Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Meta-Point

Last night after the citizens advisory committee meeting I blogged a little piece about the video we had just seen. There was a little discussion in the comments about it -- two CRC members had come to the meeting, one Teach the Facts person, and a couple of others, so I know nobody has seen this thing.

I was a little negative about the video, and I want to make a small point, actually, about that. A kind of meta-point, a point about the point.

I don't think the video showed enough. I'm on a committee with fourteen other people, and they all saw it, and none of us took more than a couple of minutes to say good-night and get back to our families, so I don't know what they think.

Let's imagine that the rest of them loved it. Or that twelve of them loved it, and three of us didn't. Let's say we voted, and it was 14-1, or 12-3, and I lost.

Let me tell you what I wouldn't do.
  • I would not send a letter to the school board complaining that the majority was not playing fair, that they wouldn't consider my opinion, that they were picking on me.
  • I would not start a web site demanding the committee be disbanded, and the school board who appointed them be recalled.
  • I would not accuse the committee of promoting homosexuality, encouraging sexual experimentation among children, undermining parents, or violating my religious beliefs. (Or, if you don't like it that way, I wouldn't accuse them of being fascist puritans, insensitive movie critics, or of violating my sense of secular autonomy.)
  • I would not file a lawsuit.
  • I would not buy up domain names similar to the school district's and link them to my own site.
What I would do is to move on, with the rest of the committee, to the next part of the curriculum.

I'm probably not making my point very eloquently here. Here's the deal. You have a school board of elected professionals, with a vast and competent bureaucracy surrounding them. You have a county with some of the best schools in the country. You carefully choose a wide range of citizens to evaluate a new curriculum. They are presented with some materials, say, a video.

The way this should go is:
  • people will have differing opinions
  • they will discuss their differences
  • compromises will be negotiated
  • they will vote
  • nobody will get exactly what they wanted in the short run
  • everybody will get a lot of what they wanted in the long run
That's not so hard, is it? It's called "being grown-ups."

That's not how it went last time. When there was disagreement, some people couldn't handle it. They had to throw a big, public temper tantrum. When the curriculum came down to a vote, they lost, and they refused to accept it.

They weren't trying to fix anything, they were trying to interrupt it.

The rest is history. One big tantrum, culminating in a lawsuit that led to a settlement agreement and starting over.

To those that are worried about my complaining about the video, let me say: relax. It could be better, come on, you know that, or you will when you see it. While I appreciate the district staff's hard work, I would like to see some things improved. But I'm not going to get all Recall-y about it.

"Logical Interpretation" Redefined

From the Washington Post:
Bush suggested last week that Democrats are promising voters to block additional money for continuing the war. Vice President Cheney this week said critics "claim retreat from Iraq would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone." And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, citing passivity toward Nazi Germany before World War II, said that "many have still not learned history's lessons" and "believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased."

Pressed to support these allegations, the White House yesterday could cite no major Democrat who has proposed cutting off funds or suggested that withdrawing from Iraq would persuade terrorists to leave Americans alone. But White House and Republican officials said those are logical interpretations of the most common Democratic position favoring a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Bush Team Casts Foes as Defeatist

Logical interpretations.

Worry, people. This ain't how a democracy sounds.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New Condom Video: First Thoughts

The citizens advisory committee just watched the new condom video production. It is very light on information. Not bad on the eyes, production-wise.

If you actually used this in the schools, I'm afraid the effect on students would be the same frustrating fumble-fingered emergencies that I experienced in my younger days. I'm thinking of this version as a starting-point for the real thing.

The thing is this. It's simple. With proper use, a condom is 97 or 98 per cent effective. With "ordinary" use, it's more like 85 per cent effective.

So it should be worth our while to show the students exactly what proper use really is.

I understand the lawyers spent a couple of months studying this thing and carefully draining it of vitality. You can take the prurience out of it, fine with me, it's not supposed to be a porn movie. You can make it impersonal -- there are no faces, no music, just a swirling colored background in this version ... OK, it's not Hollywood.

But it'll have to have more information in it than this, at least a little more. Sadly, information may correlate with controversy -- well, you won't please everyone, and I certainly don't intend to allow fear of controversy to dominate the development of this new curriculum.

I'll see what I think after I've watched it a couple more times.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Misconstruers: Fear the (Box) Turtle

Hat tip to Box Turtle Bulletin for this one. Good call.

It's a classic. Alan Chambers, the President of Exodus International, a religious group that tells gay people they can become straight, is telling a Family Blah Blah writer some stuff:
Violence within gay relationships is often hidden, but not new. Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, says he knew the problem would become public at some point.

“It’s something that we knew would come to light more as the issue of gay unions began to be on the radar screen of the American public.”

In fact, according to the National Violence against Women Survey, 39- percent of homosexuals report being raped, physically assaulted or stalked by their partners. Chambers says many gays grew up in a home where they were abused and that transfers into their relationships later in life. Domestic Violence Among Gay Couples Ascends

Wow. Thirty-nine percent. That's a bunch. This is another great reason not to let 'em marry each other.

You know. To protect them from themselves.

(Never mind that the "abused at home" meme is pure bull-oney.)
“I’m not saying that all gay people are violent. But in these relationships I believe that that has to be taken into consideration and is a factor for why so many of these relationships end in violence.”

Several states are considering legislation to dedicate money to domestic violence programs for gays. Andrea Lafferty with the Traditional Values Coalition thinks it’s another equality issue for them.

“It’s a bizarre twist on their attempt to legitimize their lifestyle. But nonetheless, this is another attempt to say, ‘Hey, we, the homosexual community, we are just like everybody else.’”

Chambers blames the violence on an extreme sense of unhappiness that often leads to addictive behaviors.

Well, ignorant people read this sort of thing and it sounds plausible, those diabolical perverts are probably sodomistically possessed in other ways besides their sexual ... choices.

But there is another explanation. Maybe men are more violent than women.

(As a tofu-loving Volvo driver, I'm beginning to feel so guilty for sounding sexist -- it just can't be true, everyone must be equal in every way.)

Box Turtle Bulletin says, go to the data. Find the survey report RIGHT HERE. It's nontrivial, 62 pages long, about a meg and a half, but if you're not on dial-up you oughta take a look at it.

Here, I'm not going to pretend to have discovered this. Box Turtle Bulletin will tell you:
Well, it’s true, sort of. Thirty-nine percent of women with a history of same-sex partnership report being raped, assaulted, or stalked by their partners. For men with a history of same-sex partnership, the figure is “only” 23%. For couples with a history of opposite-sex partnership [only], the figures are 21.7% for women, and 7.4% for men.

Yes ... that's what Alan Chambers said.
But the real question is who is doing the raping, assaulting, and stalking?

OK, so I'm dying to know. Who does it?

Well, we already know, because Alan Chambers told us, it's violent gays and lesbians taking advantage of liberal "gay marriage" laws.
For that answer, all you have to do is go to the very next page [p. 30]. In exhibit 9, you will see that —

Among women with a history of same-sex partnership:

  • 30.4% were raped, assaulted or stalked by their husband/male partner
  • 11.4% were raped, assaulted or stalked by their wife/female partner.

And among men with a history of same-sex partnership:

  • 10.8% were raped, assaulted, or stalked by their wife/female partner.
  • 15.4% were raped, assaulted, or stalked by their husband/male partner.

So here is what it all means. Many women with a history of same-sex partnership also have a history of opposite-sex partnership. Because of that, they are far more likely to report being raped, assaulted or stalked because it is the men in their lives who are doing the raping, assaulting or stalking. Not the women. Same-sex cohabiting women were nearly three times more likely to report being victimized by a male partner than a female partner.

And here is where the statistic gets really interesting: 20.5% of women in opposite sex relationships were raped, assaulted or stalked by their husband or male partner. That compares to 15.4% of men who were raped, assaulted, or stalked by their male partners. In other words, gay men are safer around their same-sex partners than straight women are around their husbands or opposite-sex partner.

Is this so hard to understand?

I'm going to try to make a table here. Hopefully it looks right in your browser:

Male Female
Victim Male 15.4% 10.8%
Female 30.4% 11.4%

To the rational person, this pattern says: men are more violent than women, especially in heterosexual relationships.

Look, it wasn't like you had to dig for this. The survey report itself says:
Thus, same-sex cohabiting women were nearly three times more likely to report being victimized by a male partner than by a female partner. Moreover, opposite-sex cohabiting women were nearly twice as likely to report being victimized by a male partner than were same-sex cohabiting women by a female partner (20.3 percent and 11.4 percent).

Somewhat different patterns were found for men. Like their female counterparts, same-sex cohabiting men were more likely to report being victimized by a male partner than by a female partner. Specifically, 15.4 percent of same-sex cohabiting men reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked by a male partner, but 10.8 percent reported such violence by a female partner. However, same-sex cohabiting men were nearly twice as likely to report being victimized by a male partner than were oppositesex cohabiting men by a female partner (15.4 percent and 7.7 percent). These findings suggest that intimate partner violence is perpetrated primarily by men, whether against male or female partners.

OK, that explains it: men are more violent than women. And they're more violent to women than to other men.

This idiot Chambers takes perfectly legitimate-looking data, a big government survey, and totally fabricates the interpretation of the results. Because he's talking to an audience of misanthropic illiterates with no sense of curiosity to motivate them to look anything up, they believe him. Plus, it fits their stereotype, and instead of thinking critically, the Family Blah Blah audience can just believe whatever somebody tells them they're suppose to believe.

Let's imagine they're right. Let's say gay-on-gay violence is a big problem, as Chambers asserts here.

Why would they lie about it?

Candidate Forum Impressions

Last night's candidate forum, sponsored by Equality Montgomery County, the Interfaith Fairness Coalition, and Teach the Facts, was just what we needed. The Kensington town hall has a nice, old, wood-floored auditorium -- this is where I saw the Rocky Horror Show with my family a couple of years ago. We set up about a hundred sixty chairs, some guys brought in a really neat little Fender PA system -- I want one of those, it snaps together, 125 watts per channel stereo into 8-ohm speakers -- they set up tables near the front doors for politicians to put their signs and pamphlets (and there were plenty of these on the seats by the time we started). Somebody set up a nice table with fruit and water and juice.

We were supposed to start at 6:30, and actually came close to hitting that mark. The County Executive session went first. All of the candidates for this important office showed up -- Robin Ficker, Chuck Floyd, Robert Fustero, Ike Leggett, and Steve Silverman. Each candidate offered his views, and it was very interesting to see where they differed and where they didn't. Everybody knows that Montgomery County is getting too crowded -- ah, but what do you do about it? I think that the Washington Post was right about this one, that no matter which of the favored candidates wins, we'll have done pretty well. There were some very qualified guys up there.

The audience submitted questions, and they were good ones. I had expected a lot of questions about GLBT issues, and there were a few, but basically it turns out that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people don't like getting stuck in traffic because of bad planning and bad management of the county's resources. On the GLBT issues, there were a couple of outstanding candidates who have been involved in promoting fairness for years, both inside the system and as community activists. Again, we're in a good shape there.

I have to say, the moderator, Jennifer Chrisler, did an amazing job. She is the Executive Director of the Family Pride Coalition, and actually we just lined her up at the last minute -- Scott Davenport of Equality Montgomery County arranged it. I can't say enough about how professional Ms. Chrisler was. For some parts of the forum, politicians were given 30 or 45 seconds to speak. OK, do you think these are people who like to stop after thirty seconds? She stopped 'em, cheerfully, kept things moving. Her presence was authoritative, attentive, energetic, and she set a perfect tone for the debates.

The crowd thinned out a little after the County Executive session.

The school board went next. We had nine candidates show up for these positions: Shirley Brandman, Dana Gassaway, and Tommy Le are running at-large, Judy Docca and Michael Ibañez appeared for District 1, Pat O'Neill for District 3, and Phillip Kauffman, Nancy Navarro, and Susie Scofield for District 5. The only candidates who didn't show up were John Latham and Arquilla Ridgell, who are running for the at-large position. Some candidates came and spoke even though they aren't running in the primaries, which I took to be a positive sign.

It seemed to me that some of the candidates really knew what they stood for, and ... some were fumbling. In response to a question about comprehensive sex-ed, one candidate said something like "Do you want your daughter performing oral sex?" Well, y'know, the answer there is "No." This candidate thought abstinence should be taught, it turned out, and I guess they thought there would be a connection between that and what your daughter does. OK, if you see a connection there, if you think comprehensive sex-ed will result in your daughter getting into oral sex, then you'll want to check the box next to that person's name.

Another person's answer was vague to the point that you couldn't tell what they were really saying. But generally the Teach the Facts position, that we need solid, fact-based, inclusive and comprehensive sex education, is the mainstream position in this county, and most of the candidates, maybe all but two, were adamantly in line with that.

As far as some other questions, you didn't see anybody who thought sexual orientation was a choice or thought it was something you'd shy away from in a sex-ed class. Some candidates went out of their way to express a commitment to promoting tolerance and acceptance, some were more moderate about it, but everybody was on the same side of the aisle on this topic. Same with bullying; you heard a range of insights and solutions, with everyone agreeing that it is necessary for the schools to do something to see that bullying is curtailed -- especially bullying of students who are perceived to be members of sexual minorities.

As you can see, I'm not giving you any information about any candidate. Not my place, not my desire -- if you wanted to know, you would've been there. I was very impressed with some of these people, and heard lots of comments in the audience, too -- there were some surprises of the positive sort, where you found out that somebody really knows their stuff and really believes in the right things. I am feeling quite positive about next year's school board.

By the way, you might have noticed in our comments section this morning, that Theresa from CRC says she sent out 600 emails to their group, telling them about the forum and, I guess, inviting them to attend. (If you are new to our situation, the CRC formed to oppose the previous sex-ed curriculum, mainly because it treated homosexuality as something normal; Teach the Facts formed to support it.) I saw four people from their group, including her, there last night. Well, if they actually wanted to know where the candidates stand, this was their chance. I was glad to see those four, I think they learned something.

Finally, a whole bunch of candidates showed up for the County Council debate, more than we'd expected. Tufail Ahmad, Hugh Bailey, Marc Elrich, Reggie Felton, Nancy Floreen, Bill Jacobs, Cary Lamari, George Leventhal, Bette Petrides, Michael Subin, and Duchy Trachtenberg were all up there on the crowded stage. Two Democratic candidates, Robert Newsome and Donell Peterman, didn't come, and none of the Republican candidates -- Amber Gnemi, Adol Owen-Williams, Tom Reinheimer, and Shelly Scolnick -- came.

These, again were fascinating. You had the gamut. The one that got me was the question about gay marriage. Now, you know, there's not much you can do about gay marriage at the county level. Also, if you remember the Bush-Kerry debates, this is a political hot-potato. But interestingly, we had an entire panel of eleven people, nearly every Democratic candidate, saying, one after the other and each in his or her own way, that they supported the right of people to marry whoever they choose. The comments ran from those who have obviously invested some thought in the issue to people who just thought it made sense to encourage people -- gay, straight, or whatever -- to form committed partnerships and families. Yeah, you can say they're playing the room, but the truth is anything they say can get quoted in a newspaper -- look what happened with George Allen's "macaca" faux pas, just an off-handed comment at one of these things that possibly turned the entire election against him. So politicians can't really play every crowd differently, they have to live and die by what they say in public.

I want to thank Scott Davenport for doing all the organizing stuff that actually required energy. Everything worked, the moderator was fantastic, and a lot of people got to find out where the candidates stand on issues that are important to them.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Come hear candidates for County Executive, County Council at large, and -- of course -- Board of Education.

All will speak briefly and take questions from the audience.

Plus, you'll probably have a chance to chat with most of them at the end.

