Friday, August 27, 2010

Mehlman and Individual Freedom

Everybody's got something to say about Ken Mehlman, George W. Bush's 2004 campaign manager and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, who this week told The Atlantic that he is gay. I was surprised to find out that he had not already announced the fact, which everybody has known forever, I thought.

It seems to me that a lot of people are sympathetic. Poor guy, surrounded by Republicans, he had to pretend he was someone he was not, they wouldn't have accepted him. He was leading a party that actively attacked homosexuality in many ways. From the Atlantic article:
Mehlman's leadership positions in the GOP came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities -- such as the distribution in West Virginia in 2006 of literature linking homosexuality to atheism, or the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party's platform ("Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country..."). Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush's chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.

This is a big sentence:
Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus.

I would say the first thing that turns me off about Republicans is their inability to go against the party consensus. It's a nonsense concept, one of those things like "jumbo shrimp" that negates itself. If people within the party disagree with it, it is not a "party consensus." It could be that one or two bullies in the party make the decisions and the rest of them are sheep who go along with it out of fear of being criticized, or worse, ostracized. (But if it's not the party chairman, who are the bullies?) You know it's not really a consensus but because they are afraid to speak out you never know how many people oppose "the consensus." Who knows, maybe a majority of Republicans privately disagree with everything the party stands for! You can't say they don't, because they all only say what they think they're supposed to say.

Another interesting fact; Karl Rove's father was gay. He was also one of the pioneers of the body-piercing craze. Karl Rove was said to have been close to his father, even in adulthood. So for these two guys to engineer an anti-gay campaign ... you just can't talk about this without using the word "hypocrisy."

This paragraph in the Atlantic article also jumped out at me. Now that he is uncloseted Mehlman is promoting marriage equality.
"What I will try to do is to persuade people, when I have conversations with them, that it is consistent with our party's philosophy, whether it's the principle of individual freedom, or limited government, or encouraging adults who love each other and who want to make a lifelong committment to each other to get married."

I looked at that paragraph as a slight twist on the standard Republican cliches, but my eye kept going back to it. What is wrong with this picture?

It's this:
... our party's philosophy, whether it's the principle of individual freedom ...

They form a "consensus" that includes people who disagree with the "consensus" but are intimidated into keeping their mouths shut. They wave the flag of "individual freedom" but adamantly deny citizens the right to start a home and family with the one they love. The Party fought -- and fights to this day -- to insult and limit the rights of gay and lesbian people, in the name of "individual freedom."

Republicans don't have ownership of the concept of individual freedom. In fact, the case of Ken Mehlman tells you that in practice they believe just the opposite, individuals should sacrifice everything to promote harmony within the herd. Mehlman stepped down as chairman of the RNC the day after Bill Maher referred to him on CNN as a closeted gay man -- the party did not afford him the individual liberty to be what he is, to love the way he loves.

No American political party or group owns the concept of "individual freedom." All Americans inherit an institutionalized appreciation for freedom as a cornerstone concept for an entire society. It is hard to think of any way in which the Republican Party actually supports individual freedom, besides the individual freedom of rich people and big companies.

I hope that rank-and-file Republicans will read this Atlantic story and give it some thought. He was their man. He led the party. He put together the strategy machine that got George Bush into office the second time -- and remember, by then Americans knew what Bush was, that was the hard one, Mehlman and Rove organized a campaign that put one of the stupidest people you have ever seen into the White House for the second time. And yet this man was gay and afraid of letting his colleagues know, promoting and nurturing a program of bigotry against himself and others like him because the "consensus" demanded it. His individual freedom was stolen from him by a group that demands sheepish submission to a false consensus.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cool Posters: Men Can Stop Rape

I humbly know that there are people who have thought a lot more than me about these things and can speak a lot better. But one thing that always bothers me is advice for women to prevent rape. You know what they say: don't go out alone, don't go into the dark, don't dress provocatively, don't drink too much, lock your doors, things like that, you've heard the chant -- of course, women, I understand that in a practical sense you need to live under these conditions, I'm not saying to take chances. But we need a long-term strategy here, too.

But there are too many things wrong with trying to solve the problem of rape by changing women's behavior. First of all, rape is a problem that men have -- it isn't women who are doing it. To stop rape, you have to stop men from doing it. Second, I hate the idea that women are being coached to live in fear. They are expected to be equals in the workplace and everywhere else, but then they are told to be afraid of the dark. Like, "Hey, lady, only men can walk through that park." Uh, also, I like women to dress provocatively, and really hate to hear somebody tell them not to.

The problem is that this approach to rape ends up serving to weaken women's position in society in the middle of a revolution that is empowering them in so many other ways. The focus should be on stopping rapists, not on instilling profound fear into their potential victims.

And of course, everyone understands that the woman who gets raped did not follow the advice, she must have gone out alone, or walked in the dark, or left a door unlocked. Therefore, it's her fault. This is one crime where the victim is blamed a whole lot of the time.

I happened across a link to a cool web site that offers posters and materials that are directed at guys. I don't know anything about Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR), other than what they say on their site, but it simply cannot be wrong to deliver a message to young men that it is cool to respect women.

Here are a few of their posters. Looks like you can order them at the web site.

I don't think it would be a bad idea to have these up where adolescent boys and young men can see them. Not every kid gets exposed to this kind of advice.

Weast to Retire

MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast has announced that he's retiring next year. Weast was controversial in his way, but I think anyone in that position is going to elicit controversy, it just comes with the territory. The Washington Post had a nice article this morning:
IF ANYONE has earned the right to retire from a job well done, it is Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. For 11 years he has led Maryland's largest school system with vision, courage and sheer hard work. Nonetheless, we can't help but be saddened by his decision or wonder why the school board didn't do more to try to keep him.

