Thursday, May 29, 2008


Let me say this straight: I don't know who Rachel Ray is, and I don't like her. I see her smiling face on cereal boxes and everywhere, those teeth are too white, eyes too shiny, those dimples are too wholesome for this boy. Sorry, it's not a political thing, she just isn't my type. Trust me, she wouldn't like me, either.

OK, I just looked her up in Wikipedia, and maybe she's okay. She said, "I'm completely unqualified for any job I've ever had." So maybe she's not so bad.

Whatever, you can imagine that when Rachel Ray appeared in a Dunkin' Donuts ad, I did not pay any attention. But apparently rightwing nut-blogger Michelle Malkin did. She decided that the scarf Ms. Ray was wearing around her shoulders looked like an Arab headdress called a kaffiyeh.

My question would be: so what? I might wear a Mexican sombrero, or Italian shoes (if I could afford them), I used to wear Indian water-buffalo sandals back in college ...

Ms. Malkin decided that the scarf meant that Miss Sunshine Dimples, Rachel Ray, and by implication the entire Dunkin' Donuts corporation, was supporting Arab terrorists.

Dunkin' Donuts pointed out that it was a paisley scarf, not an Arab headdress. Still, they ended up pulling the ad.
BOSTON (AP) — Dunkin' Donuts has pulled an online advertisement featuring Rachael Ray after complaints that a fringed black-and-white scarf that the celebrity chef wore in the ad offers symbolic support for Muslim extremism and terrorism.

The coffee and baked goods chain said the ad that began appearing online May 7 was pulled over the past weekend because "the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee."

In the spot, Ray holds an iced coffee while standing in front of trees with pink blossoms.

Critics, including conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, complained that the scarf wrapped around her looked like a kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress. Critics who fueled online complaints about the ad in blogs say such scarves have come to symbolize Muslim extremism and terrorism.

The kaffiyeh, Malkin wrote in a column posted online last Friday, "has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons." Dunkin' Donuts pulls Rachael Ray ad after complaints

The reasoning is this:
  • Members of a culture that includes some bad people wear traditional clothing item X.
  • Therefore anyone wearing clothing that vaguely resembles item X is encouraging bad people.

And what does it say about Dunkin' Donuts that they didn't have the chutzpah to stand up for themselves? It couldn't be that hard to come out and say, look, it's just a scarf, and besides we paid for our airtime, we just want to sell doughnuts and coffee, leave us alone. It's just inconceivable to me that somebody would be so gutless that they would be intimidated by fools like this.

Montgomery County came under attack in just this way a couple of years ago, some nuts started accusing the school district of promoting homosexuality, encouraging kids to be promiscuous, and other stupid stuff, just as stupid as this. When we jumped into the fray, there was a real chance that the district would be hounded until they gave up their new sex-ed curriculum, just to keep the noise level down.

You can't do that, you have to stand up to them.

Skipping ...
Amahl Bishara, an anthropology lecturer at the University of Chicago who specializes in media matters relating to the Middle East, said complaints about the scarf's use in the ad demonstrate misunderstandings of Arab culture and the multiple meanings that symbols can take on depending on someone's perspective.

"I think that a right-wing blogger making an association between a kaffiyeh and terrorism is just an example of how so much of the complexity of Arab culture has been reduced to a very narrow vision of the Arab world on the part of some people in the U.S.," Bishara said in a phone interview. "Kaffiyehs are worn every day on the street by Palestinians and other people in the Middle East — by people going to work, going to school, taking care of their families, and just trying to keep warm."

There is a phenomenon here that thinking people need to identify, we need to have a straightforward way to identify it and deal with it when it comes up. In my mind, I call this "dog-packing."

It used to be, in the days before leash laws, that packs of dogs would run around the streets, knocking over garbage cans, pooping in the street, and otherwise behaving in a doglike fashion. Occasionally something would happen, and a cat or a smaller dog or a kid, especially a little kid, would somehow attract the pack's attention, and an ordinarily-peaceful pack of dogs would attack, often lethally. There are still occasional news stories of this sort of thing.

Dogs are social, and emotion is contagious. A dog by itself is unlikely to do this. The occasional pit bull will get out of hand, but generally it takes two or more of them. I don't know what triggers it, maybe one growls and the others hear that and they growl, they start showing their teeth and convincing themselves that they want to kill something, and violence erupts. I don't know how it starts or what amplifies the aggressiveness, but it can get wild and out of control.

They smell fear, or so people say -- the very worst thing their victim can do it to show that they are afraid. If you get dog-packed the only thing you can do is counterattack, even if you're bluffing -- run at them, wave your arms, yell. You can scare away a pack of dogs, but if you try to run or defend yourself they can chew you up.

Dunkin' Donuts could have turned this around. They could have seen the opportunity for free publicity, and made some public display of patriotism or whatever, auctioned off that scarf for supplies for the troops, made a joke out of it. I really wish they had. Instead they tucked tail and took a whoopin'.

Nobody really thought Dunkin' Donuts or the Lovely Miss Dimples Rachel Ray was pro-terrorist, any more than a pack of dogs thinks that the cat they're killing is going to be good to eat. There is no sense to this kind of thing, nothing is better because of this. There are real problems in the world, and people have to salivate and go into a frenzy over the fact that a scarf on a doughnut ad is going to encourage terrorists.

In our county, we have learned this lesson. You don't turn and run from these nuts when they try to make something out of nothing. They were making insane allegations about the school district, now they're making even more insane allegations about the new antidiscrimination law, saying it means that pedophiles and perverts will be hanging around in the ladies rooms of our county. You can't let them do it, you can't let them get you on the defensive, you have to run at them, wave your arms, yell.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Operating Concept: Ignorance Is Bliss

Conservative columnist Dinesh D'Souza sometimes comments on our blog, mainly he pastes his columns into the comments, sometimes he changes it a little or says something in the discussion, I think -- we had an impostor once pretending to be him, but somebody did confirm via email that he was putting at least some of these comments here himself. So I don't know if THIS was him, it may be someone else copying a column of his that can be found HERE.

At any rate, he makes a kind of case here that strikes me as just a little weird.
Why are secular liberals so unhappy? This question is provocatively discussed in Arthur Brooks' new book Gross National Happiness. Brooks is a sociologist and statistician at Syracuse University. I am reading his book while vacationing with my lovely wife on the beautiful island of Santorini. So it's natural for me, watching the most beautiful sunsets in the world, martini in hand, to think about the question of happiness.

I guess I could be called a secular liberal my own self, at least I play one on TV. I have not been to this particular Greek island, but I would agree that it is very pleasant to relax along the Mediterranean with the lovely wife. Not his lovely wife, though I don't know, she might be pleasant to relax with, too. And I would be sipping a martini right now, but I have a rule, never before breakfast.

It's early as I write this, WPFW is playing some big-band jazz on the radio, a pot of coffee is full and waiting for me, and and I am in the mood to think about happiness, too.
Brooks' book is full of interesting data. We learn, for instance, that money does buy happiness, but only upto a point. Poor people and poor countries are unhappy, and by the self-description of the people involved. So the movement from grinding poverty to the comfortable middle-class brings a huge gain in happiness. But interestingly economic improvement at this point brings diminishing marginal returns. This is not to say that rich people aren't happier: they are. But not by very much.

Brooks also shows that, in his own words, "people who say they are conservative or very conservative are nearly twice as likely to say they are very happy than are people who call themselves liberal or very liberal. Conservatives are much less likely to say they are dissatisfied with themselves, that they are inclined to feel like a failure, or to be pessimistic about their future." Conservatives' mental health is far better than that of liberals.

The traditional literature in social psychology has found that bag ladies and millionaires rate their life satisfaction about the same. And lottery winners rate it higher than most immediately after winning, and lower than most after a year or two. Life satisfaction is not the same as happiness, though I think you will find that self-reports of happiness levels are easily influenced by wording and contextual cues. It could be you could ask rich and poor people questions that would find more happiness among rich people. Like, you could have a questionnaire that asked "Aren't you glad you have a lot of expensive stuff?" and rich people might be more likely to say yes.

As for the idea that conservatives are happier, I'm sorry but Border's isn't open yet so I don't have Brooks' book in front of me, but the Internet is open and there is a 2006 study of this topic done by Pew Research HERE. This must be what he cites, it does show conservatives expressing more happiness than liberals. The report says it's always been that way, Republicans report being happier than Democrats, conservatives are happier than liberals, religious people are happier than nonbelievers.

I can see that. Liberals are always worrying about things. They worry about poor people, needless wars, the ethics of torture, the failing economy, they worry about philosophical questions and difficult issues about how to live as a person of conscience in a world that rewards greed. Worrisome stuff, being a liberal. Conservatives, on the other hand, have the comfort of knowing that whatever their way of life is, it's the best. Whatever country they live in, it's the best country. However they do things is the right way, and people who do differently are simply misguided, misinformed, or evil.
Equally fascinating, Brooks notes that "faith is an incredible predictor, and cause, of happiness. Religious people of all faiths are much, much happier on average than secularists." Specifically, 43 percent of those who attend church weekly or more call themselves "very happy," versus 23 percent who attend seldom or never. Observant Jews and Christians are by Brooks' measure the happiest people in America.

