Sunday, May 31, 2009

Disgust, Authority: Conservatives, Liberals

I'll tell you, as much as I find myself immersed in these controversies and battles of the "culture wars," I still couldn't tell you what a "conservative" or a "liberal" is. You read definitions but in reality people don't conform to them well.

A couple of years ago, John Dean came out with a book where he had gone back to the social-psychological research following World War II, an influential book by Adorno called The Authoritarian Personality. Dean's observation was that the conservatives typified by the Bush administration were authoritarians, that that was their defining quality.

It seems interesting to me that you can't tell what a person's political inclinations are by looking at them. Conservatives don't really dress more conservatively than liberals, or have neater haircuts, or walk straighter, or anything. Examples: Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper... A lot of times you are shocked to be talking to someone and discover their beliefs.

Somehow Americans line up on two ends of the field. We end up with two political parties, or at least two major ones, opposed to each other, but from a certain perspective it is hard sometimes to see the core philosophy that holds each team together and guides their choices. I think that's partly because both sides are fighting to win, and so they expend effort on targeting the opposition, rather than addressing the issues.

Some psychologists are finding personality differences between conservatives and liberals. The Nicholas Kristof had a story in the NYT yesterday:
If you want to tell whether someone is conservative or liberal, what are a couple of completely nonpolitical questions that will give a good clue?

How’s this: Would you be willing to slap your father in the face, with his permission, as part of a comedy skit?

And, second: Does it disgust you to touch the faucet in a public restroom?

Studies suggest that conservatives are more often distressed by actions that seem disrespectful of authority, such as slapping Dad. Liberals don’t worry as long as Dad has given permission.

Likewise, conservatives are more likely than liberals to sense contamination or perceive disgust. People who would be disgusted to find that they had accidentally sipped from an acquaintance’s drink are more likely to identify as conservatives.

The upshot is that liberals and conservatives don’t just think differently, they also feel differently. This may even be a result, in part, of divergent neural responses. Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal

I hate that headline. It could have said, "Do Other People Disgust you? If So, You're a Conservative." Oh well, I guess we know what kind of headline writer they have.

Skipping down ...
One of the main divides between left and right is the dependence on different moral values. For liberals, morality derives mostly from fairness and prevention of harm. For conservatives, morality also involves upholding authority and loyalty — and revulsion at disgust.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that disgust emerged as a protective mechanism against health risks, like feces, spoiled food or corpses. Later, many societies came to apply the same emotion to social “threats.” Humans appear to be the only species that registers disgust, which is why a dog will wag its tail in puzzlement when its horrified owner yanks it back from eating excrement.

Psychologists have developed a “disgust scale” based on how queasy people would be in 27 situations, such as stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives systematically register more disgust than liberals. (To see how you weigh factors in moral decisions, take the tests at

There was some debate in the field a few years back about the basic emotions, and disgust got added to the list. Most emotions are blends of the basic ones, and the basic ones are distinct -- disgust earned its place.

I went to a Citizens for Responsible Whatever meeting once where they started out by showing videos of bizarre guys prancing around in tu-tus and acting outlandish and weird. The whole point was to induce a feeling of disgust for gay people, there was no other reason to show that. Once that emotion is established, negative stereotypes are consistent with it, and it appears to make sense to endorse policies that that are detrimental to gays. The first step is to elicit disgust, and everything else follows from that.

I'm afraid it comes down to this:
“Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart,” Professor Haidt says. “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.”

The amazing thing is that those social games ratchet us upward toward truth. There is profit in truth, that is, when someone conveys accurate information to another then the other can coordinate activities with them, to the benefit of both -- it's just a social game. Over centuries and millenia the information has become ever more refined, with the result being technological advances and advances in scientific knowledge and even philosophy and the arts. Logic has been discovered and studied, but there is no evidence that it plays any important part in human cognition.

Maryland Might Recognize Marriages

There are several degrees of possibilities in the conversation about marriage equality. For instance, there are those who advocate the establishment of legally recognized civil unions, which would provide the legal and financial advantages of marriage, but not call it "marriage." Then there are places where weddings between couples of the same sex cannot be performed, but if a couple was married in another state it would be recognized there. And some places have just decided to let gay and lesbian couples marry like anybody else.

Maryland doesn't allow any of it. But wait...
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler is exploring whether same-sex marriages performed in other states can be recognized in Maryland, a move that could open an avenue for legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples who have been rebuffed by the courts and legislature here.

The exercise puts Gansler - a Democrat and vocal proponent of same-sex marriage - in a difficult position. Maryland law clearly defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but the state also adheres to a long-standing legal principle that generally acknowledges couples married elsewhere.

Gay-rights activists say the ability to marry would not only strengthen their relationships but confer hundreds of rights, benefits and responsibilities on them, including community property protections, control over funeral arrangements of a spouse and an obligation to pay child support. State studies gay nuptials

So you'd go to somewhere more enlightened, like Iowa, get married, and come home again with all the benefits of marriage. Sure, it makes it hard to invite your friends to the wedding, but it seems a whole lot better than nothing, which is what we have now.

Skipping a little...
"In some ways, this could be a back door toward marriage equality," said Del. Heather R. Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat who obtained a marriage license with her wife, Deborah, last year in California. "I hold out hope for the day that it's part of our everyday culture here in Maryland, and it's no big deal."

The debate comes after New York Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, signed an executive order last year directing state agencies to recognize same-sex nuptials performed in other jurisdictions.

The District of Columbia did the same through legislation passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty this month.

The gay-marriage movement has been building nationwide but so far has been stymied in Maryland.

While Gov. Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly have extended a number of rights and benefits to gay and lesbian couples, they have stopped short of endorsing same-sex unions. The Democratic governor has said he would prefer that the state adopt civil unions.

"You can't understate the significance of being married," said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat who is openly gay and requested the attorney general's opinion. "People in our state get married every day, and to be denied the ability to do that is very dispiriting."

It seems silly to me not to let gay and lesbian couples marry. What could it possibly hurt? You take two people, they love one another, they want to start a home and a family, why in the world wouldn't you let them?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Liberty University's Tax-Exempt Status Challenged

We were bantering about this in the comments the other day. You may have seen the news recently that Baptist college Liberty University has banned the Democratic Club on campus. Decided that Democratic values were not consistent with the school's particular flavor of Christianity, that is, Jerry Falwell flavor.

It is not often that I have the pleasure of quoting the Associated Baptist Press here, but this is how they tell the story:
A church-state watchdog group says the IRS should review Liberty University's tax-exempt status for its decision to revoke recognition of its Democratic Party student club.

University officials ordered the student group May 15 to cease using the school's name, logo, seal or mark in any of its publications, including electronic postings on a website, Facebook or Twitter.

Mark Hine, vice president for student affairs, said the school could not "lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by Liberty University."

"Even though this club may not support the more radical planks of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party is still the parent organization of the club on campus," Hine said. "The Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of LU and to Christian doctrine (supports abortion, federal funding of abortion, advocates repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, promotes the 'LGBT' agenda, hate crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc)."

Hine said candidates supported by the party "are directly contrary to the mission" of the university, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. Group says IRS should review Liberty University's tax-exempt status

The government doesn't ask much of a religion: stay out of politics. That's all. Don't campaign from the pulpit. Don't give church funds to political candidates. Stuff like that. You can preach all you want about the principles of social and personal behavior, a church can be against abortion, for instance, but it can't campaign on behalf of a candidate who agrees with their position, or against one they don't like. I think they can print a flyer that says how the candidates feel on the issues, but they can't put devil horns on the ones they don't like and halos on the ones they do like, no exes and checkmarks.

Of course preachers have been crossing that line forever, but there has to be some amount of enforcement. If you're gonna break the law, you got to be cool about it.

Banning the Democratic Club is not being cool about it. That is called "being partisan," sometimes known as "taking sides in politics." Goes by many names.

There's nothing wrong with it, you just lose your tax-exempt status if you do that. You're not a religion any more, you're a political advocacy group, and those pay taxes. Nobody's stopping you, you'll just have to pay up like any other organization.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said May 27 that Liberty may have violated federal tax law by denying recognition to a Democratic club while recognizing one for Republican students.

"Liberty University is a tax-exempt institution and isn't allowed to support one party over another," Lynn said. "If the school insists on pushing policies that favor Republicans over Democrats, it should have to surrender its tax exemption."

Yeah, yeah, I just said that.

Here's their side of the story, you'll only get this from the Associated Baptist Press.
Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr., said May 25 that a lot of the media reporting about the decision was wrong, and it started when Terry McAuliffe, a Democratic candidate for Virginia's governorship, called a telephone press conference to talk about the Democratic club formed by Liberty students.