Mr. Weast announced Tuesday that he will step down at the end of the 2010-11 school year, ending one of the longest runs, nationally and locally, of a school superintendent. Board of Education President Patricia O'Neill aptly called it a "bittersweet" moment for Montgomery County given Mr. Weast's extraordinary record and what surely will be the challenge to replace him. Today, it is almost hard to recall what kind of school system Mr. Weast took over in 1999. Montgomery schools enjoyed a national reputation for excellence but, as Mr. Weast would soon make uncomfortably clear, only certain students -- the white and prosperous -- benefited.

It was, Mr. Weast told us, "the worst kind of racism because . . . low expectations were institutionalized." Before "achievement gap" became part of the national lexicon, Mr. Weast focused attention on the glaring discrepancies between what was expected of white and minority students. He shamed Montgomery into recognizing that there were two school systems and, more important, he was able to rally support for change. New resources were pumped into what Mr. Weast had identified as the red districts and, even as Montgomery underwent tremendous demographic changes, there were gains in student achievement across the board. Of all the system's accolades, perhaps the most telling is African American and Hispanic students' record participation in and performance on Advanced Placement exams. Montgomery County's Jerry Weast will be a hard act to follow

This was a tough call, a shifting of focus that did not, you might say, please everyone.
Mr. Weast would not have been able to succeed if he tried to please every political constituency, and his single-minded determination made enemies. Over the years, there was a change in the membership of the school board that had hired and backed him; only one current member, Ms. O'Neill, was seen as wanting him to stay on. Given the fiscal straits that complicate school reform, it's unfathomable that the rest of the board seemed more than willing to let Mr. Weast depart.

Unquestionably he leaves Montgomery schools on a firm foundation. We hope the school board that will be charged with picking a new superintendent, to be determined by the outcome of this year's election, will choose someone who will build on Mr. Weast's work and, like him, will never let political niceties get in the way of what is right for children.

Weast's office organized the development and implementation of the sex-ed curriculum we fought so hard for. His staff worked inside the bureaucracy to develop classroom materials while at the same time pushing back the hordes of peasants waving their pitchforks and demanding that the tidal surge of history be held back.

Our most remarkable moment has to be when the school board was finally voting in 2007 on the new curriculum, and one last statement had been added to it, supported by Weast, a statement allowing teachers to tell students who asked that homosexuality is not a disease. Board member Steve Abrams thought there was some backroom politics going on, and challenged Weast's decision to include the statement.

In a dramatic moment, Weast leaned forward and pointed his finger at Abrams, and said.
Now whether you like where I decided it or how I decided it is your own personal opinion. But I can tell you it didn't come from pressure, it didn't come from any of these Board members, it didn't come from any groups. It came from long thought on my part. I'm a teacher. I've been a teacher for 38 years Mr. Abrams. And when a kid, a student, a valuable member of a community asks me a simple question, "Am I mentally ill? Am I sick?" I felt the need. When my staff asked me that question, this child deserves a response if there is a response. And what we found was a response that I felt fit the extension and was appropriate, and has been thoroughly thought through by a national organization.

We wish Jerry Weast good fortune and lots of relaxation in his retirement.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Another Anti-Gay Student Loses Lawsuit

A counseling student, Jennifer Keeton, claimed that because she is a Christian she should not have to learn how to counsel gay and lesbian clients. The university that insisted that she needed to comply with the ethics code of the American Counseling Association in order to graduate, and she sued them.

She lost.

The Augusta Chronicle:
Augusta State University's requirement that a graduate student read material about counseling gays and increase her exposure to that community after she objected to counseling homosexual clients was "academically legitimate," a federal court judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge Randal Hall's decision enables university officials to expel Jennifer Keeton if she does not follow the remediation plan, which professors designed to "address issues of multicultural competence and develop understanding and empathy."

Hall said the case is not about "pitting Christianity against homosexuality," but rather the constitutionality of the school's requirement.

Professors asked Keeton to complete the remediation plan after she said she opposed homosexuality and would tell gay clients "their behavior is morally wrong and then help the client change that behavior," according to an affidavit filed in the case.

Keeton filed a lawsuit against the school in July, alleging the requirement was viewpoint discrimination and a violation of her First Amendment rights. Judge rejects Keeton lawsuit

It is important for universities to stand up to these challenges. Where there are differences between religious and scientific beliefs on a topic, the university -- at least the secular university -- should side with science.

We talked about a similar case a few weeks ago. Same thing, courts ruled with the school.

The best discussion of this situation I have seen was on the Equality Loudon blog, where blogger David put text from the comments into his post. His commenter had written:
Counseling is an applied domain within psychology. I don’t know the specifics of the Augusta program, but a Masters level program would typically include some sort of supervised practicum in addition to coursework. The student would be required to demonstrate competency in the actual practice of counseling before they are granted credentials which would allow them to present themselves to employers and the public as having a certain level of knowledge and training. Anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a “counselor” with no training or education at all. A particular degree or license is understood to be a guarantee - the responsibility of the program granting the degree - that the individual has certain skills and competencies. To grant credentials to someone who has failed to demonstrate the required competencies would be a breach of that responsibility. Ms. Keeton, in the judgement of her professors, has failed to demonstrate the required competency in counseling a segment of the student population she is sure to encounter professionally. Therefore, allowing her to have contact with these children in the role of a counselor would be endangerment.

Imagine if a child coming to terms with an intersex condition were sent to her. Ms. Keeton simply believes (she says) that people “were created male and female,” end of story, all she needs to know about the subject. She dismisses all of the medical knowledge concerning neurological development and gender identity in favor of her belief. She is, in other words, actively denying reality - but you seem to think she should be in a position in which she is assumed to have knowledge about this area of life, but in which she would likely tell this vulnerable child something that is completely false and harmful. Tolerance for child endangerment? No.

The university needs to enforce its standards. The cost to American society if the courts let these religious challenges succeed is immeasurable.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to Know If Your Husband is Gay

Sometimes it seems like we've heard it all, every way the Christian right can insult and put down gay people, you'd think they'd run out of things, but Christwire has an article about how to tell if you're husband is gay, and I have to say it goes beyond expectations as far as negative stereotyping. Let me give you some of it:
Right now in America there are over 2 million couples secretly struggling with homosexuality in their marriages. Are you one of them? Are you having intimacy issues? Are you suspicious about your husband’s late night activities? Or are you oblivious to a problem that could be putting your health and the livelihood of your family at risk? Don’t tell yourself that you’re simply being paranoid without taking a closer look!

