Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Live Homosexual Acts on College Campus

Maybe you heard the disturbing news already. Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, featured a demonstration of "Live Homosexual Acts" on campus, right out in the open. Students were shocked .. uh, no, just a minute, it says here students thought it was kind of funny.
On Friday, members of the Murray State Alliance performed live homosexual acts on campus in the Free Speech Zone. Many students were shocked, but not necessarily as the name the event implies.

Students performed acts such as reading, studying and hanging out to raise awareness about the lifestyle of gay members of the Murray State campus. 'Acts' shock students, bring awareness

Shocking indeed. Reading, studying, hanging out -- where everyone can see. You know what they're doing, right? They're trying to recruit our young people to join their lifestyle. Next thing you know, good decent college students will be reading, studying, and hanging out, all over the country. They must be stopped! It's worse than terrorism.

Skipping ...
Anthony Jones, senior from Union City, Tenn., and Murray State Alliance president, said he was happy with how Friday's event turned out.

"We had a fairly good amount of people that stopped and talked with us for a while," Jones said.

Jones said he thinks students came away with a very important message.

"Gay people are just as ordinary as anyone else out there," Jones said. "Gay and lesbian folk do the same thing as anyone else and I think (the event) illustrated that in a very clear way."

Jody Cofer, Murray State Alliance adviser, said he was pleased with Friday's turn-out and the student response generated by the event.

"I was noticing how some people would obviously look because the name caught their attention and they wanted to see what it was about," Cofer said. " … Some kind of grinned like they got it. They saw the point that was being made."

We have had nutty people right here in Montgomery County trying to get the schools to teach that "homosexual behavior" is dangerous. This is a perfect example of what is wrong with that whole concept. Gay people are just as ordinary as anyone else out there.

Racism Flares Up After the Election

This probably won't surprise you that much. It seems that having a black guy running for President and then winning may have ticked off a couple of racists. Well, it's just as good that they stand up and identify themselves, I guess, we knew they were out there. Here's the LA Times:
Reporting from Bogalusa, La. -- Barely three weeks since America elected its first black president, noose hangings, racist graffiti and death threats have struck dozens of towns across the country.

More than 200 such incidents -- including cross burnings, assassination betting pools and effigies of President-elect Barack Obama -- have been reported, according to law enforcement authorities and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.

Racist websites have been boasting that their servers have been crashing because of an exponential increase in traffic.

And America's most potent symbol of racial hatred, the Ku Klux Klan, is reasserting itself in a spate of recent violence, after decades of disorganization and obscurity. White extremists lash out over election of first black president

You saw at the end of the campaign how the social conservatives would say anything, Obama is a communist or socialist, he's a Muslim, he's going to take all our guns, he's in favor of abortion -- it was tricky though to figure out how to badmouth his race out loud. Oh, you had them saying he's not really black, he's Arabic, you saw the Obama waffles that cast him as an Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben type, you had stuff just shy of the threshold, there were some overtly racists incidents -- dummies lynched, blackface costumes -- but really, what's to say? He's black, you got a problem with it? Apparently some people do.

Since the election, racism has busted out into the open. Skipping down ...
"We've seen everything from cross burnings on lawns of interracial couples to effigies of Obama hanging from nooses to unpleasant exchanges in schoolyards," said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala. "I think we're in a worrying situation right now, a perfect storm of conditions coming together that could easily favor the continued growth of these groups."

Experts attribute the racist activity to factors including the rapidly worsening economic crisis; trends indicating that within a generation whites will not comprise a U.S. majority; and the impending arrival of a black family in the White House.

The FBI is investigating whether the recent Klan-related incidents involve conspiracies. And the Secret Service is monitoring the racist activity "to try to stay ahead of any emerging threats," according to spokesman Darrin Blackford.

One white supremacist leader, describing himself as moderate, professes alarm.

"There is a tremendous backlash" to Obama's election, said Richard Barrett, the leader of the Nationalist Movement in Learned, Miss. "My focus is to try to keep it peaceful. But many people look at the flag of the Republic of New Africa that will be hoisted over the White House as an act of war."

I just looked this up, and there really is a Republic of New Afrika. They spell it that way. Here's what Wikipedia says:
The Republic of New Afrika, (RNA) is a proposed independent Black-majority country situated in the southeastern region of the United States. The vision for this country was first promulgated on March 31, 1968, at a Black Government Conference held in Detroit, Michigan, United States. Proponents of this vision lay claim to five Southern states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina) and the Black-majority counties adjacent to this area in Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida. A similar claim is made for all the Black-majority counties and cities throughout the United States.

Wikipedia shows a little map of the US, with several Southern states colored in red to mark the RNA's proposed territory. Okay, well, good luck with that. Suffice it to say, though it is a wonderfully vivid image for paranoids to meditate on, I am not expecting the flag of the Republic of New Afrika to be flying at the White House during Barack Obama's term as President.

There's more to this story, mostly focusing on the situation in Bogalusa, Louisiana, where the Klan is apparently just part of everyday life. You might want to follow the link and read the rest of it.

According to the Anti-Defamation League:
The World Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Sharpsburg, Maryland, was originally a tiny Klan group, but has exhibited growth in the 2000s, expanding to a number of nearby states, including West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Some 30 members of the group showed up at a rally in September 2006, held in pouring rain on the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield in Pennsylvania. Considering the poor weather conditions, it was a surprisingly high turnout for the Klan group. World Knights leader Gordon Young used the event to denounce multiracial marriage and immigration.

In case you're wondering, Sharpsburg is up north of us a few miles, sort of between Frederick and Hagerstown in Washington County.

This is interesting -- still from the ADL site:
Klan expansion in the Mid-Atlantic states received a setback, however, with the unexpected disbanding of the World Knights in late November 2006. Members of competing factions left the World Knights to join other groups. The World Knights’ leader Gordon Young took his followers into the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and became that group’s Maryland state leader, while some dissident World Knights joined an NSM splinter group, the American National Socialist Workers Party. In January 2007, Young was arrested on seven criminal counts, including two counts each of second-degree assault and sex abuse of a minor, and the NSM disassociated itself from him.

This guy was too creepy for the largest neo-Nazi group in the United States, imagine how creepy that is!

Well, the point is, you can read about some town in Louisiana, but this same stuff is happening in our state too. Let's keep it under control, okay?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Turnover at EQMD

Equality Maryland has been the clearest, most public voice for LGBT Marylanders in recent years, thanks to the energy and leadership of its executive director, Dan Furmansky. Next month Furmansky is stepping down from that role, which he took on in 2003 after two years with the Human Rights Campaign.

The Washington Post this morning talks about his replacement:
Equality Maryland, the state's largest gay rights group, will resume its quest for marriage equality in Annapolis in January with a new executive director at the helm.

Kate Runyon succeeds Dan Furmansky, who is leaving to pursue consulting and writing projects. Runyon was interim director of the Michigan-based Triangle Foundation. She has extensive experience in leadership positions with faith groups, which are viewed by gay rights advocates in Maryland as a crucial constituency in building support for a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

The bill did not reach the floor of the House or Senate in the General Assembly's 2007 session, although the legislature passed and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed two laws giving same-sex couples rights to joint property ownership and medical decision-making. Advocates are steeling themselves for another fight next year.

"We're not going to stop asking for equal protection under the law," Furmansky said. Among the strategies advocates plan to use to sway lawmakers will be real stories of the hardships of life without a marriage license so lawmakers and their constituents "understand the tangibles," he said. Gay Rights Group Names New Executive Director

Runyon, who served in the Peace Corps, has been director of programming for Canterbury House, an Episcopal ministry to University of Michigan students, faculty and staff, and executive director of Oasis Ministry, an LGBT program of the Michigan Diocese of the Episcopal Church. She served as board member with the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, and worked with the Greater Detroit Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion through the National Conference for Community and Justice's Different People Common Ground, Leadership In the New Century and American Arab and Jewish Friends programs.

Friday, November 21, 2008

MoCo School Out for Inaugural?

Interesting political moment here in Montgomery County. They're thinking there could be as many as four million people coming to the Presidential inauguration, singing "Ding dong, the witch is dead." Four million people. You can't get a hotel room within 150 miles of the capital.

Do you remember the 2005 Bush inauguration? Let's just say, there wasn't a problem with gigantic crowds. You could get a room. Eggs, rotten tomatoes, all sold out; rooms, no problem.

The Obama inaugural will be an historic one. For one thing, the guy actually won the election -- when was the last time that happened? For another thing, people like him, the United States is going to pull out of our suicide dive, it is a time of hope and a feeling of renewal across the land. Never mind that it is mind-boggling to think that America has elected an African-American President, only a few decades after the civil rights movement hit its stride.

