Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Everybody Has a Gender Identity

We recently saw a review of surveys that concluded that approximately 0.3 percent of Americans identify themselves as transgender. That means that 99.7 percent of people do not identify themselves as transgender, and the great majority of those have never really given the matter much thought. At the same time, as we saw recently with the videotaped beating of Chrissy Lee Polis in a Rosedale McDonald's, transgender people are very often the targets of abuse, discrimination, and violence, simply because of who they are. In that case, some McDonald's customers decided that Ms. Polis was a man and beat her up for using the women's restroom.

This group needs protection, perhaps more than any other. Yet the fact that they are such a tiny minority, and that the majority of cisgender individuals have no insights or empathy for them, makes it very difficult to drum up a campaign to motivate legislators to pass a bill to protect transgender people from discrimination.

A blogger named Arizona Abby published a pretty good discussion of this topic recently. I will pick and choose from her text here:
If you look at federal or state anti-discrimination laws, you’ll see something very interesting. Although the primary purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (including, Title VII, the federal ban on sex, race and other discrimination in employment) was to end discrimination against African-Americans, if you read it, you will see that nowhere does it say that it is illegal to discriminate against African-Americans. Instead, it says that it’s illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of race. Why the “Transsexual” vs. “Transgender” Debate is Irrelevant to the Fight for Equal Rights

It would in fact be impossible to list every race, ethnic group, every religion -- can you imagine a law that made it illegal to discriminate against, say, Baptists and Mormons but not Presbyterians? Instead, the law just says you can't discriminate against a person because of their religion. Much neater, much easier to enforce -- and it affords protection to everyone.

Skipping down...
In addition, there is another constitutional problem with using terms like African-American in anti-discrimination laws. If a statute protects only people who fall into one racial category, but not another, what you have done is enshrine in the law the very racial discrimination that you are trying to eliminate.

For these reasons, even though we say that Montgomery County has a "transgender antidiscrimination law," it doesn't. It has a law that says you cannot discriminate on the basis of gender identity. It protects me just as much as it protects you, though of course one of us may be much more likely to need the protection.

This year our Maryland state legislature failed -- and the word is applicable with all its connotations here -- to pass two bills important to LGBT citizens. One had to do with same-sex marriage, and received a lot of press. The legislature's collapse on this issue revealed the weakness of our leaders as well as the ineffectiveness of the activists who had the bill in the bag, had a clear majority in favor of it, and let the victory evaporate. This was a big topic -- for instance, Maryland Politics Watch wheezed back to life yesterday after a month without breathing to compare the performance of our governor with the governor of New York, who was able to get a marriage equality bill passed in both houses of the legislature. You will not see in that article a single occurrence of the word "gender." The Maryland gender identity nondiscrimination bill also failed in the legislature, same thing, a majority would have supported it, but our pusillanimous courageous leaders in Annapolis let it die in committee. They cowered when the radical right threatened to say bad things about them, and let the gender identity bill die rather than face the noise machine that would surely have reverberated if they had passed it.

Now Arizona Abby makes a point that I think is probably central to winning the debate.
Under this approach, everyone is protected against discrimination based on their gender identity (i.e., the gender they identify as internally), regardless of whether or how that identity is expressed outwardly, and against discrimination based on their appearance, mannerisms and other behavior that are interpreted by others as an expression of gender, regardless of the person’s gender identity. In other words, everyone has a gender identity and a gender expression; therefore, everyone is protected against discrimination on that basis. Thus, the housewife who is too harried with housework and delivering kids to and from school to put on makeup or a dress can’t be kicked out of the grocery store for wearing her husband’s flannel shirt and buzz cutting her hair because she doesn’t have time to care for it (or simply likes it that way.) Similarly, the straight man who, for whatever reason, talks with a lisp or has what others see as effeminate gestures, and the straight woman who has a square jaw, large hands and feet and facial hair, are protected from discrimination simply because someone decides they’re not masculine or feminine enough to qualify as a man or a woman. Those people, too, suffer the effects of prejudice deriving from our society’s gender norms and deserve protection against discrimination just as much as trans people.

(One of the most famous cases relevant to protecting trans people against discrimination involved a cisgender woman, not a trans woman. In that case – Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, Ann Hopkins was a CPA working for the accounting firm who was eligible to become a partner. She was denied partnership, however, because some of the existing partners thought she was too aggressive for a woman, and needed to dress and act more femininely. When she got to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court held that Price Waterhouse had violated the ban on sex discrimination under Title VII by discriminating against her because she failed to comply with the “sex stereotypes” held by the existing partners for how women should look and act. This is the legal theory that has since been applied to protect trans people against discrimination under state and federal statutes that ban sex discrimination, even though they don’t explicitly bar discrimination based on gender identity or expression. The best and most recent example of this is Diane Schroer’s decisive victory over the Library of Congress.)

