Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tempest Blows Through Teapot, Waves Subside

The Montgomery County Public Schools' Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development met last night to review materials for the middle school health curriculum. I am a member of that committee. Interestingly, though the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever and PFOX had won the right to have representatives on the committee, neither one of them showed up for the meeting. Probably standing in front of grocery stores lying to people about perverted men in ladies rooms.

School administrator Betsy Brown filled us in on progress with implementation of the new sex-ed classes in eighth and tenth grade.

You remember that students only participate in the classes if their parents fill out a permission form. All the middle schools have now had the Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality units, and 95 percent of students participated. That means only five percent either didn't get permission or lost the slip -- and, yes, that does happen in eighth grade.

In the tenth grade classes, 97 percent of students participated in the new classes.

It doesn't sound like there was any controversy to speak of. Every school held a meeting for parents before the classes were scheduled. Ms. Brown said typically about two percent of parents attend those, and that was about the percent that came this semester. Most high schools had attendance by zero-to-three parents, but one school had 46 parents show up, another had 26, one had 22 -- the rest had ten or less. Again, we didn't hear about any riots in the auditoriums or anything. She did mention that she attended one of the meetings where some parents arrived in an angry mood, but they thanked her for the information before they left, and 97 percent of the students at that school took the classes (she was careful not to tell the committee which schools she was talking about).

So ... after years of defending themselves from spurious attacks, the school district was finally able to update its curriculum and implement it. Nobody freaked out, no students turned gay as a result of exposure to some facts about sexual orientation, no boys decided suddenly to turn into girls or vice versa. The kids shuffled into health class, they learned some vocabulary terms, they thought about tolerance, empathy, and respect for a couple of hours, they shuffled off to their next class.

There is still a judge's decision pending, and then the inevitable appeal after that, and so on, as this thing drags on -- there's never really a point where you can close the cover and put it back on the shelf, this book stays open, and we have to remain vigilant, because the proponents of ugliness don't know when it's time to stop. But we can congratulate the school district at this point for staying on-task, for not backing down, for fighting back to get the children of our county the education they deserve.

The Sentinel Nails the Atavars

The Sentinel is a small local paper, you have to pay to read it online. They have been following the Recall/CRW situation since the start. The editor, Brian Karen, in particular, has been very good at seeing what's going on, and for a while reporter Contessa Cristosomo was writing good stories for them, while we worked through the sex-ed curriculum business -- she moved on to The Gazette, last I heard.

The Sentinel had a story about the CRW this week, and also an editorial. I hope they don't mind if I copy the whole editorial -- the link probably won't work for you if you're not a subscriber. This is good:
The Atavistic CRG

Editor’s Notebook by Brian J. Karem

LINK [pay only]

Atavism: recurrence in an organism of a trait or character typical of an ancestral form and usually due to genetic recombination.

I love to look for atavisms.

For some who like to hunt, they'll understand the thrill. It's like sitting in a deer blind and waiting for a deer to stroll by.

You know one will show up if you're in the right place, it's simply a matter of being patient.

Now, granted, finding atavistic individuals in Montgomery County is probably a darn bit easier than spotting deer, but then again I see deer all over my neighborhood - almost as frequently as I see people.

Atavistic individuals are easy to spot. Their DNA have recombined to produce people who believe the holocaust is a myth, evolution is a fairy story and the U.S. never landed on the moon.

I met one on Sunday. While pretending to be a Christian she scolded me because I said I trusted an unnamed public official. She didn't and told me she didn't trust anybody.

"Anybody?" I said. "Such existence must truly be filled with paranoia."

I told her I trusted her, even though I didn't know her because I prefer to trust everyone when I first meet them. Otherwise I just don't have the energy to go suspecting everyone of something nefarious.

But this woman told me she didn't trust this elected official - even though she had voted for him and didn't trust me nor did she trust anyone else. I wondered how she got along with her husband and children.

"I love you honey."

"Sure you do. You've been saying the same thing for 50 years and I still don't believe you."

I think that sound was Jesus rolling over in his grave.

Or maybe it was last night's dinner.

Anyway, this woman is a member of the group called "Citizens for Responsible Government."

They are currently trying to amass 25,000 signatures to get a referendum vote on repealing a county ordinance that protects transgender individuals from being discriminated against.

The CRG says its because the bill gives transgender individuals special rights to go into whatever public bathrooms they want to visit - or makes employers hire transgender individuals - churches too, if they are qualified and apply for work.

A spokesperson for the group even compared transgender people to pedophiles, a whopping stretch of the imagination to say the least.

They've invaded churches hoping to find enough signatures to change a law that really doesn't need to be changed.

They are playing on the fear that you or I could walk into a bathroom and if it were a woman's restroom, then we would find a man in his natural splendor, using the facilities.

If we are men, then I guess we'd have to worry about women invading our private sanctuary. Most men at this point are yawning. Others are wondering if that fantasy will over be fulfilled.

The Citizens For Responsible Government is filled with atavistic individuals. Their long dormant recessive genes have recombined to spring forth from the depths of some nether region a group of people who ignore facts, avoid and obfuscate the truth and struggle valiantly to tilt at windmills.

Despite the fact that any mention of the use of public bathrooms has been stricken from the county law, that's not good enough for the CRG and I witnessed first hand how they tried to strong arm people to sign their petition based entirely on the misconception they continue to promote.

Their literature is misleading, and while their cause may have the right intentions - protection of our youth - we all know that the road to Hell is paved by good intentions.

In fact, though, it appears the people at the CRG are basing their campaign less on protecting others and more on their own ignorance and prejudices.

It appears, according to our research, that the members of the CRG may not even understand the difference between transgender individuals and transvestites.

They are trying to lead us down a dark road it's better not to travel.

Thank you Brian. The atavistic Citizens for a Responsible Whatever are pushing the petition drive right now, with gigantic rallies and incredibly successful cold nights in front of grocery stores lying to people. Somebody in our comments section said that somebody called Elliot in the Morning (on DC-101), and said that their pastor had told them to sign the petitions, telling them it was for a law to keep men out of the ladies rooms. Elliot hung up on them, they said.

February Fourth they have to have, actually, 12,501 valid signatures. Maybe they will. Then they have a couple of weeks to get 12,501 more. They're really excited about the prospect of returning the right to discriminate against transgender people to Montgomery County, their sad lives will be so impoverished if that isn't allowed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Barney Frank Question

Theresa Rickman, spokesperson for the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever, left a comment on our blog yesterday that asked:
I would still like an answer to my question.

Does TTF feel that Barney Frank is the new religous right ?

Yes or no ?


This didn't make any sense to me, and so I googled for Theresa and "Barney Frank" but didn't find where she had asked this question. I did find something in an earlier thread that said this:
Hey, Jim -
question for you...

When did Barney Frank become a member of the religous right and a bigot ?

It wasn't signed, but I remember thinking at the time that it sounded like Theresa. I'm glad she comments on our blog, though she infuriates by throwing stuff like this out there and never answering anything that is asked of her.

I can't tell you what "TTF" thinks about Barney Frank, because we don't have an official position on something like that, and I think everybody in our group probably sees it a little differently. But I can talk about what I think.

Theresa is asking about Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank in light of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, called ENDA, which will make it illegal to discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation. The issue is this: Barney Frank thinks that it is sufficient for ENDA to cover gay and lesbian people, while others think the bill should include discrimination on the basis of gender identity as well. The practical matter is that there are enough votes in Congress to pass it if it refers to sexual orientation, and probably not if gender identity is added.

There is a debate between the two sides, and there are fair arguments to be made both ways. Though Frank would like to include gender identity on the bill, he says that a bill covering sexual orientation is a lot better than what exists now, which is nothing, and that adding gender identity to the bill would only mean that it wouldn't pass. The other point of view is that it is equally wrong to discriminate against transgender people, and in fact the case can be made -- I've made it here before -- that transgender people need the protection even more than gay people, because their status is easier to observe and they are really badly treated. In fact, some have argued that discrimination against gays is usually based on observable gender nonconformity, and not so much on who they are romantically attracted to.

Now let me tell you why Theresa is asking this question. She belongs to a radical rightwing group that fought hard to prevent Montgomery County schools from implementing a sex-ed curriculum that gave sexual orientation a fair and objective treatment, and now she is the loudest voice as the same core group (they changed one word in their name for their newest crusade, we just call them the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever) tries to get petition signatures to put a referendum on the ballot in November to make it legal again to discriminate against transgender people in our county.

Theresa's point is that Barney Frank, who is liberal and gay, opposes adding gender identity to ENDA; the CRW, who are rightwing and anti-gay, oppose adding gender identity to our county's nondiscrimination law; and so by some magical binary logic Barney Frank and the CRW are on the same side. She thinks she has caught us in a contradiction there, where now we must believe that Barney Frank is a member of the religious right.

If you haven't been following the local controversy, let me tell you the CRW's argument regarding the new county nondiscrimination law. They totally avoid the topic of discrimination, which is what the law is about, and instead argue that the new law will lead to perverted men lurking in ladies shower-rooms and bathrooms, exposing themselves and leering at the women. They will get away with this by saying they are transgender, so that throwing them out of the ladies room amounts to discrimination.

