Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who Has the Answer to This Question?

The kid leaves you scratching your head.

Ya gotta admit, she makes good sense.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Government Searching Random Citizens

Some of us are so old that we can remember the Cold War. As wee little tykes we heard frightening stories about life in Communist countries. The secret police would come in the night, we were told, and take people from their houses, lock them up, and nobody would ever hear from them again -- never even charge them with a crime. People had to show their identity cards on the street, or they would be whisked away. People in Communist countries were encouraged to tell the police whenever their neighbors did anything suspicious. These were scary stories that made us really glad to be living in a place with freedom.

So forgive me a chill when I read stuff like this, from the LA Times (jumping in after a few paragraphs of fluff):
The Transportation Security Administration isn't just in airports anymore. TSA teams are increasingly conducting searches and screenings at train stations, subways, ferry terminals and other mass transit locations around the country.

"We are not the Airport Security Administration," said Ray Dineen, the air marshal in charge of the TSA office in Charlotte. "We take that transportation part seriously."

The TSA's 25 "viper" teams — for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response — have run more than 9,300 unannounced checkpoints and other search operations in the last year. Department of Homeland Security officials have asked Congress for funding to add 12 more teams next year. TSA screenings aren't just for airports anymore

They are haunting train stations, docks, bus stations, with their dogs and their sensors, stopping people absolutely at random to see if they are carrying explosives.

I like the way this professor put it.
"It's a great way to make the public think you are doing something," said Fred H. Cate, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, who writes on privacy and security. "It's a little like saying, 'If we start throwing things up in the air, will they hit terrorists?'"

Hey, that's not a bad idea, the TSA could just walk around throwing things up into the air. Maybe they'll hit a terrorist, wouldn't that be great? They're just about everywhere, you know, the next little old lady on the street might be a terrorist.
TSA officials say they have no proof that the roving viper teams have foiled any terrorist plots or thwarted any major threat to public safety. But they argue that the random nature of the searches and the presence of armed officers serve as a deterrent and bolster public confidence.

"We have to keep them [terrorists] on edge," said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington. "We're not going to have a permanent presence everywhere."

Oh yeah, I can hear terrorists' teeth chattering as I walk past their shuttered windows -- they are on edge, all right. TSA agents scanning people when they get on a bus or go to a football game is really going to put those terrorists out of business.

Why do people put up with this?
The agency came under fresh fire this month when three elderly women with medical devices complained that TSA agents had strip-searched them in separate incidents at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Lenore Zimmerman, 84, said she was ordered to pull down her pants after she refused to pass through a full body scanner because she was afraid the machine would interfere with her heart defibrillator.

TSA officials denied the women were strip-searched, but they announced plans to create a toll-free telephone number for passengers with medical conditions who require assistance in airport screening lines. TSA officials said they also are considering a proposal by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to designate a passengers advocate at every airport.

Great story, the TSA made 84-year-old Lenore Zimmerman pull down her pants in the airport and then called her a liar. I feel safer already.

Sometimes you just watch and wonder, how much are the American people going to put up with? It appears that there is no limit to it, we shrug and accept this kind of intrusion as if we deserved it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cardinal: Gays Are Anti-Catholic, Like KKK

There is going to be a gay pride parade in Chicago, and there is a Catholic Church on one of the streets it will pass along. The church is considered sympathetic to LGBT concerns, and the parade organizers have been working with the church to make sure the parade doesn't conflict with parishioners coming and going to Mass, so no big problem, nothing more than minor logistics.

But the local 75-year-old Cardinal heard about it and did not like the sound of this at all. The Washington Blade:
Last week Chicago’s Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Francis George, decried a rerouting of the 2012 June LGBT Pride parade route to a path that would take the march in front of a Catholic church. The Cardinal caused an uproar, saying “You don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.” Chicago Cardinal George backs away from gay ‘Ku Klux Klan’ comment

There was, as you can imagine, some protest over his statements, and he sort of tried to lighten up.
“Obviously, it’s absurd to say the gay and lesbian community are the Ku Klux Klan, but if you organize a parade that looks like parades that we’ve had in our past because it stops us from worshipping God, well then that’s the comparison, but it’s not with people and people — it’s parade-parade,” George said Sunday.

