Thursday, July 29, 2010

Anne Rice Quits Being a Christian

Novelist Anne Rice is often mentioned as a devout Christian who is well regarded by the public, having returned to the church in 1998. Yesterday she posted two statements on her Facebook page.

The first said:
Anne Rice: For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten ...years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else. Anne Rice Facebook Fan Page

She followed that with this statement:
Anne Rice: As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of ...Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

Unfortunately, the Christian church has identified itself as anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-artificial birth control, anti-Democrat, anti-secular humanism, anti-science, and worst of all, anti-life. Anne Rice appears to be someone who believes in Jesus and his message but cannot tolerate the ignorance that has become the churches' banner.

What is a believer supposed to do, when they cannot accept the authority of their religious leaders?

Universities Under Attack

Here are two stories of universities that are being sued for requiring their graduate students to learn the material and meet the standard held by the Department. One suit was won by the university, the other has just been filed and has yet to be argued and decided.

Fox goes red in the face:
A federal judge has ruled in favor of a public university that removed a Christian student from its graduate program in school counseling over her belief that homosexuality is morally wrong. Monday's ruling, according to Julea Ward's attorneys, could result in Christian students across the country being expelled from public university for similar views.

“It’s a very dangerous precedent,” Jeremy Tedesco, legal counsel for the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, told FOX News Radio. “The ruling doesn’t say that explicitly, but that’s what is going to happen.”

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh dismissed Ward’s lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University. She was removed from the school’s counseling program last year because she refused to counsel homosexual clients.

The university contended she violated school policy and the American Counseling Association code of ethics.

“Christian students shouldn’t be expelled for holding to and abiding by their beliefs,” said ADF senior counsel David French. “To reach its decision, the court had to do something that’s never been done in federal court: uphold an extremely broad and vague university speech code.” Court Upholds Expulsion of Counseling Student Who Opposes Homosexuality

Change a couple of words: A university's graduate program in physics kicked out a Christian student because she believes the big bang theory is immoral... A university's graduate program in biology kicked out a Christian student because she believes evolution is immoral...

People, this is education. University professors are experts in their fields, this isn't a debate over values or opinions or anything else. If you're going to get your graduate degree in something you are going to study hard, you are going to listen to your professors, you are going to understand what they are saying and if you want to pass your courses you are going to write papers and conduct research that satisfies them.

If you don't meet the standard you don't get the degree. This student doesn't meet the standard. It's as simple as that. Academic standards are not for the courts to decide -- you don't want judges deciding what is the best way to solve quadratic equations and you don't want them telling the Counseling Department what to teach, either. Academic knowledge is not up for a public vote, and is not determined by law.

The university, of course, was pleased with the ruling.
Eastern Michigan University hailed the decision.

“We are pleased that the court has upheld our position in this matter,” EMU spokesman Walter Kraft said in a written statement. “Julea Ward was not discriminated against because of her religion. To the contrary, Eastern Michigan is deeply committed to the education of our students and welcomes individuals from diverse backgrounds into our community.”

In his 48-page opinion, Judge Steeh said the university had a rational basis for adopting the ACA Code of Ethics.

“Furthermore, the university had a rational basis for requiring students to counsel clients without imposing their personal values,” he wrote in a portion of his ruling posted by The Detroit News. “In the case of Ms. Ward, the university determined that she would never change her behavior and would consistently refuse to counsel clients on matters with which she was personally opposed due to her religious beliefs – including homosexual relationships.”

There isn't much in this Fox story about this next thing:
The case is similar to a lawsuit the ADF filed against Augusta State University in Georgia. Counseling student Jennifer Keeton was allegedly told to stop sharing her Christian beliefs in order to graduate.

Keeton's lawsuit alleged that she was told to undergo a reeducation program and attend “diversity sensitivity training.”

I see CNN has this story -- but first, note that the university has declined to issue a statement, while the ADF is posting press releases right and left. This is what happens when you let them throw the first punch:
(CNN) -- A graduate student is suing a Georgia university, alleging that professors are requiring her to change her "biblical views" on homosexuality or be expelled from the counseling program there.

Jennifer Keeton filed a civil rights action in U.S. District Court on July 21 saying Augusta State University violated her "constitutional rights of speech, belief and religious exercise."

The action says university faculty have "promised to expel" Keeton "because she has communicated both inside and outside the classroom that she holds to Christian ethical conviction on matters of human sexuality and gender identity."

After Keeton expressed her views verbally and in written assignments, faculty mandated Keeton complete a "remediation plan."

CNN obtained a copy of the remediation plan from the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents Keeton in the action. The plan addresses issues such as writing ability and organizational skills, as well as Keeton's ability to be a "multiculturally competent counselor, particularly in regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning populations." Student: University wants her to change 'biblical views' on gays

Again, it's simple. If you want an advanced degree from a university you have to earn it. And a reputable university is not going to award a degree to somebody who has demonstrated that they won't even try to meet the standard.

Ministers, priests, rabbis counsel people on the basis of their religious background. Professional counselors learn theories of psychology and techniques in cognitive and client-centered therapies and apply those according to the ethical principles of the professional counseling associations. There is a place for religious counseling, and there is a place for scientifically based professional counseling, and the client needs to know when they go to a professional that that professional will adhere to professional standards. Both of these students have said they would not adhere to professional standards, and their universities should not be expected to award them advanced degrees after they have failed to meet the degree requirements. If they really want to counsel people, but only some people, and only with some objectives, they can apply to a seminary and become religious counselors.

If universities are forced to award degrees to people who do not deserve them then you might as well flush America's educational system down the toilet. Both these stories describe students who have sworn not to learn what they are being taught, both students have vowed to behave unethically if they are awarded their degrees. The argument that a university needs to award a degree to a person who refuses to master the material because of their religion is simply a failure to understand what education is.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

HRC: "Summer for Marriage" Tour is a Set-Up

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has been conducting a big tour to promote their belief that only heterosexual couples should be allowed to marry. Their plan was to visit twenty-three cities through the summer, traveling in a big, brightly painted bus. They go to a city and set up on a central plaza and give speeches and hold signs, then go to the next city and do it again.

Several web sites have been following the tour - I have been keeping up through coverage at Box Turtle Bulletin but there are others, too. At each city, observers attend the rallies and count the numbers of NOM supporters, and the number of counterdemonstrators. Typical attendance at Summer for Marriage rallies has been two to three dozen NOM supporters and one or two hundred protesters. Their turnout is pathetic, and after each stop they publish press releases exaggerating the numbers, but still, with all the publicity this tour has had, with all the money invested in it, you wonder how they keep going from one humiliating stop to the next.

The Human Rights Campaign has issued a press release, I think they've figured it out.
Washington – The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today challenged the National Organization for Marriage's so-called "Summer for Marriage" bus tour, saying it's nothing more than legal and rhetorical posturing in its campaign to keep its donor base secret.

“The bus tour is a total sham, plain and simple,” said Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications. “NOM’s highly-touted bus tour is less about so-called ‘traditional marriage’ and more about creating an elaborate and cynical stunt. NOM rolled out a summer of nationwide events in order to draw lawful protesters, all so that NOM and its allies can pepper ongoing lawsuits challenging public disclosure laws with made-up stories of harassment. This unprecedented victimization crusade is the lowest denominator of political activism, and it won’t fly.”

In events in seven states, NOM has routinely played to crowds reportedly as small as two dozen people including NOM staff members. The organization’s public statements on the bus tour have barely mentioned the content of the programs or the substance of its anti-LGBT message, instead focusing attention on much larger counter-protests that NOM has attacked as intimidation and harassment. NOM issued a press release last Friday saying that LGBT supporters have “approached and threatened children,” engaged in “bullying tactics” and committed acts of harassment. However, NOM’s uncorroborated claims belie legitimate local media reports demonstrating that pro-equality supporters, which have vastly outnumbered NOM’s faithful, have been civil. NOM has yet to document any illegal activity or actual harassment, despite the presence of law enforcement at all the events.

NOM’s efforts to trump up false claims of harassment are part of a radical nationwide plan to evade long-established public disclosure laws and to hide their political activities from legitimate scrutiny and accountability. In doing so, NOM has falsely alleged that their donors have been harassed and intimidated across the country to justify why it shouldn’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else. These tactics have prompted a state ethics investigation in Maine and recent court defeats across the country.

In Washington state, NOM’s lawyers fought the state’s public records law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court – and lost last month. While rejecting their request to shield petition signatures to an anti-LGBT equality measure on the state ballot, the Supreme Court did allow for re-evaluation in cases of clear intimidation or harassment. A federal district court will soon decide if NOM’s unproven allegations of harassment justify hiding the petition signatures that qualified Referendum 71, the unsuccessful effort to overturn Washington’s domestic partnerships law. A federal court in California similarly rejected NOM’s efforts to hide its donors and debunked its claims of harassment and intimidation in the wake of Proposition 8.

