Friday, June 30, 2006

Evil Philanthropists Plot Destruction of The Family and Depopulation of the Third World

You have read that multigazillionaire Warren Buffett is giving a ton of money -- more than thirty billion dollars -- to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for philanthropic work. They plan to do good things, fight hunger and poverty, that sort of thing. This sounds like it could be a tremendous force for good in the world -- it makes you wonder if American private entrerprise might be able to undo some of the damage that the American government has done to our reputation as a proud nation over the past few years.

The Gates Foundation mainly works to fight HIV-AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, and to develop rural sub-Saharan Africa. They want to reform secondary education in America and have other ideas about how to improve the state of the world -- this sounds like some cool stuff to me.

Not everybody sees it that way. From the AP:
Warren Buffett's new philanthropic alliance with fellow billionaire Bill Gates won widespread praise this week, but anti-abortion activists did not join in, instead assailing the two donors for their longtime support of Planned Parenthood and international birth-control programs.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to which Buffett has pledged the bulk of his $44-billion fortune, devotes the vast majority of its funding to combating disease and poverty in developing countries. Less than 1 percent has gone to Planned Parenthood over the years.

"The merger of Gates and Buffett may spell doom for the families of the developing world," said the Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, a Roman Catholic priest who is president of Human Life International. Pro-lifers against Buffett-Gates alliance

These religious-right guys have an obsession with Planned Parenthood that I don't get. It seems to me that Planned Parenthood offers a lot of services to women, I always thought it provided something really important, especially to women who don't have a lot of money. One thing you don't need when you're broke is a bunch of babies, and Planned Parenthood is an excellent resource for birth-control pills and other products, and counseling, and other services. You might not like the abortion thing, but it's a lot more than that.

Well, whatever, you know how these guys are, they get a tingle in their panties and they can't stop thinking about it.

But, man: Doom for the families of the developing world. That's bad, right?
Referring to Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi death camp doctor, Euteneuer said Buffett "will be known as the Dr. Mengele of philanthropy unless he repents."

Um, you know, I don't really follow these things, but it sounds like he already is Dr. Mengele to these guys, isn't he?

Hey, and that headline -- is "pro-life" really the most objective term for these one-issue fanatics? Wouldn't "anti-abortion" be better? Why is the Associated Press spreading their sugar for them?
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America issued statements praising Buffett and Gates for their generosity. Gloria Feldt, a former Planned Parenthood president, said she was appalled by the harsh attacks on them.

"What an outrage that these people have the gall to cast aspersions on other citizens for standing up for what they believe," Feldt said Thursday. "They have no right whatsoever to criticize people who put their money where their mouths are."

Isn't there a kind of conservative tradition where you get some millionaires together and they come up with a plan and they do it no matter what anybody else wants, and whether it's legal or not? They call themselves "entrepeneurs" or something, and talk about lifting yourself up by your bootstraps, we don't listen to polls, the free market, blah blah blah.

Well dudes, this time the "entrepeneurs" are the good guys -- sorry.
The foundation founded by Buffett, and now named after his late wife, Susan, came under fire from some anti-abortion groups in the 1990s after it gave $2 million to fund clinical trials of mifepristone, more commonly known as the RU-486 abortion pill. The foundation also has supported various abortion-rights and family-planning groups, and Susan Buffett was eulogized after her death in 2004 as a champion of women's reproductive health.

What --? Two million dollars? Let me do some math here, mmm, hghgh, ding-ding-ding, uh, that's a little more than 0.000045 -- more than forty-five ten-thousandths of one percent -- of Buffett's money went into testing this drug. The man has gone over the edge!

But that's all Gates and Buffett do, right? Just evil stuff.
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, wrote a commentary this week holding the Buffetts partially responsible for the approval of RU-486 in 2000.

"Since then, approximately 500,000 American babies have been killed with RU-486," Perkins wrote. "Buffett's billions have the potential to do damage like this on a global scale."

Right. Isn't the Family Research Council's plan the one where third-world babies are born and then die from AIDS in a few years as God's punishment for being promiscuous?

OK, you nuts, cover your ears and go lalalalalala while I quote another couple of paragraphs from this article:
The Gates Foundation also is a patron of reproductive-health programs, funding research on new contraceptive technologies and initiatives to improve access to birth control.

Planned Parenthood, which is the leading provider of abortions in the United States, has received $34 million from the Gates Foundation over the years — out of a total of $10.5 billion in grants worldwide, according to foundation spokeswoman Jacquelline Fuller. She said the foundation does not fund abortion services, earmarking the grants for other Planned Parenthood programs.

(Somebody tell them they can stop now.)

Hey, look how the conspiracy-theory guys do with this:
Joseph D'Agostino, a spokesman for the anti-abortion Population Research Institute, said the foundation position "is simply dishonest."

"Abortion services are the primary mission of Planned Parenthood," he said. "If you fund one side of an organization, that frees them up to transfer funds to the other things they do."

Mmm, yeah, now that they'll have all that money (like Bill and Melinda Gates didn't have enough to start with) they can show their true colors and get into the baby-killin' business Big Time. It's the opportunity these devils have been waiting for MWA-hahaha...


Oh, brother, listen to this...
Beyond the issue of abortion, some critics oppose the Buffett and Gates foundations' support for global family-planning and population control programs.

"Some of the wealthiest men in the world descend like avenging angels on the populations of the developing world," wrote Population Research Institute president Steven Mosher, a frequent critic of Gates and Buffett. "They seek to decimate their numbers, to foist upon vulnerable people abortion, sterilization and contraception."

They must be thinking of what Tom Delay and that guy from the Christian Coalition were doing in the Mariana Islands. Oh, no, they didn't mention "prostitution," I guess it wasn't Delay and Reed's project.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

About the Latest Talking Point

The CRC's Retta Brown said something at school board public comments the other day, and now I see that CRC President Michelle Turner is saying about the same thing in the The Gazette letters to the editor. Since our job here is to whack-a-mole every time these guys start twisting the truth ... here I go.

First of all, we note that these comments seem to have actually originated in an article on a Focus on the Family website, called Ex-Gay Conference Targeted with Counter Messaging -- the article was about our successful vigil outside the Love Won Out meeting in Silver Spring last month. That writer, Wendy Cloyd, quoted an FoF official saying:
"...they like to claim that all the medical organizations are against reparative therapy and that it's harmful, but the reality is that that isn't what the organizations have said," he said. "Instead, they have said that homosexuality is multi-causal and there's proof positive over the years that men and women have changed."

We can ignore that last part, because, well, nobody has said that, even the "ex-gay" organizations are not saying anybody really changes. There is definitely nothing in the literature like "proof-positive." We have people saying they've changed, and we have even seen one researcher say, on the basis of some phone interviews, that he's "convinced" that some people have changed, but there's no scientific evidence that anyone's sexual orientation has ever actually changed.

But that first sound-bite, the idea that the organizations really don't say that -- that's a good one. Because they can say it, and you have to look it up to prove them wrong, and they know you won't.

So the CRC picked up this talking point and took it to the school board.

Ms. Brown told them:
... the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, to name a few, do not say that psychotherapy to eliminate desires for same sex attraction is harmful.

(I quoted her whole statement about two posts down from this one, just focusing on this one issue right now.)

Of course NARTH supports reparative therapy, it's their only reason for existing.

How about the others, the legitimate professional organizations that she mentions?

The American Psychiatric Association has issued an official statement that says: "Reparative" therapy literature also tends to overstate the treatment's accomplishments while neglecting any potential risks to patients. --Read the whole thing. Yes, they are concerned about risk to patients.

And the other APA -- the American Psychological Association -- is even more clear about it: in an amicus curae for the Supreme Court (Lawrence v Texas), the American Psychological Association wrote: In addition to the lack of scientific evidence for the effectiveness of efforts to change sexual orientation, there is reason to believe such efforts can be harmful to the psychological well-being of those who attempt them.

That's about as clear as it's going to get.

So -- Ms. Brown's examples are wrong. NARTH exists to promote reparative therapy, they're going to say good things about it, the other two groups are mainstream professional organizations, and they both state that it's harmful.

And Ms. Turner, the CRC's President, mailed the same talking point to the newspaper -- there's her whole letter in The Gazette, just for the record:
David Fishback is spinning what the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association says about changing one’s sexual orientation (‘‘Medical profession opposes premise of conversion therapy,” June 21 Open Forum).

He states that ‘‘groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Medical Association have concluded that homosexuality per se is not a disorder and that efforts to ‘change’ one’s sexual orientation cause enormous harm.”

I agree that the AMA and the AAP each states that homosexuality is not a mental disorder; however, neither says that efforts to change one’s sexual orientation causes harm.

The AAP in a clinical report, ‘‘Sexual Orientation and Adolescents,” and authored by a few pediatricians within the AAP, deals with the medical treatment of non-heterosexual youth. It states, ‘‘Health care professionals should provide factual, current, nonjudgmental information in a confidential manner ... Pediatricians are not responsible for labeling or even identifying non-heterosexual youth.”

This report acknowledges that non-heterosexual youth ‘‘in the United States have unique health risks.”

And finally the report ends with this statement: ‘‘The guidance in this report does not indicate an exclusive course of treatment or serve as a standard of medical care. Variations, taking into account individual circumstances, may be appropriate.” There is nothing about changing one’s orientation or harm associated with it.

The statement from the AMA certainly doesn’t mean that if a person chooses to change his orientation, the medical professional should stop him from doing so. It would be unethical for the medical professional to impose ‘‘his views” on the client. Again, there is no mention of harm in this AMA statement associated with treating unwanted same-sex attraction. Spinning the truth

Let's start with Ms. Turner's comment about the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Excuse me, but the fact that she found a document that doesn't say reparative therapy is harmful is, obviously, not exactly proof that they never said that. It's kind of a silly approach, quoting one ambiguous paper out of thousands that have been put out.

The AAP keeps only its most recent policy statements online. But we see that a document at the American Psychological Association web site quotes their position:
The American Academy of Pediatrics in its policy statement on Homosexuality and Adolescence states: Confusion about sexual orientation is not unusual during adolescence. Counseling may be helpful for young people who are uncertain about their sexual orientation or for those who are uncertain about how to express their sexuality and might profit from an attempt at clarification through a counseling or psychotherapeutic initiative. Therapy directed specifically at changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation. Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel

"Provoke guilt and anxiety" = harm. Don't do it. This is their policy, and Ms. Turner is wrong, the AAP does say reparative therapy is harmful. Or did they have to use that exact word? They mention harmful effects, any reasonable person knows what this means.

In fact, this document on the APA site is a major policy statement co-signed by ten professional groups:
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Counseling Association
  • American Association of School Administrators
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • American Psychological Association
  • American School Health Association
  • Interfaith Alliance Foundation
  • National Association of School Psychologists
  • National Association of Social Workers
  • National Education Association

Go ahead, call 'em all communists or whatever, these are large organizations composed of experts in the fields that are actively and professionally involved in sorting out questions involving gay and confused adolescents.

The AAP, you notice, is one of the signatories on this document, which concludes (after quoting policy statements by a number of organizations):
As these statements make clear, health and mental health professional organizations do not support efforts to change young people's sexual orientation through "reparative therapy" and have raised serious concerns about its potential to do harm.

Well, Ms. Turner had said that the AAP didn't say that "efforts to change one's sexual orientation causes harm," but they did. A lie? I'm feeling generous, let's just say she ... obfuscated to make a point.

This document, as I recall, was included in the muchly-contested teachers' background resources from the last proposed sex-ed curriculum. Ms. Turner was on the citizens committee that reviewed those materials, so ... the scale is tipping ... ah, I'm in a good mood, let's just say she forgot.

She said the same thing about the American Medical Association (AMA), and here she may slip by on a technicality.

The AMA has a formal statement that says:
"Most of the emotional disturbance experienced by gay men and lesbians around their sexual identity is not based on physiological causes, but rather is due more to a sense of alienation in an unaccepting environment. For this reason, aversion therapy is no longer recommended for gay men and lesbians. Through psychotherapy, gay men and lesbians can become comfortable with their sexual orientation and understand the societal response to it." (text from JAMA HERE)

Further, a policy statement by the AMA says the group:
opposes, the use of "reparative" or "conversion" therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation. AMA policy regarding sexual orientation

Now, let me get this straight. It just may be that the AMA has not issued an official policy statement that says, specifically, that reparative therapy is "harmful." The American Academy of Pediatrics has, on several occasions. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, mentioned in Ms. Brown's comments to the school board, do have such statements.

The AMA does have an official policy against the practice of reparative therapy. But I think maybe the CRC President has written a letter that does contain one statement that appears to be technically correct, that is, it does not appear that the AMA actually says it's harmful anywhere. They tell their members not to practice this kind of therapy, but apparently never actually, literally used the word "harmful."

As talking points go, I'd say this is a pretty weak one. All the mainstream professional medical, mental-health, and educational organizations have statements criticizing reparative therapy. Some of them declare it unethical for their members to practice it, some merely recommend that these techniques not be used, most of them point out that the reasons for using such therapy are based on prejudice and misunderstanding about the nature of homosexuality. But some of them forget to mention that it's harmful. The AMA apparently doesn't mention that fact, and they may be the only one.

Statements by the organizations have been compiled and published on the web in many places. To read some of them, click The Covenant Network of Presbyterians.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

New Ad

This struck me as a powerful advertisement from Faith in America. What do you think?

Kinda gets right to the point, doesn't it?

(Thanks to Pandagon for pointing this out.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Public Comments Last Night: Interesting

This might be a longish post, since I'll be quoting several full statements made during the public comments section of the Montgomery County Board of Education meeting last night, plus some comments by board members.