When the Cardinal made his comments, initially on a Chicago Fox station, a reporter asked him if his comparison between the LGBT community and the Ku Klux Klan were too harsh, but the Cardinal said no.

“It is, but you take a look at the rhetoric,” George responded. “The rhetoric of the Ku Klux Klan, the rhetoric of some of the gay liberation people. Who is the enemy? Who is the enemy? The Catholic Church.”

Some Catholic groups have been vocal in opposing gay rights, but a majority of Catholics support gay rights, including the right to marry.
The organizers of Chicago Pride had already been in talks with the gay-friendly Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, whose concerns had been characterized as being about the timing of the parade coinciding with parishioners leaving the church after Sunday morning mass. The church is located just outside of Chicago’s famous ‘Boystown’ gay neighborhood.

According to the news network, Cardinal George plans to send a letter of resignation to the Vatican after his 75th birthday next month. The resignation appears not to be related to the calls among the LGBT community for the Cardinal’s resignation, as ABCnews notes all bishops are required to do so. Chicago will await a decision on whether or not Pope Benedict XVI will accept the resignation.

Whether the guy resigns or not, let's make it clear that the movement to gain equal rights for LGBT citizens over the past few decades is nothing at all like the Ku Klux Klan. Our society has evolved away from bigotry, away from persecution of minorities; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have made a powerful case for equal treatment under the law, they have fought hard for their place in society and they have earned it. They did not do it under cover of anonymity, hiding their faces, or by resorting to violence, they are not at all similar to the KKK in any way, and this Cardinal is simply putting his foot in his mouth by repeating the charge.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

And Good Will to All

Merry Christmas, everybody, and happy New Year. One year ago this week the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was enacted, allowing gay and lesbian troops to serve in the US military without lying about who they are. The DADT compromise had been enacted in 1993 under Bill Clinton's presidency as an awkward way to allow service, and as social mores evolved it became a highly salient symbol of a kind of prejudice against gay people that our society has increasingly moved away from. More than thirteen thousand individuals were removed from service over the years simply because of their sexual orientation, and one year ago the Pentagon stopped firing them.

The effect has been ... absolutely nothing. Nothing has changed, except that gay and lesbian members of the military can stop pretending they are something they are not. No one is leering or groping in the showers, military recruiting has not suffered, no increase in hazing or bullying has been reported, no one has dropped out of the military because they were uncomfortable around gays. Nothing at all has happened.

NBC News had a report this week, transcribed on NewsBusters.

JIM MACEDA: Task Force Bulldog, on patrol in eastern Afghanistan. It's the kind of combat unit that would implode, critics warned, if Don't Ask, Don't tell were repealed. But the chaos they predicted if openly gay and lesbian soldiers served in close quarters during combat never happened.

STAFF SERGEANT CHRIS BOSTICK, U.S. ARMY: I don't think anything's really changed at all.

MACEDA: Staff Sergeant Chris BostiCk is on his third combat tour, a squad leader.

BOSTICK: Every single one of my soldiers knows that I'm gay, and they know who I am and what I stand for.

MACEDA: And how do his straight buddies see it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SOLDIER: If you want to fight for our country, I don't care what you do, you know, that's how it should be.

MACEDA: The repeal divided the military when a year ago President Obama lifted the ban on gays, lesbians and bisexuals serving openly. But now, soldiers from grunts to top brass - even U.S. Marines - have actively embraced the law. And so far, no reports of any incidents like hazing or gay bashing. Behind front lines at large bases like Bagram Airfield, groups of gays and lesbians now meet publically. A coffee hour unheard of only months ago.

Does it become easier to be a soldier?