Politicians respond to votes, and when 99.7 percent of people identify with the gender they were assigned at birth it is going to be difficult to get any politician to go out on a limb to protect the other 0.3 percent. But the fact is, a gender-identity nondiscrimination bill doesn't only protect the tiny minority, it protects everybody.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Biblical Marriage

This is going around the Internet... pretty good!

Estimating LGBT Proportions in the Population

A recent Gallup poll showed that most Americans estimate that at least one fifth of the population is gay or lesbian, with thirty-five percent believing that a quarter of the people are. In reality, more like 3.8 percent of people self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, according to a review of the data by researcher Gary J. Gates.

This tendency to overestimate the prevalance of homosexuality almost certainly reflects the focus on LGBT issues in the media, as citizens fight for their rights and come out of the closet, frequently attracting some publicity.

Here's Gallup's table:

They asked the question in 2002 separately for gay males and females.

People are not very good at estimating probabilities -- that's why things such as insurance and lotteries can exist, people overestimate the probabilities of rare events. These kinds of numbers are a better indicator of salience or the amount of attention an object receives than of its actual occurrence in the real world. And people these days are thinking about LBGT issues more than they used to, as marriage laws are debated and passed, as discrimination is revealed and stopped, as more people who are familiar in the media come out of the closet.

As Gallup says:
Americans' current collective estimate -- which is substantially higher than Gates suggests -- is likely driven more by perceptions and exposure than by scientific measurement or reality. Gallup previously found that a majority of Americans personally know someone who is gay or lesbian, though Gallup did not ask Americans how many gay or lesbian individuals they know, or whether they know more individuals now than they did before. Additionally, Americans tend to have difficulty estimating percentages of population groups whose numbers are more widely known. Gallup a decade ago found Americans estimating much larger U.S. black and Hispanic populations than what the U.S. Census Bureau reported for those groups. U.S. Adults Estimate That 25% of Americans Are Gay or Lesbian

It is kind of interesting to see how the estimates break down demographically and politically:
Americans with lower incomes and less education give the highest estimates, on average, of the U.S. gay and lesbian population, and far higher estimates than those with higher incomes and more education. Americans aged 18 to 29 give a higher average estimate than older Americans, and women give a far higher average estimate than men.

Democrats, liberals, and those who say they are socially liberal are also more likely to give higher estimates than those at the other end of the spectrum. However, the differences by political or ideological leanings are in most cases not as wide as those seen by demographic group.

For comparison, Gallup links to a review of surveys done by UCLA researcher Gary J. Gates, found HERE. Taking some bullets from the executive summary:
  • An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and an estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.
  • This implies that there are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey.
  • Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay).
  • Women are substantially more likely than men to identify as bisexual. Bisexuals comprise more than half of the lesbian and bisexual population among women in eight of the nine surveys considered in the brief. Conversely, gay men comprise substantially more than half of gay and bisexual men in seven of the nine surveys.
  • Estimates of those who report any lifetime same-sex sexual behavior and any same-sex sexual attraction are substantially higher than estimates of those who identify as LGB. An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2%) report that they have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11%) acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction.

So more than a tenth of people sometimes feel sexually attracted to someone of their own sex, and about one in twelve have acted on those feelings, but only about one person in thirty actually identifies as gay or lesbian, and most of those are bisexual.

That means that approximately one person in fifteen has homosexual feelings but does not identify as gay or lesbian, implying that some bisexuals identify themselves as gay or lesbian and some do not. I suppose they just take their sexual feelings as they come, sometimes you like meat and sometimes you like potatoes, it is not a big deal one way or the other.

There are nearly a million people in our little suburban Maryland county, so we'll round to that and bring these numbers home. If we have representative proportions of LGBT residents then:
  • There are 3,000 transgender people in our county
  • We have 38,000 residents who identify themselves as LGBT
  • 110,000 people in our county have experienced or will experience sexual attraction to someone of their own sex
  • 82,000 people in Montgomery County have or will have engaged in sexual activity with someone of their own sex

There is nothing to be gained by either side of the debate exaggerating these numbers. LGBT people are a minority in the population, but they are still a lot of people and numbers large or small do not in any way justify discrimination against them. The overestimates that are common in the population reflect well-documented cognitive biases and are interesting but do not change the issue in any significant way.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Post on Maryland's Failure

Maybe somebody can explain to me how Republicans in New York were able to accomplish what our courageous Democratic leaders in Annapolis failed to do.