I know you think I'm making that up. Go ahead and look at their web page, This is their whole argument.

I want to say what I think about ENDA, while I'm here. My opinion is that the bill should include gender identity, and that the politicians who support the bill and those who represent the transgender community should be working their butts off right now to convince the hold-outs to vote for the whole package.

Having said that, let me point out that the difference in quality between the Barney Frank argument and the CRW's argument. Barney Frank makes a practical argument: by removing gender identity from the bill, they can get it passed and move civil rights for sexual minorities a quantum leap forward. Gender identity can be added later, that dimension does not currently have the political support that sexual orientation does. It is an extremely reasonable argument, and so is the argument in favor of adding gender identity. Discrimination against transgender people is at least as pernicious as that against gays and lesbians, they are a vulnerable population that deserves the same protection as gays and lesbians, and it is as wrong to discriminate against transgender people as against gays and lesbians.

This is a kind of debate that can be argued in public by reasonable people. Both sides can put up their statistics, their facts, their most persuasive arguments, their best-looking speech-givers, and in the end one side or the other will win. I respect this kind of debate. I have friends who are gay and friends who are transgender, and I love them and hope they get everything they deserve. This is a perfectly right and democratic process where a community discusses a hard topic and comes to a decision, though in the end it is unlikely that everyone gets everything they want, at least the way the numbers stack up so far. It's hard and frustrating but this is our American Way at its finest, it seems to me, whichever way it turns out.

On the other hand, the CRW's case is a red herring. Nobody wants perverted men waving their festering penises around and leering at innocent women in the ladies room, everybody's against that -- and it has nothing to do with the bill they are trying to repeal. The nondiscrimination bill won't affect, in any way, the legality or the frequency of men going into ladies rooms. As it is, they can't go in to expose themselves, and they can't go in to peep at the ladies, whether they're transgender or not. The new law doesn't change anything about that.

The CRW's argument is incoherent and -- I know I've been using this word too much lately -- stupid. It's stupid and does not deserve the dignity of consideration by intelligent people. It is simply intended to distract from the real point, which is that they think it is important to be able to discriminate against transgender people -- they say they have "deep religious beliefs" that demand this. And look, I can think of two kinds of reasonable arguments against this bill. It may be that government doesn't need to regulate discrimination at all, whether it's about race, religion, national origin, whatever -- you could make that case. And it may be that nondiscrimination laws are okay, but they should not extend to transgender people for some reason, maybe you have a favorite reason, maybe they're bad people or you think they're up to something or they're immoral or undisciplined, anything you like, stand up and say it. Whatever, take the honest path and argue it straightforwardly and clearly. Bring out your statistics, your facts, your graphs, your starving-children photos, whatever. Hold your facts up against the other side's, let's discuss them and see who wins. But at least stay on topic. By changing the subject from discrimination to something to do with shower rooms, the CRW has shown that they are not serious about what they say, they have shown themselves to be dishonest and bad-hearted, and it makes you think they believe they couldn't win the debate in the sunshine, by stating their arguments honestly and forthrightly and appealing to people's good sense.

Reasonable people understand that Barney Frank would be sickened to learn that somebody like Theresa Rickman tried to imply that he was on the same side with her on anything.

Let me express the view that I bring to TTF on this kind of thing, which is to say it is not an official view of our group. It goes back to the sex-ed curriculum, and continues. I never really cared what kind of sex-ed curriculum Montgomery County had, I had never given it a thought before and never would have. I figured the community would find its way. I figured conservative people and liberal people would put their views on the table and discuss among themselves until compromises were negotiated, and our kids would have something good they could learn from, something that would reflect our community's values. I had faith in the American way of democratic freedom and open debate.

I didn't oppose the CRW -- originally -- because they had conservative views, but because their goal was to disrupt the process of negotiating and debating that is so vital to the health of a democratic society. They wanted to replace facts and logic with misconstruals and innuendo, because they felt that they needed to get their way, and nothing short of their extreme view was acceptable to them. Honest people could not discuss reasonably because of the background noise this group was throwing up. Somebody had to stop them. My colleagues and I at TTF stepped up to stop them, each for his or her own reasons, and we joined together and shined a light on them day after day, as we continue to do now.

In the current gender identity nondiscrimination situation, we see the same thing. There are arguments to make on both sides, as there are in everything, but the CRW isn't making those arguments, instead they are creating a diversion, undermining the democratic process, sabotaging common sense, raving about perverted men in the ladies room, staging hoaxes, getting people to sign petitions about men in the ladies room when what they want is the return of discrimination.

And that's why I'm in this. Not to see laws and curricula that are more liberal or more conservative, but to see the community work it out honestly and reasonably. That's just my own view, not TTF's.

So, Theresa, to answer your question, speaking for myself: No.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

SOTU Inspires Dyssomnia, Dipsomania

Every year I watch the State of the Union address, as well as the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards. Even this year, I'll watch the Super Bowl even though I couldn't tell you right now who's playing in it. I don't think I've watched one football game all the way through this year -- some years I watch a lot, I guess I was just busy this year. The Academy Awards, same thing, I see maybe three movies in a year, but I turn on the show, I cringe at their fake-surprise speeches. Actually, even though I don't see the movies I'm pretty good at predicting the winners -- it has as much to do with hype as actual content. I used to watch the Country Music Awards, back when. I guess I've missed it the last few years. Well, I don't even know who half of those people are any more.

So last night I tuned in the President's speech. I propped up my pillows against the headboard, pulled the heavy wool Navajo blanket up to my neck (for some reason I was freezing all day yesterday, anybody else?), and prepared to hear about the state of our great country. On TV I saw a guy in a suit smirking like he'd just shot the teacher in the butt with a spit-ball, and I think I heard some stuff about challenges ahead of us, and then I opened my eyes again and he was walking out of the room, shaking hands with people. I slept through the whole thing.

What could he have said? I saw a bumper sticker once that said something like, "Drunk Frat Boy Drives Country Into Ditch." Like, have you seen this chart of Bush's legacy, put out by Congressman Rahm Emanuel? CLICK HERE. Says it all, doesn't it? No, actually it doesn't say it all; it doesn't say anything about torture, warrantless wiretapping, habeas corpus, attacking and destroying random countries without provocation, the string of lies about everything under the sun, election dirty tricks, bribery and corruption, undermining science ... at least the chart cites the sources, so you can go back and see where the information came from.

Looking around the blogs this morning, it looks like just about everybody slept through this one. Oh, over at AmericaBlog they drank through it. Advice from A.J. at AmericaBlog after the speech:
Have a good night, and don't forget to drink lots of water before you go to bed tonight.

Hope you did. These have been some painful times.

At least I ended up getting a good night's sleep out of it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Morning: Music and Falsehoods

Chilly out today, but it's not too bad, it's sunny and there's no wind. I walked the dog and he was glad of it -- everybody slept in and there was nobody to pay attention to him. Last night we went out to a place in Silver Spring called the Quarry House and heard a couple of bands. Nice place, in a local-bar sort of way, in fact I really like it there. The place has been there seventy years, since right after Prohibition was repealed. It's in a basement under an Indian food restaurant right on Georgia Avenue, and they have live bands at the end of this long skinny room back around the corner from the door. Place was jam-packed with the most interesting crowd. I can't think of a way to describe the crowd there, they're all ages, all walks of life. To describe them, maybe the word "friendly" works, it's like a place full of friends, and they talk to you the first time like they've always known you.

I mentioned to my wife that it seemed impossible that there would be a place like that in Rockville, where we live. The bars up here are either functional and self-conscious, or they are neighborhood bars where the customers eyeball you suspiciously if you come in for a drink and to listen to the jukebox for a while, there's never been a friendly happy place like this where everybody treats you like a friend. What do you think is the difference? I asked her. Her answer surprised me: "These are Democrats," she said. She's about as political as I am, but she's got a point. Our county stretches from the edge of the city out to farmlands. The parts closer to DC, like where this bar is, we call "downcounty," and it does turn out to be more liberal. Upcounty, like in Germantown and Damascus, it's more country, more like a Red State. I think I prefer to drink downcounty.

Like this bar, I love this. It's called the Quarry House, but on Sunday they change the name to "The Queery House," with the motto, "Out of the closet, into the basement." There were a few gay people there last night, obviously comfortable in a mostly-straight crowd; I guess tonight the proportions will change. As far as I'm concerned, this is how it should be.

If you go, you have to have the tater-tots.