Sainz concludes: “The bread crumbs of their deceit are clear. Let’s add it all up: NOM and its allies are making a last-ditch legal stand in Washington and Maine that they should be specially entitled to hide their political activities, and they’re saying that harassment and intimidation should provide them this cover. At the same time, Brian Brown schedules a series of virtually unattended weekday afternoon events hoping for counter-protests that they can then use as evidence of harassment and intimidation. Why else would NOM execute such half-hearted non-events and then completely subjugate its so-called ‘pro-marriage’ message in favor of devoting its energies almost exclusively to condemning lawful protesters?” HRC to National Organization for Marriage: Your Summer Bus Tour is a Sham

We have seen several anti-gay campaigns recently where people seem to believe they should be able to keep their signatures on a petition calling for a referendum, or their donations to a political campaign, secret. So far the courts are not ruling in their favor. In America, generally we have the right to express an opinion and to participate in public political processes, but we have no right to wear hoods over our faces when we do it. People who want to add their name to a hateful campaign or contribute money to it are free to do so, and the public is entitled to know who is behind a campaign that will be voted on.

Their argument has been that they are afraid The Gays will attack them if they find out they have participated in a hate campaign against them. Because you know how scary gay people are. HRC is suggesting that the whole point of this tour is to provoke counterdemonstrators into shoving somebody or yelling at somebody, so they can get it on videotape and exaggerate it in press releases -- which they are already doing on their web site.

These people spend their days trying to figure out ways to make sure that gay couples who love one another are not allowed to marry, to promise themselves to a lifetime together and a home and a family. Their tour is a failure on the face of it, no one in any city they visit supports them, and yet they keep plugging along, videotaping every angry face of someone who is fighting for their right to marry the one they love.

It goes without saying, if you attend one of these travesties, stay cool. Chant, wave signs, don't be afraid to express yourself but remember how it is going to be used. Don't pump fists or yell in someone's face or use foul language. It is important to show support for marriage equality, and important not to let these losers score any cheap points.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Catholic Spokesman Caught Lying

Bruce Garrett, writing at Truth Wins Out made a good catch today. The Washington Post had an op-ed today by the ever-venomous Bill Donohue of the Catholic Defense League.

Here, Bruce can tell you:
The Washington Post dug itself a little deeper into the gutter the other day (I guess that’s still possible), when it allowed Bill Donohue, of the One Man Catholic Defense League, to repeat in its pages one of the older and more enduring lies in the kook pew’s arsenal…
Alfred Kinsey was the first to identify a correlation between homosexuality and the sexual abuse of minors. In 1948, he found that 37 percent of all male homosexuals admitted to having sex with children under 17 years old.

This is why I own a copy of Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior In The Human Male. Nobody but other sex researchers, and those of us with an interest in fact checking the bigots, actually takes the trouble to go through its page after page after page after page of dry, meticulously documented tables. Which makes it an easy book for the bigots to to lie through their teeth about. In fact, Kinsey said no such thing as, happily, some of the comments to that Washington Post column are pointing out. What Kinsey discovered, was that 37 percent of all males had some overt homosexual experience to the point of orgasm, sometime between adolescence and old age.

Notice the difference? It’s not even 37 percent actually had sex when they were teenagers. But never mind that for a moment. If having had gay sex with a teenager, when you yourself were also a teenager makes you a pedophile (and yes, remarkably, some of them will insist even that is so), then tell me what percentage of the heterosexual population are also pedophiles? Is everyone who ever took a roll in the hay with their high school sweetheart a pedophile now? The line to register as a sex offender is going to be a tad long then. Maybe we can all just check a box off during the next census. How The Game Is Played…(continued)

So The Post got caught publishing made-up numbers. You try to imagine the kind of mind that takes the statement "X percent of men have had sex with another man" and turns it into "X percent of all male homosexuals admitted to having sex with children under 17 years old." I think Garrett is right here, it's somebody who doesn't expect their readers to go to the source and look it up.

E. J. Dionne on the Sherrod Situation: Good One

I haven't said anything here about the Shirley Sherrod situation, mainly because I was so upset by it. A news story does not usually affect me so personally, but this one did. To summarize, the NAACP said the teabaggers need to get rid of the racists in their group, and so a teabagger took a video of a lady who works for the Agriculture Department talking at an NAACP convention, and they edited it to make it look like she'd said the opposite of what she was really saying, they made her look like a black racist. So far that is kind of typical dirty trick that we have often seen from the Nutty Ones, it is a kind of lying that we are familiar with. I usually don't even bother to mention those things when they happen.

But then the NAACP saw the video and immediately denounced her. Her talk had been about how she overcame prejudice in her own life after her father was murdered by white racists and a white farmer came to her for help. The edited video only showed the part where this white farmer came to her and she had reservations about helping him, but the rest of the story was that she thought about it and realized she supported poor people, not black ones only, and she ended up helping the man keep his farm.

The office of the Secretary of Agriculture saw the teabagger's video and called Ms. Sherrod and forced her to resign. Pull over to the side of the road right now and text in your resignation before Glenn Beck runs this, she was told.

Again, I am not surprised if rightwingers lie. That is really the reason exists, to counter those lies, and we are very well familiar with the techniques. Our approach in Montgomery County has been to stand up to them. We call them nuts when they're nutty, we publicize their lies and offer the truth in its place, and the result has been that our county's rightwing nuts never got a foothold here. They may speak up for conservative positions, but they never got anywhere with dirty tricks and they never will.

The Shirley Sherrod situation has largely retreated from the front page, but E. J. Dionne had a very good summary piece in The Post this morning.
The smearing of Shirley Sherrod ought to be a turning point in American politics. This is not, as the now-trivialized phrase has it, a "teachable moment." It is a time for action.

The mainstream media and the Obama administration must stop cowering before a right wing that has persistently forced its propaganda to be accepted as news by convincing traditional journalists that "fairness" requires treating extremist rants as "one side of the story." And there can be no more shilly-shallying about the fact that racial backlash politics is becoming an important component of the campaign against President Obama and against progressives in this year's election.

The administration's response to the doctored video pushed by right-wing hit man Andrew Breitbart was shameful. The obsession with "protecting" the president turned out to be the least protective approach of all.

The Obama team did not question, let alone challenge, the video. Instead, it assumed that whatever narrative Fox News might create mattered more than anything else, including the possible innocence of a human being outside the president's inner circle. Enough right-wing propaganda

I can't read the minds of those who made and publicized that video, but they did not have good intentions toward the President and his administration. Maybe they meant to show that there are black racists in the government, and maybe they meant it as a set-up, to show that the White House is a bunch of cowering fools who will surrender under any attack. They did succeed at that.

Dionne is good this morning.
Obama complained on ABC's "Good Morning America" that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "jumped the gun, partly because we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles." But it's his own apparatus that turned "this media culture" into a false god.

Yet the Obama team was reacting to a reality: the bludgeoning of mainstream journalism into looking timorously over its right shoulder and believing that "balance" demands taking seriously whatever sludge the far right is pumping into the political waters.

This goes way back. Al Gore never actually said he "invented the Internet," but you could be forgiven for not knowing this because the mainstream media kept reporting he had.

There were no "death panels" in the Democratic health-care bills. But this false charge got so much coverage that an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll last August found that 45 percent of Americans thought the reform proposals would likely allow "the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly." That was the summer when support for reform was dropping precipitously. A straight-out lie influenced the course of one of our most important debates.

The traditional media are so petrified of being called "liberal" that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors. Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines.

And remember here, E. J. Dionne is part of the traditional media. He writes for the Washington Post, and in his analysis they take the blame as much as anyone.
Thus did Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander ask this month why the paper had been slow to report on "the Justice Department's decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party." Never mind that this is a story about a tiny group of crackpots who stopped no one from voting. It was aimed at doing what the doctored video Breitbart posted set out to do: convince Americans that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.

And never mind that, to her great credit, Abigail Thernstrom, a conservative George W. Bush appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, dismissed the case and those pushing it. "This doesn't have to do with the Black Panthers," she told Politico's Ben Smith. "This has to do with their fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the [Obama] administration." Instead, the media are supposed to take seriously the charges of J. Christian Adams, who served in the Bush Justice Department. He's a Republican activist going back to the Bill Clinton era. His party services included time as a Bush poll watcher in Florida in 2004, when on one occasion he was involved in a controversy over whether a black couple could cast a regular ballot.

Now, Adams is accusing the Obama Justice Department of being "motivated by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law." This is racially inflammatory, politically motivated nonsense -- and it's nonsense even if Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh talk about it a thousand times a day. When an outlandish charge for which there is no evidence is treated as an on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand issue, the liars win.

