Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Maine Turns Down the Dough

In these interesting times, the party in control in Washington happens to be the party that thinks the federal government should make people's decisions for them, not only at the personal level but at the state level as well. But sometimes there are loopholes.

For instance, the party in power wants to control sex education at the local level. Well, not "control" it exactly, more like eradicate it. They would like for schools to teach nothing at all about sex, except how to avoid it. But they can't really order ignorant-until-marriage education in a state's schools, so they have to make federal funding dependent on whether a state complies with their wishes or not. You want the dough, you lower your standards to the federal level. Most states go for it, some don't.
Maine has stepped out of the collection line of states getting federal money to help subsidize sex education, joining California and Pennsylvania in saying, “No, thanks.”

Citing a potential conflict with a 2002 state law that mandates teaching teenagers everything from self-restraint to contraception, Maine declined about $160,000 in federal money for fiscal 2006.

Maine would have had to pitch in about $120,000 had it accepted the federal money, and it would have had to focus sex education programs financed by the money on abstinence exclusively.

The state also refused to allow Heritage of Maine, a nonprofit, abstinence-education group, to put on its programs in Maine public schools. Heritage’s programs, which are financed with a three-year, $1.5 million federal grant, are instead being conducted only in private schools.

Much of the debate over abstinence-only programs centers on their effectiveness or lack thereof. Groups opposed to the federal programs often cite a December 2004 study by the staff of U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that found that 11 of 13 federally funded abstinence programs contained medically inaccurate information. States abstain from federal sex ed money

Well, yes, that does bother some people, that little problem that abstinence-only education programs are ineffective and teach things that are ... well, crazy. But, y'know, you can get that money... boy, that's a tough one, free money and stupid education for your kids versus pay for it yourself and teach them something ... what's a state to do?
California has never accepted the federal money, which is provided under the 1996 welfare reform law, and Pennsylvania first turned it down in 2004. Officials from both states cited the programs’ ineffectiveness in their decisions.

Maine’s decision to just say no to the just say no-ers ended seven years of involvement in the federal grant program. The state had previously used the money to fund an ad campaign that encouraged teen abstinence and parental involvement in their children’s choices regarding sex.

Oh, here's a good point, from this same article:
Maine’s decision has garnered praise from opponents of abstinence-only programs such as Plain Truth for Maine Youth, SIECUS and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Really, I just included that part because I know how the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum will love it. I'd be pretty sure that "Plain Truth for Main Youth" has nothing to do with Herbert W. Armstrong's magazine The Plain Truth, which they might approve of. But SIECUS -- hoo boy, we know how that sets them off. You can drive by their house at night yelling "Ya mutha joined SIECUS!" and they won't be able to get back to sleep. (Or even better: "Ya mutha's in GLSEN!") And that ACLU, y'know, that's some bad stuff, promoting those civil rights all over the place, instead of good American freedom.

From the same article, just for your information:
About $50 million per year in federal funds to promote abstinence is available to state governments, which receive between $75,000 and $4 million per year through the program, SIECUS statistics show. Overall federal funding for abstinence-only programs has increased an average of $22.1 million per year since 2000, according to statistics compiled by SIECUS. The proposed amount for fiscal 2006 is $206 million, up from $170.5 million in fiscal 2005.

So good to know they're looking out for us and our kids...

Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend

The Iowa Department of Public Health's Abstinence Education Program is taking the issue to the people with these fantastically persuasive billboards:

That's right girls, remember, "Go for the ice, or else no dice."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Christian Perspective: Some Points of Agreement

I just came across a most interesting article in the April 2005 issue of the Christian magazine Perspectives. The authors are David Myers, a well-known Christian psychologist at Hope College, Michigan, and Letha Dawson Scanzoni, who is a founder of the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus, and writes on sexuality and family issues in relation to Christian belief. They just have a new book out called What God Has Joined Together? A Christian Case for Gay Marriage , published by Harpers San Francisco.

When I was a teaching assistant in graduate school, I used Myers' textbooks in my classes, so I was a little surprised to come across his name in this regard -- I always considered him to be a generalist and researcher, though I knew he was at a small religious college.

The article, Changing Sexual Orientation? A Look at the Data, is drawn from the authors' book. They review the evidence and a little bit of the history of the controversy over "ex-gays" and therapies to change sexual orientation, and I think it is one of the most even-handed accounts I have seen.

The article is rather long, and lays out its case point by point; that makes it hard to just copy-and-paste some quotes. In other words, click on the link and go read it yourself.

Naturally, I will copy-and-paste a few quotes, just a couple of sections to give us something to think about...
...some learned behaviors are enduring. (Examples range from human language accents to ducklings imprinted to follow whatever they were exposed to at their life's beginning—usually their own mother, but sometimes a merry prankster researcher.) And some biological traits are modifiable or controllable. (Examples range from vision correction with glasses to growth hormones that correct dwarfism.) Thus understanding the roots of sexual orientation doesn't settle the question of whether sexual orientation can change.

On this question, there's a big divide among people of faith. A 2003 Pew Research Center study reported that by a 4 to 1 margin, "highly committed" evangelicals expressing an opinion believe sexual orientation can be changed. By a 2 to 1 margin, mainline Protestants (and White Catholics by a similar margin) think it can't. Nevertheless, those on both sides of this debate agree on some things.

First, people can act against their desires. Heterosexual prisoners may engage in sex with cellmates. Homosexuals can fulfill others' expectations by marrying and having children. (Genital friction, sometimes combined with eyes-closed fantasies, can produce intended results.) Sexual orientation is what one is, not what one does.

Second, sexual orientation is not reversed by experimentation. Heterosexuals (for whom opposite-sex attractions feel natural) may experiment with homosexual behavior, and homosexuals (for whom same-sex attractions feel natural) may experiment with heterosexual behavior, but both readily turn away from such. The handedness analogy is applicable here. Using the right hand feels natural to right-handed people. Using the left hand feels natural to lefthanded people. Persons in either category might try using the other hand for certain tasks (say, holding a fork, or writing), but that does not mean they've switched their basic handedness, and they quickly turn back to what is natural for them.

Third, people of either sexual orientation can struggle to resist enacting their desires or even to live a celibate life.

Fourth, doing so isn't easy (and sexually active married people might therefore think twice about preaching what they themselves don't practice, lest they replicate the Pharisees of whom Jesus said, "They tie onto people's backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry").

So, those are things that the audience of this article -- both evangelicals and mainstream Christians -- can agree on, a good start for the discussion.

The article then goes on to discuss so-called "reparative therapies" and ex-gay ministries.
Arguing that "homosexuality is preventable and treatable," Mike Haley, chair of the Exodus board of directors and manager of Focus on the Family's "homosexuality and gender department," offers his own testimony: "I went from having homosexual fantasies and dreams, and feeling that a sexual relationship with a woman was repulsive, to the opposite end of the spectrum of having a sexually gratifying, emotionally satisfying relationship with my wife....I prove homosexuality is not immutable, that it can be changed."

What troubles skeptics is that time and again such powerful testimonials turn out to have been either false, self-deceptive, or from people who never were genuinely homosexual. More than a dozen such organizations have, after touting successes, been abandoned by their own founders, who are now "ex-exgays." Jeff Ford, former executive director of a Minnesota ex-gay program and a "national speaker for Exodus," acknowledges that, despite his claims of being "healed" of homosexuality and helping others to be "healed," he actually "did not see that happen in my work with over 300 gay and lesbian people."

Myers and Scanzoni talk about Robert Spitzer's famous study of changed sexual orientation, including some revealing quotes from Spitzer himself, which I just don't have room to quote here.

The crux of the article, it seems to me, is in the authors' description of the experiment that would answer the question about changing sexual orientation. Of course, as they note, this experiment can't be done, mainly for ethical reasons, but this is what it would take to answer, once and for all, the question of whether sexual orientation can be changed through therapy.
Given the problems with retrospective testimonials--even snake oil received glowing testimonials--what's needed, Spitzer agrees, is some sort of "prospective" experiment comparable to drug efficacy experiments. (Whether such an experiment would be feasible or desirable is another question.) To assess the efficacy of a diet drug, for example, one would never just solicit testimonials from a relative few people who claim to have lost weight after taking the drug (trusting their recall and not counting those who hadn't lost weight). Thus, the necessary if impractical experiment would:
  • Identify male volunteers wishing to undergo sexual reorientation and measure their genital sexual responses to same- and other-sex erotic stimuli (to verify sexual attraction solely to same-sex stimuli).
  • Randomly assign some to receive a proposed treatment (perhaps reparative therapy as part of a transformation ministry), the others to a waiting list.
  • After the treatment, reassess sexual orientation by the same physiological measure.

If many of the treated volunteers evidence a reversed sexual attraction, and if this result could be sustained and confirmed by another research team, the skeptics could be refuted.

See, that's the textbook-writer talking; the experimental method is the only known way to answer a question of causation. You assign subjects randomly to groups, give each group a different treatment, and measure the difference in the dependent variable. Without doing that, you simply can't say whether changes in the independent variable cause changes in the dependent variable; in this case, you can't say whether therapy changes sexual orientation without an experiment.

They wrap up with this comment:
If American Family Association president Donald Wildmon was right that the national "Coming out of Homosexuality Day" dispelled "the lies of the homosexual rights crowd who say they are born that way and cannot change," then perhaps he would welcome such an experiment. But he likely was given pause when Michael Johnston, the national chair of Coming out of Homosexuality Day and a featured "exgay" spokesperson in TV and print ads, closed his ministry and ceased organizing the day after acknowledging that he had recently engaged in sexual encounters with other men.

"Can leopards change their spots?" asked the prophet Jeremiah (13:23). Wellmeaning people of faith will continue to struggle with new forms of Jeremiah's question as they seek grace to accept with serenity what cannot be changed, courage to change what should be changed, and the wisdom to discern the one from the other.

Unfortunately, I had to leave out a lot in summarizing this for the blog. Please, go read the article, and see what you take away from it.

This argument that prayer and therapy can change people's sexual orientation is a tricky and complicated deal, with intensity on both sides.

The question is, in the absence of a defining experiment, should you assume that orientation can change, or that it can't? How do you resolve that? One thing is to look at evidence that it changes. There is some small amount of ambiguous evidence that some people believe their orientation has changed. Some of these are mentioned above. So we can't rule out that it's possible, in some small percentage of cases. That doesn't even imply, though, that everyone, or even a majority of people, can change their sexual orientation through therapy.

Another approach is the pragmatic one: look at the consequences of believing sexual orientation can and can't change. Of course you could hold either belief and still treat gay people fairly, but for some reason that doesn't happen. Thinking that it can change seems somehow to go together with thinking that it should change. But that seems simply to represent a form of disrespect for people who are gay and not unhappy with the deal. Why should they change? Some people think it's a sin, think it's immoral, think it's disgusting, think it's dangerous for society -- can you imagine hanging around with people who feel that way about you?

Believing that it can't change would seem to lead you to a position of accepting the person as they are. This assumption, which is supported by the greater amount of evidence, appears to take one down the road toward respect and tolerance, which are generally considered to be good things.

For me, the resolution is something like this. It is obvious that sexual orientation doesn't usually change, even with therapy. Whether it "technically" can change is immaterial and unanswerable until Myers' experiment is run, which will be never. In the meantime, another person's sexual orientation is none of my business, it doesn't hurt anything one way or the other, if that's the way they are then that's ... just ... the way they are. You shouldn't have to understand the etiology of it to respect that person as a human being. Almost everyone reports that their sexual orientation emerges without prompting, they don't decide, and they don't have much control over it, it just happens. So why worry about it?

The tolerant approach has another implication. If a gay guy decides for whatever reason that he doesn't want to be gay, and he starts dating women and living as a straight person, then the same thing: cool. Why would I care? What does it matter if he wasn't really gay to begin with, or if he's going against his real feelings, or he's actually bisexual, or he's changed, or he has some motive that is not clear to me? I hope he's happy. The experiment hasn't been done, we can't say it's impossible. Improbable, yes, we can say that; very rare, yes we are sure of that; impossible, who knows? Kind of like the Loch Ness monster, I guess, you can't rule it out.

Monday, November 28, 2005

An Optimistic Monday Post-Holiday Wrap-Up

Right now the MCPS health classes under contention are being developed by school district staff. Sounds like they've got some good people working on it, we're not worried about what they'll produce. The world being what it is, I imagine the new curricula will undergo an extra layer of review by the legal team. We hope that the school board has the fortitude to trust their experts without making any political adjustments to the course content.

