games, dirty old men and nasty grannies. Sometimes, especially in extreme old age, there is a poignance to love that cannot exist in less vulnerable individuals.

You may have seen this eye-opening article in the New York Times this week about Sandra Day O'Connor and her husband.
SO this, in the end, is what love is.

Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s husband, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, has a romance with another woman, and the former justice is thrilled — even visits with the new couple while they hold hands on the porch swing — because it is a relief to see her husband of 55 years so content.

What culture tells us about love is generally young love. Songs and movies and literature show us the rapture and the betrayal, the breathlessness and the tears. The O’Connors’ story, reported by the couple’s son in an interview with a television station in Arizona, where Mr. O’Connor lives in an assisted-living center, opened a window onto what might be called, for comparison’s sake, old love.

Of course, it illuminated the relationships that often develop among Alzheimer’s patients — new attachments, some call them — and how the desire for intimacy persists even when dementia steals so much else. But in the description of Justice O’Connor’s reaction, the story revealed a poignancy and a richness to love in the later years, providing a rare model at a time when people are living longer, and loving longer.

“This is right up there in terms of the cutting-edge ethical and cultural issues of late life love,” said Thomas R. Cole, director of the McGovern Center for Health, Humanities and the Human Spirit at the University of Texas, and author of a cultural history of aging. “We need moral exemplars, not to slavishly imitate, but to help us identify ways of being in love when you’re older.” Love in the Time of Dementia

The image of that is overpowering, isn't it? Her love for him is so strong that it makes her happy to see him with another woman. On the face of it, it's paradoxical, but beneath the surface I think anyone who had a heart could see that this is really true love, grown beyond selfishness.
That is beginning to change, Dr. Cole said, as life expectancy increases, and a generation more sexually liberated begins to age. Nursing homes are being forced to confront an increase in sexual activity.

And despite the stereotypes, researchers who study emotions across the life span say old love is in many ways more satisfying than young love — even as it is also more complex, as the O’Connors’ example shows.

“There’s a difference between love as it is presented in movies and music as this jazzy sexy thing that involves bikini underwear and what love actually turns out to be,” said the psychologist Mary Pipher, whose book “Another Country” looked at the emotional life of the elderly. “The really interesting script isn’t that people like to have sex. The really interesting script is what people are willing to put up with.”

“Young love is about wanting to be happy,” she said. “Old love is about wanting someone else to be happy.”

This NYT article is mainly about Alzheimer's patients, but it seems to me the deeper topic is love itself, the true nature of the happiness that can be found with another person.

We don't talk much about love and sex among older adults, but here comes the baby boom. You thought the Sixties were something -- wait till the Boomers are all in their sixties! And their seventies. And their eighties, sonny, you just wait. It's not a pretty thought, no, this isn't what you see in the movies, but older folks are going to to live and love with all their might, whatever that takes. They say love conquers all, it seems to me that love will conquer time, even.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Test for the Media

Sunday mornings I usually waste a bunch of time talking about whatever thing is on my mind that week, some music I like or something that happened to me. But this week I am thinking we have something serious to talk about. (Though I must say, Aaron Neville's soulful "I Shall Be Released" on Sunday morning WPFW, rising above the homely white noise of crackling bacon, is just ... perfect.)

I know that people in the media read this blog, and I want them to think carefully about the moment in Montgomery County history that we are coming to.

Let the record show that at this time, November 18th, 2007, it is obvious to observers that a strategy to deceive is in place and is being perpetrated; anyone who falls for it is either hopelessly ignorant, or is a willing accomplice. It will not be possible in the future to declare that you didn't see it coming: everybody sees it coming.

We are seeing a nefarious and blatant attempt by a tiny minority of people to change the subject on an important issue. Their change of subject will be sensationalistic, it will be simple, it will appeal to consumers of the news media at a base level, but it is a lie.

We need to see our media rise to the situation. We need the press to inform the public as this situation unfolds, not to propagate lies but to report them in their full context.

A new bill is being adopted in Montgomery County, which bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity. It simply adds another term to the existing law. You may or may not believe in the usefulness of laws about discrimination, and you may or may not agree that transgender people need protection; those are debates the public can and should engage in, and are not the topic at the moment.

Nobody in their right mind believes that this bill is about men lurking in ladies rooms.

We are seeing an energetic attempt to re-frame the law, to make people believe that the bill legalizes perverted men lurking in ladies room. We have seen one of the leaders of the local Republican Party saying that this bill will result in "little girls ... showing up dead all over the county." We have seen the CRC claiming that women will be unsafe in public showers because of perverted exhibitionists and voyeurs and transgender individuals in transition, with male genitals, exposing themselves in ladies rooms and peeking at undressed ladies and girls.