The Sherrod case should be the end of the line. If Obama hates the current media climate, he should stop overreacting to it. And the mainstream media should stop being afraid of insisting on the difference between news and propaganda.

Liberals tend to believe in a democratic process where all opinions are respected. And that would work if conservatives felt the same way, but they don't. The other side feels that their viewpoint is inherently correct and that they should get their way no matter what anyone else thinks. You can't have a debate like that, democracy cannot succeed under those conditions. At some point, somebody needs to tell the offenders to sit down and shut up and let the grown-ups talk.

Because citizens can't attend every event, can't have firsthand knowledge of everything that happens, we rely on the media to inform us. And the media are intimidated by rightwing thuggery -- well, look, the government of the United States is intimidated by rightwing thuggery. How in the world can we make good decisions when the information we receive is packaged and presented by ideological extremists?

Pepco Map

We were lucky, our lights blinked a couple of times but the storm did not knock out our power. Driving around we saw lots of trees down, many dark neighborhoods.

You might find this interesting, it is Pepco's map of the area, showing where electricity outages are: CLICK HERE.

The county is saying that there are still 207 traffic lights not working this morning. I love how people manage to coordinate through intersections. There is a little bit of honking but basically everybody realizes that the other guy needs to get somewhere, too, and it all gets worked out.

I figured the storm was here for about twenty minutes. I saw where somebody else said fifteen. Whatever, that was some sideways rain!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hot Enough Out There For Ya?

From a few short months ago ...
( – The family of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) had some fun at former Vice President and global warming spokesman Al Gore’s expense over the weekend after record snowfall blanketed the nation’s capital.

The family spent Saturday and Sunday building an igloo near the U.S. Capitol building, and the Oklahoma senator posted photos of their handiwork on his Facebook page. They added signs to the snow dwelling that read, “AL GORE’S NEW HOME!” and “HONK IF YOU (LOVE) GLOBAL WARMING.”

Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is one of the foremost skeptics of anthropomorphic or man-caused global warming (AGW). Gore, on the other hand, produced the film “An Inconvenient Truth,” which helped to mainstream the issue of global climate change, and is a prominent proponent of curbing carbon emissions to try to halt it.

The Inhofe family, including the senator’s daughter and grandchildren, built the igloo after a large storm system dumped more than two feet of snow on the Washington, D.C. metro area on Friday and Saturday. The National Weather Service measured a record 32.4 inches at Dulles International Airport. Another 6 to 16 inches are predicted to fall on the capital on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sen. Inhofe’s Family Builds Igloo for Global Warming Spokesman Al Gore in Snow-laden D.C.

Ha ha, those crazy Inhofes. They were always so funny, what a bunch of cards.

Yesterday I was thinking that it would be funny to revisit this story on the blog. Like, here's The Post web site this morning:
More than two thirds of the way through July, the year 2010 is warmer than any prior year this deep into the summer (defining it as June-July-August) on record. And today could be the hottest day. It may not be the hottest in an absolute sense - as July 6 and 7 hit 102. But when you factor in the humidity -- which will be much higher than those scorching days earlier in the month -- it will feel like a stifling 105-110 degrees. No other day has been that oppressively hot. Sunday, regrettably, remains steamy but some modest relief arrives for early next week.

Today (Saturday): I was once told by a forecasting professor, "If you're going to predict a record, you better be damn sure it's going to happen." Suffice to say, I'm damn sure we're going to sail past today's surprisingly low record high of 96. In fact, we'll probably be at or above 96 from before noon to past 7 p.m. Under mostly sunny but hazy skies, highs should top out in the low 100s but the heat index may reach 108 or 109 in the mid-to-late afternoon hours. That's dangerous heat and strenuous activities should be avoided under those conditions. A light wind from the west at 6-10 mph won't provide much relief. Confidence: Medium-High. Forecast: Hottest day in hottest summer

Yesterday was the fortieth day this summer that DC temperatures have passed ninety degrees.

Last winter we had a lot of snow. It didn't get very cold here, just a lot of snow.

I thought it would be funny to go back to that Inhofe story, but he beat me to it. From yesterday's Huffington Post:
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) reiterated his skepticism of climate change science during an outdoor interview at the Capitol this week, in the midst of the Washington heat wave.

"I say the same thing that I said back in January and February when we had the coldest winter that we've had in a long time," said Inhofe.

"But back then you said that we are in a cold spell, that we're nine years into it," the reporter interjected.

"Actually we are," said Inhofe. "I don't think that anyone disagrees with the fact that we actually are in the middle of a cold period that started about nine years ago."

During the record-breaking snowfall in Washington this February, Inhofe drew headlines for building an igloo outside the Capitol with his kids. The sign on it read: "Al Gore's Home. Honk If You Like Global Warming."

For years now, Inhofe has repeated the charge that global warming doesn't exist, calling it "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," and pointing to Washington's "Snowpocalypse" as evidence for the charade. Inhofe Still Insists 'We're In A Cold Spell': Is The Heat Getting To The Senator?

This is all silliness, of course. Inhofe supports big business, and it would be expensive for gigantic corporations to cut back on carbon emissions, so it is in their interest to convince the public that the climate is stable or cooling and no government regulation is needed. And that would be reasonable or at least defensible, if the earth's climate is cooling then factories can crank out the smog, cars can barf clouds of dark poison, we'll be all right in the long run. If there is no global crisis then there is no special need for anyone to change their behavior. Well, unless you are one of those weird people who enjoy breathing clean air and drinking water that is not loaded with chemicals.

The press calls your attention to events like igloos at the Capitol, but says nothing when it is too hot out there for anybody to do anything. And human attention being what it is, we gather the salient information and remain ignorant about what is not made vivid. This kind of system works for someone like Inhofe, it is sufficient for a population that views reality through a television screen. It is not a process that produces accurate objective knowledge.

You can't see the climate. Every point on the earth has a unique history of temperature, humidity, precipitation, and most of those histories have never been measured. In order to determine if human culture has affected the climate it is necessary to map trends in climatic variables over thousands of years, in thousands of places, and look to see if there is something unique about, say, the last two hundred years since the Industrial Revolution.

You and I can't look out the window one day and say, wow, it's hot, the earth is warming up. The fact is, human beings see the world from a point-perspective, we walk around and gather information about the world from our own point of view, where the granularity of our information drops off by approximately the inverse square of distance in space and time. We know the things near us very well, distant things not so much, recent things well, ancient things not so well.

I have written a couple of posts here over the years with the theme "your world is not the world." On this blog we often find an ideological division between conservatives and liberals, but the one that really concerns me is the division between people who believe their world is the world, and those who believe that the objective world transcends a single point of view.

When it comes to understanding the climate, scientists do not look out their windows wherever they happen to live and then argue among themselves about whether it is warmer or cooler than it used to be. I can't think of a better word, it is simply stupid to say that a snowy winter in Washington DC proves that the climate is growing cooler. With his igloos, Inhofe was doing more than making a statement about the climate. He was also demonstrating the principle that his world is the world, that the state of his immediate area is what matters, snow in DC proves that the entire world is getting cold.

In the same way, you can't look out the window today and say that this week's record-setting hot spell proves that the earth is getting warmer. It is relevant that the last decade was the hottest decade on record, but even that could be a decade-long anomaly. The decade 2000-2009 was warmer than 1990-1999, which was warmer than 1980-1989. And there you have a trend.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Anti-Gay Gay Republican Apologizes

You might remember Roy Ashburn, the anti-gay California state Senator who got a drunk-driving ticket a few months ago, leaving a gay bar. I used to live in Fresno, not far from his Central Valley district, and I can tell you it is a very conservative region, lots of farmland, ranches.

Senator Ashburn published a piece yesterday on a web site called Gay Politics. It is rather a unique document. It's a little on the longish side, so I won't republish the whole thing here, but will excerpt a few chunks.
Startled by the blurry reality of a red light glaring in my rear-view mirror at 2 am on the morning of March, 4, 2010, I knew my life was about to change. The California Highway Patrol stopped me as I was driving drunk after leaving a gay club in Sacramento, California’s capital. With my arrest and the media inquiry that followed, my deeply-held secret was no longer my own business. My private life as a closeted gay man was now the public’s business, and I had a lot of explaining to do.

I should begin with an apology. I am sincerely sorry for the votes I cast and the actions I took that harmed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Just as important to me, I am sorry for not stepping forward and speaking up as an elected official on behalf of equal treatment for all people. For nearly 26 years, the voters in my area of California trusted me as their elected representative. I look back now knowing there is so much more I could have done to inform the public about LGBT people and to fight for equal rights under the law. Regrettably and selfishly, I took another path in my life and political career—I chose to conceal who I truly am and to then actually vote against the best interests of people like me. All this was done because I was afraid–terrified, really–that somehow I would be revealed as gay. My journey, my party and LGBT rights

This is a tough thing to read. I believe this guy, he was scared to death.