Falwell said the university had not "banned" Democrats, as some headlines proclaimed. He said the club can continue to meet on campus but will not be officially recognized, meaning it cannot use Liberty's name or receive university funds.

"Parents and students support the university because they believe in its distinctly Christian identity and mission," Falwell said. "Liberty University is pro-life and believes that marriage between one man and one woman provides the best environment for children. Liberty University will not lend its name or financial support to any student group that advances causes contrary to its mission."

Falwell said the school also would not endorse a Republican student group that supported abortion rights. "Liberty stands for certain core values," he said, "not for a political party."

Heh, working pretty close to the line there, dude, good luck with that.

I hope this does go to court. I want to see what happens. The Christian right has been given free rein to run this country into the ground, it's time to consider putting some limits on them as the Founding Fathers intended.
But Lynn said campus political clubs often endorse and work on behalf of candidates, amounting to an in-kind contribution. By allowing students to support only one party, Lynn said the university appeared to be taking sides.

"As a tax-exempt institution, Liberty is barred from intervening in elections or showing preference for one political party over another," Lynn said in a letter to the IRS. "By banning a Democratic club while permitting a Republican club to exist and offering funding to the latter but not the former, university officials appear to be operating in violation of federal tax law."

Lynn said he found the incident "very troubling" and urged officials "to investigate this matter and ensure that the law is enforced."

Let's keep an eye on this story, I have the feeling it's more important than it appears right now.

On Calling Sotomayor a Racist

President Obama nominated an amazing candidate yesterday for Supreme Court Justice. Well, she's no Harriet Myers, but. I'm not going through her credentials, you've seen them, she rises to the top of every heap she's thrown into.

So which low road will the Republicans take? Here you go, Jim Galloway writing at AJC Political Insider...
Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich just twittered the following to his closest 344,357 friends about five minutes ago, never mentioning U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor by name:
White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.

That message was preceded by this one:
Imagine a judicial nominee said “my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman” new racism is no better than old racism

We called a spokesman for Gingrich, who said the former Georgia congressman is currently in Europe.

The aide said the “tweets” are genuine, which makes Gingrich the most prominent Republican yet to take a hard line against Obama’s nominee for the high court. And that could presage more resolute GOP opposition in Congress. Newt Gingrich on Twitter: ‘Latina woman racist should…withdraw’

Sotomayor was raised a little bit differently from these white guys. She came up from the streets of the Bronx, her father didn't speak English, she scrapped her way to the top using nothing but brains and charm. You'd better believe her thinking is affected by that.

Her upbringing shaped her, yes, but these ignorant white guys are assuming that their upbringing didn't shape them. In their ethnocentric blindness they think their particular beliefs are simply correct and that quaint villagers from the ghettos and barrios are instances of some aboriginal cultures that may be interesting but certainly can never be correct, as they themselves are without effort.

Don't forget, white is a color, too.

And it's just one of many.

Another white guy speaks.
Conservative talk show giant Rush Limbaugh said something similar on Tuesday, after the Sotomayor nomination:
“Here you have a racist. You might want to soften that and you might want to say a reverse racist.

“And the libs of course say, the minorities cannot be racists, because they don’t have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone, because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power.”

The criticism is drawn from a speech that Sotomayor made in 2001 at the University of California campus in Berkley. This is the quote, via Time magazine, emphasis added:

“Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement … I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Gingrich’s European tweet quickly made it to the White House press room. This from the Washington Times:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed the remarks as coming from a “former lawmaker” and smacking of “partisan politics.”

“It is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they decide to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation,” Mr. Gibbs said when asked about the remarks.

I don't know Sonia Sotomayor's beliefs, she may make a terrible judge, but I know two things. First, I know these stupid white guys are idiots, calling her a racist for believing that her life experiences may be richer than theirs while they assert in a million ways that the whitebread way of life should be adopted by all. Let me point out that she says the richness of her experience makes the Latina's judgment better, not something in her genes -- not her race!

Second, I don't know the context of her statement, but I like it. A person who has lived close to the neighborhood, who has fought with their own fists to keep the bully from taking their bicycle, who has seen the cops come in and bust heads, who has seen the worry in neighbors' eyes as they try to pull together enough money for the rent or to keep a kid out of trouble, is, in my opinion, going to have a better understanding of the intent and implications of the law than someone who has had everything handed to them.

I'm white and unashamed of that, I am in fact the ultimately stereotypical middle-age, middle-class, straight white guy, and I feel perfectly un-guilty accepting the luxuries that I am awarded without struggle. But I am not so stupid as to think this soft way of life is any better than a culture that works close to the earth, people like me are no better than people who work with their hands, people who follow direction obediently, people who bow their heads under the weight of their suffering and plod forward hopefully. Gingrich's and Limbaugh's way is just another way of living, and it is entirely possible that having tasted the various American strata on the way up, someone like Sonia Sotomayor has in fact qualified herself to make better judgments about how the law should be interpreted, she will understand that law that affects the lives of people up and down the strata, and not only those at the top.

As soon as the smoke had cleared on 9/11, President Bush, in his first words, started talking about "our way of life." Until then, the pride of America was that there was no "way of life," we were free to live any way of life we wished. It's time to drop that fearful talk now. Like a flock of birds that tightens up when a hawk nears, we pressed toward the middle, toward uniformity, we let the politicians and corporate suits tell us how we should be and we pursued their ideal. It's time to drop that, it's time for us to come out with all our differences. Experiences like Sonia Sotomayor's will make the court better.

What it comes down to is that the old white men of the "I'm Against It" party are starting on Day One to call Sotomayor a racist, because she made a statement once that makes it appear that she believes that her rich background is better than theirs. They can't criticize her beliefs, her talent, her judgment, her background, the breadth of her knowledge, the sharpness of her intellect, they can only think to call her a racist because she's different from them and proud of it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

California Court Rules Against Marriage

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, but also decided that the estimated 18,000 gay couples who wed before the law took effect will stay married.

The 6-1 decision written by Chief Justice Ron George rejected an argument from gay-rights activists that the ban revised the California constitution's equal protection clause to such a dramatic degree that it first needed the Legislature's approval.

The court said the people have a right, through the ballot box, to change their constitution.

"In a sense, petitioners' and the attorney general's complaint is that it is just too easy to amend the California constitution through the initiative process. But it is not a proper function of this court to curtail that process; we are constitutionally bound to uphold it," the ruling said. Calif. high court upholds gay-marriage ban

Report About Harvey Milk Requires Permission Slips

See what you think about this one...
The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday threatened to sue a San Diego County school that refused to let a student present a report on slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk until her classmates got their parents' permission to hear it.

David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego County, said the principal of Mt. Woodson Elementary School in Ramona violated the free speech rights of 6th-grader Natalie Jones, who was the only student in her class prevented from giving an in-class presentation.

Principal Theresa Grace concluded last month that the subject of the girl's project triggered a district policy requiring parents to be notified in writing before their children are exposed to lessons dealing with sex, according to Blair-Loy and Natalie's mother.

After the principal sent letters to alert parents about the "sensitive topic," Natalie was allowed to give her 12-page PowerPoint report during the May 8 lunch recess, but not in class, Blair-Loy said. Eight of the 13 students in her class attended, he said.

In a letter to the Ramona Unified District on Wednesday, the ACLU demanded that school officials apologize to Natalie and clarify its sex education policy. It also wants the girl to be given the chance to present her biographical account of Milk's life and death in class.

"It's not about sex, it's not about sex education. It's a presentation about a historical figure who happened to be gay," Blair-Loy said. ACLU says school censored student's Milk report

So the rule is that you need parents' permission for "any lesson dealing with sex." Since Harvey Milk was homosexual, apparently, the principal feels this meets the criterion. I wonder if they have to send permission slips home if someone is going to speak about a heterosexual person.

Prop-8 Decision Today

The California Supreme Court will rule today on whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in that state, and decide the validity of marriages that were conducted there when it was legal.

One way or the other, somebody's going to be unhappy. Gays and lesbians who wish to marry, or who are already married, are hoping the court will rule that the referendum to create an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting their marriages was conducted unlawfully, and will reverse the outcome; there will be a major backlash if the court rules against them. If the court permits marriage equality, anti-gay groups will feel that The Gays have acquired so much power that they can overturn "the will of the people" to decide who California residents can marry. In the case that the court does decide to allow marriage, the reaction from the right is likely to be intense and widespread, not only localized to California -- Proposition 8 was really the only thing that went right for social conservatives in the last round of elections, and they are hanging on to it for hope.

The battle over Proposition 8 became a major big-bucks campaign, with the Mormon church especially pushing its members to contribute and to vote against marriage. The loss is seen as a failure by gay-supporting groups to recognize the strength of the opposition.