SPECIALIST SPENCER ROUGIER, MILITARY POLICE: Definitely. Just knowing that you're not gonna be kicked out or have difficulties because of what you say.

MACEDA: 13,000 gays were discharged during Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the old stigma runs deep. Half of this group of gays asked to conceal their identity, worried about reaction among peers. But hundreds, perhaps thousands of gay soldiers have recently posted their own coming out videos on YouTube, often to their own families.


MACEDA: This phone call home by airman Randy Phillips based in Germany to tell his parents he's gay went viral - more than five million hits. Erin Jones, a Navy Petty Officer, now tells anyone who asks that she's lesbian.

PETTY OFFICER ERIN JONES, U.S. NAVY: I always felt like a part of me died every time I had to say, like, oh, my boyfriend, oh, this guy I've been talking to when I didn't mean that.

MACEDA: Even commanders like Marine General James Amos, once against lifting the ban during wartime, now support it.

BOSTICK: I do find that I'm a little more proud of my unit and my country for taking this kind of a step.

MACEDA: Allowing soldiers - straight or gay - to excel as they always have in war, but now to do it freely. Jim Maceda, NBC News, Logar, Afghanistan.

ABC and NBC Celebrate Anniversary of Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal

And that's all there is to it. If you end discrimination against LGBT people, the result is simply increased equality and fairness, there is nothing more to it. None of the horrible things that the Family Blah Blah groups predicted have come to be, there is no "gay agenda" and no threat to straights when gay and lesbian people are open about who they are.

It is time to remove discrimination from our legal system at every level, local, state, federal. The federal government needs to move forward to repeal the absurd "Defense of Marriage Act," the state of Maryland needs to support marriage equality and pass a bill stopping discrimination against transgender people. The repeal of DADT shows what the consequences will be, the consequences will only be increased fair treatment of everyone. And that, to me, seems like an appropriate goal to wish for on Christmas day, a goal that moves us one step in the direction of peace on earth and good will toward all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Sailor's Welcome

Here's a beautiful photo of the times a'changin' right before our very eyes.

The Seattle Times caption:
Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta, left, kisses her girlfriend of two years, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Va., Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2011 after Gaeta's ship returned from 80 days at sea. It is a time-honored tradition at Navy homecomings - one lucky sailor is chosen to be first off the ship for the long-awaited kiss with a loved one. On Wednesday, for the first time, the happily reunited couple was gay.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Clash of the Godless Holiday Cards

We thank Mother Jones for this one.

Here is the Obama family's Christmas card this year, as shown on Fox Nation:

Fox News quoted Sarah Palin commenting on the card (quoted at Mother Jones:
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin told Fox News & Commentary that she found the card to be a bit unusual.

"It's odd," she said, wondering why the president's Christmas card highlights his dog instead of traditions like "family, faith and freedom."


Palin said the majority of Americans can appreciate the more traditional, "American foundational values illustrated and displayed on Christmas cards and on a Christmas tree."

As for the Obama card, she replied, "It's just a different way of thinking coming out of the White House."

FYI, here is the "Christmas" card Fox News sent out this year:

Family, faith, and freedom, you betcha.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nearly A Third Arrested By Age 23

This is a bit of a mind-boggling fact.
Nearly one in three people will be arrested by the time they are 23, a study published Monday in Pediatrics found.

"Arrest is a pretty common experience," says Robert Brame, a criminologist at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and principal author of the study.

The new data show a sharp increase from a previous study that stunned the American public when it was published 44 years ago by criminologist Ron Christensen. That study found 22% of youth would be arrested by age 23. The latest study finds 30.2% of young people will be arrested by age 23.

Criminologist Alfred Blumstein says the increase in arrests for young people in the latest study is unsurprising given several decades of tough crime policies.

"I was astonished 44 years ago. Most people were," says Blumstein, a professor of operations research at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University who served with Christensen on President Lyndon Johnson's crime task force.

