Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Determining Sex in the Olympics

I think everyone recognizes that it would be unfair for men to compete in women's athletic events. But everyone might not appreciate the difficulty of defining male and female, even with the most sophisticated medical tests.

The LA Times:
Of all the obstacles athletes have had to overcome to compete in the Olympics, perhaps the most controversial has been the gender test.

Originally designed to prevent men from competing in women's events, it is based on the premise that competitors can be sorted into two categories via established scientific rules. But the biological boundaries of gender aren't always clear.

Consider the Spanish hurdler Maria Jose Martinez-Patiño. A gender test revealed that she had a Y chromosome, which normally makes a person male. She also had complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, or CAIS, which prevented her body from responding properly to testosterone and caused her to develop as a woman.

The Spanish Athletic Federation got her test results in 1986, just before a major competition that would have set her up for an Olympic run. Though she won the 60-meter hurdles, the federation declared her ineligible for the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.

The International Olympic Committee has struggled with cases like these, variously using hair patterns, chromosomes, individual genes and other factors in their long-running attempts to distinguish men from women. All of these tests have been discarded.

For the London Games, officials are going by a new set of rules that shifts the focus from DNA to testosterone, a hormone that aids muscle development, endurance and speed. Olympic Games and the tricky science of telling men from women
Normally we talk about sex as being defined by the physical characteristics of the body, and gender being a sense of who you are. This article is talking about determining the physical sex of people who identify themselves as women. The problem is that there is no clear defining quality that separates the sexes.
"There is no single metric for sex or athletic potential," said Eric Vilain, director of the Center for Gender-Based Biology at UCLA. But he called the new testosterone-based test a pragmatic solution to a real problem. "I have talked to many elite female athletes, and I haven't found one who is comfortable with the idea of having no testing," he said.

Once it's agreed that men and women should compete separately, how should officials divide them up?

It's not a rhetorical question. Though most people fall neatly into "male" and "female" categories, some do not. The fact that there are people with physical or genetic traits of both sexes prompted the IOC to rethink its gender test.

The new rules, announced last month, disqualify athletes from women's events if they have testosterone levels in the normal male range, which is 7 to 30 nanomoles per liter of blood. Because the top range for women is slightly below 3 nanomoles per liter, such levels could give athletes an unfair advantage that officials have a duty to root out, said Dr. Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of IOC's Medical Commission and a former Olympic high jumper. Athletes with complete androgen insensitivity will be allowed to compete.
Olympic officials are trying to focus on factors that affect athletic performance, namely the metabolism of testosterone. But the problem is further complicated when individuals produce testosterone but can't use it. Skipping down ...
But if testosterone were essential to athletic success, [Spanish hurdler Maria Jose] Martinez-Patiño would have been doomed to fail because her body can't use the hormone. Many women with androgen insensitivity have competed in the Olympics, and "the idea that testosterone is a necessary ingredient for elite athletic performance is really undermined by these cases," Van Anders said.

In fact, androgen insensitivity is overrepresented among female athletes, Vilain added: The general population has an incidence of 1 in 20,000, but for Olympic athletes it is about 1 in 400. No one knows why.
This article is fairly lengthy, and goes into the history of the controversy.
"If we could just have a social answer and let everyone declare their own sex, that would be great," he said. But "if we say, 'Anyone who says they're a woman is a woman,' I worry that people will always take advantage of that."

Accusations of men masquerading as women in the Olympics go back at least as far as 1936, the year questions were raised about American sprinter Helen Stephens after her upset win at the Berlin Summer Games. Stephens passed some sort of gender test — the details are lost to history — and was awarded a gold medal.
In the end of this article it is suggested that any test will eventually fail.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Anti-Marriage Petition Database Online

It seems absolutely arbitrary and weird to oppose the marriage of same sex couples. There is no harm done in it, marriage only makes people happy and provides security and stability for a lifetime. It does not affect any one except the couple themselves and their families. If a religion forbids same-sex marriage then fine, their members are free to follow the decrees of religious leaders, but their prohibitions should not apply to non-members. It is nobody's business who someone marries -- I simply cannot fathom the thought processes that lead a person to believe that their opinion about whether two people should marry is important enough to be implemented as law.

But there are plenty of people who do feel that way. In our state of Maryland, both houses of the legislature and the governor agreed that gay and lesbian citizens should be allowed to marry the person they love, and of course immediately 110,000 people signed petitions to bring the law up for a vote.