I'll update you when the ruling is announced.

Monday, May 25, 2009

PIAs and the PC

MCPS school board member Pat O'Neill's comment about "pain in the ass" parents is taking on a life of its own. A couple of local newspapers have run stories about the Parents Coalition and about Pat O'Neill's statement, and the Parents Coalition itself is experiencing an interesting kind of insurgency that may eventually put them back on the right track.

The Gazette had a story about some people who took O'Neill's comment about some parents being a pain in the ass personally.
A recent comment by a veteran county school board member about "PIA" parents, or pains in the ass, has sparked a debate between elected officials and the parent-activists who felt the remark was directed at them.

The topic of overly combative parents has been an ongoing discussion among some school system staff. The parents, employees say, often do more harm than good because their endless pursuit of information takes time away from moving forward with the education of the system's 140,000 students.

Historically, the staff complaints were voiced privately and rarely reiterated in public. But during a May 12 school board meeting in Rockville, underlying tensions bubbled to the surface.

On that day, board members were discussing language in a policy to require that principals provide opportunities for a "broad range of stakeholders" to be part of school improvement teams, which include parents who recommend ways to better the schools.

The school board's two newest members — Philip Kauffman (At-large) of Olney and Laura V. Berthiaume (Dist. 2) of Rockville — had expressed concern that the improvement teams don't include a diverse group of parents. Some parents, Berthiaume added, might be excluded from the teams because they don't know the teams exist.

School board Vice President Patricia B. O'Neill took it a step further.

"I'm not aware of groups being excluded," said O'Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda. "I am aware that if I was a principal working on this, I might not pick the PIAs, the pain in the ass people in the school, to be at the table doing that, because they may only be representing their own views and not the greater interests of the school."

The remark evoked chuckles throughout the board room. "Maybe we should put ‘No PIAs'" in the policy, O'Neill added. Parents, members of school board debate derogatory comment

Now, I'll bet she had somebody in particular in mind when she made that comment -- you can be sure it didn't just come off the top of her head, Pat O'Neill is a smart wheeler-dealer with a lot of political pull in this county. She knows how her statement will be interpreted, I'll bet she's ready, willing, and able to back it up.

I wonder who she might have been thinking of ...
Janis Sartucci, an outspoken member of the county's Parents Coalition, an advocacy group, immediately posted the video on the group's Web blog and YouTube.

Coalition members say the group has about 345 participants; roughly 15 members blog regularly on the site. The bloggers regularly weigh in on everything from cuts to school programs to the system's supposed lack of fiscal responsibility. O'Neill has said the coalition's posts border on "cyber-bullying."

If you're interested in this issue, please go read the article, I'm only posting a tiny piece of it.

The Parents Coalition has a Yahoo group and a blog. Immediately after O'Neill's statement both of them posted statements by one member after the other bragging about how proud they were to be a pain in the ass.

Just for the record, let me say, some of my kids' teachers would call me a pain in the ass, I am completely sympathetic with those who bear that title. I used to go to the middle school after every Algebra test and double-check the grading. I often found enough errors to bring my kids' grade up, rarely appreciated by the teacher. In first grade they rated my kid's reading at the first grade level, and I hired two UMD graduate students to re-test him, and came back into the school with full reports rating his reading at a much higher level. That principal and reading coordinator were not happy to see me. I was a pain in the ass. I could tell you lots of stories, if you know me you know I'm not one to sit and let somebody else screw up my life or my kids' lives.

But look, in both those examples I'm a parent standing up for my own kid. I was not on a committee where we have to follow an agenda and come to consensus and form policies that affect all the children at a school or in the district. That's what Pat O'Neill was talking about. If you asked the other members of the MCPS citizens advisory committee that I am a member of, I think you will hear that I respect others' opinions and am willing to negotiate and concede when it is necessary, while still representing a clear position on the topics. That's what Pat was talking about. As a parent, you have every right to stand up for your child if you think the educational bureaucracy is working against them. This discussion was about including people on a committee to discuss school improvements, and what Pat O'Neill said was absolutely right, nobody wants to put members on that team who cannot work with other people, who see the school's mission purely in terms of their own child and their own ideological objectives.

The Washington Post has a little something about it. Somehow the mighty Post is afraid to say the word "ass." Hey man, it's in the Bible, okay?
Parent activists have been appending the title "PIA" to their names in e-mails and online postings in response to Montgomery County school board Vice President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase), who last week suggested principals "might not pick PIAs" [translation: pain-in-the-you-know-whats] to participate in school governance.

Critics seized on the quip, uttered during a school board meeting and posted on YouTube, as further evidence that leaders of Maryland's largest school system systematically exclude anyone with a contrary opinion. Others applauded the longtime board member for stating a hard truth: Some parents are simply too contrarian to play a role in running a school. Parents Take Pride In New Moniker

The Parents Coalition would like you to think that the schools "exclude anyone with a contrary opinion," that that's what Pat O'Neill meant with her comment. Uh, no, that's pretty clearly not the case. Some people just don't play well with others, and nobody in their right mind would invite them to be on a team that is expected to get anything done.

Okay, that's not even the interesting part.

The Parents Coalition Yahoo listserve has, over the past few months, been getting an average of ten or fifteen new messages per day. The "pain in the ass" comment upped their count temporarily, and apparently attracted at least one new member, one Irene Williams.

On the morning of May 19th, she posted a long comment that began like this:
Hmmmm. I joined "The Parents Coalition" this week and now I am wondering if I made a mistake. Was hoping for an opportunity to network with real parents, brainstorm on genuine issues affecting my children and perhaps celebrate our successes (we do have a great school system, if I may say so and yes it also has issues). I am embarassed to say that all week it would appear that I have somehow strayed into a re-run of One Flew the Cookoo's Nest or something similarly bizarre, a handful of people apparently enamored of their own voices (perhaps born of privilege and entitlement) making repeated posts about what is wrong with the school system...

Ms. Williams then proceeds to rip the Parents Coalition a new one, discussing each of their pet projects and what is wrong with them, pointing out the misperceptions and misrepresentations, all in a chatty, educated but street-smart tone. Whoever Irene Williams is, she takes the chief noisemakers of the Parents Coalition by the ear and gives them a serious talking-to.

Later in the day she posted another comment that said:
I rise to salute all the hard working staff of our school system that a few on this list seem to enjoy sliming and maligning. As a parent, I also want to thank the MCCPTA and all the thousands of volunteers who do real work in the schools for free. Wallowing in vinegar is a strange way of getting honey ;-) I think the Board is doing a great job especially compared to other jurisdictions. Put this way, some places would kill for our problems. Enough of the unnecessary drama ;-) The school system is exactly why many of us stay in Montgomery County and I don't appreciate the misrepresentations, the falsehoods and the unnecessary drama from a handful of people who feel that the world is theirs to abuse.
We have a great school system and we should keep it that way. Let's talk about our issues without denigrating the hard work of those who keep the place going. That is my approach because my mama raised me right. Give you an example, after reading the shrill post about the school system asking for an additional $67 million (?), I called around and found out that indeed we are only talking about an appropriation authority, not extra money. Accounting is hard enough without someone muddying the waters with mischief. I know now not to take this individual seriously but do I have to worry about all 350 of you or should I simply go away and leave the playground for those who wish to play delusional games?

This lady is fearless, when her cold eye latches on you you will tremble.

Ms. Williams is a little wordy but she is a clever personable writer and the fact is she has the Parents Coalition dead in her sights. She's figured out exactly what the group is doing and she's going to give it back to them.

Oddly, after several of her comments there is a message to the listserve from a member who seems to be a site administrator and is trying to figure out who Ms. Williams is. He posts the entire header of her email, and publishes her IP address to the entire group, concluding that it's a FIOS account and that's all he can figure out.

Somebody writes to suggest that Ms. Williams is writing "through ignorance, mental imbalance, or perhaps more likely, the promise of personal gain..."

Somebody accuses her of not being a real person, whatever that might mean. Somebody says that somebody else is writing under the pseudonym "Irene Williams" -- there is a rumor that one member's IP number is the same as Irene's, with several carefully worded nearly-accusatory comments. There is discussion about how to ban people and whether to ban Irene Williams for calling people out by name, but the fact is they are all using her name, too, and they habitually name not only school officials but one another in their messages to the listserve. In fact, she scolds them for publishing unredacted documents with people's credit card receipts on the Internet, revealing private personal information. She has them in a situation where banning her negates every stated belief of the Parents Coalition.

Ms. Williams said she had received dozens of emails in support of her comments, and produced an extremely lucid list of suggestions for improving the Parents Coalition. I can't believe she cranks this stuff out as fast as she does, I'd spend days writing one of these messages. She is obviously not a nut, except in the sense that she is speaking out of turn to an audience that does not like to hear what she's saying. In other words, she is a pain in the Parents Coalition's ass. And they don't like it.