The forum will be held at 6:30 PM, in the Town of Kensington Community Center, 3710 Mitchell Street, Kensington.

Go to for directions, or use your favorite mapping site.

This is going to be good.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Katherine Harris on Church and State

I don't want to take sides in an ongoing election campaign, so will report this news without comments. Florida Senate candidate Katherine Harris has raised some questions that we hear sometimes, regarding the separation of church and state.
MIAMI - U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris told a religious journal that separation of church and state is "a lie" and God and the nation's founding fathers did not intend the country be "a nation of secular laws." The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate also said that if Christians are not elected, politicians will "legislate sin," including abortion and gay marriage.

Harris made the comments — which she clarified Saturday — in the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, which interviewed political candidates and asked them about religion and their positions on issues.

Separation of church and state is "a lie we have been told," Harris said in the interview, published Thursday, saying separating religion and politics is "wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers."

"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," Harris said. Harris clarifies comments on religion

Mmm hmmm. <blogger bites lip />
Her comments drew criticism, including some from fellow Republicans who called them offensive and not representative of the party.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who is Jewish, told the Orlando Sentinel that she was "disgusted" by the comments.

Harris' campaign released a statement Saturday saying she had been "speaking to a Christian audience, addressing a common misperception that people of faith should not be actively involved in government."

The comments reflected "her deep grounding in Judeo-Christian values," the statement said, adding that Harris had previously supported pro-Israel legislation and legislation recognizing the Holocaust.

<lip begins bleeding />
Harris' opponents in the GOP primary also gave interviews to the Florida Baptist Witness but made more general statements on their faith.

Harris, 49, faced widespread criticism for her role overseeing the 2000 presidential recount as Florida's secretary of state.

State GOP leaders — including Gov. Jeb Bush — don't think she can win against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November. Fundraising has lagged, frustrated campaign workers have defected in droves and the issues have been overshadowed by news of her dealings with a corrupt defense contractor who gave her $32,000 in illegal campaign contributions.

<blogger collapses from loss of blood />

Barry Goldwater: A Liberal

I think this is very revealing. The New York Times is planning a story, previewed in Editor and Publisher, that points out the fact that, if he were active today, Barry Goldwater would be a liberal.
An interview in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine with C.C. Goldwater reveals that her HBO film to be aired Sept. 18 paints her late grandfather, Sen. Barry Goldwater, "as a kind of liberal," with testimonials from Al Franken, Sen. Ted Kennedy, James Carville and Sen. Hillary Clinton.

In fact, Hillary campaigned for Goldwater in 1964 in his race for president against Lyndon Johnson. "Hillary was a Goldwater girl," says the filmmaker, interviewed by Deborah Solomon. "She passed out cookies and lemonade at his campaign functions."

Solomon calls Goldwater "a half-Jewish cowboy from Phoenix."

The film -- made on a budget of $800,000 -- will note that the straight-talking Sen. Goldwater, author of the classic "The Conscience of a Conservative" (soon to be reissued by Princeton University Press) favored abortion rights and allowing gays in the military, and refused to attend President Nixon's funeral because he "cheated" the country. 'NYT' Sunday Preview: Barry Goldwater ... Hero of Democrats?

You know, I grew up in Goldwater Country. I was born in Phoenix back when it was a little farm town. The Goldwater family had been around there for a hundred years, and my dad knew Barry Goldwater because they were both ham radio operators. My parents were "Goldwater Republicans" of the old school, like just about everybody around there in those days.

Even as a boy, I had no interest in politics, so I'm not going to take any hard line about him, but in Phoenix we always had the idea that he was a straight-talking man of clear conscience, who tried to help people and believed America should be strong and proud, and all that still sounds good to me.

There is a good 1998 article online, published by the Arizona Republic (where I used to be a paperboy, on my Schwinn):
* Goldwater had won support of abortion opponents in his 1980 U.S. Senate re-election campaign, but in his final term, he voted consistently to uphold the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. Later in life, he was honored by Planned Parenthood.

* In 1981, Goldwater assailed the founder of the Moral Majority, the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Responding to Falwell's statement that all good Christians should be concerned about the Supreme Court nomination of Arizonan Sandra Day O'Connor, he said, "I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."

* In 1987, Goldwater, who had described then Gov. Evan Mecham as "hardheaded," called on the Republican maverick to resign.

In all fairness ... Ev Mecham was not only "hardheaded," he was totally out of control, one of the first of the current crop of rightwing nuts.
* In 1989, Goldwater said the Republican Party had been taken over by a "bunch of kooks," a reference to forces supporting TV evangelist Pat Robertson and Mecham.

* In 1992, he endorsed Democrat Karan English for Congress over Republican Doug Wead.

* In June 1993, Goldwater declared that the military should lift its ban on gays in the military. He also railed against discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace. Conservative pioneer became an outcast
A very interesting change has come over the country.

There's a lot more in this Arizona Republic article, you might want to look at it ... or wait and see what the NYT has.
In a 1994 commentary published in The Arizona Republic, he spoke proudly of the GOP's traditional stance for "individual rights and liberties."

"The positive role of limited government has always been the defense of these fundamental principles," he said.

"The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please, as long as they don't hurt anyone else in the process."

--The complete opposite of what today's "conservatives" believe, that everybody needs to be like them.
In the same article, Goldwater warned that "the radical right has nearly ruined our party."

"Its members do not care about the Constitution and they are the one making all the noise," he said.

See, through all this sex-ed stuff, it has occurred to me that there is a lot of agreement, really, between real conservatives and liberals. I have often said, there is a possibility of a debate, of a discussion, where things get worked out. The problem is not really a conflict between conservatives and liberals.

Because, see, people like Ann Coulter, George Bush, Rush Limbaugh ... are not conservative at all. These are people -- the "kooks," in Goldwater's language -- who have stolen the label "conservative" and run away with it. They're not interested in individual rights and liberties, quite the opposite; and do we need to talk about small government? America has never seen government spending, and the intrusion of government in people's private lives, like we have now that these guys are in charge.

The only overlap I see between Goldwater's conservatism and today's faux-conservatives is a too-casual reliance on military solutions to diplomatic problems. Goldwater had some over-the-top ideas about using the threat of military might to intimidate enemies; maybe some of it was just talk, but the truth is, you can't take the chance. We shouldn't have in 2004, and we couldn't in 1964, either. In those days people were smart enough to vote against it.

For me personally, I think having grown up in the desert, and knowing that Goldwater's people were desert people, gives you a sense of the kind of freedom, the kind of crankiness, that he stood for. You go out to Eloy or Bisbee or Clifton-Morenci or Apache Junction or Prescott, and get out of your car and talk to people, and you'll see they have strong opinions, and they don't care what you think, if you're good people you'll get along with them, but if you want to tell them what to believe you're out of luck. There's a kind of rattlesnake toughness that develops out there, a self-reliance that permits no nonsense; the sun turns your skin to leather, the isolation gives you time to think, those desert rats out there are unique, every person different from the next. They value their differences and will fight for the right -- their own, and their neighbor's -- to be whatever it is they feel they are, without having to justify it to anyone or explain themselves.

It is fascinating and surprising to look back and see that Barry Goldwater, the father of the conservative movement, would be, by today's standards, a liberal.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Candidate Forum Monday

Teach the Facts is working with two other groups, Equality Montgomery County and the Interfaith Fairness Coalition, to put on a Montgomery County candidate forum this coming Monday, August 28th. Most of the candidates for County Executive, County Council at large, and Board of Education have RSVPed, and it looks like it will be a big night to learn where they stand on some issues of interest to us.

Our group exists to support an honest and accurate sex-education curriculum, and the other two groups mainly represent gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) interests, and so it is likely that the discussion will focus on those kinds of issues. Of course, the education we're interested in has to do in part with sexual orientation, and so we want a lot of the same things as the other groups, basically. That's how some of us get referred to as "gay activists," even without being gay.

Candidates will give a short speech, answer a couple of prepared questions, and then, after all have spoken, they will get some questions from the audience. I imagine there will be a nice schmooze session afterwards, where you can collar your candidate and pick their brain. I think it will be a real good chance to find out how these people feel about some difficult issues -- are they willing to stick their necks out to do what's right? Let's find out.

Here's who'll be there, as of Friday afternoon:

County Executive candidates (all of them):
Robin Ficker, Chuck Floyd, Robert Fustero, Ike Legett and Steve Silverman

Board of Education candidates (all but 2 candidates will be there):
Shirley Brandman, Dana Gassaway, Tommy Le, Judy Docca, Michael Ibanez, Patricia O'Neill, Philip Kauffman, Nancy Navarro, and Susie Scofield.

County Council At Large:
Hugh Bailey, Reggie Felton, Nancy Floreen, Bill Jacobs, Marc Elrich, Cary Lamari, and Duchy Trachtenberg

The forum will be held next Monday August 28, at 6:30 PM, in the Town of Kensington Community Center, 3710 Mitchell Street, Kensington.
(go to for directions)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Just Like It Didn't Exist

A mysterious gap has appeared on the list of acceptable majors for low-income students seeking federal grants. The New York Times:
Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.

The omission is inadvertent, said Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, which administers the grants. “There is no explanation for it being left off the list,” Ms. McLane said. “It has always been an eligible major.”

Another spokeswoman, Samara Yudof, said evolutionary biology would be restored to the list, but as of last night it was still missing.

If a major is not on the list, students in that major cannot get grants unless they declare another major, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Mr. Nassirian said students seeking the grants went first to their college registrar, who determined whether they were full-time students majoring in an eligible field.

“If a field is missing, that student would not even get into the process,” he said. Evolution Major Vanishes From Approved Federal List

OK, raise your hand if you think this was "inadvertent."

Mmm hmm, I don't see any hands on either side of the room.

You know what's going on here.
That the omission occurred at all is worrying scientists concerned about threats to the teaching of evolution.

One of them, Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University, said he learned about it from someone at the Department of Education, who got in touch with him after his essay on the necessity of teaching evolution appeared in The New York Times on Aug. 15. Dr. Krauss would not name his source, who he said was concerned about being publicly identified as having drawn attention to the matter.

An article about the issue was posted Tuesday on the Web site of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Dr. Krauss said the omission would be “of great concern” if evolutionary biology had been singled out for removal, or if the change had been made without consulting with experts on biology. The grants are awarded under the National Smart Grant program, established this year by Congress. (Smart stands for Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent.)

The United States still has a chance to beat Turkey for the title of Most Ignorant About Biology, if we keep on going like this.

Man, this is something else. Follow the link here and see this for yourself:
The list of eligible majors (which is online at is drawn from the Education Department’s “Classification of Instructional Programs,” or CIP (pronounced “sip”), a voluminous and detailed classification of courses of study, arranged in a numbered system of sections and subsections.

Part 26, biological and biomedical sciences, has a number of sections, each of which has one or more subsections. Subsection 13 is ecology, evolution, systematics and population biology. This subsection itself has 10 sub-subsections. One of them is 26.1303 — evolutionary biology, “the scientific study of the genetic, developmental, functional, and morphological patterns and processes, and theoretical principles; and the emergence and mutation of organisms over time.”

Though references to evolution appear in listings of other fields of biological study, the evolutionary biology sub-subsection is missing from a list of “fields of study” on the National Smart Grant list — there is an empty space between line 26.1302 (marine biology and biological oceanography) and line 26.1304 (aquatic biology/limnology).

There's still nothing there. You look down this whole page, and there's line after line of majors, and then ... a gap. Nothing.

Inadvertent. Sure.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bush and The Stranger

Last week the President was on vacation and doing a little light reading: The Stranger, by Albert Camus. So ... just for fun, and since I was at the beach, I bought the book and read it, too. Just to see what kind of head-space the Prez was getting into.

I had read it in college, y'know I was all full of existentialism, having read Barrett's Irrational Man. Have you ever tried to plough through Being and Nothingness? No, that's not what you want to do right out of the chute. You gotta start somewhere, so I waded in up to my knees with Camus. And now, thirty five or a million years later, I had forgotten nearly everything about the book. So I read it again last week.

The Stranger is a creepy book about a man with no conscience. He thinks without thinking -- Meursault's is the unexamined life Plato warned us about. He helps people do bad things, because, well, why not? His girlfriend asks if he will marry her:
That evening Marie came by to see me and asked me if I wanted to marry her. I said it didn't make any difference to me and that we could if she wanted to. Then she wanted to know if I loved her. I answered the same way I had last time, that it didn't mean anything but that I probably didn't love her.

Sometimes Meursault gives a reason for his behavior, but it always the least insightful reason imaginable. Not an explanation really, just some words to make people quit asking him why he did something. To him the question, why did you do that? is meaningless, boring.

Meursault acts on the way he feels in the moment, with no plan and no principles upon which to base a plan. Somebody wants to do something, and he says, OK, why not? Unless he doesn't feel like doing it, then he gives some lame reason, or just flakes out.

Meursault's vision is stripped down to seeing just what's there, and nothing else. Beauty to him nothing more than pleasure, and other people are evaluated in terms of how he feels when he's around them. Never mind how they feel or what they think of him, it just doesn't matter -- it's not that they don't have feelings, it just isn't enough to concern himself with. If something is interesting he pays attention to it, if not then he thinks about something else. Even at his own trial, he spaces out when the lawyers get boring.

Imagining the President sitting in his ranch-house also reading this, intensified the creepiness of it. Like, it'd be just like Meursault to say something like Bush said about Osama bin Ladin:
I don’t know where he is. Nor — you know, I just don’t spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I....I truly am not that concerned about him.

Just stopped thinking about him. Got other things on his mind. Not interesting any more.

Or like the time recently when he had been invited to dinner with the German Chancellor, where the President was going to carve the pork. At a press conference, this exchange:
Q Does it concern you that the Beirut airport has been bombed? And do you see a risk of triggering a wider war?

"And on Iran, they've, so far, refused to respond. Is it now past the deadline, or do they still have more time to respond?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: I thought you were going to ask me about the pig.

The examples are innumerable. Really, I could go on with these forever. He comes out with them as fast as I can write.

The question for me, reading Camus last week, was what is the President getting out of this book? Is he recognizing a brother here, a fellow soulless, gutless traveller in time and space who accidentally kills people and mindlessly helps bad people do bad things and then feels that his punishment is unfair because he had no intention to do harm? Or is he reading in horror at the anomie, the emptiness, and swearing to himself never to fall into that abyss of absudity where your own life is like a movie that you are watching and wishing there was more butter on the popcorn? Is he reading Camus and contemplating the dawning of morality in a man who faces execution, living from day to day knowing that it's coming, a man who lives in misery from not knowing when it's coming, who finds good and evil, suffering and the desire for mercy, in the forced uncertainty of it?

C'mon, really, do you think George Bush reads French existentialism?

It was a prop. You know that, I know it. I was just joking about what he was thinking.

He didn't read it.

You know that.

Incurious America

When I was growing up in the Jet Age, America saw itself on the cutting edge of science. Remember the Sputnik challenge? The Russians got satellites into space before us, and we were shocked. Immediately the US increased funding for science, improved engineering training (this is whre the "New Math" came from), and otherwise put on pressure to get ahead again.

It hurt our feelings and challenged us, coming in second.

Now we see that, at least in biological science, our knowledge as an industrialized country ranks last except for Turkey.

Next to last.

How did that happen? New Scientist considers the question.
Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals: true or false? This simple question is splitting America apart, with a growing proportion thinking that we did not descend from an ancestral ape. A survey of 32 European countries, the US and Japan has revealed that only Turkey is less willing than the US to accept evolution as fact.

Religious fundamentalism, bitter partisan politics and poor science education have all contributed to this denial of evolution in the US, says Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who conducted the survey with his colleagues. "The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicised," he says. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue."