Again, it must be very comforting to have your opinions delivered to you from a pulpit or holy book. All that thinking that nonbelievers have to do is just tiring, difficult work, figuring everything out for yourself, treating every situation uniquely.

The moral to draw from these surveys seems a simple one to me: thinking is hard. People who think, worry. Caring about things is hard and takes away from your ability to be self-indulgently happy. People who think and care have to struggle with issues, have to treat special cases as special. Those who take their opinions from authority, on the other hand, have the warm happy feeling of knowing that they are right without checking, they can generalize across situations without fear, because they have the protection of their authorities and their peer group.
So why are secular liberals in general so miserable? I offer two reasons. The first is that liberals are political utopians. They consider human nature to be wonderful, and they expect freedom to be used wonderfully well. So they are always bitterly disappointed when they discover that this is not the case. Conservatives, by contrast, have a dimmer view of human nature. So their expectations are more modest. When things don't turn out half-badly, conservatives are pleasantly surprised. They are happier because it takes less to make them happier.

It's not too hard to figure out why religious people are happier. Belief in God gives people a powerful sense of higher purpose in life. It assures people that the universe is in the benign hands of a omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate higher power. It offers people a code for how to live. It gives us a reason to hope in cosmic justice, which is better than the imperfect justice of our terrestrial world.

So was that two reasons, or one? Dinesh, is that your first martini?

I will accept for myself the term secular liberal, though I have never called myself that and don't know what it means. But somebody has to make the counterpoint, and here I am, I went to bed early and now I'm up early and there's nothing else to do.

I could almost halfway-agree with him on these paragraphs. I think human nature is good and expect that free people will behave well, and yes I am somewhat bummed when they, for instance, re-elect the worst President ever. Bummer, there goes my happiness rating. I think that education and open, fair debate, facts and arguments clearly presented to the public would result in correct political decision-making, and as a stereotypical secular liberal I criticize the big-business media for packaging our national debates as another brand of intellectual dog food. Dinesh is saying that conservatives expect everything to be dumbed down, they really will vote on the basis of whether a guy wears an American flag lapel pin, and so they are happy with the way things are. Life is easy for them, and they're happy.

And if religious people are happier, as he says, because they live in a dream world, then okay, that's the way it looks to me, too. Sure the world is a big mess, but the Apocalypse is coming, so yippee, we're so happy, we're all going to be called up in the Rapture.

Listen, it comes down to this again. Thinking people worry.
By contrast, secular people have little to hope for. They are sure that they came from nowhere--the chance product of random mutation and natural selection--and are going nowhere. They know that terrible things happen, and they don't believe there is any purpose in this. No wonder that secular people have so few children: they have much less reason than religious people to believe in the future.

And they think about what they're doing.
So why is an atheist like Richard Dawkins so frequently wearing a conspitated scowl? And why am I usually smiling? Some may attribute these differences to our genetic temperaments. Others may put it down to the fact that I live in sunny California, eating healthy nouvelle cuisine and going on walking tours in Santorini. Dawkins, by contrast, lives in dank, rainy England and eats abominable English food. ("May I offer you some more kidney pie, Professor Dawkins? It's somewhat bland, I know, but perhaps it will work as a laxative.")

But Arthur Brooks would probably say that our temperaments are also the consequences of two very different worldviews, one producing the wholesome optimism of What's So Great About Christianity, the other the angry bitterness of The God Delusion. Read Brooks' new book yourself to see if he's right.

I've seen Richard Dawkins and he doesn't wear a "conspitated" scowl. In fact he's a cheerful handsome man, bright and quick.

It's too easy to portray "secular liberals" as gloomy. If I understand the kind of people he's talking about, these are people who experience life firsthand, who tend not to accept somebody else's explanation for things, people who empathize with others and care about them, people who give thought to important questions.

Basically, this article is comparing the happiness of little piggies who live in straw houses and little piggies who make their houses of bricks. The straw-house-piggies pick up whatever ideas their friends have, whatever they catch on TV, and then they are free to dance and sing and be happy. The brick-house piggies spend all their time making bricks and putting together a solid structure, they hear the straw-house piggies singing in the streets, but they are not satisfied with the conservative straw house, the weak arguments, the absence of facts, the obedience to authority, the greed and self-indulgence.

Monday, May 26, 2008

How I Spent My Vacation

I found myself unexpectedly cut off from the Internet over the weekend, but now I'm back and I wanted to tell you about my family's little vacation. There is nothing in here about gay or transgender people or political things. Actually, there is likely nothing of interest to you in any of this, it's just my dull personal experiences. I would recommend not reading this one. No really, stop now. There are better ways to spend your time. Most of this was written during the trip, I'm just posting it Monday evening.

A truck had driven off I-70, way out in the middle of nowhere, and a lane was blocked with tow-trucks and police cars, so Friday's Memorial Day traffic went one to five miles per hour westward across Maryland toward the Appalachian Mountains. We were stuck in that for a couple of hours, and then just as soon as you passed the wreck you were doing eighty again. In the traffic jam you got where you felt like you knew the people around you, the black couple in the next car, the college girl singing along with her radio, the big redneck in the big pickup truck, impatient. Everybody wanted to be somewhere else but mainly people were cool. A wife talked on her cell phone, a kid had his feet up on the dashboard. It ended up taking us about five and a half hours to get to Deep Creek from Rockville, with a minor detour through Germantown for some family stuff.

We rented a house up here for the weekend. I've always seen this lake on the map, up in the mountains, you just know it's full of fat trout. I used to fly-fish, out in the West. When we got married twenty-one years ago, the bridal shower was all camping stuff. We used to go up into the Sierra Nevadas and camp and fish for those little golden trout and the occasional brown and rainbow. I even got a vice and bought a bunch of feathers and fur and thread and hooks and tied my own flies. There is something very satisfying about outsmarting a wise old trout with a fly you have made yourself, presenting the right pattern on the water without splash or drag, and nothing tastes better than a fish that you just caught yourself, cooked over a campfire with butter and garlic. When the kids were little we used to fish with them a lot, mostly catching bluegill and sunfish (I love catching sunfish on fly tackle, man I could do that all day), but it seems like that's one of those things that you stop doing after a while. It's hard to get everybody in the same place at the same time when they get bigger. When I went to find my fly-rod and flies for this trip I discovered that my old reel is completely trashed and useless. But we have a tackle-box full of lures, and a couple of Zebco poles we bought for the kids when they were little, they still work.

This rental house is big and pretty nice. There is one problem: the cable doesn't work. There is a big-screen TV in the living room and a television in just about every room in the whole place, but none of it works. And no Internet, there's wireless connectivity to the router but the cable isn't working so it doesn't go anywhere. Comcast said they can't send anybody out till Tuesday, after we've left. I've dealt with Comcast, I know how they are, they're the justification for corporate regulation.

People have different ways of traveling. I know people who plan their trips: museum nine to eleven o'clock, taxi (and they figure out what the fare will be ahead of time) to a particular restaurant for lunch at noon, walk in famous park two to four, see famous building four to six. That is not the way we travel. We get up and go down to eat where the people eat, then wander around. Up here in the Appalachians it's fun to go in the car, you see a side-street, you take it. The worst that can happen is you get lost. You get hungry, you watch for a place to eat, you take the luck of the draw. We stopped in a place that turned out to be a kind of biker bar with food, it seemed perfect but the kitchen wasn't open yet, so we went to another place where two ladies were talking about somebody who's about to get married. It was very interesting, how they talked and what they said. Did I mention that there are a whole lot of churches in this part of the country?

Possible trend here. We went into a souvenir shop and it had a big rack of toy guns. Half of them were pink. Later we saw a high-school aged girl wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a girl and a gigantic buck that she had shot, and it said, "Well as a matter of fact I do hunt like a girl." I don't know, girls and guns, is that the way we're headed?

There is a little store a couple miles from where we're staying, way out at a crossroads in the country. Up on the facing hill, probably a quarter-mile away, is a giant barn and farmhouse, and a family cemetery in the field, overlooking this beautiful valley. It really is magnificent. People in the store stand around yacking. We bought beer, wine, more wine, and more wine. And an onion and some steak sauce. I said "Do you notice a trend here?" The lady looked at it and said, "You going to mix all this together?" I said, "Yeah, we pour it all in the bathtub and hop in." She liked that. They put it all in a box and the other lady carried it out to the car for us. They wanted to know where we're from, one of them has a sister down near Rockville somewhere, sounds like it might be close to Mount Airy. Later in the day I went back for charcoal lighter and more wine. The lady looked at me like we were old friends. They didn't have the charcoal lighter fluid. We ended up starting the charcoal with Ronson lighter fluid, like for a lighter. It worked perfectly, in fact as I write this I feel like I'm going to explode, I had a lot of hamburgers and hot dogs. There are lots of leftovers, too.

PS the next day my wife and I were in the store, and there was a whole shelf of charcoal lighter fluid. My wife held it up for me to see, with a look on her face like, How in the world did you miss this? The girl behind the counter said that it had just come in that morning. Whew, it is always better when somebody you don't know provides the alibi.