The new citizens advisory committee will meet for the first time in a couple of weeks. I'm on that committee, and will try to walk a fine line blogging about the process while participating in it. The goal is to help the committee come to a consensus on a good curriculum, and blogging of course is secondary to that. That doesn't mean I can't talk about it, it just means that I may not say every little thought that comes into my head. If you know what I mean.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, it seems to me, are running out of steam. They made a mistake last week by holding a meeting and having their featured speaker undermine the nutty parts of their agenda. The fact is, if you put the research on the table and look at it, there's nothing there to support their extreme opinions. When they invited Warren Throckmorton to speak at their "informational meeting," I think they expected him to support them, but he was very careful not to. Yes, he leans a certain way that favors them, but he was very careful in his wording, and frequently mentioned that you can't go beyond the research, and that if you don't have scientific evidence for something, you shouldn't teach it in school: our view, exactly. We may discuss how to interpret medical and scientific research, and we might not agree on everything, but this is no place to float off into theological judgments and speculations.

It appears to me that the CRC seems to be fracturing into the True Believers, who want to press forward their self-righteous ideological agenda no matter what, and those who are simply conservative. You can't talk to the True Believers, that's not what they do. They live in an all or nothing world, and to tell you the truth, they had their chance and blew it.

Other members of the group seem to be people who have conservative views. These are simply parents who are concerned about raising their kids too fast and exposing them to too much at too young an age. Some may want to protect their children from worldly influences or demeaning popular culture, and some are just a little modest about talking about sex.

And you know, the members of our group feel that way, too, we worry about what our kids are picking up. I wouldn't let my kid watch certain TV shows until he got big enough to take the remote control away from me by force, I just thought it was a bad influence. We all have some boundaries, and as the school district develops a curriculum and the citizens committee evaluates it, we should be grown-up enough to shift those boundaries back and forth. Some of us will insist on getting all the facts, and on being fair and respectful to the sexual minorities in our society. Others will insist on emphasizing the risks of sexual behaviors and on making sure teenagers aren't given the idea that casual sex is just fine if you wear a condom. Cool, let's talk about it and figure out how to do all that, or get as close as we can. We all want the same thing, we just emphasize different parts of it.

The history of this is that the CRC began as an attempt to recall the entire school board over the new curriculum that was adopted last November. After the 2004 elections, they thought they had a mandate. But over the months we -- and others in the community -- have consistently and firmly pointed out the ugliness of their message, the lies, the inconsistencies. In desperation they pulled off a last-minute legal maneuver that had the result of causing the school district to start over again. It was a cheap shot, they baffled the judge about what was in the curriculum and what was in some teachers' background resources, won a 10-day temporary restraining order, and then negotiated a deal with the school district to prevent further lawsuits. It was a very weak outcome to a long and contentious controversy. They got what they wanted, that is, the blocked the curriculum, but in doing it they lost what community support they might have had, and demonstrated that they could not win on the strengths of their arguments, but only by legal chicanery.

I expect the CRC will sue again, they've told the papers they would, and it's all they've got left. They have refused to comply with the school board's rules for applying to the citizens advisory committee, and want to put an ineligible person on it. They have actually said that they shouldn't have to follow the board's rules, only the terms of their legal agreement.

If they want to participate in the process of curriculum development, then they need to be willing to negotiate and compromise. If they want to hold the line on their nuttier ideas, and here I am thinking of the business about "ex-gays," then they will not be seen as participating in the process, but trying to wreck it. That won't surprise anybody, but it will not work for them, either.

Quickly, the "ex-gay" thing, for those who have not followed this discussion. There is a clever strategy by the religious right to claim as a fact that gay people can be converted to heterosexuals through prayer and psychotherapy. They like to call these people "ex-gays," and then pretend that this group of people are being discriminated against. In this case, they say you should "teach both sides," you should teach about gays and "ex-gays."

Well, it is not really clear that anybody has ever really changed their sexual orientation. You only know from self-report, a person is what they say they are, and most of the people who say they are "ex-gays" are religious activists who have a lot to gain by claiming to have changed, both financially and personally. If anybody has changed, there are not very many of them; it is an insignificant phenomenon.

The concept is a tool for evangelizing, for bringing religious ideas into the classroom. You won't find anybody who talks about "ex-gays" as a secular concept, there is no scientific support for the phenomenon. There is no place for this topic in the classrooms of Montgomery County, and I'm sorry, but if they insist on this kind of silliness they will be shot down again and again.

But if they want to actually develop a curriculum for our kids, to negotiate, persuade with reason and evidence, and compromise, I for one welcome that. With recent developments, I think we are coming to this point. The radicals are losing their place, their extreme views have failed to convince anyone. I am hoping that the moderate ones, the conservative ones, the ones who are willing to open a dialogue, will come to the front now, and we can move forward cooperatively.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Saying Nothing, Hatefully

Here in Montgomery County, we're trying to get a health curriculum put together, where teenagers can learn about sex. The state wants them to learn about "sexual variations," so the school district needs to figure out how to present stuff about sexual orientation in a way that is acceptable to the community, meets state standards, and hopefully educates the kids a little bit. These are polarized times, and a noisy minority of extremists has succeeded in using the courts to postpone implementation of a new curriculum. MCPS had developed a nice new curriculum, but through some legal chicanery they were able to have it thrown out.

The merits of the curriculum were never judged. Some problems were identified which could have been solved easily. The main thing that worried the judge were some statements in the teachers' background resources that were not appropriate, talking about which churches were more and less tolerant of homosexuality. It would have been very easy, nothin' to it, to throw out those resources. But the suers didn't want to fix the curriculum, they wanted to eliminate it. And in negotiating to prevent a lawsuit, the school district agreed to throw their nice new curriculum out and start over.

Today I was looking for something else when I came across a blog called Good As You. They had a little news item I hadn't seen before.

Robert Knight is a professional rabblerouser, he has worked with the Family Research Council, and now is some kind of monkety-monk at Concerned Women for America (wouldn't you think they would be... women?). He spoke at the March town hall meeting of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, so we sort of think of him as a character in our story, though he's not local. He's just another gay-basher from the religious right.

OK, so the story is, I guess Planned Parenthood hired a guy to be their liaison with the Republican Party, and the guy's gay, he's what they call a Log Cabin Republican.

The omnipresent Mister Knight had this lovely comment:
This should be a seamless transition, given that both organizations pursue an anti-family agenda that's right at home in the culture of death," Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America's Culture & Family Institute told Cybercast News Service.

"Recall, for instance, that V. Gene Robinson, the openly homosexual Episcopal bishop, spoke at a Planned Parenthood event, which didn't raise a lot of eyebrows," Knight said. "After all, both Robinson and Planned Parenthood have rejected the natural family and pursued sex outside marriage and abortion as a reasonable, logical response to an unintended pregnancy." Log Cabin Official to Lead Planned Parenthood's Outreach to GOP

I imagine there must be people somewhere who think that these kinds of characterizations -- "culture of death," "anti-family," "rejected the natural family," and so on -- are just the right thing to say, that Mr. Knight is simply stating some facts.

We must make sure that those people do not gain control of any part of our county's policy-making. Especially the schools.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving is the Best American Holiday

Thanksgiving is the best American holiday. It is at once sacred and secular without paradox. We live on this great land, brimming with life and with the things we need, shining with great beauty in every corner. We have our wonderful people, drawn from every continent to come here to this land where opportunity is there for the taking. We have our musics, our arts, our folk of every sort, our hopes and our knowledge of our imperfections and our chances to start over when we need to. And we give thanks for all of it.

So much is overwhelmingly good here, and once a year we celebrate that goodness with the very best gift anyone could want, our families. We celebrate the abundance of America, and our own individual good fortunes, by partaking of them in abundance. We eat, we drink, and we laugh and talk with those family members and friends who are good enough to share this grateful day with us.

And who do we thank? Of course, we all know, monk and atheist alike, that we are, each in our way, thanking God for letting us live in a world that is overflowing with surprises and experiences. Everyone might not name Him the same, and some might not admit His divinity, and that's not a requirement for giving thanks. At the first Thanksgiving, it is unlikely that native and Puritan gave thanks using the same language, but thanks were given, sincerely, on both sides.

Some of us might thank Nature, by whose mysterious processes we find ourselves, human beings, participating in the chaotic dance of life that Nature spins for us as a universe within the physical universe, a great ballet in which every clump of vegetation and every creature has a role, and each depends on the other. Even the scientist, and especially the mathematician, experiences thankfulness for the vastness of it, the perfection and absurd unfathomable intelligence of Nature.

Some might simply thank Lady Luck for bringing them the good things, abundance of food and friends and a shortage of pain. Even those who experience pain can give thanks for its occasional cessation and the crazy hope that always accompanies it.

The day is for thanking, without specification. It is the best holiday, the day that we eat heartily and socialize happily in the understanding that life is bigger than any of us, that there are some things we don't know but we do know that we are taken care of.

I thank all the good people who have given their energy and their thoughts this year to Teach the Facts, and I thank those on the other side who have earnestly sought answers to difficult problems, opposing us but working toward an honorable goal. Let's leave this for a day or two and come back with full hearts and stomachs, ready for the next round of whatever happens.

Hurray for These Moms

Some Montgomery County moms showed the power of persistence when they discovered something that was just plain wrong in their kids' sex-ed curriculum (the one that the CRC recommends), and got the school district to change it.

The Gazette had it this morning, though we'd heard about it earlier:
The county school system is re-thinking its definition of sexual abstinence after complaints from two parents that their children were receiving incorrect and even risky information in sex ed classes.

Karen Sees and Cindy Richards said the "contraception comparison chart" used in eighth-grade health class at Herbert Hoover Middle School describes three types of abstinence: No intercourse, withdrawal (ejaculation outside of the body) and rhythm (no intercourse during ovulation).

"Since when did the term abstinence change to include the two most ineffective forms of birth control possible?" said Cindy Richards of Potomac. "Here we have been teaching our kids that abstinence means not having sex, period. What kind of message is this [chart] sending?"

Sees, also of Potomac, first became aware of the chart while helping her son study for health class in late October. She said she immediately e-mailed her son’s health education teacher about her concerns.

"I’m all for teaching sex education, but I want it to be accurate information," she said. "I was told by my son’s health teacher that withdrawal and rhythm are considered abstinence because [sexual partners] are refraining from what they want to do."

Both Planned Parenthood of Maryland and the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington agreed with the parents that the definition was faulty. Parents slam sex ed material: Schools’ definition of abstinence undergoes review

Man, when you have the Catholic archdiocese agreeing with Planned Parenthood that something is screwed up -- you have definitely screwed up.
"Abstinence is when you’re not having sex, as simple as that," said Wendy Royalty of Planned Parenthood.

And Susan Gibbs, archdiocese spokeswoman, also suggested another correction for the chart.

"The use of the word ‘rhythm’ went out about 40 years ago when it was replaced with the term natural family planning," she said.

The MCPS chart dates back to the early 1990s, said Barbara Pearlman, MCPS coordinator for health education.

It lists a dozen methods of contraception with columns for how the method works, its effectiveness in preventing pregnancy, side effects, if it protects against sexually transmitted diseases and how it is obtained.

Each method falls under one of four categories: permanent (vasectomy), mechanical (condoms), chemical (birth control pills) or abstinence.

Yeah, if you talk to a kid about "abstinence," you really don't want to find out they were obeying you by withdrawing before ejaculation.

The story goes on -- it was not easy for these ladies to get these changes made:
Earlier this month, Richards and Sees began calling and e-mailing various school officials about their concerns.

Sees asked that more emphasis be placed on teaching students the pregnancy risk involved in withdrawal.

"I was told [by MCPS staff] that it’s too complicated to explain to kids that you could get pregnant [from withdrawal]. I said, ‘Too complicated? It’s one sentence, easily understood,’" Sees said.

Far more complicated was determining who within MCPS could authorize the change, she said.

"The [Hoover school staff] told me only the county could make that decision. Then the county [MCPS officials] told me they set the curriculum but have no control over how the schools implement it," Sees said.