There were a number of topics discussed, but of course we're interested in one. Michelle Turner, Retta Brown, and Steina Walter of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) were called up in the same group with David Fishback, former chair of the citizens advisory committee. You're thinking, oh, this is going to be good!

Ms. Turner, President of the CRC, spoke first. Here's her statement:
Dr. Haughey, Members of the Board of Education and Dr. Weast:

As stated in our June 5 letter to Mr. Weaver, Supervisor of School Counselors, we have several concerns about the information the school counselors are giving to parents and students about sexual variations.

The resources provided by both the Supervisor of School Counselors and the high school counselors appear to suffer from the same problems as the information contained in the previous curriculum that was criticized by a Federal Judge. The provided resources are factually incorrect, biased, oppose certain religious viewpoints, and do not present different scientifically based views on the subject of homosexuality.

I see a fact sheet put together by GLSEN to promote "Day of Silence" but where is the fact sheet from the Alliance Defense Fund promoting "Day of Truth"?

I see a fact sheet from GLSEN about Gay/Straight Alliance Clubs but where is the fact sheet from Liberty Counsel/PFOX about Gay to Straight Clubs? Are the counselor's being funded by GLSEN?

The National Mental Health Association's [1] resource condemns certain religions [2] under the topic of "Is Homosexuality Immoral?" This same resource advocates parents tell pre-school children that two mommies make a family [3]. This is offensive and against some parent's religion.

The NMHA resource advocates tolerance for homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender but denies tolerance for former homosexuals or religious viewpoints critical of homosexuality. I see suggested internet resources from only pro-homosexual advocacy groups like GLSEN and PFLAG but no internet information about former homosexual groups such as PFOX.

Instead of presenting all of the facts on sexual orientation in a fair and balanced manner, current MCPS school counselor resources encourage confused and impressionable youth to immediately self-identify as 'gay'.

The school counselor, and by extension the school, is presenting a biased viewpoint on the subject of homosexuality.

Please correct this problem.
Michelle Turner
President, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum

Ah, yes, you remember when we talked about the Day of Truth? I figured that about two thousandths of one percent of American students participated in that homophobic celebration. Wow, there sure ought to be a brochure in every classroom for a popular cause like that.

I was curious about the "fact sheet from Liberty Counsel/PFOX about Gay to Straight Clubs." Liberty Counsel (bottom of the page) does link to a Gay to Straight page. But look up at the top, at the title bar, where it says "International Healing Foundation Home." Do you remember what the "International Healing Foundation" is? Here's what Wikipedia tells us:
The International Healing Foundation directed by Richard Cohen, M.A., calls homosexuality a Same-Sex Attachment Disorder (SSAD) and has developed a program alleged to be a reparative therapy enabling homosexuals to transition to heterosexual behavior.

Cohen based his ideas on the teachings of the Unification Church, but in the late 1990s he announced a break with the church and recast his ideas in largely psychological terms.

This thing is put out by Richard Cohen, banned for life from the American Counseling Association, who can't charge people so he "accepts donations" for his man-hug and pillow-wacking therapy.

As Mad used to say: yeccccchhh!

Even Warren Throckmorton is grossed out by Cohen.

Oh, by the way, somebody else showed me the link to the National Mental Health Association's brochure: HERE. The only thing I see about religion is this:
Is homosexuality immoral?

Some religions continue to teach that homosexuality is immoral, and other spiritual communities and faiths accept people of all ages who are gay, lesbian and bisexual. No matter what your religious beliefs, a key value to share with your child is to treat all people with respect.

This is almost identical to wording in the previous curriculum that the CRC members on the committee accepted. Some religions approve, some don't.

The brochure says nothing -- nothing at all -- about "ex-homosexuals" or critical of any religion, though Ms. Turner sat there and told the school board it does.

Go look over that brochure, it is one evil document, I guarantee it.

Ms. Turner was followed by the next CRC holdout, Henrietta Brown:

It is hard to believe MCPS would again allow religiously biased and factually contentious information on homosexuality to be given out to students and parents by school counselors! Last Spring a Federal Judge found fault with the previous health curriculum for the same ills.

One example is the unsupported and biased material provided by the Supervisor of MCPS school counselors, as a primary resource: "What does Gay Mean?" from the National Mental Health Association. [1] This resource also contains no citations to support the author's conclusions and opinions.

Where is the proof for the statement, "...people are born with their sexual orientation"? [2] Professionals concede no proof has yet been found for a "gay gene" and studies to date indicate the absence of a genetic causation. [3] There is no proof you are born that way!

Where is the proof that psychotherapy to eliminate desires for same sex attraction may be harmful? [4] American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, to name a few, do not say that psychotherapy to eliminate desires for same sex attraction is harmful.[5]

Where is the proof that a therapist cannot help a young person change their sexual orientation? [6] What about the thousands of former homosexuals who have, with the help of a therapist, changed their sexual orientation?

Where is the proof that there are "more than two million school-age lesbians and gay Americans?" [7] What is "School age"? 5 year olds? college age? What is the definition of a homosexual? Is it based on some sexual Fantasy? One sexual encounter? Persistent encounters? Of what kind?

Why does the author suggest to parents that children get information on homosexuality by talking with gay teens on the internet and contacting non-medical, homosexual advocacy organizations and youth groups? [8]

Why does the author ignore that transgender is a gender identity disorder needing psychiatric treatment as recognized by the America Psychiatric Association?[9]

Just as appalling is that school counselors provide incorrect and biased internet resources from the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), a non-medical, homosexual advocacy group. Would you want your child given internet links which discuss and encourage risky sexual behavior, without you, his parent, first knowing about it? One internet resource, for example, even presents only a favorable religious viewpoint of homosexuality without mentioning other, less favorable viewpoints held by many religions (a clear 1st Amendment violation). [10]

Please address this problem and check out all the resources being distributed.

Wow. Where to start.

These people can say this stuff over and over again. You can drag out the evidence and show them, but they come right back to this. It's the Bush Doctrine: repeating a statement often enough makes it true.

The CRC's barrage ended with Steina Walter. Her statement:
Dr. Weast and the members of the Board of Education

I am at a loss as to why Montgomery County Public Schools allows school counselors to give students and parents Focus Area 3 information concerning Safer Sex, STD and HIV/AIDS that comes from a youth organization that is a pro-homosexual advocacy group. (Footnote 1) Has this information been approved of by the Citizens Advisory Committee, Dr. Weast, or the BOE? This information is given to students without parent's approval. How can counselors "get around" COMAR by giving out any material they want to with relation to Focus Area 3 material without first going through the proper channels?

In one of the resources, given out by the schools counselors on health issues, there is a section for parents that provides arguments whether homosexuality is a sin. (Footnote 2) Why is MCPS giving out religiously biased information to students? Why is MCPS giving out only pro homosexual information and not including other viewpoints on homosexuality?

Please remove this Internet Resource Sheet provided by the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League as a resource for school counselors and check out any other resources that may contain religious information or is not from a credible source.

1. SMYAL - a two sheet of Internet resources for LGBT? Youth-One heading is Safer Sex, STD and HIV/AIDS Information; Coalition for Positive Sexuality, Safer Sex Information, Teen Health with Internet web addresses.

2. "A brochure for parents of gay and lesbian youth IS IT A SIN? How Religions View It This is one of the most difficult questions for religious people. Many religious teach that homosexuality is condemned. But nowhere in the Bible is there mention of those whose true nature is homosexual. Neither the Ten Commandments nor the Gospels mention homosexuality. Biblical scholars tell us that the oft-quoted (out-of-context) proscriptions in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and St. Paul's Epistles Rom. 1:26-27, refer to male prostitution in the temples: sexual practices by heterosexuals."

You know, I'll bet counselors routinely get drawn into conversations with troubled students that take them way into territory you could never touch in a classroom.

I admit, I don't know why these CRC ladies have decided all of a sudden to get excited about some documents they found in the counselors' office somewhere. If they want to make a point that it's illegal for the schools to have this material, I think they'll have a long fight ahead of them. If they want the counselors to promote their anti-gay viewpoint, they'll put them at odds with the professional organizations they likely belong to, among others.

Finally, David Fishback brought common sense to the discussion:
The proper approach to revising our health curriculum is to draw on the wisdom of mainstream medical and mental health groups. Our students need to know that the medical consensus is that homosexuality is not a disease. It is heartening that Dr. Weast announced last winter that MCPS staff is following recommendations of physicians from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

At your last meeting, you were asked why it is taking so long to develop revisions to include what you recognized in 2004 is necessary: Basic factual information on sexual orientation to end the deafening silence that has done so much harm in the past.

I appreciate Dr. Weast's desire to make certain that the revisions and related resources can withstand any legal challenge. And I appreciate his commitment to submit the revisions in time for piloting next spring. There is absolutely no reason why this schedule cannot be met.

The law is not complex: The Supreme Court has made it clear that school boards have the right to decide what is in curriculum as long as they do not foster particular religious viewpoints. While the district court last year mistakenly thought that certain teacher background resources that assessed religious viewpoints were actually part of the curriculum, that will no longer be a problem because MCPS has decided not to use such resources.

Because the Board has the right to choose curriculum, it must choose wisely. Efforts by right-wing advocacy groups to include "conversion therapy" notions should be rejected because they have no basis in medical science; indeed, the American Medical Association explicitly opposes "conversion therapy" as dangerous and unethical. Jerry Falwell and James Dobson have no constitutional right to force any school board to include these notions in health curriculum.

Moreover, since "conversion therapies" are essentially theological, not scientific, their inclusion in a health curriculum would be unconstitutional, as a court found in a parallel situation last year in Dover, Pennsylvania, rejecting the use of "intelligent design" in biology classes because "I.D." was nothing more than theology pretending to be science.

There was actually applause after he spoke.

There were more public comments, about the rule against having cell phones at schools, one school wanted to know why their principal was being removed, etc., regular stuff. Then the board members commented on the comments.

This seemed weird to me, I didn't quite get it. Member Gabe Romero, who will be leaving the board this fall, and who has been known to have connections to the CRC, said:
I have a couple of questions. Regarding the health curriculum, I understand Mr. Fishback's testimony in stating the Supreme Court made it clear that school boards have the right to decide what is in the curriculum. And understanding that, I'd like to see if you guys can provide the answer on what criteria is being used to accept certain factsheets from certain organizations and reject certain other ones. What is the criteria for that?

I guess one question is, who are "you guys?" Was he asking the board's staff to do research into how to distinguish between science and bull-oney?

Here, I'll start: "Certain organizations" are composed of researchers, professors, and authorities in their field, while "certain other ones" are made up of quacks, unpublished pundits, and religious fanatics. Granted, the latter often masquerade as the former, and you have to peel back the curtain sometimes, but it's not that hard.

I couldn't tell if this was an anemic attempt to show support for the CRC, as if the nuts they quote might possibly have equal credibility with the mainstream scientific organizations they try to criticize. If he was asking staff for guidance, well, good, that should be easy: look who publishes in the journals. Gabe, if you weren't expressing support for the CRC I apologize for suggesting it.

Board member Pat O'Neill had an interesting comment. Actually, she discussed a couple of subjects, and I'm not going to quote the whole thing. Here's part:
... Miss Brown's testimony refers to therapists a great deal. You know, our guidance counselors are incredibly busy people, stretched to the max. They barely have enough time to work to get our scheduling done, to work with students who are at academic risk, to work on the college information, which is a huge portion of their responsibility. They're not therapists. I know we will be brought up to date about the information that the CRC seems to have found. I guess if you're on a witch-hunt, you're going to find something, somewhere in this very large system.

But our guidance counselors are wonderful, wonderful professional individuals. If a parent wants to meet with them, I commend the parent for requesting the time to come in and talk about an issue with the guidance counselor. And if it is that your child has expressed that they may be homosexual, I commend the parent for talking the time to come in and talk to someone who has some training as a professional. But you know, our counselors are spread so thin. I hope that parents have the opportunity if there's any kind of issue, be it eating disorder, or suicide prevention, or whatever but ... I know I'm rambling but I feel that it's very important that the general public who may have watched this meeting understand what a load our guidance counselors carry in the schools but they are not therapists.

Good point: if you're on a witch-hunt, you're going to find something, somewhere in this very large system. The counselors have to deal with all kinds of situations, including gay and questioning students. There is good advice out there for them, and some of it -- yes, it's true -- comes from organizations that really care about gay people. How terrible is that? Apparently, terrible enough to bring out three of the four remaining CRC members for an evening in the Carver Building.


Something came up recently in a discussion, which we haven't mentioned for quite a while.

Every student has the option of refusing to take the "sex" parts of the MCPS health curriculum. Montgomery County has an "opt-in" procedure, so everybody who takes sex ed has to actually bring in a form signed by their parents that says "Yes, Johnny has my permission to take this course." You know, this is the most conservative method, it's what Kansas has been fighting about -- their absurdly-far-right state school board wants to do it like we do.

I don't think that records are actually kept, but the anecdotal wisdom is that typically about one per cent of MCPS students choose not to take the course.

What happens to those students? When the other kids go to health class, these kids go to the library, where they are given a folder of "independent studies" work to do. Boring, irrelevant stuff, we're told.

Some people say that's not fair. Some people say there should be an alternative course for students who choose not to take health. Or, I should say, whose parents choose for them not to learn about their health.

There seem to me to be a couple of basic kinds of arguments against this. First of all -- sex-ed is important. I want my kids to know what's going on and how to be as safe as possible, and I also want the kids who date my kids to have that knowledge. This is an interdependent and nontrivial lesson for us as a society. Some people might want to pretend that there's a big moral issue with talking about the birds and the bees (and the bees and the bees), but the fact is this is basic knowledge that our community needs for its young people to understand. I see in the news where countries like China and Malaysia and the Phillipines are struggling with their approaches to sex-ed, for instance how much should it be physiology and how much values? It's tough. But the US has had sex-ed for decades, we're not some developing country rising from ignorance and poverty, it was agreed decades ago that sex-ed is a necessary part of education, and every student should take it. It's the right thing to do, we've already had that debate.