Ah, but he's a Democrat. It might be "partisan" to take joy in the downfall of a tyrannic, torturing, warmongering, environment-wrecking, abstinence-only-education-promoting, economy-crashing, freedom-depriving President who is being replaced with a leader with vision, a guy who can actually put a sentence together, with subject and verb, agreement between them, and a thought behind it.

I can't imagine anybody in Washington is going to be able to get to work that day, and I hope they are planning to give federal workers the day off. The Metro can't handle it, you won't be able to drive or park, it's not worth it. People want to be there when this new era in American history begins and the city is going to be crowded.

The plan so far is that Montgomery County Public School students do not --- repeat, do not -- get Inauguration Day off. While history is being made in their backyards, they will be in class. The first black President, the end of the inept Bush administration, it is a big day but it is not a planned holiday.

The Post had something about it yesterday:
A Montgomery County school board member is offering a resolution to declare Inauguration Day a holiday in Maryland's largest school system, against the recommendation of Superintendent Jerry D. Weast.

More than 3,000 people have signed an online petition asking Weast to give students and teachers the day off, and the topic has burned up parent-teacher e-mail lists. Montgomery is one of a few large school systems in the Washington area that plan to hold classes when Barack Obama is sworn in as president Jan. 20.

Students in the District and in Fairfax, Prince George's, Loudoun and Arlington counties, among others, will be off, as will employees in most of those systems. School boards in Loudoun and Prince George's altered their calendars last week to allow the holiday. Charles County's school board voted Tuesday to give students the day off. Official Seeks to Make Inauguration Day a Holiday

MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast wrote a memo to address the question.

To: Members of the Board of Education
From: Jerry D. Weast, Superintendent of Schools
Subject: Implications of Closing Schools for the Presidential Inauguration

As you are aware, we have received numerous inquiries requesting that we close Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) for the historic Inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. While I appreciate the magnitude of this occasion and the excitement it is generating, I do not recommend that we close schools for the day for several reasons. As we have only four contingency days built into the calendar, relinquishing one for the Inauguration will leave us with only three which could result in having to extend the calendar in the summer by one day. In addition, I am greatly concerned that many parents will not have the day off from work and thus will be presented with child care dilemmas that will cause families significant hardships. We have heard from families expressing this concern. Another important reason is that we have about 36,000 students who receive free and reduced-price meals from MCPS and thus could be forced to go without breakfast or lunch that day if we do not open schools.

It is unrealistic to believe that vast numbers of our students or staff will be able to physically attend the Inauguration because of the difficulty of obtaining tickets or to attend the parade because of the magnitude of the crowds. We also do not know what the weather will be on that day and what impact that may have on a family's decision to attend
the events downtown. Thus, I believe that the classroom provides an excellent venue from which to watch this historical event unfold. Principals and teachers will be prepared to celebrate and hold class discussions and make certain this is a special day for all students. The Office of Curriculum and Instructional Programs is developing
appropriate grade-level lesson plans for teachers.

Below I have provided additional information about the significant financial and instructional implications that I have considered, especially given the difficult economic environment.

And then he goes into details.

So Weast doesn't want to let the kids out that day. He's got a lot of reasons.

The school board will be meeting December 9th, and they will consider this topic. Here is board member Christopher Barclay's memo on the topic:
I appreciated reading the superintendent's November 15, 2008, memorandum outlining his concerns about the possibility of closing Montgomery County Public Schools for the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama on January 20, 2009 (attached). I do not minimize the cost of losing one instructional day in the event of an unseasonal winter; neither am I unaware of the costs that we will likely bear from the spike in employee absences on that day. One fact that is not in dispute is that this inauguration will be one of historic proportions, unlike any event that we are likely to witness again in our lifetimes. It is one that calls for individuals and families to celebrate and savor the moment and reflect upon the journey that has made Mr. Obama the first African-American president of our great nation. I think that as leaders of our school system, we have an opportunity and an obligation to have a discussion about the desirability of closing schools not only on this Inauguration Day, but on future inauguration days. I believe that regardless of the unique historical significance of January 20, 2009, the Montgomery County Public Schools calendar should honor the significance of each presidential inauguration by designating it a holiday, I am requesting that Board officers include this item for discussion and action at our all-day Board meeting on December 9, 2008. I intend to offer the following resolution to declare Inauguration Day a Montgomery County Public Schools holiday beginning with January 20, 2009:

WHEREAS, On January 20, 2009, Senator Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, and Senator Joseph Biden will be sworn in as Vice President of the United States; and -

WHEREAS, The Board of Education extends best wishes for success to our President-elect in his historic election as the first African-American president of our great nation; and

WHEREAS, The Montgomery County Public Schools should instill upon our students a keen awareness of the Presidential Inaugural as a key aspect of our democracy and encourage active participation of schools in emphasizing the importance and historical significance of the inauguration; and

WHEREAS, Several jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan area have declared Inauguration Day a school holiday so that students and staff could fully participate in the Inauguration activities;

now therefore be it

Resolved, That January 20, 2009, be designated as a Montgomery County Public School system holiday for Inauguration Day, with three contingency days remaining (instead of four) in the 2008-2009 school calendar, and be it further

Resolved, That all future school calendars designate Inauguration Day a school system holiday, with appropriate adjustments made to account for emergencies and legally-mandated instructional days.

I don't know if there will be a unanimous vote on this, but I think most of the school board members will see that our nation is riding a wave right now, and it is in our common interest to stay on it, to teach our children about the sense of pride and patriotism that can attend the inauguration of a new President and a hundred-eighty-degree bounce out of the gutter of history. It can be another school day, they will learn some formulas and read some great literature, maybe even learn how to use a condom, or they can line the streets of Washington, alongside students from the other local school districts, wave a flag and cheer our new leader, or even watch it on TV with their families.

By the way, did you see how the world's leaders greeted our current President at the G20 conference? Watch this. Amazing. This is the kind of thing that will be changing after the January inaugural. I say let the kids out to go see it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Atheists Are Beginning to Advertise

I haven't seen one of these ads, yet, have you? The American Humanist Association doesn't believe in God, and they're putting signs on Metro buses promoting atheism. Here's how WTOP put it on November 11th:
WASHINGTON - It wouldn't be the holiday season without a little controversy concerning God.

Starting next week, Metro will roll out a set of advertisements on its buses sponsored by the American Humanist Association (AHA), a non-theist group. The ads will show a picture of a fake Santa Claus and read: "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake."

"The idea being 'why believe in a god?' It is just not necessary," says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA. "And 'just be good for goodness' sake' meaning, why not truly do what we can to be good for the sake of goodness."

The ads will be displayed on the sides and taillights of more than 200 Metro buses starting on Nov. 18. The interior posters will go up Dec. 1. The campaign is costing the AHA about $40,000.

"For the most part, we are reaching out to non-theists, to atheists who thought they were alone and now realize there is a way to connect with like minded folks," Spekhardt says. "But this will also give those people on the fence something to think about." New Metro ads likely to stir up controversy

I will be curious to see how people handle this. Of course it doesn't hurt anything, really. It wouldn't make sense to have a belief system that would be invalidated by doubt. Imagine if I said, "That house is white," and you said, "It doesn't look white to me," and I said, "If you keep saying that, the house won't be white any more!" That's absurd, the idea that doubting an idea would make it cease to be true, but that logic is expected to hold when it comes to religion, as if faith can't stand up under questioning.

The ordinary person certainly sees enough pro-religious messages in the course of a day, I don't see why WTOP expects controversy if somebody puts up an anti-religious sign. Because, come on, those atheists are outnumbered.

They've started doing this in England, too. The BBC last month:
Bendy-buses with the slogan "There's probably no God" could soon be running on the streets of London.

The atheist posters are the idea of the British Humanist Association (BHA) and have been supported by prominent atheist Professor Richard Dawkins.

The BHA planned only to raise £5,500, which was to be matched by Professor Dawkins, but it has now raised more than £36,000 of its own accord.

It aims to have two sets of 30 buses carrying the signs for four weeks.

The complete slogan reads: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

As the campaign has raised more than anticipated, it will also have posters on the inside of buses as well. 'No God' slogans for city's buses

When I was in London I attended a talk by Professor Dawkins and several others. He was talking about evolution, it was noncontroversial, it was about the details of the process.

