Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Falls Out of the Closet With a Ka-Boom

Another anti-gay Republican is busted having sex with a gay "escort," who tried to blackmail him, and the story keeps getting more and more lurid. Pam's House Blend has details.

It's the same old story. But you know what? The part that really gets me is Pam's comment, just a little throwaway as she's describing this state legislator. She quotes a news source, then adds her own two bits:
Curtis, according to a search warrant unsealed Tuesday, went to the Hollywood Erotic Boutique on East Sprague on October 26th at approximately 12:45 a.m. The store clerk, who had talked with Curtis, referred to him as "The Cross-Dresser" and said that during their conversations he confirmed he was gay and was married with children at home.

During his visit to the video store Curtis was observed wearing women's lingerie while receiving oral sex from an unidentified man in one of the movie viewing booths inside the store.
OK. I'm living a relatively plain jane lesbian existence simply asking for my civil rights while closet cases like Curtis get all sorts of kinks on while railing against openly LGBT citizens. It makes me sick.

Yes, can you imagine what that is like? She's a regular lesbian, minding her own business, her sexual orientation is no problem to anyone, and these closeted conservatives are prancing around in women's underwear, having sex where people can see, grossing people out and trying to pass laws to make life harder for people like Pam.

She's got even more details, many from the police report, HERE. This is just bizarre.

I'd be curious to see if anybody has an explanation for this phenomenon. Why would a guy who is actively homosexual go around campaigning to limit the rights of gay people? If there's so much pressure on him to play it straight, then what's he doing parading around in women's clothes? I mean, a person like that, especially a public figure, must constantly feel a sense of impending doom, I can't imagine that you can get away with that for long. This guy even described himself as gay, married with children, he was clear about the situation, you can't say he was lying to himself about it.

So why are so many anti-gay extremists gay themselves?

The New Condom Video

OK, we had a moment of doubt about this one, but it's just ... too ... good. There's about a one-second moment in this video that might offend someone, after the five-minute mark, so if you've got kids looking over your shoulder, or if your own maturity level is eighteen or under, I suggest you stop before five minutes. It does that because ... this isn't a joke, it's for real, and they are direct, but some betterthanyous will be indignant. So listen, if you're better than us, bail before the five-minute mark. You'll get the point by then anyway.

This is the new condom video. It looks to me like they may have outsourced it, I don't know, I don't remember anybody mentioning that.

And listen, I have a rule that applies just for this one. If the anonymous trolls want to complain about anything after five minutes, I'm just going to delete their comments. Eh, easy.

This is really a promotional video for the Telugu people of central India, produced at Nrityanjali Academy, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India. They call this cinematic style, the Telugu style, "Tollywood."

Yes it's funny, but we also hope it has its effect -- they have the same problems we do. This thing covers a lot of bases, in an entertaining way.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The New Gay Stereotype

That last post made me realize I haven't been keeping up with Language Log, so I thought I'd read a few, and I came across this. It's just too good, in light of all the conservative politicians and preachers who've been falling out of the closet over the last few years.

A Stereotype: Women Talk More Than Men

It's easy and sometimes useful to boil the world down into sound-bites, into slogans that are easy to process, easy to remember, easy to refer to when you're trying to make a decision. But those slogans, familiar and pleasing as they may be, often act as filters to eliminate the tangled details of life that actually comprise "reality." When we summarize a person's belief system in a word, for instance we say they're a "liberal" or a "fascist" or whatever, we are filtering out all details of their life, channeling our knowledge of them into one quick summary, and when he discuss that person, when we try to predict what they're going to say, how they're going to feel about something, we are most likely going to be wrong.

Our country is led by a man who has said he doesn't do nuance. He's proud of it. Once he's got his stereotypes assigned, he's ready to start making decisions, that's why he's so good at being a Decider. It's easy for him. Well, not all of us are that comfortable with filtering the reality out of a situation, especially an important one, and then making decisions based on the dessicated residue.

In that light, journalism professor Caryl Rivers, writing in the Boston Globe, has studied a situation that has been bothering a few people for a long time. The stereotype that women talk more than men is one that persists no matter what. It was funny on I Love Lucy, but as a scientific theory of how people behave, or as a piece of information used to determine policy, it doesn't hold water. To break the stereotype requires doing nuance.
WOMEN ARE THE chatty sex, using three times as many words each day as men. They are society's great communicators. The verbal parts of their brains are larger than men's and they are hard-wired for empathy, but they lack a natural ability to reach the top levels of math and science.

Men, on the other hand, have brains that are good at understanding systems, and they are adept at acquiring and using power. They are hard-wired to excel at math and science, but lag behind women in reading ability. They talk less and are not naturally inclined toward caring for others.

Sound familiar? In the past decade, such claims have coalesced into an almost unshakable conventional wisdom: Boys and girls are different because their brains are different. This idea has driven bestsellers, parenting articles, and even - increasingly - American education.

The problem is, a hard look at the real data behind these claims suggests they are simply untrue. Some of them are baseless, using the language of science to cloak an absence of serious research; others are built on tenuous studies, with methodological flaws and narrow margins of significance. More and more, they are simply coating old-fashioned stereotypes with a veneer of scientific credibility. The difference myth

We flatter ourselves by believing that we carefully evaluate the truthfulness of every statement we consider, that we judge facts carefully and retain only the ones that pass the test. The truth is, we may reject outright falsehoods (though not always) when we detect them, but we also take into account the effort involved in adopting a new belief. For instance, there is less cognitive effort involved in accepting a fact that is consistent with the beliefs we already hold than one that challenges our beliefs. As a favorite example, we are thrown into a dilemma when someone we despise says something we agree with. It's uncomfortable: could we have a mistaken opinion about this person? Maybe we can find something wrong in what they just said. It is much easier when the people we don't like say stupid things.

Likewise, it's easy to believe that scientific research supports a comfortable stereotype. Doesn't mean it does.

Here's why this matters.
Scientists have turned up some intriguing findings of anatomical differences between the sexes. But we know very little about their real-world effect on how boys and girls behave - meaning that any conclusions based on these findings are premature.

Nonetheless, more policy makers, employers, parents, and teachers appear to be buying into the notion of great gender differences in cognitive abilities. The education world has seen a strong push for single-sex classrooms, with the Bush administration clearing the way for more public schools to segregate students by gender.

There are now more than 360 such classrooms in the United States, with more in the offing. And brain-difference theories are making their way into business, medicine, psychotherapy, and parenting. As they do, we risk letting an avalanche of dubious science overwhelm decades of legitimate findings - and, more importantly, we risk limiting the futures of a whole generation of boys and girls.

This doesn't mean men and women are the same in every way, obviously that's not true; the sexual dichotomy runs very deep in our biology, our sex is definitely an important part of who we are. Here we are talking about making decisions about education, deciding public policies, based on our knowledge of sexual differences, and this writer is pointing out that it is a hard topic to discuss objectively. Personally I enjoy the spark that sometimes leaps between anode and cathode, making the world a more beautiful place, but that doesn't mean anybody needs to see differences where there aren't any. To my mind, this is the distinction between sexuality and sexism. It's hard but not impossible to have the one without the other, seems to me it requires ... nuance.

This is a pretty long article, and I can't paste the whole thing in here. I recommend that you follow the link and read it, it's a bit of an eye-opener, she walks through some of the history of this mistaken belief and how it has been perpetuated over the years.
If girls get the short end of the stick in the math and science wars, boys also get their share of knocks from the new biological determinism. Males are increasingly seen as inherently deficient in verbal abilities. In The New Republic, education author Richard Whitmire writes of a "verbally drenched curriculum" that is "leaving boys in the dust." One suggested solution is boys-only classrooms in which boys would be taught in boot-camp fashion, with diminished emphasis on verbal abilities. Gurian writes approvingly of the '50s-style classrooms "that kept a lot of boys in line."

Do most boys lack verbal skills? In a word, no. In 2005, the University of Wisconsin's Janet Hyde synthesized data from 165 studies on verbal ability and gender and found a slight female superiority - a difference measurable in statistics, but so small as to be useless in distinguishing real-world boys and girls.

I first became aware of this issue over the past year, reading Language Log blog, a fascinating ongoing discussion of the quirks and the science of language. Those guys have been following this for a long time, scratching their heads, wondering why people keep believing this stuff in spite of all the evidence. This Globe article goes into the background a little bit:
But the idea that boys are less verbal has gained wide currency. In the 2006 bestseller "The Female Brain," author Louann Brizendine argues that girls and women are the talkative sex, while males remain naturally strong and silent. A woman uses 20,000 words per day, while a man uses only 7,000, she asserts.

Brizendine is an academic neuropsychiatrist, and her statistic has been repeated in publications around the world. But it appears to be completely bogus. Brizendine's footnotes cite pop psychology writer Allan Pease - but Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics and computer science at the University of Pennsylvania, has traced her citations in his popular blog Language Log, and says that Pease's work offers no source for the numbers.