We missed the first band, but the second band, 7-Door Sedan, was really good. It was a nice kind of distorted-guitar, big-fat-backbeat, three-and-a-half-chord rock and roll that you can't help liking. It sounded like all original material, songs with good and ambiguous hooks. You can sing along after the first verse but you have no idea in the world what it means. I think it would be fun to be at a party with that band playing in one room. The last band was probably good, too, but they were too loud, this room is not a place for Marshalls. The lead guitar was too loud so everybody turned up to accommodate, and then the PA kept feeding back because the vocals were too loud and they were echoing off the walls. It's too bad, too, because at one point the guy was playing some really interesting-sounding stuff, some licks that sounded modal or outside the key in a surprising and interesting way, and I wanted to hear what else he was going to do. I've been told to turn down my share of times, I've got nothing against loud music, but in this case the amplifier simply overpowered the room -- this has always been my concern with Fender Twins, they tend to have too much presence at a distance and it's hard to play onstage at the right volume, and this was a Marshall I think (lots of people standing in front of the bandstand, but I thought I saw the logo), which has the same potential problem. We finished our drinks in the other room of the bar and went to go to the pirate bar across the street but they seemed to be closed. Too bad, we'd seen a pirate walking around in the parking garage and that sounded reasonably fun. Especially if they served a pasta appetizer, if you know what I mean.

I am still decompressing from something I read on the Internet yesterday. When I first came across this web site I got angry and banged out a bunch of stuff which I decided later to un-write. Luckily I hadn't posted it yet, so I could do that. I'm usually pretty laid back, but this is infuriating.

A lawyer from the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, did all the talking for the anti-gay groups in the hearing about the MCPS sex-ed curriculum a couple of weeks ago in Rockville. Now they have a web page telling their side of the story. It starts like this:
ANN ARBOR, MI – In oral arguments last week, the Thomas More Law Center asked Maryland state circuit court judge William Rowan III to overturn a Maryland Board of Education ruling that approves of public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, teaching 8th and 10th graders that homosexuality is innate—meaning they are born that way. The schools also show how to use condoms in anal and oral sex.

The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, represents Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, the Family Leader Network, and the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays. John Garza, of Garza, Regan & Associates of Rockville, Maryland, is acting as local counsel.

Montgomery educators were forced to defend their new sex curriculum that promotes anal sex, homosexuality, bisexuality and transvestitism despite strong opposition from several pro-family groups. The controversial new curriculum was adopted as a result of pressure by homosexual advocacy groups. Homosexuals 'Born That Way' and Erotic Sex Taught to 8th and 10th Graders Challenged by TMLC

Does anybody really think "The schools also show how to use condoms in anal and oral sex?" Does anybody who has seen the curriculum believe it "promotes anal sex" or any of these other things? Transvestitism? Are you kidding me?

You see why I got mad?

For more than three years we have been fighting against our local anti-gay nuts who will repeat any statement that supports their point of view, whether it has an element of truth to it or not. The new MoCo sex-ed classes do not show how to do anything having to do with anal or oral sex. The condom-use video does say to use a condom when you do that, but you have to figure out how to do it on your own. It's good medical advice, for instance, that's why the CDC says:
Use a new condom with each sex act (e.g., oral, vaginal, and anal).

The CDC also doesn't say how to use it for anal and oral sex. The medical consensus is that anal sex is riskier than vaginal sex when it comes to transmitting diseases; since about 40 percent of adult Americans have anal sex, this is appropriate advice for a sex-ed class: protect yourself. Only a nut or a liar describes that advice as showing someone how to have anal and oral sex.

You have to wonder about TMLC's insistence that "homosexual advocacy groups" have pressured the school district into changing their classes. There never is a name of a group, they just hint at this vague conspiracy theory. Can anybody think of one "homosexual advocacy group" that did anything like pressuring the school district? One?

The gay-advocacy groups have wisely watched this one from the sidelines. They didn't have to pressure the Montgomery County school district, because the people who live here -- straight as well as gay -- want to have an objective, fair, and kind curriculum. You don't have to be a "homosexual advocate" to think that the schools should teach facts and that it's good to show respect to people.

Later these guys hit that note again:
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented, “This is another example of our public school system being used as an indoctrination arm of homosexual advocacy groups..."

I can't imagine feeling so helpless in my life that I have to blame everything on shadowy groups that are secretly controlling the world. It would be different if the More Law guys could show us an example, but no, they just blame "homosexual advocacy groups" in general. Thomas More Law Center readers are told that these groups are using the public schools to indoctrinate people. Please -- think that through. How would they do that? Why would they do that? Why are these paranoids talking about "homosexual advocacy groups" instead of something real, like the Bavarian Illumati, or the CIA/alien plan to put microchips in all our brains? There's really a serious question in there -- why "homosexual advocates," of all things?

Sadly, we know there are people who read this junk and believe it.

Unbelievable -- no regard for the truth. Look at this:
...Initially, a Federal District Court enjoined the county schools from implementing the curriculum in 2005 because the lesson plan criticized religious “fundamentalism.”

However, following the federal court ruling and injunction, the county board merely omitted the anti-religious references, and began teaching the controversial health curriculum to all 8th and 10th grade classes...

Even the CRW didn't think to come up with a lie as bold as this one.

Anybody can look at the news stories, the documentation, and see that every word of the new sex-ed classes was re-written. The entire earlier curriculum was thrown out and replaced. Yet these guys tell their readers the school board "merely omitted the anti-religious references, and began teaching" the same stuff. I don't know how to compute this kind of dishonesty. It's not a mistake, it's a lie. These people will say anything.

Here's another one:
That sexual orientation is innate—homosexuals are born that way—is a theory that has been rejected by courts in several states including Maryland. Maryland’s highest appellate court issued an opinion in a 2007 civil union case, holding the proposition that homosexuality is innate is not supported by credible evidence.

In court they said they were referring to the case of Conaway v. Deane. You can read the ruling HERE. Search the PDF for the word "innate." You won't find it. Nothing was said about innateness in that case. The courts do not rule on matters of scientific theory, you don't ask them to decide between the wave theory and the particle theory of light, for instance, when experiments support both. And they don't tell us how gay people got that way.

Here's their summary of the case:
Thus, the six year battle boils down to two questions posed by Bolling in this latest court skirmish: Can the school board legally teach students that homosexuality is innate despite rulings to the contrary by the state’s highest court? And, can the health lessons discuss sex acts other than copulation?

There is no court ruling about whether homosexuality is innate, in Maryland or any other place. And the health lessons under consideration don't discuss any sex acts, including copulation. It would be weird to teach students how to put on a condom without telling them when you'd wear one. You wear it when you're having oral, anal, or vaginal sex. They want to say that this violates a law against teaching "erotic techniques." The judge will decide what he thinks, but I think common sense takes a pretty clear position here.

I was really pretty mad when I first saw this. I hate it when people lie; I can't even stand to watch some I Love Lucy episodes where she's trying to cover up something so Ricky doesn't catch her, it makes me nervous. A lot of people have put a lot of work into developing this curriculum, and you hate to see idiots like this spreading falsehoods to run it down. You should've seen what I wrote the first time! I wasn't very articulate, you might say, I was just banging on the keys. Well, I've settled down a little bit now.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Big CRW Rally

The things I do for you.

I was way off in dreamland, enjoying myself, when my wife's voice came out of the distance: "Honey, wasn't there something you wanted to do this morning?"

I opened my eyes, saw the clock ... there was something. The guys are coming to work on the floor ... it wasn't that. Ah, the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever are having their rally downtown. Eight o'clock on a Saturday morning, brilliant idea. The pretense is that they're going to present their stupid petition to Ike Leggett to get him to sign it. Listen, I've met Ike, he seems like a regular guy, he's not going to work at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning. This is pretty much designed to fail.

Somewhere in the back of my brain a voice told me that I'm the blogger for Teach the Facts, and I have to get some pictures of this.

I hop out of bed, throw on some clothes. She tells me to turn on the coffee-maker -- of course I forgot by the time I got downstairs.

Grabbed my camera, out to the car. Driving down the street, I got stuck behind somebody going slow, which was probably good because the city had one of those speed-camera-vans set up about a block from the house. Excited as I was to go to the CRW's big rally, I may have been going a legal speed as I passed the van.

Downtown, I couldn't remember where the rally was going to be. I figured I'd just look for the crowds, the Channel 7 van, throngs of reporters in their fedoras, press passes sticking out of their hatbands. Then I remembered they wanted Ike's signature, it would be at the Executive building.

Amazingly, I found a parking place downtown at that hour, even with the rally going on. I locked my car - you know how the crowds can be in downtown Rockville, especially on a Saturday morning -- and went looking for the rally.

Do you remember that zen thing, "What is the sound of one voice chanting?"

As I walked toward 355, I could hear a voice coming out of a PA system. It was a man saying something like, "Hey ho, we know, this gender bill has got to go." Maybe the PA was too loud and drowned out the roar of the crowd, I don't know, but that was the only voice I could hear.

I found the rally.

Listen, I was once in a band with a singer who would tell people he had a "multi-dollar light-show." This was like that. Underwhelming.

I didn't want to get close enough to actually count them, but finger-pointing from a distance it appeared there may have been a dozen people there. They looked cold, and different ones kept waving at me as I took their picture. They seemed like nice enough folks, I wanted to bring them some coffee, but you know how it is, you hate to encourage them.

Here's the deal, in case you haven't been following. Montgomery County has passed a new bill that added some words to the existing nondiscrimination law. When it goes into effect, you won't be able to discriminate against somebody because of their gender identity. Somebody's different from what you expect for a guy or a girl, whatever, you have to treat them like actual human beings. They come into your restaurant and behave themselves, you have to serve them, stuff like that. Let me do a little bit of math here ... 0.0012 percent of the county's population turned out to oppose this new law, more than one hundred-thousandth of the people.