Homosexuality can pop up at any time during a long-term relationship. Your spouse may have been experimenting with the “gay” lifestyle even before you met. Maybe he’s just using you as unwitting cover as he seeks playmates in the heterosexual world. For these types, the shame of being “outed” is so great that they will go to extremes to hide their lustful activities, even tricking a woman to marry them to appear normal in society. Sometimes it’s the nervous family who has rushed a young man into marriage out of a fear that his secret will be exposed. For others, homosexuality can appear later in life when men crave some escape from the monotony of careers and home life. Same-sex experimentation is also connected to drug or alcohol abuse. Crystal meth and other narcotics are proven to lower inhibitions and to drive people to take incredible risks to feed their habits.

For the wife unsure about her husband’s proclivities, the most important thing is to first confirm your suspicions. Drawing on the expertise of spiritual and medical professionals, Christwire has put together a list of 15 commonly-accepted characteristics of men struggling with homosexuality within a marriage.. Is My Husband GAY?

Here's a question for The Nutty Ones: do you want men to marry women, or not? Isn't that what the whole "ex-gay" thing is about? You take a gay guy, talk him into ignoring his natural attraction to members of his own sex and persuade him to have sex only with a woman, even though he's not that interested, and if he goes along with it you have the great success of The Ex-Gay. By some tellings of the Christian right's agenda, this is ideal, this is what PFOX stands for, for instance, this is the great triumph, marrying a woman.

These people are taking the ideal PFOX scenario, a gay man marrying a woman, and turning it inside out, now he is tricking her!

This article is pretty long, and the text is so fascinating that I hope you will follow the link and go read it. Having frightened women into wondering if their guy is gay, they give you fifteen warning signs. It is incredibly tempting to paste in a lot of the explanatory text, but I'll just give you the bolded headings:
1) Secretive late night use of cellphones and computers
2) Looks at other men in a flirtatious way
3) Feigning attention in church and prayer groups
4) Overly fastidious about his appearance and the home
5) Gym membership but no interest in sports
6) Clothes that are too tight and too “trendy”
7) Strange sexual demands
8) More interested in the men than the women in pornographic films
9) Travels frequently to big cities or Asia
10) Too many friendly young male friends
11) Sassy, sarcastic and ironic around his friends
12) Love of pop culture
13) Extroverted about his bare chest in public
14) Sudden heavy drinking
15) Ladies, have you dated men in the past who turned out to be gay?

That last one is interesting. They're saying that some women just date a lot of gay guys, unintentionally. So if your other boyfriends turned out to be gay, this one probably is, too.

If your guy bathes, shaves, and gets dressed, even on weekends -- watch out! If he is imaginative in bed, even after he's married, watch out! If he doesn't turn into the most boringly normal couch potato you can imagine after a month or two of marriage, if he doesn't smell bad, if he cares about what other people think of him -- watch out!

Okay, seriously, the saddest thing is to think of the poor women who marry men who consider themselves ex-gays. You pity the guy who believes he can overcome his own nature, but think of the woman who loves him, who will never be loved in the same way. I'm not making fun of this article because it's funny to find you're married to a gay man, but because that is exactly the outcome that the Christian right has been pushing for all this time. They tell gay men to turn away from their feelings, they tell them they can become heterosexual, and now they are talking like it's a big trick, that gay guys are marrying straight women so they can ... uh, I don't know why they'd do that, except that somebody has made them think they were supposed to.

There's an extra bonus on this web site. I wish you could see the little crosses they use for bullets on this list of recent posts, but at least I can show you the titles... these are people who live in a different universe from me, that's all there is to it.
Recent Posts
* Barack Obama Supports Terror Mosque at World Trade Center
* 19th Amendment: Celebrating 90 Years of Feminism Destroying America, Vote by Vote
* Lightning Hits Boy, 13, at 13:13 on Friday the 13th
* ALERT: Gay Agenda Releases “Know Age of Consent” Law Video
* Lady Gaga Telephone Leads Another Child into Gay Temptation

No, really, I'm not making this up.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gay-Supporting Christian Billboards - In Texas

This is a bold move, especially in Texas.

From the CBS11TV web site, out of Fort Worth:
Christine Lutz was traveling down Interstate-30, just east of Fort Worth, when she came face to face with a billboard containing a pro-gay message. "I cringed. I was disgusted at the same time," she said.

The billboard angered Lutz so much, that she fired off a stern e-mail. "I said how dare you take the scriptures and twist it to fit your needs," she recalled. I-30 Pro-Gay Christian Billboards Spark Debate

Isn't that an interesting reaction! Imagine twisting the scriptures to fit your own needs ... hmm, I wonder if that ever happens...
There are four billboards with similar pro-gay messages along I-30 that have started a debate among Christians in North Texas.

Rev. Jon Haack, with Promise Metropolitan Community Church, said, "If we go back to the gospel readings, we don't find anything within those texts that discriminate or exclude against gay and lesbian people. Gay and lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people are part of God's creation too."

Rev. Haack is with one of five local churches sponsoring the billboards that advocate gay acceptance by all Christians.

One billboard reads, "The early church welcomed a gay man." Another one reads, "Jesus affirmed a gay couple."

The other day I posted an article pointing to the importance of religion in a civil rights debate. For some reason, anti-gay churches have commandeered the Bible for their own purposes and twisted obscure passages to make it appear that the Judaeo-Christian God opposes LGBT people, when in fact there is almost nothing in thousands of pages of scripture on the subject -- and lots about forgiveness, understanding, kindness, forgoing judgment.
The billboards were put up a week ago along I-30 between Grand Prairie and Fort Worth and the negative e-mails are already coming in. "There are people who have told us to reread our Bible which is the very question we're asking others to do," explained Rev. Colleen Darruagh, with Metropolitan Community Church of Greater Dallas. "We've had people say, 'How dare you take the name of God in vain' and that God hates homosexuals."