In fact there is better, newer science that suggests those figures are wrong. The most recent study of word use found men and women in a statistical dead heat, with women clocking in at 16,215 words per day and men at 15,699. When that study was published earlier this year in Science, its coauthor, James Pennebaker of the University of Texas, Austin, made a specific point of debunking Brizendine's claims.

The "scientific" finding seems to have materialized out of thin air. Then it gets repeated as fact, until the original source is untraceable.

The lesson here is not necessarily about whether women are more verbal than men. The lesson is about filtering information, simplifying the world, dealing with skeletal stereotypes that have had the meaning sucked out of them. In Montgomery County (you knew I was going to come around to this) we have, on one hand, a group that wants to perpetuate a hateful old stereotype about gay people, that they're promiscuous, diseased, child molesters, and on the other hand a group that sees gay people as people. Not necessarily as perfect people, but our side takes them one at a time. You can be a gay idiot. You can be gay and promiscuous, whatever, we aren't obligated to automatically like you. Stereotype versus no-stereotype pretty much sums up the debate on sexual orientation in the MCPS curriculum, doesn't it?

Everybody relies on stereotypes and simplification to get through the day. It would be stupid not to, you'd be constantly stressed and overwhelmed if you tried to react to every situation as if it were entirely novel and unknown. But you have to at least be able to do nuance sometimes. You have to be able to stretch your simplifications, to adjust your stereotypes, they need to be based on your actual experience and not some social norm that serves only to filter the reality out of the world.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Good News About Teen Pregnancy

You probably saw this on the front page of the Washington Post this morning, but I figure it belongs front and center on our site, too.
Teen pregnancy and birth rates have dropped sharply across the Washington region in the past decade, with the District cutting its numbers by more than half to historic lows.

Arlington and Prince George's counties also have recorded striking decreases in both rates, which are among the most important indicators of children's well-being. And in virtually every jurisdiction, the trajectories have been particularly marked among African American teens, closing much of a once-intractable gap with white rates.

The reversals reflect national trends that have public health experts hopeful that programs and messages aimed at adolescents have hit their mark at last.

"We think kids are making better choices," said Donald Shell, health officer for Prince George's, where the birthrate for females age 15 to 19 fell by nearly a third between 1996 and 2005. "Our efforts finally are bringing forth some fruit."

The District has accomplished dramatic improvement. In 1996, its pregnancy rate for the same age group was 164.5 per 1,000. Appalled by the triple digits, a coalition of nonprofit groups and city agencies began reaching out to various communities, holding public discussions and trying to teach parents how to talk to their children about love, sex and relationships.

"The city was remarkably unified," recalled Brenda Rhodes Miller, executive director of the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Advocates vowed to reduce the rate to the mid-70s by 2005. Instead, as statistics released this month show, it plunged to 64.4. The reduction in the birthrate paralleled that. Teen Pregnancy, Birth Rates Plummet Across D.C. Region

Typically in our discussions here we lump pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections together, both being things we don't want unmarried teenagers to have to deal with. In that case, the answer is abstinence or condoms, and that's why MCPS focuses so much on those two approaches to prevention. But remember, there are contraceptives that don't protect against disease, and couples who are in a committed relationship generally have less reason to worry about getting infected with something, at least if they know the health status of their partner.

I'm sure everybody's going to claim credit for this decrease in teen pregnancy. Watch how long it takes for abstinence advocates to say this is because teens are "getting the message" about abstinence, and how long it takes the "safer sex" advocates to claim this is caused by teens having more knowledge about how to be careful.

Skipping down a little bit ...
Alexandria, which began tackling the issue "way back in the '70s," was the only jurisdiction to have its teen birthrate increase over the most recent decade and managed a minimal decline in its pregnancy rate. "I cannot say why," Jasper said.

In a country with the worst rates in the industrialized world, officials have focused on teen pregnancies and births because of their distressing, lifelong ramifications.

Adolescent mothers frequently compromise not only their health but also their future, dropping out of school and struggling financially. Their babies are at greater risk for a host of problems, including low birth weight and abuse, neglect and poor academic performance.

"Teen childbearing affects young people at both ends of childhood," the Annie E. Casey Foundation has noted.

Interesting that "tackling the issue" in Alexandria didn't seem to work.

Let me tell you, I don't take a lot of stock in government programs to change people's behavior. Did anybody "just say no" during the Reagan years? Has the "war on drugs" reduced anybody's drug use? Did Prohibition stop people from drinking? Do you think teenagers are going to make their most personal decisions based on something they read on a billboard somewhere? There ought to be a lesson in all of this.

OK, now the article is going to try to talk about the reasons for the decline.
The achievements since the mid-1990s are attributed in part to a delay in teenagers' start of sexual activity. Reasons for that are not easy to tease out, and the politicized push for abstinence-only curriculum in schools has made the discussion more volatile.

Most studies give more credit to teens' greater use of condoms and other protection and the wider array of options available to them, including such long-acting choices as the birth control patch.

Calvert County makes contraception accessible to girls at its family planning clinics for no charge and, except in rare cases, no questions. The approach might explain why the teen birthrate there fell 46 percent by 2005.

"Our underlying message is they should not be sexually active," health officer David Rogers said. Any counsel, like the contraception itself, is delivered in "a nonjudgmental way. . . . Surely our success is based on that."

Yes, the "politicized push for abstinence-only curriculum in schools" has made it much more difficult to talk about these things. There is a real question here: what kinds of conditions result in reduction of the rate of teen pregnancy. It's a straightforward question, really, you measure changes in the rate and some variables that you hypothesize might affect it. You elaborate on what works, drop what doesn't work. But no, the discussion is politicized, one side insists that the only thing that works is telling young people to abstain from sex. Nothing else can have any good effect, only that. So when studies come out, certain people jump up and either announce that "the study was flawed," or they twist the results in a way that fits their preconception, or whatever it takes for them to retain their conviction that they were right all along. And that is no way to actually learn what decisions can result in good outcomes, it seems to me.

Skipping down toward the end.
But even steady progress can suddenly slip. This summer, Montgomery County officials were surprised to learn that their teen birthrate had jumped to 20.1 in 2005 from 17.9 the previous year. It was the third consecutive increase, powered exclusively by births in the Latino community.

"The cultural component is one piece of a very complex story," said Judy Covich, the county's school health director.

Given the Washington region's changing demographics, as well as the country's, many communities soon could be facing the same challenge. Most family planning services lag in providing for language needs and cultural sensitivities, said David Landry of the Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual and reproductive health.

Landry celebrates the undeniable headway that has been made with teen pregnancy and birthrates across the United States. He is uncertain what lies ahead, though.

"It's a very unclear future we are moving into," he said.

People can fight about the reasons for it, but I'm happy to see that the rates have gone down like they have.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Breakdown of the Religious Right

I haven't been getting a lot of sleep this week, so it was great to stay in bed a little bit this morning, and wake up to this autumn morning at its peak already. When I took the dog out, the air was chilly but not cold yet. I'm going to have to rake pretty soon; yesterday I was trying to figure out when they're coming for the leaves. I'm guessing that by the end of this week they will all have fallen. Well, that's all right, I enjoy raking. Right now, I'm sitting at the kitchen table, with some echoing electric guitar playing "Shenandoah" on WPFW. It sounds like a guy's using a slide. There's an electric bass, a little percussion, some strings -- no, that's an electric guitar with effects on it. I'll have to wait to find out who this is. I have an idea, but I'm going to wait.

The New York Times magazine has a major story this morning called "Evangelical Crackup," about the collapse of the religious right. I think that's an unfortunate title, because really the theme of the story is that people who describe their religious beliefs as Evangelical are getting tired of the conservative political pitch all the time, and are leaving the Republican Party that panders to them. The point is that religion and politics are separating, not that there is any weakening of the influence of Evangelicals -- they're just not as easily controlled by certain political interests as they used to be.

It's written in that you-have-all-the-time-in-the-world style that magazine writers cultivate, sort of like my Sunday morning style, sorry. Anyway since they're a magazine and this is a blog, I'm going to skip through and pull out the more focused paragraphs.

First the author introduces us to a character, a forty-something Southern Baptist preacher with a mega-church in Wichita, Kansas, who had been pushing Republican politics for a long time, and then, last year, left the congregation.
Fox, who is 47, said he saw some impatient shuffling in the pews, but he was stunned that the church’s lay leaders had turned on him. “They said they were tired of hearing about abortion 52 weeks a year, hearing about all this political stuff!” he told me on a recent Sunday afternoon. “And these were deacons of the church!”

These days, Fox has taken his fire and brimstone in search of a new pulpit. He rented space at the Johnny Western Theater at the Wild West World amusement park until it folded. Now he preaches at a Best Western hotel. “I don’t mind telling you that I paid a price for the political stands I took,” Fox said. “The pendulum in the Christian world has swung back to the moderate point of view. The real battle now is among evangelicals.” Evangelical Crackup (May require free registration)

Well, I admit, I don't know how the teachings of Jesus could result in a weekly sermon on the evils of abortion, either. It sounds like there may have been some actual Christians at the church, who wanted something other than Republican Party talking points.