So, the point is, you don't want to make it easier or more attractive for students to avoid this responsibility.

Second argument: hardly anybody opts out anyway. You don't want to put a bunch of effort into something like that. It's like developing a special PE class for kids with sprained ankles. Let 'em sit on the sidelines, they don't hurt anything, and it'll be over soon.

Those who oppose the curriculum like to say that leaving class and going to the library "stigmatizes" a kid, and they can be teased about it. Well, it seems to me that if you want to take a stand against the system, you have to risk that. Whether you want to fight for a liberal cause or a conservative one, at some point if you march out of step with the masses somebody might notice. If your way of life is so much better than the rest of us that your kid needs special treatment, hey, they should be proud, shouldn't they? Aren't they?

Of course the other aspect of this stigma business is that nobody really notices. Come on, kids are popping up out of their seats all day, throwing spitballs, drawing on each other with sharpies, text-messaging each other under the desk, they're running to the nurse for their Ritalin and their Elavil -- nobody's going to sit around and talk about one kid who goes to the library during health class. There's no stigma, they're just whining.

Developing an alternative curriculum "sounds like" a good idea, just like "presenting both sides of the issue" sounds like a good idea until you realize that bigots and liars are getting equal time with people who are telling the truth. The fact is, there is a sex-ed curriculum being developed very carefully, by teams of medical and educational experts supported by legal staff who are checking to make sure everything is copacetic. The class isn't offered as a courtesy, there's a state law requiring it -- the things that are taught in sex-ed class are very important to students, if not now, then eventually. We should do everything to see that Montgomery County students do get the best information about these important matters that touch the whole community. We should definitely not spend effort developing a content-free course for those who choose not to learn.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Christianty Today has a report on a study of 500 welfare-to-work programs in five cities by a former Pepperdine professor who is now a fellow at the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College (a 4-year college operated by the Christian Reformed Church). (If it sounds familiar, George W. Bush was their commencement speaker last year.)

This researcher found that, of the 500 programs he studied, 117 were faith-based, and of the 96 Protestant programs, 61 were evangelical and 35 were "mainline." From an interview:
What did you find regarding evangelical programs?
Both from the surveys and the visits, it was clear that evangelical programs tend to integrate religious aspects into their services, whereas in mainline programs, Christianity tends to be more implicit.

For example, 48 percent of the evangelical programs reported that they encourage their clients to make personal religious commitments. And an impressive 77 percent reported that they would use religious values or motivations to encourage clients to change their attitudes or values.

What did that look and sound like?
In some classes, evangelical staff would talk about how God loves persons who are out of work, who are on welfare, who are trying to become economically self-supporting. They would talk about work as a way to honor God: that Jesus himself had been a carpenter and worked with his hands, and that work is more than just a way to earn money—it's a way to honor the Creator. Social Justice Surprise

Now, this should be a red flag. I don't know everything about this, but it was my understanding that some of these programs received money from the government...

Oh yes:
What percentage of evangelical programs receive government funding?
One of the surprises was that more evangelical programs were receiving government funding—51 percent, versus 40 percent of the mainline programs.

This carried through also when you looked at the amount of funding: 38 percent of the evangelical programs reported receiving more than half of their funding from the government, compared to 31 percent for mainline programs.

The interviewer suspects that someone like me just might hear about this:
What do you say to critics who see incorporating evangelism and religious values as a violation of church-state separation?
Many evangelical programs, when they have Bible studies or devotional activities, make them voluntary. Many of these efforts to encourage clients to make religious commitments are done with private money at a time separate from the other services. That's a partial answer.

But even more fundamentally, we know that government funding cannot be used for sectarian worship, instruction, or proselytizing. Yet those words are not self-defining. If welfare-to-work staff reassure recipients that Jesus loves them, that work is a way to honor God, and that we all have a calling to fulfill in life—is that sectarian instruction? I think not.

Now the ACLU might disagree with me on that. But to me, this is using broad Christian values to help people overcome tremendous obstacles in becoming economically self-sufficient. I attended similar classes at secular nonprofit organizations. They also used values -- non-religious values. They would talk about earning the respect of your family by going out to work or feeling better about yourself. But both evangelical and secular programs use values to motivate and improve the self-esteem of their clients.

Wow, can you remember the days when "that depends on what is is" sounded evasive? These guys know that what they're doing is right, that God wants them to do this, and so they have figured out all these ways to explain their proselytizing so that it sounds -- to themselves -- like they're obeying the law.

They're not.
How do the government and faith-based agencies get along?
Whether or not evangelical programs receive government funds, they seem to be part of an informal network of consultation and referral.

A majority of evangelical programs indicated that they sometimes referred recipients to government agencies. And government agencies refer clients to them; sometimes, evangelical agencies are contacted by government agencies just for advice.

Warning bells should be going off like crazy as you read this. This is one arm of a theocratic movement that is going to be extremely difficult to trim back, even after sanity returns to America.

It is fine for religious institutions to provide aid to the downtrodden. It's great for them to help people get off welfare, get them off the streets and back into living a good respectable life. That has been an important function of the church for thousands of years.

In fact, this is one thing that Jesus would have approved of, even encouraged.

But they should not be using government money to do it. It is obvious that this little thing, letting faith-based organizations take government money, is getting to be very thick, a tight underground connection is growing between religious groups who are trying to add new members and government organizations that have a public emergency to deal with. We'll be spending a long time undoing this.

(Hat-tip to Red State Rabble for catching this.)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Are There Rules, Or Not?

A quick word here before honey-do time hits. is registered with the IRS as a nonprofit corporation. That means we have a lot of rules about what we can do, especially having to do with endorsing political parties and candidates. We're new at this, and are trying to figure out what we really need to do to comply with the rules, which are subtle and complicated.

But then I see the top story in this morning's Washington Post:
Nonprofit Groups Funneled Money For Abramoff:
Funds Flowed to Lobbying Campaigns

Newly released documents in the Jack Abramoff investigation shed light on how the lobbyist secretly routed his clients' funds through tax-exempt organizations with the acquiescence of those in charge, including prominent conservative activist Grover Norquist.

The federal probe has brought a string of bribery-related charges and plea deals. The possible misuse of tax-exempt groups is also receiving investigators' attention, sources familiar with the matter said.

Among the organizations used by Abramoff was Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. According to an investigative report on Abramoff's lobbying released last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Americans for Tax Reform served as a "conduit" for funds that flowed from Abramoff's clients to surreptitiously finance grass-roots lobbying campaigns. As the money passed through, Norquist's organization kept a small cut, e-mails show.

A second group Norquist was involved with, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, received about $500,000 in Abramoff client funds; the council's president has told Senate investigators that Abramoff often asked her to lobby a senior Interior Department official on his behalf. The committee report said the Justice Department should further investigate the organization's dealings with the department and its former deputy secretary, J. Steven Griles. Nonprofit Groups Funneled Money For Abramoff

And it goes on and on.

Now, look, here we are, trying to figure out how to be careful to treat everybody evenly, even though we know there will be school board elections this year and we will definitely prefer some candidates over others, and I'm reading that these other "nonprofits" are giving millions of dollars to lobbyists, which ends up going to politicians as "contributions," directly influencing the course of the elections and the legislative process that follows.

The thing is, even if they crack down on these organizations now -- the water is already under the bridge. Laws have been passed, goodies have been given out, people have been elected into office on the basis of ads paid for by this dirty money. So even if you took away these groups' nonprofit status, you can't undo the damage that's been done, you can't un-elect these crooks, you can't un-pass their laws.

Blogs, Generally

It's a beautiful Sunday morning here in Rockville. I'm listening to jazz guitar on WPFW, and it's raining like crazy outside -- my street is a river. There's a flash flood watch for the whole area, I'm hoping nothing bad happens. But it really is pouring, hard and steady. Now and then there's a clap of thunder, none close and I haven't seen any lightning flashes. Now and then the lights blink, but not enough to shut the computer down. Our roof has a little leak near the chimney, the guy keeps saying he'll come over and fix it, but today there's a towel on the floor next to the fireplace; it's not too bad, but this kind of rain will drip through. Luckily, the guy threw the newspaper under the car this morning; I almost didn't find it, but at least it's relatively dry. I have a pot of hot coffee, the dog is sleeping in the corner, nobody else is up yet. My favorite time of the week.

So I'll take this opportunity to go completely off the topic of sex-ed in Montgomery County, and just talk for a minute about blogs. I have several that I check frequently, some that I like more than others, and a couple that I actually would like this blog to emulate.

I read blogs in an RSS aggregator. I used to use a PC program called Sharpreader, but I've switched -- that program loaded all your sites into the computer's memory, and after a while the computer would just slow down to a crawl. Now I'm using Bloglines, which stores all your data on its server. You tell it the sites you want to follow, and Bloglines keeps track of not only what new content they have, but which of their posts you've already read. A nice thing is that you can access it from anywhere, work or home or the public library, and it keeps track of everything for you. It's also not a memory hog, since all that's open on your computer is the link you're reading at the moment. And this doesn't hurt: it's free.

The RSS aggregator lets you check a lot of sites quickly. In the left window of Bloglines is a list of the sites I read. If I click on one, the window on the right shows me the first few paragraphs of all the posts I haven't read yet. There's a title and a little bit of text, so I can decide whether to read more. If I want to, then I can click on the title and open the whole thing up in another tab in my web browser. I'm not interested in everything -- this lets me pick and choose what I want to read with minimal effort.

There are a few "comprehensive" news sites that I check every couple of hours, just keeping up with what's going on. One that's surprisingly good is The Huffington Post. It's a dynamic, constantly-updated news site with lots of opinion pieces, very professional and progressive. I also look at Memeorandum, because it keeps up with breaking news, but a lot of it lately has been this stupid Michelle Malkin kind of stuff, non-newsy wedge issues. The good thing about Memeorandum is that it links to a story, and then all the sites that have commented on that story, and sometimes all the sites that have commented on the comments.

Raw Story is another one that has a lot of provocative stories. It's just a good site to check for keeping up. Same for TruthOut, even though they just had a little controversy about the Rove indictment that left a bad taste in some people's mouth. They had announced that he was indicted, but then other news stories said he wasn't. They're sticking with their story, and point to an indictment that remains sealed. Well, the point is, they do some serious investigative work -- if they got played for a sucker, that's tough, it'll happen when you go out on a limb, doesn't make it a bad site. You've gotta take all of this with a grain of salt, anyway.

There are a couple of politically oriented blogs I like. One of my favorites is AmericaBlog. The main guy is John Aravosis, a gay progressive who calls it like he sees it. I've seen a number of times when he's been out of synch with the other lefties, and he's usually vindicated in the end. He has a knack for identifying the story behind the story. There are three or four other writers there, but John clearly sets the tone.

There is a little group of A-list blogs that you're going to end up reading anyway, once you get into this, so you might as well go right to them. Atrios, at Eschaton, is articulate, well connected, funny. You're going to end up watching videos at Crooks and Liars -- they don't say a whole lot, but have established the great precedent of posting important news clips and other sound and video files, the stuff that people are talking about today. Daily Kos is definitely an A-list site, but I admit I don't usually get too much out of it. I'm not that interested in the politics of politics, which is what that site is really about, getting progressive candidates elected. I know it's important, but it's not really my thing. Mahablog is written by a woman who has sharp instincts for detecting bull-oney in the news, and a sharp way of getting right to the point. I consider her writing to be literature, not sure how many readers she has, if it's an A-list blog or not, but it's one of my favorites.

Speaking of literature, Jeanne d'Arc at Body and Soul is unbelievable. Her writing is so fresh, so philosophical, I'll tell you, man, this is not throwaway Internet "content," she expresses the careful conscience of a country in a casual heartfelt style that is a pleasure to read.

I was going to mention a couple of blogs that are for grown-ups, but decided not to, since, you know, the Dark Side likes to take things here out of context. Whatever, some rude pundits go over the line and stay there, and everybody reads them, but it is rude, yes. I won't mention them, out of my profound commitment to being proper all the time.

There are a few that I just like for my own reasons. I enjoy Sadly, No -- they're just cynical enough for my taste, with a taste of satire, flashes of insight. Another favorite is Language Log. It's just about words. What a great topic, I can think about words all day. Like the other day they were talking about how English uses the word "do" to form questions and to make sentences negative. His examples: "Do you like fish?" "I do not like fish." Apparently this tendency comes from the influence of Celtic languages, like Welsh and Cornish -- no other Germanic language uses this. Anyway, I love this stuff. A strange one is Pandagon. They seem to ignore ordinary boundaries and norms, and just say what they're thinking, which is often surprising and thought-provoking. I realized I don't know what kind of blog Pandagon is, really, you know, so I googled them. The best I can find is some guy that calls them a "disgraceful, feminazi-lesbian supporting site." OK, that's cool with me. It's just the Internet, you know, it's not like I'm getting in bed with them.

Oh, and I have to mention Boing Boing blog, which calls itself "A directory of wonderful things." Hard to describe, mainly links to stuff that you never would have imagined existed. An excellent time-waster.

I mentioned that there were a couple I like to emulate. Sometimes I think I'd like this blog to be a kind of average between Alternate Brain and Red State Rabble.