Miller's report makes for grim reading for adherents of evolutionary theory. Even though the average American has more years of education than when Miller began his surveys 20 years ago, the percentage of people in the country who accept the idea of evolution has declined from 45 in 1985 to 40 in 2005 (Science, vol 313, p 765). That's despite a series of widely publicised advances in genetics, including genetic sequencing, which shows strong overlap of the human genome with those of chimpanzees and mice. "We don't seem to be going in the right direction," Miller says. Why doesn't America believe in evolution?

It is bizarre to see this change in a lifetime. The public has been turned away from science. America has lost interest in leading the world intellectually.

The nastiest thing that is often said about President Bush is that he is "incurious."

It is a sign of intellectual poverty. And the fact that millions of Americans voted for the guy tells you that millions of Americans have lost their curiosity, their desire for knowledge, millions of Americans have abandoned their sense of wonder.
There is some cause for hope. Team member Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, finds solace in the finding that the percentage of adults overtly rejecting evolution has dropped from 48 to 39 in the same time. Meanwhile the fraction of Americans unsure about evolution has soared, from 7 per cent in 1985 to 21 per cent last year. "That is a group of people that can be reached," says Scott.

The main opposition to evolution comes from fundamentalist Christians, who are much more abundant in the US than in Europe. While Catholics, European Protestants and so-called mainstream US Protestants consider the biblical account of creation as a metaphor, fundamentalists take the Bible literally, leading them to believe that the Earth and humans were created only 6000 years ago.

Ironically, the separation of church and state laid down in the US constitution contributes to the tension. In Catholic schools, both evolution and the strict biblical version of human beginnings can be taught. A court ban on teaching creationism in public schools, however, means pupils can only be taught evolution, which angers fundamentalists, and triggers local battles over evolution.

Well, yeah, we have this system: churches for religion, schools for secular teaching. All bases are covered. It works.
These battles can take place because the US lacks a national curriculum of the sort common in European countries. However, the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind act is instituting standards for science teaching, and the battles of what they should be has now spread to the state level.

Miller thinks more genetics should be on the syllabus to reinforce the idea of evolution. American adults may be harder to reach: nearly two-thirds don't agree that more than half of human genes are common to chimpanzees. How would these people respond when told that humans and chimps share 99 per cent of their genes?

The country has arrived at this tipping point because some of us got too comfortable thinking that people would do the right thing, on their own. The excitement of the Space Race, the constant stream of breakthroughs in science and technology, gave us the warm feeling that our country was energized and engaged in the pursuit of knowledge and innovation. But while we were basking in the glow of post-Enlightenment discovery, some found all that innovation unbearable; new knowledge means new ways of doing things, it means seeing things in a new light, knowledge is upsetting and challenging, and lots of people don't like that. And, unbelievably, Incurious America is in danger of falling back into a new Dark Age, unless we, the curious, speak up and speak out for reason.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Christians: Abstinence a Harmful HIV Approach

I thought you would find this news story interesting:
In what was sometimes a heated debate, concerns were raised at last week’s sixteenth international AIDS conference that a prevention strategy backed by President Bush, large sections of the Catholic Church and the religious right is fuelling the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

Activists – including an increasing number from the churches – are warning that a policy which relies primarily on abstinence and fidelity reinforces gender inequalities which make women more vulnerable to the virus.

The session ‘ABC in Africa – What is the Evidence?’ on the last full day of the global AIDS conference in Toronto was packed. ABC refers to Abstain, Be faithful and use a Condom’, a prevention programme that is often credited which decreasing the HIV infection rates in Uganda.

ABC is now seen by many, including church agencies such as Christian Aid, as being too dogmatic and simplistic. Human sexuality is too complex for neat categories, say campaigners. Is it appropriate to expect people in different stages of life to abstain and can faithfulness be a guarantee against infection if one’s partner is not faithful? Christian groups say abstinence-based HIV strategies are harmful

Wow, lofty ideals confront reality: tragedy breaks out. These nuts have been trying to control the African AIDS epidemic by telling people not to have sex. I suppose that means if they do get AIDS it's their own fault, eh?

<shrug>What could I do? They wouldn't listen</shrug>
The African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV/AIDS (ANERELA+) and its supporters, including Christian Aid, has introduced a new prevention approach called SAVE – Safer practices, Available medication, Voluntary counselling and testing and Empowerment.

The most passionate advocate for a shift away from ABC is Beatrice Ware. A well-known HIV activist from Uganda, Beatrice Ware abstained until marriage and remained faithful to her husband. But she is HIV positive – another statistic in the alarming figure which shows that a majority of women in sub-Sahara Africa have contracted the virus in marriage.

“If ABC did work.” she says, “why is it that, after 25 years of HIV, we still seeing an increasing number of women being infected?”

ABC is unrealistic says Beatrice Ware. It assumes that women can chose to abstain and when they chose to remain faithful, that their partner will be faithful.

She explains: “ABC does not take into account that in most developing countries power resides with men. It ignores the powerlessness of women; most women cannot decide when, where and how to have sex.”

This is a theme you see more and more. Even in the US, women do not always have control over choice of sexual partners. Rape happens everywhere, husbands stray everywhere, and monogamy is still a risk for the spouse of a cheater.
“This issue of gender inequality is extremely important,” concurs Dr Rachel Baggaley, the head of Christian Aid’s HIV Unit. “We are still stuck with HIV prevention methods which rely on men making decisions.”

She continued: “Women will remain vulnerable as long as there are no protection methods which they control. We still do not have women in key political positions who are prepared to take on the issue of male domination.”

“ABC stigmatises HIV positive women.” adds Beatrice Ware. “It allows people to conclude that we are either promiscuous or unfaithful.”

Another body of research seems to have confirmed the failure of ABC. Disturbing new findings from Uganda show that, after a decline in HIV rates in the ’90s, there is now a trend suggesting an increase among middle-aged men and young people.

This reinforces the need for constant vigilance and prevention messages, which are more adapted to the realities on the ground, say analysts.

“This research is a wake-up call for all of us.” says Dr Baggaley. “It highlights the need for irrefutable data; leading scientists are clearly alarmed by this surprising result in Uganda, which has always been seen as the country with a flagship HIV prevention approach. Things seem to be faltering and we need to find out why.”

Things are faltering because they are approching the epidemic as a moral circumstance rather than a public health crisis. Faith-based groups have dominated the United States' intervention strategies, imposing their own fake-morality where it doesn't work. You remember last year when Brazil refused American donations because our government was going to stipulate that they couldn't give condoms to prostitutes: hypocrisy at its worst.

Take It To The Limit

Sometimes in these controversies it might seem like there are two points of view, each reasonable in its own way. To clear up that misperception, sometimes you have to let one side take their point of view closer to the limit, so the absurdity of the position becomes apparent to everyone.

Like, here you've got this little old lady, teaching Sunday school for all these years ...
WATERTOWN, N.Y. (Aug. 21) - The minister of a church that dismissed a female Sunday School teacher after adopting what it called a literal interpretation of the Bible says a woman can perform any job - outside of the church.

The First Baptist Church dismissed Mary Lambert on Aug. 9 with a letter explaining that the church had adopted an interpretation that prohibits women from teaching men. She had taught there for 54 years.

The letter quoted the first epistle to Timothy: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." Church Fires Teacher for Being Female

See? I don't have to add anything to that. We will just wait for the Anonymi to defend this preacher's decision. Because, look, right there in the New Testament you see it, it's un-Christian to let little old ladies teach Sunday school. If you think you can ignore this verse from the Bible, then how do you argue that you have to obey some other verse, say something vague about homosexuality?

You can't have it both ways.
The Rev. Timothy LaBouf, who also serves on the Watertown City Council, issued a statement saying his stance against women teaching men in Sunday school would not affect his decisions as a city leader in Watertown, where all five members of the council are men but the city manager who runs the city's day-to-day operations is a woman.

"I believe that a woman can perform any job and fulfill any responsibility that she desires to" outside of the church, LaBouf wrote Saturday.

Mmm, is that what the Bible said? No, I don't think so. I didn't see where Timothy gave an exception for political officials, or said the no-women-in-authority-over-men rule only applied to Sunday school teachers.
Mayor Jeffrey Graham, however, was bothered by the reasons given Lambert's dismissal.

"If what's said in that letter reflects the councilman's views, those are disturbing remarks in this day and age," Graham said. "Maybe they wouldn't have been disturbing 500 years ago, but they are now."

Yes, and that's the way we feel about some opinions we have seen expressed regarding the development of a reasonable sex-education curriculum here in Montgomery County, Maryland. Time has moved forward, knowledge has evolved. Teach the Facts strongly believes that little old ladies should be allowed to teach Sunday school.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Rehoboth: Our Summer Vacation

This is a purely self-indulgent post, nothing really about sex-ed or anything, just telling you about my week.

Our family doesn't go to the beach much. Grandparents live thousands of miles away, so most vacations are trips back to visit them in Iowa or Arizona. I go to conferences, but that's hardly a vacation, when you have to chair sessions and present papers and stuff. We've had our times: we went to England last year; one year we just drove aimlessly and planlessly all around the northeastern US -- New England, Pennsylvania, upstate New York; we went to Denmark once, New York City once, just to see stuff.

Years ago my wife worked with someone who had a house in Bethany Beach that they rented out, and we stayed there a couple of times. It was nice and quiet, the beach was OK. But remember, we moved here from California, after living for years in Pismo Beach, and we may be spoiled. Bethany is conservative, peaceful -- the main thing it's known for, I think, is its speed trap. There's always a cop in the median along there. If you like sand and water, it's good enough, but we stopped going.

This year, we got a week in a house in Rehoboth in a silent auction at the PFLAG gala. We just got back home last night.

Friday we went over to Ocean City, to the big boardwalk. Basically that's like walking on any street in New York City, except people have their shirts off. If you're a people-person, you might like that, it's all high-rises and commercial stuff, arcades and fast-food and hairy backs and beer and fading tattoos. We had fun, I guess. The kids liked it because there's lots of free stuff for teenagers to do. Like, walk around and look at other teenagers. They even ran into a couple of kids they knew from Montgomery County.

On the way back to our rental from there, we stopped in Dewey Beach for some supplies. Friday night, the streets were packed with college-age kids, lookin' good, out to party. All miniskirts and ripping muscles and hair just-so, lots of laughter and jaywalking and youthful randomness. I like that, well, I'd like to be twenty-two again and hanging out in Dewey Beach. At this age, I am just another obstacle to walk around, a kind of empty volume in the environment. But ... that's Dewey.

Rehoboth doesn't really have any high-rise buildings to speak of. There's a beautiful little "downtown" area, several blocks long, with lots of funky and cute shopping and all kinds of restaurants. A few bars, mostly unobtrusive, though the rooftop at Hooters seemed like it might get a little rowdy sometimes.

Rehoboth is several things. First, it's a family resort area. The beach and boardwalk and main street have lots of kids, lots of families enjoying the sun and the clear air. The atmosphere in Rehoboth is ridiculously G-rated. It's the kind of town where parents can let the kids run ahead a block, or depending on their age, two, so Mom and Dad can be together a little bit and the kids can stretch their wings, and it's all safe and happy and fun.

The second thing Rehoboth is, is gay. At least the locals. It seemed like nearly everyone we talked to on the street or in the shops and restaurants, male and female, got a non-zero reading on the gay-dar. It is a very unique family-friendly, comfortable situation; as the Wikipedia says, "the town's family vacationers and residents seamlessly blend with its gay and lesbian vacationers and residents." Rehoboth is a family scene, a place to go with the people you love to have a nice homey happy time, and a lot of the people who like to do that in Rehoboth turn out to be same-sex couples. I'm sure some of our readers will find something dirty in this, but it's really a good place to be.

The third thing, I need to mention to make this a fully accurate report. The women in Rehoboth are prettier than in Ocean City. They're not dolled up like in Dewey, just regular wives and daughters and girlfriends walking around shopping, maybe eating ice cream, catching some sun and looking healthy and good. I think my wife and daughter thought the guys in Rehoboth were nice, too, but I wasn't paying attention to that.

Luckily one of the neighbors had an unsecured wireless system, so I was able to get online intermittently, blogged a few items, kept up on email more or less. The weather was unbelievable, sunny and not hot, not humid, but warm, and the ocean water was cool but not cold. We went out on a boat one day and caught two hundred fish in two hours in Delaware Bay, it was unbelievable, often you'd have two on the line at the same time. I lived the whole week in my bathing suit, only put on my jeans and tennis shoes once for an especially formal occasion. We slept till nearly noon every day and just did whatever we felt like doing. I re-read The Stranger, my daughter read an entire four-book series that she'd been wanting to get to, and my son read some novel by Mick Foley that he found in the bargain bin.

Yesterday we headed back home, to bills and work. You could see the kids getting a little antsy to see their friends again. I was getting curious to know if the steering committee decided to go forward with the dot-net project. So here we are, back to the grind, refreshed.

Friday, August 18, 2006

"Ex-Gay" Label To Be Retired

The other day when I was chasing down some information about NARTH's protest at the APA convention I saw something that looked interesting at Warren Throckmorton's blog. Throckmorton, you know, is a psychologist who specializes in helping gay people stop being gay. Well, he's learned to be careful how he says it, and I think he would say they should only try to change if they really want to change, not that there's anything wrong with being gay. He paints himself into a corner, but we'll take that up a different day.

Anyway, there was a really kind of interesting online reunion of a bunch of the founders of the "ex-gay" movement in his comments section.

It started with a post by Throckmorton talking about a discussion he was having about the "founders" of EXODUS International, a big "ex-gay" organization.

As a way of setting this up, here's some background. Throckmorton had written an article that said:
Exodus International is a distinctly religious organization offering services and referrals to people who experience conflict between their sexual feelings and Christian beliefs. However, detractors, such as Mr. [Wayne] Besen, often say that the message and mission of Exodus is compromised due to the failure of the co-founders of the organization to remain heterosexual. Mr. Besen claims that Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper were the co-founders of Exodus International but left the organization to become gay partners.

The second claim is true. As documented in the 1992 film One Nation Under God, these two men did indeed leave their families in 1979 and participated in a commitment ceremony in 1982.

However, the first claim is false. Mr. Cooper and Mr. Bussee were not the co-founders of Exodus International. Are Sexual Preferences Changeable?

Throckmorton's article ends up concluding:
Of the five formerly gay men on the original board of Exodus International, four have not reverted to homosexuality.

This is to counter writer Wayne Besen's assertions that the founders of the "ex-gay" concept were unable, themselves, to live up to their own promise. It's a serious charge that does undermine the credibility of the movement.

Apparently, Michael Bussee contacted Throckmorton in email to discuss the founding of Exodus. So Throckmorton wrote about it on his blog, and then a bunch of the other people who were there at the beginning wrote in.

If you care about these things, I suggest you go follow the discussion, as they try to sort out the history of it. In general, it seems that they agree on the main facts, but not exactly on who played what role in the beginning.

Here in Montgomery County we are developing a sex-ed curriculum that will include discussion of sexual orientation, and there is some controversy about whether the schools ought to be forced to tell students about "ex-gays."

So it is pertinent, and remarkable, to read Bussee's report of a discussion he has had with the current president of Exodus, Alan Chambers:
I just got off the phone with Alan Chambers of EXODUS ...

Regarding the term "ex-gay", he gave me permission to quote him:

"We need to do away with the term entirely and make sure it's never used again."

Wow. He sounds like ME.

Well, this is getting good. It is a ridiculous term that causes a lot of wasted argument. It sounds like it means one thing, that gay people stop being gay, but in practice it seems to never mean that.