And of course this guy is painting himself as a victim, that seems to be one of the cornerstones of the whole religious-right business, feeling sorry for yourself.
Just three years ago, the leaders of the conservative Christian political movement could almost see the Promised Land. White evangelical Protestants looked like perhaps the most potent voting bloc in America. They turned out for President George W. Bush in record numbers, supporting him for re-election by a ratio of four to one. Republican strategists predicted that religious traditionalists would help bring about an era of dominance for their party. Spokesmen for the Christian conservative movement warned of the wrath of “values voters.” James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, was poised to play kingmaker in 2008, at least in the Republican primary. And thanks to President Bush, the Supreme Court appeared just one vote away from answering the prayers of evangelical activists by overturning Roe v. Wade.

Today the movement shows signs of coming apart beneath its leaders. It is not merely that none of the 2008 Republican front-runners come close to measuring up to President Bush in the eyes of the evangelical faithful, although it would be hard to find a cast of characters more ill fit for those shoes: a lapsed-Catholic big-city mayor; a Massachusetts Mormon; a church-skipping Hollywood character actor; and a political renegade known for crossing swords with the Rev. Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Nor is the problem simply that the Democratic presidential front-runners — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards — sound like a bunch of tent-revival Bible thumpers compared with the Republicans.

Just three years ago they thought they could see the Promised Land in Montgomery County, too. When the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum first emerged, right after the 2004 elections, with their goal of recalling the entire MCPS school board, you could see they felt empowered by the Christianism of the White House and the "mandate" of the election win. This was the trumpet calling them into action, to "take back America" and make it the Christian country they thought it was intended to be. Start by getting the sodomites out of our schools.

And we've seen this fast deterioration here in our little county. Three years ago the rubber hit the road for them. They met, they broke into groups, they organized, they reached out to the big organizations (including the Republican Party, who sent people to the CRC's earliest meetings), and now, three years later, they are down to a couple of blog-trolls and somebody to mail out the occasional inflammatory email or letter to the editor.

The article discusses how the original generation of rightwing preachers is dying off.
Meanwhile, a younger generation of evangelical pastors — including the widely emulated preachers Rick Warren and Bill Hybels — are pushing the movement and its theology in new directions. There are many related ways to characterize the split: a push to better this world as well as save eternal souls; a focus on the spiritual growth that follows conversion rather than the yes-or-no moment of salvation; a renewed attention to Jesus’ teachings about social justice as well as about personal or sexual morality. However conceived, though, the result is a new interest in public policies that address problems of peace, health and poverty — problems, unlike abortion and same-sex marriage, where left and right compete to present the best answers.

The backlash on the right against Bush and the war has emboldened some previously circumspect evangelical leaders to criticize the leadership of the Christian conservative political movement. “The quickness to arms, the quickness to invade, I think that caused a kind of desertion of what has been known as the Christian right,” Hybels, whose Willow Creek Association now includes 12,000 churches, told me over the summer. “People who might be called progressive evangelicals or centrist evangelicals are one stirring away from a real awakening.”

Jesus kicked over some tables in the temple and called out some hypocrites, but his central teaching was the golden rule, which he promoted to an extreme, advising followers to turn the other cheek, to care for the downtrodden and the sinful, to love their enemies. I always read his words as words of warmth, of love, winning people over by setting examples -- he explicitly taught against public display of private religious behaviors, his was a message of peace.

So it has always seemed weird to me how these churches twisted that into an anti-everything-and-everybody belief system, one hundred degrees different from the teaching of the Beatitudes, for instance. And now it appears some people sitting in the pews were wondering the same thing. But the religious right was not a grassroots religious movement, this was carefully created and cultivated by the big-money guys in Washington, and imposed on believers in the old-time religion who trusted their ministers.
Today the president’s support among evangelicals, still among his most loyal constituents, has crumbled. Once close to 90 percent, the president’s approval rating among white evangelicals has fallen to a recent low below 45 percent, according to polls by the Pew Research Center. White evangelicals under 30 — the future of the church — were once Bush’s biggest fans; now they are less supportive than their elders. And the dissatisfaction extends beyond Bush. For the first time in many years, white evangelical identification with the Republican Party has dipped below 50 percent, with the sharpest falloff again among the young, according to John C. Green, a senior fellow at Pew and an expert on religion and politics. (The defectors by and large say they’ve become independents, not Democrats, according to the polls.)

I won't comment on recent strange adventures by Democratic hopefuls to win over this group, or how the religious right's leaders are talking about forming their own political party. It's enough to say we don't know where this is heading.

You can learn something from this paragraph:
In June of last year, in one of the few upsets since conservatives consolidated their hold on the denomination 20 years ago, the establishment’s hand-picked candidates — well-known national figures in the [Southern Baptist] convention — lost the internal election for the convention’s presidency. The winner, Frank Page of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., campaigned on a promise to loosen up the conservatives’ tight control. He told convention delegates that Southern Baptists had become known too much for what they were against (abortion, evolution, homosexuality) instead of what they stand for (the Gospel). “I believe in the word of God,” he said after his election, “I am just not mad about it.” (It’s a formulation that comes up a lot in evangelical circles these days.)

OK, that's cool, they're just not mad about it. That has been one of the things that made this so unwelcome. People like the CRC's leadership have treated the rest of us as if we were (sometimes literally) working for Satan himself. Their anger -- at the school board, at gays and lesbians, at liberals -- overwhelmed everything else. I have always said, if it was a matter of adjusting the curriculum to accommodate the concerns of more conservative parents, nobody would have minded, that kind of discussion is expected, and it is positive. Discussion among people with differing points of view makes the final product better.

But they were always so mad about it. You couldn't talk with them.
Southern Baptists called their denomination’s turn to the right the “conservative resurgence,” meaning both a crackdown on unorthodox doctrine and a corresponding expulsion of political moderates. Page said he considered his election “a clear sign” that rank-and-file Southern Baptists felt the “conservative ascendancy has gone far enough.”

Page is meeting personally with all the leading presidential candidates in both parties — Republican and Democrat. (His home state of South Carolina is holding an early primary.) But unlike some of his predecessors, he won’t endorse any of them, he said.

“Most of us Southern Baptists are right-wing Republicans,” he added. “But we also recognize that times change.” For example, Page said Christians should be wary of Republican ties to “big business.”

This is sounding like a very healthy change. The Evangelicals have their beliefs, and yep, they're one conservative bunch of people. But they have been taking orders from Washington, and that's going to stop, it sounds like.

Well, I'm only halfway through this article, and this post is getting too long. Plus, I'm indoors. Oh, by the way, if I'd guessed who that guitar player was, I'd have been wrong. It was Bill Frisell with Ry Cooder, I wouldn't have guessed that, even though of course I listen to both of those players, and actually I've heard that song a lot of times, I just forgot. That slide, of course; those effects, of course.

Look, if you're interested in the direction America will be taking, go fill your coffee cup, get comfortable at the computer, and read through this article. The religious right has had a lot of power for a long time. You see the Democratic candidates risking everything to court that group -- will it pay off? The evangelical Christians as a group are realizing they have been taken advantage of, they've been treated like a bunch of bumpkins; will it work for Obama and Hillary to come around and act like Karl Rove did four years ago? There're a lot of votes there -- who's going to get them? A third party? It is possible.

America has all kinds of people, and our contract among ourselves is that we will accept and respect one another, different as we are. That means somebody like me learns to accept the conservative Christian, and it means the conservative Christian learns to accept somebody like me. I am not working for Satan, and tell you the truth, when somebody assumes that I am it puts a bad taste in my mouth. And I can accept their religious beliefs, their conservative values, that actually doesn't bother me, but I can't let them force me to live that way. Let's see where all this goes.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Survey Slashes Stereotypes

One way of looking at the struggle over the MCPS sex-ed curriculum is to note that one side is trying to perpetuate a stereotype of gays and lesbians, while the other side is trying to move beyond it. With that in mind, we may learn something from a recent survey.

The Chicago Tribune has it this time:
SAN JOSE, Calif. - To judge from the images on network television and corporate advertising, lesbians and gay men share the same demographic niche: affluent, educated, urban -- and usually white.

Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong, says a new national demographic study that suggests lesbians and gays are more likely to be older, "responsible" suburbanites sharing a mortgage payment and listening to country music than young turks partying in the Castro or Chelsea.

"We wanted to bust some stereotypes," said David Morse, president and chief executive of New American Dimensions, a Los Angeles market research company that joined forces with San Francisco-based Asterix Group, a brand strategy firm, in an attempt to paint a more nuanced portrait of the nation's gays and lesbians.