Pastor Sam Dennis, of Parkway Hills Baptist Church in Plano, says Christians shouldn't hate gays. He disagrees however with the billboards' use of scripture to back a pro-gay message. "I'm hard pressed to find that scripture advocates that it's alright to live in a gay lifestyle. Just like I'm hard pressed to find that scripture advocates that's it's alright to live in an adulterous relationship or as a wife abuser or as a murderer."

The five local churches sponsoring the billboards are part of the Worldwide Metropolitan Community Church which has a predominantly gay congregation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Disappointment: Appeals Court Stalls California Marriage

The NYT:
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court panel ruled on Monday that same-sex couples could not marry in California while the court considers the constitutionality of the state's ban on gay marriage.

But the panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals set a relatively aggressive schedule for considering the case, with briefings in the fall and a hearing the week of December 6. California Gay Marriage on Hold as Case Is Appealed

The story is just out as I write this, and there are not many details.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled earlier this month that the ban was unconstitutional.

He also said last week that gay marriages could resume while higher courts considered the matter. But the brief ruling by the three-judge appellate panel reverses that, granting a stay on allowing gay marriage during the appeal.

The panel gave no reason for its decision.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Living Without Cable

Thursday there were storms and cable service got knocked out for our whole neighborhood. There are times when Comcast delivers an inconsistent product, you might say, so I was not entirely surprised to find the Internet inaccessible. But this time there was no television, either. We had power, lights were on, but no TV or Internet.

Friday afternoon we were still without service and I called them. They confirmed that were was a big outage, and that they were working on it. Friday evening I drove around the neighborhood to see if there were any trucks. You know the answer to that one, there was nothing within a half mile of my house.

I confess, normally when we lose our service I jump onto a neighbor's wireless network and use that. It's not as good, the signal is weaker, I'm not even sure if it's legal but at least I can check my email and stuff. This week, the neighbors were cut off, too. So a couple of times a day I went to MacDonald's and caught up using their wireless service.

I didn't miss the television, to tell you the truth. I don't watch it much. I recently bought a couple of books by Charles Bukowski and have been sitting around reading. There are also lots of things I can do on the computer that do not require the Internet, papers I'm working on, stuff for work, stuff for the band.

It wasn't that bad being cut off from the world. It was just like it used to be, in most ways. The one thing I did miss was being able to Google up any piece of information at any moment. Instead of knowledge we now have information, did you notice? Somebody asks, who was that guy who played Gomez in the Addams Family, and nobody can remember, that's a three-second Google job. Without Google, you just shrug and talk about something else. They call this the "flattening of knowledge," people may have broad knowledge of everything from quantum entanglement to some actor's bizarre fetish, without understanding anything or knowing anything in depth. Our world comes in bite-sized packages, that's just how it is, and without TV and Internet you have to chew it yourself. And some of it is kind of tough.

Saturday morning I saw a Comcast truck stopped at the corner, so I went out and talked to the guy. He said the whole neighborhood had no service, and he was working on it. Then he drove away.

One good thing about Comcast, there is almost no wait-time when you call now. One other thing, the people who answer the phone don't seem to have had any training. I got every kind of answer from them, and received every kind of treatment from respect and empathy to sarcasm. They can't tell you what the problem is, what's being done about it, how many people are affected, or how long it will be before your service is restored. One day they said service had been eighty-eight percent restored in this area, and the next day they said it had been fifty percent restored, like maybe they make up the numbers or something, do you think?

This morning I looked out and there was a Comcast truck parked beside a pole across the street, with a cherry-picker going up. I went out and talked to the guy. He looked tired. He was looking for the problem. After a while he drove around the corner and went up on the next pole. Then another truck came, and they worked on the two poles. I had the TV turned on so we would know if we had service, and suddenly we heard voices from the living room. I looked at the router, and the red light had stopped blinking. It came and went a couple of times, and now everything is working again.

Once they got here, the problem was diagnosed and fixed within an hour. I have to wonder why it would take three days to get a guy here to look at our problem.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Scared Puppies

Rosa is a rescue mutt who is about twice as big as Po, a cairn terrier (picture Todo). Each of them has a crate in our kitchen where they feel safe. They often sleep in them, and when they start getting rowdy or noisy we say "Crate!" and they trot off to their individual crates.

Yesterday there was terrific lightning and thunder in our neighborhood. I was out in it, waiting for the bus, and the flash and boom were synchronous -- the lightning really was directly overhead. My son went to the kitchen to check on the dogs and this is what he found. Rosa had gone into Po's crate, even though she barely fits in it, and the two of them huddled together through the noise and bright flashes. He took a picture with his cell phone.

I've never seen them do this before.

California Weddings Will Begin, Probably

Yesterday a California judge has stayed the ruling overturning a law banning same-sex marriages until August 18th. Double negatives are confusing, this is a triple! Gay couples are ready to line up for their marriage licenses, but nobody really knows what's going to happen next.

On one hand, the judge says, go ahead and get married, starting next week. On the other hand, he is saying, you can't get married until next week. I have seen news headlines interpreting it both ways.

The question has to do with an appeal. The judge could have nodded to the organist and started the parade of blushing spouses immediately, but he gave the anti-marriage side a week to file an appeal. The people who are against marriage are really against it and will do anything to stop it, but there are a couple of problems for them. First of all, their case was devastated in court. They didn't just lose, they drowned, sunk in humiliation. The judge ruled not only that the law was unconsitutional, but he went out of his way to document the fact that those who supported it were neither smart nor nice.