Bussee continues, farther down:
Meanwhile, for 30 years, EXODUS has stubbornly used the term "ex-gay" -- defending it, re-defining it -- and FINALLY the leader of EXODUS has said what I have been saying all along -- that the term should be "done away with entirely and never used again". It's about time.

I intend to make Alan Chambers' rejection of the term "ex-gay" VERY public. You and EXODUS have a lot of explaining to do.

As for countering Besen's statement above, Bussee says:
Four men (among the original founders) DID continue to act on gay impulses. Gary is one. I am two. My co-worker at EXIT is three and Ed Hurst of Outpost Ministries is four.

In case you're keeping score.

There is some discussion of EXODUS changing their web site, now that some information has been cleared up. Then Bussee writes:
Finally, I am pleased to announce that Alan Chambers has asked me to join him for a joint press conference to officially RETIRE the misleading term "Ex-gay".

That was on July 28th. I haven't heard of any press conference, have you? Well, I'm sure it's coming.

Bussee reports that he contacted Wayne Besen and agrees with him about who the founders were, and then Besen himself comments on the thread.

Another founder of the "ex-gay" phenomenon, Robbi Kenney (who never was gay), joins the discussion, and adds:
Ex-gay was a peg to hang our hats, but us at OUTPOST eventually went on to use the phrase "from a homosexual (or gay) background) in the shimmy to avoid labeling.

Yes, that makes more sense than "ex-gay."

Several commentors -- Bussee, Ed Hurst, and "GrantDale" (who have been known to comment here as well) -- note that they are most comfortable with use of the word "ex-gay" as an adjective, rather than a noun. It is a rather important point. There is a difference between saying "Joe is ex-gay" and to say "Joe is an ex-gay."

Hurst, who was also present in the beginning of EXODUS, wrote:
... a few of us have been having e-mail dialogue outside the site. Nothing secretive; we were just trying to pull the facts together.

Anyway, in one of those e-mails he suggested that Exodus adopt the phrase Sexual Identity Ministry (SIM) to replace "Ex-Gay Ministry". I've thought that one over and it sounds workable to me.

I even thought of a clever catch-phrase "SIM, just a step away from SIN." (Ok, if you don't know me, I am compulsive about word-plays and I also think a little bit of humor helps with a topic this weighty.)

The phrase only applies to the ministry not to the individual. In the past, we might have said "he's an ex-gay guy" where, with SIM, this wouldn't translate. So, I puzzled over what terminology we'd use for the individual and came up with a real winner. How about 'client'?

It's not especially catchy, is it?

Bussee, describing the meaning and intent of the term "ex-gay," writes:
"We" (the ones who came to EXODUS 1) ... wanted three things:

(1) We wanted to know that God loved us,

(2) We wanted to know that there were others like us,

(3) We wanted those damn gay feelings to go away.

We WISHED it would happen. That's what "ex-gay" meant. As Joe Dallas of EXODUS explained it so well, we were "Christians with homoseuxal tendencies who would rather not have those tendencies."

Pay attention to thos words "rather not have".

We got numbers 1 and 2. We know that Jesus loves us and we know we are not alone. But we are still Christians with homosexual tendencies, no matter what else we call ourselves.

Ed Hurst then contributes an interesting discussion comparing a person trying to stop being gay to people who try to quit drugs, gangs, and prostitution. Pretty good analogy. Quitting gay is harder.

The thread peters out after several more back and forths. I'm leaving a lot out -- I know some TTF readers will want to read the whole thing. You have a half-dozen of the originators, critics, and leaders of the "ex-gay" thing chatting, opening up, discussing what has worked and what has not.

This discussion makes it obvious that the concept of "ex-gay" is poorly defined and has been used in ways its originators never intended. Plus, it looks like the word is going into retirement soon.

I hate to state the obvious, but: it is clearer than ever that there is simply no place for this topic in a public school curriculum.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Family Blah Blah Coming to Maryland

From yesterday's Washington Post:
Conservative Christian radio host James C. Dobson's national organization, Focus on the Family, said yesterday that it will work with affiliated groups in eight battleground states to mobilize evangelical voters in the November elections.

In targeting individual churches the way political organizers traditionally pinpointed certain wards, Focus on the Family is filling a void left by the near-collapse of the Christian Coalition and stepping into an area where recent Republican Party efforts have created resentment among evangelicals. Group to Rally Evangelical Voters

That is an interesting way to put that. "Resentment among evangelicals?" You mean, because the administration promised them everything and gave them nothing? Or are they just resentful because everybody else in the country ignores them?

But here's where it gets interesting. Focus on the Family is a huge organization, tax-exempt. They have their own zip code, thousands of employees. They don't want to blow that, but part of the tax-exempt deal is they are not allowed to endorse candidates.

Hey, here's an idea. Maybe they can make a list of candidates, and use something like they have in Thai restaurants, you know, one chili pepper for a conservative candidate, two chili peppers for a conservative who goes to church, three chili peppers for the ones with a Krystal Klear Konception of where the country needs to go. They can always deny it.
As a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, Focus on the Family is barred from endorsing candidates. Tom Minnery, vice president of the Colorado-based group, said its efforts would be nonpartisan.

During the 1990s, the Christian Coalition distributed millions of voter guides through churches and played a major role in mobilizing evangelicals. After the Christian Coalition suffered financial and management problems, the Republican Party directly organized conservative Christian congregations in key states in the 2004 presidential race.

When memos leaked about the Bush-Cheney campaign's effort to collect church membership directories, however, the GOP came under sharp criticism from some evangelical leaders. Neither the Federal Election Commission nor the Internal Revenue Service charged Republican officials with any violation, and the GOP never backed away from the tactic. But political strategists came to view church-based organizing as both effective and controversial.

Yeah man, they don't want to have to pay taxes on those love donations. Luckily, under our one-party system of government, only liberal churches have to worry about the IRS hassling them.
In an e-mail message to supporters last week, Focus on the Family said it would partner with its state-level "family policy councils" to "combat voter apathy and encourage Christians to go to the polls" in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Minnesota, Montana and Tennessee. Minnery, in a telephone interview, said those states were chosen for their "live, hotly contested races."

Maryland? Hey, that's us.

Great. Let's have some fun with these guys when they come to town.
The e-mail said Focus on the Family is looking for volunteer county coordinators whose duties would include "recruiting key evangelical churches." It also is seeking "church coordinators" who would encourage pastors to "speak about Christian citizenship," conduct voter-registration drives, distribute voter guides and run get-out-the-vote efforts.

Those, of course, will be impartial voter guides. No chili-peppers or anything.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, charged that "Dobson's drive to build a church-based political machine will jeopardize the tax exemption of participating congregations."

Minnery, in response, called Lynn "a bully who wants to clear the field of conservative voices" in politics. "Doing nonpartisan voter registration is perfectly acceptable and legitimate and legal -- and matches what has been done in liberal churches for years," Minnery said.

Wow, a little jumpy, aren't we?

It is hard to get involved in politics without endorsing a candidate, but that's what they have to do. Who checks on them to make sure they play by the rules -- the Bush administration's IRS?

America: A Tough Crowd These Days

From yesterday's New York Times:
The number of roadside bombs planted in Iraq rose in July to the highest monthly total of the war, offering more evidence that the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.


The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels,” said a senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution. “The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time.”


Yet some outside experts who have recently visited the White House said Bush administration officials were beginning to plan for the possibility that Iraq’s democratically elected government might not survive.

“Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy,” said one military affairs expert who received an Iraq briefing at the White House last month and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

“Everybody in the administration is being quite circumspect,” the expert said, “but you can sense their own concern that this is drifting away from democracy.” Bombs Aimed at G.I.’s in Iraq Are Increasing

Drifting from democracy? There's a pretty phrase for you. Listen, one day with purple fingers did not make Iraq a democracy. A government that doesn't govern, even if it was elected by the people, does not make a country a democracy. Drifting from democracy ... and people wonder why people are skepical ...

The good news for the Bush administration is that the fighting in Lebanon has knocked the failed occupation of Iraq off the front pages and removed it from network news. This resulted in a bump in the polls for Bush ... oh wait, the polls are not showing a bump, his popularity is still dropping. Mmm, that should have worked.

Maybe people haven't really forgotten the forgotten war.

Well, anyway, they broke up that terrible horrible terrorist plot in England, that should have helped Bush's ratings ... oh wait, they haven't charged anybody with anything. Is this turning out to be something like the terrible horrible terrorist plot in Florida a couple months ago? I see here in the paper, they were supposed to be planning a dry run in two days, but they didn't even have passports. Those Al Qaeda, they're so forgetful.

Oh and they've lightened up on airplane security again. Now you can bring lipstick onto the plane. Thanks.

As Robert J. Elisberg commented, at Huffington Post:
... it took five years of protecting you for the Bush Administration to finally figure out to ban water.

Because, really, you can just imagine the ways that terrorists could use water -- they could throw it in your face, they could pour it into your ears so you couldn't hear, they could take a sip and spit it on you. They could spill it on the floor and then take over the airplane while the flight attendents were busy mopping it up. Dangerous stuff, water. You can't allow people to just carry something like that onto an airplane.

It's not just that the government wants to throw the entire population into a state of total fear. No, it's not that. Water really is dangerous stuff.

Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan adopts a suitably skeptical view of that situation. He concludes:
I wonder if Lieberman's defeat, the resilience of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the emergence of a Hezbollah-style government in Iraq had any bearing on the decision by Bush and Blair to pre-empt the British police and order this alleged plot disabled. I wish I didn't find these questions popping into my head. But the alternative is to trust the Bush administration.

Been there. Done that. Learned my lesson.

Actually, the fact that people are speaking up now, that people are expressing distrust of the government, is a good sign. Remember in the months after 9/11, no one could stray from the pack, we all had to stick together, and we had to trust that the administration knew something we didn't know, that their ... weird ... decisions had some kind of sense behind them.

Now we know better. The stuff that sounded like lies about Iraq before the war turned out to be, really, lies. The idea that we would attack some random Arab country and convert it to a democracy, which sounded stupid at the time, has turned out, actually, to have been a stupid idea. This time around, people aren't buying it.

Monday, August 14, 2006

NARTH Protests at APA Convention

I can't find APA's statement (at the end here) on their web site, but it is confirmed by both Wayne Besen and Warren Throckmorton, both sides of the ex-gay controversy, so I am passing it on.

This week the American Psychological Association's convention was held in New Orleans. They had it there, clearly, to make a statement of affirmation for that city; it's a big convention, and when it was first announced there was skepticism about whether New Orleans could handle it. Sounds like it could.

Anyway, NARTH -- the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality -- protested outside the APA convention.

In the news:
NEW ORLEANS -- About two dozen protesters marched for an hour outside the American Psychological Association convention on Friday to protest the organization's stand on homosexuality.

The group, which was sponsored by the conservative ministry Focus on the Family, was protesting what it sees as the APA's views on the immutability of homosexuality.

"We disagree with the APA's stand that people can't change if they want to," said Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a Los Angeles psychologist and president of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. "If someone wants to change, they say, `No, this is you, you must learn to accept it.' We say people have self determination, they can make a choice."

In 1974, the APA ceased listing homosexuality as a mental disorder. The protesters demanded that the APA change its current position. Group protests APA's stand on homosexuality

I'm not sure exactly what made them do this at this point. Maybe they thought there would be support for the change in today's political atmosphere.

Throckmorton has a picture of the protest on his blog. I see five people with signs. I'm not saying there were only five altogether, but I doubt Throckmorton would try to make the protest look smaller than it was. Maybe only half are in this photo. Maybe there were ten. The news story says two dozen, but I don't think this photograph could be that wrong, especially not on Throckmorton's site.

NARTH does have a petition online that is signed by nearly 70 APA members, asking for APA to consider supporting or at least allowing "re-orientation" therapies, see it HERE.

Let me do some math ... APA has 150,000 members ... let's round this up to seventy ... that makes this one two-thousandth of the membership of APA signed this petition. One twentieth of one per cent. I wouldn't quite think that gets their attention somehow.

A little more from the news story:
Dr. Clinton Anderson, director of the lesbian, gay and bisexual office of the APA, said the group's position is that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The association is not opposed to people who decide to try to change their sexual orientation if it's an autonomous decision, but would question the motives for such a desire, he said.

"If someone wants to change their sexual orientation, we feel that may be because of an atmosphere that is prejudice against homosexuality," Anderson said. "We are concerned it is a coercive choice that has to do with pressure from their family, their community, or their church."

Marchers, who stayed outside the convention for an hour carrying signs reading "Don't tell me I can't change," and "Diversity includes me," among others, were people who had changed from homosexuality, Nicolosi said.

Nicolosi, who works with people wanting to change their sexuality, said that he has found about a third of his patients experience no change, a third have what he called "significant improvement." and a third adopt a heterosexual life style.

And Dr. Nicolosi is free to submit his findings to any relevant peer-reviewed journal and have them published so they can be part of the scientific debate, instead of going to the press and the Family Blah Blah groups with them.
Nicolosi, who works with people wanting to change their sexuality, said that he has found about a third of his patients experience no change, a third have what he called "significant improvement." and a third adopt a heterosexual life style.

"They marry and are cured," Nicolosi said. "They may have an occasional attraction, but not a major or constant one."

The protesters also had a petition for the APA from a group of psychologists to accept both "gay affirming therapists and reorientation therapists."

The APA does not believe the claim by Nicolosi and others that there is scientific evidence that people can change their sexuality, Anderson said.

Why not? Hasn't it been through the peer-review process? Oh yeah, it hasn't. This is what scientists call anecdotal evidence. Some guy says something. It doesn't work like that. All he has to do is write it up and submit it. An editor will assign it to referees who know the field. They'll evaluate it and make a recommendation. The editor will read those, read the paper himself or herself, and decide whether to publish it. Once it's published, the topic will come under debate in the scientific community. This is how science works. So far the "ex-gay" issue hasn't even risen to the level of being part of the research dialogue.

Why does NARTH stand in the streets with signs instead of submitting their papers for publication in scientific journals?

"There has never been a well designed study to show that people can change," Anderson said. "Our concern about the so-called conversion therapy is that it isn't supported by science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed."

Like it or not, that's what it comes down to. The practitioner relies on research, and there isn't any to support NARTH's anecdotal assertions.

The APA issued a statement yesterday:
"For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA's concern about the positions espoused by NARTH and so-called conversion therapy is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish."


Sunday, August 13, 2006


In its August 10, 2006, decision in Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland v. Montgomery County Public Schools , 2006 WL 2294272 * 4 n. 2 (4th Cir.), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stated, unequivocally, that "when the government alone speaks, it need not remain neutral as to its viewpoint. See Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819, 833 (1995) ( 'When the University determines the content of the education it provides, it is the University speaking, and we have permitted the government to regulate the content of what is or is not expressed when it is the speaker or when it enlists private entities to convey its own message.' )." The opinion may be found at or

Rosenberger was the case upon which Jerry Falwell's Liberty Counsel relied upon for its argument, accepted by Judge Williams, that if the MCPS health education curriculum was to say anything about sexual orientation (there, the viewpoint of the mainstream medical and mental health professional associations), then "the other side" (there, the contrary viewpoint of Falwell, Dobson, etc., that homosexuality is a disorder and can be "cured") would have to be presented.See Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum v. MCPS, 2005 WL 1075634 (D. Md. 2005) at p. 12.