These people used to be offended when I would refer to them as "nuts." Now it doesn't bother them. Everybody knows. They're against this new law, and I don't think they even know why any more. They're against it because the libruls are for it, maybe. They're against it out of force of habit. They don't understand why somebody would question their own gender, and they don't want to know, they're against it. And so here they were, double-digits of them, out in the freezing cold listening to a guy with a PA chant stupid slogans, waving to the opposition. There is absolutely no point to it, no momentum. Seeing them this morning I can't even resent them, I can't say they are hateful -- they are such losers that you can't really attribute such a strong emotion to them. They're just ignorant and stupid and sad.

I drove home a different way so I wouldn't pass the traffic camera. Somebody had turned the coffee-maker on.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

You Think Channel 7 Will Be There?

I hate to give them any more publicity, but in case you're one of the few people who doesn't receive their emails, the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever are planning a "rally" this weekend to protest the new Montgomery County antidiscrimination law.

This is a test of our local media. We could list off the names of the few people who care, the core CRW group who started out being against the school district and now are against the county council. There might be ten of them -- Johnny, Retta, Ruth, Peter, Michelle, Rosemary now, Theresa, a couple more. They don't believe gay people deserve to be treated like human beings, and they are now on a great crusade to win back the right to discriminate against transgender people. They'll do anything, say anything -- the recent hoax at the Rio gym is typical -- to see that sexual minorities are treated badly. They don't have a point other than prejudice, and each news outlet will decide for itself whether to promote that prejudice.

The newspapers and TV crews can show up at this planned rally, or not, and it will be interesting to see who does cover it. This is a made-for-media event, and it only has meaning if they publicize it. It's not really a rally, like, say, the pro-life march on the mall this week was, even though I don't agree with their cause that was at least a real rally. People went there for the unity, to march together and chant slogans, and it didn't matter if the media showed up. The CRW's "rally" though is only staged for the press. There's nothing else to it. They'll hold their stupid yellow signs and make "statements."

We saw two commercial media outlets fall for the Rio hoax -- Channel 7 and The Examiner. I hate to say it, but The Examiner has not been very good through this -- do you remember the story where they got everything wrong, and even showed a picture of the Montgomery County, Virginia, superintendent of schools? I would like to know a little more about Channel 7's involvement, they seem to be on a first-name basis with the CRW, and it is not clear how they responded so quickly to the Rio incident, or why -- like, who called them? Well, whatever, there will always be better and worse, though sometimes it's a little embarrassing.

By the way, the CRW are now saying they have 4,500 signatures. They need 12,500 by February 4th. I don't believe they have 4,500, but it doesn't matter what I think. In a couple of weeks they'll deliver their petitions to the Board of Elections right here in my neighborhood, and they'll bundle them into sets of twenty-five and go through them, signature by signature, to make sure every one is valid. The 12,500 number is the halfway mark, if they meet that then they have to get another 12,500 by February 16th. You know, it could happen, they could get people to sign these petitions by telling them that discrimination against transgender people has something to do with pervy guys lurking in the ladies room. They are trying to work all this through the churches -- you oughta read this flyer they've got, they want people to go to different churches than their own to get signatures. This is really important to them. Who knows, there might be 25,000 stupid people in our county, but I doubt it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Gazette On the Court Hearing

In this town, you have to say the Washington Post is the big paper. It's more than a local paper, with DC being the center of the federal government, stuff that happens here affects the whole country. For some reason, the Washington Times, the conservative paper owned by the Unification Church, also has a large circulation. And then, in our area, the third paper is The Gazette. It appears in your driveway whether you ask for it or not, and most people do pick it up and read it because it has thorough local news, accurately reported. You really find out about the things that are going on in your neighborhood, in your town, and they actually pay some attention, where the bigger papers sometimes will send somebody out without really looking into what's going on.

We saw Marcus Moore from The Gazette at the hearing last week; he sat in the row in front of us. We still think of him as the "new guy" over there, but he's been on the beat for a year, at least. His story about the hearing is very good:
The fight over what is right or wrong to teach teenagers about homosexuality, which has lasted years, played out before Judge William J. Rowan III in a Rockville courtroom last week.

The groups — Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, and Family Leader Network — argue that it is illegal to teach students that homosexuality is innate. After a battery of curriculum changes, which included the overhaul of a condom use video, the critics say that the lesson plans still teach alternative forms of sex to students.

School system officials contend that they have done everything possible to make sure the lessons were balanced, and that the opponents want to rewrite the curriculum. In addition to the video, the lesson plans include two 45-minute sessions in eighth and 10th grade on sexual orientation.

The groups filed an appeal with the state school board in February to have the lesson plans thrown out before they could be taught. In July, the state board sided with the county board, saying that the sex-education curriculum does not violate state law.

While there may be some disagreement on how homosexuality and ‘‘transgender issues” are taught in the classrooms, the board wrote in its opinion, it would not ‘‘second guess the appropriateness of the local board’s decision governing curriculum, unless ... that decision is illegal.” Judge deliberating sex-ed dispute

If you've been following this story you will want to click on the link and read this. As usual, The Gazette has good, thorough coverage.

The article takes an interesting tangent in the middle, I'm glad he included this:
Not all religious groups oppose the lessons.

In November, 63 members of the Rockville United Church signed a petition and sent a letter to the county school board to support the sex-education curriculum.

‘‘We don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin per se,” Paul H. Verduin, chairman of the church’s Church in Society Committee, told The Gazette in November. ‘‘We encourage people to follow their inner personality, their inner makeup. We don’t think that homosexuals should be made by our society to think something is wrong with them.”

Hey, that's cool, that church is right here in my neighborhood. I go to their rummage sales every year, I've found some good junk there.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"An Activist Was In The Lobby At The Time"

Some of this is second-hand information, so I recommend that journalists and interested parties go to the sources for quotes and details to verify it.

Background: The Citizens for a Responsible Whatever (Curriculum, Government, whatever) are campaigning for a referendum to throw out a new county law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Rather than argue the actual point having to do with discrimination, they have pretended that the new law will make it legal for male voyeurs and exhibitionists to go into women's restrooms, simply by claiming to be transgender. They need petition signatures and they aren't getting them.

Last Tuesday, Channel 7 News reported breathlessly that the new law had been "tested" when a man in a dress went into a ladies locker room at Rio Sport and Health Club in Gaithersburg. The Examiner also picked up the story. Both media outlets presented it in terms of the CRW's frame, as if this event had something to do with the new antidiscrimination law or tested it in some way. (Note that the law doesn't go into effect until February 19th.) Soon the rightwing web sites, starting with World Net Daily, were relaying the important information to their readers.

Last night a trustworthy friend of TTF had a discussion with a manager at the gym -- we will not use their name since it wasn't an official interview -- who said that there was "an activist" in the lobby of the gym at the time that this "man in a dress" went in. She described the activist as being like one of the people at the Giant grocery store with petitions [see previous post for some background on that].

According to this manager, the person in a dress signed in with a crowd of other guests so it is not clear who it was or if it was a man or a woman; they then proceeded directly to the ladies locker room, went into it and to the back of the room, and then came out and left the building. When this person came in, the employee at the door thought something strange was going on and called for an attendant to go check the ladies room, but the person left before they got there. Rio staff say they do not know who the person was.

The manager at Rio said she did not know who called the media, but she said the activist in the lobby was filmed in an interview after the event. The only "activist" interviewed by Channel 7 (the only media outlet indiscriminate enough to send a reporter to the scene) was Theresa Rickman of the CRW, who has written in our comments section that she goes to the Bethesda Sport and Health gym, not the one in Rio -- so why would she have been there? In its newscast, Channel 7 failed to mention Ms. Rickman's connection to the anti-gay, anti-transgender group, quoting her as if she were an ordinary citizen on the scene.

The manager at Rio told our friend, quote: "I think it was a publicity stunt."

I think it was a publicity stunt, too. The CRW needs signatures for their petition -- 12,500 of them by February 4th, and so far they say they have 3,000.

It does not appear that the women who were in the locker room at the time were in on the hoax; one of them went to management and asked them to call the police, and the manager explained that there really is no law against people going into the wrong bathroom -- there isn't now, never was, isn't one planned. The manager also made a point to our friend of noting that the Rio gym has a third bathroom that can be used by a transitioning transgender person, and she emphasized that the club has a policy of not discriminating. In fact they have had such a policy for a long time, long before this law was being discussed.

We also have seen an email from the Maryland Bureau Chief at Channel 7 saying:
... I must say I was offended by suggestions that this incident was fabricated by this group and that Channel 7 got sucked into reporting it as part of an "agenda." This is an affront to me professionally and not backed by any facts.

Nonetheless, I will not be relying on Channel 7 for my news. I guess they just might be a little under-skeptical for my tastes. Really, it would be a lot better for them to admit they screwed up here, to find out how this happened, and to correct the situation so that this sort of thing doesn't happen again, if they want to retain any credibility as a news source.