I call this the "goosey-gander" rule, the Parents Coalition likes to engage in confrontation and interruption, and now it's happening to them, what's good for the goose ... Sometimes known as the Glass Houses Effect. The loudmouths are so proud of their own pain-in-the-assness, but they are not so excited when it happens to them.

The idea of the Parents Coalition is great, in fact Irene Williams keeps going back to their mission statement, which is perfectly laudable. Unfortunately the group has become identified with a handful of malcontents. For instance, there is a discussion on the listserve between one of the loudest PC leaders and an official of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, where the official is explaining the PTA's position on something and the Parents Coalition loudmouth is insisting that it is just the opposite. Rather than working with the PTAs, which are really the official way for parents to participate in school business, even budget planning and policy-making, the Parents Coalition lies about them and accuses them of collaborating on "secret" processes that the PTA had nothing to do with. They have burned every bridge they have encountered.

Ms. Williams' criticisms have elicited a range of responses. Besides the defensive calls for her removal from the group, a number of reasoned replies have been posted to the listserve, suggesting that perhaps the Parents Coalition has indeed lost its focus. Members who have remained silent have posted comments, and several individuals have suggested ways to make the group functional again. In the meantime, Ms. Williams posted a very clear list of recommendations, suggesting ways that the group can focus on attaining its stated objectives and not get mired in attacking personalities in the community.

As a lifetime pain in the ass myself, I respect the need for people to speak up when they see something wrong. It may be that the authorities or your peers and colleagues do no appreciate what you're saying, whatever, you say what you believe and the world is a better place for it. But if you really want to make changes you have to work with other people. You will have to compromise, negotiate, listen to other points of view, consider the needs of other people. Simply expressing an opinion does not make you a pain in the ass, even if it is an unpopular opinion. Making accusations about people who are trying to do their job, lying about other people's motives, exaggerating and misconstruing will not move public opinion in the direction of your goals, no matter how loud you shout. The aims of the Parents Coalition are good, to promote transparency and accountability in the school district, and I hope the membership will find a way to steer away from the contentious approach that has been taken, toward a direction that actually gets results.

I'll keep you up to date as things transpire, at this moment I have the feeling there may be a shift of power inside the Parents Coalition which might result in better relationships with the system they hope to improve.

[Update: I had not seen the post at Maryland Politics Watch, where the Parents Coalition was caught making illegal robo-calls opposing Nancy Navarro's candidacy. Read the transcript and history of it HERE.]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bristol Palin: TTF Poster Child first came into existence to fight for comprehensive sex education in Montgomery County, Maryland, public schools. We've gotten into some tangential issues but there is one focal theme to most of it, and that is society's attitudes about sexuality. As a group we tend to believe that young people should be taught all they need to know in order to conduct themselves responsibly, especially when it comes to sex. They should know how everything works, what the risks are, there should be some preparation for adult emotions and behaviors, and they should give some thought to the ethical aspects of their choices -- what is right and wrong for them as individuals and for society in general.

Bristol Palin could be our poster child. People magazine is doing a big feature on her, and it's pretty good.
Bristol Palin's pretty, lightly freckled face was nowhere to be seen on the overhead screen as images from her high-school senior slideshow – photos from the prom and a Class of 2009 portrait set against the Alaska snow – played during May 14's Wasilla High commencement ceremony.

Did it make her sad to have missed out on so much senior-year fun – to be spending graduation night not with a gang of friends but at home, giving her 5-month-old son a bottle while her extended family plays "Eskimo bingo"?

Bristol, the eldest daughter of Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin's five children, answers with a multitasking mom's whiff of impatience: "I have other things to worry about."

Bristol Palin, 18, has logged more of those "other things" than some people twice her age. In just the past nine months, she weathered her mother's bruising vice-presidential run; a failed engagement to boyfriend Levi Johnston that played out in the national media; and, most indelibly, a pregnancy that made her both mother and poster child. She is uncertain where she will go to college – she's thinking of a two-year business program – but says her near future will include advocating for teen-pregnancy prevention. Bristol Palin Exposes Her Sometimes Isolated Life

It was an epiphany for me when it came out during the election campaign that Sarah Palin's daughter, seventeen and unmarried, was pregnant. I figured that would do it, her mother's hypocritical morality would be splashed all over the front page of the newspaper -- but just the opposite happened. The Republican base loved the fact that Sarah Palin's teenage daughter was knocked up. They were so happy for her. Well, no, she was not married, and the boyfriend didn't have much of a clue about how he was going to support a family, but who cares? God is blessing them with a beautiful little baby. For me the situation provided a jaw-dropping insight into the irrationality and irresponsibility of the religious right.
"Girls need to imagine and picture their life with a screaming newborn baby and then think before they have sex," she tells PEOPLE. "Think about the consequences."

Her mom may be governor, but there is no nanny in the Palin house. Bristol gets up – usually twice during the night – to feed Tripp, who sleeps in a hand-me-down crib in her bedroom, and she says she has tapped out at least one school paper with her son crying in the background. She breastfed her baby for a month, pumping milk before class and rushing straight home to feed him. And she worked two part-time jobs to help pay for the diapers and formula her parents otherwise supply.

"If girls realized the consequences of sex, nobody would be having sex," says Bristol, sitting at her parents' lakeside patio table. "Trust me. Nobody."

As for her breakup with Levi, 19, with whom she's still trying to resolve child support and visitation issues, Bristol says it was for the best. "I'm thankful we didn't get married because if it wasn't going to work now, it wasn't going to work in five years."

Every parent remembers those days. It is serious stuff having a baby, oh they're cute and everything but when they're crying at three in the morning you will not sleep. It should not be a surprise. Students should be taught about the responsibilities of parenthood, how to prevent pregnancy, and what to do if you find you are pregnant.

This online article is just a teaser to get you to buy the hardcopy of the magazine. I'm glad they are focusing some attention on the plight of young women like Bristol Palin, and I hope that she is able to get the word out to other teens, especially ones who might live in areas that do not have good, comprehensive sex education.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Time to Get Rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to eliminate the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy for the US military. The public doesn't want it, military leaders don't want it, there is simply no sense in getting rid of perfectly good soldiers because of their sexual orientation.

But in recent weeks the promises have been watered down. Now the administration talks about "changing" and not eliminating DADT, and it is frequently mentioned that there are a lot of other things to do, too, and this might not go first. Well, it is the most important thing to a lot of people, including a lot of people who are risking their lives to serve our country.

Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, writes at Huffington Post:
New President. New Congress. No Change. Here is the latest evidence of what our country is losing under the law that prevents gay men and women from serving openly in the armed forces of the United States.

Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Fehrenbach, a fighter weapons systems officer, has been flying the F-15E Strike Eagle since 1998. He has flown numerous missions against Taliban and al-Qaida targets, including the longest combat mission in his squadron's history. On that infamous September 11, 2001, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach was handpicked to fly sorties above the nation's capital. Later he flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has received at least 30 awards and decorations including nine air medals, one of them for heroism, as well as campaign medals for Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He is now a flight instructor in Idaho, where he has passed on his skills to more than 300 future Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force weapons systems officers.

Since 1987, when Fehrenbach entered Notre Dame on a full Air Force ROTC scholarship, the government has invested twenty-five million dollars in training and equipping him to serve his country, which he has done with what anyone would agree was great distinction. He comes from a military family. His father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, his mother an Air Force nurse and captain. Lt. Col. Fehrenbach has honored that tradition.

And the Air Force is about to discharge this guy, a virtual poster boy for Air Force recruiting, because he is gay? Someone has to be kidding. This is sheer madness. Air Force Boots Their 25 Million Dollar Aviator (He's Gay) VIDEO

During the Bush years there was evidence that some parts of the military were being taken over by born-again Christian officers who proselytized on the battlefield and in training. It is time for that to come to a screeching halt, the religious practices and all that goes along with it. The military is no place for bigotry, and our country could be capitalizing on all its sources of talent, skill, and knowledge -- the last thing that should matter is an individual's romantic inclinations.
But Lt. Col. Fehrenbach does not have to be discharged. There is something the Pentagon can and should do now. Lt. Col. Fehrenbach's commanders and senior commanders can retain him in the service. Individual commanders are allowing many gays and lesbians to continue to serve openly in the armed forces. They are doing so because these are good service members who are doing their jobs. Lt. Col. Fehrenbach is no danger to unit cohesion, or to morale, or to good order and discipline. He goes to work every day, does a fantastic job for his country, has all the medals and job performance evaluations to prove it, and he should be allowed to serve.