The Fourth Circuit's statement in Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) makes it crystal clear to all judges within the Fourth Circuit (including Judge Williams, should a later MCPS curriculum case reach him) that no First Amendment doctrine requires MCPS, in order to add to its health education curriculum the wisdom of the mainstream health associations, to also include "dissenting views" of the Falwell/Dobson-related groups. Statements essentially identical to that of the Fourth Circuit have been made by the Fifth and Ninth Circuits, in decisions written by appointees of President Reagan. See Chirac v. Miller, 432 F.3d 606, 612-12 (5th Cir. 2005); Downs v. Los Angeles Unified School District, 228 F.3d 1003, 1008, 1012-16 (9th Cir. 2000). Indeed, since the Falwell/Dobson viewpoints are theology, not science, their inclusion in the health curriculum would violate the First Amendment's Establishment of Religion clause, as the federal court noted last year in the Dover, Pennsylvania, case involving "intelligent design." Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F.Supp.2d 707, 765-66 (M.D. Pa. 2005).

The "viewpoint discrimination" holding by Judge Williams was directly contrary to Rosenberger, and that is why the settlement agreement ending the lawsuit included that statement that MCPS retained the right to decide what would be in the curriculum. Now that the Fourth Circuit (of which Maryland is a part) has confirmed that curriculum in public schools is not within the "public forum" arena, as to which "all sides" of an issue must be given a platform, any attempt on the part of Liberty Counsel or anyone else to derail the upcoming curriculum revisions on a "viewpoint discrimination" ground not only will fail (that was clear even prior to CEF), but might even subject counsel raising it to sanctions for the filing of a frivolous lawsuit.

The CEF case itself involves whether the standards MCPS uses for deciding what flyers will be sent home in students' backpacks were specific enough to pass constitutional muster, or whether they left MCPS personnel with "unbridled discretion" that could lead to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. The Court found that the MCPS standards were inadequate, and sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. That complex case addresses the nature of the limited public forum created by the school system's policy of permitting notices to be send home with students. In such a situation, the Court explained, the government may impose restrictions, but such restrictions "must be both reasonable and viewpoint neutral." 2006 WL 2294272 * 5, Slip op. at 10. This is a knotty problem involving the limited public forum which could be deemed as being created by the backpack flyer system. What is significant for the issues surrounding the MCPS health education curriculum is the Court's explicitdistinction between public forums created by public educational institutions -- which may not discriminate based on viewpoint -- and educational content in the classrooms. As noted above, the Fourth Circuit, in setting forth the framework for its analysis, explicitly recognized the distinction between, on the one hand, situations in which the government (including a school system) has created a public forum subject to First Amendment viewpoint neutrality and, on the other hand, "the content of education," which does not require such neutrality So whatever problems the CEFruling presents to MCPS regarding its backpack flyer policy, the decision reiterates the rule of law that demonstrates that Judge Williams' "viewpoint discrimination" ruling in May 2005 was simply incorrect and, if ever asserted again, would be summarily reversed on appeal.

David S. Fishback

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Light Blogging This Week

I'm going to be doing some stuff this week, not sure if I'll be near any Internets. Behave yourselves. I'll be right back.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Blade Reviews the Situation

The Washington Blade has a story out today about the current state of the Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum development process. The reporter, Joshua Lynsen, quotes me quite a lot.

This is probably a good time in our life-cycle to review where we're at, anyway. The summer has been quiet, things are going to heat up again. Lysen talked to a few people -- here's his whole article:
Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools will unveil a new sex education curriculum, which adds gay topics and instructions on proper condom use, starting Aug. 30.

Those familiar with the new curriculum said it offers progressive views on gay issues, including discussions of gender identity. The new curriculum was described as rooted in current medical and scientific understanding.

Pro-gay activists said this, the district’s second recent attempt to revamp its curriculum, is a better product than earlier drafts.

“It’s going to be surprisingly more progressive than the previous proposed curriculum was,” said Jim Kennedy, a member of the citizens’ advisory committee assembled to review the changes. “It’s going to be very thorough and very sympathetic.” Revised sex-ed curriculum to be unveiled: Montgomery County committee embraces gay topics after legal battle

I gotta say, that still kills me, being a "pro-gay activist." Who woulda ever thought that?

Well, hey, life could be worse.
Officials will publicly introduce the new curriculum in three stages.

Condom usage materials will be discussed at the 7 p.m. meeting Aug. 30, while “lessons on sexual orientation” for eighth and 10th grade students will be discussed at meetings in September.

All meetings of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life & Human Development are open to the public. The evening meetings occur at Carver Educational Services Center at 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville, Md.

Really, I think the people who opposed the "old new" curriculum are going to be sorry they won in court. Now that the curriculum is being advised by a team of pediatrians with no dog in this fight, it looks like the new curriculum will be more scientific, more objective, more fact-based -- which of course means, to certain people around here, more "liberal."

Whatever. Get over it. Sometimes you lose one.
The curriculum changes, originally slated for classroom testing in spring 2005, triggered a courtroom showdown when two conservative groups objected to the new content.

To settle the lawsuit, school officials agreed to abort the proposed revisions and restart the curriculum revamp process. One representative each from two conservative groups — Family Research Council and Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum — serve on the 15-member citizens’ advisory committee.

That's a little bit wrong. It was actually CRC and PFOX who sued -- it just so happens that PFOX's rep on the committee is from the Family Research Council.
Kennedy said the committee’s conservative members might challenge the new curriculum, but he expected the proposed changes to be approved.

“Everything in the group is done by majority vote,” he said, “and I’m confident that the majority will be reasonable.”

Well, yeah, I don't expect everybody will agree on everything -- we had a lot of close votes in our last meeting. That's why you have a team, to get diverse opinions. We're grown-ups, we can talk about things, we can negotiate, we can work something out.
Regina Griggs, executive director of Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, said she hopes the revised curriculum focuses on “fact-based science” that is recent and unbiased.

“Failure to include equal access and information from all parties,” she said, “that would be a deal breaker.”

Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum officials did not respond to interview requests this week, but Steven Fisher, a spokesperson for the group, said in an earlier interview that his group opposed the first rewrite because it omitted alternative viewpoints on gay topics.

I might be wrong, but I don't think the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum actually exists any more, does it?

Anyway, you know that when Ms. Griggs says "all parties," she means "ex-gays." Sorry to say, that ain't gonna happen. As she says, that would be a deal-breaker.

Wow, this is a long story!
Years in the making

Changes to the Maryland school district’s sex education curriculum were years in the making.

New explanations of gay topics and proper condom use were approved in November 2004. Those changes were guided by the principle that people “have the right to accept, acknowledge, and live in accordance with their sexual orientation, be they heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian.”

David S. Fishback, who led the committee that approved the first rewrite, said the changes gave teachers unprecedented ability to discuss gay topics.

“This material is not that complex,” he said. “Homosexuality is not a disease. It’s not something people choose like they choose to wear a white shirt or a green shirt on any given day. It’s who they are.”

But in May 2005, U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr. ordered school officials to put on hold plans to test the new curriculum.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the conservative groups Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays. The Liberty Counsel, a law firm affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, represented both groups.

Lawyers argued that the new curriculum was a violation of free speech because it didn’t include discussion of “ex-gays” — people who identify as straight after once identifying as gay. The omission was said to violate the Establishment Clause by promoting some religions over others.

Williams agreed, and said in his ruling that “the imminent threat to plaintiff’s First Amendment rights constitutes irreparable harm.”

Mmm, yeah, well, it wasn't exactly like that. But whatever, the bad guys got a temporary restraining order, which was enough.
Ready for review

The second curriculum rewrite recently underwent a lengthy legal review, and will next go before the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Family Life & Human Development.

Fishback, who has two adult gay sons, said the committee will see a “fine, strong, medically accurate curriculum.”

“I’ve seen the materials they’ve presented to the superintendent,” he said. “I am very optimistic the curriculum will be a very strong curriculum — even better than the one [approved] in November 2004.”

Kennedy, who is president of Teach the Facts, a group that supported the first curriculum rewrite, said the district has given no indication it will dodge gay topics in the second rewrite.

Kennedy said the committee’s review process should be completed by November.

The committee will begin meeting again in a couple of weeks. Hopefully by then we'll have something we can sink our teeth into, something concrete. So far the citizen committee group dynamics have been positive. People have been willing to make concessions, we've figured out how to agree on things. We'll see if we can keep it up.

Beware of Homosexual Martians

The real ignition point for the Montgomery County sex ed curriculum, the thing that really brought the nuts out, was the part about sexual orientation. The schools were going to teach kids that some people are gay. That some are bisexual. Teachers were even going to get a definition for the word "transgender." The class about families was going to mention that some families have two dads or two moms.

Oh, this drove them crazy! You'd think everybody in the world was just waiting to jump off the heterosexual ship, if only somebody would give them permission. You'd think all our kids were gonna turn gay as soon as they heard about this. You'd think it was a great assault on morality and decency, that students in school would be exposed to the fact that some people fall in love with someone of their own sex.

It's mostly blown over now. There are a few holdouts, and we know the lawyers are lurking, watching for some reason to sue the school district. But that's all that's left of this, there is no real popular support for anti-gay hatred in the county.

Gene Stone puts it quite well on Huffington Post this morning -- here's his whole column:
You know the world is getting very strange when you find yourself feeling good about being accused of child molestation.

The other day one of the organizers for the far, far right-wing organization Renew America explained that homosexuals enjoy having sex with babies.

"The newest thing in Chicago, it's becoming a trend, and you're gonna find this hard to with infants," said Guy Adams on an Internet radio show hosted by fellow far, far right-wing conservative Stacy L. Harp.

Renew America is run by Alan Keyes, whose far, far right-wing positions are considered too far, far right-wing for even the far right-wing. Like the other members of their ilk, such as Fred Phelps, who pickets the funerals of American soldiers because they fought for a country that doesn't kill homosexuals before it kills terrorists--Keyes and his organization have been fighting gays whenever, however, and wherever they can.

(Keyes own lesbian daughter came out not long ago, but that didn't stop Keyes' fury against gays--he simply disowned the poor girl.)

So says Keyes' lackey Adams said in his interview, "...Now they're having sex with animals, a small group that's getting bigger, sex with's just getting more and more perverted."

Here's the good news: There was a time when simply telling the truth about homosexuality was enough to shock and awe. Men having sex with other men, women being in love with other women: Just a few decades ago, simply saying that someone was homosexual caused irreparable damage to that person's career.

Today, however, the majority of Americans have accepted the reality that homosexuality is genetically determined; it is not a choice, it appears throughout nature, and frankly, if two adults fall in love with each other, it doesn't matter what gender they are. Although older Americans still don't approve of homosexual relations, a solid majority of younger ones do, and it will only take another generation before fairness and tolerance become the norm rather than the exception.

The homophobes are fully aware they are a dying breed. They are aware that telling the truth about gays does no one any good. Simply saying that something like, let's say, "Lance Bass is a homosexual" will not end the singer's career. That statement is true, it was a recent People magazine cover story and it's the best publicity Mr. Bass has enjoyed since his former band, 'N Sync, disbanded--and it's certainly better than when Mr. Bass said, not long ago, that he wanted to go to the moon (which some people interpreted as his first attempt at coming out).

This being the case, the rightwing is being forced to invent bizarre lies, as in gays lining up to have sex with infants. So what's the next accusation? Gays having sex with Osama Bin Laden? Gays having sex with aliens in an attempt to repopulate the earth with homosexual Martians? Gays having sex with the daughter of the vice-president of the United States?

Actually, it's hard to do worse than accuse someone of having sex with infants--which may be a strange signal that the far right's persecution of homosexuals is foundering. The fact that the rightwing has to lay it on so thick is an indication that gays are winning the battle for acceptance. The truth is no longer shocking. Lies may be--but not for long, since in the long run, that's all they are, just lies. Sex, Infants, Wingnuts, and Hope

In our sex-ed controversy, you often wondered why, if the classes were so bad, the CRC had to make stuff up. They would say it promoted promiscuity, or glamorized homosexuality, or this and that, but you never could find any of that in the actual curriculum. Our argument always came back to this: read the curriculum and see for yourself.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The First Red Alert of the Season

The Bush administration's skills at manipulating the public are unsurpassed. Their virtuosity outstrips anything that has ever been seen, ever. I suppose it comes from Karl Rove -- they know how to turn public opinion off and on like throwing a light switch.

The ultimate example, in my mind, is the "terror alert." This color-coded scheme serves no function but to control the level of public anxiety. When the public is anxious, of course, they are more likely to cling to authority, to follow directions and keep their mouths shut, they will be hesitant to make changes -- all things that make life easier for the administration. But you can't keep them on pins and needles forever; sometimes you have to let them catch their breath, if only to make the next panic attack more effective. There needed to be a method for turning the emotional temperature down as well as up.

Really, you don't think there is any other reason to announce the "terror threat level," do you? What are people supposed to do -- pay more attention? Yeah, sure, to what? It is cognitively impossible to pay more attention, the concept is meaningless.

Never mind that the chances that Joe Blow is going to catch a terrorist, that the one correct suspicion is going to stand out from a gazillion false alarms, is ... zip.

The real message, if anyone was paying attention, is that the many agencies responsible for protecting our security are incompetent; they know there are bad guys but don't have any more idea than the average citizen as to where the bad guys are. Or who they are. The reaction is that the citizen walks around in a cloud of mistrust, eyeing his neighbors, people on the street, strangers across the aisle on a train, as dangerous threats. The result is anxiety only, with no increase in security.

And it works. You could almost hear the diabolical laughter coming from the White House before the 2004 elections, when public opinion went up and down as the administration wished, simply at the announcement of a new "threat level." The terror alert raised propaganda to a new level.

You might not have noticed that the terror alerts stopped abruptly after the last elections. Just stopped cold. You didn't see them on TV, hear about them on the radio, read about them in the newspaper. Nobody talked about them, we just lived without them.

Until now.

Well, there is another election coming.

And you saw what happened in Connecticut. It appears that the American voter may be getting a little hard to control. This week they insisted on electing the wrong guy as the Democratic nominee. (HERE is the NYT reporting that Dick Cheney said Lieberman's loss "might encourage 'al Qaeda types.'")

Something had to be done.

WASHINGTON - The U.S. government raised its threat warning to the highest level for commercial flights from Britain to the United States early Thursday in response to a terror plot disrupted in London. Terrorists had targeted United, American and Continental airlines, two U.S. counterterrorism officials said.

In addition to the highest alert for flights from Britain, the alert for all flights coming or going from the United States was also raised slightly. The government banned beverages, hair gels and lotions from flights, explaining only that liquids emerged as a risk from the investigation in Britain.
It is the first time the red alert level in the Homeland Security warning system has been invoked, although there have been brief periods in the past when the orange level was applied. Homeland Security defines the red alert as designating a "severe risk of terrorist attacks."

OK, America, here's the question: just how gullible are you?

Candidates' Positions on Sex Ed

This week's Gazette published candidates' answers to a number of questions, including one about the sex education curriculum.

Here, without comment, are Montgomery County, Maryland, school board candidates' responses to the question: Should the school system's health curriculum include discussions of homosexuality and demonstrations of contraception use?
The school system should provide responsible, age-appropriate sex education with the option for families to elect participation in accordance with their beliefs. If we truly want students to grow up informed and ready to make choices that keep them safe and healthy, we must provide a curriculum that is comprehensive and medically accurate. Discussion of sexual orientation and homosexuality should be included. We know that combating prejudice and bullying targeted at students who are ''different" by virtue of being gay requires education. By including information about sexual orientation in the health curriculum, we will foster an environment of greater tolerance in our schools.

Similarly, the video demonstration of condom use should be included in a comprehensive curriculum. Condoms are the only form of birth control that can prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The number one reason for condom failure is improper use. In 2004, at the request of health teachers, MCPS piloted a condom use demonstration video in three high schools, designed to present information in a way that would hold students' attention. The response was overwhelmingly positive. If we are serious about protecting our students' health and giving them access to information about how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, HIV AIDS and unintended pregnancies, we should include the demonstration in our instruction.

