Friday, September 29, 2006

Irony-Deficient Congressman Suddenly Resigns

This just in: the Republican chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, sponsor of H.R.5749 -- Title: To amend title 18, United States Code, to protect youth from exploitation by adults using the Internet, and for other purposes -- has suddenly resigned after a 16-year-old page showed people some creepy email the Congressman had sent to him.
WASHINGTON - Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., resigned from Congress on Friday, effective immediately, in the wake of questions about e-mails he wrote a former teenage male page.

"I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent," he said in a statement issued by his office.

The two-sentence statement did not refer to the e-mails and gave no reason for Foley's abrupt decision to abandon a flourishing career in Congress.

Foley, 52, had been a shoo-in for a new term until the e-mail correspondence surfaced in recent days. Foley resigns from Congress over e-mails

They're always so sorry ... after they're caught.

I'm skipping most of this story. You know ... allegations the Congressman was gay ... asked the kid for pictures ... said it was innocent ...

Oh, and this:
"They've been shopping this around to reporters for weeks now. They want a headline and that's it. It's a political smear campaign of the worst kind," [Foley spokesman Jason ] Kello said.

Yes, that is the worst kind of smear, isn't it? The true ones. Absolutely the worst.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

It Is A Rather Boring Controversy

There was another long, brain-draining citizens advisory committee meeting last night. We are currently evaluating the curriculum that goes with the condom video. Committee members have submitted about seventy changes to the curriculum. Most of it's little things, wording changes, very little that has any ideological impact. Oh, you know, an "anal sex" here and a "premarital" there, but nothing big. Last night we got through about half of the changes.

It's funny to think that this is a "controversy." We're just a bunch of people going through some stuff for a health class, with like four or five people sitting in the chairs watching. It's the most boring thing you can imagine. Sometimes there are differences of opinion, but, really, when you go eyeball to eyeball, it seems that there's not really a huge amount of disagreement there. Like, no matter what those other guys say, Teach the Facts is opposed to sexually transmitted diseases of all kinds. We are against teenagers getting pregnant. We are in favor of happiness, good health, and responsible sexual behavior. People might disagree on how to define some things, or how high certain thresholds should be, but if everybody will just stay cool I am confident this committee can come to agreement on most things.

Let me state the obvious: the controversy was never actually about the information taught in a sex-ed class. We could go through that last curriculum, and discuss everything, and we might change a word here or there, but basically it was perfectly acceptable, just like basically this one is perfectly acceptable. It needs some tuning up, but it's really just a class, nothing to get excited about.

If people want to get their noses up in the air, they can find something wrong with anything -- hey, remember last year when they decided that SpongeBob SquarePants was promoting the "gay agenda?" Remember when they decided one of the Teletubbies was secretly encouraging preschoolers to turn gay? There is nothing so innocent that these guys can't complain about it. And that's what happened in Montgomery County, the new sex-ed curriculum got Tinky-Winkied. It seems to me, if conservative citizens want to sit at the table and work, there's no reason for them to be disappointed. Some people like to think that evil forces are trying to corrupt their kids, and that might be true, but it isn't the Montgomery County school district, and it isn't Teach the Facts.

We are going to start meeting every week now, so we stay on schedule for pilot testing and stuff. This committee is going to be rolling up our sleeves and plugging along for a while, it looks like.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Old News

I don't know, it just seemed relevant somehow, all of a sudden...

Judy Woodruff, CNN Anchor:
The State Department officially released its annual terrorism report just a little more than an hour ago, but unlike last year, there's no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. A senior State Department official tells CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden and "personalizing terrorism." CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Aired April 30, 2001

I'm not saying.

The Comma: A Dog Whistle

One blog I check every day is Language Log. It's just about language, theories of language, weird ways people butcher their languages, strange interesting facts about language. I'm sure it's not for everybody, but it's something I have an interest in.

OK, back up. Yesterday President Bush said the most bizarre thing in an interview. He said that when the history books are written, the war in Iraq -- which, in case you missed it, is a total failure and a terrible disaster -- will "look just like a comma."

Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in this "comma." A country lies in ruins. America's security is endangered and our international reputation is sunk. So some people, like ... me, for instance ... thought this was a very strange way to put it.

Turns out, as Language Log notes, The comma was really a dog whistle.
That's the theory of Ian Welch at The Agonist. According to him, when President Bush said that the Iraq war would "look just like a comma" to future historians, he wasn't using a creative and unexpected metaphor-- he was evoking a well-known proverb that urges steadfastness, "Never put a period where God has put a comma."

This being Language Log, of course we're going to check the numbers. And there are 440,000 Google hits for {period God comma}, mostly indeed variants of this expression:
Don't put a period where God has put a comma.
Never place a period where God has placed a comma.
If we stop there we are placing a period where God has placed a comma.
Never put a period, where God has put a comma.
Don't put a period where God puts a comma.
Don't put a period where God put a comma.
Don't place a period where God intended a comma.
God’s period is what allows our lives to have commas.
...we must be alert to the caution Gracie Allen left us not to put periods where God has put commas.
Today’s Bible stories are both about God putting a commas where humans might be tempted to put periods

See, you and I wouldn't have known to look for this.

A "dog whistle." It's a concept we've been seeing mentioned more and more. A real dog whistle is something that you blow on and only dogs can hear it. These days it refers to a secret code-phrase that used by a member of a group, especially a particular clique of religous fanatics, to signal secretly to one another in public.

Language Log goes on to quote entire sermons based on this metaphor. They continue:
Anyhow, Ian Welch is obviously right about the source of President Bush's comma, and Ken Layne was wrong. It was religion, not drugs.

But why is this allusion a "dog whistle"? Welch argues that President Bush
is constantly littering his speeches with code words and phrases meant for the religious right. Other people don't hear them, but they do, and most of the time it allows Bush both to say what those who aren't evangelical or born again want to hear, while still reassuring the religious right wants to hear.

For example, one of the most famous episodes of this was Bush's reference in the 2004 debates to the Dred Scott decision. Most people couldn't figure out what the heck he was talking about - it seemed like a non-sequitur. But, as Paperwight pointed out at the time, anti-abortion activists see themselves as similar to anti-slavery activists. And they take heart that eventually Dred Scott v. Sandford was overthrown. [...]

The other name for this is dog whistle politics. When you blow a dog whistle humans can't hear it, but the dogs sure can. It's a pitch higher than humans can hear. When you speak in code like this, most of the time the only people who hear and understand what you just said are the intended group, who have an understanding of the world and a use of words that is not shared by the majority of the population. So it allows you to send out two messages at once - one pitched for the majority of Americans, the other pitched for a subgroup. This goes on all the time, and usually it isn't caught - most people don't hear it, and the media is made up of people who can't make the connections because they don't belong to these subgroups. So they can't point out the subtext either.

It's very effective, and it's one reason why Bush still has his hard core of support - he's constantly reassuring them, at a pitch the rest of us can't hear.

Sometimes politicians say things that us ordinary folks really have no way of understanding. I didn't know what Bush could've meant with this "comma" thing.

Because, really, when the history books are written, this will clearly not be a comma. It is more likely to be a chapter, titled something like, Miserable Failure.

Kenneth Miller At NIH Tomorrow

Cell biologist Kenneth Miller will be giving a talk at NIH tomorrow (Wednesday), and it will be good. He has been going around the country giving talks about reconciling Darwinism with religious faith, and in the process he has stirred up a ton of debate, often alienating people on both sides of the cultural divide. And you know that can't be bad.