The Washington Blade has put the database of people who signed to block marriage equality online.

It is fascinating to search the names. See if your neighbors signed, look for prominent people, people you know from PTA, from your place of worship -- it is interesting to note, for instance, that none of the leaders of the Citizens for Responsible Whatever signed the petition, at least none whose names I could think of, at least not with their real names.

Click on THIS LINK to see the database. It is a big file and will take a few seconds to load up. It is saved as one long text document, so you can search for anything.

The web site is not designed very well but it mostly works. Don't use the search box at the top, that seems to search the whole domain. If you scroll down a little you will see a search box on the righthand side (after the first search you enter things at the bottom of the screen). Since the document has names and addresses, including city and zip code, you can search on any of those. Put in the name of your street, if it is fairly unique, or put in your zip code. The results of the search will show up at the bottom of the screen. You can click on the result and the document will automatically scroll to the location of the item you clicked on. Sometimes the target is hidden at the top or bottom of the screen and you have to scroll a little bit.

Dig around, I'll bet you find somebody you know in there.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Slow Demise of the Ex-Gay Hoax

Until recently, our Montgomery County school district was sending home flyers from PFOX, a small group of people who try to pretend that there are thousands or even millions of "ex-gays" out there, people who have gone from gay to straight. It is a hoax, and one with the potential to hurt vulnerable people. PFOX tries to convince schoolchildren that being attracted to people of your own sex doesn't mean you're gay. Uh huh.

It is a weird and creepy way to attack LGBT people, and it is somewhat effective because if you say "ex-gay ex-gay ex-gay ex-gay ex-gay ex-gay ex-gay ex-gay" enough times, pretty soon people who don't know any better will start thinking that there are "ex-gays," and that the world could be a more orderly and easy-to-understand place if those obstinate gay people would just stop being gay.

They'll only believe it for a while, though, and eventually they're going to need to see an actual "ex-gay" person, and not one of the same old ones that do it for a living. And so over time the whole PR movement has lost steam.

Anthony Venn-Brown, a former evangelical minister and founder of the Australian group Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International, has written a nice clear summary of the state of the situation. He focuses on the breakdown of Australian "ex-gay" groups, saying that two-thirds of them have disbanded.
Exodus International, the make a wish foundation for self-loathing homosexuals, is in crisis.

It began with Alan Chambers, director of 'ex-gay' ministries umbrella organisation Exodus, honest admission to a gay Christian conference in January that 99.9% of people he'd met had never actually changed their sexual orientation. Eleven ministries defected and some evangelical leaders called for Chambers resignation.

In April this year, Dr Robert Spitzer renounced his often 'ex-gay' quoted study that sexual orientation change is possible and apologized to the gay community.

Last month Exodus issued an official statement that it no longer supports reparative therapy. "In the past, we've been aligned with organizations that believe feelings can completely change, temptations can completely go away. We now believe that's an unrealistic and unhealthy expectation that can cause a lot of damage.", Chambers said in an interview.

And at the opening address at the Exodus conference last week Chambers, in very contrite and sober tones, burst the bubble for many attendees admitting that Exodus had it wrong on many levels. Nearly Two Thirds of 'Ex-gay' Ministries Disappeared
It will be interesting to see how long PFOX can hold on.

I'm skipping a part about Australia.
The evolution of the 'ex-gay' message

There has been a progressive white-anting of the Exodus 'change is possible' message. Initially, the Exodus message was simply God can do a miracle and freedom from homosexuality comes if you pray hard enough or have a demon cast out of you. The magic wand approach. That was phase one. When this clearly was not successful for people, ministries moved into a more therapeutic model endeavouring to bring people to a place of healing for their 'sexual and relational brokenness'. The term 'reparative therapy' was created was created at this time. Heterosexuality was still the goal.

The most recent phase has been to admit that those with 'unwanted same sex attraction' would experience a life long struggle. It will never go away, or as one Australian 'ex-gay' leader amusingly put it to a seeker of straightness, 'you will always walk with a limp'. Not much hope in that message, is there? Especially to those wanting so desperately to be 'normal' and accepted.