No, the public tax money is use to provide the student with education of sciences, math, English and other academic-related subjects. The discussions of homosexuality and demonstrations of contraception use are part of parental guidance and family value retention responsibility and should be no part of our public school curriculum.

I think that the parents should be the final decision makers in the area of sex education. I think that we are in an age where schools can create a ''customized" sex education curriculum. I am a believer in developing non-traditional means to achieve an end result. In the 21st century , we have VCR's, DVD players, IPODs, ect.... You could have a sex education program that is ''video-teleconferenced" (where parents could be a part of the sex education classes if they choose to.

Responses not available

Responses not available

The health curriculum should be comprehensive and fact based.

Parents are in the best position to decide what their children will learn about health, sex, sexuality, homosexuality, alternative lifestyles, abstinence, contraception and other components of the county's health curriculum. Some parents have decided that discussion about homosexuality and demonstrations on the use of contraception is appropriate for their child; while other parents have decided these discussions and demonstrations conflict with their religious and moral values that they teach at home.

Unfortunately, parents in effect have only one choice - to opt in or opt out their children in these discussions and demonstrations. Children, whose parents choose to opt out, are relegated to the library or some other ''holding classroom" until they are allowed to return to health class. The BoE should change this policy by giving parents the additional choice of opting in their children into health classes that teach the values and morals that are consistent with the values and morals they teach their children at home.

MCPS sets high standards for students in math, science, English, social studies, visual and performing arts, athletics, reading, literature, history, in all areas of the curriculum except one - health education. MCPS has watered down the health curriculum to the lowest expectations of our children. Our children deserve better.

I strongly support the planned revisions to the health education curriculum, to include discussions about homosexuality in grades 8 and 10 and a condom demonstration video in grade 10. Parents will have the opportunity to preview the curriculum and will still be required to sign a permission form to allow their children participate. I support 21st century health education for our students.

I support a comprehensive health curriculum. I foresee my role as a BOE member to listen to the recommendations of the community advisory panel that is currently reviewing proposed curriculum changes. It is likely that if the panel recommends a proposal that includes discussions of homosexuality and demonstrations of contraception use, I will be supportive.


Homosexuality and contraception use are a part of society and the facts about both should be taught in a responsible and unbiased manner that demonstrates respect, responsibility and abstinence. Many students and their families in Montgomery County don't wish to participate in such discussions and this point of view should be accommodated by having a strong, meaningful alternative to those who do not opt in to the health curriculum that includes these topics.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Revenge of the Irate Moderates

I normally don't pay much attention to politics, but I think everybody was watching the Connecticut primaries to see how the voters would deal with Joe Lieberman. The big question is whether there will be an opposition party in America.

I liked the New York Times phrasing of the situation this morning:
Mr. Lieberman’s supporters have tried to depict Mr. Lamont and his backers as wild-eyed radicals who want to punish the senator for working with Republicans and to force the Democratic Party into a disastrous turn toward extremism. It’s hard to imagine Connecticut, which likes to be called the Land of Steady Habits, as an encampment of left-wing isolationists, and it’s hard to imagine Mr. Lamont, who worked happily with the Republicans in Greenwich politics, leading that kind of revolution.

The rebellion against Mr. Lieberman was actually an uprising by that rare phenomenon, irate moderates. They are the voters who have been unnerved over the last few years as the country has seemed to be galloping in a deeply unmoderate direction. A war that began at the president’s choosing has degenerated into a desperate, bloody mess that has turned much of the world against the United States. The administration’s contempt for international agreements, Congressional prerogatives and the authority of the courts has undermined the rule of law abroad and at home.

Yet while all this has been happening, the political discussion in Washington has become a captive of the Bush agenda. Traditional beliefs like every person’s right to a day in court, or the conviction that America should not start wars it does not know how to win, wind up being portrayed as extreme. The middle becomes a place where senators struggle to get the president to volunteer to obey the law when the mood strikes him. Attempting to regain the real center becomes a radical alternative.

When Mr. Lieberman told The Washington Post, “I haven’t changed. Events around me have changed,” he actually put his finger on his political problem. His constituents felt that when the White House led the country into a disastrous international crisis and started subverting the nation’s basic traditions, Joe Lieberman should have changed enough to take a lead in fighting back. Revenge of the Irate Moderates

I remember the first time I saw the sex-education curriculum that had been proposed and unanimously adopted for 8th and 10th grade Montgomery County public school students. I'd heard about the controversy, so I downloaded the document and looked it over. Read through it once, wondered, what's the problem? Read through it again. Tried to read between the lines. Looked for a "gay agenda." Looked for the part that encouraged children to experiment with sex. Looked for the part that promoted promiscuity.

What I saw was a moderate, well-reasoned, objective curriculum.

After the 2004 elections, the Recall Group organized to recall the entire school board for adopting the curriculum. It wasn't a matter of changing the content of the classes, it was about extremists taking over the school system. Failing that, they backed off and tried to badmouth the curriculum with ridiculous distortions, and ended up delaying it by confusing a judge about some background materials. This had the intended effect of destroying the district's work. It didn't fix anything, it just set everybody back a year. And cost the taxpayers a bunch of money.

Teach the Facts formed to support the school board's decision when they were under attack. We weren't asking for anything extreme, just a commonsense curriculum that presented the facts as they are understood by medicine and science. We don't have any special need to change the world, we just want to see some stability, some fairness, some truth.

Ordinary, normal, decent people are shocked by the corruption, immorality, and outright un-Americanism that has taken over our public discussions. Joe Lieberman made the mistake of going along with it, and the voters have shown that they are not willing to accept the status quo. The group that is in power now is radical, but because they are the ones in office they get to pick the topic, they establish the frame for the discussion. The effect has been mob rule, like a riot where one person smashes a window and so everybody starts smashing windows. The press has gone along with the rhetoric, and now it is common to attack moderate common sense as extreme.

No, The Times has it right. We are seeing The Revenge of the Irate Moderates. Hopefully, ordinary people will start taking their country back this year.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Do Degrading Lyrics Cause Teen Lust?

How could I have not blogged about this story from yesterday's Washington Post?
CHICAGO -- Teens whose iPods are full of music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs, a study found.

Whether it's hip-hop, rap, pop or rock, much of popular music aimed at teens contains sexual overtones. Its influence on their behavior appears to depend on how the sex is portrayed, researchers found.

Songs depicting men as "sex-driven studs," women as sex objects and with explicit references to sex acts are more likely to trigger early sexual behavior than those where sexual references are more veiled and relationships appear more committed, the study found.

Teens who said they listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages were almost twice as likely to start having intercourse or other sexual activities within the following two years as were teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music.

Among heavy listeners, 51 percent started having sex within two years, versus 29 percent of those who said they listened to little or no sexually degrading music. Sexual Lyrics Prompt Teens to Have Sex

OK, this is ridiculous reporting, what my mother used to call "yellow journalism." Others would say "sensationalistic." It doesn't even describe the paper's results accurately. But don't worry -- we can read the original report in Pediatrics HERE

They administered three surveys to the same sample, one and three years after the first panel. The hypothesis was that reports of listening to music with degrading sexual lyrics at an earlier time would predict sexual behavior at a later time. They did find this effect, and interestingly it only worked for degrading sexual lyrics. Nondegrading sexual lyrics didn't predict anything.

The authors are pretty careful here:
Our results suggest that the relationship between exposure and behavior may be causal in nature, because we controlled for teens' previous sexual experience, as well as factors like parental monitoring, religiosity, and deviance; however, our correlational data do not allow us to make causal inferences with certainty.

They're right: their correlational data do not allow them to make causal inferences, with or without certainty. You can't do it, even in a panel design like this, even when you control for covariates.

Right after saying this, though, they barge ahead and speculate about what it would mean if there was a causal relationship.

See, they want to be able to say that degrading sex lyrics cause teens to engage in sexual behavior. But their results don't say that. An equally likely explanation is that the same kinds of teens who listen to degrading sexual lyrics also tend to have sex sooner. I mean, don't you wonder, who listens to that stupid stuff, anyway? It's not everybody, it's certain kids, and this study says those are the same kids who have sex.

And I'll tell you what. If they'd asked them if they drank alcohol or smoked weed or cussed or talked back to their parents or snuck out at night or ditched school or shoplifted ... they would have found they did those things, too. Because of degrading song lyrics? I doubt it. There have always been punk kids like that, and there always will be, lyrics or no lyrics.

The authors make an unbelievable leap in the Discussion section. After noting the flaws in their study they say:
These limitations notwithstanding, our findings suggest a need for intervention. Reducing the amount of degrading sexual content in popular music, or reducing young people's exposure to music with this type of content, could delay initiation of intercourse and related activities.

This is published in the journal Pediatrics, and I really wonder how this last paragraph got past the reviewers. They have not shown causation, they admit they have not shown causation, this kind of correlational study is universally known to have no ability to detect causation, yet here they are actually recommending censorship based on the "fact" that a certain kind of music causes teens to have sex!

Remember when Elvis came out? Well, actually, I don't either. But we know that the fuddy-duddies said this same stuff about that rock-n-roll music, which somehow did not turn all of us into hip--gyrating Satanists. And which sounds pretty tame today -- which makes you wonder what music is going to be like in another fifty years. Yikes. Sorry I'm gonna miss it.

I'm pretty disappointed in this paper, and in this journal for allowing these unjustified conclusions. The authors were careful in their research design, this was conducted seriously and dliberately and carefully. I'm pretty confident in their regression results, their weighting, and all of that. With some editing this paper could have been quite interesting enough. But their hypothesis was not carefully defined, and they went way beyond their data in explaining the results. This study did not test whether a certain kind of music caused teens to have sex, it only tested whether listening to a certain kind of music predicted sexual behavior. Big difference.

Teacher Dismissed Over Sex Ed

Somebody emailed me the strangest story. This comes from a newsletter sent out by Liberty Counsel, the lawyers who rocketed in last year from Jerry Falwell's galaxy to sue the Montgomery County public school system over its sex-ed curriculum.

Here's the whole thing:
School Board Fires Teacher Over Inappropriate Sex-Ed Class

Milliken, CO - The board of a charter school has now voted to dismiss a teacher after receiving a letter from Liberty Counsel pointing out that the teacher violated Steve and Deanne Aochi's parental rights by ignoring a request to excuse their daughter from a graphic discussion about sex.

The Aochi's daughter, Haley, attends Knowledge Quest Academy. Mrs. Aochi requested that her daughter be excused from sex education instruction. However, based on a conversation with physical education teacher Joel Chase, Mrs. Aochi believed that the school required her daughter to complete a sex education test. Mrs. Aochi completed the test with her daughter, but they did not answer several questions that Mrs. Aochi believed inappropriate for a 13-year-old seventh grader. Mrs. Aochi also requested that Haley be excused from any discussion of the test. Mr. Chase expressly ignored the request and led the class in a discussion of sexual practices, reproduction, and his personal views on dating. He even tried to convince Haley to change answers on the test she completed with her mother to reflect his own viewpoint.

In a letter to the school on behalf of the Aochi family, Liberty Counsel requested the Board take appropriate and immediate action to ensure no further violations of parental rights. The Board promptly responded by dismissing the teacher.

Parents have an interest protected by the Constitution to direct the education of their children. In addition, when certain educational requirements directly collide with the sincerely-held religious beliefs of parents, schools must demonstrate a compelling justification for refusing to accommodate the parents' desire for an opt-out from sex education classes.

Anita Staver, President of Liberty Counsel, commented: "The right of parents to educate their own children according to their religious and moral objectives is of paramount importance. The Aochis are pleased that the school board took swift and appropriate action by dismissing the teacher who tried to indoctrinate their daughter with his own views on dating and sexual practices. Teachers must understand that they are not de facto parents."

Now, we have seen enough of this sort of literature to be sure that these are not the facts of the case. The teacher tried to get the kid to change her answers on a test? C'mon, who does that? His personal views of dating? I'd love to hear what that was, really -- and I'll betcha money it had nothing to do with ... his personal views of dating. His own views on dating and sexual practices? I'm doubting that.

The kid completed the test with her mother? Where I come from that's called "cheating."

I am also curious about the concept of an interest protected by the Constitution to direct the education of their children. I mean, it sounds all heart-warming and everything, but ... is there really something in the Constitution about this? (I know that several lawyers read this blog, maybe one of you guys can point us to the part of the Constitution that empowers parents to "direct the education of their children.")

This story isn't to be found anywhere else on the web that I can discover. I did find a bio of this teacher -- born in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, grew up in Evanston, Wyoming (pop. 11,507), went to Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Wellness and Management and a Bachelor of Science in Education in P.E. and Health, and coaches football, basketball, track, and softball.

This guy is Pure Country, he's not out to convert children to worship at the altars of Libido. Small-town boy that he is, I'll bet he never ran into anybody like these Liberty Counsel characters. Now he's out of work, and they're all proud of themselves.

Ethics. Morals. Sure.

From Military Week:
The evangelical in the White House crossed a milestone this week.

For the rest of the world, this milestone passes largely unnoticed in the midst of Middle East fear, death, and destruction in Iraq, in Gaza and the occupied territories, and now in Lebanon. Specifically taking a back seat to the Israeli-Hezbollah war is the ongoing and tragic status of American-occupied Iraq.

But in Washington, history was made when George W. Bush finally, and for the first time, used his presidential veto power to reject a piece of legislation from his loyal Congress.

The veto, as Bush explained in a public ceremony framed by chattering toddlers, was done to prevent American taxpayers from being “… compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos.'

He went on, “Crossing this line would be a grave mistake and would needlessly encourage a conflict between science and ethics that can only do damage to both and harm our Nation as a whole.'

Science and ethics are two areas where George W. Bush cannot be accused of knowing too much, thinking too deeply, nor retaining even a shadow of personal humility. The Lame Duck of Destruction

It is a strange place to draw the line, isn't it? Like, now in Iraq, thanks to our "culture of life" President, an average of a hundred people a day are being killed in Iraq, real conscious, thinking, loving people with families and friends. For what? Nobody really knows, it is simply grounds for speculation -- WMD, democracy, oil, outdoing Dad, nobody really knows, but lots of people are being killed by the decider.

But come to saving thousands, maybe millions, of lives through research using some several-celled embryos that are going down the drain if they're not used, and wow, all of a sudden the guy's got "ethics." Suddenly, morals.
Bush, unlike the American Founders, believes that the state owns life – yours, mine, a frozen embryo's potentiality, a criminal's continued existence, lives of youthful American soldiers and Marines, and lives of Iraqis of all ages. One may extend this sense of ownership to the lives disrupted and destroyed by the American “business' in Afghanistan, also launched by this president, and the current evacuation crisis that has placed in extremis nearly 25,000 Americans in Lebanon.

Strangely, Bush also seems to be saying that the state, in accordance with its morals and ethics, must act to preserve life. What a concept!

Sadly, illogically and wickedly, Bush means to preserve only the lives of those Americans who cannot speak, cannot move, and cannot think. This intent is evidenced by federal legislation Bush supported that was passed to preserve the comatose life of a single individual in a single state – one of 300 million Americans, as well as in his recent veto to preserve several hundred embryos stored in freezers across the country.

And it ain't just the Big Guy, it's the nuts who support him. They gotta go, nothing else to it, we gotta stop them. This is not the way America works, these are not American values. This is not ethical, it is not moral, it's not right. We gotta fight it where we find it.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Half of Americans Remain Independent of Reality

I mentioned this the other day, but it rates its own posting here. Here's the story by Charles J. Hanley, AP special correspondent:
Did Saddam Hussein's government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003?

Half of America apparently still thinks so, a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to die-hard bloggers to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag, and a growing need for people, in their own minds, to justify the war in Iraq.