This re-framing project is a pure work of fiction, a complete change of subject from the actual bill it is intended to oppose. These groups want to retain the right to discriminate, but they know they can't just say that straight out. So they have latched on to a frightening image and are trying desperately to convince the public that this image will become reality if discrimination against transgender people is prohibited.

To pull this off, the groups that are undertaking this project need the complicity of the press. The law says you can't discriminate in certain situations, but the CRC and their colleagues need somebody to publish the fiction that the law is about the violation of privacy in ladies rooms.

In our several years of fighting this fight in Montgomery County, we have met a couple of biased reporters. None that are working this beat now, but it is not unheard of. There are a couple of media outlets in the Washington area with an agenda, I'm not worried about that, somebody'll read that junk, watch that, listen to that, whatever, it's a business. I'm talking about the objective media, the sources that the public depends on for information so we can make decisions in our lives and understand what's going on in the world around us.

It makes an easy headline, angry people with inflammatory phrases on signs make a quick and easily understood photograph. The interview with the outraged parent -- easy, stick a microphone in front of them and they'll give you some attention-grabbing video, red-faced and indignant, speaking in short, easily edited slogans. I can understand, as the crew hops in and out of the van, going from scene to scene, why they like this sort of story. Perverted men in the ladies rooms! Live at eleven. It is tempting.

There is a certain dangerous philosophy of journalism that says reporters should just repeat what happens without interpretation, as if there was no sensible narrative to tie the facts together. So if ten people have a demonstration, a newspaper should report that, and maybe interview a few of them, and report some quotes. But when the people demonstrating are lying, when they are the tiniest bizarre minority of the community, when they are simply making up a story to scare people, journalists have a higher calling -- their higher calling is to inform the public. They aren't there to take dictation, and when somebody lies it is okay -- it is the journalists' responsibility -- to interject a paragraph that states the facts of a situation.

The pro-discrimination groups seem to be lining up along two lines of attack. We saw a letter the other day from a group out in California calling itself "Advocates for Faith and Freedom," threatening to sue the county if this law goes into effect. I'm no lawyer, but I'm not seeing a big opening there. There are lots of places with the same kind of law, and I don't know who will have standing to sue if nothing happens, no men lurk in the women's showers, which is what will happen. But whatever, it's back to the old CRC strategy of suing, "merit or no merit," it will force the county to spend money and it will attract attention.

The second line of attack is an attempted referendum. This is where it gets more interesting, and where the media come into play. Most people in Montgomery County believe in being fair and kind, and are opposed to discrimination. We elected the current County Council members by wide margins, and we elected a progressive County Executive who has taken an active position in supporting LGBT rights; there's no doubt what kind of county this is, what kind of people live here.

On the other hand, nobody in any county wants perverted men lurking around ladies rooms.

You can bet that the pro-discrimination groups are getting petitions written up, and you can bet how they're phrasing this. We haven't seen the petitions, but ... here's a clue. If you go to the web site for the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum (just use if you don't have the URL), you'll see a big red box that says:
*Action Alert -- Legalized Indecent Exposure *
Gender Identity Bill 23-07
Click here for full information

The bill 23-07 is about discrimination against people on the basis of gender identity. The CRC is trying to change the subject to something scary. "Legalized indecent exposure." Anybody who falls for that is a fool.

This is a test for our area's journalists. I understand that if the petitions get so-many signatures, or if a court date is actually reached, the media need to carry the story, but they will need to be extremely careful how they report it.

This bill has nothing at all to do with men lurking in ladies rooms, nothing to do with indecent exposure -- absolutely nothing to do with little girls being killed. It is about discrimination against a group of people who do not fit traditional gender stereotypes.

As this anti-transgender pogrom unfolds, we the public need the press to be thorough, accurate, perceptive, we need the media to be our ears and eyes and to tell us what we would actually see if we were there at the demonstrations, if they knocked on our door with a petition. Would we see rational people backed with facts? Or would we see people who are terrified and threatened by people who are different from them? Would we see humble soldiers for Christ spreading righteousness, or would we see a gang of bigots? We need the press to tell us, accurately, objectively, and thoroughly, what's going on.

This story has all the qualities that appeal to the worst in journalism; it will be a test, we will see which media outlets are informing the citizenry, and which are willing to inflame them for a buck.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

County Council President Injured

From WTOP:
ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) - Montgomery County Council President Marilyn Praisner is in intensive care after two auto accidents near her Burtonsville home.

County police say Praisner's car was involved in a minor collision with another car at about 9 a.m. Friday on Spencerville Road.