The other problem is that they might not have standing for an appeal. Andrew Sullivan let one of his commenters carry the ball here:
After all, standing is determined by material harm. Your interests or your rights must have been diminished in some way in order to file suit to protect them. Now, the anti-8 plaintiffs filed suit against Schwarzenegger, so he was brought into the suit unwillingly. But it's the pro-8 crowd who wants to appeal. Denying standing would be, in effect, that their interests were not harmed by the decision of Judge Walker. That is, they lose nothing as a result of gay marriage being legal. In other words, the legality of gay marriage does not diminish the sanctity of straight marriage. Do Prop 8 Proponents Have Standing To Appeal? Ctd

It may be frustrating to make the eager couples wait another week, but it is prudent. After all, if a way is found to appeal, and the appeal wins, you wouldn't be able to un-marry hundreds of couples, they would live in a unique legal niche that would require special handling.

Supporters of Proposition 8 have filed an appeal, but the court will likely not accept their request, since they were not named in the original lawsuit, which was against the governor of California. Arnold Schwarzenegger has already said he'd be happy to hear the wedding bells ringing, he's not going to appeal the decision. The only way the anti-marriage advocates can get an appeal heard by the court would be if they could prove that they were somehow harmed by Judge Walker's decision -- and part of that decision was a finding that nobody is harmed if gay people marry.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Earlier Puberty in Girls Noted

In the long-running discussions over sex education, one fundamental question has to do with the appropriate age for children to learn various things. When is it appropriate to learn the names of body parts? When should intercourse and reproduction be explained to them? When should they learn about the risks of various sexual behaviors, including oral and anal sex? The trick is preserving the innocence of childhood while providing information that young people need as they become physically mature and sexually active. Their bodies are changing and their emotions are changing as they approach and pass through puberty, and the likelihood increases that they will need more precise and thorough information about adult things.

The educational question hinges on timing information to students' physical, cognitive, and emotional growth. Assumptions are made about the maturation process, and that process itself is changing. Kids are growing up faster now.

The New York Times:
A new study finds that girls are more likely today than in the past to start developing breasts by age 7 or 8.

The research is just the latest in a flood of reports over the last decade that have led to concern and heated debate about whether girls are reaching puberty earlier, and why it might be happening.

Increased rates of obesity are thought to play a major role, because body fat can produce sex hormones. Some researchers also suspect that environmental chemicals that mimic the effects of estrogen may be speeding up the clock on puberty, but that idea is unproved. First Signs of Puberty Seen in Younger Girls

We don't have access to the study itself, but Politics Daily summarizes the results:
The study, led by a team of researchers at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, found that at the age of 7, 23.4 percent of African- American girls, 14.9 percent of Hispanics and 10.4 percent of white girls had developed breasts. By 8, those proportions had risen to 42.9 percent, 30.9 percent and 18.3 percent, respectively. The percentages for blacks and whites were even higher than those found by a 1997 study that was one of the first to suggest that puberty was occurring earlier in girls.

While the causes of this trend are unknown, one chief culprit is thought to be obesity. Body fat produces estrogen, which in turn triggers breast development and menstruation. Another possibility are endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment -- such as bisphenol-A (BPA) -- which is found in many hard plastic products, including water bottles and baby bottles. Early Puberty in Girls: What Are the Social Consequences?

But one of the researchers cautions that the data in this study are not sufficient to support the conclusion that puberty is coming earlier in general. ABC News:
One of the study's authors told ABC News' Senior Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser, however, that determining early puberty was not the focus of the research.

"I don't think from this study we can say the age is going down in the world at large," said Mary Wolff, who is a professor of community and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "This study was not designed to look at if puberty was happening early or not."

The authors point out that the study does not use a nationally representative sample of subjects, and does not look at development over time to account for environmental exposure, dietary differences or other factors related to race and ethnicity. Additionally, some subjects were selected because they had existing risks for early puberty.

Another important element missing from this study is information about the onset of menstruation, which could indicate whether puberty has actually started.

"It's going to take a lot of follow-up to say whether this is really puberty," said Dr. Abby Hollander, associate professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "Within five years, we should be able to say whether the average age girls get their periods is earlier." Is Puberty in Girls Coming Too Soon?

This study did not attempt to determine the age of onset of puberty in the general population, but it does add to a body of literature that indicates that that age has been dropping steadily. The two likely culprits are obesity and endocrine disruptors in the environment that mimic the effects of estrogen.

Educators should consider this change in our world as they develop curricula to inform young people about their sexuality. It may seem shocking to teach elementary school children the details of sexual intercourse and the risks of sexual behaviors and how to avoid them, but it may be necessary if students are reaching physical adulthood in those grades.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summarizing the Prop-8 Decision

Not surprisingly, a lot of anti-gay folks are complaining about Judge Walker's ruling that California's Proposition 8 limiting marriage to heterosexual couples was unconstitutional. Those who are really involved in the issue have read the judge's opinion - that is probably not one percent of the population. The rest of us like to see it boiled down. Here's the most succinct summary I have seen, as presented by winning attorney David Boies in an interview on the Rachel Maddow Show.

There were three points.
It was a very, very careful and well-written opinion, and it was very well grounded in the facts of the case. We said at the beginning that we would establish three things -- marriage is a fundamental right; depriving gays and lesbians the right to marry harm them and harm their children; and depriving gays and lesbians the right to marry cannot help heterosexual marriage at all. The judge pointed out that we were right on all three of those grounds, and that not only were we right, but the defendant's own witnesses admitted the three propositions during the trial. I think that one of the things the judge has done is it made a very, very strong opinion that's very, very difficult to overturn on appeal. Transcript: Rachel Maddow show

Three points. The courts have already upheld the right of citizens to marry, and you cannot deprive some segment of the population that right. Taking that right away from some people is harmful to them in a legally valid sense. And finally, taking away gays' and lesbians' right to marry the one they love does not make marriage any better for straight couples.

These are three simple points, easy to understand. The citizens of California might not want to grant gay and lesbian couples the right to marry, but this is the United States of America, governed by a Constitution that guarantees that rights given to any are given to all.