I want to point out something weird that Newt Gingrich said this week on TV:
GINGRICH: Look, I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion. And I think if you believe in historic Christianity, you have to confront the fact. And, frank -- for that matter, if you believe in the historic version of Islam or the historic version of Judaism, you have to confront the reality that these secular extremists are determined to impose on you acceptance of a series of values that are antithetical, they're the opposite, of what you're taught in Sunday school. MediaMatters

First of all, how he lumps gay and secular people together, and labels them a kind of "fascism." It leaves you speechless. Many American Christian churches have abandoned gay people, but that has not diminished the faith of those gay Christians, it has not made them "secular" -- it breaks their hearts, but they do not turn away from God. And I think the secular people Newt's talking about are probably what we'd call educated people, people who get their explanations for things from facts and logic rather than just-so stories.

And ... how much do people who believe in the historic version of Islam or Judaism go to Sunday school? I'm just asking.

I'll agree with Gingrich up to a point. Secularists do pose a threat to some religionists. If your belief system withers in the presence of doubt, then yes, skepticism is at the center of secular thinking, and the skeptic when given a counterintuitive explanation without any evidence to back it up is ... doubtful. Clear independent skeptical thinking may be dangerous for those particular forms of religion that are based on authoritarianism and myth.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hundreds of Protests Yesterday

Yesterday there were demonstrations all around the country, some of them pretty big, protesting anti-gay laws that were passed in several states in the recent elections, most notably California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage heterosexually. Box Turtle Bulletin has summaries from a whole lot of cities, plus pictures that people took. AmericaBlog asked their readers to comment on what happened in their cities, there are about 80 comments there so far. Most of the demonstrations were small, a thousand people or fewer, but they happened in every corner of the country, in cities big and small, and even in some foreign countries. The one in Washington DC had somewhere between 500 people (Washington Times) and "What looked like tens of thousands" (Box Turtle), who gathered at the Capitol reflecting pool and then marched to Lafayette Park, near the White House. (Obvious editorial comment: it was more than 500.)

The DC protest was hit by a heavy rainstorm, and there was a tornado watch at the time. TTF treasurer Christine Grewell was there and got some pictures (I took the liberty to edit some of them a little bit). Check these out:

You can see it's not the biggest crowd that ever gathered at the Capitol, but it's a pretty good crowd, especially given that our local activist organizations didn't get involved at all. As far as I can tell, Equality Maryland's web site doesn't even mention the demonstration, for instance.

This protest is not about the big organizations, if I may say so this one is a first example of the next generation of grassroots activism. It appears that there were protests in three hundred cities around the world, all more or less "organized" through social-networking sites and blogs. The whole phenomenon began with a lady in Seattle named Amy Balliett, who got an email from a friend, and set up a web site. Friday, November 7th, the "Join the Impact" web site went up ...

365Gay has a really thorough post on the subject:
By Monday morning, a plan had emerged: Cities around the country would organize their own efforts to coordinate a synchronized protest for Sat., Nov. 15, 10:30 a.m. PST. The movement became officially global with hits from the UK and France, and by Nov. 11, over one million visitors had come to the site.

Across the country, posts on Craigslist, bulletins on MySpace, and emails on ListServs with titles like “Meet at City Hall next weekend!” and “Upset about Prop 8? Here’s what YOU can do about it,” began to buzz with notice of the upcoming national protest.

Seems to me two new-ish concepts are relevant here. The first concept is something called the smart mob. Because of cell phones -- especially text messaging -- and the Internet it is now possible to spread information from person to person, each one telling a few friends, until a great number of people share the information without any central organizing force. This is a kind of word-of-mouth that does not require physical proximity, information is divorced from the limitations of physical distance, and so you can create huge networks of people distributed over a wide area in a very short time. These demonstrations were organized in this way, with Facebook pages and Craigslist announcements, it was technologically futuristic and everything happened at the grassroots level, "just people" spreading the word to other "just people," without any charismatic figure leading the effort or any money behind it.

But most ideas tossed out onto the Internet do not find instant adoption by thousands of people. This particular issue, the reaction to noxious voting against gay people's rights, succeeded because of the second concept -- it had reached a tipping point. There has never been a very strong movement toward marriage equality in this country, even the gay community is divided on the issue, otherwise-progressive politicians wish the whole thing would just go away. But most people in the US now privately accept that gay people are ordinary good citizens, most straight people are fine with it, and most people in the US were more or less horrified to see that these hateful ballot items actually passed. And suddenly an opinion that was held privately by a lot of individuals became a public issue, people were upset and angry and all it took was a little nudge to get crowds to form in the streets of American cities from one coast to the other.

There are legal challenges to these laws, but most importantly the mood of the country has shifted. I just saw where somebody used the word "Talibangelicals." Well, the Talibangelicals worked their way into the White House, they seized control of the national dialogue in a shameful way, and now the people are taking the control back. Americans don't hate gay people, Americans don't want to deprive them of something, take away their rights, most of us just want people to be happy. The religious right has been frighteningly successful in imposing their values on us but their influence is diminishing and this is the last shred of that, they were able to get people to vote for these stupid laws. On every other wedge issue, the religious right -- you can't say the "Christian right" any more, because the Mormons are right there in the middle of it -- has lost ground, people are ready to wake up from the nightmare. Even if most of the protests were small, you have just seen a major change in the way democracy works.

Sunday Rumination: Playing Music

A couple of guys in the neighborhood and I have started a band, and Friday night we played at a pretty big birthday party. It was great, as soon as we started playing people ran up and told us we were too loud. Just like the old days. I used to have a trick of turning around to my amp and turning some tone knob, like the treble knob on my amp, making it look like I was turning down the volume, so some bar owner or bride's mother or whatever would think we were actually going to be quieter. Of course an amplified rock n roll band is loud! It's not that the band too loud, the problem is that you have to get used to it, duh.

The bass player is a guy I've known for years, we hang out and solve the world's problems on weekend afternoons. We've been playing a little music in his basement for a couple of years, I guess, at first we had a kind of band with two friends of his but they lived too far away and it was pain to put together a rehearsal, you couldn't just play, you had to barbecue and the wives would come and the whole thing, it was a big social event. Which is fine, but sometimes you just want to play some music.

I ran into our drummer at a yard sale this past year. He was selling some musical equipment, actually I wrote about meeting him HERE on this blog. I didn't realize it at the time, but his house is directly behind the bass player's house, they look over the fence into each other's yards. Great drummer, likes the same kind of music as us, by which I mean old music, roots music. At the yard sale he said something about Willie Dixon, just to see if I'd know who he was talking about, and of course I did know that great old-time bluesman. He was talking the other day about Larry Williams, who wrote "Slow Down" and "Bony Maronie," I turned him on to Arthur Alexander, who wrote "You Better Move On," "Soldier of Love," "Anna," "Detroit City," and a bunch of other songs that you know but don't know where they came from.

We played this birthday party Friday, the birthday boy has been around the DC music scene for decades and there were a lot of musicians and music people there, producers, DJs, promoters of various sorts. So for our little band it was a kind of showcase, if we got these people's attention we might end up with some gigs, somebody might call us when they got double-booked or if a band canceled, or if there was a show coming up and they needed an opening act. I was a little nervous, I've played a couple of street parties but nothing really since 1993, when I was in a Southern rock band in North Carolina. Before that I played country music five nights a week in Fresno, and before that I played with ... somebody who'd had a Number One hit, whatever, we were a local band on the central coast of California. I think I've played in every kind of band except for pure bluegrass and pure jazz -- I've played some tunes from those genres, of course, but not all night long.

Our set Friday went pretty well. We had worked up twenty songs, all of them old rockabilly and blues and honky-tonk songs, well we did "Crazy Little Thing Call Love" by Queen, I guess that's rockabilly, right? There were several Buddy Holly and Elvis tunes, an Albert Collins rocker, "Honky Tonk Man," "I Fought the Law," stuff like that. Actually, looking back at our set, it is strange how many of those songs have been recorded by Dwight Yoakum. Overlapping tastes, I guess.

When I used to play music for a living, I always had a cheap amp and whatever guitar I could get without paying too much. Now that I'm grown up and have a real job, I have been able to buy a real amplifier. Life is cruel that way. A couple of years ago I got a Mesa Boogie amp, this might not mean much to you but it's well made, electronically it is an excellent tube amp with great distortion, amazing control over the tone -- it's almost too much, it's so clear and powerful, with such presence. Friday was the first time I've actually taken it out and used it at a gig, and I'd have to say I am still uncomfortable with it. One thing about an amp like this is that it's just as loud across the room as it is on the bandstand. The bass, the drums, might echo around the room, but this Mesa Boogie puts the clearest sound right in the listener's face, even if they're sitting in the back of the room. Every time your pick touches the strings, the guy in the back hears it. Uh, what that means is that the people will hear every wrong note you play, you can't get away with anything.