The Washington Post pretty much spells it out.
The history made in New York stands in stark contrast to the disappointment in Maryland last March, when a similar effort failed. After passing the state Senate, a marriage-equality bill was referred back to committee in the House of Delegates after lawmakers who had supported the bill backed down in the face of opposition. Among those reneging on their commitment were Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Prince George’s) and Del. Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County), who got elected campaigning on the issue. For his part, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) supported the marriage-equality bill. He even lobbied some legislators behind the scenes. But as we learned in New York, legislation of this significance needs more than rhetorical hand-holding by the governor. It needs determined leadership. Gay marriage vote a milestone in New York

Friday, June 24, 2011

Marriage Wins in New York

The New York state Senate, with a Republican majority, has just voted 33 to 29 to allow citizens of that state to marry regardless of whether couples are the opposite or same sex. New York is by far the biggest state to grant marriage equality, and this is being viewed as a tipping point -- once New York has adopted a pro-marriage measure, other states will certainly follow.

The addition of New York more than doubles the number of Americans living in states that allow marriage equality. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and the District of Columbia all allow full marriage rights; New Jersey, Maryland, and Rhode Island recognize marriages performed in other states, and California does in some cases. Thirty-one states require couples to be of opposite sex.

This is a major victory for equal rights.

[Update: the rainbowed Empire State Building tonight:]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Tonight Paris is having its Fête de la Musique, held on the summer solstice each year. There were a few posters around town but not much in the way of publicity that I could see. Still, the whole city knew about it, it's everywhere. We just came back from la Place de la Bastille, where there are between five and ten thousand young people rocking to concert bands from Quebec on a big arena stage. La Fontaine at the end of our block has an acoustic group singing original songs (mostly in English, oddly, in fact a lot of the music out there is in English), and the bar at the other end of the block has a rock and roll band that was playing "You Really Got Me" when we left our hotel and were playing their own bluesy version of "Tainted Love" when we came back. Every bar and street corner in the neighborhood has music -- there was a Jamaican guy with an electric guitar literally standing in a phone booth with the door open singing reggae songs, plunking and singing as throngs of people flowed around him. Salsa in the Cuban restaurant, music from Corsica in the Corsican restaurant, music everywhere.

It's Tuesday night, about midnight. I'm sorry for anyone trying to drive. The pedestrians rule the road tonight. People are drinking in the streets, dancing and singing and hollering along with the music, beautiful happy people jammed shoulder to shoulder, migrating in clusters from one stage to another, smiling and laughing as they squeeze past one another, stopping to talk to friends and blow smoke in each other's faces (I believe smoking is mandatory here).

The whole city is like this, there is music everywhere all the way across Paris. Everything is free, the bands are playing for free, people are pushing their kids in strollers and teenagers are goofing around, sneaking kisses and jostling one another, trying to be cool. The old people have a dance in their step, too -- oh, we did see two old ladies covering their ears and rolling their eyes, but everybody is in on this, the whole city is rocking with one rhythm. There are classical stages, punk rock, Latin music from various countries, hymns and symphonies, folk singers, jazz of course. We have the windows open in our hotel and you should hear the roar, chanting crowds, booming subwoofers, drums, cheering.

We are the classic American tourists, we don't know anything. We saw the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, shopped at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, pickpockets stole our credit cards and locals looked at us dumbly as we mispronounced the most commonly used words of their daily vocabulary. It is a blast. Generally there is someone everywhere who speaks enough English to accomplish the task at hand, but even without common language we have figured out how to determine the proper sizes of clothing, we have ordered meals and navigated the transportation system. People are happy to help, even if they give you a funny look. Ask for crème brûlée in a French restaurant and they have no idea what you are saying, until a French person pronounces it correctly. It sounds the same to me, but they really don't know what you're saying. Crem Brew-lay, what's so hard about that?

The architecture, the majesty of Paris is totally overwhelming. I mean it, you cannot absorb all of this. Gold-plated palaces, huge towering cathedrals, mansions with gardens and ponds and statuary -- every time you turn a corner another wonder bowls you over, something more stupendous than the last stupendous sight you just looked away from. I can't overemphasize this, there is so much incredible beauty in this city that the ordinary person is shaped by it, the Parisians walk in beauty and grace because they are surrounded by beauty and grace.