Just to get it on the record, it is worth re-emphasizing that it is not now illegal for a man to go into the ladies room or vice versa, but peeping is illegal. So whatever this person did was not against the law. Maryland Code, Criminal Law 3-901 and 3-902 prohibit "visual surveillance of another individual, with or without prurient interest, without the consent of that individual." Under this law, it doesn't matter if a woman is peeping at another woman, a man at a man, men at women, women at men, you just can't peep. You can't do it with your eyeballs, with a camera, with mirrors, with video cameras, and you can't do it if you're transgender, not-transgender, gay, ex-gay, or anything else. You can't do that. If the line in the ladies room goes out into the hall, a lady can use the men's room, if she doesn't peep. There is no law against it now, and prohibiting discrimination against transgender people won't change that.

The Citizens for a Responsible Government have given the Rio Sport and Health Club a bad name and brought them a lot of bad publicity with this hoax. They have made Channel 7 and The Examiner look like idiots, though of course it's their job as journalists to verify some things before they run a story. They frightened innocent citizens unnecessarily. How is this justified? They say they have "deep religious beliefs" that make it necessary for them to be able to discriminate against people who are subjectively a different gender from the one assigned to them at birth.

The fact is, they had to make up this incident because it wouldn't happen on its own. No transitioning transgender person is going to call attention to themselves in this way -- the Rio gym even has a third bathroom that a customer could use, just for that purpose -- and any voyeur who puts on a dress to go look at the women in the ladies locker room will be arrested. The CRW is campaigning on a lie, and they are desperate to make it seem real.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Coldblogging: An Eventful Week

Man, it is cold out today. The thermometer on my front porch says 25 degrees, but the wind is howling over that snow out there, and it is a good day to be indoors listening to the radio.

This has been a pretty busy week in Montgomery County county, really. Three things. The nuts are going full speed, trying to make it legal again to discriminate on the basis of gender identity. They had a court hearing this week which is sort of a last gasp for stopping the new sex-ed curriculum. And word is that the tenth grade classes have been taught; we got a little bit of feedback from a teacher at the Yahoo group about that.

The Citizens for a Responsible Whatever have been making robo-calls to random houses, trying to get people to sign their petitions to make it legal again to discriminate against transgender people in Montgomery County. That strikes me as the rudest, most desperate measure ever. Random, recorded phone calls. We saw a blog this week where the person got a call, and in the comments we had a reader who got one. The blogger had a beautiful line:
Aaaaahhhhhh craziness. *headdesk*

I love it that there is a word "headdesk," that indicates that the speaker is beating his or her head on their desk. A beautiful word, and a perfect summary of this situation.

Another of our readers confronted a person standing outside a Giant store in Gaithersburg trying to get signatures on a petition to keep men out of women's restrooms. I don't know how the Board of Elections handles these things, but there must be a law about misrepresenting the petition you are passing around. Whatever, they said Giant ran the person off. Nobody was signing it anyway.

The big story this week is the very suspicious sighting of someone with muscles and big hands in a dress in a ladies locker-room in Gaithersburg. The gym's management can't confirm that the incident happened, but the CRW and other nutty web sites are pretending that this is a challenge to the new antidiscrimination law. Well, they need signatures. I'm not saying I know that they staged that incident, it's just that the timing is perfect for them. And it gave us an insight into what news sources can't be trusted: Channel 7, The Examiner.

Since the first days when we got involved in this fight, reporters and interested people have asked us to explain why anybody would be so viciously opposed to teaching about something like homosexuality or gender identity differences. Early on, a reporter asked me, "What do you think motivates them?" and I tried to answer, but I quickly learned not to. It's inexplicable. Why would anybody go to that length to organize groups, to stand out in the cold with petitions, to contact and work with the press, to fabricate incidents, just to preserve the right to discriminate against people who don't feel they are the gender that matches their biological equipment?

The statistics tell us that it's about one person out of a thousand who really feels this way; they don't ask for this to happen to them, in fact you can imagine it is a frightening and upsetting realization. You have to deal with it -- almost everybody pretends they match their plumbing at first, only a few go ahead and make the transition. It isn't a sex thing, it has nothing to do with behavior in the bedroom, it's not a Rocky Horror thing, it's a guy with a real personal feeling that he is a woman, or a woman with the real feeling that she is a man. I don't know why they feel that way, and to tell you the truth there are bigger questions out there. This falls under the category "individual differences," and I'll let somebody else figure it out. All that matters to me is that it does no harm.

This week the CRW went to court to try to force the state school board to review everything they complained about in the new sex-ed curriculum. I wouldn't presume to guess what the judge will decide. The main question, it seemed to me, was whether it makes sense to take a question like this to the courts. The school board is elected to do a professional job, and if there is a question in the county the state school board can step in. So why would you have to waste the court's time on something like this?

The CRW whined complained in court about two specific things in the curriculum. They didn't like the classes saying that sexual orientation is innate, and they didn't like the idea that the video says to wear a condom during anal and oral sex. They based their argument about innateness on a ruling called "Conaway v. Deane." The CRW described that case in court as if it ruled that homosexuality is not innate. The lawyer kept saying "innate and immutable." He said that for a reason. The Nutty Ones like to think you can stop being gay, so the issue of mutability is important to them. If the schools were saying that your sexual orientation can't change, they would attack it ferociously. Unfortunately for them, the word "immutable" does not appear in the curriculum in any form: immutability, immutably, immutabilatiousness... none of it. The classes actually don't say sexual orientation is immutable.

Conaway v. Deane talks about immutability, and that word does not appear in the classes; the classes talk about innateness, and that word does not appear in Conaway v. Deane. It's as simple as that. The words are not synonyms. Hair color, for instance, is innate but not immutable.

The curriculum does say sexual orientation is innate, in part. That is, there is some component of sexual orientation that is not learned, not chosen, it's just part of you. It is ridiculous to try to argue against that. Lots of personality characteristics seem to have an innate component, from intelligence to sense of humor to ... lots of things. The CRW wouldn't have a problem with heterosexual people's orientation being innate, and if they were smart enough to think about it, they would know that everybody's orientation is. But they do something really dumb. They change the word -- the lawyer literally said "innate and immutable" a whole bunch of times -- and then oppose it. You can't win that way.

They also want the judge to rule that saying you should wear a condom for anal and oral sex is "teaching erotic techniques." The state school board already said it isn't, which was the wrong answer for the CRW, so they're trying again, this time in court. Of course that's a thin thread to hang all of this on, and it would be really weird if the judge overruled both the county and state school boards on something like this. He might, I don't know, stranger things have happened, but it is a strange kind of theory to try to prove in court, that saying a word is the same as teaching a technique. Like one of the school district lawyers said, it isn't like they're making kids read the Kama Sutra.

Actually, the best news -- the tenth grade classes have now been taught and they went fine. The TeachTheFacts Yahoo group got a message from a health teacher at Einstein who said:

These lessons went on without a hitch. Very little discussion except for thanks from some students for finally addressing the topic. The condom lesson was overkill- we were already teaching how to use a condom (since 1993). Talk to the people who are in the trenches. 97 percent overall opted in. 100% at my school opted in. Can we move on?

We have heard privately that some teachers think there is too much information in two days of classes, that it's hard to teach it from the script, and some other comments, which is normal for a new class. But nobody sees it as controversial or anything. Because it's not.

The eighth grade classes were taught before the Christmas break, and they went fine too. The fact is, this is a done deal. The CRW -- then -- started fighting this in 2004, we jumped into it in about December of that year, and it has gone fast and furious since then. They have done everything they can to undermine the implementation of a new health curriculum, and there is more to come, but really the momentum is lost. They had a moment, right after the 2004 elections, when they could have claimed to have a "mandate" along with the rest of the religious right's nutty stuff, but that day is gone. Nobody wants that junk here.

Right now WPFW is playing a pretty nice version of Django Rheinhart's "Nuages." Some guitarist is doing a really nice job on it. By the echo and the clarity of the recording I'd say this is a recent recording. I'd like to know who this is, and see how he does some of these things with his right hand.

It is ridiculously cold outside. I bought a new book yesterday, and I think I'm going to light a fire in the fireplace and read for a while. Tomorrow's a day off, if there's something that really needs to be done I'll do it then.

Friday, January 18, 2008

There They Go

As would be predicted, the rightwing web sites have picked up the amazingly important news story about a lady at a gym seeing somebody with big hands and muscles in a skirt in the ladies locker room here in Montgomery County. The person may have been a man.

Let's say a guy really did walk into a ladies locker room in a dress. Is that really news?

There are two interesting details in this World Net Daily article (which I'm not going to post here). First, the lady's name is different here from the Channel Seven version that we talked about recently. That was Mary Ann Ondray, this is Mary Ann Andree, even though the WND article quotes Channel 7's version, uses their quotes and everything. So you kind of wonder how they got the story straight; WND interviewed Michelle Turner of the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever, maybe she corrected the spelling.

The second interesting fact is this:
[CRW spokesperson Michelle] Turner said more than 3,000 citizens already have signed the petition, which needs 25,000 signatures by Feb. 16 in order to put the law before voters in November.