I didn't play that well but I guess it was good enough. Back in the day I used to go for weeks without missing a note, I could improvise freely and play stuff that was hard, and my fingers were obedient and nimble. I don't play enough now, I'm a little stiff. I know that if I was going four or five nights a week it would come back, but that would be too much, doing that and then getting up in the morning for my day gig.

Our band played -- we don't even have a name, we just introduced ourselves as three guys who live in the same neighborhood -- then another band and then later the musicians who were present went up on the bandstand and jammed, with Little Red, the Zydeco guy, leading the jam. Our band got a lot of compliments, including some pretty good music people who swore they were telling the truth. (Somebody said there were two Grammy winners at the party.) We knew we could play better, but whatever, the thing is, you have to sound good enough on your worst night, and I think we did that. Then we sat down, and Little Red and the Renegades played. At first Little Red played piano, and they did a lot of Louisiana flavored blues, some Professor Longhair and stuff. Then he picked up the accordion, and the place came to life. The band was animated, the dance-floor filled up, this was good. Zydeco is cool music. Here is a picture of Little Red that a photographer took at Glen Echo and posted at Flickr. He wasn't quite this ... red ... Friday night.

I met Clifton Chenier once. He was playing a hall in California and the people were rocking out, and all of a sudden the power went dead. Turned out the janitor for the building was only paid to work till midnight, and he wanted to go home, so he threw the breaker. Several hundred people partying and dancing, and he just threw the switch. I went backstage with some others, and this janitor was standing beside the breaker box, looking a little defensive, surrounded by people who were not pleased with him. The concert's sponsors were trying to talk him into turning the power back on, Chenier was there trying to sweet-talk him. I said, "What if we just put this guy on the floor and a couple of people sat on him?" Well, the concert organizers didn't like that idea for some reason, they seemed to think it amounted to "violence" but I didn't say anything about hurting the guy, we just had a put him where he wouldn't destroy the party. Later Chenier and I were talking, and he said, "Same thing happened to me one time in Texas, they found the guy in the alley with no pants on." I like Zydeco, I listen to Cowboy sometimes, if you know what I'm saying. Clifton Chenier was pretty sick by the time I met him, he was on dialysis but still playing, still going out on the road, he died pretty soon after that.

Then there was birthday cake, then they started calling people up to jam. I was in the last batch, I played six or seven tunes with them. Little Red, I'll tell you, he plays in the flat keys, which is strange. No guitar player would ever say, let's do this in B-flat. But whatever, somebody handed me a Telecaster with something wrong with it, one of the switch positions didn't do anything, but that just meant I flipped between the two pickups. Now it got fun. We had six guys on the stage, Red on accordion, Jon Carroll on synthesizer (though sometimes he took the accordion and Red played piano), two guitars, bass and drums.

I have made a name for myself with my research, I am active in our community, I have a straight job, I pay a mortgage and my kids have turned out great, but I love standing on a bandstand with a bunch of guys listening to each other, trying to play something that fits, following the changes, you get a solo sometimes but that's not the only thing. I sang a little harmony on a couple, I played crazy rhythm guitar to some of those rumba and mambo things that Red does, those New Orleans things. (I just thought of this, I have never been in a Zydeco band, either.) That Tele sang, I had fun wowing the people with some screaming lead solos, I admit it. Women on the dance-floor smile at the band, you see people at their tables tapping their fingers, people swaying as they talk to one another, walking with their steps in time to the music, man, I like that.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Demonstration in DC

A couple of days ago we talked about the demonstration at the Kensington Mormon Temple. Of course the Temple is a local landmark, standing along the Beltway, and that is a good place to demonstrate, but it looks like the big local demonstration will be in Washington, at the Capitol reflecting pool. It looks like the closest Metro station is either Union Station or Judiciary Square. Follow the link to get involved.

Be there at 1:30 PM, EST.

The Join the Impact web site has a Google map, the Facebook page, they give the location of a sign-making party to happen tonight (Friday).

[Update: Metro says that Judiciary Square will be closed for the G20 summit -- use Union Station.]

10,000 Estimated at NYC Protest

The crowd size was estimated by protest organizers, so take it with a grain of salt, but it was a lot of people. Here's the AP's take on it:
NEW YORK (AP) — Carrying signs reading "Love not H8" and "Did you cast a ballot or a stone?", a large crowd of gay-marriage supporters gathered outside a Mormon temple to protest the church's endorsement of a same-sex marriage ban in California.

The rally Wednesday night outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple came hours after gay couples exchanged vows for the first time in Connecticut amid cheers and tears of joy.

The milestone did not ease the sting of a major loss for gay-marriage supporters last week. Gay activists planned protests across the country over the vote that took away their right to wed in California.

In the Upper West Side of Manhattan, demonstrators chanted "Shame on you!" outside the temple. Leaders of the Mormon church had encouraged members to support passage of California's Proposition 8, a referendum banning same-sex marriage.

"I'm fed up and disgusted with religious institutions taking political stances and calling them moral when it's nothing but politics," said Dennis Williams, 36. "Meanwhile they enjoy tax-free status while trying to deny me rights that should be mine at the state and federal level." Gay activists rally outside Mormon temple in NYC

I'll comment on that headline. I consider myself a gay activist, I'm referred to that way all the time. But I'm not gay. The polite term for somebody like me is "straight ally," but ever since the guy from PFOX referred to me as a sodomite, I kind of like thinking of myself as an "honorary sodomite." It just sounds like more fun to me, don't you think? Gee, I hope I don't alienate anybody.

When the AP says there were 10,000 gay activists, I don't know how many of them were actually gay, a lot of straight people are upset by these anti-gay votes, too. It's just a kind of embarrassment to our society and our country, and it's time to call an end to it.

As far as 10,000 "activists," well I guess if they got off their butts and took it to the streets that makes them activists by definition, right?

You can read a more personal report at Joe.My.God. Joe says:
NYC's first marriage equality rally/protest was a smashing success as a crowd estimated at 10,000 - 15,000 jammed the plaza across from the Manhattan Mormon Temple before taking over Broadway and marching to Columbus Circle. Major celebrities showed their support, dozens of television crews did interviews, news helicopters hovered overhead, and in general it was just an overwhelming show of force. However the evening news is already teasing the story as "about a thousand people showed up."

He has photographs and video, too, from the scene. There were lots of celebrities and good signs. Follow that link, it's cool.

I can't remember where I read this, but I did see an explanation about how the NYC demonstration was largely orchestrated through Facebook.

In Montgomery County, there will be a demonstration at the Mormon Temple in Kensington Saturday at 1:30. Read about it all HERE.

I think this situation has reached its tipping point.

NARTH Misinterprets the Science

A couple of years ago, the American Psychological Association convention was held here in Washington, and I attended. I heard a fascinating talk by a professor from the University of Utah named Lisa Diamond, who has followed a group of a hundred women, asking them each year to report their sexual orientation and some other things about themselves. These particular women tended to change their self-reported orientation every few years, sometimes they were straight, sometimes they were lesbians, sometimes bisexual or undecided.

I talked to her after her presentation, as reported on this blog HERE. (More on Dr. Diamond's research HERE.)

In that conversation, Dr. Diamond said that she is visited regularly by Mormon guys who ask her help, saying they "just can't be gay." But, she said, there is no scientific support for the idea that a person can change their sexual orientation -- her research subjects do not make a decision to change, it just happens, and they change both ways, from straight to gay as much as the other way. In general, these seem to be women who fall in love with someone regardless of the person's sex.

Well, as you can imagine, the "ex-gay" and anti-gay types would like to say there is scientific evidence to support their view that gay people can transform themselves into straight ones, and they have cited Dr. Diamond's research results as evidence for that.

She is not pleased.

From the Salt Lake Tribune:
A national group that advocates "treatment" of homosexuality is being criticized for allegedly distorting a Utah researcher's work to advance the theory that people choose their sexual orientation - a controversial notion rejected by mainstream psychology.

Lisa Diamond, a University of Utah psychologist whose sexual identity studies suggest a degree of "fluidity" in the sexual preferences of women, said in an interview Tuesday that the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, misrepresents her findings. Position papers, some penned by NARTH president A. Dean Byrd, an adjunct professor in the U.'s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, point to Diamond's research as evidence that gays' sexual orientation can be straightened out through treatment - much to Diamond's dismay.

"If NARTH had read the study more carefully they would find that it is not supported by my data at all. I bent over backward to make it difficult for my work to be misused, and to no avail. When people are motivated to twist something for political purposes, they'll find a way to do it," Diamond says in a videotaped interview posted on the Internet. U. psychologist says sex research distorted

You can watch the video on Wayne Besen's site: HERE. Besen blogged about this interview a few weeks ago. The Tribune only had it yesterday, oddly waiting until after the elections where anti-gay ballot measures were being considered in several states.
Diamond made those remarks two weeks ago as Californians were debating Proposition 8, the divisive ballot measure that mandates marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints encouraged members to give time and money to the successful campaign, triggering a cascade of criticism and protests.