Alternate Brain is mainly Gordon and Fixer, who are just regular guys trying to figure out this crazy world. They're proud veterans, and they express themselves clearly in the finest blue-collar language you'll see. No beating around the bush, this is just what working guys sound like, talking about the news and stuff that happens to them. They have no time for political correctness -- for instance, one of them is a mechanic, and he wrote recently about how much he hates it when people try to give mechanics advice about what's wrong with their cars, unless those people are attractive females. Then he's got all day to discuss it with them. He's not saying it to impress you, he's just saying what really happens. Anyway, I like their view of what's going on, and they link to good relevant stuff -- you often hear it said that real Americans are far more progressive than either political party, and these guys show you what that observation means. They're good people, and they'd know what I mean by that.

I think of Red State Rabble as a sister blog to this one. This guy, Pat Hayes, is in Kansas, and where we talk about sex-ed, he talks about the Intelligent Design vs. evolution debate that has embarrassed his state. Red State Rabble is less down-to-earth and more issue-oriented than Alternate Brain; he carries a lot of news about how the rightwing crazies are trying to take over America, almost always with a Kansas angle to it. RSR is a local blog like ours, fighting an important local battle in a war that has engaged the entire nation and has to be fought to the end on each local battlefield.

Responsible People, Like me

The Bush administration recently gave out a statement regarding its position on contraception. The statement from the Assistant Secretary for Health stated, among other things:
This Administration supports the availability of safe and effective products and services to assist responsible adults in making decisions about preventing or delaying conception.

Well, you know, I saw this, and it didn't seem like anything special, just another political nonstatement. But Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon blog tuned in on one interesting aspect of it -- it's one of those things that you hear and don't think about.

She wants to ask about those "responsible adults:"
So who is not “responsible”? Well, this is perfect politician Unspeak. My guess is that most of the Republican voters think of irresponsible people as “people not like me”. After all, who’s going to say, “I’m not a responsible adult, so take my contraception.” Nobody, of course. The word is just a dog whistle that generally means women who dare not to be married and people who dare to be poor. Thus the reason that BushCo won’t allow Plan B to be sold over the counter where women who are “irresponsible” (read: not rich enough to afford a doctor who’ll prescribe it over the phone) can’t have access to it. Considering how a lot of wingnuts describe women who don’t or won’t marry as narcissists and selfish, we can guess who they’re hoping is outside the group “responsible adults” and therefore eligible to have their access to contraception shut down. Playing “Guess What Bush’s Latest Dog Whistle Means”

Really. Raise your hand if you're irresponsible. Mmm, none here, I see.

I think she's on to something. The world is made up of "people like me" and "others." Sometimes circumstances cause people like me to need someething special. Other people are irresponsible, and we shouldn't reward that. It's classic social psychology, classic attribution theory.

Friday, June 23, 2006

News on Curriculum Development

Montgomery County Public Schools is developing a new sex education curriculum. Back in the early spring they produced a "framework," which is a very high-level outline, of a curriculum from pre-K through 12th grade, the citizens advisory committee haggled over it and approved it, and the school board accepted it.

Then ... nothing. Four committee meetings were cancelled, plink-plink-plink-plink just like that. The occasional reassuring memo said that MCPS lawyers were reviewing the content.

People started announcing their candidacies for school board, and some members announced that they would step down in the fall. Campaign web sites sprang up, meet-the-candidate events were scheduled, fund-raising emails went out.

The terms of the student members of the citizens advisory committee expired, and new student members were appointed, but the other committee members have not met them yet.

This week there was a small flurry of memos within MCPS, cc'ed to the committee.

Let me point out that though I received these memos as a member of the citizens advisory committee, they are in the public record. I won't be giving away any secrets here, if there ever were any.

The first memo, dated June 19th, from Deputy Superintendent Frieda Lacey to Superintendent Jerry Weast, reviewed the status of the new curriculum. It was a rather long memo, so I won't quote the whole thing here. She said:
Significant progress has been made in the development of revisions to the health education curriculum on family life and human sexuality. This has been a tremendous undertaking given both the sensitivity of the subject matter and the strong feelings associated with the revisions.

Now, I'll tell you, I don't think this is the way to think about this. The facts are the same whether you like them or not. The school district came under attack by radicals in 2004-2005, when a group of extremists thought they could kick out the board and take over, but the facts of sexuality, of contraception, condom use, sexual orientation, and the rest, are not in dispute by reasonable people.

I think of it this way. Imagine there is a line painted on the floor, six inches wide, and you have to walk its length without stepping off it. Unless you have a disability, or maybe you're intoxicated or something, this is a trivial thing to do.

Now imagine you have to walk the length of a six-inch-wide board, suspended between two buildings twenty stories above a busy street. The only difference between these two situations is the consequence of failing -- the task itself is the same. Do you think your performance would actually be better twenty stories up?

Seems to me, that's the way the school district is approaching the development of this curriculum.

OK, I'll shut up and quote the memo.
Our original timeline, provided on Febrary 17, 2006, anticipated that the lessons would be fully implemented in the Fall 2007 semester. This remains unchanged. However, the process of bringing the revisions forward for the Board of Education's approval involved a series of intermediate steps, beginning first with recommended curriculum revisions in June 2006, followed by the professional development plan for teachers and and administrators. The process of bringing the revisions forward for Board approval has been changed.

Look, if you've ever worked in a big organization, you might have a familiar feeling here. They're saying, we're going to move all of our milestones back, but we still promise to meet our drop-dead date.

Skipping a little bit:
... Originally, the revised curriculum on sexual orientation was to be field tested in the Spring 2007 semester and, pending any other further changes, prepared for final approval and implementation for the Fall 2007 semester. In addition, the revised curriculum and video on condom usage were to be field tested the Fall 2006 semester. With the exception of the condom usage materials, which will be delayed by one semester (to Spring 2007), field testing and implementation remains on schedule.

We were told months ago that the condom video had been produced. The citizens committee scheduled a meeting, in May as I recall, to view it. Cancelled. What do you suppose the problem was? Fear of falling twenty stories?

Dr. Lacey presented a new timeline. I won't quote here, but will summarize:
  • Citizens committee review of materials begins August 2006
  • School board primaries in September, general election in November [I added this item: JimK]
  • Present curricula, materials, and teachers' resources to the Board January 10, 2007
  • Field test sexual orientation lessons for Grades 8 and 10 in Spring 2007 (selected schools)
  • Field test condom video for Grade 10 in Spring 2007 (delayed by one semester from the original plan)
  • Present all materials for approval by the Board "no later than" June 2007
  • Implement it all as originally planned in Fall 2007

On June 20 -- the next day -- Dr. Weast sent a memo to the school board, saying "... I want to assure you that ..." and "... I want to commend staff..." and " ... the highest level of quality ..." etc., and attaching Dr. Lacey's timeline. His memo says the new stuff will be presented to the Board on January 9th, which is one day before Dr. Lacey said ... it's probably nothing.

I think most of the citizens committee members have had experience working with bureaucracy. Sometimes things can slow down until they just disappear, people forget about them. Sometimes you fight for consensus until everybody gets mad and gives up. But most of the time, if you're not too ambitious in your planning, stuff can actually get done. It is possible that the district is falling behind and will never be able to catch up, but ... hey, come on, this is really just about two 45-minute classes, remember?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

New Finding: Condoms Prevent the Spread of HPV

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum attacked the Montgomery County sex education changes on two grounds. First, the new curriculum was neutral about homosexuality, when we all know it's a morally depraved perversion, and second, there was a video showing how to use a condom.

Their argument against condom use was, you could say, complicated. It depended on a lot of assumptions, and you had to believe their interpretation of the research, which concludes, in their telling of it, that condoms don't prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Of course, the rubber blocks the movement of bacteria and viruses as well as semen, but there are circumstances where an infection can still be passed from one person to another. Most of these circumstances arise from improper use of the condom, and of course that is a primary argument in favor of teaching the correct way to choose one and use it. Not that that kind of logic actually sinks in with that group.

The real ace up their sleeve was HPV. Human papillomavirus is a leading cause of cervical cancer, and most people are infected with it at some time in their lives. Here's the kicker: you can catch it even if the man is wearing a condom. That's because it spreads by any skin-to-skin contact with an infected body part. You can catch it shaking hands, even if the person you're shaking hands with is wearing a condom. (That's a creepy thought, isn't it?)

So the grand finale of any CRC talk on condoms, often drowned out by the roar of the crowd, was "Condoms do not prevent HPV!"

But looky here in this morning's paper:
CHICAGO – In a groundbreaking study that could influence the debate over sex education, researchers have found that consistent and proper use of condoms significantly reduces the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer.

University of Washington researchers will report today that female college students were 70 percent less likely to become infected with human papillomavirus, or HPV, if their partners always wore a condom during sex than those whose partners used condoms less than 5 percent of the time.

Condoms have long been touted as a barrier against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But advocates of sexual abstinence programs have argued that condoms are ineffective against HPV, which can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact even if a condom is worn. Condom use lowers HPV risk, study finds

I hate a news story like that. No researchers' names, nothing about the research. Well, it gets us started.

With the help of Google, we find the entire study, from the New England Journal of Medicine, right HERE. Here's the abstract:
Background To evaluate whether the use of male condoms reduces the risk of male-to-female transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, longitudinal studies explicitly designed to evaluate the temporal relationship between condom use and HPV infection are needed.

Methods We followed 82 female university students who reported their first intercourse with a male partner either during the study period or within two weeks before enrollment. Cervical and vulvovaginal samples for HPV DNA testing and Papanicolaou testing were collected at gynecologic examinations every four months. Every two weeks, women used electronic diaries to record information about their daily sexual behavior. Cox proportional-hazards models were used to evaluate risk factors for HPV infection.

Results The incidence of genital HPV infection was 37.8 per 100 patient-years at risk among women whose partners used condoms for all instances of intercourse during the eight months before testing, as compared with 89.3 per 100 patient-years at risk in women whose partners used condoms less than 5 percent of the time (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.3; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.1 to 0.6, adjusted for the number of new partners and the number of previous partners of the male partner). Similar associations were observed when the analysis was restricted to high-risk and low-risk types of HPV and HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. In women reporting 100 percent condom use by their partners, no cervical squamous intraepithelial lesions were detected in 32 patient-years at risk, whereas 14 incident lesions were detected during 97 patient-years at risk among women whose partners did not use condoms or used them less consistently.

Conclusions Among newly sexually active women, consistent condom use by their partners appears to reduce the risk of cervical and vulvovaginal HPV infection.

The Montgomery County school district is currently producing a new condom video. Hopefully they will be able to include this important new finding.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Facing the Moral Midgets

These Baptist preachers made a movie about a football team that wins because of their faith. Hollywood rated it PG. Some are not happy about this -- here's the LA Times:
WASHINGTON — A low-budget, inspirational football movie made by Baptist pastors in Georgia has triggered a flood of attacks by Christian groups that accuse Hollywood's main trade association of penalizing the film by giving it a PG rating.

In the last week alone, the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which oversees the rating board, has been swamped with more than 15,000 e-mails arguing that "Facing the Giants" deserves a more family-friendly G rating. The complaints — the number of which may be 10 times the previous record for reaction to a ratings decision — say the movie is being unfairly targeted for its religious themes.

The filmmakers say they were told that those themes had prompted the PG rating. MPAA officials deny that was the reason. Christians on Football Film: Give Us a G!

Well, they can deny it, but the fact is, nobody knows how they decide what rating to give a movie. It's a big secret.

Remember, "PG" stands for "Parental Guidance." They don't turn anybody away, they're just giving parents a heads up.

Let me tell you a true personal story -- I'm going to be vague in case anyone thinks they recognize themselves here. A while back, my daughter was invited by a neighborhood friend to go spend a summer week at a cabin at a lake up north. We'd met the other girl's father before, we didn't know him well but he seemed all right, so we said OK.

Well, guess what -- all the way there, my daughter said, she got lectured about how rotten she was because of her "liberal upbringing," and how she was going to hell because of her not-born-again parents. And when they got to the cabin, the dad made the kids watch a video about how evolution was a big fake, and only sinners believed in it ... and it went downhill from there. It was nothing but preaching, day and night, trying to get my poor kid to let Jesus into her heart.

My daughter called us in the middle of the night, and we had to arrange an escape. I was going to drive up, but a sympathetic family member agreed to drive her to the airport, and we flew her home.

It was no place for a child to be. My kid was scared, and I was concerned about what might happen.

That was a situation that called for Parental Guidance. Majorly.

Listen to these guys:
Across the Internet and on talk radio, religious groups and conservative commentators have seized on the rating flap as evidence that Hollywood is anti-Christian. And the third-ranking House Republican has written to MPAA Chief Executive Dan Glickman demanding answers.

"This incident raises the disquieting possibility that MPAA considers exposure to Christian themes more dangerous for children than exposure to gratuitous sex and mindless violence," said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

The problem is, these guys are used to having their way, and they're shocked and offended when the system serves any reality besides theirs. America's Taliban expects to dictate how movies are rated.

And when it comes to education, same thing -- they are offended if we don't hand them the right to decide what will be in our kids' classrooms.

You can't fight it, but you can laugh at it occasionally.

They're so used to controlling what the rest of us see and do that they are outraged -- oh, it's proof of a conspiracy against them! -- when other people turn it around and say, we don't want our kids or ourselves ambushed by your brainwashing.

Can you imagine sending your kids into a movie theater, and then when you pick them up you find out that the heartwarming football movie was really two hours of Baptist proselytizing? The theater manager would hear from me if that happened to my kids.

That's why they put the PG on there, so parents can exercise Parental Guidance. People who want to see that stuff can Guide their children toward it, the rest of us Parents can Guide them somewhere else.