But changes to the chart are in the works, said Brian Edwards, MCPS spokesman. exists to support comprehensive, inclusive sex education in Montgomery County. A fine curriculum was introduced, with lots of improvements, but certain religious radicals were feelin' their Cheerios right after the 2004 elections and decided to try to throw out the school board and re-make the school district in their own image, using the new health classes as their lever to topple the status quo. They succeeded in wasting a lot of time and $36,000 in taxpayers' money, and delayed the new curriculum for a year.

This Gazette story points out something that should be part of any new curriculum, and that is that it needs to be extensible. These moms should have been able to submit a simple "trouble ticket" and have the district review it and act on it. They are clearly correct, this is no way to teach abstinence, and it needed to be changed immediately. But the schools and the district seem to have no real process for making adjustments.

Another thing that needs to be extensible is the condom video that was going to be part of the new curriculum. It was a great video, with tons of excellent information, but by the time it was due to be implemented, some of the information was out of date. The recommendation that spermicide be used, for instance, should be revised in light of recent findings that it can irritate the vaginal lining and increase the possibility of disease transmission. At our forum, one audience member pointed out a couple of other things that should have been included.

The CRC, and the Washington Times, opposed the video because it had a cucumber in it. They thought it was funny to talk about "veggie sex." That is the wrong approach, they just didn't like it because they didn't like it, and they complained about anything they could find. If they had suggested improvements, we could have moved forward in improving our kids' education, but no, they didn't want to improve it, they wanted to make fun of it and throw it out.

Sometimes people think of science as a set of facts. But that's not correct -- science is a way of improving knowledge, a way of learning, a process. That means it's always changing, and the new curriculum needs to allow for that. The current curriculum has been in place for fifteen years, unchanged, even though the world has changed a lot in that time, and medical and scientific knowledge have expanded amazingly. Look at how the status of gay people has changed in those fifteen years, look how many celebrities and leaders have come out and been accepted -- unthinkable, even a couple of decades ago. Look at the advances in genetics, in understanding the intricacies of our bodies and how they work, the changes in medicine that have resulted from that research, the advances in information technology and communication ... it's a different world now. It's changing, and as scientific knowledge changes, education needs to change along with it.

So we say, hurray to these moms who fought the system and won. And hurray to all the others who are fighting for a realistic curriculum for our Montgomery County students.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Times and CRC Focus on Ugly Stereotypes

At the Citizens for a Responible Curriculum's meeting this past weekend they handed out a flyer, a reprint of a Washington Times article with the headline HIV rate rises 8 percent among gay, bisexual men. Here's The Times' lead to the story:
HIV infections among homosexual and bisexual men in the United States rose 8 percent last year, after remaining relatively stable the three previous years, new federal data show.

The increase for the virus that causes AIDS compares with average annual declines of 4 percent among heterosexuals and 9 percent among intravenous-drug users from 2001 to 2004, according to a report in this week's issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report.

The story is about a monthly report that the Centers for Disease Control put out this week. Here are the first couple of paragraphs of the actual report:
In 2003, more than 1 million persons in the United States were estimated to be living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection (1). As a result of advances in treatment with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) since 1996, persons infected with HIV are living longer than before and progression to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has decreased. Consequently, AIDS surveillance no longer provides accurate population-based monitoring of the current HIV epidemic. Therefore, CDC recommends that all states and territories adopt confidential, name-based surveillance systems to report HIV infection (2). This report describes the characteristics of persons for whom HIV infection was diagnosed during 2001--2004 and reported to 33 state and local health departments with name-based HIV reporting. The findings indicate that the rate of HIV diagnosis in these states decreased among non-Hispanic blacks* from 2001 to 2004; however, the rate of HIV diagnosis among blacks remained disproportionately high. In 2004, the rate among blacks was 8.4 times higher than among whites. Improved knowledge of HIV status and access to care and prevention services is important to decrease the number of new HIV infections among those populations most affected.

Included in this analysis are HIV cases reported to CDC from 33 states† that have conducted name-based HIV/AIDS reporting for at least 4 years. The addition of New York, a state with high AIDS morbidity, has resulted in data for a greater percentage of U.S. cases of HIV infection. Cases of HIV/AIDS diagnosed during 2001--2004 and reported to CDC through June 2005 were analyzed. Cases included 1) diagnosis of HIV infection that had not progressed to AIDS, 2) diagnosis of HIV infection followed by a diagnosis of AIDS, and 3) concurrent diagnoses of AIDS and HIV infection (i.e., AIDS and HIV diagnoses in the same calendar month). Data from U.S. territories were not included. Trends in HIV/AIDS Diagnoses --- 33 States, 2001--2004

Do you notice that the CDC gets that far into the story without even mentioning the "gay and bisexual men" that are The Story at The Times? In fact, though the word "bisexual" does appear in this article (not in the way The Times used it), the words "gay" and "homosexual" don't appear at all. Labeling seems to be more important at The Times than at the CDC, where risks are associated with behaviors, not stereotypes.

The Washington Times is taking this, from the next to the last paragraph of the report, and putting it at the top -- here's the CDC's paragraph:
The total number of HIV/AIDS diagnoses decreased from 41,207 (CI = 40,961--41,453) in 2001 to 38,685 (CI = 37,924--39,445) in 2004; the average annual decrease was not statistically significant. A nonsignificant average annual increase occurred in the number of HIV/AIDS diagnoses among men who have sex with men (MSM), from 16,609 (CI = 16,260--16,957) cases in 2001 to 18,196 (CI = 17,609--18,782) cases in 2004 (Figure 1). From 2003 to 2004, the number of HIV/AIDS diagnoses among MSM increased 8%; this increase was statistically significant (p<0.05). A significant average annual decrease of 9.1% occurred among injection-drug users (IDUs).

I wonder why it is that The Times chooses to focus on HIV among gays, and the CRC finds it such a great article that they hand it out to everyone who attends their meeting. There's lots of potential news in this report. For instance, it should be most significant that HIV is hitting Blacks especially hard, and it seems meaningful that rates among Blacks are dropping. I think the recommendation in the first paragraph, that states should adopt a name-based surveillance system for HIV patients, will send a shockwave through certain groups, there must be a privacy issue there that could make the news. The fact that HIV cases are decreasing in the US is obviously good news, even though the decrease in not statistically significant -- at least it isn't increasing.

Of course I'm teasing -- you know why they find this so fascinating. They see this as even more proof that gay people are disgusting. An increase in HIV rates for gay people contributes to the stereotype that Peter Sprigg described so well at the CRC's March meeting, that gay people are promiscuous, disease-carrying child molesters.

This report mentions that 25 percent of people with HIV don't know it. Maybe what's happening is that gay men are realizing the risk, and are getting better about being tested.

Here's a very important paragraph in the Editorial Notes of this CDC report:
Although a statistically significant increase occurred from 2003 to 2004 in the number of diagnosed infections among MSM, the overall annual average percentage change from 2001 to 2004 was not significant. Flat trends in diagnoses were observed among white, black, and Hispanic MSM. The small upturn in diagnoses in 2003--2004 occurred for all racial/ethnic MSM populations. Increases in HIV diagnoses during this period are more difficult to interpret because of increasing emphasis on the benefits of increased testing among persons at high risk. Whereas increases among MSM might reflect increases in HIV incidence, consistent with increases in syphilis and other risk behaviors, they might also reflect increases in HIV testing among MSM. Increasing HIV testing among MSM is critical in light of a study of MSM aged 15--29 years in six U.S. cities, which reported that the proportion of unrecognized HIV infection was as high as 77% (7).

The Times did quote part of a sentence from this paragraph, acknowledging that the observed increase may reflect an increase in HIV testing. The CDC report is positive about noting the "increasing emphasis on the benefits of increased testing" and that "increasing HIV testing among MSM is critical."

If more people are being tested, of course more cases are going to be reported.

Just for fun, I looked at Google news to see how the other newspapers are carrying this. Here are the headlines reporting this exact same story, taken in the order they appear on Google:
  • CDC: HIV rate decreasing in minorities: Provo Daily Herald, UT
  • Washington State HIV/AIDS Advocacy Groups To Protest CDC Names-Based Reporting Recommendation:Kaiser, DC [see, I told you]
  • CDC's AIDS report may be misleading: Miami Herald, FL [they say the effect may be entirely due to more aggressive testing]
  • AIDS: No Time for Complacency: Student Operated Press, FL [focuses on bad numbers for minorities]
  • CDC: Nonwhites more likely to contract HIV : Gwinnett Daily Post, GA [now there's a surprise for you]
  • Populations at Risk of HIV Need Directed Prevention Messages ...: Kaiser, DC
  • HIV/AIDS Programs Devastated by House Budget Vote:, CA [another big surprise]
  • CDC's Latest HIV Stats Show Need for Stepped Up Prevention Efforts ...: Infection Control Today, AZ
  • Overall US HIV Incidence Stable But Significant Racial Differences ...: Medical News Today

Isn't that interesting? Nobody else decided to focus on "gays and bisexual men."

Because it was the least important finding in the entire report.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Jewish Leader Speaks Out Against the "Religious Right"

I'm not even going to comment on this one, but it needs to be on the record as part of our discussion here in Montgomery County. Here's the whole story, from the AP by way of Yahoo News:
HOUSTON - The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism blasted conservative religious activists in a speech Saturday, calling them "zealots" who claim a "monopoly on God" while promoting anti-gay policies akin to Adolf Hitler's.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, said "religious right" leaders believe "unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person."

"What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God?" he said during the movement's national assembly in Houston, which runs through Sunday.

The audience of 5,000 responded to the speech with enthusiastic applause.

Yoffie did not mention evangelical Christians directly, using the term "religious right" instead. In a separate interview, he said the phrase encompassed conservative activists of all faiths, including within the Jewish community.

He used particularly strong language to condemn conservative attitudes toward homosexuals. He said he understood that traditionalists have concluded gay marriage violates Scripture, but he said that did not justify denying legal protections to same-sex partners and their children.

"We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations," Yoffie said. "Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry."

The Union for Reform Judaism represents about 900 synagogues in North America with an estimated membership of 1.5 million people. Of the three major streams of U.S. Judaism — Orthodox and Conservative are the others — it is the only one that sanctions gay ordination and supports civil marriage for same-gender couples.

Yoffie said liberals and conservatives share some concerns, such as the potential damage to children from violent or highly sexual TV shows and other popular media. But he said, overall, conservatives too narrowly define family values, making a "frozen embryo in a fertility clinic" more important than a child, and ignoring poverty and other social ills.

One attendee, Judy Weinman of Troy, N.Y., said she thought Yoffie was "right on target."

"He reminded us of where we have things in common and where we're different," she said.

Yoffie also urged lawmakers to model themselves on presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who famously told a Houston clergy group in 1960 that a president should not make policy based on his religion.

On other topics, Yoffie asked Reform synagogues to do more to hold onto members, who often leave after their children go to college. He also said the Reform movement, which is among the most accepting of non-Jewish spouses, should make a greater effort to invite spouses to convert. Jewish Leader Blasts 'Religious Right'

The CRC's Informational Meeting

I gave the CRC a hard time this week for announcing an "informational meeting" where they would explain their "medically accurate" viewpoint and promote a "scientifically fact-based" curriculum, and prove how "tolerant" they are. It appeared that they had noticed people like our message better than theirs ... and so they stole it.

Yesterday they had their meeting, and it was hard to tell whether they brought in the wrong speakers, or have simply adopted TeachTheFacts' perspective for how the Montgomery County sex education curriculum should go. Let me tell you about it.

A few of us from our side attended the meeting. It began with the usual silliness from Michelle Turner, their President, a PowerPoint presentation that made sure to point out that was on the MCPS citizens advisory committee that will evaluate the new curriculum, and they quoted a couple of things I've said here on the blog to prove how unworthy I am (I'm the TTF rep on the committee). She said the stuff we expect, like "Heterosexuals have rights, too," and "tolerance does not necessarily mean approval," and other very wise sayings. Whatever, we taped it, like we taped their last get-together.

Ms. Turner announced again that our group is associated with GLSEN, which, while it might have a kernel of truth -- we have at least one GLSEN member in our Yahoo group -- we don't have any special relationship with them or work for them as CRC likes to imply. And besides, it wouldn't matter if we did work with them. She put up a slide that said that some of our group had had a training session in dealing with the media with some guys from GLAAD, which is true, and absolutely irrelevant. I think she may have thought it was incriminating or something. Basically it's nobody's business if we talk to people, but ... OK, so what? People'd been trying to guess, GLAAD apparently put it on their web site, now you know.