Diamond's comments specifically targeted Encino, Calif., psychologist Joeseph Nicolosi, co-founder of NARTH and the author of "Healing Homosexuality," and "A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality."

"You know exactly what you're doing," says Diamond, an associate professor of psychology and gender studies, in the videotape. "There's no chance this is a misunderstanding or simply a different scientific interpretation. ... It's illegitimate and it's irresponsible and you should stop doing it."

Nicolosi did not respond to an interview request and Byrd claimed he did not know why Diamond, a fellow U. faculty member, took umbrage with NARTH's citation of her work.

"NARTH's view is that people can adapt any way they want and there is freedom of choice," Byrd says. "If it says 'fluidity' it says 'fluidity.' How you interpret it is something else."

That is, of course, a completely inappropriate perspective for scientific literature. It's not like poetry, where the reader is invited to fantasize along with the words or to impose their own personal interpretation, these are peer-reviewed scientific journal publications.

These past few years we have seen a number of serious researchers complain that anti-gay and "ex-gay" ideologues are distorting and cherry-picking lines from scientific publications.

The cure for this, and the prevention for a repeat of the past eight abysmal years of American history, is, it seems to me, education. People need to learn to read critically, everyone should have a solid background in scientific methods, some statistical literacy would be a nice thing. Listen carefully when you hear them talk about education, about home-schooling and charter schools, and when they complain about our public schools. Some groups benefit when Americans are poorly educated.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It Should Never Have Happened

Great couple of paragraphs from Andrew Sullivan:
Some readers think my continuing attempt to expose all the lies and flim-flam and bizarre behavior of Sarah Palin is now moot. She's history - they argue. Move on. I think she probably is history. Even Bill Kristol and his minions in the McCain-Palin campaign may not be able to resuscitate her political viability now. But even if she is history, she is history that matters.

Let's be real in a way the national media seems incapable of: this person should never have been placed on a national ticket in a mature democracy. She was incapable of running a town in Alaska competently. The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history. That the press felt required to maintain a facade of normalcy for two months - and not to declare the whole thing a farce from start to finish - is a sign of their total loss of nerve. That the Palin absurdity should follow the two-term presidency of another individual utterly out of his depth in national government is particularly troubling. 46 percent of Americans voted for the possibility of this blank slate as president because she somehow echoed their own sense of religious or cultural "identity". Until we figure out how this happened, we will not be able to prevent it from happening again. And we have to find a way to prevent this from recurring. Why Palin Still Matters

I can't answer Sullivan's question, but I think the ultimate answer will have the word "education" in it somewhere.

Nationwide Protest Planned for Saturday

Wow, this looks like people might actually fight back for once. Proposition 8 was the California ballot item that prohibited marriages between same-sex couples there. Anti-gay bills also passed in Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas, heavily backed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other religious groups, and a lot of people are very unhappy about having their rights taken away.

A good amount of the anger is being directed at the Mormon church. For some reason that church decided this was going to be their issue, they preached it and squeezed donations out of people and campaigned to prevent equal rights for gay people, and now, as Andrew Sullivan mentioned the other day, "Gay people have every right to regard the Mormon church hierarchy as a mortal enemy."

The protest's motto is "Stop the H8 in your state." Check out their web site HERE. It's not the best web site I've ever seen, but it's a start.

It looks like there will be a protest in Baltimore, and in Montgomery County it will be held at the Mormon church in Kensington -- 9900 Stoneybrook Drive -- at 1:30 PM, Saturday, November 15th.

The issue is this: people's civil rights should not be put up for a vote. If two people love one another and want to get married and start a family, their decision should not require the approval of the majority of the population.

An article by Richard Kim in The Nation this week dissects the reasons for these losses, in particular the one in California, which has come to represent the whole batch. He argues that the campaign failed to understand the "Yes on 8 coalition's staggering disinformation campaign." It turns out that the religious right will say anything without regard to its truthfulness, and the pro-marriage advocates failed to appreciate this. I'll tell you, we've sure seen it in our county, the constant stream of lies has kept TeachTheFacts busy for four years now. Kim also notes that the anti-gay campaign was the first time the Christian right was able to reach minorities successfully:
From the beginning they bought up ad space in Chinese, black, Spanish and Korean media; they hosted massive rallies for ethnic Christians. The Sunday before election day, I went to Los Angeles City Hall for the most celebratory, most diverse rally I have ever attended; it was organized by Yes on 8 Chinese advocates.

Kim's third point was that the campaign for marriage equality was simply outmaneuvered.
Gay activists, by most accounts, were simply outmaneuvered. Andrea Shorter, a black lesbian volunteer for the No on 8 campaign, told me that the outreach to the African-American community began in earnest a week ago. "What's happened is that there's been an outcry from communities of color, including African-American communities, who say, 'Include us!' Now there's a GOTV strategy, but for some it seems last minute," she said in an interview before the election. Another No on 8 activist, Karin Wang, told me at the City Hall rally that when Asian Pacific Islander groups went to buy ads in Chinese and Korean newspapers, they were informed that Yes on 8 had been renting space for weeks.

Many gay leaders, especially those less central to the No on 8 efforts, told me that such disorder was endemic to gay efforts. "The campaign doesn't seem to have got its act together until a few weeks ago. It wasn't clicking. It wasn't raising money. It didn't have good ads on the air," says Rafael Mandelman of the San Francisco Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.

I think what it comes down to is that the campaign organizers did not realize how hard this fight actually is. The anti-gay forces never sleep, they will say and do anything to win the battle, and there is a lot of money behind them. You can't expect a fair fight, you have to know they will fly under the radar when they can, they will take advantage of any opening, they will lie -- I think the good guys in California and these other places simply failed to understand how dirty the fight would be.

Honestly, you shouldn't have to fight in modern-day America for the right to marry the one you love, the right to have a family. But the fact is, you do, you can't take these simple things for granted, because some people think they know how you should live your life better than you do.

Monday, November 10, 2008

WCTU Leader Outraged by Foreigner at Kohls, Blames New Law

A local leader of the Women's Christian Temperance Union -- who is also a founding member of the Citizens for Responsible Whatever -- sent an email to every member of the Montgomery County Council to complain about something that happened at Kohls. Here's the letter:
Council Members,

Well, it happened to my 20 yr. old daughter and myself at Kohl's yesterday evening, Nov. 9, 2008.

I was in the FITTING room in the front of the store in the female petite section of the Kohl's in Rockville. I was shocked as I left the cubical to check the mirror STILL INSIDE THE FITTING ROOM to find a man standing there.

Thankfully, I was fully dressed, however, who hasn't upon occasion, checked a fit half-dressed and seen other women doing the same?

The white male who looked to be about 30 yrs. of age was waring thick glasses with a silver frame. He was speaking a foreign language to someone else (maybe his wife?) who was in a cubical. He had a small child in a stroller with him.

I believed it to be useless to confront him with a language barrier so, if looks could kill, he would have died on the spot.

I approached a male Kohl's employee who looked to be about 25 years of age seemed very concerned about the safety of customers and wanted to confront the man but at that time, we did not see him.

A short time later, I met my daughter (20 yrs old) in the bra section of the store. I told her what had happened. She said, she was trying on bras in the fitting room located in that section of the store and a man fitting the same description was in that fitting room with her.

HONESTLY, can we just have some privacy for ourselves and our daughters?

I actually felt "uneasy" approaching the Kohl's employee to complain with the new law having been passed.


This email was sent to Valerie Ervin, Duchy Trachtenberg, Mike Knapp, Don Praisner, Roger Berliner, Phil Andrews, George Leventhal, and Nancy Floreen, plus a CC to Peter Labarbera, who is also known as Porno Pete and is the founder of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.

So -- a foreign guy went into the ladies fitting room with his wife and baby. That's the story.

The letter writer, Bunny Galladora, hints that this is supposed to have something to do with our county's new nondiscrimination law. The guy wasn't dressed as a woman or claiming to be transgender, he was speaking a foreign language and maybe comes from a less puritanical country than ours, where men help their wives pick out clothes and watch the kid. As long as he isn't leering at the women, exposing himself, or molesting anyone, there is no law -- and never has been a law -- against him being there. It's considered bad form in our society, but this man was obviously from somewhere else, I'm guessing he didn't know what the norm is here.