People tend to become "independent of reality" in these circumstances, says opinion analyst Steven Kull. Half of U.S. still believes Iraq had WMD

Love that phrase: independent of reality. I believe we've even seen some of that independence here in Montgomery County, once or twice.

In 2004, nearly half of Americans supported George Bush in his bid for election. I assume those people believed the President, at that time, when he said that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, even though none still had ever been found after a year and a half of US occupation there. They must have believed that Iraq actually had been a threat of some kind to us. I don't think you'd vote for the guy if you thought he was wrong about everything ... would you?

Actually, nothing surprises me any more.

In the time since that election, the public's opinion of the President plummeted and never came back up, for a lot of reasons. I mean, lots and lots.

But this survey is showing that half of Americans still believe that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction.
The reality in this case is that after a 16-month, $900-million-plus investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.

Despite this, a Harris Poll released July 21 found that a full 50 percent of U.S . respondents — up from 36 percent last year — said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack whose stated purpose was elimination of supposed WMD. Other polls also have found an enduring American faith in the WMD story.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Michael Massing, a media critic whose writings dissected the largely unquestioning U.S. news reporting on the Bush administration's shaky WMD claims in 2002-03.

I can't really imagine using the word "flabbergasted," myself, but ... I know how the dude feels.

People are exposed to a constant stream -- many parallel, simultaneous streams -- of information, and they have to pick and choose what they will accept and what they will reject. One criterion would be to evaluate the likelihood that a new proposition is true, that it corresponds to objective reality.

Another criterion that a person could use would be to evaluate how well the new statement fits with their existing beliefs. How uncomfortable would I be, if this new proposition were true? What consequences would that have? Would I have to revise my other beliefs and attitudes?

In actuality, all people use both of these strategies ... to some degree. Obviously, some people use the one more than the other. Like, ninety-nine to one.
"This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence," Massing said.

True, that.

Ah, but maybe there's a bit of an explanation. Maybe the gullible were caught in an unguarded moment.
Timing may explain some of the poll result. Two weeks before the survey, two Republican lawmakers, Pennsylvania's Sen. Rick Santorum and Michigan's Rep. Peter Hoekstra, released an intelligence report in Washington saying 500 chemical munitions had been collected in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

"I think the Harris Poll was measuring people's surprise at hearing this after being told for so long there were no WMD in the country," said Hoekstra spokesman Jamal Ware.

Yeah, the survey calls, and you're thinking, uh, didn't I see a guy on Fox last night saying we found those things?
But the Pentagon and outside experts stressed that these abandoned shells, many found in ones and twos, were 15 years old or more, their chemical contents were degraded, and they were unusable as artillery ordnance. Since the 1990s, such "orphan" munitions, from among 160,000 made by Iraq and destroyed, have turned up on old battlefields and elsewhere in Iraq, ex-inspectors say. In other words, this was no surprise.

"These are not stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction," said Scott Ritter, the ex-Marine who was a U.N. inspector in the 1990s. "They weren't deliberately withheld from inspectors by the Iraqis."

Somebody said to me yesterday, for this stuff to kill anybody you'd just about have to inject them with it.
Conservative commentator Deroy Murdock, who trumpeted Hoekstra's announcement in his syndicated column, complained in an interview that the press "didn't give the story the play it deserved." But in some quarters it was headlined.

"Our top story tonight, the nation abuzz today ..." was how Fox News led its report on the old, stray shells. Talk-radio hosts and their callers seized on it. Feedback to blogs grew intense. "Americans are waking up from a distorted reality," read one posting.

Ah, the liberal media, covering up the facts again. (Seems like I heard something about this recently...)

Speaking of the media. What's up with these guys? They seem to want to tell us what really happened. Hey, they're not supposed to do that! They're supposed to shut up and cower in fear of being called "liberal." Did Ann Coulter approve this news story? What about presenting both sides of the controversy -- this is unbalanced, they aren't publishing lies alongside the truth.
"I think the Santorum-Hoekstra thing is the latest 'factoid,' but the basic dynamic is the insistent repetition by the Bush administration of the original argument," said John Prados, author of the 2004 book "Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War."

Administration statements still describe Saddam's Iraq as a threat. Despite the official findings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has allowed only that "perhaps" WMD weren't in Iraq. And Bush himself, since 2003, has repeatedly insisted on one plainly false point: that Saddam rebuffed the U.N. inspectors in 2002, that "he wouldn't let them in," as he said in 2003, and "he chose to deny inspectors," as he said this March.

The facts are that Iraq — after a four-year hiatus in cooperating with inspections — acceded to the U.N. Security Council's demand and allowed scores of experts to conduct more than 700 inspections of potential weapons sites from Nov. 27, 2002, to March 16, 2003. The inspectors said they could wrap up their work within months. Instead, the U.S. invasion aborted that work.

D'ya hear that, Madge? Guy says there's no weapons of mass destruction. American attack interrupted the search. Did ya ever hear such a crack-brain story?

(Give me that computer, Madge: Dere Teech tha Fax, you stpid peepul bleave evaryting yu rede, dont' yo. Thease lebirle jurnlestes our righting prapogonda. Your idyats two beeleave it. Whey d'ont yu justt shot up, yur so stooped. Sined, Anon)
As recently as May 27, Bush told West Point graduates, "When the United Nations Security Council gave him one final chance to disclose and disarm, or face serious consequences, he refused to take that final opportunity."

"Which isn't true," observed Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a scholar of presidential rhetoric at the University of Pennsylvania. But "it doesn't surprise me when presidents reconstruct reality to make their policies defensible." This president may even have convinced himself it's true, she said.

There's really no good way to tell if somebody is lying, or if they actually believe what they're telling you. But after all these years, you do get the idea that the guy believes what he's telling us.
Charles Duelfer, the lead U.S. inspector who announced the negative WMD findings two years ago, has watched uncertainly as TV sound bites, bloggers and politicians try to chip away at "the best factual account," his group's densely detailed, 1,000-page final report.

"It is easy to see what is accepted as truth rapidly morph from one representation to another," he said in an e-mail. "It would be a shame if one effect of the power of the Internet was to undermine any commonly agreed set of facts."

The creative "morphing" goes on.

As Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas battled in Lebanon on July 21, a Fox News segment suggested, with no evidence, yet another destination for the supposed doomsday arms.

"ARE SADDAM HUSSEIN'S WMDS NOW IN HEZBOLLAH'S HANDS?" asked the headline, lingering for long minutes on TV screens in a million American homes.

Now there's a scary thought -- people getting their news from Fox.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Most Sexually Active Teens Don't Use Condoms

This sounds like a little bit of bad news, but it's not surprising:
Most sexually active teenagers don't regularly use condoms, which puts them at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, a report suggests.

Almost half (47%) of teen boys who had intercourse in the year before being surveyed said they always use a condom, but only 28% of girls said a condom was used.

Sorry, but ... don't you wonder about that? Does this mean that most of the boys had sex with a small number of girls, or what? You often see these asymmetries in the data, sometimes there's a dark humor to them, like when you read that men have sex more frequently than women, but sometimes you just wonder what in the world is going on.
The report on teens and contraception is to be released Monday by Child Trends, a non-profit research center in Washington, D.C. It analyzed federal data on unmarried teens ages 15 through 19, collected in 2002 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study focuses only on sexually active teens — the 46% in that age group who have ever had sexual intercourse.

"Condom use declines a little with age, and more serious relationships are less likely to use condoms," report co-author Jennifer Manlove says. "At first sexual intercourse, folks are more likely to use condoms for pregnancy and disease prevention, but as they are more sexually experienced, they are more likely to switch to other methods of birth control." Report: Teenagers often shun condoms

OK, I can see they move to the pill or something as they settle into a steady relationship, that makes some sense. And I suppose that takes some of the sting out of the initial revelation, that most of teens don't use condoms. At least they use something.
Amber Madison, 22, author of Hooking Up: A Girl's All-Out Guide to Sex & Sexuality, to be published next month, speculates that the gender differences in condom use are related to sex within a relationship rather than casual sex.

"My guess is you have teenage guys having more one-night stands, and guys are very likely to use a condom during a one-night stand, where with their girlfriends it's not as likely," she says. "If young women are having sex more with their boyfriends, that's probably why they use condoms less, whereas young men are having sex with women they may not know as well."

OK, that's kind of what I was thinking.

More interesting stuff.
The report suggests variations in contraception use by race and ethnicity; Hispanic girls are the least likely to use birth control. For both first-time sex and their most recent sex, 36% used contraception, compared with 57% of blacks and 72% of whites.

Efforts to promote contraceptive use may be having an effect. The teen birth rate has been declining: in 2004 it was 41.2 births per 1,000 girls ages 15-19, down from a peak of 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991, says Child Trends' Kerry Franzetta, lead author of the report.

About 80% or more of teen pregnancies are unintended, says Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

She says the clear message to sexually active teens is that two methods are best: condoms to prevent sexually transmitted disease and a hormonal method, such as birth control pills, implants or a contraceptive patch to prevent pregnancy.

"Most methods aren't 100% effective," she adds. "If you double up, you're dramatically increasing the effectiveness."

Hate to say it, but it's just a matter of education at this point. Get the word out there. Teach teens how to use these things, make them available. Encourage them to be careful. Teen pregnancies affect all of us.

Pat Robertson Changes his Mind on Global Warming

This is going to be fascinating to watch. The global warming "controversy" is purely political, with gazillion-dollar corporations hoping they won't have to spend money cleaning up their pollution generators. These corporations, through their spokespersons in the Bush administration, have created a message that there is some debate in the scientific community about whether the earth is actually getting warmer, and if it is, whether humans are responsible for it.

This fake-controversy is salted with some attitudes from the religious right suggesting that God gave us the earth to enjoy, and that we can use its resources however we like. I'd guess this comes from Genesis 1:26:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

(With its wonderful and confusing interpretation in the plural.)

So there we have "dominion" over it all. I had always taken that in a benign sense to mean that we were obligated to take care of it. But some people interpret this to mean that we can just do whatever we want with the earth and all of nature, like a king selecting a desirable virgin from some subject's household. That kind of dominion.

Anyway, the weather's been hot, and that has changed Pat Robertson's mind, aparently. Think Progress transcribed some of the 700 Club for us:
Yesterday on the 700 Club, evangelical Pat Robertson declared himself “a convert” on global warming. Robertson said that he has “not been one who believed in global warming in the past.” But now, Robertson said, he believes “it is getting hotter and the ice caps are melting and there is a build up of carbon dioxide in the air.” Robertson implored, “we really need to do something on fossil fuels.” Watch it:

Robertson talked briefly about global warming again on today’s edition of the 700 club. Alternet has the video.

Today’s transcript:
They are defending the society. But I tell you stay in doors ladies and gentleman. Stay cool. Get fans or whatever. And the poor, they need emergency fans and ice to cool down — the number of people dead. I have not been one who believed in the global warming. But I tell you, they are making a convert out of me as these blistering summers. They have broken heat records in a number of cities already this year and broken all-time records and it is getting hotter and the ice caps are melting and there is a build up of carbon dioxide in the air. We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels. If we are contributing to the destruction of the planet we need to do manage about it.

AlterNet notes:
Conservative Christian news outlet Agape Press, which often runs anti-global warming reports, has already picked up the statement and run it uncritically.

Yes, here's how AgapePress ran it:
..Televangelist Pat Robertson says he hasn't been a believer in global warming in the past, but this summer's record-breaking heat is, quote: "making a convert out of me." On his 700 Club broadcast, Robertson said, "It is getting hotter, and the icecaps are melting and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the air." Switching sides on an issue that divides evangelical Christians, Robertson said, "We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels." The religious broadcaster told viewers, "If we are contributing to the destruction of this planet, we need to do something about it." [AP]

I wonder what is going on here, really.

More People Think the Government Was Behind 9/11

I'm not making this up. A new survey:
More than a third of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East, according to a new Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll. Was 9/11 an 'inside job'?

I remember a couple of years ago arguing with a French friend about this. You know they've thought it all along, and it really made me mad that he was taking the theory seriously, that the Bush administration was behind the 9/11 attacks. It was crazy, malicious, impossible.

But now, after seeing how it's all played out, more than a third of Americans -- not Frenchmen, but Americans -- think that's probably how it happened. Imagine: we live in a time when a good proportion of the population actually believes that our national leaders would slaughter thousands of innocent American citizens, in order to gain power for themselves.

Well, look at yesterday's Washington Post, telling us that the 9/11 commission almost called for an investigation of the Pentagon's lies:
Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon's initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.

You've got to wonder: why would they lie to the commission that was investigating the terrorist attacks, unless they had something to hide?

Look at the new Vanity Fair report, going through the NORAD audiotapes, catching the Vice President lying to the press about giving the order to shoot down Flight 93. Caught him with his pants down.
Cheney echoed, "The significance of saying to a pilot that you are authorized to shoot down a plane full of Americans is, a, you know, it's an order that had never been given before." And it wasn't on 9/11, either.

Why would he lie?

I'm not saying that 9/11 was a Bush administration job, don't get me wrong. But there's no doubt that they lied about it, and you wonder why. It is mind-boggling to see that more than a third of Americans suspect that our own government might have committed an act of terrorism on American soil. Not just that it would do something horrible to its own people under some vague hypothetical conditions, but that it did.

From the news story about the survey:
Widespread resentment and alienation toward the national government appear to be fueling a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories about the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Seventy percent of people who give credence to these theories also say they've become angrier with the federal government than they used to be.

Thirty-six percent of respondents overall said it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."

I'm sorry, but I don't think America has ever been like this before.
University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster, author of the book "Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture," said the poll's findings reflect public anger at the unpopular Iraq war, realization that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction and growing doubts of the veracity of the Bush administration.

"What has amazed me is not that there are conspiracy theories, but that they didn't seem to be getting any purchase among the American public until the last year or so," Fenster said. "Although the Iraq war was not directly related to the 9/11 attacks, people are now looking back at 9/11 with much more skepticism than they used to."

The current administration has shown enormous expertise in persuasion, getting people to believe one thing after another that was just not true. Often, they don't even really pretend they're telling the truth, they just say something over and over until people forget it's wrong. They have found just the right combination of hypocritical self-righteousness and unfocused fear -- the American people now jump anytime they're told there's a shadow. Don't even have to actually see it.

Like, did you see the survey last week that found that half of Americans still think Saddam had weapons of mass destruction? Tell me how that happens -- you can say it proves people are stupid, I think it proves how skillful the administration is at manipulating the public.

Those "terror alerts" before the election: a masterpiece, unbelievable. These guys are tops in their craft.

But they've pulled the same tricks too many times now, and some people are starting to doubt everything. That's not necessarily any better, or at least any more accurate. We don't know if the Bush administration was behind 9/11 or not. And that, in itself, is terrible.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Another Reason to Tell Them the Truth in the First Place

An important part of the radicals' agenda against the Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum has to do with the idea that gay people choose to be gay, or, to put it another way, that they could choose not to be. Obviously, a big part of this has to do with defining the word -- more than the word, the concept, really. "Gay" is a word that has only within our lifetimes come into common usage, and it is one of those that gets flakey when you look at it too closely.

Let's say you're talking about a man who is attracted to other men, dates other men, and, if you asked him, would tell you he's gay. OK, except for those holdouts who don't like the cheerfulness of the word, we would be comfortable calling this person "gay." Several features fall into line: physical attraction, behavior, self-identification, and identification by others. So this is a pretty easy case.

How about a man in prison who finds that he can gain protection and favors by performing sexually with other (male) prisoners, even though he only dated women before his sentence and will only date women afterwards? Here the behavior supports the term, but other factors are missing. He may even dress the part in order to make his role more obvious or more successful, but I don't think most of us would call him "gay."