Is the discharge of an officer with such critical and valuable skills, whom the government has spent millions training, is that really what Congress intended when it gave us "don't ask, don't tell"? Only last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told members of Congress, "If we don't get the people part of this business right, none of our other decisions will matter." Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress, "This is how we take care of our people."

He should have said, "This is how we take care of some of our people," because neither Secretary Gates nor Admiral Mullen could have been thinking of the 65,000 gays and lesbians in uniform today. Certainly they were not thinking of Lt. Col. Fehrenbach when they talked about "getting the people part right" because they got the "people part" wrong.

People are watching the new guy to see if he will keep his promises. A couple of things are giving cause for worry, and this is one of them. Don't Ask, Don't Tell simply needs to go. It might have been the best we could get in 1993 (being gay was not grounds for discharge in the US military until 1942), when attitudes were just beginning to shift, but everybody knows better now.

You should go read this article. It also has some video of Fehrenbach on the Rachel Maddow show.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In a Nutshell

From The Poor Man Institute:
We’ve got what amounts to a reverse Nuremberg defense, where Bush administration officials are let off the hook because they were only giving orders.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Torture is Against the Law

In 1974 and 1975 the Symbionese Liberation Army robbed a number of banks to fund their revolutionary agenda. You may be of an age to remember when Patty Hearst was kidnapped by them, took on the name "Tania," and joined them in their robbery.

You'd have to say it worked. They went into the bank without money and they had money when they came out. The fund-raising was a success.

Now the question addressed in the The Post this morning has to do with torture by the US government, and whether it was a success. According to a column by Chris Cillizza on page A2, most Americans think it was. Here how it starts...
Even as the debate over the treatment of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration continues to roil political Washington, a new poll conducted for Resurgent Republic suggests that the American people -- including politically critical independent voters -- by and large support the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

Asked whether such tactics were justified, 53 percent of the overall sample said they were and 34 percent said they were not. While Democrats strongly opposed the use of these controversial methods and Republicans strongly supported them, independent voters were slightly more divided than partisans of each side, with 51 percent expressing support for the tactics and 31 percent opposing them.

On the question of whether such techniques have yielded information that has made the country safer, 52 percent of all respondents said they had while 39 percent said they had not. Independents' views on the issue mirrored the overall sample, with 51 percent saying the tactics had made the country safer and 39 percent saying they had not. Some Call It Torture. In One Poll, Most Call It Justified.

I'll tell you, the first thing that jumps out at me is the polling organization. Have you ever heard of "Resurgent Republic" before? Me either.

Politico published a piece a couple of weeks ago about Resurgent Republic. Here's what they said...
Ed Gillespie, the former GOP chairman and counselor to President George W. Bush, and top pollster Whit Ayres on Tuesday are launching Resurgent Republic, a group aimed at shaping the debate as the party regenerates itself for the upcoming elections.

Resurgent Republic plans to offer itself as a resource for policymakers and congressional leaders and will conduct focus groups and polling, and plans to hold at least one forum this year.

Think of it as a Republican version of Democracy Corps. New for GOP: Resurgent Republic

I guess that answers that.

Q: why is The Post putting Republican propaganda in the A section of my morning paper? There is no mention that the polling organization is an offshoot of the Republican Party.

I see two major points underlying all of this. First of all, torture doesn't "work." As Jesse Ventura said, "I'll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders." Someone being tortured is not motivated to give accurate information, they are motivated to make the torturing stop, which means telling the torturer what they want to hear. As it is coming out, this was the point anyway, the Bush administration wanted to hear about ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, and torture victims provided that, even though no such ties existed.

The second point is that it is against the law. And this is the part I find most frightening through all of this discussion. Half the population of the US doesn't care that it's against the law. A handful of terrorists attacked some American targets, and my good American people are willing to throw out the system of agreements that makes us civilized human beings in order to feel safer.

If torture "worked," that is, if you could get accurate information from someone by hurting or threatening them, then I guarantee it would not be illegal. Everyone understands that a society needs to protect itself, we have seen ruthless conquests and genocides around the world since the dawn of time, and every group has the right to do anything they can to protect themselves from that.

Torture as punishment is something the American people can get behind, we are The Punishment Society. Just about everybody agrees that it's good to be tough with bad guys, nobody wants to "coddle criminals." But torture is not effective punishment, either, it neither deters crimes, rehabilitates the offender, nor brings justice. To torture somebody you have to already have them in captivity, and as it is usually done with some degree of secrecy it does not discourage others from committing offenses. We don't torture people to punish them, but it does satisfy that bizarre American hunger.

I don't think anybody really believes that torture elicits accurate information. It's obvious that a person who is on the receiving end of a painful procedure simply wants to get it to stop. And even though the Republicans keep chanting "torture made us safer," they are not able to point to any accurate piece of intelligence that was acquired that way.

If, in cool times, Americans want to decide to withdraw from the Geneva Conventions and UN agreements and to change our federal laws in order to support the defense of our country by implementing torture, then that debate can be held. But as it is, the important fact remains that torture is illegal. It is no more acceptable than the Symbionese Liberation Army's fund-raising enterprises, which at least "worked." The Republican Party is advocating a frightening position here, that the US government is above the law or is justified in breaking the law when its sense of fear reaches a certain level. The proper name for this belief is anarchy, and we can't permit it. Do American citizens want to legalize torture? Then let's debate it and change the law. Otherwise, let's support and enforce the legal framework that is the contract that allows our lives to be orderly and peaceful and free.

Since the signing of the Magna Carta in the thirteenth century, governments and leaders have been bound by law. You don't just throw that out because you're scared.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Take Your Kids to Work" Gets Weird

This story has been around for a couple of weeks but I haven't mentioned it here. It broke out again yesterday when somebody added up the numbers.

From the Miami Herald:
TALLAHASSEE -- A total of 43 children were directly and indirectly shocked by electric stun guns during simultaneous ''Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day'' events gone wrong at three state prisons, according to new information provided Friday by the Florida Department of Corrections.

Also, a group of kids was exposed to tear gas during a demonstration at another lockup.

Three prison guards have been fired, two have resigned and 16 more employees -- from corrections officers to a warden -- will be disciplined due to the incidents that unfolded April 23, said DOC Secretary Walt McNeil. An investigation is ongoing.

None of the children in any of the incidents required medical attention or was notably harmed, McNeil said. He said the children, who ranged in age from 5 to 17, were all children of prison officials.

In nearly every case, the guards had permission from parents or grandparents to administer the ''electronic immobilization devices,'' McNeil said. 43 stun-gunned at prisons' Take Your Kids to Work Day

You need a license to drive a car, but anybody can have a child ...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pat O'Neill Nails PIAs

School board member Pat O'Neill recently made a comment that has elicited faux-outrage from a group of perpetually-outraged Montgomery County do-gooders. Her comment was so obviously true that it offended certain people who apparently took it personally, as well they might.

Ms. O'Neill noted that school principals who are forming committees that include parents are more likely to choose cooperative parents, and less likely to choose parents who are a "pain in the ass."

Now the Parents Coalition is in an uproar -- and when I say "Parents Coalition," I mean the five or six people who make ninety-nine percent of the noise for them, I assume the bulk of the group is well-meaning parents. Seems that pains in the ass (or are they pain in the asses?) feel they are being discriminated against.

No, this is just how the world works.

I am frankly ambivalent about the Parents Coalition. These are some shrill MoCo folks who do the good deed of monitoring Montgomery County Public Schools, making sure things that are bought are safe and nontoxic, making sure that budget procedures are followed and that school business is transparent and above board.

So far, so good. But it appears that their working theory is that the school superintendent and all the board members, as well as everybody else in Carver and in the administrations of every county public school, are conspiring to create the worst environment possible for Montgomery County students.

The Coalition is always accusing somebody of something. It may be true that Astroturf is bad for you, or that the Promethean boards are too expensive and the district doesn't have enough money for them, or that citizens advisory committee schedules are not well-enough documented. I'm glad somebody is watching and publicizing these kinds of issues. But there is so much shrieking and finger-pointing that the message is lost. I'm sure MCPS insiders hate to hear from the Parents Coalition, and it's not because they will hold their feet to the fire, it's because everything is stated as an accusation.

Anybody who deals with any school administration at any level will experience frustration. The schools have to make decisions, and they can't always decide the way you want, and you can complain all day long but that's just how it goes. I have seen bizarre decisions made at MCPS but I am willing to believe that the people we elect to make the decisions, and the people they hire to implement them, have their hearts in the right place, they want to teach our children well. Maybe they go about it funny, but they're good people and they are trying to do the right thing.

From the Washington Post blog, Daniel de Vise writes:
An exchange on the dais of the Montgomery County school board introduced a new acronym to the local vocabulary of educationese. Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase), the board's vice president, told the group yesterday that school principals "might not pick PIAs," [translation: pain-in-the-you-know-whats] to participate in school governance.