It's a little disconcerting living with no TV, no Internet. We had expected both, one of our group is four years old and would have liked to watch a little television, you know. At one point he was walking around saying, "Let's watch Bugs Bunny, let's watch Bugs Bunny," over and over again. I had expected to write and monitor the blog, keep up with email, Google old friends who come to mind, the usual. There were times I missed the Internet intensely, on the other hand we did stay busy. I think I'm sunburned.

Water in the country. People in the DC area complain about the water. They buy water from the grocery store, at about a thousand times the cost of what comes out of the tap. You have to visit the country occasionally to see real bad water, brown water, stinky water. There have been times here when we have filled a glass and then just poured it down the drain. We melted ice cubes to make coffee, because the ice cube water gets filtered.

Waving. Funny thing out here, when you drive down the street people wave at you. I used to live in a small town where when you heard a horn honking you assumed it was a friend saying hi to you. It's not like that where we live now, now if they honk it's because the light has been green for three or four milliseconds, or because something you did made somebody think you were going to change lanes and put a dent in their SUV. Kids on ATVs, people passing the other way in cars, people in their yards when you drive by, stop talking and look at you and wave, out here in the country.

Stars. Man, you forget. When I was kid it looked like that.

Sunday we stood on the bank of the lake and dragged bass lures through the water. I don't know about you, but for me "catching fish" is a small part of fishing. A couple of boats came by. Conversation:

Me: Y'all catchin' any?
Guy on boat: Naw, you?
Me: Naw, we saw some bass swimming by but they weren't interested.
Guy: No, they're just not bitin' this afternoon.
Me: Well it beats working.
Guy: Ya got that right.

And then the boat went past us. So you see, fishing is about socializing as well as catching fish.

A girl and her mother went past, the two of them rowing a canoe together with double-ended paddles. They sounded like they were from the area, the girl was chanting, "Lift, rot, lift, rot, lift, rot ..."

We did see some nice big bass go by, several times. They appeared to be quite uninterested in being eaten. This lake has a lot of kinds of fish in it. Bass are fun to catch, because they're big and they are mean. I have had bass jump out of the water onto the shore to chase a lure they thought was getting away from them. You catch a bass by making it mad somehow, with a big lure that splashes or sparkles or wobbles through their territory in a threatening way. You catch a trout by seducing it, you have to offer it exactly what it wants and make sure there is nothing to scare it. You wait patiently and let the trout think about it until it has perfect confidence in that apparent item of delicious food. These are two different kinds of arts, bass-fishing and trout-fishing. There are lots of literary books and articles, poems and short stories about trout fishing, and there are lots of TV shows about bass fishing. I think that political scientists will discover that the differences between the Red and Blue states simply reflect the prevalent local species.

Some of my favorite times ever have been standing on a bridge or bank somewhere, looking into the water watching for fish. Sometimes you have to look a long time to see them. I think of it as a spiritual exercise, I guess. I started fishing because for my whole life I have had recurring dreams about fish. Every night I dream I am catching fish (but I never actually land them) or looking at fish, or looking for fish. I don't know where dreams come from, but whoever writes those stories seems to be telling me something. I take it to be a wisdom more intelligent than my own, so I started fishing. But catching the fish is not really that important, just being there, trying to attract invisible fish to your hook, knowing that there are living things under the water and occasionally feeling the tug of one, that's enough for me to enjoy the pastime.

At one point my wife snagged her lure in a tree, casting. It was funny, we started looking and it was like a Christmas tree, full of ornaments that people had left in the branches. Bobbers, sinkers, lures, hooks, streams of monofilament dangling down in a festive way. I've left a lot of lures in trees over the years. This particular tree was a bad one.

We didn't get any bites.

Hey, did you know there's a town in the mountains of Maryland called "Accident?" Is that a cool name for a town, or what?

Our "new" car, a Suzuki that was finally paid off a few months ago, has been rattling and needed to have its three timing chains replaced, at a cost close to a couple thousand dollars. We brought it into the shop on Tuesday, expecting to have it Wednesday evening, but with ordering parts and everything else it wasn't ready until Saturday, and we had to leave on Friday. So we drove the old car, a 1992 Mitsubishi with 120,000 miles on it. It uses a little oil and needs a waiver for emissions, but man that little car was great! Even loaded down, we went up into those mountains and back down at seventy and eighty miles an hour without a problem. Oh, it'll jolt a little into gear out of Park, I'm concerned about the transmission, and there is a rattle under the dashboard that could be something serious but maybe it isn't. And the glove compartment door falls off if you open it. I've always been an old-car guy, well remember I used to play music for a living, so I had an old-car budget. I used to drive old Ramblers, which you could buy back then for a couple hundred dollars or less. I remember one time a guy in a new Jaguar asked me to give him a push with my Rambler, you better believe I was smirking through that one. These new cars are all computers, a guy can't really go under the hood and fix things any more, and repairs are ridiculously expensive. So in a way it was heartwarming for me to see the old car pull through.

This wasn't an eventful trip, it was a getaway. We did a lot of sitting around and a lot of driving around. We watched these crazy guys in kayaks go over some waterfalls again and again. We hiked some trails and saw deer and groundhogs and chipmunks. No bears, everybody talks about the bears but we didn't see any sign of them. We chatted with people in the restaurants and stores. We drove down side roads and discovered beautiful scenery, indescribable timeless pastoral scenes where people with Pennsylvania-Dutch names have their barns and cattle and ponds and crops, indescribable wild rivers and mountainsides and forests of hemlock and white pine and hardwoods. It was Memorial Day weekend, and of course there were lots of people there, but that lake is so big, I figure it must have thousands of miles of shoreline because of the way it's shaped, with little fingers of water stretching into the landscape everywhere, and so no place was crowded. People revved their mega-horsepower motors on their boats and stirred up big wakes in the open water, but back along the woods it was quiet as could be.

The motorcycles were out, I'll tell you the highways were full of them. Of course this is Rolling Thunder weekend, and you could tell, we'd pass big groups of bikers, some with POW-MIA flags on the lead bike. I don't like loud noises but I love the sound of a whole bunch of Harleys riding past. I see The Post doesn't want to say how many rode to the Vietnam Memorial and the White House, but FoxNews says there were 350,000 of them. I think it is important and worthwhile, especially on this weekend, to call attention back to the thousands of American servicemen and women who have gone missing in war and who have given their lives for their country, and I think a few hundred thousand Harley Davidsons is just the way to do it.

Oh, and the troopers were out, too, especially on the way home today. Luckily there isn't much danger of our old car breaking the speed limit by much, but there were lots of people pulled over.

I feel a little funny blogging about something as uneventful as my family's trip to the lake. Now that the vacation weekend is over, things will get back to normal and we'll fight about the same old things some more.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shower-Nuts Repeat Their Lines In Colorado

Out in Colorado the legislature has just passed a new law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and they're waiting for the governor to sign it. In the meantime, you might remember that Focus on the Family is in that state. They're the ones that are so big they have to have their own zipcode in Colorado Springs. They produced a radio ad, trying to fight this bill, and it is fascinating to see that they would try to use the strategy that our local shower-nuts used to get people to sign their petitions.

Listen to it here:

Here's the transcript of this ad:
Kid's voice: "Mom..."

Announcer: If the Colorado legislature has its way...

Kid: "A man in a dress came into the girl's restroom at school today."

Announcer: We could all be dealing with a new type of predator.

Concerned mom's voice: "Honey, there was a man in the women's showers at the gym today, and the management said it was, it was Colorado law."

Announcer: And instead of our kids worrying about class work, they'll be worrying about who might be in the restroom with them.

Kid: "No way I'm going in there (school bell), I'd rather wait all day if a guy's in there."

Announcer: Our children must be protected from predators, but if Governor Ritter won't veto Senate Bill 200, all public restrooms, including those in our public schools, will be open to anyone of any sex. Colorado's Democrat-controlled legislature has already passed this bill, but Governor Ritter still has time to veto it. Call him now and ask him to protect our kids and veto SB 200. Call 303-866-2471. 303-866-2471.

Brought to by Focus on the Family Action and Colorado Family Action.

Love the way they mention the "Democrat-controlled legislature."

You should know that, just like in our county, the law doesn't say anything at all about the use of restrooms.

A local radio station out there got a quote from the governor's office:
Governor Ritter's Spokesman Evan Dreyer also gave us this statement:

"The intent of this particular anti-discrimination bill is to update existing laws and bring consistency across the board to a whole host of areas, including age, race, marital status, religion and sexual orientation. It appears Focus on the Family is misconstruing this bill and waging a campaign based on fear and that's disappointing. It seems to represent the politics of yesterday." Radio Ad Causes Anti-Discrimination Controversy

Imagine that, a Family Blah Blah group misconstruing something.

Anyway, it sounds like the governor's planning to sign it. You wonder why they're going to the trouble. Governor Ritter is not even up for re-election this year.