Now, Blumstein says, youth may be arrested for drugs and domestic violence, which were unlikely offenses to attract police attention in the 1960s. "There's a lot more arresting going on now," he says. Study: Nearly 1 in 3 will be arrested by age 23

It would be interesting to see the crosstabs on this, boys versus girls, whites and minorities broken out.

Monday, December 19, 2011

School Outs Gay Student At Home

The school blew it on this one. Let's quote Fox News:
Administrators at a Utah middle school outed a gay teenage boy to his parents because they feared he would be bullied, but the move has outraged civil rights groups that claim the student's privacy was violated.

Alpine School District took the unusual step after the 14-year-old boy, whose name has not been released, created an advertisement about himself and his sexual orientation during a class project.

An aide later overheard other students ridiculing him and became concerned about bullying. Even though the boy was openly gay in school, he did not want to tell his parents.

"He was nervous" about telling his parents, school district spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley told the Salt Lake Tribune. "He initially said, `No, that can't happen.' He finally agreed reluctantly."

Bromley said the boy's parents are supportive but have removed him from school until the controversy subsides. She did not return telephone messages from The Associated Press on Thursday. School Outs Gay Teen, Leaving Civil Rights Groups Outraged

The problem with being gay is not being gay, the problem is people who are not gay. For some reason, there are people who simply cannot accept somebody else's sexual orientation, and they find a million ways to rationalize it.

This kid thought his parents were like that, and maybe they are, we don't know. It is hard enough to come out of the closet, a person will want to go through that process very carefully, you can't have people announcing it for you against your will. This kid was open about his orientation at school and his parents were going to know eventually, but the school had no business involving his family.

I think Fox is overstating when they say that civil rights groups were outraged by the situation, unless maybe they know something they did not include in this story. Here are some quotes from level-headed gay-rights activists and lawyers, who consider this a problem but do not sound "outraged" to me:
"The school's decision to disclose deprived the young man the right to reveal highly personal aspects of his life at a time and manner of his choice," Joe Cohn of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Cohn said there are serious consequences in such cases, especially in communities where homosexuality can carry a tremendous stigma.

In one case, Cohn said, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed after a football player committed suicide when small-town Pennsylvania police officers threatened to tell his family he was gay.

"You shouldn't be pressured into making such an important decision," Cohn said.

Andy Marra, a spokeswoman for the New York City-based Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said such cases aren't confined to Utah.

"It's something we've seen in the past and something school administrators will continue to grapple with," Marra said.

She agreed it was important for school officials to address bullying behavior but added that schools should notify parents of bullying without disclosing the child's sexual orientation.

"Taking away the choice for a LGBT student to come out on their own terms opens the door to significant risks, including harassment at school and family rejection," network Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a statement. "Schools should be able to provide LGBT students with support and resources in order to make an informed decision if and when they decide to come out to their school community and family."

Valerie Larabee, director of the Utah Pride Center, agreed there can be serious consequences when parents are told of a child's sexual orientation before a young person is ready to reveal it themselves.

"Often times the relationship between the youth and the parent is one of the most difficult to manage when it comes out," Larabee said.

As the tide continues to shift and homosexuality becomes less controversial, schools need to carefully consider how they will handle situations like this. Granted, there are not many details here, but it sounds like the school could have dealt with the situation on-campus, without outing this kid at home.

There is some irony in the fact that the aide witnessed bullying, and the school responded by punishing the victim. Hopefully this school has a good Gay Straight Alliance chapter, and students can work with faculty to hammer out a kinder and more effective method for dealing with bullying and harassment of LGBT students.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yay! We Won!

The Associated Press has it:
BAGHDAD (AP) — Nearly nine years after American troops stormed across the Iraq border in a blaze of shock and awe, U.S. officials quietly ended the bloody and bitterly divisive conflict here Thursday, but the debate over whether it was worth the cost in money and lives is yet unanswered.