About 15 minutes later, her car crashed on Briggs Chaney Road, clipping clipped a tree and turning on its side.

Police are investigating the cause of the accident.

She's in intensive care at Suburban Hospital, though her injuries aren't considered life-threatening.

Council spokesman Neil Greenberger says the 65-year-old is alert and communicating. Montgomery Council President Seriously Injured in Crash

We sure hope she recovers all right. Another Council member, George Leventhal, was injured when a deer jumped through his windshield on the Beltway on November first.

I'll update this post if new details come in.

Republican Leader Shouts "Heil Hitler" During Council Session

I've been so busy the last few days, I haven't really been following all the news. I didn't get to the County Council meeting the other day, but somebody mentioned something in our comments, and now I see it was in The Gazette.

First, in case you just tuned in, the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously this week to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The nuts really showed their colors on this one, the pro-discrimination groups boiled over with hatred. We've published a couple of their letters, well, we here at TTF have come to sort of expect this, but I think some Council members were surprised to see just how bizarre these people can actually be.

I had missed this part, reported in the Gazette:
The vote took just a few minutes, after an opening statement by Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac, who was filling in for Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park, who was absent Tuesday following a car accident more than a week ago. No additional council comments were made before the vote, and most council members quickly left the room afterwards.

Nevertheless, several members of a packed audience yelled criticisms after council members.

‘‘Heil Hitler!” Adol T. Owen-Williams II, a Montgomery County Republican Central Committee member, shouted immediately after the vote from his third-row seat in the council chamber ‘‘Wait until little girls start showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature.”

Angry shouts from other protesters followed the council out of the room.

As approved, the bill would prohibit discrimination against transgenders in housing, employment, cable television service and taxi service. Council bans transgender bias; opponents plan to lobby for veto

That name, Adol T. Owen-Williams II, might ring a bell. That's the guy that then-Republican Board of Education member Steve Abrams reportedly assaulted last year at the Republican central committee meeting. Abrams switched to calling himself a Democrat after that -- does he still? I don't know, I haven't been keeping track. The Board is nonpartisan anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Think about this. This Republican leader thinks that discrimination against transgender people is necessary to prevent the murders of little girls.

Do you get that?

A person who used to physically be a man and is now a woman goes to a restaurant, they serve her a meal, and next thing you know, a little girl is dead. I personally can't figure out how that happens. A taxi driver gives a transgender person a ride and bam -- another dead little girl. And only the cutest ones, too.

All over the county, too, it doesn't just happen at the spot where the nondiscrimination takes place. It's spooky, I tell you.

When this starts, Nancy Grace is going to move to our county so she can report on this every day. This will be a career-maker for her.

I'll bet this rhetorical approach works for Adol's people, his "base." Because, see, it's as simple as this: Republicans are good people, and unlike Democrats they are opposed to murdering little girls. That's why they want to keep it legal to discriminate against transgender people. It's for the children.

Here's a question for you: was the "Heil Hitler" thing over the top? I think so, for a County Council meeting. I think they should reserve that sort of thing for their GOP Central Committee meetings and other special Party functions. Yes, they have freedom of speech and all, but basically we're a Blue county, most people here don't chant Heil Hitler at our official County meetings and such. The Gazette doesn't say how many people joined in.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Opposition Continues to Express Themselves

Oh, here's a nice one, a letter to Montgomery County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg, sent the day after the Council voted unanimously to adopt the new nondiscrimination wording. Just a little something to contemplate for your Friday.
Dear Ms, Miss, Mrs, or transgendered whatever, Trachtenberg,

Your actions and those of your fellow County Council members indicate that the county name needs to change to MontGomorrah County. Your constituents don't want your sexually deviant bills, so what motivates them?

I would suggest that you are a secret "transgendered person."

In my lifetime society in the United States of America has moved further and further from the high ideals of our Founding Fathers, and closer and closer to the final decadence that brought down the Roman Empire. Led in these days by the deviant whackoes of Southern California and MontGomorrah County.

Robert N. Cadwalader

Is that right? "Whackoes?" I usually write it wackos.

[Note, the guy's phone number was on his email, I deleted it out of a sad sense of pity for him. I can't explain it.]

Re-reading this ... has existed now for almost exactly three years, within a couple of weeks of that. We didn't start out as crusaders for liberal sex ed or any kind of special political agenda. We started out as a small group of parents concerned that our county was going to be taken over by people who were incapable of reasoning, people with no appreciation for facts, for science, for the power of objectivity, reasoning, compassion.