Miller's view is that faith and science are simply two different things. You can't use your faith to provide scientific explanations for observed phenomena -- when you encounter something you don't understand, it's not sufficient to say, in awe, "God put it here, and that's that." There is likely a better explanation, one that most parsimoniously accounts for the most data. For instance, evolution gives a beautifully concise and insightful way to understand the diversity of living things in terms of adaptation. Plants and animals have taken the shapes and functions they have in order to adapt to an environmental niche, which means they have what they need to survive and reproduce. And that includes evolving in the presence of other evolving organisms, pretty complicated, very cool.

The insights of Darwinian evolution do not inevitably lead to the conclusion that the world is a random, meaningless place. This is Miller's argument, and the reason you might want to try to attend his talk, to hear him try to work out the apparent contradiction.

Miller will likely spend much of the talk revealing Intelligent Design as a vacuous mockery of science. Well, there you go: that's what it is. He says that people of faith who want to oppose atheism should oppose atheism itself, not evolution, which really doesn't say anything about the subject one way or the other.

On the other hand, he also criticizes biologists such as Richard Dawkins for assuming a humanistic interpretation of evolutionary theory.

Quoted from a recent talk, very much debated on the Internet (link HERE):
Some of those who take a materialist world view assert that science alone can lead us regarding the nature of existence, or that scientific knowledge is the only kind worth having, said Miller. In doing so, these skeptics ignore the limitations of science, just as the creationists ignore the limits of theology.

Miller is a practicing Catholic, and was the plaintiff's lead witness in the hearings in Dover, Pennsylvania, last year; he is author of a book called Finding Darwin's God, and a biology professor at Brown University.

The NIH talk will be broadcast live on the Internet, through THIS LINK, and if you miss it, it looks like you can catch it later online HERE. If you can get over there, the talk is Wednesday, September 27, from 3:00-4:00PM, in the Clinical Center of Jack Masur Auditorium, Bldg.10. Overflow -- which seems likely -- will be in the Lipsett Auditorium.

Monday, September 25, 2006

This Is Too Fun

I don't know why, but I get the biggest kick out of this. Five days ago Hugo Chavez gave a big speech at the United Nations. He called President Bush "el diablo" and said he could still smell the sulfur from Bush's visit to the podium the day before.

And he held up a book by Noam Chomsky, a 2003, just-barely-still-in-print volume called Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, and told the American people to read it.

And now, five days later, the book is still Number One on's rankings.

I hope a lot of Americans do get some exposure to Chomsky, I hope they pause over his words and contemplate our nation's motives and methods on the world stage. It can't hurt to think about these things a little bit. You don't have to agree with everything he says, but ... watching TV, reading the news, listening to the radio, you'd never know these kinds of ideas even exist.

I think what amuses me is how the American press (after totally ignoring Chomsky) has tried to laugh Chavez off, but a lot of American people are obviously taking him seriously.

The Betterthanyou Family Reunion

The Family Research Council sponsored a "Values Voters Summit" this week in Washington. Everybody was there, from Tony Snow to James Dobson to Anne Coulter to ...

One blogger called it the Cavalcade of Wingnuts.

The New York Times had a reporter there, who wrote about the disaffection that the nuts are feeling with the Republican Party these days:
... Mr. Pence argued that in the end, Republicans were still preferable to Democrats. Like many arguments, though, his was about picking the lesser of two evils.

“My first inclination was to sit this one out,” Dr. Dobson said in an interview, adding that he had changed his mind when he looked at who would become the leaders of Congressional committees if the Democrats took over. Christian Conservatives Look to Re-energize Base

They're gloomy, yes, all of this hasn't turned out very well for them, has it?

Hey, it sounds like some of these "values voters" might have a sense of right and wrong, after all:
Even in this crowd of nearly 2,000 Christian conservative activists, some balked at one tactic recommended to turn out church voters. In a workshop, Connie Marshner, a veteran organizer, distributed a step-by-step guide that recommended obtaining church directories and posing as a nonpartisan pollster to ask people how they planned to vote.

“Hello, I am with ABC polls,” a suggested script began.

Some attendees complained that the script seemed deceptive, Ms. Marshner said in an interview afterward. She said that such disguised calls were a common campaign tactic, that it was just a suggested script and that she never recommended answering a direct question with a lie.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who played host to the conference, said he was “upset” to learn of her instructions and condemned any deception.

It's OK to lie about who you are, just don't answer a direct question with a lie. Indirect question? No problem. Pulling stuff out of ... thin air? Cool.

Did you see that in there about "obtaining church directories?" You might remember the controversy in the 2004 elections, when the Bush-Cheney campaign was caught asking people to give them their church directories after the IRS had sent them a strongly worded letter warning them not to involve churches in their politicking. Churches can lose their tax-exempt status if they participate directly or indirectly in political campaigns.

"Mister Perkins, are you in favor of using deception to win elections, or against it?" What do you think the answer to that question is? C'mon, some things are just not supposed to be said out loud, in public, with reporters around.

I think this will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on:
Several organizers at the event lamented that opposition to same-sex marriage, a major catalyst for Christian conservative turnout two years ago, had lost some of its emotional resonance. Massachusetts remains the only state to recognize same-sex marriage. Sixteen states have passed constitutional amendments banning such unions, and eight courts have ruled against the idea.

“Sometimes success brings complacency,” Mr. Perkins said.

To revive some of the emotions around the issue, several organizers said they were taking up the argument that legal recognition of same-sex marriages would cramp the free expression of religious groups who consider such unions a sin — an idea much discussed at the conference.

Listen, I'm no lawyer, but I'm guessing that will be a hard one to win... I suppose any religion can tell its members what to do, but I can't really see that a relationship between two people who go to a different church is really any of their business.

The problem is, really, that nobody cares. Nobody can figure out how two guys starting a family can possibly be any kind of threat to their own marriage. So, yes, the issue has sort of lost it's attractiveness, once people had a chance to think about it.
“That is an issue that wasn’t around two years ago and one that is absolutely moving to the very forefront,” said the Rev. Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, a conservative Christian broadcaster and advocacy group.

Although that idea may seem far-fetched to many liberal or secular-minded voters, legal scholars across the political spectrum agree that authorizing same-sex marriages could present legal questions for some religious groups. A Roman Catholic group in Massachusetts, for example, recently stopped offering children for adoption rather than provide them to gay couples.

Oh, that'll show 'em. Punish the orphans. Good job, Jesus must be proud of you.

Oh, and one more quote that I ... found interesting:
Others looked abroad. In a pre-election letter to 2.5 million supporters, Dr. Dobson is breaking away from his traditional field of child psychology to argue that foreign terrorists are a threat to families.

I don't know, there's just something about that.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Clinton Unplugged

I don't think I've ever seen a Presidential interview quite as raw-nerved as this one. Clinton can be clever, he can -- come on, you know it -- be slick. But here he goes mano a mano with Chris Wallace. Rough transcript: HERE. I don't usually watch Fox (you might say), but this is going to be on Sunday, it sounds like. I might have to figure out what channel that is. Isn't it like forty or something?

Read this transcript. This is something else.

Go Ahead, Congratulate Yourselves

From the Christian Science Monitor:
The United Nation's special investigator on torture said Thursday that torture may now be worse in Iraq than it was during the regime of deposed leader Saddam Hussein. The Associated Press reports that Manfred Nowak, who was making a brief to the United Nations Human Rights Council about the treatment of detainees at the US prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, said the torture situation in Iraq was "totally out of hand."
"The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein." Nowak added, "That means something, because the torture methods applied under Saddam Hussein were the worst you could imagine."