They think these ratings exist only to enforce their puritan standards. No, sometimes they're a warning to the rest of us.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Kansas Fights Back

If you've been following our blog, you will have noticed that the state of Kansas gets mentioned more than its share of the time. Their state school board is ... a piece of work. They re-defined science so it would include supernatural phenomena. They made a big deal out of their "opt-in" procedure for sex-ed, trying to make it as easy as possible for kids not to take it. They have made it clear that it's OK with them if everybody homeschools or sends their kids to charter schools -- this is not really who you want running the public school districts.

Tonight there will be a rally, organized by a new grassroots group called the Kansas Alliance for Education.

Their web site says:
KAE has been organized to promote the election of individuals whose beliefs and objectives are more in line with mainstream Kansans. If you share our frustration with the current majority and would like to help make a difference, we encourage your support and participation.

Yesterday's Kansas City Star (am I the only one who still hears Roger Miller singing, "That's what I are?") had a lengthy commentary yesterday about this new group.

The newspaper calls a farmer, Don Hineman, on his cell phone as he's out working on his tractor.
Last summer, at an unrelated statewide leadership training meeting, Hineman says, people got to talking about the state board and the decisions it was making.

“There was just a sense of frustration among a number of folks in the group,” he said. “And we thought, by golly, somebody ought to do something about this.”

The alliance wants to replace certain members with more progressive-thinking people who value public education. The group has endorsed both Republicans and Democrats and is giving money to both.

Betsy Hineman says many in the alliance consider themselves conservative, including her. But the six religious conservatives who dominate the 10-member state board are “radicals,” she says.

Yes, there's definitely a difference, a big difference, between being conservative and being ... a nut. And once you let the radicals start getting their way, once they've grabbed the bullhorn, it takes a lot of hard work to wrestle it back from them.

In Montgomery County, like everywhere else, there are parents who are concerned about their children learning too much too soon. There are people who are afraid that the lessons their kids have learned at home might be undermined if the schools aren't careful in how they present sex-ed. That's the way it is, some parents are more cautious than others, and the challenge is to develop curricula that are sufficiently informative without threatening any family's values. That's a tough challenge, but it can be done. You stick to the facts, and you don't shy away from facts. You give details in a dispassionate way. It can be done.

I don't think any of us have a problem with conservative parents -- I have not always been cheered by the stories my kids brought home from school, and I understand wanting to keep a lid on the ... promoting ... that teachers do. And there's no way around compromising, that's the hard part of the school district's job, trying to come up with something that everyone can accept.

Everyone who's serious about it, that is.

We have in our county, same as Kansas, certain people with a radical agenda, mainly a religious agenda, who will not compromise. Their interest is not in improving public education but destroying it. They want homeschooling and charter schools, where their kids can receive religious indoctrination at taxpayers' expense. In Kansas they used evolution, in Montgomery County they tried to use sex-ed as a wedge to crack apart the public schools, and the community.

We've got to stop them.

(yo-doo-lady-are, ya oughta see my car)
And the six “radicals” have gone too far, the alliance believes, in devaluing evolution in the state’s science standards, pushing to inject religion into public education, making it tougher for young people to get sex education, and hiring a commissioner of education whose track record is not kind to public schools. That commissioner, Bob Corkins, has expressed interest in charter schools and vouchers that would finance private education with public tax dollars.

In our county, we're lucky that we have a moderate school board; this hasn't happened to us. Oh, trust me, members of TeachTheFacts can complain about the board, we don't individually love every decision that's ever been made there. But whatever their faults, it's not that they came into office with plans to put an end to public education.

Elections are coming up, and we will all, as citizens, need to look closely at all the candidates. We will want to prevent the Kansafication of Montgomery County.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Isn't There a Real Problem Somewhere for These People?

Here in Montgomery County, we saw a small group of radicals, originally calling themselves and then Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, nearly succeed at imposing their perverted will on the majority. They opposed a new sex-ed curriculum, largely on the basis of made-up and exaggerated reports of what was going to be taught.

That was not an isolated phenomenon, of course. The Family Blah Blah groups have extensive email lists, and newsletters that fly under the media radar; they are able to plan noisy campaigns that get written up in the press and sometimes even result in policy changes, even though it's a small group of people.

This last year, the CBS show "Without a Trace" had a scene with a teen orgy in it -- you can see the scene HERE. Pretty wild, huh? Uh, yeah, sure.

Thousands of people complained about the show, and the FCC fined the stations that showed it millions of dollars.

Now the stations are saying, hey, wait a minute, we shouldn't have to pay those fines.

It turns out that nobody who complained actually saw the show -- it was just another Family Blah Blah letter-writing campaign.
Virtually none of those who complained to the Federal Communications Commission about the teen drama Without A Trace actually saw the episode in question, CBS affiliates said as they asked the agency to rescind its proposed record indecency fine of $3.3 million.

All of the 4,211 e-mailed complaints came from Web sites operated by the Parents Television Council and the American Family Association, the stations said in a filing on Monday.

In only two of the emails did those complaining say they had watched the program, and those two apparently refer to a “brief, out-of-context segment” of the episode that was posted on the Parents Television Council’s Web site, the affiliates’ filing said.

“There were no true complainants from actual viewers,” the stations said. To be valid, complaints must come from an actual viewer in the service area of the station at issue, the filing said.

“The e-mails were submitted ... because advocacy groups hoping to influence television content generally exhorted them to contact the commission,” the CBS stations said. CBS Stations: Indecency Complaints Invalid

Do you think the stations should be fined? Turn it around: not only had nobody who complained seen the show -- nobody who saw the show complained. Was the show itself offensive, or did people complain about the idea of the show? What do you think?
Parents Television Council says it relayed 11,679 complaints about Without a Trace to the FCC through its Web site. The CBS stations in their filing said they examined complaints the FCC produced to satisfy a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

About 8.2 million people saw the Dec. 31, 2004 broadcast, which was a repeat of an earlier airing of the same episode that drew no indecency complaints. E-mails about the episode began arriving at the FCC on Jan. 12, the same day the PTC sent an alert to its members, the CBS stations said.

And think, the first time they showed it, without the astroturf [=fake grassroots] campaign -- big fat zero complaints.

Have I used the word "hypocrite" recently?

People pretending to be outraged -- what are they trying to accomplish, really? Why would you complain about something that you didn't even see?

Aren't there real problems in the world that these people could get involved in?

Religion Asked Science to Back Off

This is heavy:
HONG KONG -- Famed physicist Stephen Hawking said Thursday that Pope John Paul II tried to discourage him and other scientists attending a cosmology conference at the Vatican from trying to figure out how the universe began.

The British scientist joked that he was lucky the pope didn't realize he had already presented a paper at the gathering suggesting how the universe was created.

"I didn't fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo," Hawking said in a lecture to a sold-out audience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. John Paul died in 2005; Hawking did not say when the Vatican meeting occurred.

Galileo ran afoul of the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century for backing Copernicus' discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun. The church insisted the Earth was at the center of the universe.
Hawking, author of the best-seller "A Brief History of Time," said the pope told the scientists, "It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God." Hawking: John Paul said not to study start of universe

It is sometimes said that science is the rejection of authority. For instance, Galileo's great experiment, dropping objects off the Tower of Pisa, was a profound act of rebellion; he was effectively telling the Church that he didn't believe what they said, that heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones, and he forced the issue by doing the experiment so people would have to choose between official doctrine and the evidence before their eyes. The defiance of authority is not a sad side-effect of science, it's what science is about.

Personally, if somebody can figure how the universe began -- not a how-the-leopard-got-its-spots story, but a scientific explanation based on observation and theory -- I can't imagine not encouraging them to go ahead with it. We already know the myth of creation, now let's hear the facts.

It seems impossible to me that faith requires ignorance. Certainly it must be possible to have religious faith and to accept a secular explanation for the origin of the universe. It's not just possible, but necessary. Because one day science is going to know how the universe started, and trust me there won't be any seven days in the theory. Yet here's the head of one of the most important religions in the world, essentially requesting the perpetuation of ignorance. We don't want to know how the universe began, the Pope was saying, we want to believe what we already believe.

Philosophers define knowledge as a kind of belief: "justified true belief." Religious beliefs are not considered knowledge because there is no way to justify them or verify if they are true or not. Knowledge has a practical advantage over religious beliefs: the guy who has knowledge is able to do things that the guy with unjustified, untrue beliefs can't do. Modern technology, for example, only exists because knowledge was acquired regarding the behavior of electrons and semiconductors and mathematical operators and algorithms. Modern medicine works by exploiting knowledge of how the body functions. I'm not criticizing religion or complaining about it, I'm just saying that empirical knowledge is more practical than religious belief, when it comes to doing things. It might not comfort you in your times of pain, but it does enable rational choices and innovations.

What will it take for mankind to devise a belief system that tolerates knowledge and at the same time nourishes the spirit? This seems to me to be a desperate need of our times.
John Paul insisted faith and science could coexist. In 1996, in a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he said Charles Darwin's theories were sound as long as they took into account that creation was the work of God and that Darwin's theory of evolution was "more than a hypothesis."

But Hawking, 64, questioned whether an almighty power was needed to create the universe.

"Does it require a creator to decree how the universe began? Or is the initial state of the universe determined by a law of science?" he asked.

These aren't trivial questions. There is an apparent need for people to feel that the universe has intent and empathy, that destiny is a course loaded with meaning, that an unseen intelligence dishes out consequences based on moral choices. Science can't comment on these questions, because there is no empirical test for them -- the domain of science is limited to those aspects of the world that can be observed. But the domain of religion includes things observed and unobserved. And it's in the overlap that we have conflict.

I would hope that today's religious leaders, rather than trying to stop the advance of knowledge, are giving serious thought to the problem of maintaining faith in a universe that runs on the basis of nonmysterious principles.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Family Research Council Lobbyist Busted Offering to Pay for Group Sex

I saw this yesterday and just thought the guy was just a Republican, I didn't realize he actually worked for the Family Research Council.

From his lobbying registration for the FRC: ""General Description: Non-profit commited to Promoting Family, Faith and Freedom."

Wonkette loves this kind of story (so do I):
It’s getting so that a couple nice young girls can’t drive up to DC for the Pride parade without getting openly propositioned by Republican Strategists who give them their real names and business cards these days. Take, for example, the MySpace blog of one such lady, whose sordid tale is reprinted (as a warning to the well-endowed) below:
afterward, we got a snazzy hotel room at the mayflower downtown. on the way over there, this really hot business man in a pinstriped suit walked past me, said hello, and doubled back. he asked me my name and introduced himself (jack burkman, government relations strategies), asked where i went to school, etc, gave me his card, and asked me to call him. i later texted him and never could get rid of him again. he thought he talked to me on the phone several times, but he never did. i always made kat or kristin be me. he told kristin about how he really enjoyed my outfit (TITS GALORE) and that i was beautiful, etc. by the end of the night (5 am or so), he was offering to pay for our room and give us a thousand dollars if two of us would **** him. oh, jack burkman. his card is my DC souvenir.

Oh, Jack Burkman. As you can see at right, curiosity got ahold of the young lady, and she commenced googling. And posting the results for us all to enjoy.

Jack, if you’re going to pick up girls from out of town, you could pick a better venue than the Pride parade. That’s all we’re saying. Republican Strategists, Sex, MySpace, and Pride: A Heartwarming DC Tale

Unfortunately, the girl has now set her MySpace as private, so you can't read it, but yesterday it was out there for all to see. The story is, these girls drove to DC to be in the Pride parade -- they don't mention if they're lesbians or not, they just look like some teenage-or-slightly-older young ladies. The blogger has rather noticeably large breasts, which attracted the attention of the Family Research Council lobbyist. He gave them his card -- which they've posted on the Internet as evidence -- and they started text-messaging each other.

As kids do these days, she wrote about the experience on her MySpace. Meeting this jerk was about as important as some weird bar they went into and how cool their hotel room was. In fact, she posted a bunch of pictures from the parade, and didn't even have a picture of the Family Research Council guy. He made that big of an impression.

I've already stretched the decency standard here on the blog a little bit, quoting from Wonkette, so I won't quote this Family Research Council guy directly. Let's just say he wanted to ... have sex ... with two or three of these girls, and offered to pay a pretty good price for it.

Is that Family? Faith? Freedom? Mmm, maybe he considered it an expression of Freedom, we'll have to ask him.

Well, first of all, is it strange at all to you that the Family Research Council guy was hanging out at the Pride parade? What was he doing, taking down names?

Second, I have to admit I feel bad about some of the things I say here on the blog. Like, in the previous post I used the word "hypocrite" to describe the Ten Commandments advocate congressman who could barely guess at three of the commandments. I'm sorry I called him that. Because, you know, it would just sound redundant if I used the same word again, know what I mean?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Hey, He Got Three, Sort Of

This Congressman, Lynn A. Westmoreland, has co-sponsored four different bills to allow display of the Ten Commandments on government property:
Typical quote:
“Despite recent and continued attacks by the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU) and others, the fact remains that America is a nation founded on the rule of law, and that law has its basis in principles of religious tradition,” said Westmoreland. “The Ten Commandments are a vital part of our living legacy – a legacy whose influence can be seen in documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Mayflower Compact.” U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Southeastern Legal Foundation Applaud Reintroduction of Ten Commandments Bill

Well, I'm like you. I figure this guy is deeply religious, and that the Ten Commandments, being a cornerstone of his belief system, are so important to him that he figures they ought to be part of ... the government.

He appeared on The Colbert Report last night. Here's part of the transcript:
Colbert: What can we get rid of to balance the budget?

Westmoreland: The Dept. of Education.

Colbert: What are the Ten Commandments?

Westmoreland: You mean all of them?--Um... Don't murder. Don't lie. Don't steal Um... I can't name them all.

From Crooks and Liars


Tell me ... do you get this?

Little ol' secular me woulda got more of 'em than that.

What part of the definition of hypocrite is missing here?