She was followed by Ruth Jacobs, a local doctor who speaks at nearly every single school board meeting, and always talks about gross stuff. Yesterday she talked about rimming and fisting and ingesting feces and told us how dirty sex is and how many germs you can get and described the sores they make. She told us what proportion of gay men (in the 1970's) had more than 1,000 sex partners in their lifetime according to some survey.

If you haven't seen Ruth Jacobs speak, you definitely have to catch it. Yesterday her point seemed to be that the curriculum should include discussion of the risks of sexual behaviors at the same time it describes the behaviors. I have heard that state law requires the disease discussion to go in the disease unit of the health curriculum, but I don't know. That's where it is now. At any rate, it is clear that Dr. Jacobs likes to talk about her patients' private lives and about how disgusting sex, especially homosexual sex, is, and it is never clear how her colorful examples are supposed to affect the health curriculum.

Then Warren Throckmorton talked. Throckmorton is a shrink, a psych professor at a little Christian college in Pennsylvania, and I hate what he does for living. He uses psychotherapy to try to turn gay people straight, and goes around to nutty groups and tells them about how gay people can learn to become heterosexual. Personally, I think the energy would be spent better if it was used to spread tolerance and respect through our society, rather than "helping" persecuted people comply better with those who mistreat them.

But yesterday Throckmorton wasn't talking about that. He talked mostly about research on sexual orientation.

He was good enough to mention that most mental health organizations do not consider homosexuality a disorder, and then noted a section (he cited section 302.9) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that does allow a diagnosis when sexual identity causes distress. (However, I just looked up that category in the DSM, and ... it doesn't say that, in either DSM IV or DSM IV-TR. But ... I'll still give him a few points for telling this group that the other shrinks don't consider being gay to be a disorder.)

Interestingly, Throckmorton talked about some of his patients who have been stereotyped as gay, but aren't gay. OK, that would be a bummer, I don't doubt it. But ... this was a close as he got to talking about "ex-gays" -- is that what they mean, is an "ex-gay" somebody who people used to think was gay but now they don't? Very weird. I mean, if some psychologist wants to help people with that, dealing with people who think they're something they're not, then what's the big deal? This was a long way from saying that gay people become straight.

He did mention that most psychologists feel that sexual orientation does not change very often.

You might remember that Throckmorton and somebody else wrote a report criticizing the Montgomery County curriculum within a few weeks of its being adopted by the school board. It's all up and down the Right Coast of the Internet -- certain people loved it.

Yesterday Throckmorton said his quarrel with the curriculum is that it "didn't give enough nuance" about sexual identity. For instance, there is no solid research that shows the biological factors that cause someone to be attracted to their own sex; likewise, there is no evidence of any environmental causes. And Throckmorton was good enough to go through the major studies and their refutations, not exactly unbiased but quite fair. He concluded that the MCPS curriculum didn't say "enough" (actually, it didn't say anything) about the causes of homosexuality.

He further complained that it didn't go far enough in exploring some of the dimensions of sexual identity. For instance, he noted, it should "distinguish between same-sex attractions and a gay/lesbian identity." It should have discussed more fully the complex interactions between a person's behaviors and their identity, giving the example of women who have female lovers because they feel closer emotionally to another woman, not because they prefer it sexually.

In other words, Throckmorton wanted the curriculum to go into the question of sexual identity much more than it did.

And I was sitting there thinking, wow, that sounds good to me, too. The curriculum that CRC arranged to throw out had a pretty good discussion of sexual identity, went into several dimensions of it, and talked a little bit about sexual orientation. And here's Throckmorton, patron PhD of the CRC, saying the problem is that it didn't go far enough.

He ended his talk by pointing out a 2001 letter written by Jack Drescher, who was chairing the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues, which discussed some controversial research by Robert Spitzer. Spitzer's research is sometimes taken to demonstrate that people's sexual orientation can be changed -- Spitzer had interviewed a number of people who claimed to have gone from gay to straight, and concluded that some of them actually had. Drescher spends a good part of his letter agreeing with everybody else that Spitzer's research is badly flawed and cannot support his conclusions. But Throckmorton put this paragraph of Drescher's on the screen:
I know Dr. Spitzer plans to respond to you himself and I am confident he will make his own thoughts clear about the misuse of his study by political and religious groups opposed to gay and lesbian civil rights. Despite our differing interpretations of his study, both Dr. Spitzer and myself are of the opinion that there is a small group of people whose sexual orientation can change, sometimes even without any therapy. But neither of us believe that everyone's sexual orientation can change. To claim that everyone can change or that everyone should change is simply not true. To scientifically argue for that position in opposition to gay and lesbian civil rights is not only a misuse of Dr. Spitzer's study but a travesty of science itself.

OK, I'm good with that. I think I have been consistent on this web site. If somebody thinks they have to go straight they're certainly free to try it. And if it works, cool, I hope they're happy. And if it doesn't work, which is almost always, that's fine, too, and I hope they come to accept themselves as they are.

After Throckmorton's talk there were questions. Ms. Turner got in a good one. Somebody asked if anybody knew about the people on the new citizens committee, and she said, "I know one, and they don't have a medical background."

Mmm, like their nominee does, right?

(I don't think it's particularly vain to assume that she may have meant me. My doctorate is in social psychology, not medicine.)

In response to one question, Throckmorton argued that the "new" curriculum (now thrown out) implied that a person is born with their sexual identity (in reality the curriculum didn't speculate on the question), and that "you should take that identity if you have those feelings." Now, that is a subtle point, and I kind of like it. Your stated identification is another axis of sexual identity; just like a person doesn't walk around thinking every second what color eyes they have, you can be gay or straight but not consider it an important part of your identity. Really, I think part of the reason "being gay" is such a big deal is because nutty people make such a big deal out of it, right? What if nobody cared? That would be good to me. Just love who you fall in love with, and don't think twice about it. That could be part of a health class, I guess.

There were more questions, mostly the usual whining about how unfair everybody is to the CRC. At one point, interestingly, Ms. Turner did mention that they had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the criteria used by the board to select people for the citizens committee, but the board had refused to provide it. Hey, nice try, they didn't respond to our FOIA either.

At another point, Peter Sprigg, the Family Research Council guy who is PFOX's representative on the committee, expressed a concern that the committee was going to be "marginalized," and not have a very important role in the development of the curriculum. Uh, I believe I have said that myself before...

In the question-and-answer period, a lady raised her hand and had this interaction with Throckmorton:
Q: Can you clarify how presenting what you were presenting today benefits from the CRC perspective? To me, it's appearing that we give a diluted version of what we want to present and make us a little more ambiguous, rather than a stronger position.

TH: My point is, at least with the science we have, it is ambiguous. We need to be accurate when we teach things to kids, and not let the, I suppose, our feelings make it seem more strong than the science would let it be. And so, I think we're gonna view this as something [unintelligible], let's present what we know, and then when we don't know, let's say we don't know.

Q: That's also assuming though that we basically have lost already, that we cannot prevent them from adding this to the curriculum, is that what you're saying?

TH: I'm only saying that, at least from my perspective, if something's going to be taught, that takes a particular perspective, as I felt the old curriculum did, then we need to balance it with accurate factual information.

Q: I think you ought to clarify exactly what the old curriculum perspective was.

... [some chatter] ...

TH What I am saying here is that there is a good bit more uncertainty about that, and if students are presented with a view that you're either homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, and this is kind of who you are from the beginning and it's always gonna be that way, I think that's an inaccurate picture of what we know right now. And so if we're gonna do anything, which they were doing, then I want to try to balance it out with factual information about what science teaches. There might not be a need to do all of what I have here. But if the school system's going to do one thing they need to do another.

Q: What is the strategy then for even getting this in to their consideration, given what we just said about the advisory committee?

[Other person]: -- Michelle, maybe you can address the CRC perspective ... [discussion drifts off into pity-party]

Well, as you can imagine, I was sitting there thinking what an interesting twist to the plot this was. In case you don't remember, the CRC's last public meeting had all these extremist speakers saying everything terrible about gay people they could possibly dream up. It was purely venomous, and the CRC's officers tried to say afterwards that their views weren't really that extreme. Honestly, I had expected more of the same yesterday. But here they were, hearing the science, hearing from their own guy that their bigotry was not supported by the research; there they sat, admitting that they've "lost already."

I think this is similar to the current meltdown of the Republican Party at the federal level. You had the nutty ones running the show, and at first the brainy conservatives liked that because it meant they got a lot of votes and could do what they wanted. But then it turned out that the nuts really thought they should make decisions and impose their ways on everybody, and the intelligent ones had to put a stop to it. In the CRC, the haters have gotten the attention of the extremist media, but the people of Montgomery County do not accept their views. Oh, you can package a sound-bite about how parents should have control of the children's education or how your "family values" are being violated, but when you get down to it, most folks around here want to treat gay people fairly, and want their kids to learn the truth, not some bizarre religious interpretation of things.

They set out to overthrow the status quo altogether, but the best they'll do in reality is to move the compromise a little bit one way or the other. As it should be.

I found myself raising my hand to speak. And here's what I said, in its entirety, for the record:
I'm Jim Kennedy, I'm the TeachTheFacts representative on the citizens advisory committee that we're talking about. I sometimes hear people say that sexual identity is what you learn in the bathtub, and I think that the topic is probably much more subtle and more nuanced than that. I'd have to say after listening to Dr. Throckmorton that I didn't hear anything that I would disagree with and I think I'm hearing a call for more nuance in the understanding of sexual identity, that sexual orientation, sexual role adoption and things like that are orthogonal dimensions and students can learn these concepts and learn to identify the features of their social landscape, including their own identities in a reasonable and scientifically informed way. So as I'm sitting on the committee, even though I'm the bad guy, I know, I'm in total agreement with what I'm hearing today from Dr. Throckmorton.

I'll admit, it was a little weird agreeing with them. I had gone to the meeting expecting the worst, after the last one. But at least Throckmorton's part was OK. He may be a little creative with his diagnostic categories and treats people for something that's not wrong with them, I'm not saying he's my hero all of a sudden, but his talk yesterday was just fine, as far as I'm concerned.

I agree with Warren Throckmorton, let's look at the research, let's not go beyond it. As MCPS develops new curriculum outlines for the sexual variation units, let them go to the scientific and medical literature, and let them put together a fact-based course that challenges students and brings them forward into the world. Open their minds, don't harangue them with silly stuff.

This controversy is not really one between people who want X and people who want Y. There are both X and Y in the world, and a compromise is not only possible but necessary. The controversy is between people who want to talk about it and people who don't. As I review Throckmorton's talk, in fact I don't agree with every word he said, but I agree with saying it. We might shift the boundaries back and forth, that's fine with me, we might say "abstinence" more or less times or go into more or less detail about some phenomenon. But to say sex is dirty and disgusting and we shouldn't teach students about it, to say that gay people are immoral and dirty and we don't need to teach students about sexual orientation, to say that knowing how to use a condom will only encourage kids to become wildly promiscuous and we shouldn't teach students about them ... no, I don't buy into that.

If they want to open up the journals of science and lay the knowledge on the table, pick and choose what is appropriate for a middle-school or high-school health class, debate where the focus and the emphasis should be, well, yes, that's what this should be about.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Evangelicals In Decline, Worried

There's no dancing around it, religion cuts through the center of our controversy here in Montgomery County. The "other guys" don't like to be called religious zealots but the fact is, the cases against teaching about sexual variation and safe sex are based on religious arguments.

Today we read in Agape Press, the evangelical Christian online publication, that the evangelicals are concerned about what young people believe. Sure, 86 per cent of them believe in God -- but is that enough? This article is a sort of "book report" -- it's not a book review really, just reports on the contents of a book that talks about a survey of religious attitudes that was done with American teenagers.

Some of the survey results are alarming ... if you're, uh, one of these guys.
... But if the religious lives of teens in the U.S. seem encouraging on the surface, there are troubling currents beneath the foamy whitecaps. As researchers probed deeper, what they found should shake churches to the core.

Barna, for example, after noting that 86 percent of teenagers claimed that they believed in God, asked, "But what is the nature of the God they embrace?"