The school district had proposed a perfectly reasonable curriculum and then all hell broke loose, as these ... wackos ... ranted about the sodomites, the deviants, the sin in our hearts that needed to be suppressed, the destruction of the family as an institution, the gay agenda.

They were organizing into a legal team, a fund-raising team, a media team, a church outreach team ... officers, agendas, publicity, and they were going to try to recall the entire school board for adopting an innocuous curriculum that addressed the issue of sexual orientation in an objective and low-key way.

I don't think we would have minded if a reasonable person had suggested that this-or-that was too much, or that something-or-other might work better in a later grade, or whatever. But their reflex was to recall the entire board. Their goal was a coup, wholesale takeover of the school district.

This letter represents the kind of talk we heard that day, December 4th, 2004, that motivated us to organize, to start this web site, to hold the forums and work with journalists and address the school board again and again. This isn't a fluke, not just some nutty guy shooting his mouth off. If you don't remain vigilant, these people will take over.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Poo-Poo Joke Goes On and On

These guys are like second-graders with their "butt" and "poo-poo" jokes. Nobody else thinks it's funny, but they just won't stop giggling. Montgomery County wants to stop discrimination. The local buffoons -- actually, one news report has more than half the letters to the County Council coming from outside the county -- want to talk about butts and poo-poo and nasty people in bathrooms.

Warren Throckmorton and several rightwing blogs have a document which appears to have been produced by a group called "Advocates for Faith and Freedom," threatening to sue Montgomery County over the new nondiscrimination bill, which isn't even signed by the County Executive yet.

It starts like this:
Dear Council Members:

Advocates for Faith and Freedom is a non-profit public interest law firm. We seek to resolve disputes through education of public officials of the constitutional rights our clients. When necessary, we proceed to litigation to secure these rights. We have been contacted by Derwood Alliance Church, Women's Christian Temperance Union of Maryland, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, and other interested individuals and organizations. They have sought our assistance concerning Bill No. 23-07.


It is our understanding that the County Council for Montgomery County is presently considering adopting revisions to Chapter 27 of the Montgomery County Code. Bill No. 23-07 will add a definition for "gender identity" as follows:"

then it gives some stuff we've seen before.

I just love it that the Women's Christian Temperance Union is in on this. That is so perfect.

This is a scanned document, you can't copy and paste text from it, and I'm not going to type the whole thing in...

Skipping down to the good part:
Chapter 27 fails to provide a religious exemption in the vast majority of circumstances upon which this ordinance would apply. In addition to the lack of a religious exemption, our clients are concerned with the threat to public safety that will result when persons suffering from gender identity disorder have the legal right to choose the restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that are normally reserved to persons based upon their natural gender. Further, our clients are very concerned that this reckless bill will give sexual predators access to individuals in the most vulnerable of situations.

Well, look, they're just going to keep saying the same old potty stuff they've been saying all along.

The issue is discrimination. The bill prevents discrimination. If you support discrimination, at least come out and say it. It's not about someone seeing a penis in the ladies room, which everybody in their right mind knows isn't going to happen, it's a bill to stop discrimination.

This is a textbook wedge issue, trying to divide people when there is really nothing to disagree about. But nobody wants to have some creep in the ladies room, and so the nuts talk about that, over and over and over again, trying to convince the public that that's what this bill is about. Get over it, it won't happen. Perverts who want to hang around the ladies room can do it now, they're not waiting for a questionable legal loophole requiring them to claim to be "women on the inside".

This bill outlaws discrimination against a vulnerable minority of people. The CRC, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (yay, I'm so glad they're in this!), the FLN, PFOX, and the so-called "Advocates for Faith and Freedom" (with a picture of the Capitol dome on their letterhead) want to be able to discriminate against transgender people. They think they've found something that the television-news zombies will show on TV, so the binary minds of the viewing audience can process one simple bit of information without getting confused, and they're probably right. Butts and poo-poo and bathrooms.

The County Council, elected by the people, adopted this bill unanimously. The County Executive is going to sign it, this is the kind of thing we elected him for. In our county, we really don't want to have discrimination against transgender people. Nobody's taking it back, nobody's having second thoughts about this.

The document ends with this:

Therefore, Advocates for Faith & Freedom is prepared to initiate a lawsuit on behalf of our clients in the event that Montgomery County adopts Bill No. 23-07. Please contact me if you have any questions

The CRC has gone from being self-righteous betterthanyous to buffoons, pure and simple.

Yesterday they were saying they were going to hold a referendum, today they're going to sue. It has become a poo-poo joke that never stops being funny, nothing but bathroom humor to these clowns.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Honorary Sodomite

Okay, the fight over the nondiscrimination bill is finished. Good.