Some findings surprised even the researchers:

African-Americans and Latinos were more comfortable expressing their gay identity than whites, although their gay identity was not the most important part of who they are. And, while whites were more likely to be in live-together relationships than Latinos or blacks, they were less likely to include children in their family plans.

Gays and lesbians are increasingly open and honest about their sexuality. Two-thirds agreed with the statement, "Everyone knows I'm gay."

A majority of lesbians and gay men live outside big cities, with about one-third of lesbians and one-quarter of gay men living in small towns or rural areas.

The average age people realized their sexual orientation was 15, but it was younger for men than for women. Gays, lesbians far more diverse than media portrays, study finds

This is great. A whole bunch of stereotypes are blown away in this survey, which by the way you can read HERE.
Corporate America frequently stumbles when it attempts to sell its products to gays, the study's authors say. They blamed a one-size-fits-all marketing approach.

"It would be wrong for marketers to think that this was a rich and white, male, partying group," said Christine Lehtonen, president of Asterix.

BTW, I'd like to use this opportunity to introduce some cognitive dissonance by pointing out that this survey exists so that businesses can exploit the gay market more effectively. Capitalists want to sell stuff, gay people buy stuff, it is in the interest of the business to understand what kind of consumers they are and what kind of stuff they'd like to buy. This is your free enterprise system at work.
The study was based on more than 900 in-person and online surveys conducted across the country in June. While survey respondents were predominantly white, nearly one in five were black, Latino or Asian. An equal number of men and women responded.

The diversity the researchers found mirrors what demographers using U.S. Census Bureau and other demographic data have reported about the nation's gay and lesbian population. But it doesn't reflect the stereotypes -- wealthy, urban and white -- that continue to be broadcast in advertising and TV shows, said Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles school who specializes in America.

"Gay men actually make less money than other men. And every time I say that, people say, 'What?'" Gates said. " This stereotype of gay men being really wealthy -- the whole ' Will and Grace' kind of stereotype -- it's just absolutely not true."

While gay or lesbian characters are no longer a novelty on TV, gay characters remain predominantly white. There is only one regular gay minority character on broadcast TV in the 2007-08 prime-time schedule, a recent survey by Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation found.

The New American Dimensions/Asterix study also looked at how lesbians and gays reacted to TV and print advertising, and studied brand loyalties to cars and other products. Among the winners: Subaru, Budweiser and Yahoo, which was favored by a nearly 2-1 ratio over Google.

Gay people use Yahoo for Internet searches, over Google? Wow, I didn't see that one coming.
The study classified about 12 percent of the study's respondents as "closeted." They were more likely to be single, older, live in small towns, read Reader's Digest and People magazine, and drive a Chevrolet. Only about one in five say their sexual orientation is an important part of their identity.

At the other end of the study's spectrum were the "super gays," who were almost universally open about their sexual orientation, and tended to be highly educated, affluent, be in couples, live in large cities and listen to classical music.

But while highly visible groups like the "super gays" tend to set the image of what gay life is like in America, Morse said they represent a minority of the entire community. "Sixty percent of this market is to a certain extent invisible," he said.

Lehtonen said although the study found a great amount of diversity among the segments, some of the stereotypical divides didn't appear.

"I expected to find more differences by gender, male and female," she said. "And primarily, there weren't a ton of differences."

Gates said the New American Dimensions/Asterix Group study differs from other marketing studies, in that there was not a primary focus on the white, male, affluent demographic.

"I do think," Gates said, "this appears to present the gay community in a way that's somewhat different and unique, in that it's focusing a little more intentionally on a broader gay demographic, and arguing that there isn't in some respects 'a gay demographic.'"

This kind of information is very useful. Turns out some gay people did not have a member in the Village People. Shocking.


Kind of a fun article over as MSN, a "dating & personals" column about changes in sexual orientation.
We’ve all heard the heartwarming stories—women and men who, after years of oppression, repression, and fear, realize or admit that they are gay and come out of the closet. In a culture that still has more than its fair share of homophobia, this is both a courageous act and a political one, and these men and women are generally not only celebrated but welcomed as a part of the community. They’re “one of us” now.

But what is less celebrated and, generally much less talked about, is the flip side. What happens when you’re gay, out, and happy, and much to your surprise you develop an attraction or feelings for someone of the opposite sex? But I’m gay!

I know somebody like this, a couple of people actually. One young lady I know is a dyed-in-the-wool lesbian who is going out with a guy she likes a lot.

It doesn't seem to bother her any, and I think I understand that. In their group of friends, nobody pays any attention to whether you're gay or straight; they hang around together because they like each other, and it doesn't matter. So though if you asked her she'd tell you she's a lesbian, and she's comfortable with that, she doesn't feel stereotyped as a lesbian. She met a guy; they like each other; they're going out. Now and then a passing lady will catch her eye, whatever, she's in a relationship now. In a society that accepts variety, the need for polarization and stereotyping goes away, if you find yourself attracted to someone you might see about getting involved. They're young, why not?
If you’re gay and find yourself falling for a member of the opposite sex, you might feel shocked and confused. But the truth is that, despite how strongly we may identify one way or the other, sexual orientation and sexual identity are more complex than we often admit. Ellen Schecter, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who conducted a research study on long-time lesbians who partnered with men, says that researchers have found that several of our assumptions about sexuality simply aren’t true. She says, “There is an assumption that sexual questioning is a one-time event that happens either in adolescence or midlife and always terminates with the permanent adoption of a straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity label. That’s not always true.”

I saw a Utah researcher named Lisa Diamond give a talk at the APA convention a year or two ago, about a group of women she has been following for a decade. Every couple of years she searches them out and asks them what their sexual orientation is. It changes a lot. She notes that this is a special group, but it shows that sexual orientation is not so fixed for some people. Most of the research also indicates that this is much more likely for women than it is for men.

Let me point out, as the CRC nuts reach for their keyboards, that this has nothing to do with any "ex-gay" hocus-pocus. This article is about people who spontaneously find they are attracted to someone who ... surprises ... them. They don't get ministered into it, or doctored into it, they don't switch out of guilt, they just meet someone and find them attractive, even though that person is of the unexpected partner-sex.

Actually, speaking of the CRC nuts ... shouldn't it be, like, twice as sinful to have straight sex with a gay person? I'm just asking...
In a culture that has trouble with “gray area,” acknowledging that sexuality can be fluid is often challenging. And this isn’t just true for heterosexuals. Gay-identified folks often have to develop a strong identity partly in response to heterosexual bias. Notes Kimeron Hardin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Loving Ourselves: The Gay and Lesbian Guide to Self-Esteem, “It’s often threatening to the person who has formed a lesbian or gay identity to acknowledge that his or her sexuality is on a continuum. Sometimes as you become more comfortable with who you are, you may explore outside of the rigid internal identity that you set up for yourself. You may become less black and white about the way you think about life in general.”

There's some more there, I linked it, you can read the rest.

Human sexuality is a complex and fascinating topic. Personally, I'm in favor of it. Anybody who says they understand it is lying. There's some biological stuff going on that drives us to ... more than reproduce, to pair off, to become intimate with a particular other person, to seek love, and sexuality is certainly a great part of that. Then there are social norms that establish lines of inheritance, rules that guide marriage and sexual practices. There is the usual social pressure to be like everybody else, and the usual personal needs that drive people to behaviors outside the norm, the usual social preference to be around people who are similar to ourselves, and so on, and these forces make it harder for people to express themselves honestly, or even to think about themselves in certain ways, sometimes.

This little love-advice column should not be taken to say that everybody can switch their orientation, or even that it happens very often -- in fact, this is just a romance column written by a young lady with an English degree from Vassar, who plays the guitar and wrote a musical about Monica Lewinsky. She might have just made the whole thing up.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Conclusions Based on Estimates Based on Estimates

[Update: After posting this, I noticed that the CRC's web site links to the very persuasive California Catholic Daily article referred to here, with the link caption, "How does Planned Parenthood explain this?"]

Yesterday someone pointed us to an interesting article proving that comprehensive sex-ed doesn't work. California Catholic Daily, which is certainly going to be an authoritative and objective publication with no axe to grind when it comes to sex ed, had this:
A study published last month in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion reports that in 2005 there were 1.1 million new cases of sexually-transmitted infections among young people in California.

The 1.1 million figure is ten times higher than previously believed, and it means that in the 15-24 age group, diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HPV and HIV now infect almost one out of every four young Californians.

Is this because of a lack of sex-ed in the public schools? Apparently not. According to Chris Weinkopf, editorial-page editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, the California Department of Education reports that "96 percent of California school districts provide comprehensive sexual health education" and all California schools have been required to teach HIV/AIDS prevention education since 1992.

Can we blame the abstinence-only programs promoted by the Bush administration? Not in California. Weinkopf notes that state law prohibits 'abstinence-only' education in the public schools. In addition, California may be the only state in the country that has refused to accept millions of federal dollars for abstinence education. How does Planned Parenthood explain this? Rate of sexually-transmitted diseases soars among young Californians

Okay, you get the idea. They go on to quote some experts from Focus on the Family.