A strange god indeed, as it turns out. In his book, Third Millennium Teens, Barna revealed this stunning fact: 63 percent of church-going, supposedly Christian teens said they believed "Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and all other people pray to the same God, even though they use different names for their god."

In other critical areas of Christian doctrine -- e.g., the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, the reality of absolute truth -- the majority of church-going teenagers simply do not hold to views that are orthodox. A Strange Faith -- Are Church-Going Kids Christian?

Now ... I don't know what to say here. It apparently goes without saying among these folks that the gods of the Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Jews are different gods. Or, possibly, there's only one God, and "we" know who He is.

But just a second. Are they saying the God of the Jews is a different God from the one that the Christians worship? When did they switch that? And the Moslems -- Islam is an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism and Christianity. I would be interested to see what Jewish and Moslem scholars say on this point -- my guess is that the question is not as simple as these guys imply. Never mind the Buddhists. Actually, I'll give them that one, I don't think you'll find much about the biblical God in the Buddhist texts.

And that "reality of absolute truth" thing, I'm not going to criticise that, if they want to believe it, then cool. I will complain though when they make decisions that affect me, based on an "absolute truth" that only they understand, especially when their truth runs against empirical evidence. Yes, I will resist that, even while I support their right to think that way.
To obtain a clearer picture of what youth actually believe, Barna used specific questions in his polling that were designed to allow a peek behind more generalized answers such as, "Yes, I believe in God." For example, in determining if a teenager is actually an evangelical Christian, Barna Research asked nine questions which focus on core evangelical beliefs, such as whether or not a person believes salvation is possible by grace alone.

Using this more probing method, Barna found that only 4 percent of U.S. teens can be considered evangelicals. More distressingly, that number is actually trending in the wrong direction. That 4 percent figure "is a far cry from the 10 percent measured in 1995," he said.

Mmm, OK, I would have used a different set of adjectives and adverbs there, but ...

It is very interesting to find that, once you look under the surface a little bit, only four per cent of teenagers turn out to be hard-core evangelical Christians. Down from 10 percent ten years ago. Didn't you have the feeling there were more of them than there used to be? Somehow, with all their success, taking over the federal government and everything else, their numbers are declining. They don't give you the number, but it sounds like somewhere between four and ten percent of Americans might qualify for inclusion in this religious category today. Note: that's not very many people. (The argument that gay people are "abnormal" because they comprise a small percentage of the population takes on a new significance.)
Whether we blame parents, church leaders, the kids themselves, the culture, or some combination, one thing seems clear: Apparently, many church-going teens are not being challenged by the preaching and teaching of the true Gospel. How else can one explain the overwhelming assumption among teens that they are Christian, when they clearly are not?

Now there's a problem for you. These evangelicals really don't feel like the more moderate Christians are actually Christians.

This is America, these guys are free to believe whatever they believe, and I am not going to make any statement judging their faith or the things that they hold to be true. That's their business, and I couldn't care less. But I will admit that their behavior -- not their belief, but their insistence on forcing their views on everyone around them -- has earned them the title you often see: America's Taliban. I think I am as surprised as they are to see that their numbers in the population are actually dropping, and I think it is surprising, maybe even amazing, that such a tiny group can have so much effect on daily life in a society like ours.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Undermining Public Schooling

Doesn't it seem weird to have a web site like, incorporated and everything, with a Board of Directors and a bunch of officers, and a busy blog like Vigilance, and everybody getting emotional and arguing? And across town, another web site about the same thing, taking a different view, and bad-mouthing and saying things and trying to get on the news and threatening to recall the school board... I mean, c'mon, we're talking about a couple of health classes here, who could really care?

Well, really, there's a lot of other stuff going on.

Our health classes are parallel to those biology classes where the same type of ideologues want to teach creationism instead of science. As you know, over in Kansas they got a nutty school board in place, and they voted to make the switch, replace science with ghost stories. That was bad, as one of them said, Kansas is now a laughingstock, and there is some question about what happens to those students when they apply to universities that expect them to have had an education in science.

That was only last week, and now, just look over there and you'll see where this is heading. The Lawrence [Kansas] Journal-World reports:
Topeka — Education Commissioner Bob Corkins and State Board of Education member Connie Morris promoted charter schools on a two-day tour of western Kansas that ended Tuesday.

But the subject didn’t go over so well, according to folks who attended the meetings.

“It was not a warm and fuzzy meeting at all,” said Marvin Selby, superintendent of the Goodland school district.

“We certainly found out what their agenda is,” said Wes Fox, a history teacher at Liberal High School. “It is to promote charter schools.” Corkins, Morris not well-received in tour out west

I think it's about time to pause and look into this "charter school" business a little bit.

So what's that about?
Corkins has promoted changing Kansas law to allow more charter schools, which are schools that are not subject to some of the same rules and regulations as a traditional public school. Morris has spoken in favor of starting a charter school to help students start their own businesses.

Corkins also supports voucher plans that would allow at-risk or special-needs students to receive state tax assistance to attend private schools. He said the move to more charter schools and vouchers would improve education by increasing competition and giving parents more choices for their children’s education.

It is nothing less than an attack on the institution of public schooling in America, and, I think, an attack on intellect as a cultural institution.

Groups like the CRC hammer at a local school district with a win-win strategy. For them. They will insist on some absurd thing, like intelligent design, or "ex-gays," and they will whine and complain and make everybody miserable about it. If the school district gives in, as they did in Kansas, and provides this crazy stuff, then ordinary people will want to send their kids somewhere besides the public schools. If they don't, then the religious extremists can be indignant and threaten to pull all their kids out of the public schools, as the Southern Baptists nearly did recently.

Either way, public education is undermined. I really don't like where this goes, and hope the people of Montgomery County are paying attention.

When You're Wrong, Change

There was a letter in The New York Times yesterday that sort of summed up, in very few words, what's going to have to happen.
To the Editor:

During the Enlightenment, people witnessed the creation of science as a distinct method of producing valid and reliable knowledge that is so fundamental to contemporary society. Today, we find that sentiment most keenly expressed by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, when he writes, "If science proves some beliefs of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change" ("Our Faith in Science," Op-Ed, Nov. 12).

Imagine the possibilities for peace and progress if all religious leaders, the Kansas Board of Education and the president of the United States were as enlightened.

Andrew Pleasant
Highland Park, N.J., Nov. 12, 2005

Science is constantly testing the validity of knowledge, rejecting ideas and adopting new ones, with scientists building upon the work of their predecessors and colleagues in the quest to enhance the state of human knowledge.

Religion in the United States is attached to ancient texts, which are frequently ambiguous, metaphorical, and, in explaining observed features of the natural world, those ancient texts are frequently incorrect. I think truly devout believers realize this, and love the scriptures anyway for their vitality and wisdom, but some find themselves committed to the position of believing statements that are demonstrably false, and find themselves emphasizing some passages while ignoring others that are inconvenient -- when was the last time we stoned an adulterer?

People have the right in America to believe in such a way, and nobody really minds if people hold beliefs that contradict fact. But when it comes to developing classroom material for the public schools, this is not where we need to go for information. As MCPS develops curriculum on the topic of sexual variation, there is no place for anti-gay moralism which is based on a few biblical verses. There is, of course, no place for pro-gay sentiment, either, but no one has ever proposed that. The schools need to describe a situation where some people are attracted to members of their own gender, and those people, being people, deserve our empathy and respect just like anyone else. No more, and no less.

[Note: edited 11:27 for correctness, had the wrong paper.]

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

But What's the Plan?

Here's just a little something, just a question, really; some discussions in our comments section leave me wondering about some stuff.

Let's say you don't like gay people. OK, there are lots of people like that, they think it's wrong, they think it's gross and dirty, they think gay people spread diseases or are immoral, they think everybody should be "normal," they think gay people are all sissies, or whatever. Some people just feel weird about it and don't have any reason.

Given that, what would be your recommendations for a sex education class?

That's the question here, not whether it's cool or not, but what the schools should teach.

The schools teach about communism and fascism, viruses and plagues, wars, slavery, and irrational numbers without a second thought, so there is obviously nothing wrong with talking about things that are un-nice. Nobody complains about that stuff, ever. Learning about communism doesn't turn you into a communist, and you can even learn about it without approving of it.

What would possibly be wrong with teaching students to identify some of the major dimensions of sexual variation? So they learn that some boys and some girls are more masculine and some are more feminine -- so what? They know that anyway, intuitively, we are simply giving them some terminology to use, and giving them a way to think about it clearly. So they learn that some men are attracted to other men, and some women to women -- so what? It's a fact, even if you think gay people are terrible, mean, and nasty. So what could be wrong with discussing a simple fact of the real world?

Does anybody really think that if you don't talk about it, it will go away?

Does anybody think it is better not to know about things, that ignorance is somehow preferable to knowledge?

Or do they really think that learning about homosexuality in health class will make children gay? They do say that, but can anybody really mean it?

It's all fine for people to parade their indignation, to go to the school board and the media and tell everyone that their moral values are so lofty that they find these concepts to be simply reprehensible. But they can't really say these things don't exist, and they can't say they would exist less if we didn't talk about them.

The important thing: simply expressing moral outrage doesn't give us any information about how to teach the topic in school.

Without any plan of action, an observer might conclude that the whole point in complaining is for them to assert their own superiority.

The Montgomery County school district had a good plan, a curriculum outline that was very moderate, that brought up important topics without dwelling on them, that gave students information in a cool, objective way that would have empowered them to make smart decisions about themselves and the world around them. This plan would have made our children happier, healthier, and wiser. It was supposed to go into production this year, but instead the county has had to wait while a small group of moralistic crybabies complained.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Trouble in Charles County

Down in Charles County, Maryland, there's no need for any religious extremists to threaten the school board and take them to court and drag in all the Family Blah Blah groups to undermine their sex education curriculum. The nuts don't have to attack the school board there -- the Charles County school board respoonds to nuts in other counties: ours. Here's The Post:
For more than a year now, members of the Charles County school board have been watching Montgomery County. They saw the proposed sex education curriculum last year that included discussions of homosexuality and videos on using condoms. They looked on as impassioned parents fought all the way to federal court to kill the program.

And after they had seen enough, the Charles board members took a vote to make it official: They didn't like what they saw.

So the Charles Board of Education drew up a list of positions on the subject: in favor of laws to restrict teachers from discussing homosexuality, to emphasize abstinence and to oppose demonstrations of how to put on a condom. Taking No Chances on Sex Ed

Well, first of all, let me note that the "impassioned parents" who fought the curriculum in Montgomery County were mostly not parents of public school students -- and ... is "impassioned" the best you can do? How about something more vivid, like "hypocritical," or maybe "delusional?" Also, it's a little weird to say they "fought all the way to federal court," when actually they went directly to federal court after the the public turned against them.

But can you imagine? Just imagine your school board saying, oh, we don't want that kind of trouble in our beautiful county, so we're just going to be sure we don't do anything that might anger those people. Well, I'm sure Montgomery County's radicals like it, like a kid who learns he can get what he wants just by throwing a tantrum.
Not all board members agreed with the preemptive move.

"I thought we wasted valuable time talking about sex ed when it's not even a problem in Charles," said board member Donald M. Wade. "Even if it was an issue, we need the input from parents before we, as a few members on the board, start dictating what we want in the schools."

I don't know about Charles County, but where we live, public input only hurts the anti-gay, anti-safe-sex side. Most people here understand that some of our neighbors are gay, we don't hate them for it, it doesn't frighten us, and we want people to learn to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of diseases. The decision that was made last year to adopt the new curriculum was an excellent reflection of the sentiments of Montgomery County, not extreme but not naive either. Maybe it's different down there in CC, I don't know.
Some teachers said they were particularly alarmed by the board's support of "legislation restricting instructors from discussing sexual lifestyles (i.e., bisexuality, homosexuality, etc.)" and equated it to supporting a gag order on teachers.

"My question is: If a kid raises a question in class, what do I do?" said James Campbell, who taught a family life course for 13 years at McDonough High School. "Do I just say, 'Sorry, I can't answer that'?"

Young called that notion ridiculous. "Nobody's saying a teacher can't answer a question," she said. "We're saying we don't want a curriculum that purposefully discusses alternate sexual lifestyles in a positive way."