I wanted to show you some more email from PFOX's web guy Gabriel. You remember he had some rude words in his first letter to Council member Duchy Trachtenberg. She responded to him with what looked like a stock "thank you for your interest" reply, which was more than I would have done, but whatever.

So he wrote back:
You are absolutely right in saying that everyone deserves to live with dignity. So what about the dignity of a woman in the privacy of a locker room or rest room? Why are you not on fire about that? Are you one of those lesbian militants who think they have a penis so it matters not who is in the bathroom with them? Your “legislation” is revolting and sets a dangerous precedent. Believe me when I tell you that the American people can only take so much stupidity from legislators and soon we will lose our patience with imbeciles such as yourself and God help you then... though, I am sure He will turn a deaf ear to you as you are doing to Him. This IS radical legislation. Can’t you think for yourselves? If those other alleged “100 U.S. jurisdictions” allegedly “covering 37% of this country’s population” (can anyone say BULLSHIT!), ALL DECIDED TO JUMP OFF A BRIDGE TO THEIR DEATHS, WOULD YOU DO THE SAME? Keep it up. Eventually it is the likes of you who will be on the losing end and the eternal joke will be on you!!

Sincerely Yours,
Gabriel Espinosa
Furryllama Media Productions

This is ... I don't know, I'm laughing but at the same time you just know there are people out there nodding in agreement.

Would you call this a threat? [S]oon we will lose our patience with imbeciles such as yourself and God help you then...

I would.

Especially the though, I am sure He will turn a deaf ear to you as you are doing to Him part.

Then, I don't know what happened, but he wrote again. Now he has some choice words about me, it looks like, for receiving and posting his first letter.

You really are a hypocrite. You leak my first email to the sodomites and yet you neglect to leak my response to your email. It is a sad state of affairs for Montgomery County having you as a legislator. You should resign. By the way, where did you dig up those alleged figures of yours?

>> In fact, over 100 U.S. jurisdictions have already passed similar legislation, covering 37% of this country’s population. This includes 13 states plus the District of Columbia.

Sincerely Yours,
Gabriel Espinosa
Furryllama Media Productions

That last part was a quote from her email to him.

As for the easy question, "where did you dig up those alleged figures of yours?" She might have "dug them up" on a link that we have had posted here all week: the Task Force web site.

I guess he's saying she should resign because she didn't leak enough of his email to the sodomites? Is that, like, in her contract or something?

First off, Duchy didn't leak anything to me. These are public documents, anybody can get them. Second, we did have his other emails, I just didn't bother to blog them -- the air was foul enough already. Anyway, he'll feel better now that I am posting them.

But the refreshing thing is being called a "sodomite."

The first time I heard that word actually used, not as a joke or making fun of some uneducated hillbilly, was at the first organizing meeting of the Recall Group, soon to be known as Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. Another favorite word there was "deviants."

I've got to say, it looks to me like according to the dictionary the term sodomites is technically reserved for gay men, so I have to humbly decline the nomination, but I would gladly accept the title of Honorary Sodomite. I actually like the sound of that better than "straight ally," at least at the moment. It sounds like more fun.

With my best prom-queen wave, I blow a kiss and say "Thank you, Gabriel!"

Basically, it goes like this: whatever Gabriel Espinosa is, I want to be the opposite.

Maryanne Arnow Full Text

We posted pieces out of testimony and a letter by Maryanne Arnow recently, just a few paragraphs. You might find it meaningful to take a longer look, to let Maryanne tell you about her experience.

This is long, but it is a unique chance to look inside the head of somebody who is different from you, or maybe .. not different from you.

After her testimony to the County Council, Maryanne sent them a follow-up letter.
November 8th, 2007
Germantown, MD 20874

Dear Council members,

My name is Maryanne Arnow, and i am writing to you at this time to show my support for the passage of the bill 23-07.

I gave personal testimony before the council on this issue back on October 1st. I must sincerely thank you all for the time you gave me, and for the forum provided which allows me to express my views and experiences. Since then, it has come to my understanding that there has been considerable opposition to this issue, and that the council has come under a good deal of fire - both locally and nationally for any continued support of this bill. I am writing this letter to all of you in the hopes that I may garner your undivided support in passing this issue, and making additional non-discrimination protections a reality in the county in which i live and call my home.

This is an issue which deeply and personally affects me directly in every aspect of my life. As an openly transgender female that is fully living and working in the public eye as such, this issue is one of such critical importance to me that it is difficult to put into words that suffice.