But ... is that what we do as Americans? When we are oppressed, do we adopt the beliefs of our oppressors and try to force our fellow citizens to abide by those beliefs? Keep in mind, if this guy hadn't been caught he would have operated as an agent for anti-gay bigotry forever. But ... he did get caught, and now he's switched sides. You do have the feeling he's now on the side he genuinely endorses, but ... you know how double-agents are. Now he's a "gay Republican." It's not quite an oxymoron, but close.

You wonder how many others there are in state and federal legislatures and other powerful positions, people who vote against what they believe just to protect themselves. You might tend to sympathize with them as victims, but someone who actively campaigns against his own people is a traitor. Maybe somebody in the comments section will explain where my reasoning is wrong. Is it harder to be gay in a homophobic society than to be a capitalist in a communist country or a communist in modern capitalistic America? Is it harder than being an atheist in Texas, or a Christian in Syria? I have the feeling a lot of people are "in the closet" about who they really are, playing along with the majority, traitors to themselves.

Now he can't see why anybody would want to support the beliefs he promoted until that night the cops pulled him over:
Gay people being treated with respect and having the same opportunities for a good life regardless of sexual orientation should not be topics of political debate. How can it possibly be that there is a partisan political divide over equal rights in America? At a time when our country is deeply divided over the proper size and scope of government, when people are hurting in a bad economy and when we face real threats from terrorists determined to end our way of life, shouldn’t we be united on at least one principal–that equality for all Americans is fundamental to who we are as a nation of freedom-loving people?

You would think we would hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. Not so much these days. Not with guys like Ashburn-before-he-was-busted in office.

This next paragraph makes you feel a little sad. He's talking to his own party ...
It’s time for fair-minded Republicans to speak up for what our party really stands for—individual freedom and limited government. If we truly believe the greatness of America is founded on the individual achievements of ordinary citizens acting with the maximum amount of personal liberty, then there should be no debate over where Republicans stand on the rights of LGBT Americans.

In fact, he is on-target in a certain way, there really is no debate over where Republicans stand on the rights of LGBT Americans -- they're against them.

There's quite a bit more, I am including only one more paragraph.
I am no longer willing, nor able to remain silent in the face of unequal and hurtful treatment of my community. It may have taken me a strange, incoherent and long path to get here, but this is where I find myself as a gay Republican Senator. It’s time for Republicans to find our way and fight for equal treatment for all people, especially the freedom to be unique and have our rights acknowledged and protected.

Someday people will look back at a statement like this one and wonder what the big deal was about. What was the guy afraid of? It's like if you tell girls today that women could be fired fifty years ago for getting pregnant -- it doesn't seem to make any sense, they think you're making some kind of dumb joke. Someday people will wonder why anybody bothered to discriminate against gay people, of all things.

All in all, the net change here is positive, one bigot came out of the closet and started playing for the other team. Maybe he will open a couple of hearts.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Racist to the Bone

Amanda Marcotte has a way with words. She has constructed a voice that is both conversational and precise, and finds ways to get right to the heart of a matter with a minimum of fluff and maximum coolness. At Pandagon this week she summarized a big part of American politics, a part that is not usually addressed objectively and audibly.

First, the backstory. The NAACP called on the Tea Party movement to address the racism that constantly contaminates their message. A leader of one of the teabagging groups, Mark Williams, responded by publishing a "letter to Abraham Lincoln" that was as offensively racist as you can imagine.

Here is one paragraph of Amanda Marcotte explaining very credibly exactly what is going on:
Many of us have been saying for a long time that the screeching about taxes and big government from teabaggers is, in many cases, racist to the bone. The reason Republicans argue that we can cut taxes on the rich while reducing the deficit is because they expect their followers to fill in the rest with, “By stopping welfare payments to those (fill in racist stereotype of the day).” The base chooses to believe that the federal government spends most of their money on social spending for people who could have jobs but choose not to, and Republicans let them believe that because it means they can continue to push fiscally irresponsible policies and leave Democrats to clean up the mess. And those of us who make this argument are often met with skepticism from people who believe that it would be hard for teabaggers to be that stupid and racist and short-sighted. But Williams makes it clear that all the coded language about overspending is meant to convey exactly that stupid message. Bait taken

The Tea Party Federation, which is a coalition of teabagger groups, kicked Williams and his group out yesterday.

The teabaggers' main message is that government has gotten too big. They are fond of conspiracy theories that have the Obama administration controlling the details of everybody's personal lives, but the one big thing they like to talk about is taxes. They hate taxes. If the government were smaller it would spend less money and taxes could be lower, in their simplified view.

The war on Iraq has cost between two and three billion dollars a week, but you don't hear the teabaggers crying to stop the war, do you? This isn't about government spending, it's about the government spending money to help people who need help. Will that be well-connected white people? Not so much.

Gallup recently showed that the Tea Party is essentially the Republican base. They reported, "Their similar ideological makeup and views suggest that the Tea Party movement is more a rebranding of core Republicanism than a new or distinct entity on the American political scene." Watch how they work this during the upcoming elections. Teabaggers are saying things the Republicans can never say out loud, but the GOP is going to want those votes in the fall.

Friday, July 16, 2010

BP Live Feed Again

Okay, they capped that oil well, the spewing is stopped. There are questions about how well it will hold, nobody knows exactly what is going on through the system, but for now it looks good. I thought Vigilance readers might like to check the live feed. As I'm looking at it now, it's just some machinery underwater. Every once in a while a piece of junk floats by. It's nothing like it was.

You can go to the original source HERE, if you prefer.

Use the Play (triangle) and Stop (square) buttons on the player to turn the stream on and off.

The text in the blockquote is from their site.

Please be aware, this is a live stream and may freeze or be unavailable from time to time.

Let's all hope the disaster is uneventful from here on out. No one is saying that the spilling has ended, they are monitoring the pressure and watching very closely for leakage and other problems. Even if it has been stopped, there is a lot of clean-up to do, a lot of environment has been destroyed for decades to come. This needs to be a wake-up call for everyone who cares about the earth and about the survival of future generations.

[ Update: The feed was working when I posted this, but I have not seen an image for more than a day. I'll leave this here in case it comes back. JimK ]

'Dya Feel It?

I half woke up about five this morning. There was a rumbling, a shaking, I imagined it was something expensive in the air conditioning. I heard my wife shifting. "I wonder what that vibration was?" I said. "Unh huh," she said.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported a 3.6 magnitude earthquake centered in Montgomery County at 5:04 a.m. Friday.

The epicenter was in Gaithersburg near the intersection of I-270 and Route 124 (39.145°N, 77.222°W), USGS reported in a preliminary finding. Its depth was 3.1 miles.

Authorities in the District and Montgomery and Arlington counties said there were no reports of damage, though many residents were dialing 911 to report the rumbling. Mild earthquake felt across region

Don't get too many of those out this way...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dangerous Youth in DTSS

There was some violence in downtown Silver Spring Monday night, as reported in The Gazette, and there are several ways of looking at it:
Fifteen people were arrested Monday evening after a group of teenagers harassing pedestrians in downtown Silver Spring slammed one man to the ground, breaking his face and drawing the attention of several eyewitnesses.

The incident occurred just after 7 p.m. Monday on a Fenton Street sidewalk, near the intersection with Ellsworth Drive and just outside the perimeter of the newly opened Veterans Plaza. After late-afternoon showers gave way to sunshine, dozens of pedestrians milled about the downtown area, including a group of 15 men and women described as being in their late teens and early 20s, according to witnesses.

One man from that group was approaching random pedestrians as they walked by the outdoor eating area outside the Baja Fresh restaurant. About 15 different people were accosted by the man, who was standing inches from the victims' faces and "verbally harassing" and "making crazy sexual comments" to passersby, said Chris Wilhelm, a Silver Spring resident who was reading a book nearby.

"It was something building, like a volcano about to erupt," said T. Hill, a Takoma, D.C., resident who was parallel parking his car on Fenton Street at the time of the incident.

One middle-aged man tried to ignore the teens and walk past them, but as he walked toward the intersection of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue, the teen who was accosting pedestrians slapped the man in the back of the head, Wilhelm said. When the man turned around and showed his frustration, at least one other member of the group punched or hit him in the side of the head, according to witnesses and Montgomery County Police.

The man fell, and his head slammed against the red brick sidewalk.

"The sound I heard was like a brain getting crushed," said Silver Spring resident Jane Gorbaty, who witnessed the incident as she was walking to the newly opened Silver Spring Civic Building for a meeting and immediately called 911.

Wilhelm said several witnesses rushed over to the victim—his friend began scuffling with one of the attackers—and the group fled toward Wayne Avenue.