Some allegations of torture were undoubtedly credible, with government forces among the perpetrators, he said, citing "very serious allegations of torture within the official Iraqi detention centers. You have terrorist groups, you have the military, you have police, you have these militias. There are so many people who are actually abducted, seriously tortured and finally killed," Nowak told reporters at the UN's European headquarters.
The Times of London reports that the Bush administration rejected the claim made by Nowak.
A State Department official in Washington, asked about Professor Nowak's comments, told The Times: "How anyone could compare state-sanctioned torture under a dictator to the situation today is beyond us.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Bizarre Story in the Sentinel

I'm not sure, really, what to make of this, in fact I admit I am totally confused by it. The Sentinel has an article explaining what school board candidates the anti-MCPS Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum support, and how they feel about the recent primaries. It seems to me there are two questions here. First ... why is this news? Second, why is the CRC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, endorsing candidates, in apparent violation of IRS regulations?

Here, read some of this:
The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are pretty happy now that at least one candidate they supported in the Board of Election primary race is still in the running for the at-large position and that the new condom demonstration video meets their approval.

The CRC is a non-profit, grassroots organization made up of parents and members of the Montgomery County community who opposed 2004's Family Life and Human Development Curriculum, which included sex education for public school students.

CRC President Michelle Turner said they are pleased that Tommy Le made it past the primary election, but District 5 candidate Susie Scofield's loss to incumbents Nancy Navarro and Philip Kauffman disappointed them. CRC weighs in on recent election results

See what I mean? Why is The Sentinel promoting the CRC? They didn't use to.

Let's read a little more.
Scofield supported the teaching of homosexuality as long as it is taught unbiased, a stance supported by CRC that sexual orientation should be discussed in terms of those who support homosexuality as well as those who don't. The CRC argues that the current sex education curriculum leaves out information about groups that oppose homosexuality and "exgays."

Le will be competing in November's election against Shirley Brandman, who Turner said is among the Board of Education candidates that the CRC are worried about.

"[Brandman] she feels that homosexuality is not a choice and that some people are born that way," said Turner. "We have concerns about how she wants this taught to the kids in the school system."

It appears that the CRC has decided to give up their nonprofit status.
Turner expressed concerned that Brandman, in addition to Navarro, Kauffman, incumbent and District 3 candidate Patricia B. O'Neill, who is running unopposed, and District 1 candidate Judy Docca are endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice American, Montgomery County Education Association, and National Organization of Women. She said she is concerned about the MCEA because they are associated with the National Education Association, who endorsed same-sex marriage.

Yeah, well, she says we're affiliated with organizations, too.

Look, HERE is what the President of the National Education Association says: "It has come to our attention that the American Family Association and possibly other conservative groups have begun a malicious e-mail campaign distorting the facts related to proposed amendment changes," said Reg Weaver, NEA President.

"While I understand that the emails and phone calls you are receiving are generating concern, we must not allow the tactics and manipulations of these divisive groups to derail our process," he said. "NEA has no position on same-sex marriages, and leadership is not seeking to establish such a position. We are focused on Great Public Schools for Every Child."

But that doesn't stop Ms. Turner.

I'm going to skip some of this.
Turner adds that she believed the condom video was a part of their agenda during the lawsuit because they were against the inclusion of anal and oral sex in the curriculum and that the video included information about it. "We do not want to see them introducing oral or anal sex to 8th graders," said Turner, "but if they have to include it - and we'd rather they didn't - but if they do, we prefer it remain at the 10th grade level along with the correct information regarding all risks and information on diseases and physical ailments that go along with risky behavior."

But, of course, the condom video was only for tenth-graders. Not that this reporter would check or anything.

Well, that's enough, there's more if you really want it.

The Sentinel is not our area's leading newspaper. They have had some terrific reporting, and some outrageous schlock, regarding the development of a new MCPS sex-ed curriculum. Editorially, they have been soundly in our corner on sex-ed revisions, but whoever runs the newsroom seems to take long naps at crucial times. It's not clear to me why this story exists, it just seems to say that "somebody knows somebody."

Chavez Endorsement Is Good To Have

Hey, why didn't I think of this?

In his speech at the United Nations the other day, the one where he called Bush a devil and said he could still smell the sulphur, Hugo Chavez held up a book by Noam Chomsky called Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. He said "The people of the United States should read this ... instead of … watching Superman movies."

Chomsky's not exactly light reading, it's not exactly Mad Magazine, if you know what I mean, but right now, if you look at, you'll see that this book is Number One.

My book is currently two-hundred-thousand-four-hundred-third.

Extry, Extry: Dobson is Ticked

Family Blah Blah puppeteer James Dobson held a rally yesterday to wag a finger at the Republican Party for not fulfilling their promise to the Religious Right.

He booked a room for 17,000 people. Three thousand showed up.
Standing before an enormous American flag in Mellon Arena, conservative evangelical activist James Dobson told thousands of supporters he was deeply disappointed in the nation's Republican leadership, but that the nation's future depended on re-electing them.

"I have flat-out been ticked at Republicans for the past two years," he said, to some applause from a crowd that arena security estimated at around 3,000.

However, he said, "This country is at a crisis point. Whether or not the Republicans deserve the power they were given, the alternatives are downright frightening."

Dr. Dobson, who has built an enormous following in three decades as a Christian radio psychologist, is renowned for his ability to turn out the conservative "values voters" who tipped the last election. Dobson preaches mixed message

It's weird when the news media use a group's euphemistic self-label to describe them. "Values voters." I consider myself a "value voter," but I vote against everything they vote for. Can you imagine this happening with anything else? Like, if I described myself as "the world's most intelligent blogger," do you suppose that when I did something the newspaper would say JimK, the "world's most intelligent blogger," said yesterday that blah blah blah?"

Somehow I doubt that I could pull that off. But Dobson can. The media give him what he wants without even blinking -- I guarantee, this reporter had no second thought about using that phrase to describe these people.

Ha! This next paragraph is pretty funny.
Although tax law forbids Dr. Dobson's Focus On The Family Action, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the rally, to endorse candidates, organizers said that last night's Stand for the Family Rally was held in Pennsylvania because of its high-profile U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Rick Santorum and Democratic challenger Bob Casey. Issue guides being distributed last night clearly favored Mr. Santorum. So Dr. Dobson's warning shot across the bow of the Republican Party was unexpected.

Amazing, isn't it? Somehow this guy leads a political organization that's so big it needs its own zip code, and yet they don't pay any taxes. Somehow I am not expecting the Bush IRS to come knocking on his door anytime soon.
He accused the Republican House and Senate of "sitting on their hands" on key conservative social issues. He said they had squandered a growing public sentiment that abortion should be limited or banned.

They wanted your votes, Smart Guy, they never intended to do any of those stupid things you wanted them to do. They'll do and say just enough to keep your people's votes.
But, he asked his audience to consider what would happen if Republicans lost control of key committees on education, the judiciary, and especially, the armed forces.

"We are at war in this country with an enemy who wants to destroy us," he said. He stressed that only a small minority of Muslims believe that their faith justifies violence, "but let's say 4 percent of Muslims want to kill us ... . That's 48 million people who want to bring us to our knees."

I love that political correctness, he's not saying anything about "most" Muslims, just 48 million of them. I doubt they'll be offended by that.

Rally organizers had split the 17,000 arena with a curtain. It's central sections were packed, though the upper decks and farthest side sections were empty. Local conservative organizers had said before the rally that 3,000 was the maximum that such an event rally would ordinarily draw in Western Pennsylvania. Dr. Dobson thanked those who came for taking time out on a busy weeknight.