Of course the place is swarming with tourists, and I'm sorry for the poor locals who have to put up with this. You know how it is, clogging the escalators, standing there trying to figure out how the Metro works. We have asked a lot of people for help, and mostly they have been very kind. Yesterday we needed to know which direction to take the bus to get to Notre Dame, so I asked two older ladies who were waiting at the bus stop. As I started speaking you could see the fear in their eyes, some foreigner was babbling and it sounded like a question and he would probably expect a response from them. I said, "Can you please tell me if this bus goes to Notre Dame?" And when I finished the sentence they looked at me and then at each other, and then one of them said "Oh, Notre Dame!" -- pronouncing it correctly -- and then they pointed to the other side of the street and happily indicated where the crosswalk was.

Today we saw Oscar Wilde's grave. People have written all over the monument, scribbled thanks to him and signed the stone, and there were a bunch of people sitting around the gravesite, talking quietly. We saw where Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are buried, too, in the same plot. And of course we had to look at the probably empty gravesite of Jim Morrison, who I figure is living somewhere in the Midwest with a fat wife and a mortgage, working a straight job and glad to be alive. There were a lot of people at his grave today, and others clocked us as Americans on the paths of the huge cemetery and asked us where he was buried. In a cemetery with Chopin, Balzac, giants of history, Jim Morrison's grave appeared to be the one everybody wanted to see. Well, maybe there were more people at Edith Piaf's.

I have not been fair to Paris. I didn't learn the language, I haven't seen any of the famous museums, didn't see a show, attend the opera. I honestly can't tell you what Paris is really like, I know what the people sound like when they talk but I don't know what they're talking about. I can only report my experience as an alien crash-landed on a strange and different planet where the cosmic axis is shifted and ordinary things are oddly extraordinary. But this in itself is a significant and worthwhile experience, to find yourself among people who seem to have integrated nature and society in a way that is philosophical and beautiful and satisfying to them, people who participate in their culture as if they owned it, it is worthwhile to walk in a land where you don't know the ways and have to ask people the simplest things. To stand there stupidly reading the numbers on the coins while some wise-guy cashier looks past you disdainfully, this is good for you, it's worth doing. We have one way of doing things and it is not the only way.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bye to The Big Man

Hard to think that Clarence Clemons is gone. Sixty-nine years old. I hope you had a chance to see him in concert with the E Street Band, man, he was something.

Besides being the counterweight to Bruce Springsteen onstage, Clarence Clemons was featured on Lady Gaga's Born This Way album. Sixty-nine years old, wow, just a baby.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Weiner Gives Up

You know, he resigned, I'm not telling you anything new.

Do you think it was because he had sexual online discussions with some women who were not his wife? Was it because he lied when the first evidence appeared? Or was it because of his pull-no-punches progressive political style?

I'm all the way over here in France, where people apparently spend their time doing something besides watching television. I have not seen the video, but can't imagine a scene like this, described in the New York Times:
In a chaotic four-minute news conference at a senior center in his district, Mr. Weiner, 46, strained to be heard as a small group of hecklers hollered vulgar questions at him and called him a “pervert” while puzzled elderly constituents looked on.

Again, I'm a few thousand miles away, but I am not sure what this guy did. It sounds like he flirted and had sexually-toned conversation with women on the Internet, is that right? Sounds like they were all adults -- oh, he talked to lots of people about things other than sex, but he got into it with the occasional grown-up cutie, it sounds like. He sent some photographs of himself in his underwear, right? His communications were sexual, but I have not heard that he forced himself on women or that his Twitter followers were unwilling to have these sexual conversations with him, or that he paid money to have women perform sexual acts, or that he denigrated women, or that he was taking advantage of women who were subservient to him in the workplace. I have not even heard that he touched any woman, that he even saw them face to face. So what exactly was the problem? I mean, as far as doing his job. I understand that his wife is not going to like to find out what he was doing on the computer at night, what does it have to do with passing bills in Congress?

I have given all my talks and now will get to enjoy this visit to France. Today we are taking a train back to Paris. Last night we had a wonderful dinner with the people from the seminar, course after course, wine and cheese and salads and desserts and more wine and coffee and foie gras and perfectly cooked fish, in a restaurant looking out at the North Sea. It went on for hours, with interesting cheerful conversation and good people all around. Now it is time to throw our clothes back into the suitcase and head down to breakfast, followed by a long walk to the train station.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Note From France

We are in the town of Calais, France, today, on the North Sea (or the English Channel, depending on your point of view). In World War II the Allied forces attacked here to draw German forces away from Normandy, which is nearby, so we could mount an all-out assault on D-Day. It's cold here, we just went through the town looking for a sweatshirt or something, but no luck.

I will be speaking today at a summer academic program for graduate students and professors who do research in evolutionary computation. My first two talks in Cergy went well -- the second was given at eight forty five in the morning after a conference banquet at a chateau that went on until one in the morning and involved sampling many kinds of wine, so I'd have the say the audience was a little sleepy, but the questions were good and I think it went well. Yesterday we took a train from Cergy back into Paris and from there another hour and a half out to Calais -- it was a long day of traveling.