The board was discussing School Improvement Teams, groups of administrators, parents and faculty that meet regularly to make important decisions at public schools. The teams are central to the concept of local school governance: that running a school is the job of the entire community, not just the principal and a few sycophants.

The panel got into a heated discussion over the governance teams: Are they open to everyone, or is membership limited to the principal's picks? Are they public, or secret?
Board member Judy Docca (Gaithersburg), a former principal, said she had never known administrators to keep the groups hidden.

Board member Laura Berthiaume (Rockville-Potomac) disagreed: after having children in two of the county's elementary schools, "I had no idea there was such a thing as a School Improvement Plan or a School Improvement Team." If people are being excluded from school governance, she said, "most of them probably don't even know they're being left out."

A quick and random survey of school Internet sites found some support for each woman's claim. The sites of three high schools--Churchill, Blair and Gaithersburg--made no mention of either a School Improvement Plan or Team. The terms were mentioned on web sites of two out of three middle schools (Eastern and Kingsview, but not Briggs Chaney) and two of three elementaries (Chevy Chase and Fallsmead, but not Brooke Grove).

And who gets to participate on such groups? According to board member Christopher S. Barclay (Silver Spring), principals "look for team players. So if you find parents who aren't necessarily cooperative, I don't know that you're going to get invited to sit on a team...."

Berthiaume bristled: "If a team is composed of people who always say yes and never say no and never say 'but', then what you get, unfortunately, is a war in Iraq."

O'Neill said school governance is meant to be exercised by a small, responsible panel, not an auditorium full of parents. "I am not aware of groups being excluded," she said. "I am aware that if I was a principal working on this, I might not pick the the school to be at the table doing it."

Leaders of the Parents Coalition, a network led by some prominent PIAs, posted video of the exchange to YouTube, where it had been viewed 118 times by 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Does Montgomery Discriminate Against PIAs?

The Parents Coalition video clip is on YouTube HERE.

Here's what I'm talking about. The board is discussing wording to encourage parents to participate in development of a school improvement plan. Principals, apparently, put together a team at each school that includes parents to work out a new plan, and the wording being discussed addresses the fact that MCPS wants to have diverse and representative views. The board members, however, are aware that you can't have everybody on the team, and that it will be important for principals to use their discretion to populate the team with members who can contribute and cooperate well. The Parents Coalition titled this video: Montgomery County Public School Board on Excluding Parents. No, they were discussing including parents and how to write the policy so that the appropriate goals are met. The Parents Coalition's glass is always half empty.

In the description field on the right, the Parents Coalition wrote this:
The Montgomery County Public Schools (Maryland) Board of Education discusses which parents can be excluded by principals from participating on local School Improvement Plan committees. Please move small children from the room when viewing this video. This video should be rated PG for language.

PG? The word "ass" is used after approximately eight minutes of the most boring grown-up discussion ever, no kid in their right mind is going to sit and watch this. The misrepresentation of this discussion is symptomatic of problems with the Parents Coalition.

I don't know the history of this, but it is apparent that somebody has been pressuring the school board to put more people, or nuttier people, on these teams. Board member Chris Barclay made a very good statement, and by his pauses and tone of voice you can tell that he is responding to things that have been said. He said:
What's needed are people who when on that team can disagree in a respectful manner. I think there's a real difference because I think we're always going to need a variety of viewpoints but those viewpoints need to be professional, they need to be respectful. And my point I'm making is that I think that while we're having an unstated conversation here, the stated conversation is that there are folks who have thrown that out to us, and made it seem like to the Board that oh, there are certain communities who are being excluded, when in fact the individuals who may have made those accusations are folks who based on the way that they do the business that they do in advocating may not get invited because they are not agreeable, and they don't know how to agree to disagree.

This is the issue. We have been saying this all along as we fought for a decent sex-ed curriculum. There may be more conservative and more liberal voices in the community, there may be people looking out for gifted children and people looking out for disadvantaged ones, there are many goals and perspectives, and if people work together something workable can be hammered out.

The problem has always been that some people simply refuse to negotiate. It's got to be their way. They'll sue if they don't get their way, they'll make things up, they'll accuse the other side of things, they'll pull stunts to get into the newspaper. You can't have a team with people like that.

In fact, I'll tell you, it's funny, I can't tell if the Parents Coalition is liberal or conservative. I don't know what their agenda is or what they want from the schools. All I can tell is that they are surly and complain a lot.

Later in the discussion, Pat O'Neill made her statement:
I am not aware of groups being excluded. I am aware that, you know if I was a principal working on this I might not pick the PIAs, the pain in the ass people [background laughter] in the school to be at the table doing that because they may only be representing their own views and not the greater interest of the school, and you know, I think this is broad language, maybe we should put 'No PIAs.' [laughter]

Everybody's trying to do a good job here, and you have to avoid some kinds of situations. For a team to work it's got to have good people on it, sorry if you don't like that or if you don't think you need to put out the effort to cooperate with other team members.

This is just how the world works. We don't discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, region, religion, gender, sexual orientation, language, socioeconomic status, age, disability, or gender identity. But some people, sorry to say it, are a pain in the ass, and that is not one of the protected classes. Some people go to a meeting and whine about things that nobody else cares about, monopolize the discussion, propose dumb ideas, argue with others, refuse to move on to the next topic or stick to the meeting agenda, and nobody wants them on their team. You can twist this however you want, you may flatter yourself and say the principal doesn't pick you because your ideas are so innovative and excellent that you put everybody else to shame, or because he or she is trying to get away with something and you're so smart you're going to catch them and spoil their plan. In my experience this is not the case. The reason the principal doesn't pick you is that you are a pain in the ass. Thanks for saying it, Pat.

Her Opinion Was Not The Problem

They throw the Washington Post in my driveway every morning. I look it over before I head out to work, and sometimes I sit down and read some of the Metro section. These days I actually get my news from the Internet, just like you. If a story piques my interest I can follow the links to find other versions of it, if I want to I can figure out pretty clearly what actually happened. But if I relied on The Post or some other newspaper, I'd have to accept what they tell me, and it simply doesn't meet a standard.

Like this, from Wednesday's paper:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An emotional Miss California Carrie Prejean kept her crown on Tuesday, and the beauty queen stood by her opposition to gay marriage and defended posing for topless photos.

Prejean, 21, made headlines last month at the Miss USA pageant when she expressed her opinion on gay marriage and claimed her answer cost her the Miss USA crown.

After the pageant, she met with the National Organization for Marriage and spoke at an event for the group which opposes same-sex marriage. Topless photos emerged of her and it was revealed the beauty pageant helped pay for her breast implants.

Miss USA pageant owner Donald Trump praised Prejean for her beauty and standing by her opinion, and he judged the topless photos as acceptable for her to continue her reign. "If her beauty wasn't so great no one really would have cared," he said. Miss California keeps her crown, and her opinions

I'm not sure where to start here.

First of all, "expressing her opinion." She was asked what she thought about gay marriage, and she gave an incoherent and ignorant response. She believes in "opposite marriage," she said. It doesn't matter whether she's for it or against it, her answer was bad.

Now, this blonde will tell anyone who will listen that she believes in her First Amendment right to express an opinion. Apparently nobody has explained to her that the First Amendment prevents the government from interfering with her self-expression. It does not mean that she can say any stupid thing and we all have to take it seriously.

In fact, this is weird. A beauty pageant asks the beauties to answer a question. Does it matter what they say? I mean, really. Are they only judged for remaining beautiful while they speak, or does it help if they are, say, educated or intelligent? Does it matter if they are narrow-minded bigots, or are they only judged on poise?

Here's what she said:
"Well I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. You know what, in my country, in my family, I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman."

She can barely put a sentence together. Even if there was such a thing as "opposite marriage" you can't "choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage," it doesn't make any sense. Who would do that? I don't know if I want to marry Bruce or Susie, wha? And in most states, you can't "choose same-sex marriage," she doesn't "live in a land" that offers the choice.

If she had said clearly that she believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, I don't think anybody would have cared. She was losing the competition anyway. But this answer lives up to the promise of every blonde joke ever. Opposite marriage!

She lost, and she claimed she lost because she was a Christian, and the situation deteriorated from there. She joined up with a rightwing hate group and went around giving speeches saying marriage should be limited to certain couples. It turned out the pageant had bought her breast implants. Topless pictures circulated around the Internet, where she had signed a statement saying that no such thing existed. She was on the brink of losing her title as Miss California.

This Post story, and Donald Trump, seem to think that the reason she would lose her crown was because she had expressed an unpopular opinion. She said she's against gay marriage, and so The Gays ganged up and in their conspiratorial way (because they've infiltrated the beauty pageants, you know) and arranged for her to be humiliated because of her religion.