Turns out it's not hard to find the paper they're talking about: HERE. It's called Sexually Transmitted Infections Among California Youth: Estimated Incidence and Direct Medical Cost, 2005, by Jerman, Constantine, and Nevarez.

Now this is interesting. They explain what they did in the abstract:
On the basis of the methods developed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention we estimated the statewide number of new cases of eight major STIs among young persons aged 15 to 24 years in California in 2005: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, and HIV.

Notice, they didn't measure the number of new cases, they "estimated" them.

We'll back up a step, following their reasoning here, because this is fascinating. They say:
Basing our methods on those developed by Weinstock et al. (2004) for their national study, we estimated the incidence of eight major STI among young persons aged 15 to 24 years in California in 2005: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, HPV, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, and HIV.

So let's go see where this came from.

We can find Weinstock, et al., HERE. Reading this is unbelievable. They take bad data and adjust it. Like, they say:
In 2000, a total of 358,995 new cases of gonorrhea were reported to the CDC, of which 60% were among persons aged 15–24. Previous estimates of gonorrhea incidence have assumed a 50% underdiagnosis and underreporting rate. Applying this assumption to the available level II national surveillance data, we estimate that 718,000 new cases of gonorrhea occurred in 2000 and that 431,000 cases occurred among persons aged 15–24.

They explain that when they say "Level II," they mean that these are data from "fair" samples, without representative statistical sampling, with incomplete national reporting, and with extrapolations and assumptions based on representative national surveys.

So they take lousy numbers and double them, assuming they're only half of what they should be. This is one shaky piece of research to build on, I'll say.

But at least Weinstock, et al. used actual numbers collected in the field, even if they weren't very good. The paper that based its methods on that one -- the Jerman paper, quoted in this Catholic magazine -- didn't even do that. Listen to what they say:
Because county-specific numbers of STIs are not available for most STIs, we extrapolated the California estimates for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, HPV, hepatitis B, and trichomoniasis to the county level using the number of gonorrhea and chlamydia cases reported in 2005 in California (California Department of Health Services, 2006d), which are available at the county level. For both chlamydia and gonorrhea among 15-24-year-olds, we calculated the proportion of each county’s cases from the statewide total. We then averaged the chlamydia and the gonorrhea proportion to obtain an overall proportion for each county. This was then multiplied by the statewide estimate for each STI to obtain county-level estimates for each STI. Given the limited data available on other proxies for risk at the county level, we assumed that the distributions of other STIs are associated with the distribution of gonorrhea and chlamydia. Because the distribution of chlamydia and gonorrhea differs slightly, and because it is unknown which of the two the other diseases follow most closely, we weighted equally the gonorrhea and chlamydia distributions.

I found this rather dense, so I'm going to try to break it down into steps.

They had total numbers of reported cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia at the county level, and some numbers for the other diseases at the state level.

They knew the statewide proportion of the population in the 15-24 year range, and divided each county's numbers by that (assuming a uniform age distribution throughout the state and that the targeted age range has the same rate of infection as the rest of the population).

Then, because they wanted to make estimates about syphilis, genital herpes, HPV, hepatitis B, and trichomoniasis, too, and assuming that all these diseases would go together, they used the derived statistics for gonorrhea and chlamydia to generate numbers for those diseases by proportion from the state levels.
County-specific numbers of HIV infection also are not available, and thus, we used a similar method to extrapolate the statewide estimate for HIV to the county level...

OK, I'll stop.

I hope you get the point. These are made-up numbers, extremely dubitable, if there is such a word. The California Catholic Daily notes that the derived estimates are "ten times higher than previously believed," and then goes on to assume that there are ten times as many cases out there as anybody thought; oh, and it's because of comprehensive sex-ed. The skeptical reader looks at these weird techniques and the discrepancy from other published results, and concludes that there is a good chance the assumptions and methods used were invalid, and that this attempt at creating good information from bad data might not really work.

My criticism here is not against the research. I take this to be a developing field, and this is a minor article in a parochial journal. My criticism is in manipulative people using a weak study like this as evidence to support conclusions that they were already convinced of before they read the study. Trust me, there is not chance -- not a chance -- that the California Catholic Daily was going to say, "Wow, we just read a study in a journal, and it turns out comprehensive sex education really does work." No, when studies find it works, this magazine just don't mention them. The goal is not to increase the readers' knowledge, it is to reinforce their preconceptions. And then people like our friend who showed us this can take that and feed off of it, as if this article really was convincing, with its solid facts and unblinking hard reasoning.

And look, again, I don't want to be too critical of these studies. Health researchers have a tough job. Nobody knows how many people have such-and-such disease, never mind if it's HIV or influenza or acne, but it would be great to know that, so that epidemics can be identified and controlled before they become pandemic. These researchers have got lots of bad data, how many people went to the doctor for something, with no clue how many people actually have any disease; and maybe they can use what they do know to make predictions about something they don't have data for. Weinstock, et al. admit everybody figures they're off by fifty percent from the start -- they don't know the exact amount, but they know they're way off, they figure their numbers are about half of the real thing. I sympathize with the researcher who has to try to get something out of these kinds of numbers, and I expect that as medical data-mining becomes more sophisticated, as probability distributions and correlations become better understood, the estimates will improve.

This paper did not demonstrate that comprehensive sex education "doesn't work." Using ball-park estimates derived from ball-park estimates by applying unjustified adjustments based on inexplicable assumptions, they came up with some guess at what might really be out there. A guess that we are told is ten times higher than estimates by others in the field.

It is clear to the authors, even, that these are unreliable estimates. Jerman et al. say (note that they went a step further in this paper and estimated the cost of all these STDs):
We relied on various assumptions in our calculations of incidence and cost estimates. Therefore, the estimates we have derived should be considered approximations. Our analyses are subject to the same limitations as were the methods and cost-per-case estimates on which we relied in our calculations. For example, the assumptions included rates of underreporting, proportion of STIs among young people, treatment guidelines, previous cost estimates, non exhaustive direct medical costs, and others.

In other words, the sky may be falling, the sky may be falling, we can't tell.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Human Nature

A couple of bloggers have linked to this story, but I'll assume you haven't seen it. It's not big news, but it just seems there may be a Great Principle or two at work here. See what you think.

This is BBC News, reporting on a story from India:
The deputy mayor of the Indian capital Delhi has died a day after being attacked by a horde of wild monkeys.

SS Bajwa suffered serious head injuries when he fell from the first-floor terrace of his home on Saturday morning trying to fight off the monkeys.

The city has long struggled to counter its plague of monkeys, which invade government complexes and temples, snatch food and scare passers-by.

The High Court ordered the city to find an answer to the problem last year. Monkeys attack Delhi politician

That seems exotic. We don't have violent monkey gangs. I have seen pamphlets here in Rockville warning people about coyotes. Monkeys, no.

But I wouldn't link to a story that was just about a guy who was killed by monkeys. I'm linking to it because of the next sentence.
One approach has been to train bands of larger, more ferocious langur monkeys to go after the smaller groups of Rhesus macaques.

I see two phenomena of human nature here. One is them, and one is us. The first is the phenomenon of taking a minor problem and, in trying to solve it, making it worse. Because if violent little monkeys are killing people, what do you figure violent big monkeys will do?

You and I see that immediately. Which brings us to the other point.

This is Delhi, India, with 22 million people in the metropolitan area, it ain't Podunk, in other words. And they had a meeting, or commissioned a study, or the Department of Monkeys spent some time on it or whatever, and the policy people came up with this: let's fill the streets with bigger, more violent, monkeys to beat up the little monkeys. And then the rest of them nodded, and now maybe some money will be budgeted for the Bigger and Meaner Monkey Project. Acronyms will be invented (BMMP, for instance), institutions will arise, you know how that goes.

Here's the second phenomenon: it's easy for us to see the absurdity of their ways, over there in India. But we don't see it when we're doing it.

Can Congress Abstain from Abstinence?

Somebody sent me this article from Congressional Quarterly, which keeps some parts online and out in the open and some where you have to pay for them. I don't find it on their web site, so I can't give you a link. That publication follows what's going on in Congress; I get the rss feed for it, but this story wasn't included in that. It gets pretty technical, as you'll see, but it can be fascinating as well, watching them fight it out day to day on the Hill. The date on this is October 19th.
Heated Debate Ahead for Spending Bill Proposal Addressing Sex Education
By Alex Wayne, CQ Staff

Abstinence-only sex education, already taking a cut in the Senate version of the fiscal 2008 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, could suffer a more serious setback Monday.

Senators are expected to debate a floor amendment by Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., that would prohibit federally funded abstinence courses from using "medically inaccurate" information in their curricula. Conservative critics of the bill say the proposal is a cleverly written means of ending abstinence-only education, something many Democrats oppose.