It wasn't that it was a "busy weeknight," you big excuse-maker. It was that nobody cared.
In the exhibit area of Mellon Arena, organizers gave away copies of Dr. Dobson's biography and his book on the debate over gay marriage. Other exhibits by local socially conservative organizations included written comparisons of Mr. Santorum and Mr. Casey, as well as a comparison of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and his challenger, Lynn Swann. The comparisons were produced by the regional anti-abortion lobby, LifePAC.

In summary, they described Mr. Santorum as a leader in the anti-abortion movement and Mr. Casey as someone who claims to oppose abortion but has no track record of doing so and who had received support from groups that favor abortion rights.

It described Mr. Swann as "pro-life'' and Gov. Rendell as "extremely pro-abortion."

But there was nothing political.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Three Million Year Old Girl

This doesn't really have anything to do with sex-ed in Montgomery County, but you gotta think it's cool. They found a little Australopithecus girl who died more than three million years ago.

In The Post:
Fossil hunters have unearthed the skeleton of a young girl who died 3.3 million years ago, marking the first time scientists have discovered the nearly complete remains of a child of an ancient human ancestor.

The girl, who was about 3 years old when she perished in what may have been a flash flood, provides an unprecedented window into human evolution, in part because she belongs to the same species as "Lucy," one of the most famous hominid specimens in paleontology, experts said. 3.3 Million Years Later, Skeleton of Girl Found

Australopithecus is believed to have lived 4.4 to maybe as recently as 1.7 million years ago. Their brain was about a third the size of ours, but then they were only like four or four-and-a-half feet tall.

How do I know this? It's true I minored in Anthro, but I also got straight A's in all my Google courses.

I tell my kids stuff like that all the time, and they believe me. To them, the world was always the way it is now.
That prompted some scientists to refer to the new skeleton as "Lucy's baby," even though they estimate that the child lived about 150,000 years earlier. The researchers who discovered her in an Ethiopian desert named her Selam, which means "peace" in several Ethiopian languages.

Ah, yes, and sometime it would be fun to sit down and talk about the evolution of language, as well as species -- we do see a lot of words that look like "Selam" and mean peace, don't we?
Although scientists have found bones and bone fragments of children from this and other species of human predecessors, and a few skeletons, the discovery represents one of the most complete individuals ever recovered and by far the oldest. Bones of young children are so small and soft that few survive.
Scientists are still painstakingly extracting the fossilized bones from the surrounding stone, but they have already made striking discoveries, dramatically reinforcing the idea that the creatures were a transitional stage between apes and humans. Although they had legs like humans that enabled them to walk upright on two feet, they also had shoulders like gorillas that may have enabled them to climb trees; although their teeth seem to have grown quickly, like chimps' teeth, their brains may have matured more slowly, like those of humans.

"This confirms the idea that human evolution was not some straight line going from ape to human," said Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution. "The more we discover, the more we realize that different parts evolve at different times, and some of these experiments of early evolution had a combination of humanlike and apelike features."

The fascinating thing is to imagine how the various changes to the human phenotype were adaptive. In a lot of cases it's clear, for instance in the shape of teeth as a function of diet, but in other cases it's not really obvious how an early change improved the fitness of the organism.

You know these ape-people didn't think of themselves as a stage on the route to development of ... Americans. These early ancestors would have experienced life as if they were the ultimate, the top of the line, and I suppose by our standards, in their day, they were.

They would have felt that all of time led inexorably and pointedly to their own lives, just like we do.

And we might sometimes wonder where it goes from here.
The youngster's fossilized remains, the first to fully exhibit the mixed ape-human characteristics in a child, were found in the remote, harsh Dikika area of northeastern Ethiopia in 2000 when an expedition member spotted the face of the skull poking out from a steep dusty hillside. The surroundings indicate that the child might have drowned in a flash flood, which immediately buried the intact remains in sand that hardened to encase the bones, the researchers said.

Over the next four years, researchers slowly recovered much of the rest of the child's skeleton, including the entire skull, with a sandstone impression of the brain, jaws with teeth, parts of the shoulder blades and collarbone, ribs, the spinal column, the right arm, fingers, legs and almost a complete left foot.

Can you imagine? Looking over and seeing that little skull looking back at you... touching someone who lived that long ago.
Where the child's throat once was, Zeresenay found a hyoid bone, which is located in the voice box and supports muscles of the tongue and throat. It is the first time that bone has been discovered in such an old fossil of a human predecessor. It appears more primitive than a human hyoid and more like those in apes, suggesting that the 1 1/2 -foot toddler sounded more like a chimp than a human.

And so you have the evolution of the speech apparatus -- and remember, evolution doesn't know where it's going, the obvious rule is that an adaptation will increase in the population if it increases the probability of reproduction. So that funky voice-box did something helpful, even if it was only grunts and yells.
"If you imagine how this child would have sounded if it was crying out for its mother, its cry would appeal more to chimp ears than to human ears," said Fred Spoor of University College London, who is helping to study the remains. "Even though it's a very early human ancestor, she would sound more apelike than humanlike."

Just chilling to think of.
The child's lower limbs confirm earlier findings that the species walked upright like humans. But the shoulder blades resemble a young gorilla's. Along with the long arms, curved fingers and inner-ear cavity, the bones provide new evidence supporting those who believe the creatures may have still climbed trees as well.

"I see this species as foraging bipeds -- walking on two feet but climbing trees when necessary, such as to forage for food," Zeresenay said, adding that more research will be needed to be certain of that controversial conclusion.
The discovery of a child also allows scientists to begin to study how the species developed. The child's brain size suggests that the species' brain matured relatively slowly.

"If the brain was developing slower, as in humans or similar to what you see in humans, here might have also been the beginnings of behavioral shifts towards being more human," Zeresenay said.

Three million years ago.

That. Is. Cool.

Paper Ballots in November?

The Maryland primary last week was insane. Montgomery County wasn't the only place with problems, though ours were bad. So now the governor is saying he wants to go back to paper ballots in November.

Here it is in The Post:
A week after the primary election was plagued by human error and technical glitches, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) called yesterday for the state to scrap its $106 million electronic voting apparatus and revert to a paper ballot system for the November election.

"When in doubt, go paper, go low-tech," he said.

Linda H. Lamone, the administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, quickly denounced the plan to swap voting systems just seven weeks before the general election as "crazy." And Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said it "cannot happen. It will not happen." Ehrlich Wants Paper Ballots For Nov. Vote

Well, yeah, it's a little crazy to start in September to prepare for the November election. But ... it was also a little crazy not to prepare Tuesday morning for an election taking place that day. But they did that.

As we saw, the people on these election committees are making pretty nice money for working a couple of days every other year. I didn't notice anybody getting fired over the last round of screw-ups, why don't we see if they can hustle a little bit, and fix things this time around?
Ehrlich said that, if necessary, he would call a special session of the Maryland General Assembly to change the law to allow paper ballots. But Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) dismissed the idea of a special session, saying elections officials should focus instead on fixing the current system.

"We paid millions. These are state-of-the-art machines," said Miller, who called Ehrlich's announcement a political ploy to energize his Republican supporters.

Well, that's an interesting "ploy" then, it seems to me. Trying to arrange so that the public can vote, and the votes can be counted? Very sly.

I am no fan of the governor's, but I will point out one thing: Maryland has two parties. This governor, I'm sure, would like to do some really nasty things, but he can never get away with it, because of real checks and balances. The presence of the opposite party challenges him to come up with ideas that won't make him look like a jerk -- because somebody prominent is sure to point it out in a public place. The state legislature won't just cover for him, like the federal legislature does for the President.