No, as has been pointed out, even President Obama does not believe same-sex couples should marry. It's not an unpopular sentiment, lots of people, even gay people, feel that way. Nobody is surprised if a beauty queen has a conservative opinion.

It is criminal of The Post to pretend that that is the issue. People might debate whether her opinion is appropriate for someone who will represent our country in international competitions, maybe this is an acceptable opinion and maybe it's not, all in all it seems to me pretty defensible. I don't agree with her, but if she thinks marriage is an opposite thing, it's fine with me.

Her answer was dumb, that's all, and her behavior after she lost was reprehensible. This part of the pageant gives a young lady the opportunity to show her eloquence, her clarity of thought, her poise under pressure, and this was not it. She fell apart, she didn't make sense, she sounded like an idiot. And then she threw the blame around for her loss, as if she lost because she had exercised her First Amendment rights. No, honey, the other girl was prettier.

The Post should know better than to pick up the rightwing talking points on this. Did Prejean lose the pageant because she is opposed to marriage for some Americans? No, of course not. Should she lose her title for being a liar and a fake and representing hatred? Ah, there you might have a case.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How Can They Say These Things?

I know a lot of our readers also check out Box Turtle Bulletin, so I tend to avoid duplicating their posts. Today, though, Tim Kincaid says something so directly and so well that I can't help reproducing the whole thing here:
I sometimes wonder how anti-gay activists can knowingly and purposefully say things that simply are not true. I wonder how they can see the decency and normalcy of gay people and yet ascribe to them the most evil intentions and agenda.

Somehow these folks have created a world in which the evidence before their eyes is far less important than a blind faith in the opposite. They choose to believe that all that they see in front of them or hear from those who know is to be discounted, dismissed, and argued away unless it fits with their pre-conceived view of existence.

I believe that a faith that cannot subject itself to scrutiny is not a faith at all; rather it is based in fear - a fear that it we look too closely and see too clearly that what have always believed may disappear leaving us without a foundation or protection, alone. So those whose faith is fear must seek self-blindness, willfully.

Today I ran across an example, a truly tragic story. Cherie Rowe, a volunteer for ex-gay group Exodus International, tells of her struggle over the past 13 years to deal with her daughter’s homosexuality.

Now this is not a tale of “that dangerous lifestyle”. The daughter has a “sweet partner”, wonderful friends who have become family to her, and still tries to keep a relationship with her mother. But despite recognizing that her daughter has a blessed life, Cherie still longs that God work a miracle and remove all that goodness from her daughter.
I do confess that seeing their demonstrations of affection to one another is sometimes difficult, but God’s amazing grace allows me to accept them and love them without approving of their lifestyle.

I am so aware of how I might have been swayed by the tides of emotion in favor of these same sex relationships, had I not been rooted and grounded in the infallible Word of God.

The extent to which Cherie Rowe’s self-absorption is present on the page is astonishing. And no doubt that ability to see the world only in terms of herself has given her certainty that she and her faith are absolute, steadfast in the face of all evidence to the contrary - so she is careful not to see it.

She is so “rooted and grounded” that she can see love and think that it is evil. She is so “rooted and grounded” that she thinks that her own selfish desire to control her daughter is a passion to see God glorified.

Willful Blindness

It is a strange trainwreck when ideology and personal experience contradict one another, you know what you believe and you know what you see with your own two eyes and they do not go together. When that happens, most of us investigate to ensure there is not an illusion, and then adjust our belief to be congruent with our perception.

I love the first sentence of Kincaid's post: I sometimes wonder how anti-gay activists can knowingly and purposefully say things that simply are not true. We have seen this over and over in our county, whether it's lying about what's in the sex-ed curriculum, lying about the nondiscrimination bill, or whatever. If you are used to associating with people who expect and deliver truthfulness and honesty, and then you talk with these anti-gay lunatics, you almost feel like you are among a different species. It's not just that they have different customs from us, it is a fundamental difference where basic cognitive building-blocks such as facts and logic are simply absent.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Abstinence-Only: Gone

Abstinence-only "education" was a strange experiment, where students were brought into a classroom and taught ... nothing. This could only happen in America, we would call something "sex education" and then teach nothing about sex. You might think that in a perfect world everybody would abstain until they were married, and there is in fact a solid one percent of our population who do that, but it seems to me a more, let's say, realistic approach is to give young people accurate and thorough information so they can make responsible choices.

Interesting little note on a Time blog:
The President's FY2010 budget was released this morning (you can search through all 1376 pages here) and among the proposed changes it includes is the elimination of Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) funding. Under the Bush administration, CBAE grants went to programs that teach kids the only way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually-transmitted infections is to postpone sex until marriage. Budget language explicitly prevented those programs from providing students "any other education regarding sexual conduct."

As I explained in the magazine a couple of months ago, abstinence-only programs have not proven nearly as successful as approaches that combine the message that abstinence is a good goal for teenagers (see: Bristol Palin) with comprehensive and accurate education about contraception, disease prevention, and decision-making skills.

The Obama budget eliminates the main federal funding streams for abstinence-only education (some of which have been around since welfare reform) and replaces them with $110 million in competitive grants to "fund teen pregnancy prevention programs," with at least $75 million reserved for "programs that replicate the elements of one or more teenage pregnancy prevention programs that have been proven through rigorous evaluation to delay sexual activity, increase contraceptive use (without increasing sexual activity), or reduce teenage pregnancy." It also authorizes $50 million in new mandatory teen pregnancy prevention grants to states.

Notably, $25 million of the funding for what the budget calls a new Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative is set aside for the development and testing of innovative approaches to preventing teen pregnancy. So many of the programs that annoy opponents of abstinence-only education--and those that annoy proponents of abstinence-only--are out-dated and ineffective anyway. With teen pregnancy rates inching up again after a nearly 15-year drop and the vast majority of parents in favor of comprehensive sex education (95% of parents of middle-schoolers in a 2004 Kaiser Foundation poll thought contraception was an "appropriate topic"), it's long past time to develop sex ed programs that work.

You hope that your teenagers abstain from sex until they're ready. But there will likely be a day when they are ready, when it's time, it may come sooner and it may come later but nearly everyone has sex at some point. It only makes sense to prepare people for that moment, it's one of those lifetime skills like balancing a checkbook or filling out a job application, you need to know what to do and what not to do.

The absence of information about sex does not result in the absence of sex, it only results in ignorance about sex.

A lot of people are watching to see how the new guy is going to do, and there are a few concerns about how he's going to handle some things. The removal of abstinence-only programs from the budget is a huge step in the right direction.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Catholic Leadership Makes the News

Mote ... beam ...

From the BBC:
Pope Benedict XVI has warned against the misuse of religion for political ends, in a speech to Muslim leaders on the second day of his visit to Jordan.

Speaking in the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, he argued that religion was a force for good, but its "manipulation" caused divisions and even violence. Pope warns of misuse of religion

From the Portland (Maine) Diocese:
Bishop Richard Malone, spiritual leader of Maine's 200,000 Roman Catholics, said today:

"I am deeply disappointed in the Maine Legislature and the Governor for making same sex-marriage legal in our state. We believe that the vast majority of Maine's people believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and that calling same-sex relationships marriage doesn't make them so. Marriage as we have known it for millennia has served as the cornerstone of society. The family, consisting of mother, father and children, has served throughout the ages as the natural place for the healthy development of children into well adjusted and productive citizens. Same-sex marriage is a dangerous sociological experiment that I believe will have negative consequences for society as a whole. Children will be taught in schools that same-sex marriage and traditional marriage are simply different expressions of the same thing, and that the logical and consistent understanding that marriage and reproduction are intrinsically linked is no longer valid. These are profound changes that will reverberate throughout society with tragic consequences."

The Catholic Diocese in Maine previously declared that it will work closely with a number of partners in bringing this issue to the voters this November.

"Although the details are still being worked out at this time, we can say with certainty that the Portland Diocese will play a lead role in organizing this petition drive to bring the issue before voters," said Marc Mutty of the diocese, who has been working closely in the legislature on this bill. He went on to say that he expected a number of prominent national organizations dedicated to preserving marriage to assist Maine in its efforts to restore traditional marriage to its rightful place.

I'm just saying ...

I wouldn't pick on rank-and-file Catholics -- just about a month ago, Gallup found that Catholics are just about like everybody else on social issues, including abortion. As a group, they are quite liberal, but their leadership has a tendency to lean a little toward the nutty side, you have to admit.