Police arrived within 10 minutes, Hill said. The man suffered fractured facial bones and was in serious but non-life-threatening condition at Holy Cross Hospital, said Cpl. Dan Friz, a Montgomery County Police spokesman. He did not know if the man had been released from the hospital as of Tuesday morning.

Police arrested 15 people and three were charged with first-degree assault, although their identities are not yet available, Friz said. The other suspects were charged with disorderly conduct, Friz said.

The civic building and Veterans Plaza opened Thursday evening with much celebration, but the incident Monday forced Silver Spring Regional Services Center Director Reemberto Rodriguez to explain the security of the plaza to residents—about 30 of whom had gathered in the civic building for a scheduled Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board meeting.

The area of the sidewalk where Monday's assault occurred is public property, just between the county-owned Veterans Plaza and the Silver Plaza on Ellsworth Drive, which is a public street managed by a private company, Peterson Cos., with its own security team. 15 arrested following downtown Silver Spring assault

Later in the story you learn that there was also a violent incident outside the Majestic Theater Saturday night, and someone with a gun was arrested.

A few more details from The Gazette:
The same security that mans the civic building also patrols the plaza, Rodriguez said. The Silver Spring Regional Services Center recently moved its offices into the civic building. Security cameras mounted on the exterior of the building also overlook the plaza, Rodriguez said. One security guard was on duty Monday night, Rodriguez said.

Peterson security did respond to the incident but is not responsible for patrolling the Fenton Street sidewalk, said Jennifer Nettles, manager of Downtown Silver Spring for Peterson Cos. Downtown Silver Spring security cameras may have caught the incident, Nettles said.

Nettles said Monday's incident was the most violent near that intersection since March 2009, when a large fight broke out after a youth "Stop the Violence" concert.

It so happened that Monday evening I was sitting in my car in Rockville around seven, listening to WPFW as they reported on the opening of Silver Spring's new Civic Building a few nights earlier. Of course the "jazz and justice" radio station covered some controversial aspects of the situation. In particular, they interviewed a young activist who complained that young people's needs had been ignored in the planning. The interview was not entirely surprising and I didn't give it a lot of thought at the time, but it may be more interesting in retrospect, so I have transcribed it. It was a show called Spectrum Today:
At Thursday's grand opening of the Silver Spring Civic Building and Veterans Plaze, the mood was celebratory. One Montgomery County politician after another praised the completion of the long-planned twnety-two million-dollar project in downtown Silver Spring. But not everyone was celebrating. A number of students were there to protest the lack of desperately needed youth space in the new Civic Building.

Tiffany Spencer is twenty years old. She has spent more than four years working to get dedicated space for youth in downtown Silver Spring but youth groups and other nonprofits are still being shut out. Tiffany Spencer spoke with journalist Peter Tucker.
[Jubilant noises in the background, live music and crowds.]
TS: Well, the civic center, physically inside it looks great, the outside could be better. I think it's a waste of space. Ah, the inside does look great but they're lacking one of the most important things in downtown Silver Spring and that's a space for young people. Downtown Silver Spring - everybody that comes here are mostly young people. They spend their money here, they hang out here, they don't have anywhere else to go so they hang out in the street, which upsets the adults, because they feel like they're just loitering and not doing anything constructive, which is why they need a space and the Civic Building is the perfect place to have it, it's a public space, there's a lot of room. One company gets more than half the building for a dollar a year ...

PT: Which company is that?

TS: The Roundhouse Theater gets more than half the building for a dollar a year.

PT: Half the building for one dollar a year?

TS: A dollar a year. If you count it by square footage, a dollar a year. And they don't need that space. They have two other spaces in Silver Spring. But the youth groups and the other nonprofits in downtown Silver Spring that actually needs the space doesn't have it, and that's a problem.

PT: I didn't hear that from any of the politicians and they were all here, from Donna Edwards to Marc Elrich to Jamie Raskin, the County Executive Ike Leggett, all Montgomery County and Donna Edwards of old Montgomery County and Prince George's County politicians were here. They all said that it was a great civic space, no one raised any concerns about the lack of youth space.

TS: Because that's what they're, that's their job. That's what they're supposed to do. They don't want the rest of the community to know that. They do it in private. Let's have a meeting with these kids, let's try to calm them down, let's meet with them so they don't get rowdy. That's what they do, I mean that's their job, you can't get upset at them. But at some point someone needs to be honest with the rest of the community. I just don't know who that's gonna be.

PT: Valerie Ervin was also here, you were talking with her. She's the Councilwoman from right here.

TS: Oh yeah, Valerie Ervin has always supported us. She and a few other members of the Council have always been on our side. But you know, in their position it's really hard for them to do anything alone, they kind of need like a crowd of people to kind of back them up. But she's always supported us.

PT: Tiffany Spencer are the youth being ignored here? Is Roundhouse, is one theater company more important than all the youth who use, who access this area?

TS: Well I guess that's what the county is saying. I don't think so, but that's what the county is saying with this building and what they're doing here, that's what they're saying. Yeah.

PT: Any final thoughts you want to share?

TS: The youth of today are going to be the future of Silver Spring tomorrow. And if they're not being accepted now, they're not going to want to support Silver Spring in the future. That's all.

PT: I just have one more question. As I look over your shoulder at the building, we're standing outside here on this, this space which used to be youth space. There was Astroturf here. Now it's questionable, there was a question raised, you know, will there be skateboarders allowed here? Not so clear.

TS: Not so clear.

PT: And I look over your shoulder at the civic building there's a fancy arts gallery, it doesn't, I mean ...

TS: It doesn't symbolize community, does it? There's nothing community about this building. It's all, it looks like a building for profit, and this building is supposed to be for community. Nothing in here symbolizes community. The perfmances -- most of the performances today did not symbolize community. There's a great group, Impact Silver Spring, they did a community thing like a month ago where they had performers from all over the Silver Spring community, that performed. Not one of those performers were up there today. That doesn't symbolize community. That looked like a Roundhouse Theater performance, is what it looked like. Roundhouse Theater is part of the community but they're not the community.

PT: Tiffany Spencer, and yet this was built with public money.

TS: Yes, it was.

PT: Lots of public money, some twenty-plus million dollars of public money, and yet it's questionable how much the public has access to it.

TS: Correct, nobody knows. No one knows if you want to have a protest out here, do you have to pay to do that? If you want to have a birthday party, do you have to pay to do that? Nobody knows. If you want to have a meeting in here, how much will you have to pay to go to a meeting in a public building? Nobody knows. Because this is not a community building. [Laughs] So ...

PT: You're a student at Howard?

TS: Yes, I am. Student at Howard, I'll be a senior in the fall , hopefully graduating in May. Yep.

PT: You've met this fight for a long time to get space for youth in downtown Silver Spring.

TS: Yep. Four to five years. Every year, nothing's changed. So, we'll see. Five years from now, I don't know, maybe I'll still be interested. Who knows? I will no longer be a youth! And that's a problem.

PT: When the discussions for this building were going on four and five years ago, were there promises made that there would be space here?

TS: Initially, in 1998, the first conversation, the civic building will be open, with a media center. 1999, no media center. 2000, media center. 2001, no media center. 2002, media center. Just like that. And then I think in like 2007 is when they stopped and they said no media center, completely. So every year it's been changing. And we went to meetings and meetings and meeting and it changed and it changed. So, I don't know. I think, I don't think nothing's going to happen with this building.

PT: And so the youth are going to continue, right here's Ellsworth, Drive is it? And can you just describe what Ellsworth is like on a Friday evening?

TS: On a Friday? Ellsworth is crowded, of young people. Whether they're going to the movie theater, they're in the mall, or they're just hanging out on the street, sitting on the curb with their friends. That's what Ellsworth looks like on a Friday or a Saturday night. That's how it looks. I guess now they think the young people are going to come here and I feel like, if the young people come here that's also going to be a problem. So I don't know. But that's what Ellsworth looks like.

PT: So youth can hang out as long as they spend money, but ...

TS: Exactly, I think what's next is a financial protest.

PT: Explain that.

TS: Just stop spending money in downtown Silver Spring. Anyone under the age of twenty five, we should just organize and have everybody under the age of twenty five stop spending money in downtown Silver Spring. Let's see what downtown Silver Spring looks like after that.

PT: The youth spend a lot of money down here.

TS: Yes. You're here every day. You go to the movies, this is where you live, this is your community of course you spend a lot of money. And it's difficult to think that you spend all the money here, but then you're not really welcome here.

PT: I remember listening to Martin Luther King's speeches, that, "You can respect my dollar, you can respect my person," that seems appropriate here.

TS: Exactly. But I guess a lot of county people haven't heard that. Maybe that's something we should pass on to them.