You may have never heard of evolutionary computing. Sometimes engineers and scientists have problems that are too hard to solve by ordinary mathematical methods. There might be a large number of variables, or there might be a lot of "pretty good but not best" solutions, there might be ways that you seem to be improving your situation but are actually making it worse, well there are lots of things that can make a problem hard.

It turns out that one of the best ways to solve these complex problems is through Darwinian evolution. There are three techniques that are most frequently used in an evolutionary computer program: mutation, crossover, and selection.

You begin by defining a random bunch of guesses at the problem solution. These are just values of variables that can be entered into a formula or tested somehow -- the result of that evaluation is called their "fitness." There are many varieties of evolutionary computation, but all of them include selection, that is, you keep the solutions with the highest fitness, allowing them to reproduce, and throw away the worse ones. This is exactly the "survival of the fittest" that drives natural evolution. Typically you might create a new generation of potential problem solutions by mutating these selected ones, randomly changing some of the values, and you might also use crossover, which is the analog of sexual genetic combination, to combine values from selected "parent" problem solutions. Then you evaluate the new population, select the best, apply mutation and crossover, and go again. Over time the quality of the situations gets better, until you have a solution that meets your requirements. This kind of program is used for everything from searching for new pharmeceutical molecules to analyzing financial data to designing nozzles for diesel engines (I talked to a German guy at the chateau the other night who does that, he and I killed a few bottles of wine while we talked), to any kind of hard problem you can think of.

So today I will speak to a group of EC researchers. I will talk about the power of social interaction for problem solving. I will talk about computer programs that simulate groups of people talking among themselves, trying to figure something out, where everyone is simultaneously a learner and a teacher and over time the population comes to a way of solving the problem. In an evolutionary computation program the population dies out and is replaced by new individuals, in my social optimization programs the individuals persist over time, working together to find solutions to hard problems -- this, too, has been used in many fields, from water runoff engineering to optimizing the media for growing bacteria for research to finding new cures for cancer, there are thousands of applications.

Most of Calais was destroyed in World War II, so the whole town is new, but I'd have to say it was not reconstructed carefully. Everything has a kind of falling-apart feel to it, buildings are poorly made. Last night our shower had no hot water, I mean none, there was a trickle of chilly fluid from the shower-head and that's it. But this morning it came on hot, of course the temperature leaps unpredictably from steaming to freezing but it was possible to shower, at least. Karaoke seems to be a twenty-four-hour-a-day diversion here, and by "Karaoke" I mean "really loud, bad Karaoke" with the doors and windows open. I thought "Feelings" was kind of a bad song when it first came out, but I have now heard the world-record bad version of it, while hoping to fall asleep.

We have now traveled all the way across France by train, from Switzerland to the North Sea. It is a beautiful country. In the Alps we saw smaller family farms but across the country you see acres and acres of agriculture -- there is even a lot of corn here. You pass scattered villages with their red roofs, chateaus and old towers, spacious mansions and tiny farmhouses that are hundreds of years old. Here in Calais the tower downtown was built in the 1300s, can you imagine that? In Annecy I asked my friend, "What is that castle called?" and he shrugged and said, "I don't know, just a castle." The people here have been friendly and helpful, you see a few who seem to feel we should have learned their language before we visited but most of the young people are happy to practice their English a little bit. And the food, wow.

I'm sure Vigilance readers will want to argue among themselves about whether gay people should be treated like there's something wrong with them, and Congressman Weiner's dilemma will go through more chapters during the week. Michelle Bachmann continues to amaze, and New York is moving toward freedom for people to marry without government approval of their sexual orientation. I just wanted to check in from the road. Good Internet connection here, it's not a given everywhere, I will check in when I can.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Weiner, Viewed From Over Here

It is weird to read the news about Congressman Weiner while I'm in France. The guy did what again? Sent a picture of himself in his underwear to a lady? Sent some other ladies pictures of himself with his shirt off? From the American headlines, you would think there was a scandal.

A guy in his forties gets random messages from young women, he's going to be interested. They say sweet things to him, he shows off, they gush, he shows off more. It's addictive. You will not find very many guys in their forties who would not pause to entertain a young lady who showed that kind of interest in him. He doesn't need psychiatric treatment, if that's all that happened. He's dumb, but normal, which is not contradictory.