While we are talking about strange terms. What's with this ridiculous term 'unwanted same sex attraction' or sometimes abbreviated USSA? This term began to gain popularity during phase three in the 90's. I believe this was introduced for two reasons. Firstly, to distance people from the increasingly popular scientific term 'sexual orientation' and secondly to disconnect people from a gay identity and the shame loaded word homosexual. Playing semantics doesn't change the reality though. It's not an attraction honey it's an orientation. It's in your brain wiring and hormones. It's not just a thought/temptation in the mind it's who you are and unwanted because you fear rejection of others and God if you accept it. I might have unwanted left-handedness but it doesn't change the fact that I am.

In 2000, the most prominent 'ex-gay' organisation in the UK, Courage, run by Jeremy Marks, walked away from Exodus and became gay affirming. The same thing happened with New Directions Ministries, run by Wendy Gritter, in Canada in 2009.
The "ex-gay" hoax rationalizes hatred of gay people by asserting that their sexual orientation is a choice, and that they could change at any time if they would only follow the steps offered by one-or-another religious or pseudopsychological group. It offers sad hope to young gays and lesbians who realize that their orientation is likely to subject them to a lifetime of harassment and rejection by their religion and their peers, maybe even by their god. It is simple and pure wishful thinking, though; you are what you are, and once you accept yourself you will find that others accept you, too.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Google Pushes to Legalize Love

I am in Ottawa at the moment. Highs in the seventies, blue skies with puffy little clouds. They're having a big blues festival so there are a lot of people out in the streets.

This story is kind of interesting, if only because it is not a "news story" per se. Google did not put out press releases, their spokespersons are not spinning it, the big media aren't carrying it, as far as I can tell it is just something they talked about at a conference in London and a blogger mentioned it online.

MSNBC points its readers to a site called Dot429 Magazine:

Google is launching a new campaign called "Legalize Love" with the intention of inspiring countries to legalize marriage for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people around the world.

The "Legalize Love" campaign officially launches in Poland and Singapore on Saturday, July 7th. Google intends to eventually expand the initiative to every country where the company has an office, and will focus on places with homophobic cultures, where anti-gay laws exist.

Google's Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe outlined the initiative at a Global LGBT Workplace Summit in London earlier today. "We want our employees who are gay or lesbian or transgender to have the same experience outside the office as they do in the office. It is obviously a very ambitious piece of work.

Their strategy involves developing partnerships between companies and organizations to support grass-roots campaigns.

On the decision to launch the initial phase in a country like Singapore, Palmer-Edgecumbe says, "Singapore wants to be a global financial center and world leader and we can push them on the fact that being a global center and a world leader means you have to treat all people the same, irrespective of their sexual orientation."

At the end of the day, the "Legalize Love" campaign is also good for Google's business. "We operate in many countries and have a very globally mobile workforce. We have had a number of instances where we have been trying to hire people into countries where there are these issues and have been unable to put the best person into a job in that country," said Palmer-Edgecumbe.

Harry Gaskell, of professional services firm Ernst & Young who also spoke at the conference in London, backed the argument for combining initiatives between governments, organizations, and companies. "If you are trying to change something - governments can exert diplomatic power, NGOs can martial facts and arguments - but corporations martial economic power. That is something even the most passive of countries will listen to."

Bob Amnnibale, an openly gay executive at Citi, also praised the initiative. "The fact that Google is so virtual and its appeal is very wide and young demographically means it can help spread messaging very, very quickly." Google wants the world to "Legalize Love"

Monday, July 02, 2012

Anderson Cooper Comes Out

Anderson Cooper sent an email to Andrew Sullivan where he explained why he has never publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation, and why he felt it was time now.

I don't think people are surprised by the fact that Cooper is gay, and I think his handling of this is excellent.

The entire email is very well written, the words are candid and carefully chosen. Here is the email in its entirety:
Andrew, as you know, the issue you raise is one that I've thought about for years. Even though my job puts me in the public eye, I have tried to maintain some level of privacy in my life. Part of that has been for purely personal reasons. I think most people want some privacy for themselves and the people they are close to.

But I've also wanted to retain some privacy for professional reasons. Since I started as a reporter in war zones 20 years ago, I've often found myself in some very dangerous places. For my safety and the safety of those I work with, I try to blend in as much as possible, and prefer to stick to my job of telling other people’s stories, and not my own. I have found that sometimes the less an interview subject knows about me, the better I can safely and effectively do my job as a journalist.

I've always believed that who a reporter votes for, what religion they are, who they love, should not be something they have to discuss publicly. As long as a journalist shows fairness and honesty in his or her work, their private life shouldn't matter. I’ve stuck to those principles for my entire professional career, even when I’ve been directly asked “the gay question,” which happens occasionally. I did not address my sexual orientation in the memoir I wrote several years ago because it was a book focused on war, disasters, loss and survival. I didn't set out to write about other aspects of my life.