The difficulty really comes to the fore in the opposite type of situation. Say there's a guy who is secretly attracted to men, but never acts on it. He presents himself to the world as straight, and puts his impulses out of his mind whenever he can. But he knows it's there. I get the feeling that guys like this typically think that other men suffer this same tendency, that straight guys in general actually lust after other men, but just don't say anything about it. Would you call this guy gay? I can imagine describing him as someone who is "really gay, but doesn't act like it," or even "actually gay, but doesn't know it." These last two cases suggest that we are talking about an essence, a quality of the person, more than any behavior.

Can you be gay and not know it? I have definitely seen guys who have not realized this about themselves, even though it is apparent to everyone else. So, yeah, if you asked me, I'd say this can happen.

I suppose, in general, the word should be used for the whole package -- sexual feelings, behavior consistent with that, self-identification, self-presentation.

The point is that some aspects of the whole package are, in fact, under conscious control. A man with homosexual feelings may choose not to act on them or even pretend to feel attracted to women, and to some extent I think a guy with those feelings can choose not to identify himself as gay.

Nobody really has a nice, clear answer about why some people are sexually attracted by members of their own sex, but it is a constant fact seen in every society. Most people understand that sex has something to do with love, and that there is something ... good .. about falling in love. It is not that hard, then, to understand why people who are attracted to others of their own sex would choose not to deny themselves the fulfillment that comes with falling in love, and the pleasure that comes with sex and intimacy.

On the other hand, there is a longstanding social circumscription that pressures people with homosexual feelings to either pretend they are straight or, at least, conceal their true feelings. This circumscription has been more or less crumbling for the past few decades, and we are now at a point where most members of our society are able to accept homosexuality.

Some men get trapped in the game of pretending, and this morning's New York Times has an interesting article about gay men who find themselves in a heterosexual marriage.
THEY spend decades denying their sexual confusion to themselves and others. They generally limit their encounters with men to anonymous one-night stands and tell all manner of lies if their wives suspect.

They consider themselves to be devoted husbands, conscientious fathers and suburban homeowners, and what typically brings them to the point of crisis in their 40’s, 50’s and even 60’s is their first emotional connection with another man.

For gay men in heterosexual marriages, even after the status quo becomes unbearable, the pull of domestic life remains powerful. Many are desperate to preserve their marriages — to continue reaping the emotional and financial support of wives, and domestic pleasures like tucking children in at night. When the Beard Is Too Painful to Remove

As MCPS considers how to present the topic of sexual orientation in the classroom, they need to be aware of the consequences. If you taught students that a gay person can just stop, that they can just decide to become straight and that's that, you might lead them down a path that leads to this, to secrets and lies and double-lives and broken marriages.
The demand for support groups for gay, married men, as well as traffic in Internet chat rooms, shows that so-called “Brokeback” marriages have hardly disappeared, as many experts assumed they would, even in an age when gay couples, in certain parts of the country, live openly and raise children just like any family.

Leaving a marriage and setting up housekeeping with a gay partner is not what most married gay men have in mind when they join a support group, according to Stephen McFadden, a clinical social worker, who runs such groups in Manhattan. Instead, Mr. McFadden and others in the field say, their clients generally start out committed to the opposite goal.

Well, yes, it would be handy, wouldn't it, if those feelings would just go away, if there really was such a thing as an "ex-gay."
Even after a pained awakening or acknowledgment of their sexual orientation, these men want to save their marriages, Mr. McFadden and others say, either by lying, promising their wives they will not have sex with men or persuading them to accept their double lives.

Yet, such arrangements succeed for only “a small percentage’’ of couples, Mr. McFadden and other therapists said, but the stubborn attempt often makes these men unwelcome or uncomfortable in support groups for gay fathers, which are easy to find but largely the province of men who are long divorced.

One support group member, Steve T., is a Long Island doctor, married to his high school sweetheart and the father of three school-age sons. He said he felt the sting of judgment when he tried a group for gay fathers. “They thought my desire to stay married was part of my denial,’’ said Dr. T., who would do almost anything to keep his family together and his suburban lifestyle intact, even after telling his wife that he is gay.

She is his “best friend’’ and the “perfect co-parent,’’ said the 44-year-old doctor, who agreed to be interviewed on condition he not be fully identified and his secrets thus revealed to relatives, neighbors and patients. He enjoys the social life of a popular suburban couple, adores his in-laws and wants to live in the same home as his children.

I am imagining what this is like to some of our readers who subscribe to the most sex-obsessed stereotypes. Can you guys picture this? A gay Dr. Ward Cleaver, sipping a beer and flipping burgers on the grill while the boys throw a football around.
But he also wants to continue a love affair with a man like himself: married, with children, a lawn to mow and a comfortable life. And until a few weeks ago, Dr. T. said, “this was working great in terms of getting our needs met and not disrupting our families.’’

Dr. T.’s wife had agreed she could live with his sexual orientation provided he didn’t act on it. So he lied and said his homosexual relationship did not include sex. But she wasn’t fooled and forced him to move into an in-law apartment in the family home, a way station to a more formal separation.

This development has left him stunned, one moment sympathetic to his wife’s position and the next disbelieving that they can’t work it out. “I love her, but she wants me to be in love with her,” Dr. T. said. “She wants to be my one and only. Everything we have will be at risk if, God forbid, we divorce.’’

Man, I'll tell you, I'm glad these guys aren't asking me for advice. This is a big mess.

Skipping down a little bit ...
...Gary J. Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute, a research group that studies gay issues at U.C.L.A., blended data for The New York Times from the 2000 Census and a 2002 federal survey of family configurations, and found that the percentage of gay men who had ever been married could be as high as 38 percent — or as low as 9 percent — depending on whether respondents were asked their sexual orientation, whom they had sex with or whom they found attractive.

Of the 27 million American men currently married, Mr. Gates found, 1.6 percent, or 436,000, identify themselves as gay or bisexual. Of the 75 million men who have ever been married, 1.8 percent, or 1.3 million, identify themselves that way. But, in both cases, when the men are asked about behavior if they have ever had sex with men, not what they consider their sexual orientation, the number of men who have ever been married doubles.

Yes, that definition problem again. There are some pretty funny jokes about this, which I will not repeat here. Part of the concept has to do with self-identification; apparently there are a lot of guys who do stuff with other guys but don't think of themselves as being gay.
The sort of arrangement Dr. T. hoped for — a proper marriage and one or more relationships with men on the side — is not unheard of. Cole Porter pulled it off and so did James McGreevey, New Jersey’s former governor, who left office, and his wife, in 2004. Mr. McGreevey, 48, has spent the last year writing a memoir, “The Confession,’’ to be released on Sept. 19, and recently, with his new partner, Mark O’Donnell, 42, moved into a Georgian mansion in Plainfield, N.J.

THE specter of AIDS has led to a formal and presumably safe way for gay married men to have it all, known as a Closed-Loop Relationship. Instead of risky promiscuous sex, a married man has two “monogamous’’ relationships, one with his wife and one with another man, usually married. Done according to the rules, enumerated on Web sites and online support groups, all four parties agree to this setup.

Yikes. Can you imagine keeping all that straight?

Look, I don't think I'm too out-of-line here if I suggest that this would all work out better if gay guys just married other gay guys in the first place.
Closed-Loop Relationships are anathema to Bonnie Kaye, the former wife of a gay man, who runs the Web site and conducts “How to Come Out to Your Wife’’ workshops. “If they’re too selfish to leave, I won’t work with them,’’ Ms. Kaye said. “If they love their wives, they need to give them their lives back.’’

Deception remains common. An unscientific survey of visitors to found that more than half of the married gay respondents said their wives did not know of their sexual inclinations. Of those, a slim majority were considering whether to come clean but a third said “never.’’

There's quite a bit more to this story, mostly telling about some guys who have dealt with this and what happened to them.

It looks to me like the whole problem is caused by the perpetuation of some beliefs that are just wrong. Look, they can say "there's no gay gene" until they're blue in the face, but the fact is, guys often report that they know they're gay before they hit their teens. You can pretend, you can deny it, you can marry a woman and have kids and the whole thing, but when it comes down to it your life is going to be missing something important.

This is just another reason to teach students the facts in the first place.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Kansas School Board Shifts Toward Reason

Somebody pasted this into the comments overnight, and it bears a more prominent posting here.

Kansas' school board was overrun with nuts who changed the definition of science to include supernatural phenomena, and who have tried to push through a bunch of changes that have embarrassed the state. They want charter schools, vouchers, and The Origin of Species as it is taught in the Bible. So the question has been, have the people of Kansas had enough?

They answered that question yesterday.
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Republicans who brought international attention to Kansas by approving academic standards calling evolution into question lost control of the state school board in primaries.

As a result of the vote, board members and candidates who believe evolution is well-supported by evidence will have a 6-4 majority. Evolution skeptics had entered the election with a 6-4 majority.

Five seats were on the ballot this year. Three incumbent conservatives faced primary foes, and there was a contested GOP race for the seat held by a retiring conservative. A pro-evolution Democratic incumbent also had a challenger.

With almost all the votes counted early Wednesday, pro-evolution Republican Jana Shaver picked off a conservative incumbent and won the primary for the open seat.

Conservative Republican John Bacon kept his seat by besting two pro-evolution challengers, as did another conservative incumbent, Ken Willard. Janet Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat who opposed the new standards, easily defeated a more conservative Democrat who favored the anti-evolution language.

The most closely watched race was in western Kansas, where incumbent conservative Connie Morris lost her GOP primary to Sally Cauble. Both are former educators, but Morris had described evolution as "an age-old fairy tale" and "a nice bedtime story" unsupported by science. Evolution opponents lose control of Kansas school board

It's only one little battle, and don't go thinking the losers are just going to pack up and go away. The fight's not over yet, not nearly.

A Word on Tolerance

Chuck Colson, the Nixon hatchet-man and ex-con, had a recent article about how great the religious right is, compared to religious liberals (story short: they are better at focusing on one thing at a time and following directions), where he quoted "the great English writer" Dorothy Sayers. This quote summarizes an opinion that is raised sometimes, and which deserves a brief hearing:
“In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” Worshipping the Goddess of Tolerance

This lady confuses tolerance with apathy. In tolerating, I allow someone to do something I don't understand and/or would not do myself. Tolerance has nothing to do with decisions I make regarding my own behavior, which I may hold to a strict standard. Speaking personally: I believe in lots of cool things, I seek to know everything -- but I don't interfere with things that are none of my business. I hate passionately in ways you'll never know, I find purpose in things that would surprise you, and I remain alive because life is so goddamn fascinating I couldn't stand to tear myself away.

The tolerant person cannot be said to "interfere with nothing," but he interferes with fewer things than some people do. Where we are granted the freedom to express ourselves as we wish, tolerance constrains other people to allow us our freedom, and constrains us to allow them theirs.

Tolerance demands the self-discipline to stop ourselves from forcing our own habits on others. Its reward comes in the discovery that other people are rich, fully-functional, autonomous human beings full of surprises, just like ourselves.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Why I Blog Here

I talked to a lady on the plane last week, she was coming back from an Alaska cruise. Her husband had died last year at 81, and she looked like she was going to go ahead and enjoy her final years. Funny story about the pool table, I won't go into it here. I was reading John Dean's new book, and she asked me about it.

I explained that I had picked up the book because I'm a social psychologist, and the book was about John Dean discovering some classic social-psych research and applying it to the current situation. She was from Ohio, a retired teacher.

We talked about things, the craziness, the nuts running the asylum, and she said, "But you know, there's just nothing an ordinary person can do about it."

So I told her about Teach the Facts.

The truth is, there is something an ordinary person can do about it. You can't stop America from invading and occupying random countries and torturing and killing people, and you and I can't really do anything about corporate corruption or global warming, but sometimes they try to bring the fight into your neighborhood, into your community, and that's where you can put your foot down. You can go to meetings, you can speak up, you can ... go on the Internet day after day and keep saying what needs to be said.

We get lots of visitors here every day, hundreds and hundreds. Of course we have logs on our server that show us where people come from, what search terms they used to find us, whther they've been here before, which pages they looked at, whether they commented or not, so we have some idea who these visitors are. We know that people appreciate what we're doing, that people from all over the world are following our fight. We can tell that certain people who ought to be worried about us, are.

We have a little community of commentors here, and the situation sort of mirrors the nation. Our own members tend not to comment too often, maybe once or twice a day we'll hear from someone in our own group; mostly it's other people. We have some commentors who really consider what they're saying and, whether they represent a liberal or conservative point of view, there is a civil discussion. We have a couple of people who are just plain hard-core gay-hating Bush-loving radicals, and a couple of them have, at times, actually tried to explain their point of view. They usually throw up their hands in frustration, because most of us just don't share their basic assumptions. At least they try, and they are appreciated.

Then there are the nutty ones, and the trolls, who don't know the difference between a discussion and a stream of insults. Sometimes I delete their comments, but most of the time I let them stand, if only to give a clearer picture exactly why Teach the Facts needs to exist, and why I need to write something here every day. Sometimes their comments are astonishingly insulting to the rest of the group, and often reveal an ignorance so profound that there is simply no point in responding to it. At times their words are so personal and vile that I refuse to keep them here, and then you see an announcement that "The administrator has removed this post." Unfortunately, there are days when these people dominate the discussion through sheer persistence.

To bring this discussion around, let me point out that this is the same thing that has happened all over the country, the reason that TTF has to exist in the first place. The loudmouths wore the rest of us down. You don't want to respond to it, for one thing because it's embarrassing to get involved in these childish discussions sometimes, but you have to. Because if you don't, official policies will be changed, your kids' education will be undermined, your community will suffer like so many others have.

I lived more than fifty years of my life without anyone ever referring to me as a "liberal" or a "lefty." I'm just your ordinary country-and-western-guitar-picker-with-a-PhD kind of guy, I got two rebellious teenagers and a mortgage and a cell phone that doesn't work in my house and a couple of burned-out lightbulbs in the family room that I'm going to change someday. I didn't set out to start any crusade, and I don't care to lead the charge.

But everybody has to step up this time. The mindless haters have taken over the country, and it's up to us, the people, to take it back.

In blogging here, I am faced every day with my own feelings and thoughts. Tell you the truth, I never gave gay people a second thought until I got involved in this. Contraception was just something you got if you weren't married or didn't want to have kids, it never occurred to me that people were going to make such a big thing out of it, and I never gave that a thought either.

I'm not here to promote condoms or to advance the cause of gay people. I'm here because I don't think some self-righteous idiots ought to be telling other people how to live. But because I'm doing this, I have to figure out, how do I really feel about these things that I always took for granted? What are the actual facts of these situations? I'm not here to provide answers, but to find them.

Recently, when I referred to "nuts and trolls" in a post and then mentioned that they call people names, somebody in the comments tried to nail me for being hypocritical. Because, oh horror, I called them names, too. But you know what? --I don't care. The country is being overrun by nuts, and somebody's got to say it out loud. I'm not going to let them be the only ones who ever land a blow. Name-calling is not an end in itself, but let's not pretend we're dealing with rational people here, OK?

As an election comes up, I'm sure cautious politicians will want to aim for the center where the votes are, and steer clear of inflammatory rhetoric, and I understand that. I hope they win, good normal serious citizens who want to go to a lot of boring meetings and make important decisions, cool.

When it comes to our schools, I don't want to see anybody win my mushmouthing their way through the debates, trying to make everybody happy. Somebody's got to say, we want to have high educational standards, we want our schools to teach the facts, we want our schools to teach our students to be tolerant and inclusive and kind and moral. They don't need to leave things out of the curriculum, just to humor the nuts. We can't let our country go any further down that road.