You also have to wonder, watching this, do they learn from each other, or is there some central talking-points-generator somewhere that sends them all the script? This is exactly the same thing the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever said here in Montgomery County, when they were trying to get up momentum against our gender identity nondiscrimination law. Word for word. So did our local yayhoos dream this up, and then the Colorado yayhoos saw that it worked and picked it up? Or did some policy committee in some Family Blah Blah office spend weeks in meetings trying to dream up the best way to insult gay and transgender people without actually, you know, saying anything. Like, in this article:
"We are not in favor of discrimination against homosexuals in public accommodations," says [Focus on the Family Action Judicial Analyst Bruce] Hausknecht. "We don't believe that people should be discriminated against in restaurants, hotels, trains on the basis of their sexual orientation."

There. You see how nice they are?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Weird Spin on Teen Sex Data

The Washington Post this morning, and every other newspaper in the country, had an article reporting on a re-analysis of some data, showing that teens who practice abstinence do not -- repeat, do not -- use oral sex a way to preserve their "technical virginity."

Interesting ...
Contrary to widespread belief, teenagers do not appear to commonly engage in oral sex as a way to preserve their virginity, according to the first study to examine the question nationally.

The analysis of a federal survey of more than 2,200 males and females aged 15 to 19, released yesterday, found that more than half reported having had oral sex. But those who described themselves as virgins were far less likely to say they had tried it than those who had had intercourse.

"There's a popular perception that teens are engaging in serial oral sex as a strategy to avoid vaginal intercourse," said Rachel Jones of the Guttmacher Institute, a private, nonprofit research organization based in New York, who helped do the study. "Our research suggests that's a misperception."

Instead, the study found that teens tend to become sexually active in many ways at about the same time. For example, although only one in four teenage virgins had engaged in oral sex, within six months after their first intercourse more than four out of five adolescents reported having oral sex. A Debunking on Teenagers and 'Technical Virginity'

This is weird. Let me rephrase part of what they just said:
One teenaged virgin in four has practiced oral sex.

The subtitle of this Post article is "Researchers Find That Oral Sex Isn't Commonplace Among Young People Who Avoid Intercourse."

It seems like there is a question about what "commonplace" means.

Here, let's look at the American Bible Society's population data, just to keep it interesting. Extrapolating from known data, they estimated that in 2006 there were 34.6 million teenagers in the US. Say half of them have had sex, we hear that number sometimes. That leaves 17.3 million virgins in the country. A fourth of them have practiced oral sex. That's a little more than 4.3 million virgin teenagers who have had oral sex.

Is a behavior practiced by 4.3 million teenagers "commonplace," or not? I guess I would say yes, that is commonplace. If 4.3 million teenagers bought the same CD it would be Number One. But the newspapers all agree that it's not.

Let me point out that we actually hear that half of teenagers have had sex by the time they graduate from high school. If you consider the number of teens who have not reached that age yet, you see that the 4.3 million actually underestimates the number of teenage virgins. I'm just figuring with ballpark estimates here, of course, and not going back to the original study. The fact is, a big bunch of teenage virgins practice oral sex, more than 4.3 million.

Now, if does appear to be a fact that once a teen has gone all the way they will try other things as well. That fact though is irrelevant to the question at hand, whether those who claim to be virgins are having oral sex in order to maintain their "technical virginity." And these data do show that millions of teens are doing that, having oral and not vaginal sex.

Here's how the spin works:
Proponents of sex-education programs that focus on abstinence said the findings debunked the criticism that the approach was inadvertently prompting more teens to have oral sex, which still carries the risk of sexually transmitted disease, in order to preserve their virginity.

"This study . . . invalidates the suggestion that 'technical virgins' account for the rise in oral and anal sex," said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. "Sexually experienced teens were almost four times more likely to engage in oral sex and 20 times more likely to engage in anal sex than their peers who were virgins."

If anything, the findings support the need to encourage more teens to delay sexual activity of all kinds, she said.

OK, I'll buy it, the "technical virgins" do not account for the rise in oral and anal (I suppose, no data given here) sex; more non-virgins do those things than virgins.

But that wasn't the question, the headlines aren't about what accounts for the rise in oral sex in teens. The headlines are saying that teens do not practice oral sex to remain virgins -- and millions of them do.

Gay Gangs Plan To Harass Christian Grandmothers

You know that here in Montgomery County, Maryland, there is a bit of a controversy over a new law that prevents discrimination on the basis of gender identity. It's a pretty standard law, lots of places have this sort of thing, but a certain small group of people in our community decided it violated their moral standards or something, and they have worked hard to bring back the right to discriminate against transgender people. Besides several publicity stunts that mostly backfired, they put a lot of effort into getting petition signatures for a referendum to repeal the law.

Gathering the signatures, they would stand outside grocery stores and other public places and tell people just about anything. They said the law would let perverted men lurk in ladies locker-rooms. They said that cross-dressers would expose their genitals to children. Predators would have access to women's bathrooms and shower-rooms and there would be nothing you could do about it. We heard them say these things, even the President of the County Council that passed the law got into an argument with one of them, who was trying to tell him what was in it.

On a couple of weekends, a small group of us went around to where they were gathering petition signatures. Sometimes we would talk to store managers and explain what was going on. Sometimes we'd stand there and explain the facts to people who had just been told something fictional. Generally this worked. People understood that the law was being misrepresented, they understood what the issue was, and when they understood they realized they did not want to sign. Of course they're against perverted predators in the ladies room, but they are in favor of equal rights for transgender people, and that is what the law is about.

Some members of our group were transgender, and so the other side tried to portray us as "transgender gangs" harassing their poor signature gatherers. Maybe it's me, but I get a kick out of the idea of transgender gangs. The images that are called to mind ... whatever, there is potential humor in it, let's say.

Now up in Maine it looks like they're going through a similar thing. The Christian Civic League up there has decided they're going to get petition signatures to recall the state's gay-rights law in the November 2009 election. Here's the Morning Sentinel:
The proposal, which could appear on the ballot in November 2009, would lift the state's ban against discrimination based on sexual orientation and prevent unmarried couples from adopting children. It also would eliminate funding for the civil rights teams that the state sends into Maine schools, prevent the state from recognizing civil unions and prohibit city and town clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The state already has a law on the books that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Group takes aim at safeguards for gays

So the nuts are declaring all-out war on gay folks up there in that state. The group is planning to collect signatures at polling places during the Maine June 10th primary elections. And so the battle shapes up.

Skipping ...
[Betsy Smith of Equality Maine, the state's leading advocacy group for gays and lesbians, ] said the referendum is about "taking away (other) protections" that already exist. Hoping to discourage voters from signing the petitions, Equality Maine plans to send volunteers to the polls on June 10 to talk to voters. Heath refers to that as a "petition-blocking operation."

Smith says her group's "truth squads" will assure that voters are fully informed. Smith said her group sent a few volunteers to a few polling places during an anti gay-rights petition drive in 2005, but "our goal is to make this a broader effort -- more people, more polls."

So one person is standing there trying to get signatures while someone else is explaining to people why they shouldn't sign. Signers can hear both arguments and decide if they really want to sign or not.

"Truth squads," I don't know, is that a little too much? Ah, I guess I like it: truth squads.

You will be shocked to know that the fine folks at World Net Daily don't like this.
In a report in the New England Blade this week, Betsy Smith, executive director of the Equality Maine activist organization, outlined "a plan that asks volunteers to stand with the people the [Christian Civic] League recruits to collect signatures for the petition."

"I think it is disgusting that so-called 'gay' groups plan on harassing dear Christian grandmothers who simply want to gather signatures on Primary Election Day. Shame on Equality Maine," said Michael Heath, chief of the CCL.

"They need to call off this totalitarian campaign of intimidation and apologize. Yesterday wouldn't be soon enough," he said in a statement today. Transgender lobby to intimidate petitioners: Targeting supporters of pro-family referendum

They still can't even use the word "gay" without the preface "so-called" and quotes around it.

And can you see any way that this referendum is even vaguely "pro-family?"

In the New England Blade, the leader of Equality Maine added something interesting.
But Smith outlined for the Blade on Wednesday a plan that asks volunteers to stand with the people the League recruits to collect signatures for the petition. This way, said Smith, signers will not misinterpret the petition’s purpose and understand before they sign that the so-caled “equality” the League wants is really equality for straight couples, not equality for all. A complete copy of the legislation must be made available to anyone from whom the League solicits a signature.

“There is a belief in Maine that people have the right to vote on things. That’s why we’re not running a decline-to-sign campaign,” said Smith. “At the same time, we will offer a pledge for equality, so that people who are opposed to this can take action that day.”

Her group has also encouraged members to write letters to the editor criticizing the measure. Dozens of such letters have appeared in the state’s major daily papers, all of which have written editorials against the initiative. Anti-Gay Maine Referendum Language Certified: EqualityMaine Plans Voter-Education Efforts

In our county, the idea was to ask people to "decline to sign." You can stop a referendum at two main points. If they can't get enough signatures, the referendum dies. But if they do and the referendum goes to a vote, the voters can reject it. It seems that it is a lot cheaper and easier to keep it off the ballot in the first place. For instance, in our county, if the relegalization of discrimination is put on the ballot, somebody will have to launch a major educational campaign to teach the public about gender identity. What is a transgender person, and why are they like that? Are they dangerous? Are they weird? Most people don't know anything about it, and so for our law to come to a vote it will be necessary to spend a lot of money and effort making sure the voters are qualified to address such a question.