Tiffany Spencer spoke with Peter Tucker. Spectrum Today, July 12, 2010 [Link will exist for two weeks]

This young activist is making a pretty good case that young people need a place to go. There's nothing inherently wrong with hanging out with your friends, even in public. Like a lot of things, if you legitimize it and sweep it into your system, you can work with it. It seems sensible to me that you could provide a place for young people to socialize and do things they enjoy, and they will want to take care of it and keep it going.

Our viewpoint in this country too often is to define people as us and them, and then to try to find ways to punish them. A handful of violent punks make life miserable, but the actual undeniable truth is that today's teenagers will be adults soon, they will be paying the bills and running for office and it is in the society's interest in general to use their youthful energy in a positive way, to get them started participating in the world around them rather than hoping to get away with something sometimes.

The blog Silver Spring, Singular posted something about the violence on the street Monday. Blogger Sligo has some editorializing about the incident, but the real action is in the comments.

One of the first, someone named "Anonymous," says this:
I'll start. I've been seeing packs of feral ghetto teenagers swarming all over downtown for about a week. They move in a straight line from the Metro to Ellsworth and Fenton. I've lived in the area for over three years, and I've never seen it this bad.

To state the obvious, the harassers and criminals in DTSS are all young and black. But the true commonality, I would wager, is that these people are NOT FROM SILVER SPRING. Based on the direction of their travels, they're clearly paying us a visit from DC and PG County. I have lots of black neighbors in SS, who are lovely people and want just as much as I do to hang out in our own neighborhood without this crap going on.

Is this the price we have to pay for having a nice, communal space in our neighborhood? Can we do anything to get rid of the problem businesses (Hello, billiards cafe...)? Can county police station a permanent presence at Fenton/Ellsworth and cite these people for loitering, disturbing the peace, etc., until the criminals get tired of SS and go away?

Any ideas? "While You Were Complaining About Skateboarders..." comments

Okay, I personally don't think it is racist to note that the "harrassers and criminals" are young and black, if they are. You want to understand the situation, you gotta call it what it is. Are they young and black? I don't go to downtown Silver Spring often enough to know what the vibes on the street are. But the important point is that the bad guys are not from Silver Spring.

This ties in with Tiffany Spencer's talk about community. Community doesn't mean "the business community," it means the people who live in the area. Her point was that the downtown area should take into account the actual people who live nearby. But this commenter seems sure that the hoodlums in downtown are coming in from some other place, DC or PG County, on the Metro.

So how do you make a good environment that your local kids will want to inhabit, while keeping people out who don't care about maintaining the neighborhood?

A little further down you have this person, named "Anonymous:"
I'd argue that the problem is two-fold, and not necessarily something that can be solved. First off, DTSS is right off a metro, so it's easy access. Second, you basically have an open air mall food court down there with a multi-plex in the center. Is it any wonder that you're going to end up with a bunch of adolescent trash hanging around? Considering that the restaurants are all fast-food or cheap chain joints, is it any wonder you're going to end up with a bunch of lower-income denizens frequenting the area? The place is custom-made to attract low-income teenagers to hang out and treat it as their turf. Sure, rich kids can suck and not all poor kids are trash, but ask any cop or high school teacher and they'll tell you violent behavior in teens is more prevalent from poor homes. That area of DTSS is particularly bad. Ironically you get less trash near McGinty's precisely because it's a bar with a mostly over-21 crowd who (in general) doesn't feel the need to act like teenage hood trash. Sadly, I agree with the original some point the place is going to have some shootings on a crowded night. God help whoever's down there when it happens. Me...I tend to avoid the whole damn area.

The comments at the site tend to go round and round on the same themes.

Somebody named "Anonymous" wrote:
Last night my wife and I were walking up Colesville from the Metro, and got harrassed by a group of teenagers sitting on the wall in front of the Sanz School. One of them stood directly in front of us, blocking our path - and when we cut around him, he bent down in front of me and pretended to, uh, show me some affection, with roars of approving laughter from his crew. (Thankfully that's all they did, though.) I called the police about it, and they were gone by the time I walked by a few minutes later. Wouldn't surprise me if the same group migrated up to the plaza and attacked this poor guy. Now I really wish I'd given the cops a better description.

See what you think of this comment by someone named "Anonymous:"
I disagree with the poster who said the downtown area is designed to attract the ghetto trash. There are *a few* business establishments that attract the thug element - McDonald's by the Metro, the billiards cafe, and the Majestic. Other than that, there are no problems. The gangbangers aren't hanging out in Border's; they're not coming here for Iranian or Lebanese food; they're not here for the Starbuck's. Unfortunately, they're here for the civic center open space, because they know they can hang out and do whatever they fuck want and no one will say anything to them.

There needs to be an armed police presence in DTSS every night.

There are a lot of comments there, I won't try to summarize or quote them all. You can see what the them is.

I'm not going to propose a solution to this hard problem. We were all kids once, I suppose there were some who never got into any trouble. When I was a teenager we used to hang out at the mall, and I remember one time the security guard came and rounded us all up and took us around the corner and said, "Listen, if I see any of you here again, I'm going to shoot you!" He solved his immediate problem, we did not go back to that mall. After that we hung out somewhere else, we weren't causing any trouble but we were unproductive and probably noisy, if there'd been a good place to go we would have gone there.

Adolescence is a hard time, life is magnified and amazing, you are full of yourself and insecure all at once. Grown-ups tell you what to do, but they obviously don't live by their own rules, so you have to figure out what it's okay to do and what's not okay, and a lot of screwed-up stuff happens between, say, twelve and twenty. That does not make young people criminals, even if they are annoying as hell, and it does not mean they can do anything without being held accountable. Youthful energy is a real thing, kids really do generate a lot of noise, a lot of chaos, it's not just rebellion, it's just how they are.

A community has to incorporate that energy. We need to allow young people the freedom to experience life in a safe environment, they are the life of the community. At the same time, someone needs to be responsible to prevent violence and mayhem. Our society simply does not have norms and traditions to smooth the transition to adulthood. A lot of money has been poured into downtown Silver Spring, it has the potential to be a great place to spend your time and money, but if people don't feel safe they won't go there. It is beautiful to have a place where young people feel comfortable socializing, it is not beautiful to have a place that allows rudeness and violence.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Myth of the Down-Low

Recently I was chatting with a woman at work who grew up in DC. I had recently read something about the ratio of men and women in the Ukraine, and we were small-talking about that when this woman mentioned there have always, in her lifetime, been more black women than men in Washington, DC. At least "available ones," she said. I had never heard this before, and asked her why it was. The first thing that came up was imprisonment, a significant proportion of African-American men are in jail or prison or on probation of some sort. DC also has a lot of deaths by homicide each year, young African American males are overrepresented there. We ended up talking about the AIDS epidemic in DC, and especially in the black community.

The number varies according to where you get it, but it seems that the HIV infection rate for black women in America is about twenty times that of the population as a whole. My friend said this is because men get infected on the down-low and bring it home to their wives and girlfriends. I asked her a little bit about the down-low, she said this meant that men were gay but were trying to live as if they were straight, and not quite perfectly succeeding at that.

I was not trying to get facts or, you know, CDC statistics from the lady I work with, but I am curious to learn about the public's perception of this terrible social problem. This idea of black men and the "down-low" is persuasive and seems plausible, given ordinary stereotypes, and it is very widespread.

GLAAD -- the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation -- issued a press release just a few weeks ago on this very topic. It turns out that the ladies on "The View" were talking about this exact thing, and agreeing among themselves that yes, this down-low business, the black men are having gay sex and passing HIV to their women.
June 24, 2010 - On the June 22 broadcast of ABC's daytime talk show "The View," host Sherri Shepherd and guest host D.L. Hughley perpetuated dangerous myths about African American gay and bisexual men.

While discussing the FDA's ban that prevents gay and bisexual men from donating blood, Shepherd and Hughley communicated misinformation about the causes of increased HIV rates among African American women and used the phrase "down low" to describe men who have sex with men but publicly identify as heterosexual.
Here are excerpts from a transcript of the segment:
Hughley: When you look at the prevalence of HIV in the African American Community, it's primarily young women who are getting it from men who are on the down low. That's the thing.

Shepherd: The down low is black men who've been going out. They are having sex with men and they're not telling their girlfriends or their wives that they're gay and their husbands, as well. And it's very prevalent with African American women because they come home and have sex with their wives or their girlfriends. And they're not telling them that they're gay.

Shepherd: It's so big in the Black community with women because they're having unprotected sex with men who have been having sex with... with men.

view the clip on Hulu

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), however, has debunked the dangerous myth that Shepherd and Hughley cited on the program. Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention talked about his research to NNPA News in October 2009. Fenton said that the CDC "has looked to see what proportion of [HIV] infections is coming from male partners who are bisexual and found there are actually relatively few," and goes on to attribute most infections to other factors.

Read Fenton's entire interview.