While many of the speeches painted a picture of victory — for both the troops and the Iraqi people now set on a path for democracy — the gnawing questions remain: Will Iraqis be able to forge their new government amid the still stubborn sectarian clashes. And will Iraq be able to defend itself and remain independent in a region fraught with turmoil and still steeped in insurgent threats.

Stark reminders of the fragile and often violent nature of the situation in Iraq engulfed the 45-minute ceremony. It was tucked into fortified corner of the airport, ringed with concrete blast walls. And on the chairs — nearly empty of Iraqis — were tags that listed not only the name of the VIP assigned to the seat, but the bunker they should move to in case of an attack.

The speeches touched on the success of the mission as well as its losses: Nearly 4,500 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis killed. Another 32,000 American and tens of thousands Iraqis wounded. And $800 billion from the U.S. Treasury. US formally ends Iraq war with little fanfare

Hey, don't be so glum, people -- look how much safer we are.

A little farther down in the article ...
With this withdrawal, the Americans are leaving behind a destroyed country," said Mariam Khazim, a Shiite whose father was killed when a mortar shell struck his home in Sadr City. "The Americans did not leave modern schools or big factories behind them. Instead, they left thousands of widows and orphans. The Americans did not leave a free people and country behind them, in fact they left a ruined country and a divided nation."

Some Iraqis celebrated the exit of what they called American occupiers, neither invited nor welcome in a proud country.

"The American ceremony represents the failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq due to the great resistance of the Iraqi people," said lawmaker Amir al-Kinani, a member of the political coalition loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The mission is finally accomplished.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rick Perry - Anti-Gay Ironicist

You might have seen Rick Perry's latest campaign video. On YouTube so far it has 16,072 likes and 552,513 dislikes, which tells you something. Even one of his top strategists said the ad was "nuts".

Observers have noted a couple of strange things about this video, besides the fact that it is simply a bizarre statement to make. For instance, Perry is wearing almost the same jacket that Heath Ledger wore in Brokeback Mountain.

Here's Heath.

Here's Perry.

It has also been pointed out that the music in this video was composed by the gay American composer Aaron Copeland.

There have been rumors for years that Perry is gay, not that that means he is, but it does make it even stranger for him to embed gay dog-whistles in an anti-gay video.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Great Ruling for Trans Rights

This is a big deal:
A federal appeals court panel today upheld a lower court ruling that Georgia transgender woman Vandy Beth Glenn was illegally fired from her job as a legislative editor in the Georgia General Assembly after she informed her employer she planned to transition from male to female.

"The question here is whether discriminating against someone on the basis of his or her gender non-conformity constitutes sex-based discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause. …We hold that it does," the three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. Judge Rosemary Barkett wrote the opinion for the unanimous panel.

Read the story on oral arguments held before the 11th Circuit on Dec. 1 here.

"There is thus a congruence between discriminating against transgender and transsexual individuals and discrimination on the basis of gender-based behavioral norms.

"Accordingly, discrimination against a transgender individual because of her gender-nonconformity is sex discrimination, whether it’s described as being on the basis of sex or gender," the three-judge panel ruled. Appeals court panel rules for Ga. trans woman in job discrimination case

It looks like this could make gender-identity discrimination illegal under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution in all fifty states. Which is a big deal. Of course there will be some appeals, but the momentum appears unstoppable at this point.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Yesterday Was a Good Day for Trans Rights

You might know that Howard County, Maryland, yesterday passed a bill that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Hopefully the state of Maryland will be passing a similar law in the upcoming legislative session and local ordinances will become unnecessary.

Metro Weekly has it:
The Howard County Council has approved legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression, making it the third jurisdiction in Maryland to do so.

The measure, which extends gender identity protections to county residents in the areas of housing, law enforcement, public accommodations, financing, employment and health and social services, was initiated by Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Gender Rights Maryland. It passed the council on Dec. 5 on a 4-1 vote along partisan lines, with Republican Greg Fox opposing. Howard County Approves Gender Identity and Expression Non-Discrimination Bill

Two other US communities passed gender-identity nondiscrimination bills yesterday, as well.