At this moment, lawyers in our county are preparing the case for a court date in June. Thousands of signatures on the Montgomery County petitions had problems and should have been invalidated, and there is a lawsuit to throw them out. If that argument prevails, there will be no referendum in MoCo this year.

In Maine, even though the majority of citizens clearly support gay rights, these nutty people have muddied the water with their struggle for "equal rights" for straight couples only, they're going to start up the same thing we saw here. And people who support gay rights are going to do what we did, stand out there with them and tell people what the petition is really about. I mean, gay gangs will be harassing Christian grandmothers, that's the ticket.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Einstein Latino Parents in the Sentinel

Man, it is wet out there this morning! I heard something about flooding on the news last night, hope everybody's safe as they read the blogs this morning.

You know started from some comments on the Albert Einstein High School listserve. Of course we have spread out from there, but Einstein really is highly represented in our core group, you might say, even still, it's sort of our home school. So we are particularly interested in watching the developments following an incident last month where a gun went off in the boys' room there. There was a lot of negative publicity, but the school administration reacted almost perfectly, parents were all-in-all pleased with the way the situation was handled, and most interestingly the Latino community at that school has come together in an inspirational way to take responsibility for making Einstein a safe school and something to be proud of.

The other day I mentioned that only The Gazette had covered this positive story, but somebody sent me a link to The Sentinel's article on the topic, and it's very good too. The Sentinel is a small local newspaper that has had mostly-consistently-good coverage of issues we have been involved in (I say "mostly" because there was one weird story that appeared to have been written by a relative of the CRC or something). I knew they had a reporter at the march at Einstein last week, but had not seen the story. Sometimes they hide their content behind a firewall online, so we miss a good story unless somebody sends it to us -- their story about the Einstein situation is accessible to the public. Here's how it starts.
On Friday evening, Latino parents chanted, "padres unidos, jamas seran vencidos," a Spanish phrase meaning "united parents, they will not be conquered." The parents marched from Newport Mill Middle School to Albert Einstein High School in support of the high school, administration and the community following a gun incident on April 9.

"I want others to know that the Latino parents are worried too," said Gloria Gavidia, member of the Latino parents committee, in Spanish. Gavidia has a daughter in the ninth grade at Einstein.

Rosa Sanchez, another member of the Latino parents committee, also has a daughter in the ninth grade and said that with this march and the meetings, she hopes for others to become more educated about the school and issues in the area. She also wants other parents to know what they can do for the school. Einstein parents march to support school

There used to be a blog here in Montgomery County that was focused on a single topic: its whole reason for existing was to spread bad news about Hispanic immigrants in our community. Every time somebody with a Spanish surname got arrested for something or did anything wrong, they'd put it on their blog and make a big point about the undesirable people moving to our area from Central and South America. They complained about the day laborers and every other thing they could find. A guy named Lopez spits on the sidewalk, they'd have a picture of it and gross details. It was stupid, and I'm glad to say that blog has finally just gone away. There is certainly a segment of our population that is reluctant to accept these newcomers; maybe it's because I grew up in a region of the US that was originally part of Mexico, where the gringos were the newcomers, but I just don't see what the big threat is, neighbors who speak Spanish.

Having been in foreign countries, I imagine it is not easy to suddenly have to conduct your business in a new language, learn new customs, find out where things are and how you do different everyday things. If I moved to a foreign country I am sure I would search out other Americans and hang out with them, even if I wouldn't be their friend here in the USA I would be glad to hear a familiar voice, and the locals would see us as clustering together, clinging to our old ways, they might see us as outsiders, a threat to their traditional way of life.

These Einstein parents are making a conscious display of not doing that. They are saying that they want to integrate with the community, they want responsibility, they want to make a good life for themselves and their neighbors. It's too bad that some kids had some guns at the high school and that one went off, it's good nobody was hurt, and it is inspiring to see how these Einstein families are coming together to make the best of it.

Some more ... a familiar name or two tucked in here:
The Latino parents committee was informally organized after a community meeting was held at Einstein following an incident where students brought guns to school for sale and a gun was accidentally discharged in the boys' bathroom on April 9. Students were arrested following a code-red lock down prompted by a gun shot in the second floor boys' bathroom. Police confiscated three loaded handguns following the arrest.

But, it wasn't just Latino parents that showed up to the march. Maddie Grewell, a junior, said, "I'm here because I think the media did a really bad job covering it [the gun incident at Einstein]." Grewell's mother, Chris, learned about the march from the school list-serve and said, "It's a great idea to support the school."

Mariana Davis, a longtime resident in Montgomery County, has three children that have graduated from Einstein and one that is currently a senior at the school. At the community meeting following the April 9 gun incident, some parents recommended the use of metal detectors to verify that none of the students were carrying weapons of any sort. Davis said she believes that those parents were merely panicked.

I am skipping through this informative article a little bit -- follow the link to see what I've left out.
At an informational meeting following the march, parents and community members were provided with hand-held translators that translated both from Spanish to English and English to Spanish. "It's the first and not the last [meetings]," said Patricia Lazeras, a member of the Latino parents committee.

Parents asked questions ranging from security at the school to ways to become informed about school activities. In terms of security, Principal James Fernandez said, "I don't want students to feel afraid of us." Fernandez explained to parents that he wants students to feel comfortable to speak to security but also stressed the idea that parents need to be involved in their children's lives.

Gloria Rivera said, "I get embarrassed that there are 44 percent Hispanics but where are they?" Rivera encouraged parents to be active in the school and not to feel ashamed to ask questions. Fernandez reminded parents that there is Spanish-speaking faculty available on campus for anybody that does not feel comfortable speaking English.

In Spanish Maryland House Delegate for District 18 Ana Sol Gutierrez (D) said, "I'm not from the government. I am first and foremost Salvadoran ... It's been almost, maybe eight years, in this school that there was the most active Latino PTA. Here they won awards ... here we demonstrated what can happen when Latino parents get together." She encouraged the group to continue to meet and to continue to talk to their peers.

"I think it's fabulous. My hat is off to all of the parents ... this is what has to happen. You can't do this by yourself," said County Council member Valerie Ervin.

Meetings in Spanish have been held nearly every Friday since April 9. The next Spanish meeting is this Friday at 7 p.m. but will not be as elaborate or extensive as the meeting on May 9.

It's cool to see the people picking up the ball here, dealing with a situation directly. They're not asking the government or even the school administration to solve their problems for them, they're saying they want to solve their own problems. And I can't see a downside to that one.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Gazette on Einstein Positivity

We talked about the demonstration and meeting of Hispanic parents last week at Albert Einstein High School after some negative publicity was generated following a gun incident, and I thought it would be nice to link you to today's Gazette article on the topic. The reporter went to some trouble, interviewed a number of people (including me, but they didn't quote me), they give more background than I could.
A gun incident at Albert Einstein High School last month is spurring the school’s Latino community into action.

A group of Latino parents has been meeting weekly to address the issues of gangs, race and academic achievement since an April 9 incident involving several Latino students resulted in a police lockdown after a gun was fired in a school bathroom. On Friday night, the group held a march prior to a planned community meeting with Einstein Principal James Fernandez and state and county lawmakers.

‘‘We need to be part of the solution, not just waiting around for them to tell us what the solution is. We have to act as a community,” said Alex Colina, an organizer of the parent group ‘‘El Comite Latino.”

About 80 mostly Latino parents marched along Newport Road from Newport Mill Middle School to nearby by Einstein carrying signs written in Spanish that translate to English as: ‘‘Safe Schools Now” and ‘‘Parents involved in education = sons with success.”

‘‘It could be very easy to isolate ourselves back into our own community after something like [the gun incident],” said Ray Moreno of Silver Spring. ‘‘We have questions. How can we be more involved? We want to play a bigger role in our kid’s lives at school.” Latino parents unite after Einstein incident

This is an interesting, positive development. It's a nice story of Hispanic families, including recent immigrants, trying to get more involved in the community around them, participating in the processes, they want to be responsible for making things better.

All the TV stations had trucks outside the school when a gun went off in the boys' room, there were anxious references to gangs and those Spanish surnames were thrown right out there with all the negative stereotypes they could imply. As far as I can tell, only The Gazette carried this story of the families of Einstein coming together to make their life in the United States a good one.

The rest of this story is good, follow the link. Let's watch what happens here.

One Thing On Their Mind

Yesterday there was an election in Montgomery County's District Four for the County Council position vacated by the death of Marilyn Praisner. The choice was between her widower, Don Praisner, and Mark Fennel, who has run for the Council previously. The Citizens for a Responsible Whatever sent out a rather frantic email yesterday, telling people to vote for the anti-gay candidate. They had sent a questionnaire to the candidates, which was only returned by Fennel, and you may find it interesting to see how they think: they have one thing on their mind. They sent this out twice, the first one had the wrong date on it.
STILL MAD that the Council unanimously voted to pass the Gender Identity law without any exemption for areas of shared nudity ?