GLAAD reached out to ABC's "The View" today and asked the show to educate its audience with the facts. Unfortunately the network refused to take responsibility or correct the faulty information.

"Sherri Shepherd and D.L. Hughley's claim that African American gay and bisexual men are ‘primarily' responsible for increased HIV rates among African American women is inaccurate and dangerous," said GLAAD's Senior Director of Programs Rashad Robinson. "Medical experts, including the Centers for Disease Control have dispelled that myth and ABC has a responsibility to its viewers to correct the information. Shepherd and Hughley's comments fuel a climate of homophobia and racism." Call on ABC’s “The View” to Retract Hosts’ Damaging Myths about African American Gay & Bisexual Men

I always found the whole "down-low" scenario to be a little hard to picture. Was this supposed to be gay men who were living in the closet, or was it supposed to be straight guys doing a little something to take the pressure off? The percentage of black men who are gay is probably the same as the rest of the population, and the percentage of those who are in the closet might be higher, given the importance of the church and some obvious social pressures, but I can't imagine that it is that many guys who are secretly having gay sex and then going home to their wives and girlfriends for some hetero-sex. Black or white, it doesn't quite hold together. In a community that stigmatizes homosexuality, you can see that gay men may be likely to try to cover it up, but still, it's not going to be more than a small percentage of the population, not enough to create an epidemic.

I know you didn't click on that link, so let me do it. Here's the start of an article at
ATLANTA (NNPA) – Despite all the talk about “Down Low” Black men – who have sex with women while secretly having intercourse with other men – the major cause of the extremely high HIV/AIDS rates among African-American women is being fueled by heterosexual Black men with multiple sex partners, a top federal official says.

In an interview with the NNPA News Service, Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said the CDC has studied why Black women make up 61 percent of all new HIV cases among women, with 80 percent contracting the disease through heterosexual contact.

“We know that a lot of the infections are actually coming from male partners who have high-risk behavior,” Fenton said in an interview in his Atlanta office. “In fact, we have looked to see what proportion of infections is coming from male partners who are bisexual and found there are actually relatively few. More are male partners who are having female partners and are injecting drugs or using drugs or have some other risks that may put those female partners at risk of acquiring HIV.”

At 61 percent, Black women have an infection rate nearly 15 times higher than White women. Latina represent 17 percent of all new HIV cases among women. White women are only 15 percent. AIDS is the leading cause of death among Black women between the ages of 25 and 34.

Although African Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, Blacks represent nearly 50 percent of all people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The Black share of AIDS cases has jumped from 25 percent in 1985 to 49 percent in 2007. There are about 1.1 people in the United States living with HIV, more than 500,000 of them Black. Official Says 'Down Low' Men Not Responsible for High HIV Rates Among Black Women

The pivotal statement does not exactly jump out at you, so let's make it more salient:
“In fact, we have looked to see what proportion of infections is coming from male partners who are bisexual and found there are actually relatively few. More are male partners who are having female partners and are injecting drugs or using drugs or have some other risks that may put those female partners at risk of acquiring HIV.”

The CDC is saying that injection drug use, not gay sex, is the main source of HIV infection for black men. These men, then, have sex with multiple partners, spreading the virus. The real problem is men having sex with more than one woman, it has nothing to do with men having sex with men or the "down-low."

I am not sure what the CDC director means by "injecting drugs or using drugs or have some other risks." Unprotected sex and intravenous drug use are the two main high-risk behaviors for HIV.

You can see how this down-low business easily extends the standard negative stereotype of the black man. Its proximity to the stereotype makes it easy to imagine, and that makes the hypothesis seem more plausible but it does not make it correct.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Ringo Turns Seventy

What a life this guy has had!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Defense of Marriage Act is Unconstitutional

The AP version of the story:
BOSTON — A U.S. judge in Boston has ruled that a federal gay marriage ban is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define marriage.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro on Thursday ruled in favor of gay couples' rights in two separate challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA.

The state had argued the law denied benefits such as Medicaid to gay married couples in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions have been legal since 2004.

Tauro agreed, and said the act forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens. The act "plainly encroaches" upon the right of the state to determine marriage, Tauro said in his ruling on a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

In a ruling in a separate case filed by Gays & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Tauro ruled the act violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification the Constitution clearly will not permit," Tauro wrote.

His rulings apply to Massachusetts but could have broader implications for other states where gay marriage is legal if it's upheld on appeal. Federal gay marriage ban is ruled unconstitutional

You can bet that conservatives across the country will be delighted to hear that states' rights are supported and the federal government is being limited by this tough judge, forced to conform to the mandates of the Constitution.

Life Imitates Art, One Time Too Many found it, they have the story:
A rare 1970s BP game – yes, that’s the company badge on the box – promises all the ‘thrills of drilling’ offshore, with the first player to earn $120million being crowned the winner. Rare 1970s BP board game promises oil 'thrills' comes back to haunt them

They were trouble-free times when oil barons were dining out with rich sheikhs and counting their profits.

But little did they know their drilling exploits would come back to haunt them.

Up to four would-be tycoons can compete at exploring for oil, building platforms and laying pipelines to their home countries.

But BP Offshore Oil Strike players must also avoid the dreaded ‘hazard cards’, which state: ‘Blow-out! Rig damaged. Oil slick clean-up costs. Pay $1million.’

Unhappily for BP, that is just one per cent of the amount it has spent each day tackling the very real Deepwater Horizon leak, which has seen millions of barrels of oil gush into the Gulf of Mexico and hit the southern US coast.

The mint-condition game, made by Scottish company Printabox, was donated by a private collector to The House On The Hill Toy Museum in Stansted, Essex. It was very rare and ‘obscure’, said museum owner Alan Goldsmith, who added: ‘The parallels between the game and the current crisis... are so spooky.

‘The picture on the front of the box is so reminiscent of the disaster, with the stormy seas, the oil rig and an overall sense of doom. I was just knocked over by how relevant this game is, despite being made some 35 years ago, to BP’s troubles today.

‘It’s amazing when you think that their own game predicted this big oil slick – although, sadly, not the extent of the cost involved.’ The game was worth only about £75, he said, adding it was not popular at the time of its release.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A Month of Abstinence to Break the AIDS Cycle

To stop an epidemic, it is not necessarily to catch and quarantine every case of a disease, or to vaccinate every single person who might catch it. If you picture a graph that plots the number of people who have a disease over time, the line can go up in an accelerating curve as more and more people are infected, or it can turn downward, decelerating. To stop an epidemic it is only necessary to create conditions that result in a decelerating curve, hopefully one that, as in the case of smallpox or polio, goes to zero. A level curve is undesirable, of course, an ongoing epidemic that while not getting worse is still making a lot of people sick. We want the number of people with a bad disease to get smaller.

The AIDS epidemic in Africa is out of control. Though HIV can be treated it cannot be cured, and in many impoverished areas there just isn't enough medicine to treat people. Some top researchers have proposed a plan for stopping that epidemic: a month of abstinence.
Leading scientists fighting the world's worst Aids epidemic have called on African leaders to head a month-long sexual abstinence campaign, saying it would substantially reduce new infections.

Epidemiologists Alan Whiteside and Justin Parkhurst cite evidence that a newly infected person is most likely to transmit HIV in the month after being exposed to it. An abstinence campaign could cut new infections by up to 45%, they say – a huge step in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Swaziland. Aids scientists call for month of sex abstinence

The thing is, in the first month or two after infection HIV is 100 to 1,000 times more contagious than it is once it is established in the body. Compounding that, most people do not know they have contracted the virus in the initial stage before there are symptoms, and so they are more likely to spread it without realizing it. If you got everybody in the whole country to stop having sex -- or, not as good but still good, to use condoms -- for one month, you could dramatically reduce the number of new infections, as all those with new infections would not be spreading it during their most contagious time.

Note that we are not talking about everybody suddenly becoming abstinent for the rest of their lives. This is not a major change in behavior overall, it is simply a call for a coordinated effort by all the people of a community, acknowledging that there is a problem and taking a month to make it better as a group.
Whiteside, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said: "This kind of initiative could provide hyper-endemic countries with a one-off, short-term adaptation that is cost-effective, easy to monitor and does not create additional stigma."

Whiteside said a month-long pledge to use a condom could also be effective. "The main thing is to agree on a bounded period in which the entire population would live by the same rule," he said.

I think people can go for a month without sex, don't you? They could make a game out of it, or a patriotic or religious act.
In Swaziland, the idea was welcomed by the government agency in charge of Aids prevention. "We see this kind of initiative as a way of breaking the cycle. We think a good month to do it would be during the southern African spring, in October or November," said Derek von Wissell, director of Swaziland's National Emergency Response Council on HIV/Aids.