In Evansville, Indiana:
A measure which was passed Monday by an unanimous vote of the city council, amends the Evansville city’s municipal code to include provisions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.


“By broadening our statute and adding four different types of people, it will let people know we are nice people, and we are tolerant,” [ the measure’s sponsor, City Councilman Dan McGinn ] said. “We want to let the rest of the state and the rest of the world to now discover the great people of Evansville.”

“Talking about the issues is what helps to eliminate the prejudice and bigotry,” he said. “I think a more open, free society will let people know we’re starting a trend where we’re trying to let them know we’re accepting of all lifestyles.” Evansville city code to include protections for sexual orientation, gender identity

Weird, wanting people to know you are nice people, what a strange motivation!

Finally, Columbia, Missouri:
The Columbia City Council passed legislation to include gender identity in the city's nondiscrimination ordinance, Dec. 5 protecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Under the leadership of Mayor Bob McDavid and the Columbia City Council, Columbia will become the sixth city in the state to provide basic protections fully inclusive of both sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The Columbia City Council took an important step forward tonight moving us closer to a society that judges people ‘by the content of their character,’” stated Rep. Stephen Webber. “This is a major victory for our city, one that hopefully the rest of the state and country emulates.” Columbia Includes Gender Identity Protections

The most visible LGBT tidal shift in recent years, of course, has had to do with marriage equality, which has grabbed most of the headlines, so it is heartening to see these advances for transgender people, too.

There will always be repressive social forces, groups and individuals who desire to prohibit what they don't understand, but there is also a proud American tradition of respect for personal liberty and for the individual. It does not come automatically though, you have to fight for it constantly; the fact is that people are essentially good and kind, they will do the right thing if they understand the choices they are offered.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Vegetarian Option is Steak

Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri just had some fun with a stupid answer that Michele Bachmann gave someone recently.
Jane Schmidt, a student at Waverly High School, in Waverly, Iowa, recently asked Michele Bachmann, “Why can’t same-sex couples get married?”

“They can get married,” Bachmann responded, “but they abide by the same law as everyone else. They can marry a man if they’re a woman. Or they can marry a woman if they’re a man.”

(In Iowa, same-sex marriage is the law, at least for now, but never mind that.)

She later expanded on this in a response to someone else: “Every American citizen has the right to avail themselves to marriage but they have to follow what the laws are. And the laws are you marry a person of the opposite sex.”Michele Bachmann gets things straight on gay marriage

Bachmann's answer is not one she invented, it is a standard rightwing talking point that has been bouncing around for years. This is one of those statements bears some superficial resemblance to reasonable speech, but if you pay the slightest attention to it you realize it is simply veiled bigotry and nonsense. It is a classic eye-roller, but I have never seen anyone take the time to refute it.

Here's one way to do it:

This is the sound of a thousand heads hitting a thousand desks.

I’m glad Bachmann wasn’t there for history. “Why can’t Rosa Parks sit at the front of the bus?”

“She can sit,” Bachmann would say. “She can sit at the back of the bus.”

I’m glad she isn’t my waiter. “Is there a vegetarian option?”

“The vegetarian option is steak,” Bachmann would say, not blinking an eye.

“Is there a way for people in wheel chairs to access the sixth floor?”

“There’s a way. They can take the stairs,” Bachmann would say, still not blinking.

“There doesn’t seem to be an option for Republicans to vote.”

“Republicans can vote. They can vote Democrat like everyone else,” Bachmann would say, blinking a little in confusion.

“I’d like to find a synagogue.”

“There’s a synagogue right here,” Bachmann would say. “It’s a church.”

“Do you have apples?”

“Yes, I have oranges.”

At first Bachmann’s remark seemed like a peculiar thing to say, coming on the heels of her sensible remark that, “I think we have really forgotten what true tolerance means. True tolerance means allowing people to express themselves and their beliefs.”

But then it made sense.