The first election for a County Council seat since the Council ignored the thousands of emails and phone calls from you is today Tuesday May 13th. The election is to fill the seat vacated by Marilyn Praisner's death. ONLY District 4 residents may vote in the Special Election. District 4 is the east portion of the county extending from slightly east of Rockville to Burtonsville (District maps here).

Mark Fennel and Don Praisner are running for the District 4 seat. We sent the candidates a questionnaire. Mr. Fennel's responses are below. Mr. Praisner did not answer repeated requests for his position on the law his late wife voted to pass.

Only 1900 Republicans and 7600 Democrats voted in the primary for the Special Election out of 83,000 registered voters.

Want to make sure that there is a voice of reason for family values and hello - COMMON SENSE - on the council ? Get on the phone and call five people you know who live in District 4. Ask them to call five people. This vote will be determined by turnout. If you want to send a message, GET TO THE POLLS AND VOTE !

"The law his late wife voted to pass" is the one that prevents discrimination against transgender people. Apparently, the CRW believes that people should select their county council members based on that one thing -- they want everybody to vote for the candidate who supports discrimination.

Just for fun, I'm going to paste their whole questionnaire in here, with Mark Fennel's responses. I'll bold his responses, they're red in this email.
Candidate's Name: Mark D. Fennel

1. Bill 23-07 is scheduled to be placed on the November ballot. At that time, will you vote to repeal it? Yes

2. Do you believe that biological males who retain male genitals, but who present or perceive themselves as females, should be allowed in public locker rooms where women are changing? NO

3. Do you believe that a health club, which maintains male/female locker rooms, should face stiff legal fees or fines if it does not allow persons who retain male genitals into female locker rooms? NO

4. Do you believe that a young woman advertising for a roommate should be legally forced to share living space with a transgender or cross dresser? Assume that the young woman did not know that she was interviewing a transgender or cross dresser, but finds out only after the person moves in. NO

5. Do you believe a church should be forced to hire a cross dressing male to be the church receptionist, against the churche's wishes? Assume that the cross-dresser is otherwise qualified for the job. NO

6. Do you believe that a cross-dressing male (who comes in as Mr. Smith one day and Mrs. Smith the next) should be allowed to teach a class of kindergartners at a public school? NO

7. If you answered "NO" to question 1, but "YES" to questions 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6, please explain. Bill 23-07 has no exceptions or provisions for these scenarios. N/A

Questions 8, 9 and 10 are in reference to the county's new public accommodations code, after Bill 23-07 additions. The public accommodation code document is attached. Please note that, amongst other things, it states:

"An ..agent..of any place of public accommodation in the County must not, with respect to the accommodation: ..make any distinction with respect to ..gender identity in connection with.. use of any facility .." (27-11). You may wish to go to our website,, and review the "bathrooms" section.

Full new county code on public accomodations. [This is a link but it doesn't work]

8. Per your understanding of the public accommodations code, please define "facilities."

"Facilities" is a sweeping term subject to broad interpretation. I believe facilities are defined as bathrooms, lockers or showers.

9. Do you believe Bill 23-07 covers "facilities" at public accommodations? YES

10. (a) The County Council's attorney has repeatedly stated that "operators of those facilities can continue to determine who can use them". However, Bill 23-07 includes the language above (27-11). Also, the bill allows the Human Rights Commission to levy fines against those same operators if it is determined that they have exhibited discrimination or harassment against those with gender identity issues. Do you believe that the law, as written, substantiates the county attorney's statement? NO

(b) If you answered "YES" to question number 10(a) then please point to where in County law that statement is substantiated: N/A

From questions 2 and 3, it sounds like the CRW wants a new law, saying who can go into what bathroom. As it is, a person who exposes themselves lewdly in a public shower-room or restroom would be charged with a crime, no matter which set of genitalia they display. Same for a person who goes into a place like that and looks at people changing or undressing. Exhibitionism and voyeurism are already against the law for everybody, including transgender people.

The rest of these, I just don't get. What would be wrong with a cross-dresser teaching kindergartners? Their parents dress them, right? I mean, you're talking about five year old kids, what do they think is going to happen? And -- have you ever heard of a cross-dressing kindergarten teacher? And what if churches were required not to discriminate in hiring -- what, really, is the problem there? It seems to me these guys are worked up over some situations that are pretty unlikely.

Whatever, they take this stuff seriously, and so we have to oppose them seriously. Imagine voting for a candidate purely because they favor discrimination.

I should note, the election was yesterday, this morning's Washington Post notes that Praisner won the election with 66 percent of the vote. The CRW's candidate got exactly half as many votes as the other guy.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

David Fishback on NewsChannel 8: Transcript

A couple of weeks ago, you might remember, we were talking HERE about the bizarre story on Channel Seven News, Greta Kreuz talking about whether gay people can change, and telling about a new book saying they can. The Channel 7 story made it sound like there's a real controversy, that maybe gay people can become straight. That channel, and particularly that reporter, has been especially willing to promote certain unsupported viewpoints regarding sexual orientation.

After my first complaint, David Fishback wrote a guest post HERE where he went into the matter in more detail. He has more patience than I do, and he rebutted the various statements that were made in the news show. Subsequently he was invited to appear on NewsChannel 8's show called News Talk, with Bruce DePuyt. A guy from Exodus International was also invited, he participated over the phone. Exodus is an organization that promotes the idea that homosexual people can and should learn to be heterosexual. The ten-minute segment aired on Wednesday, May 7th. Channels 7 and 8 are owned by the same company. For some reason, you watch them on Comcast channels 27 and 28, I don't know why you'd want to be called "Channel X" but people watch you on channel Y.

DePuyt introduced the segment by nothing that earlier in the week the American Psychiatric Association had canceled a planned panel at their convention in Washington, D.C., that would have discussed issues surrounding sexual orientation (discussed on this blog HERE). Here is the transcript of the interview from there:
Bruce DePuyt (BD): Organizers say they pulled the plug when one of their participants backed out. Others say it was pressure from gay activists. In a moment, we’ll talk about whether gays and lesbians are born with same sex attractions and whether someone can be, quote, cured of homosexuality.

But first, our Greta Kreuz. [The earlier news report that had been aired on News Channel 8’s sister station, WJLA, can be seen HERE.]

Bruce DePuyt (BD): Joining us now live in the studio is David Fishback of the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG -- Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Good to see you again. With us by phone is Randy Thomas of Exodus International. Thank you for your time today.

Randy Thomas (RT): Thank you.

BD: Your reaction, Mr. Thomas, to the cancellation of the conference.

RT: Well, you know, the APA’s decision conveys that they would rather shut us up than to reach out. Any time you allow one party to dictate the terms of dialogue, you abandon equality. Where does this decision leave people of faith? It leaves us out in the cold. We do have a valid testimony , we do have valid viewpoints that should be considered.

BD: Mr. Fishback, do you agree that , in general, you know, that people will have differences? But at least at a conference, at least people are talking. Maybe past each other, but they are talking. Do you regret that the conference was cancelled?

David Fishback (DF): Well, the problem, I think, is in terms of who the representative of the ex-gay group was. Professor Throckmorton has taken many positions over the years that have been absolutely at odds with the positions of every single mainstream American medical and mental health association including that of the American Medical Association, which has concluded that these conversion therapies are dangerous and should not be engaged in. So when you’re talking about….

BD: But what does he advocate?

DF: I know a number of years ago, when I was looking at this very closely for the Montgomery County Public Schools, his view was that, well, as long as somebody has an explanation as to why they are gay – frankly, whether it’s correct or not – that gives them some comfort that there is somebody to blame. Well, that approach is fundamentally destructive of families The medical community, the scientific community has concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice, Simply because the science has not been able to pin down the precise etiology of what causes sexual orientation does not mean that the scientific community is incorrect when they say that, one, it’s not a choice, and, two, it’s not something that’s caused, as the American Academy of Pediatrics has said, it’s not something caused by abnormal parenting or abusive relationships. And that’s the key thing here.

I suspect, but I don’t know, what the APA may have been concerned about was whether Dr. Throckmorton now accepts the science and his viewpoint is, “Well , that if people have theological viewpoints, they have to find ways to live happy lives being celibate,” that would be a legitimate discussion. But if the question is, well, can people really change, all the scientific evidence is that people can’t and it is cruel to tell people they can.

BD: Mr. Thomas, are you at all sympathetic to the view that much of the rhetoric we hear. Now you’re telling an entire class of people that they are essentially invalid?..

RT: Well, what I’m here to say is that 16 years ago I decided not to identify as a gay man and to seek change and I was met with answers that I was [unintelligible] to my life. And Exodus has had a 70% growth rate in five years The demand for our viewpoint is out there and people are wanting something other than the politically correct doctrine that most of these organizations are espousing. Because the truth is that change happens incrementally. For some people it doesn’t happen. For other people it does. For me, it has. And so the APA to completely ignore that reality that there is incremental change for people of faith is to ignore the reality that this issue is a lot broader, a lot more complicated than what the activists are presenting.