I am not a gay male, nor any other sort of male in womens' clothes seeking any sort of sexual gratification via use of public facilities as such. I never was and never will be. I'm not a drag queen or female impersonator and was neither of those things for a single day in my life. I am not a sexual predator of any kind whatsoever, nor pose any threat to the safety or sanctity of public facilities for any other women or their children, as was recently implied in articles published nationally which claim that such legislation would open the door to fear of anyone that expresses his or herself outside of considered "normal" gender roles.

This is, at least for me, an utter fallacy, and hypothetical situation based on lack of real facts. This must be exposed as such for effective and intelligent decisions to be made as regards this legislation. This issue carries real consequences which directly affect my life, should no further protections be made available to me as a fellow resident of this state and county.

In the course of my normal daily life, i regularly have to use public facilities such as toilets and locker rooms. I am an active person and use my community pool, gym, and locker room facilities as i wish and need to, and fairly often. As a legitimately transgendered woman, considered very well-adjusted, and following a "clinically correct" and clinically guided course of transition, I would never even consider the possibility of placing myself or others in any situation where any kind of inappropriate exposure would, or could, ever possibly occur.

When using public facilities, all of which always have closed stalls and/or private changing areas which also lock or have full curtains, it would never cross my mind to be less than dignified or reckless, much less openly invite or consider any sort of exposure which might place my life and the sensilbilites of others in danger or question whatsoever. I am there to do one thing and one thing only. Use the facilities as every other woman does, in as normal, relaxed, and inconspicous a manner as possible, and leave.

Should i have to be forced to consider endangering my own self by using male locker and restroom facilities when i live as 'normal' a life as possible, as any other woman in this country does ? That is unreasonable at best, and puts me personally at severe and very real risk for hate crimes such as assault or rape, conflicts, humiliation, and further ridicule, as well as completely compromising any validity that I've gained by openly and successfully living as an intelligent, well-adjusted, and professional woman in public society for several years now.

I have every right and legitimate reason to use the same facilities as every other woman does. I do so in a discreet and quiet manner without exception, and present a threat to no one, in any way, shape, or form whatsoever.

Because some in opposition wish to state hypotheticals as evidence, and judge other's experiences which they cannot possibly validate from any form of direct personal experience, i am forced to write this letter to you. I must strongly enjoin you to please not bend or break under the pressure. Please do not invalidate my struggle to simply exist as a fellow resident, and enjoy the same rights and comforts that every other citizen in this entire country should be entitled to enjoy without question, fear of reprisal or hatred, discrimination, or humiliation.

In my life, gender identity and sexuality are distinctly different facets of my life as a human being. Supporters agree with the right of any individual to express gender and/or sexuality in any way that an individual sees fit for themselves, as long as it does not involve being a harmful, or detrimental person to themselves or society at large. Opponents continue to claim that sexuality and gender identity are individual and "life"style" "choices", that there is no difference between the two, and may sometimes be based on certain "moral" and "ethical" precepts, possibly originating from certain "religious" viewpoints. If one wishes to be a good person of true conscience, then taking the ultimate risk to live true to onself is not a "choice" at all, per se.

I've read by opponents that anything that falls outside of the range of "normal" and human heterosexuality is aberrrant, abhorrent, abominable, and should be admonished and discouraged at all cost if possible, as to not endanger any percieved view of what "normal" society should be like for all peoples.

Often this continued lack of personal awareness may also unfortunately take the forms of fear, hatred, violence, discrimination, bigotry, humiliation, ridicule, gossip, and frankly, outright distortion and continued misperception - from a total lack of personal or clinical experience whatsoever than what has been taught or learned as the "only" "correct" way to live this life as a human being.

How any such qualities can be equated with morality, ethics, fairness, unconditional love, understanding, or forgiveness, is beyond my ability to comprehend. I strongly disagree with such views. If any person of color, race, religion, sex, or differing gender expression, is deprived of any single human comfort or right as a result of another's view, this then inherently deprives all people of the gift of freewill, which as i understand is one of the cornerstones of many spiritual teachings, and part of the basis of the relationship between God and Mankind as a whole.

Angry, often violent, and pervasive judgementalism, which flies in the very face of all such "spiritual" teachings of fairness, freewill, forgiveness and understanding, and the very basis of an equal and free democratic society for all peoples, must not continue to stand as acceptable behaviors by any standard of true kindness or decency that i am aware of.

Separation of church and state was a founding principle of this country for good reason. The Founders and Framers had already once experienced the "fairness" of a state ruled by the church, and rejected and opposed it with their own lives to make this nation possible.

I must openly oppose such unfairness, ignorance, and hatefully misguided hypocrisy. Change must occur through intelligent and non-violent dialogue. I must excercise the expression of my own God-given freewill, and with the help of any person that also has a willingness and any ability to help enact any form of positive change and expanded awareness for others.