Uh, yeah, that's so much better. That way, kids can just learn about these things on the playground, and your sacred stereotypes won't be threatened.
Many of the proposals on the legislative list are already in place in Charles. The school system uses an abstinence-based curriculum to teach sex education in health classes. In ninth grade, students must receive parental approval before taking a health class that includes such subjects as sexually transmitted diseases, dating and birth control but emphasizes abstinence as the safest choice, said Darlene Kahl, who coordinates the county health curriculum.

The Charles school board drew much attention last year for a "brainstorming" list that included suggestions to eliminate science books that are "biased toward evolution" and to offer Bibles to students. Some people who criticized those ideas believe that the ongoing selection of a new board member behind closed doors will make the board even more conservative.

They what? And they're afraid it's going to become more conservative?/

I'm just glad I don't live there.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Condoms: The Research Must Be Wrong

There were two big things the whiners didn't like about the curriculum that was developed for MCPS last year. One, of course, was that it talked about gay people without saying how disgusting they are. The other thing was that video -- they just hated the fact that tenth graders would learn the proper way to choose and use condoms.

They keep making this big point that condoms are ineffective. The main argument they make is that condoms don't protect against all human papillomavirus (HPV). And that would be because that virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact of any kind, not just sex. You'd have to wrap your whole body in rubber to protect a hundred percent against HPV.

It's not just in Montgomery County. This "condoms don't work" thing is a mantra for all the Family Blah Blah Blah groups, all the nuts keep saying they don't work.

This Republican congressman, Tom Coburn, got the FDA to do some studies to prove they don't work. Those results are in. Here's the New York Times telling us about it:
WASHINGTON, Nov. 10 - Used correctly, latex condoms greatly reduce the risks of pregnancy and disease, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday in a 63-page report.

Prepared in response to a five-year-old law, the report is to form the basis for labels for condom packaging and provide more up-to-date information about effectiveness.

The federal drug regulators found that latex condoms are "highly effective" at preventing infection by H.I.V., gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis and hepatitis B, largely because all of these diseases are spread through penile contact.

But the agency noted that condoms seem to be less effective against genital herpes, human papillomavirus, syphilis and chancroid because lesions from these diseases may appear on skin not covered by condoms, the report said. F.D.A. Reports Reduced Risks With Condoms

Now, you know the reason the CRC and their colleagues don't want to teach students how to use a condom is that they're just sure this information will cause kids to run right out and start having wild sex. They'd rather risk an epidemic of STDs than to say anything about safe sex to a teenager.

This report is really about what kinds of warning labels should go on latex condom packages. I guess up till now there wasn't any warning, but these congressmen decided condoms are so dangerous they need a warning label. So if somebody thought condoms were the perfect prevention for everything, they just might pause to read the label, and find that they only protect the skin under the rubber. You can still catch diseases that are spread by sneezing, even if you wear a condom.

If you want to read the report it's HERE. Not the most exciting piece of literature you're likely to encounter, I'll tell you.

Here's something that drives me crazy, and you see this all the time these days. These self-righteous folks think that wanting something to be true makes it true. For instance: they want condoms to be ineffective. This congressman asked for this research to be done just to prove that what he thought was true was really true.

And then the FDA did the research and found out condoms do just what they're supposed to do, which was not what the congressman wanted to hear.

Could he have been wrong?

Of course not. That's not how it works. The research must be wrong.
But Senator Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who sponsored the legislation that produced the report, immediately criticized its contents.

"Today's misleading recommendations by the F.D.A. are the latest example where the agency has put the public at risk by providing inaccurate information about condoms," said Mr. Coburn, a physician who has said that condom labels provide exaggerated and dangerous reassurance that condoms protect against sexually transmitted disease.

There you go. See how that works?

Science and Two Types of Religion

We keep a pretty close eye on the evolution-versus-creationism debate here, because it is exactly parallel to our controversy. That issue is perhaps a little easier to understand, because it is a pure case of religious extremists disrespecting science. There isn't much to discuss as far as the subject matter goes, if you take the fundamentalists' literal view of the Bible then you reject Darwin, and if you do research in the life sciences you reject Genesis as an explanation for how we got here.

The sex-ed situation is a little tougher, because science is still trying to understand the ontogeny of sexual orientation. Why does a person grow up to be gay? The question is still under investigation. We have a tendency to think of science as a sort of repository of facts, but really, science is a method for finding the answers to questions. As techniques and theories that inform present-day genetics and neuroscience are still quite new, those sciences are still asking more questions than they're answering. And I don't think the controversy will settle down until we get those kinds of answers, mechanistic, low-level explanations for variation in sexual orientation.

As you know, up in Dover Pennsylvania the people decided they weren't going to support their school board's attempt to replace scientific course content with religious dogma. They voted all eight members of their school board out, replaced the whole bunch of them.

Pat Robertson has something to say about that:
Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them on Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck.


"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said. Televangelist Robertson Warns Town of God's Wrath

Personally, this doesn't strike me as the most ... sophisticated ... kind of religion. Hey, here's a total change of subject, when athletes on two opposing teams both pray for victory, what do they really expect God to do?

Anyway, Pat's pretty sure Dover Pennsylvania's toast.

But it's not that simple. This story didn't get a lot of notice last week, but it certainly affects the shape of the landscape:
VATICAN CITY -- A Vatican cardinal said Thursday the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, made the comments at a news conference on a Vatican project to help end the "mutual prejudice" between religion and science that has long bedeviled the Roman Catholic Church and is part of the evolution debate in the United States.


"The faithful have the obligation to listen to that which secular modern science has to offer, just as we ask that knowledge of the faith be taken in consideration as an expert voice in humanity."


Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican project STOQ, or Science, Theology and Ontological Quest, reaffirmed John Paul's 1996 statement that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis."

"A hypothesis asks whether something is true or false," he said. "(Evolution) is more than a hypothesis because there is proof." Vatican: Faithful Should Listen to Science

Reading the news stories about this, you can tell that the Church is still a little jumpy after they denounced Galileo for insisting that the earth goes around the sun nearly five hundred years ago. And I'm glad they learned from that experience.

Religion and science answer different kinds of questions, and it is only when one tries to comment in the other's domain that they come into conflict. Questions that can be addressed by the methods of science must be falsifiable. That means there must be something that can be done, an experiment or some kind of observation or something, that can clearly show that a theoretical statement is false. It's not enough to demonstrate that a statement is true -- in Karl Popper's famous example, no matter how many white swans you see, you can't say with certainty that all swans are white. Observing one black swan, though, proves the statement false. So the methods of science are focused on disproving hypotheses.

Religious statements generally are not falsifiable. What experiment would disprove the existence of God? There is none possible. Miracles may provide evidence in support of religious views, but really those are like white swans, they don't prove anything. Religious statements are taken on faith, not evidence. That is certainly not to say they are any less important, or any less valid, in their own domain. Knowlege by faith and empirical knowledge are just two different kinds of things, and apply in different circumstances.

But of course it is possible to go out on a limb and make falsifiable religous statements. For instance, the statement that the world was made in seven days is a falsifiable statement -- it's not about faith, it's about the observable world. Similarly, the statement that all animals living today are descended from Noah's passengers -- falsifiable.

It goes both ways. I see scientists make claims about consciousness, for instance, which is unobservable, and those statements are not falsifiable. Consciousness is a matter of faith, we have no evidence that a being is or is not conscious. And it seems to me that scientists who theorize about consciousness are not only out of bounds, but ... wrong.

I'm afraid that as long as people insist that everything in the Bible must be taken literally, there will be conflict between religion and science. There must be a way to interpret scripture so that its domain is understood, it must be understood that religion is about spirituality and not about the physical world, and it does look like the Catholic Church is aware of the conundrum and is being very reasonable in looking for a path that avoids a showdown between faith and fact. This is a tough one, and I totally sympathize with those who are unwilling to give up beliefs about God's effects in the world, but as science keeps marching forward it is simply an insult to the intelligence of the human race to cling to prehistoric myths. The Catholics seem aware of the potential train-wreck, have figured out who will win a debate between fact and fairy-tale, and are proactively defining their beliefs to be in accordance with fact.

Pat Robertson, on the other hand ...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Lying to the School Board

I was musing about Michelle Turner's comments to the school board yesterday. Ms. Turner, you know, is the president of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, the suers who got a 10-day restraining order against last year's progressive new sex-ed curriculum.

We know they've been saying they want to sue again, and so when we saw her name on the speakers' list at the board meeting we figured she was going to sternly warn the board about their intentions. She didn't do that. Instead she ... rambled. And lied.

Recall that this week she sent out a note, which I wrote about below, where she claimed that CRC was on the side of "tolerance" and "inclusiveness" and even "scientific fact-based" education. I teased her about using that old trick, and laughed it off.

OK, that was Tuesday morning early, six-ish, when she sent out that note, which said:
If you are interested in demonstrating your support for a MCPS health education curriculum that is scientifically fact-based and promotes tolerance for all people...

and told you to check out their web site and go to their meeting and stuff.

By 10:30 that same Tuesday morning, she was telling the school board this:
"Tolerance" is the same excuse being used here in MCPS for developing a curriculum that promotes homosexuality as "mainstream", as Mrs. Cox asserted here several months ago.


I thought they liked tolerance.

I guess she changed her mind through the course of the morning sometime.

That was bad, but check this out.

Her talk started like this (I have her printed copy in front of me);
A recent Time Magazine article on homosexuality and teens has raised some disturbing questions with regard to an organization known as GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network).

The article "Coming Out at 10" reports "homosexual activists are recruiting kids into homosexual sex and a gay' identity, using 'tolerance' as a ruse. The average age of kids 'coming out is 10 for boys and 12 for girls, according to the chair of Cornell University's human-development program."

Now, listen, sometimes this stuff actually makes me angry. Compare these two statements, quoting the professor from Cornell.

First, Ms. Turner:
The average age of kids 'coming out is 10 for boys and 12 for girls, according to the ... [Cornell professor]

Now, here's what Time magazine said:
In the 1960s, gay men recalled first desiring other males at an average age of 14; it was 17 for lesbians. By the '90s, the average had dropped to 10 for gays and 12 for lesbians, according to ... [the Cornell professor]

Listen, those are not the same thing. "Coming out" means declaring to the world that you are gay. An adult remembering the first time he felt attracted to another man is an entirely different thing.

She wants you to think someone is encouraging gay kids to express their homosexuality at a younger age. The professor is saying that they seem to be experiencing same-sex desire at a younger age. Nothing about "coming out." Kids are growing up younger, he's saying. Do you doubt it?

How do they do this? This is Flat Out Lying. And they claim to be the moral ones! It is outrageous.

But look at how she began her quote. She told you about a Time article. Then she said, "The article, 'Coming Out at 10' reports ..." blah blah blah.

Now, the article which she is clearly quoting is not called "Coming Out at 10." A search for that phrase on Google finds nothing at Time at all.

OK, that could be a ... typo. Yeah, that's the ticket. The article she is misquoting from is called "The Battle Over Gay Teens."

The stuff in quotes about "homosexual activists are recruiting kids" -- you thought that was in the article, didn't you?

Ha. You're a sucker.

The Time article doesn't say anything about homosexual activists recruiting kids, no matter how much she wants you to think so. She puts it in quotation marks so you'll be sure to think she's quoting the Time article that she says "reports" these facts. She's not. They didn't say these things.

Check it out. Look at the Time article HERE.

That line came from an article by a friend of the CRC, Robert Knight. His article can be found at the Concerned Women for America web site, and starts:
A TIME magazine cover story and a recent pro-homosexual school event should leave no doubt that homosexual activists are recruiting kids into homosexual sex and a “gay” identity, using “tolerance” as a ruse. Time Magazine, School Event Expose Massive Cultural Campaign to Promote Homosexuality to Kids

So she not only lies, she plagiarizes. She stole his sentence for her speech, without attribution.

And none of it was in the Time article.

Well, we know they lie. Their "moral values" allow them to state anything they wish was true as a fact, and to claim other people's words as their own. That's old news.

But, reader, I'd like you to see what they, and I mean "they" -- Robert Knight spoke at their town hall meeting, the Concerned Women for America sent people to their meeting, this is an orchestrated effort -- I want you to notice how they really feel about tolerance.

As Peter Sprigg, another friend of theirs who spoke for them and represents them sometimes, said, on the subject of the moral threat of SpongeBob SquarePants:
"Much of what they have is coded language that is regularly used by the pro-homosexual movement such as 'tolerance' and 'diversity.'" The Baptist Standard

Let them describe themselves as tolerant. We'll keep pointing these things out.