In this situation, the best way to make the opposition look bad is to have better ideas than them. And if there's a "ploy" here, that's it.

Oh, and speaking of crazy stuff, how about that reasoning? We paid millions. These are state-of-the-art machines. The fact that they don't work, that they can easily be hacked (you saw the video from Princeton, right?) ... it doesn't matter. We paid a whole bunch for these things and we ought to use them.

The Democrats are on the wrong side of this one. Whatever you think, this Diebold system is bizarre. The source code is secret, the sytsems are unsecured -- I saw recently where you can buy the keys to open them on eBay, it's the same key that opens the mini-bar in a hotel. It's been shown that you can easily insert a program into the machines that will change the vote counts, and even that a virus can be written that will spread the secret, self-deleting program from one machine to others.
In Montgomery and Prince George's counties yesterday, election officials continued to count the thousands of paper provisional ballots that could determine the outcome of the 4th Congressional District Democratic primary race between incumbent U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn and challenger Donna Edwards. Prince George's officials cracked opened 26 machines yesterday and retrieved votes that had not been counted.

This whole voting machine thing has been a swindle from the start. If you haven't been following this, check out, which took the early lead on covering these stories, and The Brad Blog, which is really covering it heavily these days. They're not joking when they say our democracy is at stake.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The CRC: Whining As a Way of Life

Hoo boy. The nuts are starting to climb the walls again.

Here's a little story from your favorite Religious Right web site:
(AgapePress) - A group that sued Maryland's largest school system over its controversial sex-education curriculum is applauding some proposed changes to the new curriculum and raising concerns about others.

Last year a federal judge issued an order blocking implementation of the Montgomery County, Maryland, sex-ed program. Michelle Turner is president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, one of the two groups that filed a successful lawsuit alleging the program denigrated conservative religious beliefs about homosexuality and contained misinformation about health risks posed by condom use. Maryland Countys SexEd Material Not Yet Out of the Woods

That statement about "blocking implementation" would be true if the writer had put the words "for ten days" in it somewhere. But ... why worry over something like that? (And was there anything about health risks posed by condom use? No, I don't think so.)
Turner shares that her group approves of Montgomery County's newly revised condom video. "We think that the school system has done a very good job in creating this new one," she says. "It's factual, it's direct, it's to the point, it's clinical, and it's given in a very mature manner."

OK, good, so they're not going to sue again. Good news.

But wait:
Turner says her group is committed to ensuring Montgomery County schools present accurate data from the Centers for Disease Control regarding sexually transmitted diseases and infections. That's one reason she says the new curriculum does not meet all of her group's expectations.

"We're running into some concerns with the written part of the curriculum," Turner adds. "There still seems to be an interest on the part of the school system to introduce anal and oral sex."

I'm dying to say something here, but will let her finish her comments first...
According to Turner, liberal groups are still pushing for condom-based, homosexuality-affirming sex-ed in the classroom. For example, groups like the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and "Teach the Facts" want the county's new sex-education program to include discussion of anal and oral sex, she says. But if the changes advocated by those two groups are adopted, the citizens group leader contends the district may be in violation of the terms of last year's court-ordered settlement.

Ah, so they do want to go back to court.

I am curious about this GLSEN statement. If anyone reading this blog should happen to be associated with GLSEN, will you please say something in the comments about this? Are you lobbying the school district for something? What's this about?

OK, I'm joking. This is a lie, GLSEN hasn't said anything about this.

Listen, here's the deal with the anal and oral sex. I actually think she's talking about something I've said.

Teach the Facts wants the school district to promote abstinence among teens. But listen, here's the definition they're giving students in the first draft of the curriculum:
Abstinence: "choosing not to participate in a specific activity; e.g., sexual activity, alcohol, tobacco, other drug use.

That's it. You're going to tell teenagers over and over again to practice abstinence, but you're not really going to tell them what it is.

We want the school district to use good, reliable information, from government information sources. The definition I submitted for consideration comes from a government web site that our group actually protested when it first came out, They define it this way:
For the purposes of this document, "abstinence" is defined as the avoidance of voluntary intimate sexual contact (oral, anal, genital, or intimate skin-to-skin).

The following activities are NOT consistent with true abstinence:
  • Oral sex is often called a "safe" sexual practice. However, all sexually transmitted diseases can be transmitted this way.
  • Anal sex is a sexual activity that many believe they can engage in without causing pregnancy. However, this is one of the easiest ways of spreading STDs.
  • Intimate skin-to-skin contact, through activities such as mutual masturbation, can spread disease.

See what I mean? The Bush administration gets it. You have to tell teens what not to do. Don't just tell them not to do anything, because ... they won't do that. They will hold hands. They'll kiss. They'll make out. They'll start touching each other. And you haven't told them where to stop. They don't know.

You have to tell them what not to do.

Teach the Facts wants the school district to use definitions that are given on important government web sites, sex-ed sites that give necessary information about, for instance, how to use condoms.

Like, here's what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say about using a condom for anal sex to avoid AIDS/HIV:
Not having (abstaining from) sex is the most effective way to avoid HIV. If people choose to have anal sex, they should use a latex condom. Most of the time, condoms work well. However, condoms are more likely to break during anal sex than during vaginal sex. Thus, even with a condom, anal sex can be risky. A person should use generous amounts of water-based lubricant in addition to the condom to reduce the chances of the condom breaking. Can I get HIV from anal sex?

That's OK for the government to put on the Internet, isn't it? What harm has been done?

Or, here's another one. Here's what the Food and Drug Administration says:
A person who takes part in risky sexual behavior should always use a condom.

The highest risk comes from having intercourse -- vaginal, anal, or oral -- with a person who has a sexually transmitted disease. If you have sex with an infected person, you're taking a big chance. If you know your partner is infected, the best rule is to avoid intercourse (including oral sex). If you do decide to have sex with an infected partner, you should always be sure a condom is used from start to finish, every time. Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases . . . especially AIDS

See? They're not afraid to say it. It ain't pretty, but there is no benefit in beating around the bush.

There is no government web site that says "homosexual behavior is risky," which is the CRC's preferred wording. Homosexual behavior is not the problem, the problem for men who have sex with men is, as the CDC says:
...Not using a condom during anal sex with someone other than a main partner of known HIV serostatus ...HIV/AIDS among Men Who Have Sex with Men

There are three good reasons to use the term "anal sex" in a class. Let me run through them.

First. There is an AIDS epidemic underway. Our gay citizens are being infected at dangerous rates, and blacks are being targeted at rates many times higher than other demographic groups. The most common mode of spreading the infection, at least in the United States, is through anal sex between men. Even given the most conservative estimates, there is greater than a 50 percent chance that every classroom has at least one gay student in it. They need to be told the risk. They're not going to stop being gay, they need to know what to do in order to avoid catching this lethal disease.

Second. As this survey, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows:
Among adults 25–44 years of age ... 40 percent of men and 35 percent of women have had anal sex with an opposite-sex partner.

In other words, anal sex is an overwhelmingly heterosexual activity. More than a third, nearly half, of people are doing it. They need to know what to do to protect themselves.

Third. As the Journal of Adolescent Health reported last year (as relayed in the Washington Post:
Although young people who sign a virginity pledge delay the initiation of sexual activity, marry at younger ages and have fewer sexual partners, they are also less likely to use condoms and more likely to experiment with oral and anal sex, said the researchers from Yale and Columbia universities. Teen Pledges Barely Cut STD Rates, Study Says

Kids think they are "technically virgins" if they have anal sex. So they're doing that, instead of the regular stuff.