Recently, however, I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something - something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.

I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.

The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.

I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, and my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don't think it's anyone else's business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. I’m not an activist, but I am a human being and I don't give that up by being a journalist.

Since my early days as a reporter, I have worked hard to accurately and fairly portray gay and lesbian people in the media - and to fairly and accurately portray those who for whatever reason disapprove of them. It is not part of my job to push an agenda, but rather to be relentlessly honest in everything I see, say and do. I’ve never wanted to be any kind of reporter other than a good one, and I do not desire to promote any cause other than the truth.

Being a journalist, traveling to remote places, trying to understand people from all walks of life, telling their stories, has been the greatest joy of my professional career, and I hope to continue doing it for a long time to come. But while I feel very blessed to have had so many opportunities as a journalist, I am also blessed far beyond having a great career.

I love, and I am loved.

In my opinion, the ability to love another person is one of God’s greatest gifts, and I thank God every day for enabling me to give and share love with the people in my life. I appreciate your asking me to weigh in on this, and I would be happy for you to share my thoughts with your readers. I still consider myself a reserved person and I hope this doesn’t mean an end to a small amount of personal space. But I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter’s shield of privacy.

Anderson Cooper: "The Fact Is, I'm Gay."
Nothing to add. I think this worked, I think it was good for Anderson Cooper to build his reputation and build his audience, without his sexual orientation mattering. People who watch his show trust him and like him, and now they know a little bit more about him.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Welcome to Global Warming

10AM Sunday

The battery on my laptop still has a charge, so I will write this while I can.  It is Sunday morning.  Friday was the hottest June day in DC history, and a little column of storms came across the Middle Atlantic region, left to right, with winds up to 80 mph, they are saying.  The heat provided energy to the storms and they tore this place up from top to bottom.

It was about a half hour of heavy wind and rain and constant lightning.  I stood out on my front porch during the worst of it, until the tree across the street from me spilt and fell across a bunch of high-power electrical wires. Then I realized it was absolutely unsafe to be anywhere near those winds.  The air was thick with debris and rain pellets swirling, it was like a violent cloud of flying knife-blades, and I went inside.  The family decided the living room was the safest, and we sat with the trembling dogs until the lightning and wind subsided.

This is Sunday morning.  My neighborhood in Rockville is a disaster.  Last night we drove around and looked, and I took a few pictures.  There are dozens of trees down, almost every block has a tree that has lost a major limb or has fallen entirely.  Many houses had damage.  Power lines are down everywhere.  They are saying that four million people lost power initially, and that three million still did not have it last night.  We are one of those three million.  No one in our part of town had power.  Businesses were closed, even gas stations couldn't pump gas.  There was one station near the Twinbrook Metro yesterday, and it had a line around the block.

Last night the lights came on at our house for about one minute.  It was weird, I had been outside looking at how strange it is when all the houses are dark, and as I walked back toward my house it suddenly lit up, along with all the others up and down the street.  I went upstairs and turned the air conditioning on but it only lasted a  minute.  But it gives you a kind of hope, you know that they at least can restore the electricity.  Someday things will work again.

It is so hot.  We slept in the living room last night because the upstairs is unbearable, but the downstairs was no good, either.  We opened the windows but there was no wind, it was one of those warm, still, humid summer nights when the sweat forms a film on your skin and your hair sticks together in clumps.  I had a long pointless dream that went on for hours, it was about being disorganized and aimless.  I fell into a hole with a cat and a fish.

The one thing you notice is that nobody is doing anything.  Some people were outside looking at debris and fallen trees yesterday, but these are too big to chop up with an ordinary chainsaw, and there is no electricity for power tools.  I have not seen a single Pepco truck, or anybody from the city, the county, or the state.  Not even driving around with a notepad.  Across from me the tree snapped in half and fell through the power lines, the trunk is nearly two feet in diameter where it broke.  A neighbor who was standing out there yesterday and seemed to know something said that one of the lines was a fifteen-thousand volt line, and two of them were two-hundred twenty volts.  They are just hanging there, over the sidewalk.  A lady sat there with her four kids, waiting for a bus, saying, "Get away from those power lines!" over and over.