Good, they're thinking already about what is a good time to do it. It has been suggested that the effort could be timed with a religious holiday, as you could imagine such a proposal would be easier to implement during Lent in a Catholic country, and other religions have their celibate times or times when believers are expected to give up something.
He rejected suggestions that abstinence would be perceived as moralistic or be hijacked by churches. Whiteside insists that a month-long campaign in his country, South Africa, is realistic. "We have this idea that we are going to put everyone on treatment. That is actually pretty fanciful. A month of abstinence or condom use is far less difficult to achieve."

This actually sounds like a plan that can work. You want to interrupt the cycle of infection, and the fact that the initial phase is the most virulent actually provides a kind of opening for an intervention. I hope it works.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Birth Control Pill for Men Being Developed

The Pill. It empowered women sexually and provided an important cornerstone for the women's revolution that is going to mark our era in history. Now word is that there will be a pill for men to take once every few months to make them functionally sterile.

Here's what it boils down to: Women, would you trust your man to remember to take this? The researcher who developed the new pill thinks you will.

Time cites The Telegraph and is a little more readable for Americans:
In the search for a form of male contraception that can rival the female birth control pill, a team of researchers from Israel may have just made a breakthrough. As the Telegraph reports, in initial animal trials the team of researchers found that a pill they'd developed — which works by stripping sperm of a protein necessary to fertilize an egg — was able to create temporary sterility in mice for one to three months, depending on the strength of the dose.

Researchers plan to start human trials with the pill next year, and estimate that it could be available to the public in as little as three years. One of the major concerns about developing an effective pill-based form of male contraception is that men might be less likely to remember to take it every day. Yet, should it prove effective in humans, men would only need to take this tablet once a month or once every three months. As Haim Breitbart, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University in Israel who helped develop the pill, told the Telegraph:
"I think most women would trust their man to remember once a month or once a quarter."
In recent months the ongoing search for a reliable form of male birth control other than the condom has yielded clues about everything from how sperm swim to the potential for using ultrasound to disrupt sperm production and create temporary infertility.

Read the full Telegraph piece here.

Developing a once-a-month male birth control pill?

The risks and costs of pregnancy are not equally allocated to both members of a couple. In general, the male can walk away from a pregnancy and the female has to deal with it, it's a basic biological fact and is the fundamental reason that women need to be granted full decision-making authority over their own reproductive systems. On the other hand, there are a lot of good reasons why a man would want to control the consequences of his sexual behavior.

It will be interesting to see if this new approach is successful, and if it does reach the market, do people really take advantage of it. I have the feeling it is not the next Viagra.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

When Horrible Impossibilities Seem Certain to Happen

When a choice is being considered, it is useful to think of the range of possible consequences that might follow from it. One heuristic strategy is to examine the most probable consequences; if the most probable consequences are not good, then reject the choice. If the most probable consequences are all right, then you consider what else might happen, especially looking for outcomes that would be highly negative. Almost any choice has the potential to backfire on you, you should be aware of how that might happen.

I don't want to get too technical here, but one kind of rational choice model would have you take the product of each outcome's value (negative or positive) times its probability, sum them up, and if the sum is positive you accept the choice, otherwise reject it.

Decision theorists have identified all kinds of ways that people distort this rational process. We overestimate the probabilities of vivid things and things that we have seen or thought about recently, for instance.

There is a phenomenon we have dealt with fairly often here in Montgomery County, both in evaluating the sex-ed curriculum and in considering the law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people. In considering a decision, people will identify the very most negative outcome possible, and act as if that outcome is certain to happen. There is another example in the news this week.

So -- we were told that teaching about sexual orientation will directly result in students getting AIDS. People submitted legal court documents saying the school district would be liable when that happens, and the county would go bankrupt when the lawsuits hit. If county residents can't discriminate against their transgender neighbors, we were told, pedophiles and predators will lurk in women's shower-rooms, molesting our innocent wives and daughters.

See how that works? These outcomes are so improbable as to be impossible, yet some people focus on them, acting as if they are sure to happen. A county Republican leader told the County Council that the new gender-identity nondiscrimination law was going to result in "little girls ... showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature." That outcome was impossible: he was sure it was going to happen.

I was trying to think of a name for this phenomenon, but haven't come up with anything I'm happy with.

There was another example this week. Maybe you saw the news about the Massachusetts school district that was going to provide free condoms to students. Here's Fox News:
When the school board in Provincetown, Mass., voted unanimously on June 8 to provide free condoms to all students in the district without parental notification, no one in the audience objected.

In fact, no one thought much about it.

The school’s health advisory committee, relying on respected studies, worried that children were becoming sexually active at ever younger ages, and it believed protection was the best policy. The proposal had been on the agenda for weeks, and it had been discussed in open session and on local cable channels.

No one objected. In fact, no one thought much of it, says Beth Singer, the school superintendent.

Even after passage, she said, she had only one phone call -- from a parent who wanted to know when it would go into effect so she could talk to her kids about it.

But then on Thursday, the world took notice.

A FOX station in Boston ran a story Wednesday night titled “Condoms at School,” and that's when Singer said everything changed.

By 2 in the morning, the Massachusetts Family Institute hastily issued a statement saying: "Making condoms available to first graders bullies parents to submit to an agenda that promotes sexual promiscuity to innocent children at their most vulnerable age.

"The Provincetown school committee's decision to force this radical and absurd policy demonstrates the lengths to which some will go to emasculate parents' rights and undermine the notion of encouraging children to delay sexual activity.”

Kris Mineau, the Institute's president, called the school board's policy “absurd” and suggested parents file suit to overturn the policy.

Stories in the Boston morning papers and even national media outlets screamed that first graders were going to get condoms on Cape Cod, and calls from as far away as California began pouring in in opposition to the policy, which requires students to request the condoms from the school nurse, who will also provide counseling and information on birth control, including abstinence. The nurse can also deny condoms to students for many reasons, including age. Condoms for First Graders? School Board's Decision Sparks Firestorm in Massachusetts

For some reason, every telling of this news story focused on the idea of first grade students getting condoms. The condoms were being made available to all students, K through 12 I presume. It's not a bad idea, of course, there are high school students and even seventh and eight grade kids having sex, I don't like it any more than you do but it happens. If they go to the nurse's office and ask for a condom they might get one, plus a lecture about birth control, including abstinence, unless the nurse decides not to give them one.

The obvious fact is, this was for the older students. They don't ask their parents' permission when they decide to have sex, and if they have to ask their parents for a condom they simply won't get one. It's really common sense. If they're having sex, it is better to be protected from infection and pregnancy, and no kid living at home is going to ask their parents for condoms. At least no kid I ever heard of.

But what is the bottom end of the age range? That is hard to say. High school, okay, a lot of people lose their virginity in high school, it would be reasonable to offer them protection. Middle school? The question is not how long do we wish they'd wait, the question is when are they starting to have sex, in reality, and some middle school students will be sexually active, that's just a fact.

It is not necessary to set an arbitrary youngest age for condom distribution, if a kid doesn't need one he won't ask for one. First graders don't need condoms and won't ask for them, so there is no reason to say they can't have them. It just wouldn't occur to a first-grader to ask the nurse for a condom. A sixth grader? Sadly, maybe. This isn't a license to have sex, it's something for the safety of those young people who are doing it.

Every news story focused on the first-graders. Everybody agrees, it would be shocking if the schools were helping six year old children protect themselves and their partners during sexual intercourse, it would be terrible. Nobody wants the schools to give condoms to first graders, not even liberals, believe it or not.

How many first graders even know what a condom is? Oh, there might be a dare by an older sibling, there might even be a hope to acquire materials for the coolest water balloon ever. But realistically, the schools were not going to give condoms to first graders. They "could" have done it, in the sense that you "could" jump off a cliff if you wanted, but they weren't going to.

Why would people think of the worst possible scenario, even though its probability approximates zero, and act as if this scenario is a certainty? I saw CNN talking about the schools giving condoms to first-graders, fer cryin out loud. Why would anyone think that way?

Today we have a new AP story. Moronic thinking prevails again:
The superintendent of a Massachusetts school district is apologizing to parents for what she calls a misunderstanding over a condom availability policy.

Superintendent Beth Singer said in the letter e-mailed Tuesday that the district will clarify that elementary school-age students won't be able to get a condom if they request one from the school nurse.

The Cape Cod Times reports that she wrote it became necessary to revise the wording after it was "so badly understood and misrepresented by the media."

The policy is set to take effect in the fall and appeared to set no minimum age for students to receive condoms without parental consent. The policy drew criticism from conservative groups as well as Democratic Gov. Deval (deh-VAHL') Patrick. No condoms for grade schoolers, Mass. schools say

There should be a name for the cognitive strategy of thinking of some incredibly unlikely consequence, inventing stories about how that outcome can become a certainty, and then asserting that those stories are true.