She lied about the professsor saying that boys are coming out at 10; she lied about what the Time article said; and she lied about the CRC appreciating tolerance.

People Reject Nuts

Yesterday's elections show that the 2004 "mandate" has expired, the political capital has been spent, and people are coming back to their senses.

Common Sense Wins in Dover
In Dover, Pennsylvania, the Republican-dominated school board was trying to force Biology teachers to teach creationism as an alternative to evolution. The York Dispatch shows the following totals for board candidates, with all precincts counted -- lists are ranked by number of votes:

6-year terms
B Reinking Dem. 2754
H Mc Ilvaine, Jr. Dem. 2677
B Rehm Dem. 2625
T Emig Dem. 2716
A Bonsell Rep. 2469
J Cashman Rep. 2526
S Leber Rep. 2584
E Rowand Rep. 2547

2-Year Term
L Gurreri Dem. 2623
P Dapp Dem. 2670
J Mc Ilvaine Dem. 2658
E Riddle Rep. 2545
R Short Rep. 2544
S Harkins Rep. 2466

2-Year Unexp
P Herman Dem. 2542
D Napierskie Rep. 2516

In every category, the candidates with a "Rep." next to their name were the incumbents. And in every case, they were voted out of office. Note that the incoming candidates also plan to promote the teaching of "intelligent design," but in a comparative religions course, where it belongs -- not in Biology.

Maine Voters Respect Gay Rights
This year, the state of Maine amended their Human Rights Act by making it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and education based on sexual orientation. There was a challenge to the new law, and they had a referendum. Let the AP tell you about it:
Maine voters decided Tuesday to keep the state´s gay rights law on the books, making Maine the last New England state to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

With tallies from 72 percent of the state´s precincts, votes supporting the gay rights law were ahead 56 percent to 44 percent over those seeking to overturn the law that was approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

The vote "reaffirms the basic values that are intrinsic in Maine," said Gov. John Baldacci, who signed the law earlier this year before it was put on hold by the pending referendum. "Mainers don´t like discrimination ... if it happens to one person it happens to all of us." Maine voters keep gay rights law on the books

This is the third time this has been voted on. The first two times, people didn't accept it. This time, something's changed. Hard to say what.
The difference this time was a change in attitudes, "a strong and consistent message" and involvement of young people in the campaign, said Ted O´Meara of Maine Won´t Discriminate.

"Sometimes these struggles take time," said O´Meara.

Now, this next paragraph of the same news story has the key, I think, to our own situation in Montgomery County, where a radical minority objects to teaching about sexual variation in the public schools:
The issue, which was put to a statewide vote for the third time since 1998, pitted a coalition of mainstream religious and business groups and politicians against a network of Christian church groups that viewed gay rights as an assault on traditional marriage.

I think that's going to be what needs to happen here. The mainstream churches need to stand up to the nutty ones.

Other votes
Of course Democratic candidates won gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey. You knew that already. Says the AP, commenting on the Virginia race:
Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine won a solid victory in GOP-leaning Virginia, beating Republican Jerry Kilgore by more than 5 percentage points. Democrats crowed that Bush's election-eve rally for the former state attorney general only spurred more Kaine supporters to the polls. Democrats Win Elections in N.J. and Va.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, the incumbent Democratic candidate for mayor, Randy Kelly, was beaten badly, getting 31 percent of the vote to his opponent's 69 percent. As the Minneapolis Star-Tribune puts it:
The St. Paul race was overshadowed by partisan fury over Kelly's decision to endorse President Bush for reelection in 2004. A number of polls showed Kelly fighting a backlash in the largely DFL town over the endorsement. A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed that nearly two-thirds of likely voters said Kelly's decision to campaign for Bush influenced their choice of candidate.

The margin of victory seemed likely to mark the worst defeat for any mayoral contender in two decades in St. Paul and ended a 16-year drought among DFL-endorsed candidates there. Coleman and Rybak coast to victory

In California, according to the same AP story:
In California, Schwarzenegger failed in his push to rein in the Democrat-controlled Assembly. All four of his ballot measures flopped: Capping spending, removing legislators' redistricting powers, making teachers work five years instead of two to pass probation, and restricting political spending by public employee unions.

On the other hand, Texas voted to adopt that constitutional ban on marriage.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Thank You All

Just a quick one here. We have an online petition on the corner of the main page of this web site (click "Home" at the top of this page to go there). You can click on it and submit your signature electronically. We get an email every time somebody signs it.

Well, I don't know what's going on, but for about the past week this thing has been going crazy. I don't have time to count them, but there have been dozens of petition signatures this week, mainly from Bethesda and Chevy Chase, but also from other parts of the county.

And thankyou thankyou thankyou to all the good people who support this important cause.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

This morning the President of CRC sent an email out to a bunch of groups, and the message was very ... interesting. They are obviously thinking hard about crafting their message, making bigotry palatable to people, and I think they have got the idea that this "tolerance" and "inclusiveness" stuff that we say over here at just might be something that people like.

Here's how she started her note:
Subject: Sex Ed- A medically accurate and all viewpoint inclusive curriculum as required by Federal and State Law

If you are interested in demonstrating your support for a MCPS health education curriculum that is scientifically fact-based and promotes tolerance for all people, there are several things you can do.

It then told people to go to their web site, attend their meeting, etc.

Let me remind them what their boy Peter Sprigg said this year. Sprigg, you recall, spoke at the CRC town hall meeting last spring, has represented CRC on news shows, and is PFOX's nominee for the MCPS citizens advisory committee. Earlier this year, Sprigg talked about a web page that featured SpongeBob SquarePants in these words:
"Much of what they have is coded language that is regularly used by the pro homosexual movement such as 'tolerance' and 'diversity.'" Evangelicals Warn Parents of Pro-Gay SpongeBob Video

So it's a little surprising that they'd be using those very words.

Look, let's not beat around the bush. When the CRC says they stand for tolerance, they mean "tolerance for intolerance." They tell you again and again how "hateful" we are (one of their members told this to the school board just today, in public comments), because we oppose their effort to marginalize gay people. They criticize our perspective because we "normalize" gay people, that is, we expect them to be treated like normal people. In a sex-ed class, the state has mandated that sexual variation will be discussed, and insists that the curriculum can teach about gay folks without calling them "sodomites" and "deviants," words we have heard CRC members use.

I guess we are intolerant. We do not tolerate the radicals' attempt to "abnormalize" sexual minorities. America has come a long way, and we have learned some important lessons. A hundred years ago, women were not permitted to vote. Fifty years ago, black Americans were discriminated against in every way. Today, some people think it is OK to treat gay and transgender people as if there was something wrong with them.

Well, get over it.

We're glad that CRC realizes that our message of tolerance and inclusiveness is what the people of Montgomery County want. We could worry about them trying to distort it to make it fit their sad mission, but .. there's not much to worry about.

People are smart enough to understand when somebody says "we represent scientific facts and tolerance" and then says the opposite out of the other side of their mouth. For instance. PFLAG -- the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, is a group that brings together family members to understand their gay loved ones. This can be a very difficult situation, as you can imagine, when you realize that the child you love is becoming something you don't understand. And PFLAG exists to help families overcome the difficulty. Listen to how a Steina Walter, member of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, described that group just today at the school board meeting:
PFLAG -- promote high-risk sexual activity and condones medical mutilation of mentally ill, transgendered people.

She is describing a group that is as caring and supportive as you can imagine. But they do believe that people should love their family members, even gay and transgender family members. And so ... does this sound "scientifically fact-based and tolerant" to you?

People know the difference.

It's flattering that they would steal our lines. People in this county really do want tolerance, inclusiveness, and yes, diversity.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

How To Mobilize the Wackos (As They Call Them)

I'll admit, I was a little surprised to find out that the Republican National Committee had been sending somebody to meet with the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum as far back as February. The CRC always likes to say they're just little ol' parents and citizens of Montgomery County, you're not supposed to think they're getting coached by the Big Guys. But there it is, in the minutes of their meeting.

Those minutes only quote the RNC guy saying they were on the right track, and do not go into any detail about what strategy they were really planning.

But we don't have to wonder how they do it. As reported in, a memo was recently read into the public record at a Senate hearing, explaining the Party's approach to getting their way. In this particular case, they were interested in using Indian casinos to launder campaign funds. Michael Scanlon, a former aide to Republican congressman Tom DeLay, sent the memo to the Indian tribe, explaining just what kind of strategy they use to get people to support them.

You will recognize this. They've used this all over the place, and if you've been following our story you will recognize that this is exactly what they have been trying to pull here in Montgomery County. Salon quotes the GOP's memo:
"The wackos get their information through the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees," Scanlon wrote in the memo, which was read into the public record at a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them."

See how easy that is? You keep it in the churches, in the Christian radio shows that the ordinary public never listens to, you spread it through the Blah-Blah Family Blah-Blah organizations, which nobody pays any attention to, you have web sites and fax numbers and you call people.

And then, when you need to vote something down: bam. Here come the wackos, out of the woodwork.

You've seen that, right?

Think hard. The radical right turns out to vote, the complacent majority stays home ...

The beauty of this is that there's no need for public debate. Most people are caught sleeping, thinking everything's all right, and the "wackos," as the GOP calls them, never have to explain themselves or defend their views, which are often indefensible.

A guy was interviewing me yesterday, and asked something about the Recall Group's first meeting. And he had a point. At that first meeting, December fourth, they didn't talk about the curriculum and what their opinion was supposed to be. No, they had already done that, they knew what they were supposed to think about it. That first meeting was for organizing, it was for action. They formed a media committee, a funding committee, a legal committee ... they had already worked the issue using "the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees..." They only needed to meet face to face to break into subgroups.

These guys organize very quietly, below the radar of the media, where most people never notice. They want the whole thing to slip past you. Then, when you think everything's going along just fine ... they come out of nowhere.

This is why you have to keep your eyes open. This is why you need eternal vigilance.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Palmdale: An Important Ruling on Parents' Rights

There was a very important court ruling a couple of days ago that will affect the entire discussion we are having here in Montgomery County over the implementation of a sex education curriculum. I'm no lawyer, but former citizens advisory committee chair David Fishback is. He has sent Vigilance blog a discussion of the legal implications of this ruling.
Parents do not have "a right to compel public schools to follow their own idiosyncratic views as to what information the schools may dispense. Parents have a right to inform their children when and as they wish on the subject of sex; they have no constitutional right, however, to prevent a public school from providing its students with whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise, when and as the school determines that itis appropriate to do so."

Fields v. Palmdale School District, decided by a unanimous panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on November 2, 2005, affirming the decision of Bush II appointee, United States District Judge James V. Selna.

There may be a lot of press on this decision. You can read it at The portion quoted above is at page 15074.

Much will probably be made of the facts of the Palmdale case. Briefly, the school district decided to do a survey of elementary school children regarding trauma. No student was required to participate, and the letter seeking parental consent explained that the "goal of this assessment is to establish a community baseline measure of children's exposure to early trauma (for example violence),"and warned that "answering some of the questions may make [a child] uncomfortable."

The actual survey approved by the school district included questions about sex. When several parents who had given permission found out about those questions after the survey had been taken, they sued the school district.

Now, this case, on its facts, is not germane to anything in Montgomery County. Here, parents must give explicit permission to have their children take health education units addressing matters of sex, in particular the units on Family Life and Human Sexuality. Not only that, but the curriculum in those units is available to parents, and meetings are held to enable parents to ask questions of the health teachers before parents make their opt-in decisions.

The Palmdale plaintiffs brought their suit on an interesting theory: That the school district had violated a constitutional right of the parents "to control the upbringing of their children by introducing to them matters of and relating to sex." Of course, the clear opt-in provisions followed by MCPS are such that the plaintiffs' theory, if upheld, would never be applicable here.

What is significant for Montgomery County is how the courts decided the matter. The case first went to United States District Judge James V. Selna, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, following his service as a state court judge appointed by Republican former California Governor Pete Wilson. Judge Selna dismissed plaintiffs' claim, finding that they did not assert a violation of a cognizable constitutional right. A unanimous three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

The Ninth Circuit explained that "it is not our role to rule on the wisdom of the School District's actions." I agree that, as a matter of good judgment, the school district should have been more specific about what would be in the survey, but that did not raise constitutional issues. In any event, the Ninth Circuit noted that "there are a number of cases that have upheld the constitutionality of school programs that educate children in sexuality and health," providing examples from the First, Second, and Third Circuit Courts of Appeals.