I agree, the phrase is indelicate. It's rude. It's nasty. We don't want our kids thinking about it.

That's why we want to tell them what the risks are, clearly and explicitly.

When prudery clashes with common sense, I say, let's side with sense.

The article that I started with goes on a little further.
"It all depends on whether or not they are introducing homosexuality and homosexual acts and the homosexual lifestyle without telling students that it is possible to leave the lifestyle -- and that there are agencies and organizations that can assist with that," she says.

The proposed changes to the curriculum must be approved by the county's citizens advisory committee, which includes two high school students.

Pretty soon the committee will discuss the sexual orientation part of the curriculum. So far we haven't done that. You use a condom the same way whether you're straight or gay. You could say that it's a little funny to show a video of a guy putting a condom on a penis that's not his, but the CRC doesn't seem to mind that part of it -- though I think it is ironically a plus to them that there are no women in the video.

Ms. Turner is complaining about "homosexual acts" already, when nothing at all has been said about any homosexual acts. This is the condom part.

I'm sure she's got these Family Blah Blah "reporters" on speed-dial for when we get to the sexual orientation part of the curriculum. in the meantime, CRC is just trying to slime the school district and the community, like they did before.

Gay-Hater Cameron on the Daily Show

The Daily Show was too funny last night. Besides having Bill Clinton on -- in the Seat of Heat -- Jon Stewart had a brilliant skit with professional gay-hater Paul Cameron, founder of the Family Research Institute (officially classified by the Southern Povery Law Center as a hate group), explaining why it's sensible to fire all our military Arab translators who happen to be gay.

Well here, watch it yourself.

Cameron is a ridiculous fake researcher of the type that the CRC loves. He publishes his articles mainly in a journal called Psychological Reports, which prints anything as long as the author pays for it. Next thing you now, the "ex-gay" and Family Blah Blah groups are quoting it as if it was really published research.

Guys like Cameron are not only evil, they're morons.

I sure don't want to find out the school district is planning to let any of this guy's ideas into our Montgomery County classrooms.

Monday, September 18, 2006

CRC and the WCTU: Perfect

This was a piece of information I hadn't heard before, but it's kind of fun. I'll get to it, but need to fill in a little first...

The anti-MCPS group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum passed out literature at some voting places last week. They had a little handout that listed the candidates for school board and some quotes, and noted which ones were supported by groups that supported the right to abortion or women's rights (NARAL, NOW, etc.). They had a little note at the bottom that said:
The MCEA (Montgomery County Teacher Association) is part of NEA (National Educators Association). The NEA has endorsed same-sex marriage.

NOW (National Organization of Women) asserts the right of lesbians to live their lives with dignity and security, and the rights of equal marriage for all.

So ... you can see what the message is. Like us, they're a 501(c)(3), so they can't really tell you who to vote for, but they can give you "information." Whatever, I don't care if they do that. People like them are going to do whatever it is that people like them do. These things have a different meaning for them than for the rest of us. These messages are meant to horrify, y'know.

They handed out another thing, a page all full of text, with the title:
Why you need to get involved even if you don't have kids in public schools.....

A couple of points they note. California added "sexual identity" to its anti-discrimination laws. But...
... the teaching of most mainstream religions is that homosexual behavior is a sin. This religious belief is directly in conflict with the gay agenda. Similar laws in Australia and Canada have been used to justify enforcing "tolerance training" or acceptance of homosexual behavior even on the Catholic parochial schools.

Then there's a little piece of a news article, I guess, from Canberra, Australia.

(They do get outraged about the idea that somebody would say you can't discriminate against somebody.)

And there was this.
In Kentucky, the ACLU in the Boyd County school district threatened to force all students to attend sexual orientation and gender identity "tolerance training", with no opt-out capability.

Turns out, back in 2003 some students had sued this school to let them have a Gay-Straight Alliance club on campus. The result was that the club was allowed and the school also had to write up some anti-harassment policies and conduct diversity training for all staff and students. The school complied with that order, but some parents tried to get their kids out of the training, and instead the students were given an unexcused absence.

So in February, 2005, those parents filed their own lawsuit. Summarized in a judge's opinion:
Plaintiffs state that they have sincerely held religious beliefs that homosexuality is harmful to those who practice it and harmful to society as a whole. They further believe that homosexuality is not an immutable characteristic. They state that because they must love and care for others, they must inform those who are engaged in a destructive lifestyle that they are wrong and that they are engaging in behavior that is harmful not only to themselves, but to society as a whole. However, Plaintiffs allege that they are prohibited from conveying their views on homosexuality by virtue of the Boards’s policies and practices.

So nice, they just want the right to tell other people how terrible they are.

Hmmm, here's a little tidbit from the judge's ruling that you might find interesting...
Plaintiffs urge that the Fall 2004 student training impinged upon their First Amendment rights as well. Plaintiffs maintain that while the training is replete with positive statements regarding homosexuality, critical or negative statements are prohibited. Plaintiffs argue that such viewpoint discrimination is unconstitutional. However, Plaintiff claim fails on both the law and the facts.


This is, of course, a preview of the lawsuit that will inevitably come when the CRC and PFOX realize nobody is going to play their game. This judge slaps back the "viewpoint discrimination" angle, neatly.

Ah, more interesting stuff ... the judge talks about our little ol' county... This ruling is a tutorial for the MCPS legal team. You guys hear that? This judge tells you exactly what you have to do next time.

In sum: these nuts tried to sue for the right to insult and badmouth gay people, and they lost.

Now, you can take this however you want, but the fact is a United States District Court upheld the order for anti-discrimination training.

Anyway, I suggest you read that judge's opinion, and also the ACLU's description of the event HERE (you have to scroll down). They had a serious problem at that school, with violent harassment, out of control.

The CRC's handout also asked:
Does Montgomery County want to go the way of Massachusetts?

And I know, when I first read that line, my first thought was no. Because I've been to Massachusetts and I can hardly understand them when they talk.

Oh, but they meant the news story where a second-grade class read a story about a family with two princes getting married. You can get a flavor of what's going on up there HERE.

And then the CRC's paper says, in big letters:
Montgomery County Board of Education approved using this language in our health classes as guidance for teachers discussing homosexuality:

Myth: It isn't "normal" to be homosexual or have homosexual feelings.
Myth: Homosexuality is a sin.
The "right" answer to this question is that some religions are "biblically misguided."

And there's a little footnote that says Approved Teacher Resource: Issues and News: Myths and Facts, Family Pride Coalition.

Well, I gotta point out something:

The phrase "biblically misguided" isn't mentioned anywhere in any materials in the curriculum or associated with it. That's something they keep saying, but it's not true. The phrase "biblically misguided" comes from the judge, not the school district. There is also a slightly more clever lie, that the school board approved "using this language in our health classes." No, it wasn't for use in health classes, it was for teachers only.

They know this, it's just that the truth does not serve them well. Or vice versa.

The CRC document has one more quote from the curriculum:
Gender: gender is a social construct and is largely artificial. It is someone's sense of maleness or femaleness based on behavior, identity, and/or how he or she expresses "male" or "female" traits.

And it gives a source. This is another background resource, something teachers might see, but not students.

OK, is that really something you want to fight about? Defining the word "gender?"

I mean, what do you think it means? I don't even get that one ...