BD: Mr. Thomas, let me ask you this: And let’s see if we can get both of you to find any middle ground at all. Is it possible, Mr. Thomas, that some people with same sex attractions would like not to have it and so that this therapy is the way to go and living a heterosexual life is the preferred way, but that some gays and lesbians are very happy as they are and there shouldn’t be a suggestion that all gays need curing

RT: Well, we never suggested that all gays need to be cured. That’s not one of our talking points. That’s our opponent’s talking point. We respect the right to self-determination and that is what the APA is supposed to be about: That people can look at arguments from both sides, they can look at the testimonies of people who identify as gay and have long term relationships and they can look at my testimony and the testimony of thousands of others like me . And they can make the decision for themselves. I would completely agree that no one should feel shame or condemnation for their same sex attraction. I speak out against that as much as I do about how change is possible. That’s my way of grace. I do not agree that there is only one option for people with same sex attractions.

BD: Mr. Fishback, do you think that gays need to be more tolerant of folks who’ve adopted the path of Mr. Thomas and others.

DF: I think people should always be sympathetic to people who hold strong theological viewpoints that impact how they would like to live their lives. But what Mr. Thomas ignores is the fact that the American Medical Association, not some interest group, the American Medical Association has explicitly condemned conversion therapies that are based on the proposition that people should or ought to change their sexual orientation. Why….

RT: And they are yet another professional organization that has been taken over by gay activists.

DF: So the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association -- basically, what Mr. Thomas is saying is that all the respected medical groups in this country have been taken over by some kind of cabal without any basis in science, without any basis in fact. And that the only people who are right are the people with a particular theological agenda. I may wish to be……

RT: That’s not the truth. The APA is ignoring people like myself and they need to quit it.

DF: I may wish to be six feet tall, but nothing I can do can make me six feet tall.

BD: David Fishback, Randy Thomas, thank you very much for your time. Unfortunately, we will have to leave the debate there for now We thank both of you for coming in.

I've talked about this before, but the point is an important one. Thomas says "We respect the right to self-determination," and that sounds wonderful -- but there is no right to self-determination for some things. You don't pick your race, your facial features, your birthday, your eye-color, your sexual orientation, your parents. The idea that you have some kind of right to self-determine your biological characteristics is just crazy. But the sentence appears to give no grounds for argument. Everybody respects the right to self-determination for things that we can self-determine -- education, profession, choice of friends, things that we really do have a choice in, this is what we Americans call "freedom." But self-determination does not apply to sexual orientation and that is the whole point. If there was self-determination of sexual orientation, then there would not be any reason to talk about this, the scientists would agree with the religious guys and that would be that. But the fact is, the argument simply doesn't apply, and the statement is nonsense. And groups like Exodus International believe their nonsense should be considered as an equal counterweight to the considered consensus of physicians, researchers, and scientists.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Parents Demonstrate at Einstein

A crowd of about a hundred people, mostly Latino parents, showed support for Albert Einstein High School in Kensington yesterday, supporting the teachers and administration, and making a statement that despite the gun incident that happened there recently Einstein is a good and safe place to send your kids.

My daughter went to Albert Einstein High School. She was in the Visual Arts Center, which is a great magnet program, four years of intensive training in drawing and painting, color theory, composition, and all that. Einstein is also a performance arts magnet, with an advanced theater program. It's a downcounty school and it draws a very diverse student body. It's not a fancy school, listen this is Wheaton, not Potomac, it's working people's kids mainly, and it always seemed to me like a cool place. My daughter was safe there, she had friends of every type, she learned to accept and know all kinds of people, and she got a terrific education.

A month or so ago there was a stupid situation where a kid brought some guns to school and one of them went off in the boy's bathroom. Shot a hole in the wall. Turned out he was going to try to sell some guns to another kid, well, this is stupid stuff. Stories are not clear, maybe there had been a big fight the week before, maybe there was a gang involved, whatever, it was teenage kids being dumb and somebody could've been hurt but no one was.

Well, don't you know the TV news people love this. Some of the kids had Hispanic names, so right away they were talking about MS-13 and evoking the image of Spanish-speaking gangs. And poor Einstein, right in the middle of it, their name getting smeared all over the place, the television-crew trucks' antennas sticking up, up and down the street, news reporters wandering around interviewing people.

One part of the news story was that the school administration might not have handled it well. There was a problem, in that the gun went off at about eleven-thirty, and the principal wasn't told until after one o'clock. As I understand it, some people heard the bang, but nobody really knew what had happened. Security guys had to find a custodian to confirm that the hole in the wall hadn't been there earlier in the morning, and the cops didn't declare it a gunshot until the afternoon. Anyway, the principal, Jim Fernandez, immediately issued an order that if this happens again it doesn't matter if he's in a meeting or what, he needs to know.

As soon as the police confirmed it was a gunshot he put the school under lockdown, and pretty quickly they found the kids that were responsible -- the school video cameras had very clear pictures of the guys going into the bathroom. Which is good, because for a while the rumor was that they were going to search every locker and every kid, and that would have kept everybody locked up there late into the night. Besides, I don't think you want to search a whole high school full of kids, you might not like what you found.

The parents at the school were generally happy with the way the school handled the situation. Phone-message updates were sent out during the day, and parents posted news to the Yahoo group, the problem was identified, the bad guys were arrested, order was restored promptly. There was a big meeting, as I understand it several hundred parents came to it, and the atmosphere was positive and supportive. But there was one parent who stood around in the back and made negative comments, and after that a number of reporters went and talked to him, and naturally that was what made the news, the "divided community." Gangs, hoodlums, juvenile deliquents at Albert Einstein High School. Dangerous young Hispanic criminals shooting guns. Great. Just what a cool school like Einstein needs.

Last night this crowd of parents, in particular Hispanic parents who wanted to show their support for the school and their intention to raise their kids right, carried signs and chanted in Spanish and English as they marched down the street and up to the school. The demonstration started a little before 7:00, and was followed by a meeting conducted in Spanish at the school. Here's the Gazette on the day before:
Latino parents are planning to march on Albert Einstein High Friday in support of the school's principal and to demonstrate their resolve to find solutions to the issues of ''gangs, race and academic achievement" at the Kensington school.

Alex Colina of Wheaton, whose son will attend Einstein in the fall, said the event will be the start of a new partnership between parents and the school.

''Parents want to show that they want to work with the school," he said Tuesday. ''We're not asking the school to fix the problems, but help us find ways to deal with...gangs and everything related to that violence, race relations and the academic achievement gap. They want to see what it is that Latino parents can do to address that."

The march will begin around 6:15 p.m. Friday at Newport Mill Middle School, 11311 Newport Mill Road, and head toward the high school at 11135 Newport Mill Road. A community meeting, held in Spanish, will follow at 7 p.m. at Einstein.

The idea for the march and meeting came about after several informal meetings of Latino Einstein parents. Colina said Latino parents have been meeting on Friday evenings since April 9, when students brought guns into school for sale.

Friday's events will come just days before Einstein students Jose Ramos, 16, Geovani Lazabara, 17, and Raul Garcia, 20, are scheduled for hearings next week in Montgomery County District Court on charges stemming from a gun incident at the school on April 9. Police have reported the suspects had some connection to gangs. Latino parents organize march on Einstein

I was a bit worried when I first arrived at the meeting place at 6:15, because there were like five reporters and three people there. You hate it when you hold an event and the press outnumbers the participants, especially when they're taking pictures. But people kept showing up, drifting in from parking places all over the neighborhood, and before you know it there was a really nice crowd.

You can tell I am in favor of this thing. Yes, I absolutely am. When this gun went off in the boys' room it stained Einstein High School and it was a stain on the Latino community, because people jumped to stereotypical conclusions. And these people wanted to make the point that they're not like what you see on TV, these are hard-working people with ambitions, who came -- or their parents or grandparents before them came -- to the United States for the opportunities it offers. They don't want to send their kids to a dangerous high school, and the people I talked with were uniform in their belief that Einstein is a safe and good school.

To me, this is what has to happen. Minorities need to organize themselves and take control of situations that affect them. The majority isn't going to give them a hand up, they have to give themselves a boost if they're going to get over the wall. They will have to identify their problems and find positive solutions to them. These Einstein parents see what they have to do, and they're doing it.

A man, I believe he is the same one who made the negative comments at the meeting mentioned above, commented on the Einstein Yahoo group. Speaking of this demonstration, he posted this message:
This meeting will not help at all and is a waste of time!!

So Alex Colina, one of the organizers of the rally and meeting, responded on the same message board. I'll include his entire response, because I think he's making a good point:
Mr Scott,

Time is indeed in short supply, specially amongst most of the Hispanic parents organizing this as many work two or three jobs.

You say this effort will not help us. Perhaps...we are very new to this, we recognize that we should have been at the table long ago, but we are here trying hard now. We could not think of any other place to start to address this issue than to get some basic facts from the administration in the language that 40% of our community (meaning yours and mine) speaks and to initiate some communication amongst parents of all races and cultures to find the solution.

But again, it sounds like you know (perhaps from experience) that this is not the correct approach. I would very much like to speak to you about your thoughts on what the correct approach should be. You mention you are a minority. If you are not Hispanic I am doubly interested in talking to you. Minorities are specially hard hit by the problems of youth violence, teen pregnancy, a growing achievement gap and a long litany of ills and while many agree that we need to work as one, one also has to recognize that we do have different perspectives on these issues.