I Respond to a Response

The Gazette last week published a story that quoted me, and then this person wrote a letter to the editor about it.

The story was about the Love Won Out conference and vigil. A reporter called me and I was completely unprepared -- I hadn't been on any of the conference calls that planned the vigil or anything, though I knew it was happening and planned to go. Anyway, reporter Sean Sedam called me and asked some questions. Here's my part of what ended up in the paper:
Whether someone can truly change his or her sexual orientation has been at the heart of the ongoing debate over the county school system’s sex education curriculum.

‘‘One of the big pushes has been to have something about ex-gays in the curriculum,” said Jim Kennedy of Rockville, who sits on the panel reviewing the curriculum and is president of, one of the groups organizing the protest vigil. ‘‘It seems the whole concept is a hoax and a cruel one.” Gay conversion conference draws protesters and supporters

OK, that was my part in a longish story that quoted people on both sides of the controversy, almost all of them more involved in this matter than I am. I mean, I just don't want this junk in the schools, it doesn't affect me personally in any way. Some people are very deeply involved with this issue, I just want facts in the classroom.

Then this week a letter comes out, written by Regina Griggs, who is the Executive Director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, better known as PFOX. Her whole letter is about little old me.

She starts:
Jim Kennedy’s phobic statements against the ex-gay community are proof of why the public school system must include former homosexuals in its sexual orientation and tolerance curriculum.

In the article, ‘‘Gay conversion conference criticized,” Mr. Kennedy, as president of Teach the Facts, states that the ex-gay community is a cruel hoax. The fact that he sits on the curriculum committee makes us question the school board’s judgment in appointing a biased and discriminatory group to draft school lessons on sexual orientation. Views differ on gay conversion therapy

OK, I don't care, she can have her opinion. And I did say it was a cruel hoax, true that.

How that proves that the cruel hoax belongs in the schools, mmm, actually, I don't get that part.

She could have stopped here, and it wouldn't bother me any. But she didn't.
Contrary to Mr. Kennedy’s assertions that former homosexuals do not exist, the ex-gay community can attest to the fact that thousands of men and women with same sex attractions have made the personal decision to leave homosexuality.

People, one reason I included my part of the original article was so that we could look back and see just where I stated that "former homosexuals do not exist." See that? No, I don't either.

This is the strangest thing, people making stuff up. How do you deal with this? Or, more importantly for me, how is it that my life has sunk to this level? Why am I talking to these people?

OK, I know the answer: they simply need to be stopped.

Listen, I don't know if anybody ever changes from gay to straight. I know lots of people go from (pretending to be) straight to gay, so I wouldn't be surprised if it went the other way, too, though I've never actually heard of it happening when there weren't ulterior motives. It doesn't matter to me if people switch both ways, all over the place.

I look at it this way: I grew up in the sixties, and I don't do everything I did back then.

And no, I'm not going to talk about it. But it doesn't shock me if people change.

I do have serious doubts about someone who is really gay suddenly becoming really straight. I suppose somebody might be bisexual, they might have foolishly thought they were gay and then found out they weren't, they might ... uh ... get hit on the head and wake up different ... I don't know, nothing's impossible. But just a regular gay guy going to a shrink and coming out straight? Mmm, I'd have to see that.

It seems strange that they always claim that their numbers are thousands. Sometimes they say "tens of thousands." But when somebody wants to interview one, or whenever you read about one, it's always the same ones.

My point is, I got nothing against anybody who decides to swing from the opposite side of the plate, whichever side they started on. And I have been consistent about this from the start: if there is such a thing as an "ex-gay" person, I have nothing against them.

Ah, but she's not finished.
Because people like Mr. Kennedy refuse to respect that decision, ex-gays are subject to an increasingly hostile environment where we are reviled simply because we dare to exist. This is exactly why the sex education curriculum must include ex-gays — to combat intolerance against people who are different from Mr. Kennedy.

Ah! This is great. This is just great. I am so evil.

First of all she says I have asserted that they don't exist, and now she says I refuse to accept their decision -- listen, lady, I totally accept anybody's decision to be attracted to whoever they want, or to snuggle up with whoever they want -- I'll go you one, I accept anybody's decision to marry anyone they want, assuming, in all these cases, that consenting adults are involved.

You think you can stop being gay? Cool. Do it.

It's like a couple of years ago, when the Transcendental Meditation guys said they could fly. And somebody showed the videotape on TV, and they were just sitting in a lotus position with their eyes closed, bouncing around like stump-legged frogs. Hey, they thought they were flying. Did I come out against that? No, what do I care if some guys want to believe they're flying? So why would I care if some other guys want to say they're not gay any more? (Well, I admit I would oppose it if the schools started teaching that people can fly...)

But I most especially love the last line of that paragraph. The idea that anybody would be like me, wow. I'd hate to live in a world where everybody was like me. I'd never get away with anything -- they'd all know what I was up to! I wouldn't even want to meet somebody like me.

Look, if you used to be gay, and now you're not, you're straight. And I don't see that there is much of a case to be made, that there is a lot of intolerance for straight people.

If "ex-gays" are "reviled," it's not because they decided to change -- it must be something different. How about ... the obnoxious way they go around telling other gay people that they need to change, too? How about those ridiculous "change is possible" billboards, like the one they put up along 355 last year? How about the destruction they do, trying to convince perfectly healthy young men that there's something wrong with them? There is reason for people to not like them, but it's not what she's saying.

Ms. Griggs wants to pretend that there is discrimination against people who say they have changed their sexual orientation. There's not. There's a reaction against obnoxious, homophobic, holier-than-thou moralizing, but nobody cares who you sleep with, or used to sleep with, or whether those are the same or different.

She has one more thing to say:
Contempt of those who have resolved unwanted same sex attractions perpetuates misunderstanding and harm against the ex-gay community. It also demonstrates a disregard for diversity and a refusal to respect a basic human right to dignity and self-determination. Please remember that former homosexuals are also worthy of respect.


She makes a strident case against something that doesn't exist, and her sermonizing has nothing to do with what I said.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Good People

I was talking to a friend yesterday who reminded me of a term that's used out in the parts of the country that he and I came from -- I'm from Arizona, he's from Nebraska.

We were talking about how mean our country seems these days. Who would have imagined that America would practice torture, who would imagine the greed and corruption, the unprovoked attacks on other countries? This crazy anti-gay stuff, and the meanness of people like Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, the talk-radio idiots ... the whole point is to be unkind, inconsiderate, and rude.

We were talking about how the upper-crust of the Republican Party, the greedy ones, have carefully cultured the lower level of ignorant, fearful voters, who can be manipulated by just pushing their buttons -- say the word "terrorist," for instance, or "family values," and they'll do anything you want. And the undermining of public education is all part of that; the upper-crust guys can go to Yale and fancy private universities, the voting Republicans' kids never will. It's like what is happening in Montgomery County and other parts of the country, the assault on the public schools, is part of a deliberate effort to prevent critical thinking and keep the ignorant ones ignorant, so the greedy ones can continue to exploit them and get their votes by pushing their buttons. Call me paranoid, I'm just telling you what this guy and I were discussing.

The question my friend and I were discussing was the asymmetry between the Republican and Democratic parties. The Republicans clearly have this strategy of nurturing and exploiting ignorance, and they've got it down to an art -- so who's going to vote for the Democrats?

My friend said, "It's going to be what we call back home the good people."

And that's it, isn't it? Good people. Remember in your old neighborhood, there were the nosy ones, the bossy ones, the imposing ones, the cranky ones, and gossips and nags and cheaters, and then there were good people. These were people who minded their own business, worked hard, cleaned up after themselves, cared for their families. Sometimes they were religious, but sometimes they weren't, that wasn't a requirement to be a good person. Sometimes they got in trouble, but mostly not, and when they did it was some kind of mistake or stupid thing they shouldn't have done, and they knew it, and the other good people knew it and forgave it, because they knew they might do something dumb some day, too.

I've lived and visited all over this country, I've hung out in the dime stores and bars and mom-and-pop restaurants, and the people of the United States never seemed mean to me. I find it a mystery, where the George Bushes and the Ann Coulters find their audience. The people I've met have been smart, hard-working, honest, curious. Oh, they might be broke, or they might get thrown in jail every now and then, or their marriages might fall apart -- I'm not talking about perfect people here.

Good people live and let live. They sympathize with those who are in pain, and sometimes cry out in pain themselves. And when they do, because they're good people, other people care and try to help. Good people know that you don't make it alone in this world, sometimes you need help and sometimes you are able to help other people, and when they can, they do.

Good people aren't always competing with everybody. They do their job, they laugh with and not at people, they might wander off the straight-and-narrow sometimes, or even a lot, but that's not what it's about. They aren't greedy, and they're not suspicious but they're smart enough to see when somebody's trying to take advantage of them.

I've been in nearly every state in the country, and I've seen good people everywhere I've been.

It's hard to get good people excited about political ideas, because they tend to trust other people and figure things will work out. I think a lot of good people went along with the fake justifications for attacking Iraq, for instance, actually believing that their government was being honest with them; a lot of good people don't understand what the gay thing is about, and they might believe what they've been told, but they don't hate people just for being different. Good people tend not to judge you unless you do something to them.

Now that they see that things were not what they thought they were, the good people have to figure everything out again, they need to go back and separate what was true and what was lies, and it's a little tricky if you were just going along believing everything that was said, trusting that other people were good people, too. But the country has come to a point where the good people are going to have to assert themselves. Somebody needs to step up, a leader, and speak for, and to, the good people of America. I really don't care if it's a Republican or a Democrat, but I am not very hopeful that the good people will be very well represented by the Republicans at this point, whose one-party rule has gotten us into this situation in the first place.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

School Board Discusses Delays

You know the citizens advisory committee for the new sex-ed curriculum has had its last four meetings cancelled. The school district has hinted at meetings with legal staff, but they are playing this very close to the chest. Yesterday the topic came up in a school board meeting. The Gazette reports:
A panel convened to review the county school system’s sex education curriculum has canceled its past three meetings because it didn’t have any material to review.

The 15-member Citizen Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development has not met since April 5, and there are no meetings scheduled for the summer, said Brian J. Porter, the superintendent’s chief of staff and the school system’s liaison to the panel.

The committee is waiting for school administrators to present materials for their review, Porter said at Tuesday’s county school board meeting in Rockville.

School administrators have not brought the new curriculum before the panel because it is still under review by school system lawyers.MCPS sex ed debate stalled by legal review: Superintendent says schools want to avoid another challenge

Well, first of all, it's been four meetings, and not three. Meetings scheduled for April 24th, May 11th, May 25th, and June 12th have all been called off.

I'm on the committee, you know, and I gotta say, I ran into a guy at the mall recently who looked vaguely familiar. Later I remembered it was somebody from this committee -- I didn't even recognize him. It's been more than two months.

So they're talking to lawyers? About what?
‘‘The issues have risen around making sure we have the curriculum, the teacher resource materials and the teacher preparation materials aligned and consistent,” Porter said.

Committee members have expressed frustration about the pace of the review, but said the group’s meetings have been productive. At the April 5 meeting, the committee approved framework that will guide the new curriculum.

Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said his office is doing a careful review of the lessons in the wake of a federal lawsuit last year that challenged revisions to the curriculum. The revisions included a discussion of sexual orientation and a video demonstrating condom use.

Yes, some committee members have expressed frustration. Have I? Oh, OK, a little bit. The current sex-ed curriculum has been around since Nixon was President. It's about time to update it. We're ready.

Skipping a little bit:
A Feb. 17 memo from Weast to the board said recommendations would be brought to the board for a vote this month. Weast backed away from that schedule on Tuesday.

‘‘Last time my office didn’t thoroughly do its due diligence in its review, nor did our attorneys do it, and we’re not going to go there again,” he said.

Porter said he was not sure what the delays would mean for the condom demonstration video, which was scheduled for field tests this fall.

On Tuesday, Sarah Hund, an organizer with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, told the board that the delay is harming students.

‘‘We are particularly concerned that [the school system] has still not released to classrooms the condom-use demonstration video, which was created at the request of students several years ago, who asked for help in learning the proper use of condoms ...,” said Hund, who is not on the panel. ‘‘This video was not even considered in the last lawsuit, which is all the more reason it should not have been withheld from another class of students.”

Yes, that's the point, isn't it? Educating the students. The video that is now used is out of date. Kids can't relate to the afros and the bell-bottoms any more, they spend more energy giggling at the groovy threads than learning about something that might turn out to be very important to them.
The planned field test of the curriculum on sexual orientation, scheduled for spring 2007, and the full rollout of the new curriculum, scheduled for the 2007-2008 school year, are still on track, Weast said.

‘‘I’m committed to moving forward with the curriculum,” said board member Patricia B. O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda. ‘‘But there was a very costly piece of litigation against us last year, and I want to be careful we don’t incur legal expenses that are astronomical.”

I usually try to watch these meetings online or on TV, but I missed it yesterday, so I'm just going by what several people described to me. It sounds like this was a very unscripted discussion, not even something on the agenda, but something that came up when Ms. Hund raised the issue in public comments. I was told that Dr. Weast gave the impression that he is out of the loop, which is interesting, because I have also been told that some board members feel that the Superintendent is leaving them out of the loop. The citizens committee is definitely being left out of the loop.

Is anybody in the loop?

Is there a loop?

If they're trying to stall this until after the election, then the controversy becomes, not sexual orientation and condoms, but ... stalling. Do voters want a school board and Supervisor that can't make a decision? Do they want a school system that spends their tax money on high-priced lawyers, just in case some loudmouths complain?