Well, anyway, that wasn't even the part I wanted to talk about. The really interesting thing is who was handing their stuff out at one polling place. Because there is a connection here that I wouldn't have made in a million years.

Their stuff was being handed out by the local representative of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. The WCTU.

Remember? That was the group of gals with the hatchets, a-bustin' up the bars and a-sendin' the men-folk scatterin', back in the day. That is, back in the days before Prohibition, which the WCTU can pretty much claim responsibility for. Now, there was a success story for you!

You don't think people drank more during Prohibition than at any time in our country's history? Maybe the history of the world?

The WCTU was the prototype of the CRC, of the group that works to impose its moralistic views on everyone else. And the failure of Prohibition should be the lesson for all, about how these things turn out. It's not to say that alcohol is good for you, it wasn't really about that. It was about people making their own choices.

It turns out this WCTU lady -- and who knew that group still existed? -- has been busy around the county for a long time. She has organized people to oppose the Day of Silence when gay people are recognized. She wants to put the Ten Commandments into courtrooms. The whole thing.

Oh, this is good. In 1999, when Montgomery County passed legislation to give benefits to same-sex partners, The Post reported:
But the measure has inflamed social conservatives, who say the measure undermines traditional heterosexual marriage by extending the rights that come with it to homosexuals. In the front row of the council hearing room, members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union held up yellow signs imploring council members to: "Say No to Sodomy Subsidies."

Bunny Galladora, national public relations director for the group [and CRC founding member: JimK], said the temperance union is consulting with lawyers to determine ways of preventing the bill from becoming law. She noted that sodomy is a felony in Maryland.

Sodomy Subsidies. Wow. That's good, eh? By the way, sodomy was not a felony in Maryland at the time she said that. Not that that sort of thing really matters to those guys.

Well, it's a perfect piece of information, it helps all this fit together. It's just perfect to think of the CRC as the modern day WCTU. Looking back at the first bulletin board of the Recall Group, I see that this association between them and WCTU has always been there, from the start.

They're a-bustin' up the schoolhouses just like they used to bust up the bars. Gonna put a stop to this-here sinnin'.

If we let them.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Take Back Your Country

DENVER (Sept. 17) - Ten Nobel Peace Prize laureates called for world peace and took aim at U.S. policy makers, asking an enthusiastic crowd of 7,000 youth to demand that the United States pull back its military, spread its wealth and offer aid to developing countries.

Only the Dalai Lama, whose speech at the three-day PeaceJam convention at the University of Denver was interrupted when a fire alarm went off, did not take a direct jab at the U.S.

"After the painful events of September 11, I wish that America would have built a school in Afghanistan in the name of every victim," said Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian judge and 2003 Peace Prize recipient. "When someone claims he has a vision from God to bring war to Iraq, this is a kind of terrorism."

The Dalai Lama called on the world to open itself to religious tolerance. Nobel Peace Prize Winners Take Aim at U.S.

I don't know how many Nobel Peace Prize winners are alive today, but this had to be most of them. These aren't some cranky pacifists, this isn't PETA here, or the Earth Liberation Front, every one of these guys has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, each has made a major contribution to solving the world's most difficult problems.

It is impossible for Americans to know how badly their government is behaving in their name. Oh, they sense something is wrong, but the truth is, the noise level isn't any higher now than it was when Clinton was accused of having a sexual relationship with an intern. In the meantime, we are digging ourselves into a very serious hole morally, economically, diplomatically, militarily -- every way you can think of.

I'll skip down a little.
One after the other Saturday night, the laureates called on Americans to do something about their government's foreign policy. From efforts to close the border with Mexico to Iraq to arms exports, the Nobel laureates had words for the U.S. government.

"Stand up. Take action," said Jody Williams, the 1997 recipient for her work opposing land mines, and the only American to take the stage. "Don't try to bring democracy to people you don't understand through the barrel of a gun and leave them with civil war."

The Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who praised the U.S. for its fight against South Africa's apartheid and its history of justice and democracy, also had stern words for the Bush administration.

"You taught us no government worth its salt can subvert the rule of law. We believed you," he said. "That's part of what you have as a gift for the world. Then how can you commit Guantanamo Bay? Take back your country."

I'm curious, how much time did they give this on CNN today? MSNBC? Fox?

How Has This Happened?

I'm not going to talk too much about this, but readers should be aware of the fact that our country has developed a web of gulags imprisoning thousands of individuals, none of whom are charged with crimes.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law.

Disclosures of torture and long-term arbitrary detentions have won rebuke from leading voices including the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. Supreme Court. But the bitterest words come from inside the system, the size of several major U.S. penitentiaries.

"It was hard to believe I'd get out," Baghdad shopkeeper Amjad Qassim al-Aliyawi told The Associated Press after his release - without charge - last month. "I lived with the Americans for one year and eight months as if I was living in hell."

Captured on battlefields, pulled from beds at midnight, grabbed off streets as suspected insurgents, tens of thousands now have passed through U.S. detention, the vast majority in Iraq. U.S. war prisons legal vacuum for 14,000

What have we become?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Server Weirdness

Well, that was strange! Our web hosting company decided to move us to a different server. That's all fine -- we had noticed indications that the host was getting overloaded -- but it took all day for the new server information to get out to the Internet. The site's been down all day.

Glad to be back.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Changes in Chile

I understand this wouldn't happen in the USA, but you might find it interesting anyway. Chile has had a problem with teen pregnancy. They could have done like the US -- they could've implemented a systematic campaign to stop teaching young people about sex, and instead tell them not to do it. And, you know, some people in Chile think that's what should be done.

But they're trying a different approach. From The Christian Science Monitor:
SANTIAGO, CHILE – This month, Chile began to combat the problem of high teen-pregnancy rates by distributing free morning-after pills to girls as young as 14 years old.

Government support of emergency contraception is not unusual in Latin America or in Europe. Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sale of morning-after pills (known as Plan B), for women over 18. Girls age 17 and under must have a doctor's note.

But the Chilean government, by giving away the pills to such young girls, is igniting a storm of opposition from critics who say it undermines parents and is tantamount to abortion.

On Sept. 2, Chile's health minister, Maria Soledad Barria, announced the distribution of morning-after pills in public health clinics as part of a broader set of new regulations on fertility. Since then, the outcry has been building from religious groups, the political right, and even some of the government's own coalition partners in Congress. Many are up in arms about the measure, which they say encourages early sexual activity. In Chile, free morning-after pills to teens

Well, it sounds like there was a lot of "early sexual activity" going on already, don't you figure?

Skipping the part where the Catholic and Episcopalian Churches are against it...
On Friday, two conservative mayors in Santiago asked Chile's courts to halt the government's program until the courts consider arguments that it violates the constitutional rights of parents to protect "the physical and psychological integrity" of their children.

President Michelle Bachelet responded to the uproar, arguing that the state has a responsibility to prevent unwanted pregnancies. "There are roles that the family undertakes and which no one can replace," Ms. Bachelet said in a national radio interview last Wednesday. "But naturally the state has another role to fulfill, and that is to offer a range of alternatives, which people can choose between - according to their own family values and principles."

Oooch! That's a nice one -- passing out free contraceptives to support family values. I like that.

This article is a pretty long but really good article. People in Chile aren't that different from people here. Some people think that teens need to be protected from the temptations of the world, and some people think they should be raised to make responsible decisions. I don't see any reason to call either of those points of view "evil," it's just how folks are.

From there, you have to choose how you want your country to be. Should the government protect people from temptation, or should they be free? Nobody ever said it was easy, we struggle with it every single day.