It is our understanding that the group has a deadline. They have to have 12,500 signatures, which is half the needed 25,000, turned into the Board of Elections by February 4th, or their big referendum drive is over. They started December 1st or so, and got 3,000 signatures in 6 weeks. Now they need 9,500 more signatures in approximately two weeks.

They need a way to make stupid people believe that there is suddenly a real threat from perverted men in dresses lurking in ladies rooms, because it is suddenly illegal to discriminate against transgender people. Hmm, what can we think of? <strokes_chin_thoughtfully>

This publicity stunt is obviously intended to provoke people to sign the petitions, and it is good to know about Channel Seven. There have been times that I have watched their news and thought it was pretty good, but now we know better. This wasn't a news story, the CRW just needed to stir up some excitement, they needed to scare people into signing their ridiculous petitions, and Channel 7 was the only commercial local news outlet to fall for it.

This just in: The Examiner also fell for it. They talked to the gym's manager, it looks like:
Kelly Nicholson, general manager for the gym, said the person exited the locker room quickly and the gym could not verify that the incident had occurred.

It seems to me that the fact that an incident may not have happened would reduce its importance as a news story.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Oral Arguments Yesterday

Yesterday some of us went down to the courthouse in Rockville and watched lawyers give oral arguments. The Citizens for a Responsible Whatever want the court to force the State Board of Education to answer all of their whining complaints about the new sex-ed curriculum. The state board looked at it already and said it was okay; in general they said that Montgomery County knows what they're doing, they didn't see any reason here to step in and tell them how to write a curriculum.

There is a technical argument at the heart of this. The question is whether the state board was acting in a quasi-judiciary or quasi-legislative capacity when they ruled. The answer to the question determines whether it is appropriate to take these kinds of issues to a court. If they were interpreting law in their decision, then they were acting in a quasi-judiciary way and the CRW can appeal in court. If they were just implementing policy, then they can't.

It's not that interesting to me, either, but that's how the CRW is trying to push it into the courts. The school district basically says there's already a way to deal with these things. The state board oversees the county boards, and if they screw up the state makes them fix things. If parents and citizens don't like it, they can elect different school boards. You don't go to court every time your kid gets an unfair grade, or if you don't like the way a math teacher proves a theorem, or nothing would get done.

Several reporters were there yesterday. The Post seems to have come out with it first.
A six-year battle over the content of a new sex education curriculum in Montgomery County schools came down to two questions posed yesterday in a Rockville courtroom: Can the school board legally teach students that homosexuality is innate? And can the lessons discuss sex acts other than copulation?

Montgomery educators are defending the new curriculum, approved by the school board last summer, which addresses sexual orientation as a classroom topic for the first time. The lessons place the county at the fore of a trend among some of the nation's public schools toward more candor in discussing homosexuality. But they have prompted a strenuous challenge from religious conservatives who see the curriculum as a one-sided endorsement of homosexuality.

Until now, opposition has focused on the constitutional rights of Montgomery families whose religious beliefs do not abide homosexuality. But with yesterday's hearing before Circuit Court Judge William Rowan III, an attorney for the plaintiffs narrowed his focus to a few words in the disputed lessons. Sex-Ed Dispute Aired in Court

The two questions are a little different from that. Nobody used the word "copulation." The second question is whether telling students to use a condom for oral and anal sex breaks the law against teaching "erotic techniques." Oral and anal sex are not "discussed" in any classes, beyond telling students to wear a condom if they do that, which is good medical advice.

The judge has taken the matter under advisement, which I'm told means he'll issue an opinion at some time, which may be in two weeks or two months, you never know.

There's more in the story - follow the link.

This just in: The Examiner has it, too.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Unbelievable: CRW Random-Dialing for Bigotry

Oh those wacky Citizens for a Responsible Whatever. Sounds like they're calling people at random again, this time to promote discrimination against transgender people. From Anjeelou's LiveJournal site:
What the...


So, I was expecting a call and made the mistake of picking up the phone without looking at caller ID.
Telemarketer? No. Political lobbyist.

The first thing I heard was "Are you concerned that the safety of women and children in the shower is being threatened in Montgomery County?"
Well, actually, no, it hasn't been weighing heavily on my mind.

Turns out, they are trying to petition to overturn this bill:
The basis of it is that people shouldn't be discriminated against or denied housing, access, resources, etc., due to
gender identity.
These idiots making the phone calls pulled out one tiny clause of the bill referring to bathrooms and locker rooms and made an entire campaign about it. Oh, and a lunatic website:
Aaaaahhhhhh craziness. *headdesk*

I'm not going to link to it, it's just some kid's web site. But a smart kid, she understood exactly what the deal was here.

Can you believe these guys?

Channel 7 Plays Along

Oh boy, the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever are excited about this one -- a guy in a dress may have walked into a ladies room. It's their dream come true. One lady saw him, if it was a him, and if she actually saw somebody. He left, there's no name, nothing.

Channel 7 is dishing out the CRW's viewpoint on this, tying it to the new antidiscrimination law.
A man dressed as a woman walked into the women's locker room at the Rio Sport and Health Club in Gaithersburg Monday, spawning concerns over a new controversial law designed to protect transgendered people.

Around 1 p.m. Monday, a man wearing a dress walked into the women's locker room surprising Mary Ann Ondray who was drying her hair. "I could see his muscles, I could see his large hands. He was wearing a blue ruffled skirt that came down to above the knee."

The male left without saying anything, but Ondray says, "I was very upset, I'm still upset. There's a lot he could've seen."

Club officials say he is a male club member, but it's still unclear why he was dressed as a woman or why he didn't use a designated family restroom.

The incident tests Montgomery County's new and still controversial law that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. Controversial Law on Gender Identity Tested

Of course this doesn't test any controversial law, that's pure bull-oney. If it even happened, the story is that somebody that looked like a guy in a dress went into the ladies room.

If the CRW wants to stage something to "test a controversial law," they should have one of their self-proclaimed "everstraight" male members actually get arrested in a ladies room and claim they feel like a woman inside.

One lady claims she saw someone with muscles and large hands wearing a dress in a gym bathroom. Somehow this "male" person was able to walk around the gym and leave in a blue dress without anybody else noticing. Channel 7 doesn't think any of this sounds fishy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The People Are Starting to Worry

A new survey reported at CBS yesterday shows that Americans are not all that excited about the way things are going, you might say.
(CBS) Assessments of the current state of the nation are grim as Americans have begun to choose who will vie to be the country’s next president. 75% of Americans think the country is off on the wrong track - matching the highest number ever recorded in the CBS News/New York Times Poll - and approval of President Bush remains low.

Concern about the direction of the country is accompanied by growing alarm about the condition of the economy - now the country’s most important problem. Perceptions of the condition of the national economy continue to drop, and most Americans think the worst is yet to come.

Three in four Americans think the country is off on the wrong track, matching the highest number recorded in the twenty-five years since CBS News began asking the question. Only 19% say it is headed in the right direction, matching the all-time low reached last June.

Worries about the direction of the country coincide with a low job approval rating for the president. 29% of Americans approve of the way President Bush is handling his job as president. Approval has hovered around 30% for the past year. Poll: Americans Think U.S. On Wrong Track

I understand that not all of this concern means that people agree with me. Somebody who thinks America is becoming too tolerant of differences on sex and gender dimensions, for instance, might vote with me, saying that the country's going to hell in a handbasket. Those who think we don't torture nearly enough and need to take away more of citizens' Constitutional rights, those who think we need to invade more random Middle Eastern countries, those who think the rich aren't rich enough and there aren't enough poor people, will be included in these pessimistic numbers. But I think the Bush approval rating indicates that it's not that.

Another tidbit or two...
For the first time in over two years the economy and jobs is the most important problem facing the country today - edging out the war in Iraq. 23% name it - up eleven points in just one month.

61% say the condition of the economy is bad - including nearly one in five that say it is in very bad shape. 38% describe the economy as good - though only 3% say it is very good. In January 2007 a majority of Americans said the economy was at least in fairly good condition.

Pessimism about the economy’s future is on the rise. 62%, the highest percentage since 1990, think the economy is getting worse, not better.

Nearly six in 10 Americans say the war in Iraq is going badly - including 30% who say it is going very badly - while another 38% say it is going at least somewhat well. These numbers have changed little since last month, though they are an improvement from a year ago.

Meanwhile, public opinion on the effectiveness of the troop surge that began last spring continues to improve. 40% now say it has made the situation better there, a number that has increased steadily since July.

Looking to the future of U.S. troop commitment in Iraq, half of all Americans want most U.S. troops out of Iraq within the next year, and only about one in five is willing to see large numbers of American troops remain in Iraq for longer than two years.

Looking back, 58% of Americans believe the U.S. made the wrong decision going to war in Iraq.

The question then is how to turn all this around. Of course there is an election this year, but can people hold their heads up high enough to see what's going on? Can they stand tall enough to pull the country up? Of course watching these catastrophic years makes a cynic out of a guy, but I retain quite a lot of hope, actually, that people will come to their senses.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday Rumination: Privacy and Law

It's a nice, sunny, cool winter's morning outside. WPFW is featuring chromatic harmonica music this morning. Usually you only hear Stevie Wonder play it, it's good to hear what different people can do with a chromatic harmonica. But you're always going to think of Stevie Wonder when you hear that sound, I think.