It would have been perfectly appropriate for another customer to ask the man to wait outside, or for a store employee to ask him to leave the fitting room. Really, it's not that hard to say what you mean. He wasn't breaking any law, but the store can certainly have the last word about who goes into what fitting room.

The WCTU lady says she was uneasy saying something to the store employee "with the new law having been passed." Was she afraid somehow that she was going to accidentally discriminate against someone on the basis of gender identity? If there was something unusual about the man's gender identity you would think she'd mention it.

Let's see how quickly Channel Seven gets this "challenge to the new law" on the air.

And to think, they don't like it when we call them "nuts."

America Scheduled to Wake Up From Nightmare

I never thought I would see a news story like this. I had forgotten what hope felt like, this almost brings tears to your eyes.

I don't usually just copy and paste a news article without comment, but this is too good, here's the whole story from the Washington Post:
Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.

A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration. The team is now consulting with liberal advocacy groups, Capitol Hill staffers and potential agency chiefs to prioritize those they regard as the most onerous or ideologically offensive, said a top transition official who was not permitted to speak on the record about the inner workings of the transition.

In some instances, Obama would be quickly delivering on promises he made during his two-year campaign, while in others he would be embracing Clinton-era policies upended by President Bush during his eight years in office.

"The kind of regulations they are looking at" are those imposed by Bush for "overtly political" reasons, in pursuit of what Democrats say was a partisan Republican agenda, said Dan Mendelson, a former associate administrator for health in the Clinton administration's Office of Management and Budget. The list of executive orders targeted by Obama's team could well get longer in the coming days, as Bush's appointees rush to enact a number of last-minute policies in an effort to extend his legacy.

A spokeswoman said yesterday that no plans for regulatory changes had been finalized. "Before he makes any decisions on potential executive or legislative actions, he will be conferring with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, as well as interested groups," Obama transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said. "Any decisions would need to be discussed with his Cabinet nominees, none of whom have been selected yet."

Still, the preelection transition team, comprising mainly lawyers, has positioned the incoming president to move fast on high-priority items without waiting for Congress.

Obama himself has signaled, for example, that he intends to reverse Bush's controversial limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a decision that scientists say has restrained research into some of the most promising avenues for defeating a wide array of diseases, such as Parkinson's.

Bush's August 2001 decision pleased religious conservatives who have moral objections to the use of cells from days-old human embryos, which are destroyed in the process.

But Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said that during Obama's final swing through her state in October, she reminded him that because the restrictions were never included in legislation, Obama "can simply reverse them by executive order." Obama, she said, "was very receptive to that." Opponents of the restrictions have already drafted an executive order he could sign.

The new president is also expected to lift a so-called global gag rule barring international family planning groups that receive U.S. aid from counseling women about the availability of abortion, even in countries where the procedure is legal, said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he rescinded the Reagan-era regulation, known as the Mexico City policy, but Bush reimposed it.

"We have been communicating with his transition staff" almost daily, Richards said. "We expect to see a real change."

While Obama said at a news conference last week that his top priority would be to stimulate the economy and create jobs, his advisers say that focus will not delay key shifts in social and regulatory policies, including some -- such as the embrace of new environmental safeguards -- that Obama has said will have long-term, beneficial impacts on the economy.

The president-elect has said, for example, that he intends to quickly reverse the Bush administration's decision last December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. "Effectively tackling global warming demands bold and innovative solutions, and given the failure of this administration to act, California should be allowed to pioneer," Obama said in January.

California had sought permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to require that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles be cut by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016, effectively mandating that cars achieve a fuel economy standard of at least 36 miles per gallon within eight years. Seventeen other states had promised to adopt California's rules, representing in total 45 percent of the nation's automobile market. Environmentalists cheered the California initiative because it would stoke innovation that would potentially benefit the entire country.

"An early move by the Obama administration to sign the California waiver would signal the seriousness of intent to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil and build a future for the domestic auto market," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Before the election, Obama told others that he favors declaring that carbon dioxide emissions are endangering human welfare, following an EPA task force recommendation last December that Bush and his aides shunned in order to protect the utility and auto industries.

Robert Sussman, who was the EPA's deputy administrator during the Clinton administration and is now overseeing EPA transition planning for Obama, wrote a paper last spring strongly recommending such a finding. Others in the campaign have depicted it as an issue on which Obama is keen to show that politics must not interfere with scientific advice.

Some related reforms embraced by Obama's transition advisers would alter procedures for decision-making on climate issues. A book titled "Change for America," being published next week by the Center for American Progress, an influential liberal think tank, will recommend, for example, that Obama rapidly create a National Energy Council to coordinate all policymaking related to global climate change.

The center's influence with Obama is substantial: It was created by former Clinton White House official John D. Podesta, a co-chairman of the transition effort, and much of its staff has been swept into planning for Obama's first 100 days in office.

The National Energy Council would be a counterpart to the White House National Economic Council that Clinton created in a 1993 executive order.

"It would make sure all the oars are rowing in the right direction" and ensure that climate change policy "gets lots of attention inside the White House," said Daniel J. Weiss, a former Sierra Club official and senior fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The center's new book will also urge Obama to sign an executive order requiring that greenhouse gas emissions be considered whenever the federal government examines the environmental impact of its actions under the existing National Environmental Policy Act. Several key members of Obama's transition team have already embraced the idea.

Other early Obama initiatives may address the need for improved food and drug regulation and chart a new course for immigration enforcement, some Obama advisers say. But they add that only a portion of his early efforts will be aimed at undoing Bush initiatives.

Despite enormous pent-up Democratic frustration, Obama and his team realize they must strike a balance between undoing Bush actions and setting their own course, said Winnie Stachelberg, the center's senior vice president for external affairs.

"It took eight years to get into this mess, and it will take a long time to get out of it," she said. "The next administration needs to look ahead. This transition team and the incoming administration gets that in a big way." Obama Positioned to Quickly Reverse Bush Actions

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Backlash Building Against the Mormon Church

This week's historic election will turn things around for the United States of America, there is hope in the air, a change is gonna come and quickly. But besides all the jubilation over the election of a fresh and intelligent new President, there were several civil rights losses, and we have to wonder about the several anti-marriage bills that passed with majorities around the country. The most important one is Proposition 8 in California, which restricts the definition of marriage in that state to the union between one man and one woman. Same-sex marriage had been recognized in California due to a court ruling, and this was placed on the ballot to give voters a chance to overturn the ruling. Campaigns for and against the proposition were the highest funded non-Presidential campaigns ever, it was a big fight.

The major force behind California's anti-marriage campaign, contributing as much as eighty percent of the money, was the Mormon Church. Cribbed from Wikipedia: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) publicly supported the proposition and encouraged their membership to donate money and volunteer time. The First Presidency of the church announced its support for Proposition 8 in a letter read in every congregation. Latter-day Saints provided a significant source for financial donations in support of the proposition, both inside and outside the State of California. About 45% of out-of-state contributions to came from Utah, over three times more than any other state.

I come from the Southwest, I grew up with Mormons. My best friend in grade school was a Mormon kid, nephew of Mo and Stu Udall, and the best man at our wedding was my best friend, a Mormon from Idaho. Growing up in Phoenix we lived next door to a Mormon family, well if you live out there, there are whole towns of them. Generally the Mormon people are hard-working and honest, down to earth people, and I don't have anything against them personally.

Mormons live very strictly, but they do have that one quirk, the polygamy thing. Well, and the underwear. And a couple other things. They will tell you they do not practice polygamy any more or support it, but in fact if you talk with a Mormon guy you are quite likely to find that he wouldn't mind having another wife or two, which is something that doesn't ordinarily occur to the rest of us. The mainstream Mormons don't do it mainly because it's against the law, but out in the desert and even in the suburbs of some Southwestern cities there are fundamentalists and renegades who go ahead and take multiple wives anyway.

So it seems strange to me that they, of all people, would want to tell other people who they can and can't marry. Wouldn't it work like this? -- Gay people get the right to marry, straight people see that it's not a bad thing, they get used to it, the ice is broken, Mormons take the next obvious step and get the monogamy clause stricken -- they take the "one" out of "one man and one woman." You'd think they'd go that way with it, support marriage equality so they can get their turn. To me there is something missing, I don't see the logic for them to undermine marriage for gay and lesbian people.

According to Box Turtle Bulletin:
By some estimates, more than $20 million of Mormon money went to fund the $36 million California campaign, while an additional estimated $3-7 million funded Arizona’s $8 million campaign.

Online records show our own Montgomery County's Rose Marie Briggs, who was the leader of a local Mormon group that fought the MCPS sex-ed curriculum, donated $100 to, the California anti-marriage group. So that's how it works, Mormons all over the country contributed money to ensure that some Americans can not marry the one they love.