Weiner uses Twitter, like millions of other people, to follow events and to broadcast his opinions about things that are going on. Sometimes people tweet @RepWeiner and sometimes he goes into direct message mode, which is not posted publicly, to correspond with followers. That's nice, I think it would be cool to be able to have a personal conversation with a Congressman on the computer. There might be joking around, satire, people might tell their personal stories, and sometimes, it appears, there is some flirtation, sometimes rather explicit. And sometimes you screw up and tweet when you meant to DM, and some slimeball who hates you gets a screencap before you can delete it. Leading to the sad situation of RepWeiner, the Twittering Fool.

I suppose there is tweet-sexing or something, I know nothing about that and that does not seem to be what Weiner was doing. He was just communicating informally with constituents and interested citizens, and some of them were cute chicks, and some of the conversation ran off the tracks in a predictable direction, facilitated and amplified by speed-of-light technology. When most of us older guys are talking to a woman, it is extremely rare for the situation to come up where she would want to know how we look in our underwear, even joking. But a Congressman has the advantage, every personal thing he shares with a private citizen is flattering, he is a high-status person and power is a known aphrodisiac. Situations will come up, things will be made available to a powerful man that the rest of us have to struggle for. RepWeiner received the kinds of correspondences that TonyW would not have, and he should have exercised more caution in how he dealt with them.

He shouldn't have said those things, Weiner shouldn't have sent those pictures. He's married, everybody knows what you aren't supposed to do. Guys in their forties aren't supposed to show off for women in their twenties. Because we are Americans, we have no concept corresponding to "c'est la vie," we have only judgment and blame. And now he's going to a shrink to deal with his problem. It's weird.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

One More Picture

This was the view from the porch last night after I posted those other photographs.

It was a perfect double rainbow, a full arc all the way across the valley. Look how distinct the colors are. We had planned to go up Mont Blanc today but it looks like it is stormy, the mountain is covered with clouds.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hello From France

I thought I'd share a few pictures I took yesterday and today in our visit to France. We are staying with friends for a few days in Annecy, near Mont Blanc and Geneva, and will be taking a train to Paris in a few days to get down to business.

Here is a view from our friends' back yard on a hilltop outside Annecy. Besides being a leading swarm intelligence researcher, he keeps bees and grows cherries, potatoes, tomatoes, and many kinds of flowers and vegetables:

Yesterday we went to the town of Annecy to shop and hang out. They're having an animation film festival and the town is a little crowded with stylish young people, but mainly they are at the theaters. It is very pleasant to sit in the sun and have a coffee and watch the people walking by.

Today we drove up to the mountains. People were hang-gliding and the view was amazing. These are your stereotypical Swiss cows, though we are a few miles from Switzerland. Each one wears a bell. Well, you can hear this little herd of cattle a mile away! They are just grazing, but every time they move their bells ring, and it raises a real clatter, like a field of wind chimes.

Finally, the view. This is across the street from the cows, looking down at Lac d'Annecy. We drove all the way around the lake today, and had lunch at the spot where this picture was taken. There is a castle on the little peninsula you see sticking out into the lake. The water is incredibly blue, people are out in boats and walking along the beach.

So far we are having a beautiful time, eating delicious and healthy food, seeing beautiful landscapes and beautiful people. In a few days I will have to give my talks and I need to prepare for them, so it won't all be fun, but so far I am totally enjoying my vacation.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Slow Blogging Ahead

I don't expect to be updating the blog as much as usual for the next couple of weeks. We will be traveling to France. I will be giving several talks at conferences, and will be back in two weeks. The TTF elves will be watching the blog in the meantime.

Monday, June 06, 2011


Congressman Anthony Weiner sent a lady a picture of himself in his underwear. He talked to other women online, sent pictures probably worse than this one, who knows what, he says there were about six women and I believe him.

Of all the politicians' scandals, this was the dumbest. He never even met any of these women in person. He got sucked into the fantasy world of the Internet and he screwed up, tweeted when he meant to DM. One obsessive slimeball was sitting out there in the middle of the night watching everything that happened and he got a copy of the picture before Weiner could delete it, and it went to the news. Did you ever hit "Reply All" when you meant to "Reply?" That's what this was, except in Twitter.

We have now seen the picture of him in his underwear and one of him with his shirt off. I'm sure we'll see more. It is truly dumb, I have seen reporters call the underwear picture "lewd," but ... really?

Anthony Weiner lied to us. He lied to Rachel Maddow. He did something dumb and then he lied about it, letting all of us down. It was a test of character and he failed it.

Anthony Weiner was the one guy you could count on. Go through YouTube and watch his videos, he tore into the rightwingers, the hypocrites, the bigots, he was outspoken and fearless. He was the one guy who was brave enough to take on the conservative establishment without backing down. He's smart, he's quick, he can be funny, he knows how to stick to the point when people are trying to distract him.