Like, look here, a Catholic priest out in Arizona is gay, he believes women should be ordained, he believes that gay and lesbian Catholics should have full participation, he believes that priests should be able to marry. Okay, I understand the church might not want to assign him to answer questions at a press conference, he might not be their most mainstream spokesman, but... The Arizona Republic headline will summarize well enough, I think: 2nd priest excommunicated from diocese. The other priest who was excommunicated is gay, too. Not reprimanded, not relieved of duties: excommunicated.

And what is it with Bill Donohue and the Catholic League? Why doesn't the Catholic hierarchy tell this guy to shut up and go away? Look at this open letter on the hate crimes bill being debated in Congress. He says, "To be specific, the bill would criminalize religious speech that was critical of homosexuality if it were linked to a crime against a gay person." Is this what the Catholic church wants to fight for -- the right to say hateful things before you murder or assault someone?

Everywhere you look. The University of Notre Dame is going to have the President of the United States as its commencement speaker. Or, as Philadelphia's The Bulletin puts it: Bishops Opposed To Notre Dame Invite Now Totals 68. What was that the Pope was saying? Oh yeah, misuse of religion for political ends. Mote ... beam.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Southern Baptists Oppose Torture

The Republican base has been whittled down to a handful of extremists, and they have relied on conservative Christians to keep the noise machine going. The Southern Baptists have been the cornerstone of social conservatism, but even they can't stomach what the Bush administration was up to. From the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission web site:
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—There is no room for torture as part of the United States’ intelligence-gathering process, Richard Land said today. He also said he believes the practice known as “waterboarding” is torture and, as such, is unethical.

Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said there is no circumstance in which torture should be permissible in interrogations by U.S. officials, even if the authorities believe a prisoner has information that might involve national security.

“I don’t agree with the belief that we should use any means necessary to extract information,” said Land. “I believe there are absolutes. There are things we must never do under any circumstances.

“For me the ultimate test is: Could I, in good conscience, do whatever I am authorizing or condoning others to do? If not, then I must oppose the action. If I could not waterboard someone—and I couldn’t—then I must oppose its practice.”

Land said he considers waterboarding to be torture because the definition of torture includes the determination of whether a procedure causes permanent physical harm, noting he is unable to “separate physical from psychological harm” in this instance. The practice contravenes an individual’s personhood and their humanity, he said.

“It violates everything we believe in as a country,” Land said, reflecting on the words in the Declaration of Independence: that “all men are created equal” and that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

“There are some things you should never do to another human being, no matter how horrific the things they have done. If you do so, you demean yourself to their level,” he said.

“Civilized countries should err on the side of caution. It does cost us something to play by different rules than our enemies, but it would cost us far more if we played by their rules,” Land concluded.

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest non-Catholic denomination with more than 16.2 million members in over 44,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C. SBC’s Richard Land condemns ‘waterboarding’ and torture

That's about as clear a statement as you're going to see on that topic. Dick Cheney and his band of mutants are pretty much on their own.

MCPS Looking At Ineligibility

Marcus Moore at The Gazette has a story this week about something that has bothered me for a long time. This article casts the situation in terms of race and ethnicity, but I think the problem is more general than that. It's the problem of "ineligibility" in school.
School system administrators are working to get more black and Hispanic students involved in after-school activities, after a recent report showed that those pupils were chronically ineligible.

The disparity is alarming, because students who are chronically ineligible for extracurricular activities — defined as ineligible for two marking periods —are more likely to be disinterested in programs that prepare them for college and the workforce, according to the report, released in December by the school system's Office of Shared Accountability.

Also, ineligible students run a greater risk of dropping out of high school, researchers wrote in the report.

Under school board policy, students with a grade-point average of less than 2.0 are ineligible for after-school activities, which include sports, band and clubs.

"As a system, we are shining a spotlight on ineligibility," said Adrian B. Talley, community superintendent for the school system's Clarksburg cluster and co-chair of an M-Stat group that is examining the ineligibility issue. Many of county's blacks, Hispanics ineligible for after-school activities

It's important to recognize that minority students are overrepresented in the ineligible category, I don't want to play that down, but it's heartbreaking for anybody to be ostracized by their school.

What happens is that the school identifies the students who most need special attention, the ones who are failing -- and takes away anything that might have motivated them.

You take a kid who plays an instrument, who can act, an athlete, a kid who does not do well in their academic classes. I think we can safely say that a student who is getting bad grades is one who does not study enough. And I think it's usually true that they don't study enough because they don't care. You could use sports, music, extracurricular activities to hook that student into the school community, you could turn school into something they care about. Instead, those students who need to connect the most are denied it.

I knew a struggling middle-schooler -- a white kid -- finally excited to go to school because he was in a play, he was learning his lines, talking about his role and the storyline and the set and the excitement of working with the other actors, and then, halfway through rehearsals, he was told he couldn't be in the play because his grades weren't good enough. This student ended up dropping out of high school. Luckily he's a bright kid who managed to get his GED at the same time his cohort graduated. Sadly, the Montgomery County Public Schools let him down. No, they didn't let him down, they drove him away. They use grades as a filter to determine who can be part of the school's activities and who can't, and if your grades aren't good enough, you can still attend the plays, the games, the concerts, you can sit in the audience and watch someone else get the applause, but you can't participate. Someone may think this is a way to "motivate" a kid, but it's exactly the opposite, it's a way to alienate them.

So now they say they're "shining a spotlight on ineligibility." Why am I not optimistic? Our culture cherishes punishment even though it doesn't work, this is not going to change until fundamental attitudes change, and they won't.

Again, I don't want to play down the racial and ethnic aspects, this is a system that works against black and Hispanic students, especially. Ostracism hurts everybody, preventing students from exercising their talents is cruel, not just for the minority students but for anyone it happens to.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Utah Leads The Way, Again

You will remember that the very conservative state of Utah leads the nation in downloading pornography. New statistics indicate that residents of the state, where schools teach abstinence-only sex "education," do more than just look at pictures. From Medical News Today:
The number of chlamydia cases increased by 50% and the number of gonorrhea cases nearly doubled in Utah between 2003 and 2007, according to a report released Thursday by the state Department of Health, the AP/ reports. Many men and women experience no symptoms from chlamydia infections. Chlamydia, which can lead to fertility problems if untreated, is more than three times more likely to be reported in women than in men. The report found that more than 70% of chlamydia cases in the state occurred among women ages 15 to 24. Some men experience symptoms from gonorrhea, but most women do not. More men than women in Utah were diagnosed with gonorrhea. According to the new report, chlamydia was the most frequently reported communicable disease in the Utah in 2007 with 5,721 cases, while gonorrhea was the fourth most-reported with 821 cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Utah's increase in chlamydia cases mirrors a nationwide trend that could be the result of improved screening measures. Federal recommendations on chlamydia screening emphasize testing for sexually active women age 25 and older. A January CDC report found that there were 1.1 million chlamydia cases nationwide in 2007, the most ever recorded. In addition, the percentage of young women undergoing chlamydia screening rose by double digits between 2003 and 2007, according to the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a not-for-profit organization that monitors health care. Cases Of Chlamydia, Gonorrhea Up In Utah Since 2003, Health Dept. Finds

The probability of transmission of gonorrhea and chlamydia can be greatly reduced by correct use of a condom. Montgomery County Public Schools now have a good lesson for tenth graders to learn the proper way to select and use a condom. Utah doesn't.
Some Democratic state legislators say that Utah's rising number of STI cases indicates that the state's policy of providing abstinence-only sex education in public schools is ineffective, although Republican lawmakers say they will continue to support the programs. The Republican-controlled legislature has approved a state health department campaign aimed at curbing the spread of STIs, including statements that condom use can greatly reduce the risk of STI transmission. The health department also is providing answers to common questions about STIs on the campaign's Web site (Vergakis, AP/, 4/30).

At the start of this post I mentioned that Utah leads the nation in downloading porn. Double-checking that fact I found the most interesting paper HERE, published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Benjamin Edelman at the Harvard Business school analyzes patterns of subscription to pornographic web sites, it is fascinating. For instance ...
... subscriptions are also more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality. In states where more people agree that “Even today miracles are performed by the power of God” and “I never doubt the existence of God,” there are more subscriptions to this service. Subscriptions are also more prevalent in states where more people agree that “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage” and “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.”

It's easy to simply conclude that conservatives are a bunch of hypocrites. But everybody already knew that, it's not news that they do all the things they tell everybody else not to do. It's easy to understand saying you shouldn't do this or that, for instance you shouldn't have sex outside of marriage or you shouldn't look at porn, you can imagine that hearing it said would discourage people from doing those things. But the evidence seems to point the opposite way. At least with sex, it appears that the more people are told to abstain from things, the more they do them. It seems much more sensible to acknowledge that things are going to happen and to prepare young people for dealing with their sexuality safely and responsibly.