Oh, man, this is right out of the CRC's playbook. Those clever Democrats are cheating -- they're going to say that only accurate information can be taught, which means the classes will have a liberal bias.
Lautenberg's amendment is one of several controversial social issues the Senate has debated as it considers the bill to fund the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Because of the agencies it covers, the bill has been a longtime venue for social policy debate.

The Senate has already dealt with two abortion amendments. One, affirming a law that prevents Medicaid from funding abortions, was adopted; the other, to ban Planned Parenthood from tapping federal family planning grants, was defeated.

Other pending amendments include measures by John Ensign, R-Nev., intended to prevent illegal immigrants from collecting Social Security benefits, and by Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would use money committed to earmarks in the bill to instead pay for health insurance for children.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Oct. 19 he had reached agreement with Republicans to complete the legislation by midday Tuesday. President Bush has threatened to veto it.

The bill (HR 3043, S 1710) would provide $606 billion for the departments it covers, plus some independent agencies such as the Social Security Administration. Of the total, $149.9 billion is discretionary spending. The rest is mostly for entitlements: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and unemployment insurance.

The Senate version's discretionary spending represents a $5.4 billion increase over what was enacted in fiscal 2007 and is $9.6 billion more than Bush requested. It contains $1.9 billion less than the House-passed version.

Lautenberg is among many Democrats who think the government should fund not only abstinence education but also "comprehensive" sex education curricula, which include information about contraception and safe sex.

"Growing up isn't easy, and our kids find themselves in tough situations every day. They need all the information to make smart choices, and 'abstinence-only' programs are not enough," Lautenberg said in a March statement, when he and other Democrats introduced legislation that would fund "comprehensive" sex education.

His proposal would prohibit funding for any abstinence education programs that use "medically inaccurate" information. He defines that as data "unsupported or contradicted by peer-reviewed research by leading medical, psychological, and public health publications, organizations and agencies."

Critics say the broad definition would eliminate money for all abstinence-only courses. Even if a program used information found accurate by one peer-reviewed study, it would not be eligible for funding under the amendment if any other study questioned the curricula, said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

"It clearly would end abstinence education almost immediately," Rector said. "The definition . . . doesn't cover medical information; it covers everything. If anything that is said in an abstinence text is disagreed with by anything said anywhere else, you can't use it. And that would in effect eliminate virtually every sentence, and it's intended to do that."

A Lautenberg aide said the amendment would not end funding for abstinence programs.

"There are likely some that would be medically accurate, and we expect most to continue to receive funding," the aide said. "This would require all programs to be medically accurate before receiving funding."

I think the key here is the little phrase "peer-reviewed." Groups like the Heritage Foundation conduct "studies," whose results always support the socially conservative view. They publish those studies on their web site and issue press releases, and some reporters can't tell the difference between those "studies" and real scientific research that has undergone the scrutiny of experts in the field and been published in real peer-reviewed journals. These guys in Congress are simply saying that if the federal government is going to pay for classes, they should be teaching knowledge that has been found through peer-reviewed, scientific research. The Heritage Foundation kind of propagandists researchers are foaming at the mouth -- this will not be good for their business.

This is wonderful, just great. The Republicans are outraged, outraged I tell you, because those slimy Democrats insist that the stuff you teach kids in school, at least on the federal dollar, should be accurate. They know their classes can never qualify.

It was generous of the Democratic guy to say that it might at least be possible to have an abstinence-only class that told the truth. Kind of like, "in theory."

I don't know, am I the only one who sees the humor in this?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gotta Mention Dumbledore

Remember when Jerry Falwell said TinkyWinky was gay? Remember when Dobson and all his people said that SpongeBob SquarePants was promoting homosexuality?

It's so interesting to think about attributing sexual orientation to ... a character in a kids' show. Especially a cartoon character, that's wonderful. They know these characters don't really have any sexual feelings, don't they? How can a Teletubby be gay, or a ... what is SpongeBob SquarePants? Is he really a sponge? He's not even that, he's a drawing of a sponge. But whatever it is that the Family Blah Blah guys hate, a cartoon character is capable of possessing it -- I have said before, I don't think it's so much being gay that they resent, it's acting gay, which represents an dangerous lack of obedience to the vague but inviolable norms that make us manly men and womanly women.

I think TinkyWinky just matched the religious right's gay stereotype on too many points, and poor SpongeBob's mistake was encouraging kids to practice tolerance. In both cases, you had hallucinating bigots imagining the bizarre at just the instant their sense of irony completely abandoned them.

I know you've heard about Dumbledore. At least this one sort of makes sense...
NEW YORK (Reuters) - J.K. Rowling has outed one of the main characters of her best-selling Harry Potter series, telling fans in New York that the wizard Albus Dumbledore, head of Hogwarts school, is gay.

Speaking at Carnegie Hall on Friday night in her first U.S. tour in seven years, Rowling confirmed what some fans had always suspected -- that she "always thought Dumbledore was gay," reported entertainment Web site E! Online.

Rowling said Dumbledore fell in love with the charming wizard Gellert Grindelwald but when Grindelwald turned out to be more interested in the dark arts than good, Dumbledore was "terribly let down" and went on to destroy his rival.

That love, she said, was Dumbledore's "great tragedy."

"Falling in love can blind us to an extent," she said.

The audience reportedly fell silent after the admission -- then erupted into applause. JK Rowling says wizard Dumbledore is gay

I didn't read any of those books, I admit it. But I have heard the discussions, as people try to figure out how different details go together. And I have never heard anyone suggest that Dumbledore, or any other Harry Potter character, was gay.

J.K. Rowling seemed kind of surprised by the reaction. Which is fun, because remember Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore lives in her head. Of course she knows if he's gay or not, because she channels him. So to her this was just obvious, but it wasn't a big enough deal to bother mentioning.
Rowling, 42, said if she had known that would be the response, she would have revealed her thoughts on Dumbledore earlier.

Fans on the top Potter fan site ( were divided on the news, some uncertain Rowling wasn't going to backtrack on the announcement, others saying it was unnecessary, and some welcoming the extra information on Dumbledore.

"This is even more awesome because it adds another layer to Dumbledore's character, which is already so rich and complicated. I hope he got over Grindlevald (sic) and fell in love again," wrote Amanda.

Rowling said she had read through a script for the movie adaptation of the sixth book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and corrected a passage in which Dumbledore was reminiscing about past loves by crossing it out and scrawling "Dumbledore is gay" over it.

Because to her it was obvious. I'm sure she wondered what those screenwriters were thinking.

I wonder how the CRC, the Dobsons of the world, are going to react to this latest news. This one may be a little bit of a dilemma for them, because he doesn't match any of their stereotypes. Dumbledore is no TinkyWinky, who is, after all, purple, and you know what that means. Is this the "gay lifestyle" that we hear so much about, kindly old wizards doing good magical things?

Of course the fact that comes out in all this is that sexual orientation is nothing like the porno-cornocopia that the people in the CRC would have you believe. And please allow me to give you a tip: if you try to associate Dumbledore with anal sex, it's going to backfire on you. By now every Harry Potter fan has heard the news, and they're digesting it, discussing it on playgrounds around the world. How will this new revelation shape a young person's thinking? You know it will, as the tide keeps turning.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Defining the Event in Terms of the Victim

It seems to me that I think a lot of Sunday mornings here are gorgeous. I used to think it was the quality of a particular day, but now I'm seeing that we just live in a beautiful place. And so I say, yay for us. The leaves are falling seriously now, the trees are red and yellow, and I see that people walking down the street have sweaters on. It seems warm enough to me, but maybe in the shade it's still cool, maybe it was cool an hour ago when they left the house. The light has that thin, limpid quality that you get in the transitional seasons, it's not weak, it's just, I'd say, gentle sunshine this morning.

This is probably a good time to mention that what I write on this blog is my own opinion only. TTF people don't review it, and often don't agree with what I say. But as I bump along this old trail of life, sometimes some crazy thing catches my eye, and I think out loud about it here. Comment if you have an opinion, you don't have to agree with me, but some things are interesting enough to be talked about. I'm just going to give my side, feel free to fill in the rest.

I ... am ... totally ... surprised. The other day that terrorist was convicted and sentenced, and the Washington Post didn't put it on the front page. In fact, searching for his name, it looks like they didn't even mention it anywhere in the newspaper, ever. Guy plants a bomb, tries to kill anybody within a hundred feet, packs it with nails to make it more deadly, is caught, convicted, and that's not enough to compete with "Some Say Clinton Model Is Flawed" (Page One, left) in a major newspaper.

Of course if you saw my post about it, you notice that I left a little bit of information out, a few words here and there, mainly the phrases that included words like "abortion clinic." Like, the headline wasn't really, "Man Gets 40 Years After Planting Bomb," it was "Man Gets 40 Years After Planting Bomb At Women's Clinic." And the lead sentence wasn't "A judge on Friday sentenced a man to 40 years in prison after he admitted to planting a bomb outside an Austin [building]", it was "A judge on Friday sentenced a man to 40 years in prison after he admitted to planting a bomb outside an Austin clinic that performs abortions."