Three of the four members of my family have now received speeding tickets in the mail, having been caught by cameras. There's something kind of creepy about it, you get a letter in the mail with pictures of your car, showing it on the road, close-ups of your license plate. Forty bucks. The only one who hasn't gotten one of these tickets is the one the insurance company is most worried about, the Seventeen-Year-Old Boy.

There is a difficult topic here that I don't have an opinion about, but I'd like to put it on the table. It is a topic that has to do with two things, and I am sensing a connection between them but I don't really understand it.

The first thing involved is something that has been mentioned here before, it is the subject of obedience to the law, and whether it's optional or mandatory. My usual example is Prohibition, when alcohol was forbidden, and people drank more than ever. Why did that happen, how was it possible for a whole nation of respectable adults to suddenly become criminals? Well, for one thing, people didn't think it was anybody's business if they drank booze or not. They did not, of course, consider themselves criminals, though they broke the law -- a federal law in fact, a Constitutional Amendment. They figured the normal thing was to drink, and if that meant breaking the law, then so be it, they broke the law. So it seems to me the first thing to consider is the position that people actually take in relation to the law in a democratic society where they make the law, where it's theirs.

For discussion on this blog, of course we could compare Prohibition to laws that make it illegal to have sex with someone of your own gender, someone you're not married to, or someone under a certain age. Nearly everyone breaks those laws. If we know that half of teenagers have had sexual intercourse before they finish high school, and it's illegal to have sex with someone under the age of eighteen, then -- there's half the population right there. Subtract the percentage of people who are virgins when they marry from a hundred, and you'll have pretty close to ninety-nine.

Speeding laws are a classic. A street in my neighborhood is set for twenty-five miles per hour, but you can safely go forty, and people do. You try going the speed limit on 270 or the Beltway and see what happens to you. Everybody understands the law is really this: obey the speed limit if you think there's a cop nearby. You ever see the brake-lights flashing when a trooper parks alongside the highway?

I'm not saying how it should be, I'm just talking about how people interpret the law. I remember when I was a kid and Mad magazine had a cartoon about a guy who died on a street corner because the "walk" sign was broken, and it kept telling him to wait. At some point you walk, or go on the red, or speed, or whatever. I am not advocating a position here, but pointing out that in ordinary practice, we do not behave as if the law were a command that must be obeyed no matter what, we treat it as a guideline or a price you pay sometimes when you get caught doing something everybody does.

The second thing is also difficult, and that is the topic of privacy. I said it is creepy to see a picture of your own car going a little too fast on a deserted street in the middle of the night, and that's because you feel that your privacy has been invaded.

I don't think we have a very good understanding of privacy. Like, why does anybody need privacy? Do you have a good reason for it? Why would you do anything differently in public from what you'd do by yourself? It's hard to explain, but it's a fact that we act differently when we're alone with a close friend or lover, say, than we would if we were sitting in a restaurant where people could hear us talking. We use a different kind of language, express different opinions, laugh at different things.

I think there are people who believe you should always act like you act in public. Isn't this part of the function of a god, that you always feel like somebody's watching you? Even what you think. An all-knowing god makes you monitor your own mind like you monitor your behavior when people can see you. You can't pick your mental nose when God is watching, you'd better not have impure thoughts.

Imagine that the way the world worked was, when there was a law everybody had to obey it at all times or they'd pay the price, and you could never get away with anything. You people reading this who have smoked marijuana or snorted coke or inhaled White-Out fumes, or drank when you were underage, or had sex with someone you weren't married to, would have criminal records, your names would be in the paper. Those of you who wrote the wrong date on a check to try and trick a company into thinking you paid on time and your check was delayed in the mail: busted. You who took a grape off a bunch in the grocery store and popped it into your mouth when nobody was looking: it's on your record.

If that was the case, then the fact is everybody would be in jail. I hate to say that, because my view is that people are generally good at the core. I'm not saying you should pop the occasional grape, but I am personally willing to overlook it. In fact, I will go ahead and say that it is necessary for people to get away with it sometimes.

I don't know about you, but I can tell you how I feel about privacy. I need a lot of privacy because I need to make a lot of mistakes. I need to do things wrong, I'm a trial-and-error guy. But I'm a regular guy, too, and I hate it when people see me screwing up. I like to go "Look ma, no hands" and speed by with my hands in the air, gloriously, and I hate for people to see me crashing and getting up, crashing and getting up, as I learn my impressive trick. I need to do things I'm not supposed to do sometimes, I can't tell you why, but it's gotten me into some really interesting and wonderful situations. It's gotten me into trouble sometimes, too, but mostly it works out okay. I'm not trying to paint myself as a maverick or something, I'm just saying that's how I am, and I know a lot of you are that way, too.

I just thought of this: why does anybody smoke? Nobody smokes because they're supposed to, because somebody told them it was a good idea. In fact, it appears most of them smoke for exactly the opposite reason, because it will annoy and disappoint people.

Some laws are there to prevent harm, some exist only to create and preserve order. If you drove on the left side of a deserted street in the middle of the night, nothing would be harmed, but in general it's best if we know what side people are going to drive on, it makes life orderly. When I was in China last year, it appeared to me that nobody obeyed any traffic laws at all, and that people just adjusted to whatever was going on around them. It was like THIS everywhere I went (though that video was made in India). And in China I never saw a car with a dent, or emergency vehicles rushing to the scene of an accident. So strict traffic laws aren't really necessary, they're just our solution to the problem of creating order on busy streets.

Underlying the topic I am discussing, the concept that ties the subjects of law and privacy together, is the idea we call freedom. You could technically have freedom without privacy, I suppose, if somebody was watching you every second and they allowed you to do things, even break the rules. But would you really feel free, for instance, if there was a microphone in your car, and the police could listen to every conversation you had driving around? And -- maybe this is really the question here -- is there any difference between feeling free and being free? Imagine you and your friend driving around speculating about what it would take to put a bag over one of the traffic cameras, or paint the lens black or something. As it is now, you'd feel free to discuss that. If there was a microphone in your car transmitting your conversation to the police or some authorities who could hear everything in everybody's cars, would you feel that way? Even if the police had a rule that they would never pursue anyone or suspect them on the basis of conversations they heard over their surveillance monitors, would you have the freedom to speak freely with your friend in your car?

You know, the 9/11 terrorists made a lot of their plans sitting in parked cars, talking. If the police could have listened to those conversations they could have prevented it.

Some laws seem to be passed just to make criminals out of people who do something somebody else doesn't like. Sodomy laws for instance don't make the world safer or more orderly, they just allow the state to imprison gay people. Drug laws mostly just function to punish people who are stimulating their pleasure centers without paying the price to society, they don't make the world safer or smoother-functioning. These kinds of laws don't really affect anybody's behavior beyond making them paranoid; nobody adjusts their behavior because of these laws, other than being secretive about it.

It is common, but I think incorrect, to treat all these kinds of laws as if they were equal. I really want the cops to catch murderers, rapists, and robbers, and lock them up before they do more harm; they should go to extraordinary lengths to catch those kinds of criminals. I want the cops to catch the guy who switches lanes in front of me without signaling, or the one who runs through a red light while people are going across the intersection -- but the fact is, if a guy gets tired of waiting for a red light at three in the morning with nobody around (like that stupid one at Shady Grove when you come off of 270), I don't care. And if somebody goes a safe speed that is higher than the posted limit on a quiet street, it doesn't bother me. There is no benefit to society, no increase in safety or order, when drivers are caught exceeding arbitrary parameters.

There is something uncivil about the idea of enforcing all laws as inviolable mandates, using technology to catch people who really aren't hurting anything. It doesn't really matter that I was going eleven miles over the posted speed limit when the camera triggers at ten miles over, at ten o'clock at night on a road that nobody else was driving on. It doesn't make the world a better place, it's just a creepy reminder that the authorities are always watching.

I discussed this with my daughter recently, and pointed out to her that it is indefensible to argue that we should only have to obey the law when a cop is watching. It can't work that way, of course, we have to treat the law as if it were a real mandate, and not something we decide to obey sometimes. If the speed limit is twenty-five, then we really shouldn't go twenty-six, we should keep our agreement with our fellow citizens to obey the law, and if we violate that agreement we should pay the ticket without complaining. The result of this attitude should be reasonable laws, but it isn't.

I just realized that another theme is relevant here, which has been discussed on this blog: the idea that people are good because of the law. I don't think so, I don't believe anybody doesn't-kill somebody because they are concerned about breaking the law. I have the feeling that if you made the speed limit on our neighborhood street seventy-five instead of twenty-five, people would still go forty, because it's a reasonable and safe speed for that stretch of road. We have the idea that everything un-nice needs to be illegal or people will do it, but there are places where people go the other way -- in the Netherlands there is no law requiring you to wear clothes, you can walk around naked if you want to, but nobody does.