As Bachmann would say, “We allow you to express different beliefs. You can express different beliefs that agree with us.”

I’m glad she’s here to keep things straight.

The kicker really is that Iowa does give gay and lesbian people the right to marry the person they actually love, and does not require that the state approve the sex of the partner. She could have easily given a succinct, accurate, and noncontroversial answer, "In this state, gay people can marry" -- with a suitably indignant facial expression, her crowd booing the fact of marriage equality in Iowa, maybe a chant would spread through the crowd, "No gay marriage! No gay marriage!" she could have made the moment work for her.

Instead she chose to provide ammunition for a bright blogger and others to make devastating fun of her.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Study: Abstinence-Only Education Does Not Work

Interesting new study that TTF readers should be aware of. From e! Science News:
States that prescribe abstinence-only sex education programs in public schools have significantly higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates than states with more comprehensive sex education programs, researchers from the University of Georgia have determined. The researchers looked at teen pregnancy and birth data from 48 U.S. states to evaluate the effectiveness of those states' approaches to sex education, as prescribed by local laws and policies.

"Our analysis adds to the overwhelming evidence indicating that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates," said Kathrin Stanger-Hall, assistant professor of plant biology and biological sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Hall is first author on the resulting paper, which has been published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

The study is the first large-scale evidence that the type of sex education provided in public schools has a significant effect on teen pregnancy rates, Hall said. Abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinent behavior, UGA researchers find

Honestly, my first thought when I read this was that the author had overstepped the findings in that last sentence. The very idea of abstinence-only eduction is a crazy one that arises in a certain weird cultural milieu found in some parts of the country more than others. I would be pretty sure that abstinence-only education correlates with a lot of other variables, for instance, religion, conservative-versus-liberal political tendencies, etc.

One of the authors does interpret the findings correctly here:
"This clearly shows that prescribed abstinence-only education in public schools does not lead to abstinent behavior," said David Hall, second author and assistant professor of genetics in the Franklin College. "It may even contribute to the high teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries."

The study looked at socioeconomic factors, education level, and ethnicity, and found that, even controlling for those factors, states where abstinence-only education was required had significantly higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates.
"Because correlation does not imply causation, our analysis cannot demonstrate that emphasizing abstinence causes increased teen pregnancy. However, if abstinence education reduced teen pregnancy as proponents claim, the correlation would be in the opposite direction," said Stanger-Hall.

One reason that correlation does not imply causation is that there may be a third variable that is affecting both variables, some ideological propensities, for instance.
The paper indicates that states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates were those that prescribed comprehensive sex and/or HIV education, covering abstinence alongside proper contraception and condom use. States whose laws stressed the teaching of abstinence until marriage were significantly less successful in preventing teen pregnancies.

These results come at an important time for legislators. A new evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative was signed into federal law in December 2009 and awarded $114 million for implementation. However, federal abstinence-only funding was renewed for 2010 and beyond by including $250 million of mandatory abstinence-only funding as part of an amendment to the Senate Finance Committee's health-reform legislation.

And you wonder why Congress's approval ratings are in the single digits. Pizza is a vegetable and ignorance-only sex education gets two hundred fifty million dollars of taxpayers' money.

States can choose:
With two types of federal funding programs available, legislators of individual states now have the opportunity to decide which type of sex education -- and which funding option -- to choose for their state and possibly reconsider their state's sex education policies for public schools, while pursuing the ultimate goal of reducing teen pregnancy rates.

Here the researchers are eliciting a knee-jerk reaction from conservatives which everyone knows is wrong:
Stanger-Hall and Hall conducted this large-scale analysis to provide scientific evidence to inform this decision.

"Advocates for continued abstinence-only education need to ask themselves: If teens don't learn about human reproduction, including safe sexual health practices to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as how to plan their reproductive adult life in school, then when should they learn it and from whom?" said Stanger-Hall.