The Fourteenth Amendment says: "...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." It's that last little piece, the "equal protection" clause, that requires Judge Vaughn Walker to rule against Proposition 8. (Walker's original nomination by President Reagan in 1987 was stalled in the Senate because he was perceived to be insensitive to gay and poor citizens; a group of House Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi also opposed the nomination. G. H. Bush's nomination of Walker was approved by the Senate in 1989.) The courts have ruled many times that citizens have the right to marry, and you can't deny that right to gay and lesbian citizens.

Gay Rights Is a Religious Issue

There is a wise article in the Tikkun Magazine this month, which raises a point that a lot of people on our side, secularists in particular, might not want to have to deal with. The whole article is good, I wanted to post the introductory paragraphs and outline their major points.
Civil rights movements that appeal to religion succeed. Those that do not, fail. Contrast the fates of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Rights Amendment, or the way African American civil rights was understood before and after Dr. King's religious message. As both pollsters and election results continually remind us, mainstream Americans do not respond to arguments about constitutional rights and equality; they respond to moral arguments, shared values, and religion—unsurprisingly, since over 90 percent of Americans profess a belief in God.

The centrality of religion to civil rights discourse is amplified when the civil rights struggle questions a status quo largely supported by religion. We may no longer remember the musty religious arguments today, but the Bible was once used to enforce segregation as much as to oppose it. God placed the races on different continents, segregationists said. God sanctioned slavery. Africans were heirs to the curse of Ham. And so on. Dr. King and his movement have so succeeded in their reframing of civil rights that these arguments may strike us today as bizarre. But just fifty years ago, they were preached from pulpits around the country. Ten Reasons Why Gay Rights Is a Religious Issue

And so today we have other civil rights struggles, currently the battle for LGBT rights is being fought in the ballot-box and the courtroom. You can argue for fairness or equality or justice -- there are many reasons to ensure equal rights for all people -- but if you're fighting the religious institutions you will lose. And as concepts of fairness, equality, justice, and kindness are at the heart of most of the earth's religions, it should be the other way, religion should be promoting equal rights for all.

Michaelson outlines ten reasons religion should support the progressive side. I am taking his section titles, leaving the explanatory text for you the reader to find when you follow the link above. The titles themselves should light up a few light bulbs.
1. It Is Not Good to Be Alone
2. God Loves Us and Does Not Want Us to Harm Ourselves
3. Compassion Is Holy
4. Justice Is Holy
5. Because the Hebrew Bible Doesn't Say What the Right Says it Does
6. Because the New Testament Doesn't Say What the Right Says It Does
7. Evolution of Religious Doctrine Is Healthy
8. Curbing Brutishness Is the Point
9. Because the Separation of Church and State Helps the Church
10. Sexual Diversity Is a Beautiful Part of God's Creation

We have some readers on both sides of the issue who consider themselves religious. I strongly recommend walking through this well-written article.

It's tempting to quote so much of this. Let me just throw this out there.
These are but ten reasons—there are many more—why full equality for sexual minorities should be seen not as some accommodation of religion to a secular norm, but as a religious value itself. They are intended to be public reasons, that is, reasons that can be explored and discussed objectively regardless of our personal experience. But if there is an eleventh reason I would add, it would be of necessity a "private" one: that every religious sinew in my body leans in the direction of liberation, love, and holiness.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Pie Chart

This is not really new but it seemed appropriate this week...

Friday, August 06, 2010

Foreclosure to Fortune, Thanks to Superman

Nothing to do with anything, but this story is cool. A family is down, about to lose their house, they're packing up their stuff to move out, and they come across the old comic books in the basement...
A struggling family facing foreclosure has stumbled upon what is considered to be the Holy Grail of comic books in their basement – a fortuitous find that could fetch upwards of a quarter million dollars at auction.

A copy of Action Comics No. 1, the first in which Superman ever appeared, was discovered as they went about the painful task of packing up a home that had been in the family since at least the 1950s. The couple, who live in the South with their children, asked to remain anonymous.

"The bank was about ready to foreclose," said Vincent Zurzolo, co-owner of and Metropolis Comics and Collectibles in New York. "Literally, this family was in tears. The family home was going to be lost and they're devastated. They can't figure out a way out of this. They start packing things up. They go into the basement and start sifting through boxes – trying to find packing boxes – and they stumble on eight or nine comic books."

Most of the comic books in the box were worth between $10 and $30 but one – dated June 1938 and depicting the Man of Steel lifting a car above his head – was extremely rare. That issue, which originally sold for 10 cents, is considered to have ushered in the age of the superhero.

"It's a tremendous piece of American pop culture history," Zurzolo said. The couple learned online that had brokered the record-breaking sales of Action No. 1 copies for $1 million in February and then $1.5 million one month later. They immediately texted a cell phone picture to the firm's co-owner, Stephen Fishler.

"You couldn't have asked for a happier ending," Zurzolo said. "Superman saved the day." Superman Comic Saves Family Home From Foreclosure

Don't you wish you'd held on to some of those toys you used to have? If you just had a place to keep everything, and you never threw anything away, your old stuff would become antiques and could support you in your old age. The older, the better.

This ABC News article turns serious.
Most Americans aren't so lucky. Nationwide, more than 1.6 million properties were in some stage of foreclosure in the first half of the year, according to RealtyTrac, up about 8 percent from a year ago but down 5 percent from the final six months of 2009. The couple had recently taken out a second mortgage on their home to start a new business, which failed in the uncertain economy. Mortgage payments were missed and the bank soon came after their home, which became theirs after the death of the wife's father. Fishler had to get on the phone to convince the bank to back off.

"My partner basically had to explain to the bank, 'You'll have your money soon,'" Zurzolo said. "We sent them information about our previous sales and what this could realize."

Cool that these people were able to keep their house.

You can just see them, weeping and digging around in the basement for boxes, "Honey, I wonder if we could get anything for dad's old comic books?" This one was not in perfect shape, that's why it's only worth a quarter million. The article explains that the collectable comic industry is doing well, as investors are uncomfortable putting their money in the stock market. Strange times ...

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Good News; Prop-8 Dies

As expected, a District Court in California ruled today that Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriages in the state of California, was not constitutional.