I heard on the radio yesterday that the utility companies are going to take a couple of days to assess the damage, and that it might take a week to get the power back on.  They must be assessing the damage digitally or something, looking at some computer screen in a comfortable office somewhere, because they sure are not driving around seeing what the damage is.  Around the corner from us there is a power pole snapped in half, the top part dangling over a neighborhood street, held in place my taut wires.  That was weird, the maple tree had had four distinct gigantic branches snapped off, each one at least a foot in diameter.  A house was damaged, the fence ruined, power lines ripped down.

It will be interesting to see what happens.  It's too much for people to do themselves, but there does not appear to be any official response at all.  I did not hear a single chain saw yesterday and I don't hear any today.  Normally at this time on a Sunday morning you would hear a lawnmower somewhere but there is no sound, only a few cars driving, and somebody has a generator.

Clumps of neighbors stand around and discuss it, but we don't know anything.  Luckily my own property is in pretty good shape and none of us were hurt.  We had a giant maple tree that hung over the house and it began to worry us so we had it cut down this past year, it is just a pile of mulch now and that is good news.  There is a little bit of debris in our yard but nothing damaged.  We bought gas that night before the storm, not knowing how glad we would be.  There is no place to go, but at least we have phone chargers that work in the car, so we can stay in touch with relatives.  People are losing the charge on the phones, their laptops and tablets, and there is no Internet connection available anyway.  I am writing this, hoping that I will be able to find a wifi location later and post it.  I know many of our readers are having similar experiences.

So far it is bearable.  We have food, water, gas, and the landline telephone still works.  If the electricity would come back on, honestly, our lives would be back to normal.  As it is, I am sitting here in the kitchen without a shirt on, in shorts, sweating and waiting for something to happen, waiting for Pepco to do their job.  Maybe the next time the lights come on they will stay on, and the air conditioning can do its job, too.

Update 1PM Sunday:

A Rockville city truck came by, picking up pieces of debris that did not have power lines in them.  They put yellow tape around the tree across from me, after I pointed it out to them.  We drove over to Lake Forest mall in Gaithersburg, where two cherry-pickers and a pickup truck for a Pepco contractor were sitting unoccupied in the parking lot at 11:30.  We saw one crew working on a power line along Veirs Mill.  No sounds of chainsaws, but many people who had smaller limbs down have chopped them up and stacked the wood.

Some areas don't look too bad.  It looks like our neighborhood, the Twinbrook Forest section of Rockville, has been hit harder than some other nearby areas.  There is a giant tree down in front of the Glenview Mansion, blocking Baltimore Road, with no crew, nobody doing anything besides gawking.  Many other streets around here are blocked by trees and power lines hanging across them.  Some neighbors have made cardboard signs and hung bright things on the lines so you will see them where they cross the road.

We were able to get gas without waiting in line, so that crisis appears to have resolved.

I am tired from sleeping on the couch last night, perspiring and dreaming restlessly.  And this is really strange: my wife was sleeping on the tile floor downstairs, and it was so humid and hot that the glue melted on the back of a framed sampler on the wall and it fell in the middle of the night and landed on her head.  Since most traffic lights are out, I notice that I tend to stop and go through red lights that are actually working.  My wife is not amused by this.  It is sweltering hot inside our house, I think we will have to take the dogs somewhere eventually.  I hate to impose, I would much prefer to have the power come back on.  Pepco says ninety percent of people will have it by Friday.  Friday.  I hope we don't have to wait that long.

Update 3:30 Sunday:

Nothing new.  No chainsaws, no cherry-pickers, no electricity.  It's 80 degrees in the house, which is not comfortable at all.  The dogs are staying quiet, they seem okay but if it gets much hotter we will take them in the car and run the AC for a while.  Barnes and Noble seems to be open, I saw a bunch of people sitting in the window upstairs using their laptops, so I might be able to get in there and connect to the Internet for a minute to post this, so people can add their comments.  I'm down to 40% power, I am sure there won't be an electrical outlet available at the book store.  Maybe tomorrow I will be ablde to charge the computer battery at work, if they're open.

Update 4:30 Sunday:

Barnes and Noble's wifi has a lot of people on it and it's very slow but if you are reading this then it works.  A lady just recognized me from the band, she says she is our biggest fan.  I am lucky enough to have my laptop plugged into 110 volts, and it is charging very slowly, now it's up to 20 percent charged.  As usual I hope that when I go home the lights will be on and the air conditioner will be blowing cool, refreshing air into the house.