The answer to the question, who should teach young people about sex, is obviously: "parents." But obviously in states where the schools don't teach teens how to be responsible for their sexuality, the parents don't either. It is a cliche that has no meat on its bones, parents simply fail at teaching the facts of life to their kids. Tell me, mom and dad, what does the epididymus do again? This is a case where the obvious answer is the wrong one.

Everybody loves babies, and just about everyone agrees that it is best to try to minimize the number of them that are born to mothers who are not ready to be parents. Speaking of obvious answers, the obvious approach is to tell young people not to have sex until they are married; this has the additional effect, for certain groups of people, of encouraging young women to be chaste and giving permission to shame them if they are not. Urging young people to abstain from sex is, however, not likely to result in actual abstinence -- it makes a certain kind of obvious sense on paper, but in reality teenagers around the world seem to have difficulty remaining abstinent.

There are also other ways to prevent pregnancy and childbirth, including numerous forms of contraception and abortion. I doubt that any school district in the US teaches about abortion as a viable option for controlling the teen birth rate -- it is, but we don't need to go there now. More realistically, young people should understand how pregnancy happens and should learn about methods that can prevent it altogether. We are much more likely to change our social customs so that slipping on a condom is the norm than trying to get young people to stop having sex.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

When the Good Guy is Bad

In their own way, The Post yesterday raised a point that has been bothering me about the Penn State craziness.

Jerry Sandusky was an outstanding figure in his community, loved and respected by the public. He spoke inspiringly, helped lead his team to victory, and cultivated little boys so he could rape them.

There is no better cover to hide behind than that of the sanctimonious blowhard. Everybody knows what the good things are to say, anybody can repeat patriotic and pious phrases and chastise those who doubt them. It takes real courage for an ordinary person to stand up to a tidal wave of self-righteousness, and they will almost always be beaten down for trying.

One of the worst fallacies we teach children is that bad people are ugly. Misshapen monsters do most of the mischief in fairy tales, cartoons, movies, TV shows -- you know who the bad guy is the first time you see him; the evil stepmother has a pointy chin, warts, and narrow eyes and the fairy godmother just stepped out of a beauty pageant. But in reality evil is done in equal measure by people who are charming, cheerful, articulate, handsome. Our sense of good and evil is dominated by snap-judgments based on the appearances of people. It is almost like an optical illusion when we can not see the terrible things that attractive, popular people do. Once we have determined someone is a good person we become blind to the bad things they do.

You probably saw the story, but let me quote you some of it:
Jerry Sandusky was an icon. He was fun, motivating, successful, trustworthy. He was a coach, a mentor, a family man, a churchgoer and a dedicated philanthropist who split his life between two pursuits: Penn State football and helping disadvantaged kids.

Now, Sandusky is alleged to have repeatedly courted, groomed and abused young boys for at least 15 years. Those who know him well can’t believe the accusations.

But police, prosecutors and sex crime experts say that Sandusky’s alleged abuse is illustrative of sex predation across the country. It is an extremely high-profile version of what police departments and social services offices see regularly: A man in a position of trust is accused of abusing those who are most vulnerable.

Capt. Bill Carson of the Maryland Heights, Mo., police department, a 32-year veteran who has studied imprisoned sex offenders, noticed similarities between his cases and the Penn State case right away.

“I interviewed a lot of charismatic people that would appear to be really nice people if you didn’t know what they were in prison for,” he said. “They came across as being very pleasant. A lot of them had been in a position of trust. They were youth pastors or school teachers or YMCA volunteers, Boy Scout leaders, Little League coaches.

“They were well respected and well thought of in their career,” Carson said. “And when the charges came down, everyone was shocked.” Penn State case paints familiar portrait for police, experts, victims

The shock these people feel, the surprise, is a pure expression of stereotypes that are just plain wrong. Somehow white men who prominently enunciate lofty sentiments are supposed to be better people than, well, than the rest of us. In reality the stereotype only provides a mask, the stereotypical "good guy" is a script that anyone can learn.