I think The Blade should tell us:
In an historic development, a federal judge in California ruled Wednesday that the Golden State’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco said an amendment to the state’s constitution banning same-sex marriage, which voters approved in a 2008 ballot measure known as Proposition 8, violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.

“Because Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, the court orders entry of judgment permanently enjoining its enforcement,” Walker wrote in his ruling.

The order also prohibits “the official defendants from applying or enforcing Proposition 8 and directing the official defendants that all persons under their control or supervision shall not apply or enforce Proposition 8.” But that order was stayed for an indeterminate length of time, pending an expected appeal of the case.

Voter approval of Prop 8 put an end to same-sex marriages that began in California in early 2008, when the state’s highest court ruled that gays and lesbians could not be denied the right to marry under the state constitution. Judge Overturns Prop 8 In Historic Ruling

What can we add to that? Hurray!

Brick by brick we are seeing the wall of anti-gay bigotry dismantled.

The celebration is happening at the Bravo Bravo Restaurant & Nightclub in DC, near Farragut North on the Metro.

On Denying Who You Are

It's not that confusing. Or is it? Generally we would say that a person who is exclusively physically aroused by members of their own sex or romantically attracted to members of their own sex is homosexual. It is not clear what causes this sexual orientation but it is fairly common in humans and throughout the animal kingdom. Sexual orientation is a fact of nature and an innate quality of a person.

When you hear anti-gay speakers say you can "choose" not to be gay, they don't mean you can choose your sexual orientation. No, that's just part of the package nature put together, that's part of you. The most they can mean is that you can choose not to act on your feelings. So while other people are interacting and enjoying romance and falling in love and learning about the pleasure of sexuality, the "moral" person who finds himself or herself with a homosexual orientation can choose celibacy, or they can choose to pretend to enjoy romance and fall in love and learn about sex with someone who does not really appeal to them that much.

For people who accept their orientation it's not an issue. There isn't any pressure on straight people to pretend they are homosexual, and gay people who accept themselves as they are do just fine, they can date and fall in love and have sex. But it is an issue for those people who find they are homosexual and also believe that there's something wrong with that (here I am trying to use the word "homosexual" to refer to an innate sexual orientation and "gay" for a personal sense of identity). A Minnesota newspaper had a fascinating interview with an individual who believes that because he is celibate he is not gay.

Truth Wins Out had a link to this one, an article in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press about an anti-gay preacher up there in Minnesota.
A Lutheran pastor in Minneapolis who opposes homosexuals being allowed to lead congregations said Monday he is attracted to men, but that he's not a hypocrite because he never acted on his urges.

The Rev. Tom Brock told the Associated Press he has known for years he is sexually attracted to men, but doesn't consider himself gay because he never acted on it.

In June, the Minnesota gay magazine Lavender reported that Brock was a member of a support group for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction. Brock's church, the Hope Lutheran Church, placed him on leave while a task force looked into the matter. The Rev. Tom Parrish, the church's executive pastor, said the investigation determined Brock's story checked out.

"I am a 57-year-old virgin," Brock told the Hope Lutheran congregation during services upon returning to the pulpit on Sunday. Controversial Minneapolis pastor: I'm attracted to men, but I'm not gay

Of course he is homosexual, if there's a Gay Gene he's got it. He is by nature attracted to men. But he remains celibate, and so he considers himself -- by his own unique and convoluted definition -- not gay.

Do you remember the movie The Jerk, where Steve Martin was raised by a black family and thought he was black? It's like that.

This preacher is, by any standard, gay, but in his own mind he is ... not-gay. He knows he is homosexual, that's why he attends these group meetings, so part of his self-identity includes that fact, but somehow he feels he is different from other people with those feelings -- they are gay and he's not. I don't see him saying he's straight, exactly, but he seems to think he has found a loophole -- to his mind, if you don't have sex you don't have a sexual orientation.

Some of this is kind of sad.
"You can have this struggle with same-sex attraction, say no to it, and still follow Christ."

Brock's broadcasts, in which he espoused conservative viewpoints on a number of scriptural issues, brought him some measure of prominence in Minnesota. He testified at the state Capitol about his opposition to same-sex marriage, and he was one of the most vocal opponents of the decision last summer by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to allow non-celibate gays in committed relationships to serve as clergy.

Somehow in this man's mind the Christian thing to do is to say no to love.

Here he explains his theory of sexual orientation.
Brock said he does not believe people are born gay. "I think we're all born heterosexual actually, and then stuff goes wrong," he said.

He said he can't conclusively identify the origin of his own attraction to men, but said he believes it's related to a distant relationship with his father, who is now deceased, as well as having an older brother who was more athletic and, Brock felt, got more affection from other family members.

Brock said even if scientists were to establish definitive proof that homosexuality is genetic, that wouldn't deter his views. He said he believes people who engage in homosexual acts will go to hell, but he doesn't believe that makes him a bigot.

"My message doesn't change at all. I still think homosexual behavior is a sin," Brock said. "Because I struggle with it doesn't make it right."

Any one of us could look at something strange or special about our upbringing and use it to explain something about our adult personalities. The science of psychology has not found any link between distant fathers, or athletic brothers, and homosexuality.

This preacher is what I would call "lost." His beliefs make it impossible for him to interpret and manage his own experience as a person. He can't accept that nature occasionally produces individuals who are romantically and sexually attracted to their own sex, he has to think of it as something gone wrong. His beliefs ensure that he never falls in love, never finds a partner, a mate, he is doomed by his religion to live in loneliness.

Steve Abrams Passes

Steve Abrams has died of brain cancer. He was a relatively conservative voice on the Montgomery County Board of Education during the period when the sex-ed curriculum was being debated, and the only member to vote against its adoption in June, 2007. At the time he stated that he was not voting against it because he disapproved of the contents of the curriculum, but because he felt there had been political pressure to put in a last-minute change without sufficient discussion.