Diversity is at the center of what makes our community rich and vibrant, and I mean not only diversity of race but of thought.

If you think that through conversation, you and I can help our communities find common ground to address the issues that affect us all please do not hesitate to contact me.

Alex Colina
[phone number deleted]
Einstein Latino Committee

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Serious Bad Controversy Here, Yessir

The American Library Association released its 2007 annual list of the most controversial books in the United States, based on complaints at schools and libraries. This was the second year in a row for this one.

You'd think it was something with, say, some sex and violence in it, wouldn't you? Something low, nasty, corrupt, dirty. Something debasing, perhaps, with an evil message.

No, it's a kids' book about a happy family of penguins.
NEW YORK - A children's story about a family of penguins with two fathers once again tops the list of library books the public objects to the most.

"And Tango Makes Three," released in 2005 and co-written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, was the most "challenged" book in public schools and libraries for the second straight year, according to the American Library Association.

"The complaints are that young children will believe that homosexuality is a lifestyle that is acceptable. The people complaining, of course, don't agree with that," Judith Krug, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The ALA defines a "challenge" as a "formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness." Penguin tale tops list of `challenged' books

This is one messed-up world we live in, he said, in his G-rated voice.

What kind of book is this? From, here is the School Library Journal review of the book:
PreSchool-Grade 3-This tale based on a true story about a charming penguin family living in New York City's Central Park Zoo will capture the hearts of penguin lovers everywhere. Roy and Silo, two male penguins, are "a little bit different." They cuddle and share a nest like the other penguin couples, and when all the others start hatching eggs, they want to be parents, too. Determined and hopeful, they bring an egg-shaped rock back to their nest and proceed to start caring for it. They have little luck, until a watchful zookeeper decides they deserve a chance at having their own family and gives them an egg in need of nurturing. The dedicated and enthusiastic fathers do a great job of hatching their funny and adorable daughter, and the three can still be seen at the zoo today. Done in soft watercolors, the illustrations set the tone for this uplifting story, and readers will find it hard to resist the penguins' comical expressions. The well-designed pages perfectly marry words and pictures, allowing readers to savor each illustration. An author's note provides more information about Roy, Silo, Tango, and other chinstrap penguins. This joyful story about the meaning of family is a must for any library. From School Library Journal

Charming ... true story ... capture the hearts ... joyful story ... uplifting ...

Read the ALA's press release HERE.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Fishback Addresses Channel Seven Presentation

David Fishback is the former chair of the MCPS Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Health and Human Development, he's on the board of Metro-DC PFLAG, and he has been a central character in's activities over the years. He has written up a reaction to Monday's story about "ex-gays" on Channel Seven. His post starts by quoting the entire online text of the report, and then discusses important aspects of it, better than when I said it was "unbelievably terrible" and "sickening." David's always good for a clear, reasonable analysis of a complicated situation.

Here is his text:

I think it useful to look at the entire text of the WJLA piece on its website HERE.

The idea that a person can change their sexual preference is beginning to become a major debate with gay activists because of an upcoming book, "The Born Gay Hoax".

Author Ryan Sorba was speaking at Smith College about his upcoming book, "The Born Gay Hoax," when gay protesters began taking over shouting, "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!" Soon Sorba was overrun and drowned out. Police finally arrived and advised Sorba to leave for his own safety. An example, some say, of how militant gay activists hijacked public debate on homosexuality.

"A person may not be happy being gay! I mean, has anyone ever thought of that," David exclaimed.

David, 34, said he would be afraid of being harassed by gays, if he were to be identified. He said he wanted "out of the gay life" that contradicted his faith and left him feeling empty, so he underwent so-called "reparative therapy". "I'm working on becoming more heterosexual," he said, "I believe that it is possible." "I believe feelings can change and I found feelings to change."

Scott Melendez, who is gay, said that he prayed to be straight, "No matter how much I believed that God would deliver me or make me straight, it never happened."

Melendez had a whole different view. He believed that people were born gay and that they should accept it. "I finally just realized that God loved me exactly the way I am and He didn't make a mistake."

In 1973, the mainstream scientific community declared homosexuality no longer a mental disorder and it warns now that trying to change a person's sexual preference could leave a person confused and depressed.

Scientists still don't know why a person is gay.

Dr. James Scully with the American Psychiatric Association said "There's actually been no definitive studies to decide what causes homosexuality."

So the debate rages on, with websites touting programs to help people go straight or at least to help them learn to control same-sex impulses. Yet there were no hard numbers on results and others blasted ex-gay methods as futile and ridiculous.

Wayne Besen with said, "It destroys people, it shatters families, it ruins lives, and it's being promoted by right-wing political groups."

With many struggling to reconcile feelings with their faith and absent hard science, many still maintain homosexuality is triggered by childhood abuse or poor relationships and people should be freed to choose which path to take.

"Homosexual activists are talking about personal choice, freedom and so forth, but they deny personal choice and freedom for those who wish to seek change," said Peter Sprigg with the organization, Parents and Families of Ex-Gays.

Gay activists applauded the cancellation of the American Psychiatric Association's workshop Monday. They called it a ploy by the religious right, but Dr. David Scasta who is a gay psychiatrist said he worked two years trying to setup the workshop. He just wanted to move beyond the shouting and bashing. He said he might try again next year.

The actual video may be viewed HERE. That version framed the issue as a conflict between "militant homosexuals" and those who wish to have calm discussion of the question of whether people can change their sexual orientation.

I have several observations:

1. The piece leads with something about one Ryan Sorba, who has written a book entitled The Born Gay Hoax. Given the scientific consensus that sexual orientation is not chosen, I was curious to find out Mr. Sorba's qualifications for attacking the scientific consensus. It took a little time, because his blog and other things on the web seem to avoid that. Finally, I found that he has a bachelor's degree in psychology by Cal State-San Bernadino. See HERE

Before leading with such an item, I would think that WJLA would want to inquire as to whether Mr. Sorba is a reputable scholar and researcher in the field, or just a right-wing ideologue. A Google search reveals that the latter is the case.

2. It is noteworthy that while WJLA contacted and quoted Peter Sprigg of PFOX (a shell organization if ever there was one), without mentioning that his principal affiliation is as Vice President of James Dobson's Family Research Council), but did not even bother to contact Metro DC PFLAG – a real organization representing actual people.

3. The piece does set forth "both sides" of the substantive dispute, but does so with only a peremptory nod to the scientific consensus, without even mentioning the recent American Psychological Association's publication Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth (READ HERE) which lays out the facts and details the dangers of so-called reparative or conversion therapies.

4. The most egregious portion of the WJLA report is the following statement: "With many struggling to reconcile feelings with their faith and absent hard science, many still maintain homosexuality is triggered by childhood abuse or poor relationships and people should be freed to choose which path to take."

But who are the "many [who] still maintain homosexuality" is so triggered? WJLA does not say. This viewpoint has been rejected outright by the scientific community for decades. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics, in its Guidance for Clinicians on Sexual Orientation and Adolescents, unequivocally states that "there is no scientific evidence that abnormal parenting, sexual abuse, or other adverse life events influence sexual orientation." READ HERE). No reputable scientific or medical researcher believes what WJLA says that "many still maintain." For WJLA to not so state in its report was irresponsible. The canard that bad parenting causes homosexuality has been used by theological ideologues to drive wedges between parents and children for too long to let the canard go unanswered. For WJLA to set forth the "many still maintain" statement without more was irresponsible.

5. I believe that the piece entirely misses the key question underlying the controversy: Why do some people want to change their sexual orientations in the face of the reality, confirmed by the mainstream scientific community, that people cannot will themselves to change their orientation?

Some conservative religious groups tell people that being gay is contrary to God's plan and that therefore they should try to change their sexual orientation. But this is where theology runs directly into mental health issues, since it is clear that real, purposeful change of sexual orientation is simply not possible.

I suspect, but do not know, that Dr. Scasta's intention was to have a discussion about whether and/or how gay people who wish to follow the theology of the particular religious communities into which they were born can find contentment in celibacy. On an earlier string on this blog, I asked Warren Throckmorton if his view was that gay people really could change and, if not, whether that meant they should be live-long celibates, giving up the joys of monogamous intimacy. He did not respond. I was disappointed that he did not respond, because a discussion of the intersection of theology and mental health is important. The problem, as Dr. Scasta may have discovered, is that many people have good reason to be suspicious of the agendas of the leaders of the "ex-gay" approach.

Is Professor Throckmorton approaching these sorts of discussions starting from a common ground of a scientific understanding of sexual orientation, or is his agenda still to assert – in the face of all the evidence to the contrary – that people cannot purposely change their orientation? If the latter, there is no point of having him on panels discussing mental health. Moreover, if the latter, then the appropriate place for him to speak would be in debates about the science regarding whether people can change their orientation – but given the scientific consensus on that point, such debates would be akin to debates about whether the Earth is round or flat. But even if this were an open question, Professor Throckmorton has done no peer reviewed research which would contribute to such a scientific discussion.

6. So WJLA's framing of its report with students at Smith College yelling at Mr. Sorba distracts from the real issues here. The visual may be good television entertainment, but it is deficient journalism.

David S. Fishback
Board Member, Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)