Please do not bend under pressure of any that wish to make such decisions without having ever met or talked with someone like myself that can lend true validity of actual personal experience, as opposed to percieved experience of others that cannot and will not see any view but that which encourages the continued deprivation of equal rights for anyone, for any reason whatsoever.

I will do my best to give personal experiences as valid referential material, so that others may have a better understanding of the issue from the people like myself, that are affected most by this issue. I struggle daily with continued misperceptions and stereotypical views which plague me and hurt me deeply, every day of my life in open society.

Between the ages of 4 and 5, i became acutely aware of an overwhelming and soul-searing level of real and very conscious mental and emotional anguish due to apparent lack of percieved congruence between my physical self and my mental and emotional self. This would be considered as years before any such "lifestyle choice" or "sexuality" could possibly apply. I had no sisters and was not encouraged in this nor was i ever forced to do anything which would have placed this compulsion so deep within me.

I do not personally believe that this is a mistake or an aberration of nature. I do not believe that God makes mistakes and that this was, at least for me, one of the great blessings of my life, even for all of the pain and hardship involved in dealing with such an issue for all of my life. I was given this unique perspective and the innate ability to deeply understand both sexes, although one - actually being female - is and always was much more naturally predominant for me. I now think of this as one of the potentially great gifts in my life, as i am now able to express my real internal nature as much more female in "gender identity", than i was ever any sort of "real" male at all, in so many ways.

As an adult, i was finally overwhelmed with the weight of what i had carried for so long that it literally broke me down. As a result, I had to decide to risk giving up my marriage, my home, my entire family on both sides of my marriage, professional standing, and almost any social capital that i had gained thus far as a male person. I was entirely willing to give up any sense of "male privilege" in this society altogether. I was never truly happy in my entire life in the male gender. As an open, loving, highly intelligent, and expressive child i suffered severe physical, mental, and emotional abuse for many years growing up, for simply being "different", and never able to fit into any "typical" "male" mold whatsoever.

I essentially learned to repress truthfulness in every form of my natural self-expression, never rewarded for real honesty with nothing but fear and ridicule, harm and humiliation. Every day of my life i consciously and methodically hid all of my natural self-expressions so that no one would ever detect i was actually a girl always, somewhere deep inside where they could never really see me. I managed to become a more functional "male" persona by my twenties, but still deeply struggled my whole life thus far, and barely ever felt a true sense of happiness within or about myself.

Why would i now, give up everything in my life ? My marriage of more than 10 years to my best friend and soulmate - a home and profession which i deeply love. Why would i consciously re-invite all of the ridicule and scorn of my childhood again as an adult - and all for nothing more than "sexual kicks" of some kind ? I think not. People ask me why i would want to be something i am not, nor was really meant to be. I am not being someone that i am not. I simply stopped editing everything i do and say, and finally for once, am being true to my self, everyone else in my life, and my own conscience of self.

I am the same person i always was, except now more openly visible and completely vulnerable to the entire world, than ever before in this life except as a very young child. Once again, targeted for constant misunderstanding, and probably more "at-risk" than all of the other groups of opposition put together. I must take my life in my hands every time i step foot out of my own front door, for the reality that people hate, ridicule, talk and gossip about, and denigrate me in every way possible - and for no other good reason than being "different". I am now openly straightforward, and truer in total self-expression than i have ever been before. This simply should no longer stand as any form of acceptable ethical or "moral" behavioral standard, no matter what belief system, science, theology, or philosophy it may be rooted in.

Your continued support for this issue is greatly appreciated. Thank you once again for your time and most gracious consideration. If you have supported such legislation which encourages tolerance, and extends equal rights protections to all citizens, i deeply thank you and tell that this is more sincerely appreciated than you might possibly know. If you have not supported such legislations, I can only ask and encourage you to please take the time to objectively study the issue from all sides.

Most Sincerely and Respectfully Yours,

I am,

Maryanne A. Arnow

There's a lot to read there, a lot to think about. I'm not going to try to add anything.

Nondiscrimination Bill Passes Unanimously

The word is just in: the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to adopt the new bill barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

I want to point out what hasn't been said loudly enough, that we can attribute the success of this bill to our great friend Dr. Dana Beyer, whose unstoppable cheerfulness, sincerity, intelligence, and personal warmth made it simply impossible for any Council member to believe a word of the ugliness that was spewed before them. As far as I'm concerned, this is Dana's day.