It's terrible how lies are, it just takes one and everything you say after that is suspect. He's "taken full responsibility" now, but being sorry after the fact is what the other guys do. They're sorry they got caught, that's all, it doesn't take any conscience to feel bad after you've been caught.

We need Weiner's leadership, and I don't know how he is going to be able to provide it now. The online stuff was dumb, but the lies were not forgivable.


I guess you could've seen this one coming. The Federal Reserve in Virginia has been honoring June as Gay Pride Month (as noted in this week's Presidential Proclamation) by flying the rainbow flag.

Not surprisingly, this has elicited negatively-toned exclamations from certain people who don't know what they're talking about.

The Washington Post:
Conservatives are calling on the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank to remove the rainbow flag flying outside its building representing gay rights in conjunction with Gay Pride month.

Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), one of the most conservative members of the General Assembly, wrote a letter to Jeffrey M. Lacker, president of the Richmond Federal Reserve, urging him to take down the flag.

He wrote that homosexuality “adds significantly to illness, increases health costs, promotes venereal diseases, and worsens the population imbalance relating to the number of workers supporting the beneficiaries of America’s Social Security and Medicare programs.” Conservatives call on Federal Reserve to take down gay pride flag

Maybe I haven't been paying attention, but I think that last thing is new, the "population imbalance relating to the number of workers" thing. Everybody knows the Nutty Ones love to say that gay people are dirty and diseased and so on, but ... I think what he's saying is that Social Security and Medicare will have problems in the future because gay people don't reproduce. Is that what he's saying? That if people are gay there won't be enough babies?

I have never heard that one before.

This guy has a lot to say, and this is a classic instance of either not understanding what he's talking about or intentionally twisting things to mean something else.
“I do not believe that a celebration of ‘gay pride’ has anything to do with the mission of the Federal Reserve under the Federal Reserve Act passed by Congress,” Marshall said. “This is a celebration of a behavior that is still a class six felony in Virginia. How can the American people trust the judgement of the Federal Reserve as an institution when its spokesperson celebrates an attack on public morals?”

The controversy would be something else, it would go away essentially, if being gay was "a behavior." Virginia could just pass a law against that behavior and if people obey the law, voila, no gay people! Take down that flag, no need for it, none of those people in this state.

Nobody who has thought about this believes that homosexuality is a behavior, any more than heterosexuality is.
The flag, which is next to an American flag, is being flown at the request of PRISM, one of the Federal Reserve’s employee groups representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

“The flag is an example of our bank’s commitment to diversity,’’ Federal Reserve spokesman Jim Strader said.

Strader said the bank has received comments from people both for and against the flag, and from those who mistakenly think the Federal Reserve is a government entity. Del. Riley E. Ingram (R-Hopewell) also contacted the bank in opposition, Strader said.

I don't know how somebody decides that they should call a business and tell them how to decorate their building.
Victoria Cobb, president of the conservative Family Foundation, mentioned the flag in an an e-mail earlier this week.

“At the Family Foundation, we will simply choose to use this flag, like the view of Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol, as motivation for the work that lies ahead.”

Can somebody tell me what that means? Is Mister Jefferson's Capitol a symbol of gayness, too? I was unaware of that. Mister Washington's monument, okay, I could see this lady obsessing about that. But the Capitol?
James Parrish, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Virginia, released a statement Friday congratulating the bank.

“The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond should receive accolades for its decision to recognize and celebrate its GLBT employees, customers and vendors during pride month,’’ he said. “It’s a private business and should be able to make its own personnel and corporate policy decisions without Bob Marshall’s guidance or the Family Foundation’s approval.”

I guess these conservatives have registered their obligatory disapproval of things they don't understand, and hopefully they will shut up and do something else for the rest of the month.

Speaking of flags, down in Florida Disney World has Gay Days in the first week of June. Every year hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians turn out for it. This year the Florida Family Association is protesting it. From WMCTV News:
A Christian group is protesting the annual "Gay Day" by flying a banner plane over Disney World with a warning message for visitors.

The six day celebration for gay pride is a 20 year celebration, held in Orlando, FL, with Saturday spent at the Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom.

"It's just about people being proud of who they are here," said Gay day participant, Floyd Benefield.

With the 160,000 people visiting central Florida to celebrate, Florida Family Association is boycotting and spending $7,000 to fly banners for two full days near Disney, warning unsuspected families of the festivities. “Gay Day” warnings flown over Disney World

Check this out:

"The economy is improving because of what Gay Days bring into it," said Gay Day president, Chris Alexander-Manley. "Our crowd behaves better than most convention crowds, so come on out and see what it's really about."