If you search Google News for this guy's name plus the word "terrorist," you get exactly zero hits. Well, you get one, because one news site has another story on it about a terrorist. A guy planting a bomb in a city to blow up passersby is unanimously, without exception, not a terrorist in any news outlet. Because of who he is, and because he doesn't fit the script we've been taught.

Our country is standing on its head these days, in fear of terrorism. Our values are inverted, we live in fear -- did you see the story the other day, about how we should all be afraid of IEDs in the streets? There aren't any, but there could be, and we should live in more fear than we are presently experiencing, because maybe random things in the road will blow up as we approach them. We are obsessed. We stand in security lines, we provide ID galore, we're always on candid camera, we let them listen to our phone calls and read our emails, because we are afraid of terrorists.

But this is so strange: real terrorists don't even attract our attention. You take a real guy planting a real bomb that could kill dozens or hundreds of people, and we couldn't care less.

It makes you wonder how this works, really. It appears we will give up our ketchup at the airport, our hand lotion, in order to make the world safe from turban-wearing, swarthy bad guys who practice a different religion from us, we'll let them take naked pictures of our bodies through our clothes on the off-chance that one of us has explosives in our rectum. But a regular terrorist -- and this guy is not the first or only one -- doesn't worry us a bit. Your neighbor will not be mentioning this to you today over the fence.

I know people -- you know people -- who actually, literally believe that Muslim terrorists could conquer the United States and destroy our way of life. In one day, Muslim terrorists were able to kill as many Americans as, uh, nearly one tenth of the number killed in traffic accidents every year, almost a fifth of the number of Americans who die of AIDS in a year. And they're going to come here and take over a country of 300 million people, and make us live like they do?

Look at it this way. My wife is in Sioux City, Iowa, visiting her family. Think about what it would take for Muslim terrorists to invade and occupy Sioux City, never mind Le Mars, the next town over, or let's go all the way over to Omaha -- how will the terrorists make the people of Omaha submit to their evils way of life? I can see the long-bearded guys in some Pakistani cave, looking over their list of American targets, with Omaha, Nebraska somewhere in the middle, Sioux City below that, and Le Mars further down. Q: How long will that list have to be? A: Pretty long.

Look, it can't happen. The only way anybody could ever buy any of this is if they see the world like a child does, with their little life right in the middle of it all, and their little friends and family and possessions magnified out of proportion. You can imagine them coming down your street, sure. But who cares about your street? How many streets do you think they can come to? And why would they pick yours? Every country on the planet, just about, has had a terrorist attack of some sort; you have to be careful, you have to protect yourself, but you don't have to completely warp your life around to put this at the center of it.

Part of the legacy of the Bush years will be this weird, obsessive kind of infantilism. The people we call "conservatives" these days are ones who believe that the world centers around them, that whatever they want is justified, that whatever happens is caused by a reaction to them, personally. In our controversy, gay people can't just be gay, can't just be attracted to people of their own sex, it has to be a conspiracy to destroy the family, an attack on the institution of marriage -- it has to be Satan trying to steal somebody's soul. It is impossible to consider the obvious fact that nature just spits out a gay person, or a gay penguin or elephant or whatever, once in a while. It has to be a personal attack.

When we are shown a real terrorist, a person who actually does intend to kill random people in a public place, evidence of an actual deadly conspiracy, but it doesn't fit our self-obsessed theory, we can't figure out how this is an attack on us personally, and so the fact is simply rejected. The Washington Post didn't give this story an inch of ink. Nobody wants to hear about a white Christian male adult doing this sort of thing, with nary an Arab in sight. This real terrorist simply does not interest people, and that fact calls for an explanation.

It's even worse than that. Look at that headline. Look at that lead sentence. The news story wasn't that a terrorist was sentenced, which is what happened. Both the headline and the lead said "a man" was sentenced. And both mentioned that the target of the bombing was a "women's clinic," or "clinic that performs abortions." These phrases tell you what happened. "A man," generic and ordinary like any of us, tried to bomb a "women's clinic" where abortions are performed.

All the explanatory power is in the object of the sentence. Dude was just doing what he had to do. There was a "women's clinic," where women get abortions. Somebody had to kill a bunch of them, plus any other unlucky souls wandering through the neighborhood. "A man" tried to do it, got caught. He was obviously trying to stop bad people from doing bad things, just went over the line a little bit. Kind of like John Wayne hitting the bad guy a little too hard.

We need to wake ourselves up from this nightmare of self-absorption.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Terrorist Sentenced

A terrorist captured after trying to bomb a building in Texas has been convicted and sentenced to forty years in prison. The bomb consisted of explosives and two pounds of nails; early news reports said that it would have injured everyone within a hundred-foot radius. Luckily the bomb failed to explode and no one was hurt.
A judge on Friday sentenced a man to 40 years in prison after he admitted to planting a bomb outside an Austin [building].

Police arrested Paul Ross Evans, 27, in April after they found a makeshift bomb in the parking lot [...]

The nail-filled bomb never went off, and no one was hurt in the incident, but the SWAT team was called out to dispose of it.

Evans pleaded guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Evans faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. Man Gets 40 Years After Planting Bomb ...

I'm looking for this on the front page of The Post tomorrow morning.

Why "Reparative Therapy" Is Bad

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have tried to insist that the Montgomery County sex-ed classes should have something about "ex-gays" and about "reparative therapy" in them. The idea is that students should learn that you choose your sexual orientation, so if you feel like you might be gay, don't worry, you can go to a preacher, or in some cases a shrink, who will "repair" you. Of course, that's not true, but the CRC needs to believe this in order to bolster their assertion that sexual orientation is a moral choice. Then if you insist on staying gay, they can blame you and judge you for making a bad moral decision. Then they will be demonstrably, obviously, better than you, which is what this is all about.

Peterson Toscano describes himself as an "ex-gay survivor." He has a blog HERE. This week he did something really good. He posted a nicely organized review of the ways that reparative therapy has hurt people. Here's how he gets into it:
In the past 4.5 years I have been in contact with over 1000 ex-gay survivors. These are people who pursued ex-gay experiences, either on their own, or more often, assisted by others like a therapist, minister, ex-gay program. They attempted to change or suppress their sexual orientation and may have referred to themselves as ex-gays or simply strugglers or by some other name.

Through hearing their stories (some of which are posted on Beyond Ex-Gay--bXg) and in unpacking my own ex-gay journey, I have begun to understand the many ways people can be harmed by their ex-gay experiences. Many of us also received certain benefits from our ex-gay experiences, but in most cases the harm outweighs the good. Ex-Gay Harm--Let Me Count the Ways

So after talking to all these people, he's made a list. He's also asking visitors to his blog to suggest additions to the list, so you can figure it's going to get longer and fill out over time.

You should follow the link and read his text, but to lure you there I'm going to list just the category titles (Box Turtle Bulletin did the same thing):
  • Emotional Harm
  • Psychological Harm
  • Spiritual Harm
  • Relationship Harm
  • Financial Harm
  • Career Harm
  • Physical Harm
  • Sexual Harm
  • Developmental Harm

Interesting post. The comments are good, too -- it's amazing to read about the experiences these guys have gone through, trying to make themselves over in a way that just wasn't meant to be. Like one guy says, "It's not simply the ministries that cause this harm, but the entire religious error that underpins the movement. Those of us who grew up in conservative anti-gay religions bear the scars and the wounds inflicted upon us for our entire lives."

Three years ago, when we started this TeachTheFacts thing, I had never heard of an "ex-gay" person. I didn't know if there was any such thing or not, and it seemed like a weird thing to fight about. But the shriller the nuts got about this, the more you saw that it's just a lie, just a hoax meant to spread ugliness in the world. It's an industry based on denial, really sad.

Contraceptives at the Middle School: A Story, or Not?

A couple of people have pointed this story out to me, and I guess I don't know what to make of it. A middle school up in Maine is starting to provide birth control pills and other contraceptives at the health center.

Here's NPR's take on it:
School officials in Portland, Maine, voted to make birth control pills available to students at one of the city's middle schools.

The contraceptives would be available to girls in the seventh and eighth grades, with their parents' permission.

The move, sanctioned late Wednesday in a 7-2 vote by the Portland School Committee, follows a spate of pregnancies among middle school girls.

King Middle School will be Maine's first school to have a full range of contraception available, including birth control pills and patches. Condoms have been available at King's health center since 2000.

A school health center will make birth control pills available to girls as young as 11. Prescriptions will be given after a student undergoes a physical exam by a physician or nurse practitioner, according to Lisa Belanger, who oversees Portland's student health centers.

Parents must consent to their children using the school's health center, as most middle school students are ages 11 to 13.