Depending on how different things get after the election -- and I don't really have my hopes up -- these issues about the elimination of privacy by the use of technology will become a serious topic that everyone will be thinking about. We'll have to face some things about ourselves, the fact that we don't want to live in a perfect world, for instance. These are things we've never had to deal with before, because people could always get away with things under cover of darkness or in the privacy of their own homes, but those private zones are shrinking. So far it hasn't really hit people, but it will, there will be a time when you'll think back to when you were free and wish it could be like that again, but it'll be too late, and you'll know you'd better not say anything out loud.

The guy on the radio just said it's going to get cloudy today and rain, or maybe snow, later. I'm kind of hoping it does snow a little bit, I was out of town when it snowed earlier in the winter.

Friday, January 11, 2008

CRW Gathering Signatures For Important Religious Mission

You know the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever are trying to get 25,000 12,500 signatures on petitions to support a referendum to allow discrimination on the basis of gender identity in Montgomery County. They're working through the churches, saying that people with "deep religious beliefs" need to be able to discriminate against transgender people. (I'm still waiting to see some chapter-and-verse on that one -- exactly where in the Bible does it say anything at all about people fitting gender stereotypes?)

OK, I was a little bored, I started going through their materials. See, their big lie is that if you can't discriminate against transgender people, perverted men are going to go into ladies rooms and expose themselves and also look at the ladies there. Nothing will stop them, unless the people of the county quickly act to restore the right to discriminate. They have predicted that there will be rapes and murders galore all over the county if we allow transgender people to do the things the rest of us do, like catch taxis and eat in restaurants.

As support for this, the CRW web page links to a document called "Division 1. Discrimination In Public Accommodations," which is apparently taken from the Montgomery County code.

The big deal, according to them, is that the nondiscrimination law addresses "public accommodations." You might want to look at this. Public accommodations are defined, in this document, as:
... every public accommodation of any kind in the County whose facilities, accommodations, services, commodities, or use are offered
to or enjoyed by the general public either with or without charge, such as:
(1) restaurants, soda fountains, and other eating or drinking places, and all places where food is sold for consumption either on or off the premises;
(2) inns, hotels, and motels, whether serving temporary or permanent patrons;
(3) retail stores and service establishments;
(4) hospitals and clinics;
(5) motion picture, stage, and other theaters and music, concert, or meeting halls;
(6) circuses, exhibitions, skating rinks, sports arenas and fields, amusement or recreation parks, picnic grounds, fairs, bowling alleys, golf courses,
gymnasiums, shooting galleries, billiard and pool rooms, and swimming pools;
(7) public conveyances, such as automobiles, buses, taxicabs, trolleys, trains, limousines, boats, airplanes, and bicycles;
(8) utilities, such as water and sewer service, electricity, telephone, and cable television;
(9) streets, roads, sidewalks, other public rights-of-way, parking lots or garages, marinas, airports, and hangars; and
(10) places of public assembly and entertainment of every kind.

Did you see ladies rooms in that list?

I didn't either.

I know the word "accommodations" is sometimes used to mean bathrooms, but that isn't really what it means, that's a colloquial usage but that is clearly not what this law is about. The list gives you a clue.

In fact, the CRW has highlighted this sentence a few lines later in the document:
(c) This division does not apply to accommodations that are distinctly private or personal.

I would say restrooms are "distinctly private and personal," wouldn't you? It looks to me like this law specifically excludes protection for perverted men leering at and frightening innocent and modest ladies in the ladies room.

I understand that they want to stir up some excitement, but ... don't they ever get embarrassed?

Oh, by the way, there is an interesting alliance shaping up in the county, it looks like. Today (Friday), the CRW is sponsoring "signature gathering opportunities" at the ICM (Islamic Center of Maryland) Mosque in Gaithersburg and the Muslim Community Center on New Hampshier [sic] Ave, according to their recent newsletter.

It is fascinating to see the various faiths coming together for the important religious goal of promoting discrimination against transgender citizens. All the despair in the world, the violence, the loneliness, starvation, genocide, tyranny -- and this is what motivates them.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

One Side of It

This news story from Poland is funny on two levels. First, of course it's funny in an obvious way, mainly because it happened to somebody else, and not you or me. But it's also funny to see how ABC News presents it.
A Polish man got the shock of his life when he visited a brothel and spotted his wife among the establishment's employees.

Polish tabloid Super Express said the woman had been making some extra money on the side while telling her husband she worked at a store in a nearby town.

"I was dumfounded. I thought I was dreaming," the husband told the newspaper on Wednesday.

The couple, married for 14 years, are now divorcing, the newspaper reported. What Are You Doing Here? A Man Asks His Wife At A Brothel

I'll just bet a couple of our readers are wondering what the wife said when he showed up there, like maybe "What do you mean what am I doing here? --What are you doing here?".

Listserve Shenanigans Make the News

I gave a talk a couple of months ago where one of the important points was the effect that the Internet has had on the school community. Parents join these groups -- they're always Yahoo groups, but they are often called listserves, sometimes spelled "listserv" from the original Unix -- to stay involved with the school. Teachers, administrators, sometimes students join too, and this is where they can ask their questions, voice their gripes. I think you could say actually started on the Albert Einstein High School listserve, a number of us made contact there initially, before we knew each other.

The groups are hosted at Yahoo, and you think of them as being independent. But somebody has to set it up, somebody is listed as the administrator, they can delete posts, add and remove members, whatever, there's a lot of stuff you can do. See what you think about this situation:
When Suzanne Weiss left the Parent Teacher Student Association of Cabin John Middle School, the school e-mail list went with her.

Weiss said the list belonged to her. PTSA leaders said the CJCougarEmail list belonged to them. They started a rival mailing group, which competes with Weiss's for Cabin John parents.

Over the past few years, electronic mailing lists have become the main forum for parents across the region to talk about their schools. With just a few keystrokes, the lists offer parents unprecedented power to spread information, to ask a question or answer one, to praise or pillory for an audience of hundreds.

As school e-mail lists multiply in size and reach, they are increasingly becoming ensnared in contests for control of the medium and the message. Principals are accused of trying to silence their discussion-group critics. Parents have allegedly stolen or hijacked e-mail lists. Moderators who step in to halt vitriolic threads are sometimes accused of censorship. As PTA Groups Move Online, So Does Dissension

My kids went to two different high schools, and I was always fascinated by the difference in the listserves. At Rockville, the whole point of the listserve was for parents to ingratiate themselves to teachers. If anybody ever had a complaint or brought up something controversial, they were drummed out by the others, who always said their Inbox was too full for that stuff, or they would say the comment was "inappropriate." It was fine to say "Kudos to Mrs. Wallenstein's history class for having three winners in the All-State essay contest," but for instance if a teacher was charged with a hate crime nobody wanted to talk about it.

Einstein, on the other hand, had a wild listserve -- people were always ready to voice an opinion over there, and they'd argue for days over the smallest point. They actually had to set up an alternate listserve just for announcements and things. Personally, I liked Einstein's approach better, after a while you felt like you knew those people and there were some interesting points made. And some not so interesting, but whatever, I think "diversity" is a good word to describe Einstein, and the listserv was an example of that.
Some of the most contentious school controversies of recent years have played out largely on e-mail lists: reaction over a plan to distribute hip flasks as a senior gift in 2006 at Arlington County's H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program; debate about military recruitment at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda in 2005; and discontent, this winter, with a $50 graduation fee at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

"It's the new venue. It's the new community forum," said Pat Elder, a Whitman parent who protested the presence of military recruiters on the Whitcom mailing list. "We're too busy to, you know, meet."

Weiss, of Potomac, started an e-mail list for Cabin John Middle School in 2003, when she was PTSA president. Over time, she expanded it to include information about the larger feeder system and Montgomery schools on the whole, spending more and more time tending the Yahoo group. Then came a new principal, who was less involved in the e-mail list than the last. The school and its e-mail group became, in a way, estranged.

New PTSA leaders found no way to challenge Weiss for control of the list. She was listed as sole owner on the Yahoo Web site.

"Give it back to them? It never belonged to them," Weiss said.

Interesting. She's right, of course. You sign up for it, you appoint yourself administrator, your password is the only one that works ... it's yours.

Of course, it goes without saying, this isn't very nice of her.

A letter to the editor of The Post made a good point:
Suzanne Weiss is wrong. She does not own the CJCougarEmail list she created while president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Cabin John Middle School; the PTSA does.

An e-mail list is a form of intellectual property, and intellectual property that is created by an employee (paid or volunteer) as part of a job is owned by the employer, not the employee. Ms. Weiss was privy to the information she collected only because she was PTSA president. Just as a scientist doesn't own an invention created in a company lab and a salesperson can't take a client list when he or she moves to a competitor, Ms. Weiss has no legal claim to the e-mail list.

Ms. Weiss may be listed as "owner" of the list on Yahoo, but that is only because Yahoo requires an individual to be responsible for its content.

Silver Spring Whose E-Mail List Is It?

Well, yes, you kind of have to agree with that.

It is not clear from the news story exactly why it matters who owns the list. If the moderator is deleting posts and kicking people out, that's one thing -- is she doing that? And I can understand the list administrator not wanting to operate under the control of school administrators, who have a tendency, you might say, to try to control the flow of information.