Congratulations to the Council for holding tightly to the principles that got them elected in the first place. We are lucky to live in a place like this, where our leaders look to their hearts and good sense, and are not distracted by potty talk from the fringes.

Gender Identity Is In the Headlines

Today the Montgomery County Council will vote on a bill outlawing discrimination based on gender identity. All the news reports seem to indicate that it will pass.

Even though the rightwing noise machine was turned up full volume, with newsletters coming from everywhere urging the betterthanyous to email and phone the Council, rumors from inside the County building indicate that at least some of the Council members are receiving predominantly strongly supportive emails and phone calls. We have been asking our readers to contact the Council, knowing it's hard to get people motivated to do something supportive -- and apparently people have been making those calls and sending those emails. I have a couple of quotes I'm dying to share with you, but I'm going to let the vote happen, let the CRC try to get their inevitable tantrum on television, and then we'll settle back to more interesting and fun things. (Hint: I think somebody from PFOX called me a "sodomite.")

It is interesting to see how the topic of gender identity has come front-and-center over the past months, as the radicals realize they can't win the fight over sexual orientation; the culture has shifted, that's all there is to it, but they can still exhale their poisonous stinking breath over the world of people who fail to conform to standard gender stereotypes. Time magazine has a nice article online right now about gender identity and some of the issues, especially regarding young people. They jump into it with a shocker:
It's a parent's nightmare dilemma: experts say there's a fifty-fifty chance your child will attempt suicide before age 20. Should you opt for an experimental medical treatment that might prevent it? Parents of children whom experts call gender variant are faced with just that question. If a child doesn't identify with his or her biological sex, the onset of puberty, says Laura Amato, a youth-suicide counselor who runs an online transgender support group, can make that child feel like "part of a real-life horror story ... because the wrong parts are changing."

No reliable data exist on how many U.S. children are gender variant, although the National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that as many as 3 million American adults are. But studies suggest that gender-variant adolescents are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other teens. Now, increasingly, hormone treatments that delay physical maturity are being seen as a lifesaving alternative for gender-variant kids, but the remedy is also generating medical and ethical questions about interfering with the natural development process. The treatment--a series of injections to interrupt the brain cascade that launches puberty by regulating gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)--has not yet been submitted for FDA approval for gender-variant children. But it is available from international physicians and some U.S. doctors prescribing off-label. In February the first U.S. clinic for gender-variant children opened at Children's Hospital Boston. Throughout the process of delaying puberty with hormone blockers, the clinic offers regular checkups with a gender specialist. Families that have opted for the shots are grateful. "We don't know what's going to happen next," admits an East Coast lawyer whose 13-year-old--born a girl and living as a boy--has been on blockers for three years under the care of a private doctor. "But we know that he's happy." The Gender Conundrum

I can't understand why the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and other groups are so upset about this. In the MoCo sex-ed curriculum there is a vignette about a student with male physical apparatus and a female mind: Portia. Oh, the CRC hates that vignette! It just drives them up the wall. It's like they think the boy should live his whole life a big fake because ... because what? Because CRC officers can't understand why anybody would be different from them? Because they understand God's true plan, and he didn't intend for people with penises to be women? Because all of us should be happy to do whatever a social norm expects us to do?

I'm skipping a few paragraphs -- you'll need to follow the link and read the story yourself.
[Dr. Norman] Spack subjects his patients to a lengthy evaluation process before recommending hormone therapy. Kids undergo a battery of interview-based psychological tests to see if they meet the medically established criteria for gender-identity disorder. The clothing they wear, the way they style their hair and the type of toys they play with are assessed. Family members, teachers and primary-care doctors are consulted. After weighing all the evidence, an interdisciplinary team of doctors and psychologists determines the severity of the gender variation and whether to recommend the child for hormone blockers. But the final decision rests with the parents. To help inform families confronted with such choices in the future, the Boston team plans to begin clinical trials that will gauge the long-term effects of blocking the maturation hormones. "We don't claim to have all the answers," says Spack. "But right now, people are suffering because of those who won't ask the questions." There are many mysteries about the transgendered. This could clear up one of them.

It fascinates me that the "problem" for transgender people is actually a social one. It is a disjunction between how they feel and how other people see them. People think they're talking to a boy, they respond with boy-things for you, they expect boy-like answers from you, but inside you are something incredibly different from that. As far as I can tell, there's nothing especially stressful in feeling like one gender or the other, except in interacting with other people. And it's impossible to imagine what that's like for somebody, like imagining what the color red looks like to them, you can never know. They can tell you, but they can't know what it's like not to feel that way. It's just experience, subjective feeling, purely private and impossible to communicate. I wonder what Wittgenstein would say about this? I think it would have stumped him.