Nevertheless, treatment is confidential under state law. That means students can decide whether to inform their parents about the services they receive. Maine Middle School to Issue Birth Control Pills

So, if I'm reading this right, parents can say that a kid can or cannot use the health center's services, but if they say yes, they can't tell if their kid is getting contraceptives there or not, because it's confidential.

Now, you know that the expected reflexive reaction to this is to sputter something about "parental control" blah blah blah. But look, they say seventeen girls have gotten pregnant in Portland schools in the last four years, and I doubt their parents had a lot of control over that!

OK, so here's my question. Can an 11-year-old girl in Maine go somewhere and get a prescription for birth control pills, without her parents finding out? That's a real question. Can a girl go to a clinic or somewhere and get this stuff without a parent's consent, or not?

If they can, then this is purely a non-story, just some reporters trying to stir up some excitement. It sounds like this health center has a doctor or somebody who can prescribe medicine, I expect they administer antibiotics and stuff, Ritalin and antidepressants and Tylenol, right? So they've just extended their service a little bit. Nobody wants to see middle-school girls getting pregnant, so if they're having sex they need to be careful, and the school can help out with that.

If girls can't get these pills somewhere else, and the school is unique in making them available to them, then this is a different story, and parents should feel the school is, if not undermining them, at least competing with them to make some kinds of decisions that parents may want to make themselves.

I see an AP version of the story that says, "The birth control will be given out only after extensive counseling, and no prepubescent children will get it, [school committee member Robert] O'Brien said." So ... that's something.

Here's an important quote from the AP story.
Principal Michael McCarthy said the school had just one pregnancy last year, but students were reporting they were sexually active. The center has dispensed condoms since 2000, but because it could not prescribe birth-control pills, nurses referred the students to Planned Parenthood or Maine Medical Center.

"When they followed up, they found that in many cases, the kids weren't doing that," McCarthy said. Maine School to Offer Contraceptives

OK, that answers my question. This is a non-story.

And I've got to say, NPR has really become bad. How could they report about this without including that entirely crucial fact? They're getting as bad as the other zombie media.

These girls could go to Planned Parenthood or the Medical Center and get the exact same thing, but they don't. Schools aren't taking any control away from parents, because parents don't have control anyway. If the girl wants to go to one of these other places and get her pills or a patch, she can. The school's just making it easier, so that girls who need this stuff will be able to get it without going across town or whatever.

This of course ties right into the earlier post about the effects of making abortion illegal. The one thing that brings abortion rates down -- something everybody would like to see -- is making contraceptives more available. So this is just a win-win all the way around.

And so, tell me, why is this in the news? I'll tell you why. It's in the news because the journalists know they can get a predictable reaction from lazy-brained moralists who will jump to the well-trained, now-automatic conclusion that the schools are trying to take over their responsibility for raising their kids. Well, I'll tell you, no kid goes and asks their parents for permission to have sex, okay? It doesn't happen. Parents don't get to decide that. I don't mean "most of the time," I mean "ever."

But just watch the reaction to this. People in Maine are going to do that thing they do these days instead of thinking, that CRC thing. You want to take bets they get the school to reverse this decision? Think the Portland school board can stand up to the attack of the self-righteous walking dead?

I think we'll follow this one for a little while.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Making Abortion Illegal

The New York Times had this story last week, but I didn't get to it till now.
ROME, Oct. 11 — A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it.

Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely. Globally, abortion accounts for 13 percent of women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, and there are 31 abortions for every 100 live births, the study said.

The results of the study, a collaboration between scientists from the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Guttmacher Institute in New York, a reproductive rights group, are being published Friday in the journal Lancet. Legal or Not, Abortion Rates Compare

Making it illegal doesn't prevent women from having the procedure done, it just makes it more dangerous, the alleyway instead of the sterile doctor's office.

I don't know why it's so hard to figure this out. It's not just abortion -- tell me, when did people ever drink more than during Prohibition? Psychologists found out a long time ago that punishment is not a very effective way to modify behavior. This is the perfect example; making it a crime does not make anybody choose not to do it, it just means that more women will die from it.

I think abortion is an especially hard topic to discuss, for one good reason: it requires cognitive effort. Some issues, people are for it or against it. That works for the binary-brained moralists, they can handle a topic like that, once they've been told which side they're supposed to be on. But with abortion, there's really nobody who's for it. Nobody likes the idea of abortion, it just happens to be something that some people feel is necessary for them sometimes. You don't know who it will be, or what their situation is -- the question is not whether you like abortion, but whether you think people should be able to make those kinds of choices for themselves. And that requires some thinking that's just a little too complicated for some people.

It's easy to say it's "killing babies" -- once you've defined it that way, you don't have to think any more, you can send your brain back out on vacation, and if anyone ever suggests that people should be able to make this kind of decision for themselves, just remember the phrase "baby killers." Because baby killers are bad. People who want to allow baby-killing are bad. Now the world is black and white again. Night-night, brain.
“We now have a global picture of induced abortion in the world, covering both countries where it is legal and countries where laws are very restrictive,” Dr. Paul Van Look, director of the W.H.O. Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said in a telephone interview. “What we see is that the law does not influence a woman’s decision to have an abortion. If there’s an unplanned pregnancy, it does not matter if the law is restrictive or liberal.”

But the legal status of abortion did greatly affect the dangers involved, the researchers said. “Generally, where abortion is legal it will be provided in a safe manner,” Dr. Van Look said. “And the opposite is also true: where it is illegal, it is likely to be unsafe, performed under unsafe conditions by poorly trained providers.”

The data also suggested that the best way to reduce abortion rates was not to make abortion illegal but to make contraception more widely available, said Sharon Camp, chief executive of the Guttmacher Institute.

Hey, there's an idea. Oh, I can see the betterthanyous shaking their heads at that idea. No, they're saying, the best way to reduce abortion rates is to stop having sex altogether, except when you want to make babies.

Hey, brilliant idea, yeah, that'll work. Let's just get people to stop having sex.

That would take care of a whole lot of problems in the world. I wonder why somebody hasn't thought of that already.

And let's make people be nice to each other, too, and keep their elbows off the table.
In Eastern Europe, where contraceptive choices have broadened since the fall of Communism, the study found that abortion rates have decreased by 50 percent, although they are still relatively high compared with those in Western Europe. “In the past we didn’t have this kind of data to draw on,” Ms. Camp said. “Contraception is often the missing element” where abortion rates are high, she said.

Anti-abortion groups criticized the research, saying that the scientists had jumped to conclusions from imperfect tallies, often estimates of abortion rates in countries where the procedure was illegal. “These numbers are not definitive and very susceptible to interpretation according to the agenda of the people who are organizing the data,” said Randall K. O’Bannon, director of education and research at the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund in Washington.

He said that the major reason women die in the developing world is that hospitals and health systems lack good doctors and medicines. “They have equated the word ‘safe’ with ‘legal’ and ‘unsafe’ with ‘illegal,’ which gives you the illusion that to deal with serious medical system problems you just make abortion legal,” he said.

No kidding, Sherlock, the anti-abortion groups criticized it. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but because they disagreed with the study's conclusions.

It's automatic. The study is done to learn some facts. Then ... if you like the facts, the study's okay, if you don't like the facts, why, naturally, the study was flawed. We see this every day.
The study indicated that about 20 million abortions that would be considered unsafe are performed each year and that 67,000 women die as a result of complications from those abortions, most in countries where abortion is illegal.

That's sixty-seven thousand women killed every year by bad laws.

There's more. Click the link to read the rest of the story.

Let me show you how this story ties in to our MoCo sex-ed controversy. Earlier this year, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum filed an appeal with the Maryland State Board of Education to stop the new curriculum from being implemented. Their problem with it? Their members were treated unfairly by the other members of the MCPS citizens advisory committee (CAC).

From their complaint:
... the overwhelming majority of the members eventually selected by the MCPS Board to serve on the Second CAC are of the moral view that fully endorses homosexuality and some were openly hostile to the several CAC members who took a contrary, albeit tolerant and truly concerned, moral view. Many on the Second CAC are related to the abortion industry as well, certainly a beneficiary of increased teen sexual activity.

You see how that works? Of course there's nobody from the "abortion industry" on the committee, that's just another lie. One member represents NARAL, but she works at a school, she doesn't have anything to do with any "abortion industry," and anyway, that's one member out of fifteen. Last I looked, "one" was not "many." These lazy-minded people are satisfied implying that a group of volunteers from the community are trying to promote a health curriculum that will be good for the "abortion industry," even in legal papers filed with a government office. It works like this. The abortion industry wants to sell more abortions to teenagers. So they arrange to have members of their industry apply to be on the most boring committee in the world, and also arrange for the school board to favor those applications. Then, the committee can push for a curriculum that encourages teenagers to have promiscuous sex and get pregnant, and then they'll go out and get abortions. It's good for business, see?

We're dealing with people who think that that kind of story is believable.

Just think "baby killers." Baby-killers are bad, people who disagree with you are bad, therefore people who disagree with you are baby-killers. Night-night, brain.