Writing in The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan says:
Gay people have every right to regard the Mormon church hierarchy as a mortal enemy. If they knock on my door any time soon, they will get an earful.

Big protests are being held outside Mormon temples across the country. From today's New York Times:
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Protesters marched around the headquarters of the Mormon church Friday night, criticizing the church’s support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in California.

“Separate church and state,” the crowd chanted as it marched, some waving rainbow flags or carrying signs with messages like “Mormons: Once persecuted, now persecutors.”

An estimate from Salt Lake City police, who blocked downtown city streets for the march, put the number of participants at more than 2,000. Mormon Church Draws Protest Over Marriage Act

From the LA Times:
More than a thousand gay-rights activists gathered Thursday afternoon outside the Mormon temple in Westwood to protest the role Mormons played in passing Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.

It was the latest in an escalating campaign directed against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its role in marshaling millions of dollars in contributions from its members for the successful campaign to take away same-sex marriage rights. Prop. 8 protesters target Mormon temple in Westwood

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog and others are calling for a boycott of the entire state of Utah.

Do you remember when Dennis Rodman said something dumb about Mormons, and afterwards we found out he thought that was just a word for people who live in Utah? That seemed pretty bad, not knowing the difference between a state and a religion. But actually, more than half of Utah's population is Mormon, so you can see how he made that mistake, not that it ... never mind. Brigham Young brought the people there after they were persecuted everywhere else for their polygamist practices, and the LDS church is a major force in that state.

The annual Sundance Film Festival is held at Sundance, Utah, near Provo. It's a big tourist draw -- I know it doesn't matter, but I had dinner at Sundance a couple of years ago when I gave a talk at Brigham Young University. There is a push growing now to either boycott the film festival or get Robert Redford to move it to another state. This might actually get kind of interesting, you never know but I suspect this has the possibility of becoming a successful campaign. Utah would miss the tourist money from the film festival, and I think a lot of movie people are sympathetic to the gay and lesbian point of view, so there will be pressure from within the film community, too.

There are other legal challenges to Proposition 8, as well.

This is a strange situation. I tend to respect other people's beliefs, even if I don't understand them. You look back at the origins of the Book of Mormon, and you shake your head. You just have to say to yourself, all right, some people believe that Joseph Smith, helped by the angel Moroni, found some golden plates buried in rural New York, written in an otherwise unknown language, he translated them using a magical method and then gave them back to the angel, and that is the foundation of the church. Listen -- that is not for me, all right? I am a psychologist but there are lots of things about the human mind that I don't understand, and we have just touched on one. You have to believe this story on faith, and then the rest of your life follows from what was written in those now-lost golden plates.

I hate to criticize somebody's religious beliefs, and there are about eleven million people who believe all this, but the Mormon church has stepped outside the zone of religion. As I understand it, they are legally allowed, within the IRS code, to get involved with nonpartisan politics, without losing their tax-exempt status (though you can sign a petition to revoke that status HERE). They have the right to promote a position on marriage equality, just as the Catholic church can have a position on abortion, and they can try to get their members to send money and get involved in prohibiting particular marriages. People may have strange beliefs, and you don't have to agree with them to accept them, but at some point you have to face the fact that they're taking their bizarre beliefs and inflicting their illogical conclusions on the rest of us.

The Washington Post had a story about this, containing this quote from a Mormon press release:
"While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the Church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process," the statement said.

You see in this statement that the church wants to invoke the unaccountability of religion, they want their "sacred places" to remain inviolate, while at the same time making overt political gestures in the real world, the sociophysical world that the rest of us live in. Whatever they want to do in their sacred places, I am good with that, I don't have to understand it but I wouldn't criticize it. But the law about marriage extends beyond the Mormon population, this affects everybody. The Mormons have been persecuted for their marriage practices, why in the world would they want to persecute others?

Mark Morford wrote eloquently in the San Francisco Chronicle:
... when you put it that way, the ugly fight for Prop. 8 makes perfect sense. After all, hetero marriage is all organized religion really has left, their last vestige of power and control. Everything else they fought so hard to inject into the national agenda -- intelligent design, God's war against Muslims, the end of reproductive choice, more prayer in schools, abstinence education, et al -- not only failed, but failed spectacularly. No wonder they're clinging to this rigid, outdated idea of marriage so violently.

The Presidential election will have a gigantic effect on everything else, and I have no doubt that these kinds of laws will be reversed in short time. The American people really don't mind if Adam and Steve set up a home and family, there were some hard-fought campaigns and the final word is that the pro-marriage forces may not have taken their message seriously enough, they made some assumptions about people that didn't turn out to be correct. The fact is, you have to fight these fights mano a mano, you can't expect people to make the right decisions when they're inundated with bad information, you've got to get out there and fight the battle constantly. We have been amazed over these past few years to see how the other side will lie and distort things just to win, because winning is all that matters to them, and to beat them you have to be relentless. In the long run, the tide has turned, Americans are sick and tired of the pettiness, the rudeness, the unfairness and the ignorance, but you can't sit still and expect people to behave well, you have to keep an eye on it every minute and fight to keep the facts in public view.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

MoCo Election Outcomes

You probably want to know how things went in the local Montgomery County elections. There are still a lot of provisional and absentee ballots that haven't been counted, but the county Board of Elections has results so far posted HERE.

Remember, we were about 67 percent for John Kerry in 2004, two to one, we are a Blue county without a doubt. We were even Bluer this time -- according to the Board of Elections web site, we favored Obama-Biden over McCain-Palin by 71.04 to 27.53 percent.

For District 4 House of Representatives, Donna Edwards won easily with 70.76 percent of the vote. The Republican candidate, Roscoe Bartlett, won for District 6 with 51.23 percent of the vote to Jennifer Dougherty's 46.81 -- District 6 includes all of Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll Counties, and parts of Montgomery, Baltimore, and Harford Counties. And the congressional seat for District 8 went to Chris Van Hollen, with 73.94 percent of the vote.

In the county Board of Education At Large race, Phil Kauffman roundly beat the CRW's chosen candidate Tommy Le, 67.50 to 32.08 percent. These are not partisan races, you can't tell from the ballot what these people stand for, the difference here tells you that people studied the contests, or at least chose to follow the MCEA's apple ballot.

On the other hand, Laura Berthiaume, who was also an apple ballot candidate, barely edged out Steve Abrams for the District 2 seat, 51.34 percent to 48.27 percent. Abrams is the incumbent, he has name recognition though not always for the best reasons. The fact that Berthiaume just squeaked by here tells you that people were not voting the apple ballot, but had some knowledge of the Board -- enough knowledge to recognize Steve Abrams' name, if not enough to know what he stands for (he was the only Board member to vote against the new sex-ed curriculum, and his presence in the news has not always been favorable).

Chris Barclay was unopposed and got 99.71 percent of the votes, against a handful of write-in candidates. Who would do that? Oh well.

Question 1, the early voting item, passed easily in our county with 79.65 percent of the votes. Question 2, the big slot machine question, passed in our county, with 52.33 versus 47.67 percent of the vote.

Question A, the Repeal of Ineffective Provisions, passed with 63.83 percent of the vote, and the property tax limit known locally as "the Ficker amendment" seems to have barely won with a 50.09 to 49.91 percent majority.

The elections board will start counting the more than 64,000 provisional and absentee ballots today. Question B is ahead by less than 600 votes right now, so it could swing the other way. Most of the other races, even when they were close, were not that close, and probably won't come out differently from the current figures.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

One Nation

Now it's time for us all to pitch in on the hard job of restoring pride, prosperity, and peace across the land, for Red and Blue alike.

We have learned from our mistakes. Now let's move forward together with resolve to make America a better country, and the world a better place.

What a country! Congratulations to all of us.

Political Talk: Today Is It

Our neighborhood votes at Meadow Hall Elementary School, in Rockville. Normally you park in front of the building, walk in, and vote. Sometimes, since there's no school, I park in the principal's parking place, just because I can and because it's close to the door. The election judges are your neighbors, so you yack a little bit with them, you go to the machine, make your choices, and you're out of there.

This morning there was no place to park, we literally parked in a no-parking spot on the street, hoping the cops would be cool and not give people tickets for voting. All through the neighborhood you saw streams of people walking toward the school, alone and in groups, deliberate and solemn. As we approached the building we could see there was a line, but it wasn't until you went inside that you saw the magnitude of this. The line snaked from the auditorium, where the voting machines are, down the hall past the front doors of the school, around the corner, around another corner, and back to the end of the building.