In Montgomery County, of course, the legal question was not whether MCPS could force children, without their parents' consent, to attend classes focusing on matters relating to sexuality, for that is already prohibited. Rather, the question was whether parents who would choose to withhold permission from their children (or may have already chosen to remove their children from MCPS altogether) could force, by means of litigation, everyone else's children to be deprived of such classes. Thus, contrary to the statements of CRC and PFOX, CRC and PFOX have no legal basis, in the words of the Palmdale decision, to "compel [MCPS] to follow their own idiosyncratic views as to what information the schools may dispense. . . . [T]hey have no constitutional right . . . to prevent a public school from providing its students with whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise, when and as the school determines that it is appropriate to do so."

(I further would note that Palmdale was fully and deliberately litigated before a United States District Court and then was subject to full briefing and argument before a United States Court of Appeals. Thus, the parties had ample opportunity to make their cases, and show flaws in their opponents' arguments. Following this full airing of the issues, experienced jurists, both Republican and Democrat, agreed that plaintiffs' argument had no legal merit. Last May, in contrast, CRC and PFOX manipulated the system such that MCPS had no viable opportunity to respond to their arguments before the court ruled.)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Suers Poised to Sue Again

Oh, those guys are getting mad. Somebody sent us an article from Agape Press, a big commercial Christian web site, talking about how CRC's Florida lawyers are getting so mad about the way things are going on the MCPS citizens advisory committee.

Here's Mat Staver, the lawyer for Liberty Counsel, out of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. He's going to make sure his guys win, whether they have a case or not, because God is on their side. See how happy he is? That's how you look when you just know you're right about everything.

When it came time to apply for membership on the committee, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum decided not to follow the rules. The school board said to submit three nominations: they submitted one. The board said nobody could be on the new committee who'd been on one before: the one name they submitted was a member of the previous committee. Their big point was that they had a legal agreement with the school district, and so they didn't have to follow any other rules. You can read the legal agreement HERE. See what you think. Does it say they can put whoever they want on the committee?

No, in case you're too lazy to follow the link, the legal agreement says the board will select someone.

Anyway, so here they are, whining to the other picked-upon crybabies about how unfair all this is. And the suers are going to sue again, it sounds like:
A parents group is poised to sue the Montgomery County (Maryland) Board of Education for breaking a court-ordered agreement regarding the school system's sex education curriculum.

Saying its nomination guidelines were not followed, the Montgomery County Board of Education recently denied the group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) representation on a curriculum advisory committee overseeing changes to the district's sex ed program. The court-ordered agreement -- which allows CRC and another community group to appoint anyone they choose to the advisory committee -- came after Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the district's comprehensive sex education program. Now the Florida-based legal firm is threatening to sue the board for violating the agreement. Alleged Non-Compliance with Sex Ed Agreement May Result in Another Lawsuit

Ho! They'd better call it "alleged" noncompliance. Because the school district has lived up to every letter of the agreement.

Now, you lazy bum, go back and click on that link I just gave you. Read the entire settlement, and show me where the found the phrase "anyone they choose." They may have thought it was going to say they could "appoint anyone they choose," and maybe they just forgot to write it down. Or maybe they used invisible ink. That would be a pretty funny thing for a lawyer to do, wouldn't it?

The new committee's planning to start without CRC. They've got a seat, just like the settlement agreement says -- there's just nobody sitting in it.

State Law Contradicts Letter, and Weirdness

[Note: this post took a very strange turn as I was writing and researching it. I don't like where it goes, but have every reason to believe that these leads are accurate.]

A few days ago, we talked here about a column in The Washington Post, where some English teachers had assigned reading from a banned-books list, and a small number of parents -- less than five, the school said -- had complained. Of course, the world being what it is today, with Liberty Counsel enforcing political correctness and all, the school retracted that interesting and challenging assignment. I blogged about it HERE in case you didn't see it.

Yesterday there was a letter to the editor in The Post, commenting on that column. It went a little something like this:
Wednesday, November 2, 2005; Page A20

Marc Fisher's Oct. 20 Metro column, "Views of the Few Send a School Into Retreat," about the Cabin John Middle School English teacher who asked eighth-grade honor students to choose a reading assignment from a list of 100 banned or challenged books, missed the point.

Under Maryland law, only books approved for use by the county school system may be used by teachers. Although the standards for acceptability may be too low in some instances, this assignment contravened clear law.

The public should know that the parents who complained about the assignment had the law on their side and that the teacher who gave out the reading assignment had no lawful right to do so.


Maryland Law Banned These Books

I saw that, and it was, like, OK, so that explains that. I thought it was a pretty good assignment, there were a lot of good books on that list, but if it's against the law, I guess they couldn't do it.

We've written about Susan Jamison, the author of this letter, before: HERE. She's the one who sent all those letters to families of students who were going to be in the pilot test of the new sex-ed curriculum. The mailings contained post-cards with return postage paid to the school board and to the MCPS health coordinator, so parents could easily write in and complain about the curriculum and say they wanted to pull their kids out of it.

Unfortunately for Ms. Jamison, a great majority of the letters received at the district offices had her message scratched out, and parents wrote in words to support the curriculum.

Ms. Jamison has described herself as the Director of "Parents Against X-Rated Curriculum in MCPS," or MD-PAX, a group which, by the way, had a representative on the citizens committee that proposed the new MCPS sex education curriculum. So, OK, she's a little extreme, it takes all types, whatever.

After I'd forgotten all about this (I have a short memory), somebody sent me a link to the state laws regarding materials that can be used for assignments.

And guess what: Maryland state law does not say anything about approving reading materials. They leave the whole thing up to the counties.

Here's the law:

...(a) On the recommendation of the county superintendent and subject to the provisions of this article, each county board shall adopt procedures for the selection and purchase of the following necessary items, at the lowest price consistent with good quality, for use in the public schools:
............(2)......Supplementary readers;
............(3)......Materials of instruction;
............(4)......Visual and auditory aids;
............(5)......Stationery; and
............(6)......School supplies.

...(b)......(1)......Each county board shall adopt procedures for the selection and purchase for use in each public school library or media center of a collection of books and auditory and visual materials concerning African American history.
............(2)......The collection in each library or media center shall be appropriate for students in each age group and reading level in the school.
...(c)..... Each county board shall furnish the materials and supplies listed in subsection (a) of this section:
............(1)......Free of cost for use in the public schools; and
............(2)......In sufficient quantities for the different grades in the public schools.

[Dots added for formatting in html]
Maryland State Law

That's the whole thing, as far as selecting and buying books and stuff. I flipped all through the different codes, and I couldn't find anything else remotely related to this topic.

Do you see where it says "only books approved for use by the county school system may be used by teachers"? No, state law empowers the superintendent to recommend books, but there's nothing that says anything at all about restricting school reading to "approved" books. We called the Maryland state school board just to be sure, and talked with someone in the office of Cindy Schaefer, Management Associate in the Office of Academic Policy, and were assured by her assistant that the counties are responsible for defining and implementing those policies and processes.

The Montgomery County school district does have policies regarding instructional materials and library books, where the definition of "library books" seems to include this sort of outside reading, and you can read that HERE. In some cases it is not clear where these policies refer to books for the school libraries, or to any book assigned for reading, so, again, we called the county school district's evaluation department, and were informed that, indeed, the county reviews all materials that are assigned for reading.

The county policy says this:
When the appropriateness of instructional materials or library books is questioned by a parent, student, or staff member, resolution begins at the school level.

The policy then goes on to name the steps to be taken, appeal procedures, stuff like that. It sounds like Cabin John school followed these procedures.

So it appears that the letter to the Post is substantially wrong. There are policies at the county level, and it appears that staff at various levels can sign off on materials, and there is a clear appeal process for parents and others who object to classroom resources. But there's no state law saying you have to do it that way.

Now we're getting to the strange part. When I write about something like this, I often spend a little time looking up information about the topic. Who are the people involved, what organizations are in on it, background information, that sort of thing.

In doing that, I came across an article about Susan Jamison that was published in the Libertarian Socialist News (now in 2001. It says:
Susan Jamison, who came to prominence earlier this year when she filed suit seeking an injunction to stop Montgomery County Public Schools from forcing children to read obscene sexual material, has announced that she will be leading a group of parents in an effort to make the School Board alter their policies. Calling themselves PAX, “Parents Against X-rated [and r-rated] books in Montgomery County Public Schools”, the group has organized, with the help of local religious and community groups, members and volunteers to launch a website and to staff a booth at the County fair demanding change. Public Schools Violate Student Liberties: White Backs Parental Group Organized To Stop Forced Consumption Of Obscenity

I looked up some background on this web site and suddenly this letter to the editor began turning into a trip into the dark side. This article is on a site called The site's "editor" is Bill White. In the site's FAQ, they describe him (e.g., he approves of this text) in this way:
Bill White, born 1977, is the administrator of the far-right, anti-Semitic website, and its news service, Libertarian Socialist News (LSN), formerly the Anarchist News Service, which publishes news of extremist groups. FAQ

At the top of the page is a link to "Join the National Socialist Movement," which, you may know, is the Nazi Party. So, I wondered, why are the Nazis writing about this lady, and announcing the formation of her group?

This same article makes it clear that this is no spurious relationship, this is not a story they picked up from Reuters. Bill White is involved in establishing this MD-PAX group. Regarding Jamison's group,'s article says:
Legislative District 39 candidate Bill White will assist the group in developing a website to inform the public about material that the schools force children to read.

This is the neo-Nazi editor of the web site.
“I am absolutely against public schools forcing children to read material of little or no educational value in order to promote the anti-cultural values of political correctness that define the ruling elite in Montgomery County,” White said today, “The issue here is that there are students who strongly object to the reading material being foisted on them by the NEA and other Democratic party aligned special interest groups, by way of the ultra-political Montgomery County School board, and that these students have turned to their parents to help them fight the political bureaucracy that wishes to impose cultural tyranny upon them.”

OK, this is getting too creepy for me.

Ms. Jamison, if you know of a Maryland law that nobody else can find, that says "only books approved for use by the county school system may be used by teachers," then please, email us here at info at, or put something in the comments below this post. We don't want to be wrong about this, but since we can't find the evidence that supports your assertion, and since everybody we've talked to says otherwise, we are starting to think you were not correct.

[End note: I definitely did not set out to go into Nazi territory on this post, especially right after a post about the Ku Klux Klan. I thought this was just a nutty lady who fires off letters to the editor and does weird things every once in a while. It was only while searching the Internet for background information, in fact it was after I had written half this post, that I stumbled across this very disturbing connection.]

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Texans Plan to Moon the Christian Family Values Rally

We just saw how crazy it is out there in Texas, where they're getting ready to vote to abolish marriage. But, you know, they're not all "like that." To tell you the truth, both my parents were Texans, and I'm wearing a pair of cowboy boots right now -- got my first pair when I was four. My brother once told me that when he went to Texas (we grew up in Arizona) he felt more "at home" than in any other place. I was in San Antonio a couple of years ago, and yeah, I'd say so, too.

Texans tend to be real sensible, in a sort of crazy way.

But they have their nuts, like everybody else. Said nuts are planning to hold a "Christian Family Values" rally in Austin in a couple of weeks. It's all about this gay-marriage issue, you know, they want to support this amendment to the state constitution that will define marriage as a thing between a woman and a man (and then make it illegal). We know how this is, we don't have to look far to see people who share those kinds of beliefs right here in our own little Maryland county.

When they say "Christian Family Values," let's be clear what they mean: the Ku Klux Klan.

But those fine folks in Austin know how to deal with these Christian Family Values-type people. The web site Full Moon Over the Klan is the focus of some organizing to moon the Klan when they come to town:
You are invited to join in
the 2nd* Austin Mooning of the Klan
Saturday, November 5th
Austin City Hall (or nearby depending on where the police make us stand)
from 1-3PM

*The first mooning of the Klan was organized by Texas musician Steve Fromholz in 1993 and proved to be an effective means of making counter protesters smile and Klanspeople cringe.

That's the way to do it. Don't take them seriously, don't let them irritate you, just show them what you think of their "Christian Family Values."

I love that.