My guess is that county voters want a Superintendent and Board of Education that can take the bull by the horns, that will put the facts on the table, make some decisions, and implement the curriculum they promised the county years ago. If they are going to back down on their commitment to provide comprehensive, inclusive, and up-to-date sex education to Montgomery County students, then they should tell the public now.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Review: School Board Elections This Year

TeachTheFacts is, as the name suggests, primarily concerned with the public schools teaching the facts. We are a registered 501(c)(3) corporation, which puts some limits on how much we can endorse candidates in elections -- we're not here as a political entity, but as a group that wants to see that our community maintains high standards in public education, in terms of both accuracy and fairness. We are not a deep-pockets organization (a little understated humor there) and probably won't be pouring money into any campaigns or anything -- but we do have an intense interest in watching how the races line up, and seeing that good people end up in important decision-making positions in Montgomry County, Maryland.

We will be especially interested in watching the school board candidacies. So far, we have learned that Board President Dr. Charles Haughey and Board members Gabriel Romero and Valerie Ervin have decided not to run again (because Ervin is mid-term, someone will be appointed to fill her position if she steps down). Challengers are still filing, until the cutoff date of July 3rd, so we'll keep an eye on them, too. Primaries are in September.

Just to get us warmed up, I am going to copy something from the Potomac Newcomer's Guide, put out by the Potomac Almanac. Here is some information about the school board, including stuff about members (I edited a little bit where it was out of date):
Board of Education

The eight-member board is the county’s official educational policy-making body and is responsible for the direction and operation of the public school system.

Although board members are divided into regions (Potomac falls into District 2) in order to ensure that there is representation from different geographical areas of the county, all members are elected at-large. There is one student member of the board who is elected by the middle and high school students of the county. The student member’s vote does not count in certain cases.

The school system's Web site is [really -JimK]. This site is updated regularly with Board of Education agendas, minutes, announcements, invitations for public comment on new policies and other information. E-mail for any Board of Education member should be sent to E-mail is shared with all members of the Board.

Charles Haughey (At Large)*
..Current Board of Education President
..Term expires in 2006
Sharon Cox (At Large)
..Current Board of Education vice-president
Gabe Romero (District 1)*
..Term expires in 2006
Steven Abrams (District 2)
Patricia O’Neill (District 3)
..Term expires in 2006
Valerie Ervin (District 4)
Nancy Navarro (District 5)
..Navarro was appointed to the Board in October, 2004, to fill the seat board member Henry Lee left for family reasons. Her term expires in 2006.
Sebastian Johnson (Student member, Montgomery Blair High School senior)

Asterisks mean the member has announced that they will not run for re-election.

Incumbents participating in this year's election process, then, are Pat O'Neill and Nancy Navarro.

You can also learn more about current board members by checking the Board's web site -- there are even bios that you can get to on the righthand side of the page.

The local teachers union recently announced the list of candidates they are backing in the elections. From The Post:
Officials with the 12,000-member Montgomery County Education Association yesterday announced that the teachers union is endorsing four candidates in the race for the Montgomery County School Board.

For the 1st District (Gaithersburg) seat, currently held by Gabe Romero (who announced that he would not seek reelection), union members endorsed former teacher and retired Montgomery public school administrator Judy Docca.

In the 3rd District (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) and 5th District (Northeastern County), the union endorsed incumbents Patricia O'Neill and Nancy Navarro.

For the at-large seat held by Charles Haughey, who is not seeking reelection, the union endorsed Shirley Brandman, a longtime PTA volunteer, who is a lawyer and former special education teacher.

Though the official candidate filing deadline for the Sept. 12 primary election is July 3, union officials said they announce endorsements early to allow members to participate in the selection process before summer break. Teachers Back Four Candidates

TeachTheFacts will be watching candidates closely. Of course we have our issue, the sex-ed curriculum, and will not want to see wafflers or bigots elected. Candidates should be able to state clearly how they feel about comprehensive and inclusive sex education, so citizens can know what they're voting for.

I don't expect sex-ed to be anybody's core platform in running -- there's a lot to running a school district besides this, and it's also a hard topic to get the voters involved in. But it is a topic that can separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here is the list of people who have filed, from the Montgomery County Board of Elections web site. I have removed phone numbers and email addresses -- you can get these if you want them. If I was able to find a campaign web site for the person, I linked it. I may update these if I learn about others -- Google doesn't really know everything, quite.


Shirley Brandman
..Cabin John, MD 20818
..Web site:

John Horan Latham
..North Bethesda, MD 20852

Arquilla Ridgell
..Silver Spring, MD 20906
..Web site:


Judy Docca
..Montgomery Village, MD 20886


Patricia B O'Neill
..Bethesda, MD 20817


Nancy Navarro
..Silver Spring, MD 20914-0847
..Web site:

Susie Werner Scofield
..Derwood, MD 20855

We'll keep you updated as filings are announced and statements are made.

Why Didn't I Get a Million Dollars?

I remember when the comedian Dennis Miller got his own show. There was a guy who had a gift of gab, I mean, really, he could run a string of words at you so fast you sometimes didn't get the joke till the next day. It was like word-jazz or something, Coltrane-esque sheets of language splashing, cutting, buzzing around your ears. Obviously an exceptionally intelligent guy. I don't know what his political opinions were before 9/11, but after that moment he emerged as a hawk for the Iraq war and a big Bush supporter.

I remember thinking, this poor guy is going to have the smallest audience in the world: people who are smart enough to understand him, who are also pro-Bush.

You notice he's off the air now.

Picture that Venn diagram, where his audience is the part where the two circles overlap. Turned out that part wasn't very big.

Well, it looks like Mary Cheney has put herself into the same kind of Venn-sliver. A pro-Bush lesbian -- oh, I'm sure everybody's going to relate to that. All Bush supporters and all lesbians are sure to run right out and buy her new book ... right? Mmm, no, not the union of the sets, the intersection, generously defined. How about if all lesbians who can stomach the administration and all Bush supporters who can tolerate lesbians bought the book?

The Advocate is reporting that the book isn't selling all that well:
Despite saturation media coverage when it was published a month ago, Mary Cheney's book Now It's My Turn has tanked at bookstores. Published by a conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster, the memoir has sold fewer than 6,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen Bookscan.

The book's sales have declined in each of the four weeks since its release, to only 574 copies sold for the week ending June 3. That's 77% fewer than its first-week sales of 2,445.

At this rate, it will be virtually impossible for Simon & Schuster to recoup the reported $1 million advance it paid Cheney for the book, which describes her life as the gay daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Six thousand copies???

Listen, my book on particle swarm optimization sold more than that.

She got a million-dollar advance?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Vigil in the Times

I understand a number of the local TV news shows carried yesterday's vigil, and a several reporters from the print media were there, too.

Wasn't it interesting how the Washington Times wrote up the conference and vigil?

The Times, a mouthpiece of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's very conservative Moon Unification Church, always takes the hard-right road, especially on things like homosexuality that the Reverend has determined to be immoral and reprehensible. So you just know how The Times is going to write this up: wonderful, respectful, thoughtful, moral people inside the church -- dirty, foul-mouthed libertines outside protesting.

You'd think that. Well, they started like you'd expect:
An evangelical Christian pro-family group held a conference on homosexuality yesterday in Silver Spring, emphasizing that homosexuals can choose to change their sexual preference and live as heterosexuals.

More than 700 people came to Immanuel's Church for "Love Won Out," conducted by Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based group founded by in 1977 by psychologist James Dobson.

The conference sought to assist those struggling with their sexuality and help with their chosen conversion to a heterosexual lifestyle. Homosexuality a choice, group contends - By Tarron Lively

There were few more paragraphs like that, red meat for the true believers.

I keep looking at that headline, and thinking that whoever wrote it must know how absurd it sounds. Like, "Color of sky a choice, group contends." I mean, nobody really thinks homosexuality is a choice ... do they?

But what about those cheerful people outside?
Outside the church, about 70 pro-homosexual residents, elected officials and religious leaders held a vigil across the street.

Love that "pro-homosexual" thing, that's pure Peter Sprigg. I don't know if he's got it copyrighted, but it's his, all right.

Funny, I was standing out there, and I'm not "pro-homosexual," whatever in the world that is supposed to be. That'd be like being pro-nighttime, or pro-oxygen, or pro-anything-you-can't-do-anything-about-anyway. I'm pro-truth. I'm pro-understanding. Sorry to say it, but I don't feel one way or the other about homosexuality, or about gay people, or whatever they're trying to imply here. And I was out there, and there were lots of other straight people who, I think, believe more or less like I do about this stuff. Some of us just oppose mean, hateful lies, in general.

Mmm, the rest of this is actually not bad.
Passing motorists honked their horns in support of the protesters, who held signs reading, "It's OK to be gay" and "Focus on your own family."

Deborah Mizeur of Takoma Park held a large, framed wedding photo of her and her partner, Heather, who is running for the Maryland House of Delegates. Miss Mizeur said she was disheartened by Focus on the Family's promotion of "hatred and division."

"There so many young people who want to be true to themselves, and they're getting pressure from their parents and the church to deny who they are," she said. "I'm a Christian and a lesbian, and the church that I go to, and the Jesus that I know, loves all people."

Dan Furmansky, the executive director of Equality Maryland, which organized the vigil, said its goal was to "call Focus on the Family on the lies that they spread."

"Every mainstream, accredited mental-health organization has discredited conversion therapy," he said. "It's been called potentially dangerous to the people it claims to help. It's not a debate."

Delegate Gareth E. Murray, Montgomery County Democrat, joined the demonstration and said that he is concerned that youths in need of guidance are outcast.

"God made each and every one of us, and God loves each and every one of us -- unconditionally," said Mr. Murray, who is also a minister. "If there's a child in the congregation dealing with sexual orientation issues, will that child be led to speak to someone at the church?"

Of course they tucked this part down in the bottom of the story, after the usual stuff, but at least they included some statements, and I liked the fact that they acknowledged that people driving by honked and waved and gave support to us on the sidewalk.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The "Love Won Out" Vigil

I spent a few hours out in the sun this morning with about eighty other people, standing in front of a church where Focus on the Family's "Love Won Out" conference was being held. We held signs and watched the people drive into the church parking lot -- it didn't seem like there were really that many of them attending the conference. Lots of people driving past on New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring honked and waved, truck drivers and moms taxiing kids to Saturday-morning soccer, students.

Inside Immanuel's Church, people were being told some fake-psychology theories about why some people are attracted to members of their own sex and they were being told that there are methods for changing that. In fact, these are theories with no research supporting them, and psychotherapeutic techniques with no history of success. The whole thing is pure Wishful Thinking, a cruel hoax.

The guys inside that church take a situation that requires no judgment of another human being, any more than eye-color or handedness, and redefine it as a moral issue. Since you're not like everybody else, you are depraved and despicable. Inside that church, people were learning how to overcome the depravity of homosexuality. I doubt that they spent much time dwelling on the question of why you'd want to overcome it, the answer is obvious to them.

But that seems like the real question -- why would you want to change?

Well, the people out on the street were cheerful, friendly, high-functioning people who know what the game is, and know that you have to fight back against ignorance if you're going to claim your rights. Some were gay, some not, whatever, those people speaking in there needed to be opposed, the people going to the conference needed to know that not everybody agrees with the concept.

I think we got a positive reaction from people driving by, commonsense ordinary people. The poor cops stuck in the middle of this were cool, they helped us get back and forth across the street and stopped traffic so we could come back across from the press conference to the demonstration. I don't why there so many cops there, if they were protecting us or protecting the churchgoers from us. Whichever, they directed traffic a little bit, and otherwise there wasn't much to do.

All in all, the mood was positive. Dan Furmansky gave a rousing talk, and Dr. Lise Van Susteren, Delegate Gareth Murray, PFLAG dad Stephen Eckstrand, and "ex-ex-gay" veteran of years of conversion therapy Robert Rigby, Junior, gave excellent talks to the assembled group.

Hey, I took some pictures, and a few look OK. I had my camera in my pocket and kept forgetting to get it out and take pictures. Here are some links:

PS If you see yourself here and didn't want to have your picture on the Internet or something, please let me know and I'll take it down.

Friday, June 09, 2006

FDA Approves Life-Saving Vaccine

The FDA has approved the anti-HPV vaccine. We were wondering if the political guys over there would allow this.

Human papillomavirus is a common disease that is spread through skin-to-skin contact, including sexual contact. Cervical cancer caused by HPV is a leading cause of death for women around the world.

Because HPV is spread sexually, the nuts at the Family Blah Blah groups opposed the vaccine, even though in clinical trials it was found to be nearly a hundred percent effective. The reasoning will be obvious to any normal-thinking person: the availability of the vaccine will encourage young women to have sex before marriage. I mean, duh, of c-o-u-r-s-e. You can't allow that.

Actually, I think the wack-ohs may have embarrassed themselves a little bit on this one. How many girls, do you think, remain virgins out of fear of human papillomavirus? I'm thinking this number will be essentially ... zero. At the same time, thousands of women die every year from cervical cancer, which can now be prevented with a simple shot. But hey, they said, that's not important, as long as there's another reason out there not to have sex.

Even when the scientists at the FDA recommended approval of the vaccine, nobody was sure that the administration would allow it -- it could have been like Plan B, where the scientists approve it, the ethicists approve it, people want it, and the political appointees in charge turn it down.
WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it has approved the first vaccine designed to prevent cancer.
The vaccine, Gardasil, blocks infection by two types of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which account for about 70% of cervical cancer cases.

Gardasil also blocks infection by two other HPV types that cause about 90% of genital warts cases. Spread by skin-to-skin contact, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the USA. More than 90% of cases clear up on their own, but persistent infection with certain HPV types causes virtually all cervical cancers.

HOW WILL IT BE USED?: Q&A on the vaccine

Alex Azar, deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, called Gardasil "a major step forward in public health protection."