Kids from the high school went up and down the line offering to run for breakfast for you, to raise funds for this-and-that team or club. The chief election judge came down the line and said there were chairs for people if they were disabled or felt like they were going to faint.

Christine Grewell emailed me a picture she took outside Woodlin Elementary School this morning. The line went down the block, past the playground and into the neighborhood. The whole country is doing this today.

People talked quietly among themselves. We saw some neighbors we don't see very often, and caught up a little. I didn't hear anybody talking politics, nobody was saying who they planned to vote for. It doesn't matter now, everybody's mind is made up. We're a little bit up-county, I imagine we have some Republicans, compared to other parts of Montgomery County, or Maryland, for that matter. Whatever, they can vote for their guys, we'll vote for our guys, there's nothing to argue about at this point. Somebody's going to win, somebody will lose, there will likely be some grumbling. I hope there's no cheating, I hope this isn't one of those elections that gets settled by some judges, I hope the people select a leader with a clear majority and tomorrow we'll know who the winner is. Both parties are saying they can win. Yesterday, Obama spoke to a crowd estimated at 80,000 to 100,000 in Manassas, Virginia, while McCain addressed a crowd of 5,000 in Indianapolis. Both Indiana and Virginia are traditionally Republican states.

I talked to one mom whose adult son is taking the Chinatown bus back from New York City to vote here, where he's registered. Another told me her daughter who works in Paris is flying back from France to cast her vote. Everybody wants to do their little part to get our country back on its feet.

The ballot is short, it only took a few minutes to check the boxes and drop your card in the box, and so the line moved along at a pretty good pace. We got there at 7:10 and left at 8:20, so a little more than an hour in the line. I heard nobody complaining, did see one guy say he's going to come back later -- but he's somebody I know, and I know he will come back. I know that there are other neighborhoods in our town and county with more or fewer voting machines, and I have the feeling that the neighborhoods with fewer machines will have very high voter turnout today, so they will have some real lines in those places. You just hope nobody gives up and leaves because there's a couple-hour wait.

It's like this everywhere. Today America will select a new President, it's our opportunity to pull out of the eight-year nightmare that has divided us against each other and alienated us from the rest of the world. Personally I favor a cleaner break with the past, but you'll decide according to your beliefs and your conscience, I'm not going to try to talk you into anything.

I imagine this will be the last "political talk" post, well, maybe we'll want to re-hash it for a couple of days afterwards. Let's hear what you saw at your polling place, what you're hearing on the news, in the office, in the neighborhood. Tell us why you think your candidate is going to win.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Political Talk: Dirty Tricks

Okay, we're coming down to the wire. We can argue over the polls all we want, tomorrow we'll see the results of the only one that matters.

What would you do if you went to vote and they wouldn't let you? What if you got something in the mail telling you where to vote, and you went there, and it was the wrong place? Or the wrong day?

I'm afraid most of us would just shrug and go home, maybe complain to somebody, there's probably a toll-free number somewhere where they'll take your comments and get back with you sometime. I know some people are predicting there may be violence tomorrow, but I don't think most people will care enough to take any action if their voting rights are taken away from them. Maybe in a few months the ACLU can file a lawsuit or something, after it doesn't matter any more.

Here's MSNBC this morning:
In the hours before Election Day, as inevitable as winter, comes an onslaught of dirty tricks — confusing e-mails, disturbing phone calls and insinuating fliers left on doorsteps during the night.

The intent, almost always, is to keep folks from voting or to confuse them, usually through intimidation or misinformation. But in this presidential race, in which a black man leads most polls, some of the deceit has a decidedly racist bent.

Complaints have surfaced in predominantly African-American neighborhoods of Philadelphia where fliers have circulated, warning voters they could be arrested at the polls if they had unpaid parking tickets or if they had criminal convictions.

Over the weekend in Virginia, bogus fliers with an authentic-looking commonwealth seal said fears of high voter turnout had prompted election officials to hold two elections — one on Tuesday for Republicans and another on Wednesday for Democrats. Onslaught of dirty tricks as election day nears

A little further down in the story ...
The Obama campaign and civil rights advocacy groups have signed up millions of new voters for this presidential race. In Ohio alone, some 600,000 have submitted new voter registration cards.

Across the country, many of these first-time voters are young and strong Obama supporters. Many are also black and Hispanic.

Activist groups say it is this fresh crop of ballot-minded citizens that makes some Republicans very nervous. And they say they expect the dirty tricks to get dirtier in final hours before Tuesday.

"Oh, there's plenty of time for things to get ugly," said Zachary Stalberg, president of The Committee of Seventy, a Philadelphia-based government watchdog group that is nonpartisan.

Other reports of intimidation efforts in the hotly contested state of Pennsylvania include leaflets taped to picnic benches at Drexel University, warning students that police would be at the polls on Tuesday to arrest would-be voters with prior criminal offenses.

Twalk amongst yahselves. This is your last chance before election day. Tomorrow you'll put your money where your mouth is, and by the next morning we'll know what direction this country is going to take.

That Teen-Sex and TV Study

You will have seen this in the news, the study showing that teen pregnancy is correlated with watching TV shows with a lot of sex in them. Like, here's this morning's Washington Post:
Teenagers who watch a lot of television featuring flirting, necking, discussion of sex and sex scenes are much more likely than their peers to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant, according to the first study to directly link steamy programming to teen pregnancy.

The study, which tracked more than 700 12-to-17-year-olds for three years, found that those who viewed the most sexual content on TV were about twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy as those who saw the least.

"Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy," said lead researcher Anita Chandra. "We found a strong association." The study is being published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There is rising concern about teen pregnancy rates, which after decades of decline may have started inching up again, fueling an intense debate about what factors are to blame. Although TV viewing is unlikely to entirely explain the possible uptick in teen pregnancies, Chandra and others said, the study provides the first direct evidence that it could be playing a significant role. Study First to Link TV Sex To Real Teen Pregnancies

We were having a conversation at our house recently where my kids, who are now 18 and 19, were saying "everybody" is pregnant. They started naming people, and wow, it's not literally everybody of course, but they do know a lot of young women who are pregnant. My son thought this was due to the movie Juno, which came out last year and featured a pregnant girl as the protagonist. You know me, I never see any of the movies, so I couldn't tell you, and I doubt that one movie is responsible for a significant increase in teen pregnancy, but the phenomenon is something you can observe firsthand on the streets of Montgomery County.

If you ever took a statistics course, you hopefully learned that correlation does not imply causation. It looks like you have to pay to read the article itself, or go to a library that carries the journal Pediatrics, but you can read the summary at the Rand site HERE. Here's the meat and potatoes of the summary:
Data from a national longitudinal survey of teens (12-17 years of age, monitored to 15-20 years of age) were used to assess whether exposure to televised sexual content predicted subsequent pregnancy for girls or responsibility for pregnancy for boys. Multivariate logistic regression models controlled for other known correlates of exposure to sexual content and pregnancy. We measured experience of a teen pregnancy during a 3-year period.

Exposure to sexual content on television predicted teen pregnancy, with adjustment for all covariates. Teens who were exposed to high levels of television sexual content (90th percentile) were twice as likely to experience a pregnancy in the subsequent 3 years, compared with those with lower levels of exposure (10th percentile).

When they say that television exposure "predicated" pregnancy, they are saying a certain thing about how the regression equations were set up. For instance, let's say you had a study that found that waist size (WS) "predicted" weight in pounds (WP), with the formula WP = a + b*WS. I know, I hate to use a bunch of math here, but we're saying that if you know waist size (WS), you can multiply it by something and add something to the product and you can estimate or "predict" weight in pounds (WP). But you could turn it around, too, you could say that weight in pounds (WP) predicts waist size, you could use the formula WS = a + b*WP -- saying, if you know somebody's waist size you can estimate their weight. "Predicting" just means that if you know one fact you can estimate another one, and often that goes both ways. It does not mean that one thing causes the other.

In other words, this study doesn't say that watching sexy television causes teens to end up pregnant. It could just as easily say that pregnancy-prone kids have a tendency to watch shows with sex in them.

I saw this on the front pages of some papers this morning, so you can bet it's going into somebody's arsenal of arguments about why America needs to be even more puritan than it is. But look at the Netherlands, where everything goes, where sex education is thorough and parents expect their children to have sex and thus prepare them for it -- and where television is relatively wide-open sexually, compared to here. Where the US has a teen pregnancy rate of 53 per 1,000 women aged 15-19, the Netherlands' rate is 5 per 1,000.

So let's say I would take this study with a grain of salt. Teens who are fascinated by sex are more likely to get pregnant -- that's not so surprising. Or it could be that teens who watch television all day are too lazy to use contraception. This is a hard kind of study to draw any conclusions from.