The Washington Post had a good, well-written obituary yesterday. Abrams was a colorful character, an intelligent and forceful individual with strong opinions and the ability to back them up with class and eloquence, and to back down when he realized he was wrong. A little bit from The Post:
Stephen N. Abrams, 67, a colorful politician whose candid, occasionally blunt observations enlivened Montgomery County school board meetings over two decades, died Aug. 1 at a Potomac nursing home. He had a brain tumor.

Mr. Abrams, a lawyer by training, served throughout the 1980s on the Rockville City Council, then jumped to the county school board, convinced that the Montgomery schools brand was key to the county's future.

He served three terms on the school board, from 1992 to 1996, 1998 to 2002 and 2004 to 2008. Over the past decade, he helped enact educational reforms that enhanced the national reputation of the county school system. He worked side-by-side with Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, and his support was partly responsible for Weast's enduring success in the job.

In public life, Mr. Abrams was equally well known for rhetorical duels on the dais. He feuded with some school board colleagues, spawning moments of spectacle on the otherwise collegial panel. In 2006, he and a fellow Republican had a highly publicized confrontation in a stairwell. This fed his reputation in local government for a sharp tongue.

His well-honed rhetorical skills, coupled with his political identity as a fiscally savvy Republican in a county filled with liberal Democrats, guaranteed fireworks whenever he entered a room. He could reduce an ideological opponent to scowling silence with a single sentence. (Mr. Abrams switched parties after the stairwell incident.) Stephen N. Abrams, outspoken Montgomery County school board member, dies at 67

That's a pretty good evocation of Abrams' presence. When he was in the room you didn't ignore him. The obit goes on to review his career, which was substantial.

We didn't always agree with Steve Abrams but he was an honorable opponent.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Strange Goings-On at Kemp Mill Elementary

I would not try to guess how this story is going to turn out.

A teacher at Kemp Mill Elementary School was fired for inappropriately touching a student. Turns out the teacher had complained about the principal of the school, and the principal had threatened him. A student wrote a statement accusing the teacher, and the student's parents started a web site saying that their kid was tricked by the principal into writing the statement ... There are several news stories about this, I think WTOP is as good as any.
SILVER SPRING, Md. - Was a popular Montgomery County elementary school teacher fired because he inappropriately touched a child, or because he was leading a group of ten teachers in filing complaints about the principal?

Dan Picca, a fifth grade teacher at Kemp Elementary School, is adamant he did nothing wrong in April when a student fell and hurt his shoulder while waiting for a bus. Since the school nurse had left for the day, Picca checked the child for injuries.

"I was checking out his shoulder to make sure his shoulder was not dislocated. And as I was doing that, another teacher walked into the room," Picca says.

That teacher filed a report with principal Floyd Starnes.

"She basically stated that she walked into the room, that there were kids around, that he was standing in front of me, and that I was checking out his shoulder, which is absolutely correct," Picca says.

In the incident report filed Starnes, a different picture emerged.

"(The report states) Starnes had [the boy] sitting in my lap and I was 'massaging' his shoulder," Picca says.

The boy's mother, Hedy Ross, says her son was questioned by Starnes, and she believes he was coached. Ross bases that on language in the written statement , which she says her son was told to write.

One word jumped out at her: "massage." Ross says she has never known her son to use it, and it was spelled correctly, while other words like "sitting" were misspelled. Ross' son told her Starnes told him to write the word.

Ross says she was never told her son had been questioned.

"It's a totally false statement," Ross says. "The fact that that statement was used to terminate a teacher - that there was a hearing that I didn't even know about, where my son was used as evidence - really makes me angry, and I'm still shocked about it." Fired Md. teacher claims he was targeted

That is a statement by the mother of the kid who wrote the complaint. Usually the parents are the most adamant that a teacher has done something to their child. In this case, they are saying the teacher didn't do anything, and the document attributed to their son is false.

The accusation of child molestation is a pernicious one. Once you've been accused of something like that you can never get rid of the stink. You want the schools to be careful, nobody wants pedophiles in the classroom, but you don't want somebody losing their job because of a false accusation, either.

There are twists to this story. It turns out this principal is facing a major mutiny from his faculty.
Picca says he's being targeted by Starnes because 10 teachers at Kemp Mill Elementary filed complaints about the principal with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The complaints range from claims of a hostile work environment to allegations that Starnes sexually harassed teachers, including Picca. Both male and female teachers complained that Starnes would call them "baby," "doll," and "sweetie," language they felt was demeaning and uncomfortable.

Picca claims when he first brought the complaints to the principal, Starnes told him not to go through with the complaints because Starnes had "personnel information" that could harm Picca's job status.

So the principal threatened the teacher if the teacher filed a complaint.

I am having trouble imagining this guy calling both men and women "baby," "doll," and "sweetie." Maybe a truck-stop waitress would do that, I can picture that, but a male grade-school principal? Do you think anybody asked the principal to change his language, or did they just go in together and write up a big complaint? No, really, I don't think a man has ever called me "doll."

It turns out the teacher has had some issues, too.
Picca does have a record that includes two investigations in the 90s. In February of 2000, he was warned by Superintendent Dr. Jerry Weast that his behavior involving male students was "...inappropriate, unprofessional and highly suspect." Child Protective Services was contacted in those cases, according to Picca.

Picca maintains he did nothing wrong. He says if there were any basis to the prior investigations, "[Weast] would not have sent me back into the classroom, which he did, and which is where I was for ten years, incident free."

The incident report Picca says was filed by Starnes does not indicate that Child Protective Services was contacted.

It is hard ... no, it is impossible to read between the lines here. Is this some kind of shadowy homophobia at work, or is it just a fight with lots of low blows? Kemp Mill Elementary is in Silver Spring, I'll bet we have a reader who has kids there, maybe some of our readers can fill us in.

As it stands, ten teachers have complained about the principal, and the principal has complained about one teacher. It does appear that the principal manipulated a student into writing a note complaining about the teacher, and the kid's parents are upset about that. I don't know how many teachers have received letters from the Superintendent telling them that their behavior was "inappropriate, unprofessional and highly suspect," but that definitely casts a shadow on the teacher.