Cervical cancer rates in the USA and other developed countries have plummeted since the introduction of the Pap test more than a half-century ago. But the disease is still the second-most-common malignancy and a leading cancer killer of women worldwide. First-ever cancer vaccine approved

OK, so that's a step in the right direction, that'll save a lot of lives.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Another Citizens Committee Meeting Cancelled

I think this is four in a row, cancelled. The MCPS Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Health and Human Development, which is evaluating the new sex-ed curriculum, hasn't met in two months.

There is a theory out there that the committee was just too ambitious, that the original plan didn't allow enough time for the school district to come up with materials. That theory says this is just how long it takes to develop a new curriculum; the school district's a big bureaucracy, things take time, they want to get it right.

Mmm, yeah, maybe.

And maybe the school district is dragging its heels for some reason.

Word from the district says, "School system personnel are continuing to consult with attorneys regarding the content of proposed curriculum revisions, instructional materials, and teacher resource materials and training components, as well as related timelines."

Listen, there's careful, and there's incapacitated. There's caution, and there's fear. There's deliberate, and there's petrified.

Let's get something going here, OK?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Jon Stewart Lands One

I shouldn't stay up for the Daily Show, but sometimes you just have to. Last night Jon Stewart interviewed the conservative icon Bill Bennett, who wanted to recite some platitudes about traditional marriage and promote his new book. You know that gay marriage is the topic of the week for the Republicans, with the Bush press conference and Republican Congressmen showing pictures of their not-gay family members and everything. They'd definitely rather talk about something like gay marriage than other things that are going on.

You have to admit that some of Stewart's interviews are excruciating ... but some aren't. Last night he took this guy to the woodshed. The crux of it, right here:
Bennett Look, it's a debate about whether you think marriage is between a man and a women.

Stewart:I disagree, I think it's a debate about whether you think gay people are part of the human condition or just a random fetish.

Perfect: this is what we're talking about.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Vigil Saturday

This is going to be a low-key event, but Vigilance readers should know about it and may decide to attend.

Focus on the Family runs a series of events they call "Love Won Out," where they try to convince themselves that gay people can become straight. If you've followed this blog, you know how we feel about reparative therapy and the whole "ex-gay" hoax -- it's a cruel thing to deceive someone who is struggling, to give them false hope that they can stop being what they are. It's the wrong thing to tell someone, and it exploits confusion and unhappiness to further a hateful ideology. Love Won Out is coming to a Montgomery County church this weekend.

Saturday morning and evening the group will be met by a silent vigil outside the church, which will include religious leaders from our area. Read the press release with more details HERE. The vigil will be held from 7:30-9:30 in the morning, and from 4:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon, with a press conference at 9:00 AM. Speakers at the press conference will include Delegate Gareth Murray (D-Montgomery County), a Baptist clergy member and mental health professional; Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist and Montgomery County resident; Robert Rigby, Jr., a survivor of "conversion" therapy; and Stephen Eckstrand, who is a PFLAG father.

The vigil will be held outside Immanuel's Church, at 16819 New Hampshire Ave. in Silver Spring, MD. It is just north of Spencerville Road, 6.8 miles north of Colesville Road. For further information about the vigil, contact Rev. Sandy Dodson.

The Nation's Heart of Darkness

This has been a bizarre week in Washington.

The President of the United States has decided to make a big deal out of the sexual orientation thing. He knows that ... a certain kind of person ... will get fired up over the idea that some people are going to be gay, and he's hoping he can stir them up, like he was able to do last time, so they'll go out and vote for Republicans in the midterm elections.

This time it's a little different. The religious right is well aware that the White House has not delivered on any of its promises to them from the last two Presidential elections. They are complaining and trying to put pressure on, but, face it, this "marriage amendment" thing is not important to anybody, really. Everybody knows it can't pass in Congress, and nobody really cares if it does. Yesterday's press conference was a kind of embarrassing charade.

Look what's important to people.

Daily Kos has posted the results of a recent Gallup poll:
What one or two issues should be top priorities for 
the president and Congress to deal with at this time?

May April

Situation in Iraq/war 42 29
Fuel/oil prices/lack of energy sources/
the energy crisis 29 13
Immigration/illegal aliens 23 20
Economy in general 14 14
Poor health care/hospitals; high cost
of health care 12 9
Terrorism 4 3
Education/poor education/access
to education 4 4
Federal budget deficit/federal debt 3 3
Unemployment/jobs 3 3
Taxes 3 2
Social Security 2 2
International issues/problems 2 2
National security 2 5
Environment/pollution 2 1
Medicare 2 2
Foreign aid/focus overseas 2 2
Poor leadership/corruption/dissatisfaction
with government/Congress/politicians/
candidates 2 1
Poverty/hunger/homelessness 1 1
Ethics/moral/religious/family decline;
dishonesty; lack of integrity 1 1
Natural disaster relief/funding 1 -
Trade deficit/foreign trade 1 -
High cost of living/inflation 1 1
Unifying the country - 1
Judicial system/courts/laws - 1
Abortion - 1
Lack of money - 1
Gap between rich and poor - 1

Other 1 2
No opinion 4 3

Do you see "gay marriage" on that list? It's possible that that's what some of the one percent of the people meant when they answered "Ethics/moral/religious/family decline; dishonesty; lack of integrity," but I'm sure that category is bigger than just "gay marriage."

In fact, nobody really thinks it is a big national problem if some gay guys marry each other.

Yesterday's press conference at the White House was going to be in the Rose Garden, a big deal in other words, but he moved it to a less prominent location. Though leaders of the religious right were there, television crews were very careful never to show any of them on TV. The President walked off after delivering his message, and took no questions. It's like, we have to do this to placate the nuts, but can we get it over with, please?

Exodus International, a religious group that tries to get gay people to change, issued a press release, bragging that they were invited to the White House for this. They quote Exodus president Alan Chambers saying:
"Ultimately, this debate is about nothing less than the preservation of future generations." Exodus press release

Really? Does it seem likely to you that, if you allowed men to marry men and women to marry women, all men would marry men, and all women would marry women?

Am I missing something?

If we allow gay marriage, "future generations" will simply ... not be born? People will fail to procreate? Wouldn't that be weird, if people only had straight sex because the law required it?

I, personally, would really be kind of surprised to learn of that.

There are times that you look around America and think, man, this is one crazy place! We have all kinds of people here, isn't this cool? But then you look at this, a ceremonial event at the White House, the center of executive power for the whole country, the focal point of our national leadership, and you see these clowns running around, you see this ugliness in the heart of our nation.

And you ask yourself, what has happened here?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Bush Strategy Could Backfire

For two reasons.

First, here's the New York Times talking about the Smart Idea Bush has for getting votes for Republicans in the off-year elections:
President Bush is beginning a major push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, part of a new campaign to appease cultural conservatives who say he and his party abandoned their issues after the 2004 elections.

Mr. Bush plans to declare strong support for the amendment — scheduled for a vote in the Senate next week — in his radio address on Saturday, and at an event at the White House on Monday with conservative activists and religious leaders, White House officials said Friday.

Taken together, the events will be the first time Mr. Bush has so strongly promoted his opposition to same-sex marriage since his re-election campaign nearly two years ago. Democrats accused the White House of trotting out a reliable hot-button issue to help soothe and re-energize disgruntled conservative voters five months before the midterm Congressional elections. "Everybody's going to see through it," said Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

But, in a new twist this year, some conservative activists expressed similar cynicism. They said Mr. Bush and the Republicans in Congress had a long way to go to convince social conservatives that they viewed the issue as anything but a politically convenient tool that they picked up only when they needed to motivate their core voters. Bush to Press for U.S. Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

Yes, of course the Democrats are going to be skeptical, but ... even the conservatives are scratching their heads and saying, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

Some of them are smart enough to realize that they were promised everything in the last two elections, and they didn't get any of it.

Look, the question is this: are the American people so stupid that all you have to do is push their buttons and they'll do whatever you want?

How perceptive do you really have to be, to understand this maneuver for what it is? How much intelligence is required, to realize that America has some serious, serious problems, and Adam and Steve ain't on the list?

There is an interesting reaction this time. John Aravosis, a progressive gay blogger, has it this way:
The gay bashers are holding "Marriage Protection Sunday" tomorrow.

They better make sure all their supporters on the Hill are sticking to their vows: no divorces, no adultery, no sodomy. If they want the subject to be marriage protection, we all need to know that their marriages are meeting the standards set by the theocrats who run the GOP.

Some reporter needs to ask about the policy at the White House on divorce, sodomy and adultery for the staff and the Bush and Cheney families. At a minimum, it should be: no marriage, no sex.

The theocrats are aiming for gays now. But they are waging a war on sex. That affects everyone -- even all the red-state, red-blooded men who voted for Bush. AmericaBlog

Think what it would be if those who campaigned for "traditional families" were expected to actually have traditional families.

On this blog, I have bitten my tongue many times over those on the Other Side who claim to support "traditional marriage," after having had divorces themselves. What's harder on a "traditional marriage," do you think, two guys down the street moving in together -- or divorce? A divorce literally destroys a marriage, by definition, that's why you do it. Two guys falling in love might challenge your conception of marriage, but it doesn't hurt it any. Those guys weren't going to marry women, anyway.

See, if you're going to stand for marriage, you ought to show you're able to make that commitment and keep it.

Like, look how the San Diego papers are treating this hypocrite:
Republican Jim Galley, who is running for Congress as a “pro-traditional family” candidate, was married to two women at the same time, defaulted on his child support payments and has been accused of abuse by one of his ex-wives.

The San Diego Union-Tribune discovered the personal history in making public-records checks on Galley, who is making his fourth run for elective office in four years. These checks are part of the newspaper's election reporting process.

Galley married his second wife, Beth, in 1982 when, unbeknownst to her, he was still married to his first wife, Terry. Beth and Galley divorced in 1990 after she sought a restraining order alleging abuse.

The child support was owed to his first wife. Documents show issues with wives, child support

Until now, the news media have been unwilling to examine the personal lives of politicians. We considered it good enough to read about their professional activities, and if they had something going on the side, or haunted the wrong kind of bars, or whatever, we didn't hear about it. Because we elected them to legislate laws, to maintain order in our society, to protect our freedom and make hard decisions, and it didn't really matter what anyone did in their private life.

But they're changing that. Now it does matter what you do in your private life. Now they want to pass laws about what people can do in their private lives.

And I gotta say, it looks like this time it just might come around and bite 'em on the aspirations.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Another Board Member Leaving?

The Washington Post had this little statement tucked into a summary of county education-news-that-doesn't-quite-make-the-news:
An Ervin Run for Council?

County Council President George L. Leventhal told staff members at an annual picnic last week that his top aide, Valerie Ervin, plans to resign June 9. The announcement set off speculation that Ervin, a member of the school board, is preparing to run for the council seat being vacated by Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring), who is running for state attorney general.

Leventhal declined to comment on the chatter, saying, "When she's ready to discuss with the press her next step, she'll do that."

If Ervin, a resident of Silver Spring, decides to enter the race, she will join at least two others vying for the District 5 seat: Takoma Park City Council member Joy Austin-Lane and Silver Spring resident Hans Riemer , political director for the nonprofit Rock the Vote. Council to Increase Oversight of Schools

Valerie Ervin has always been supportive of inclusiveness in the sex-ed curriculum and has encouraged our efforts, but it sounds like she may be thinking of moving on. A lot's going to change in the next month, as people file for these county races. Clearly, this is just rumor at this point, but a credible one.

In other news ... I may have been wrong in assuming that Gabe Romero was no longer associated with that extremist group.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

President to Address Our Most Important Problem

A commentor recently criticized us for quoting from a liberal web site, like that wasn't "objective" enough for them. So this time, I'll quote from a ... very conservative ... site, The Weekly Standard, without comment. The article is kind of long, so I'll just use snippets separated by ellipses. If you doubt my editing, or would just like to read more, the link is at the end.
JUNE 6, 2006, is an important date, not only because it's the 62nd anniversary of D-Day. It's also the day the Senate will vote on the so-called marriage amendment, which would amend the Constitution to restrict marriage in America to a man and a woman.

It won't pass. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate and the House. When the Senate voted in 2004, the amendment got only 48 votes. This time, it's likely to get more--probably between 52 and 58--in part because a powerful and unusually ecumenical religious coalition is now backing the amendment. And President Bush, despite his wife Laura's admonition that the marriage issue ought to be kept out of politics, plans to host a pro-amendment event at the White House and speak out in favor of the amendment.

Once dismissed as a sop to social conservatives, the proposed amendment has become a serious rallying point for opponents of same-sex marriage. The June 6 vote will put senators on the record and make their position on the amendment a potential campaign issue. And the formation of the religious coalition means the issue won't go away soon.

Much of the conventional wisdom about the amendment and the marriage issue turns out to be wrong. For instance, the amendment is not being pushed by Republicans as a wedge issue aimed at dividing Democratic voters. Republican senators regard the issue as touchy and awkward. In fact, they agree with First Lady Laura Bush, who said on Fox News Sunday that the subject of gay marriage "requires a lot of sensitivity" and shouldn't "be used as a campaign tool."

They'd prefer the issue--and the amendment--go away.

In response, the Religious Coalition for Marriage was formed specifically to back the amendment ... What's surprising about the coalition is its breadth. It includes all eight Catholic cardinals in America, liberal and conservative, plus officials of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Church of God in Christ, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), among others.

As for Bush, he will appear on June5 in the Rose Garden before a gathering of amendment supporters and, a White House official says, "strongly support" the amendment. The president has rarely mentioned the amendment in the past. The choice of the Rose Garden as a venue means he is raising the marriage amendment to a higher level on his agenda, his wife's advice notwithstanding.

LINK: With this Bill . . . The Senate debates marriage.