"Gay Day" brings an estimated $150 million to the area, and some say the opposition to their sexual orientation will not keep them away.

"They really don't have a grasp of what it means to be tolerant of people that are different from you," Benefield said.

Florida Family Association claims thousands of people enter the park, then turn around, and leave when they see the same sex couples, saying mainstream America is offended. Disney and event organizers say that's just not true.

Someday we'll try to tell our grandchildren about these things, and they'll look at us like we are making it up.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Janet Mock: It Gets Better

Janet Mock is an associate editor at People magazine. She began life as "Charles." I found this statement haunting and compelling. See what you think -- it's less than three minutes long.

Something to think about over the weekend.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

What Americans Find Morally Acceptable

Gallup has an interesting poll up. They went through a bunch of topics and asked people if they thought each thing was "morally acceptable" or not. They ranked the issues in terms of the difference in percentage of Americans who said something was morally acceptable and those who said it was not.

Here is a link to their graphic:

Gallup summarizes:
Americans are in broadest agreement about what behaviors are morally wrong. At least 8 in 10 U.S. adults interviewed in the May 5-8 survey say this about extramarital affairs, polygamy, cloning humans, and suicide. At least 6 in 10 say pornography and cloning animals are each morally wrong.

Widest agreement about what is morally acceptable, ranging from 60% to 69%, is found for divorce, the death penalty, gambling, embryonic stem cell research, and premarital sex. Also, 55% or better say medical testing on animals, gay/lesbian relations, and the use of animal fur for clothing are each acceptable.

The three most controversial issues -- doctor-assisted suicide, abortion, and out-of-wedlock births -- are the ones on which fewer than 15 points separate the percentage considering the issue morally acceptable from the percentage considering it morally wrong. Attitudes on each have been fairly stable in recent years. Doctor-Assisted Suicide Is Moral Issue Dividing Americans Most

I'm not sure I'd agree with them that assisted suicide is "dividing Americans." What they mean is that about the same number of people think it is acceptable and not-acceptable. But when was the last time you lost a friend over that issue? Me either. It doesn't exactly divide us.

Now this one is interesting, they presented a few of the questions by political view:

I was astounded when Bristol Palin announced she was pregnant, and the Republicans were gleeful and supportive. They loved the fact that she was going to have a baby -- but here they are saying they disapprove of that. What's up with that? Let me guess. When you say "baby out of wedlock," I think the average Republican is picturing a poor single mother, in particular a black or Hispanic mother. If you asked them if Bristol Palin -- a well-to-do white girl -- was immoral, I don't think they would be quite so judgmental.

Interesting, they are opposed to aborting and they are opposed to having the baby. And in my experience, the same ones are opposed to contraception -- you remember the resistance the school district ran into when they tried to teach tenth graders how to use a condom.

Republicans also opposed physician-assisted suicide, which is a little puzzling. You would expect them to support an individual's personal choice to terminate his or her own life. Of course you knew they opposed abortion, which is a wedge issue for the GOP and clearly divides them from Democrats and Independents.

Here is an interesting survey comment:
Today's results are generally similar to those from 2010 for most issues. The only significant difference is a slight increase in the percentage viewing polygamy as morally acceptable, rising to 11% from 7%. However, this could reflect a change in wording this year. From 2003 through 2010, Gallup's question about polygamy described it as the practice of a husband having more than one wife at the same time. This year, the phrasing was gender neutral, describing it as a married person having more than one spouse at the same time.

Somehow including the possibility that a woman would have multiple husbands made polygamy even more unacceptable.

Seems to me that rating the morality and immorality of things serves several purposes. Primarily morality is justified as a guideline for deciding what behaviors to engage in, when opportunity temptation comes up. But we know that the proportion of people who do of many of these things exceeds the proportion who find them acceptable, so morality is obviously not entirely successful at preventing bad behavior. Morality might make a person feel bad after they have done something, maybe it's me but I don't see how that adds value to life, in itself. Morality also allows us to judge others, and this is not a trivial aspect of it.

Some of the rankings on the Gallup list are a little surprising -- most people find morally acceptable such things as single mothers having babies, people buying and wearing fur, gay and lesbian relations, premarital sex, medical research with stem cells, gambling, divorce, the death penalty. In those ways, Americans seem pretty tolerant and nonjudgmental. Most people agree that extramarital affairs, pornography, polygamy, suicide, and -- surprisingly -- cloning humans and animals are morally wrong, and not acceptable. Doctor-assisted suicide, abortion, not so clear, about fifty-fifty.