Two Interviews

I did two interviews recently, one with a reporter from a Family Blah-Blah organization, and one with a reporter for a gay-oriented newspaper.

And I'll tell ya, you can't please everybody in this business.

The Family Blah-Blah guy asked me what I thought of the video. I mostly gave him my regular thoughts, the same thing I tell everybody: I thought it was a good start, I was glad the conservative members of the community approved of it, I said it needed more information.

He asked me, What kind of information?

I told him, Well, first of all, it needs a good definition of abstinence. We want our kids to abstain from sex, but -- and then I read him the definition of abstinence that's in the curriculum:
Abstinence -- "choosing not to participate in a specific activity; e.g., sexual activity, alcohol, tobacco, other drug use."

I told him that if we're serious about young people abstaining from sex, we need to make it clear what they should abstain from.

Then he got me, he really got me. He asked me, What about ex-gays? What do you think about the fact that the video ignores those who have chosen to leave the gay lifestyle?

Remember, I'm paraphrasing all this, as it is not perfectly recorded in my memory. I said, First of all, I have a little problem with that word "lifestyle," but if you're talking about people who used to be gay and aren't any more, well, I guess that person would be straight, and this video would suit their needs just fine.

I can't really think of any way you would make this curriculum different to accommodate someone who has a different sexual orientation from what they used to have, can you? I mean, I know how much they love being persecuted, but ... I don't see it here.

So that was one interview. Oh, by the way, I just checked the web site, and the guy didn't use a single word of mine. It says somewhere in the story -- which quotes CRC's Michelle Turner and PFOX's Regina Griggs -- "Critics call the new video impersonal, but Turner says not it’s appropriate for teens." I can't tell if "critics" reflects my discussion with him, or if they told him that. Also, I can't figure out at all what that sentence is supposed to mean. "Not" what?

The other interview was with The Washington Blade, which is marketed mainly to a gay and lesbian readership. Same thing, what do you think of the video, the usual. A comment I made -- a comment lots of people have made -- was that one problem was that there were no females in the video. There was a pause, and the reporter said something like, Why would you want females in the video? I said, well, most of the time when people have sex, there's a female involved. But I could tell I was losing him. His article came out today, you can read it HERE.

The article is just fine, I'm not complaining. I mean, he might overplay the controversy a little bit, whatever, the story's fine.

But it just hits you sometimes, how much people live in their own world.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Citizens Committee Approves Revised Video

Last night the Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development met, and after a mini-marathon agreed to approve the new condom video, with revisions. The final vote was 11-1, with the CRC member opposing, and the PFOX member joining the majority.

These discussions are fascinating, I think. We have a room full of intelligent people, each with his or her own idea about how things should be. There was the much-discussed video and its asociated curriculum materials, and members of the committee had sent in comments and suggested revisions, which were compiled and organized by staff from the Superintendent's office. There were more than sixty suggested changes.

Last night, the committee (which I am a member of) discussed the video only, not the classroom materials. We adopted a number of changes, including (these are approximate only, taken from my scribbled notes -- the MCPS minutes will be more accurate here):
  • Adding a female voice to the video
  • Showing a close-up of the date and the word "Latex" on the package, followed by hands tearing the package open and the narrator explaining not to use your teeth or scissors
  • We would like to add 60 seconds of more information, mostly taken from the classroom documentation
  • We want to substitute the words "vaginal, anal, or oral contact" for "sexual contact" (or something close to that, I didn't write down the final wording)
  • The statement about abstinence being the "only way to prevent" stuff should be changed to "the only 100 percent effective way"
  • We want to remove mention of the word "reservoir"
  • "Doctor" should be changed to "health care provider"

I think that's it.

The committee only makes recommendations, so the school district may or may not decide to implement these changes. But then ... the committee may or may not decide to approve it ...

It seemed to me that the main issue, really, was in deciding what the video was supposed to accomplish. Some thought it should just be a minimal demonstration of how the condom goes on, period. Here's the penis, here's the rubber, the rubber goes on the penis. Some -- including me -- felt that the video should give instruction in the right way to use a condom. That would require a little more information, a little more detail.

Well, let's just say the discussion was dynamic. The issue of whether there should be a female presence in the video was interesting -- some members feel that it's the guy's responsibility, and so it should be a guy in the video. Others thought that women should take responsibility for their own sex lives. The issue of saying "anal, oral, or vaginal," is a tough one. Well, it's a strange issue. To me, it's like when you have kids, and they try to mess with you, like they'll say, "Daddy, is it OK if I use the word X?" And of course they have to use the word X to ask the question, so even if the answer is no, they've still already gotten away with it. Come on, your kids did that, too. You did it when you were a kid, don't lie to me. In the same way, you have to tell students what they shouldn't do, and that includes anal sex, especially, because it is such an important way for disease to spread. You might worry that you're putting ideas in their heads, or that you're making them think it's OK to do as long as they use a condom. I don't know, but I think teenagers hear about these things anyway. And to me, the value of telling them how to do it safer is worth the risk of suggesting something to them.

One member was concerned that there's not enough research specifically testing whether condoms are effective at preventing the spread of disease in anal sex. So we shouldn't recommend it. But really, that's a kind of argument that can blow up in your face. Like, we could say the weatherman shouldn't tell us if it's going to rain tomorrow, because we don't sufficiently understand the Brownian motion of atmospheric molecules, or the fractal nature of the dynamics of gases in an unbounded space. In fact, the weatherman's forecast is better than a naive guess, and the CDC and other government and medical organizations do recommend using a condom for anal sex. Even without perfectly well focused research, it is clear that a condom makes anal sex safer, for those who, for whatever reason, decide to practice it. And it's not our place to judge those people or their reasons. We just don't want them spreading diseases. It seems to me.

At our next meeting, we need to get through the rest of the curriculum materials. That was where the bulk of the comments were, but personally, I am optimistic about reaching consensus fairly rapidly. Most of it was wording changes, there will still be some controversy, but we'll get through it OK, I think.

Then we move on to the sexual orientation part.

Remember, the video was not part of last year's legal ruling, and was not mentioned in the settlement agreement at all. The Superintendent decided to re-do the condom demonstration video for some reasons that he never really explained. Said it was "insufficient," as I recall. So they did it over again, but Virginia, they didn't give you quite enough information (sorry, I just heard Billy Joel on the radio on the way to the Metro station). So the committee is tuning it up a little bit.

And then we will move into the part of the curriculum that was central to the litigation. I will be very interested to see what the school district puts on the table. Though there is a lot of latitude as far as what to include and what not to, and how to put things, there will be some things that are just unacceptable. A single word about "ex-gays" in the materials will send a signal that MCPS has abandoned their academic standards out of fear. For example. (Though of course their lawyers must realize that trying to bring Christian ministries into the classroom would open them up to legal attack from the other side.)

So ... the real hard part is still ahead of us. As long as people keep talking, express what they believe, explain their points, and listen to each other, we will be able to hack together something that serves our community well. None of this is easy, and the constant threat of legal ambush only makes it harder, but ... if that's the world we live in, then -- let's get to work.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fox on Sex-Ed

This column on the Fox web site seems to be generating a good amount of discussion around the Internets.

I guess "Lis on Law" is a regular feature ...? They say she's a law professor at the New York Law School.
One in five teens report having sex before they turn 15.

In fact, nearly half of American teens ages 15 to 18 are sexually active, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in its 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey — and that number has been hovering around the 50 percent mark since at least 1991 when the biennial survey began.

But intercourse isn’t the only kind of sex kids are having. By the age of 18, 80 percent of males and 59 percent of females have masturbated; 75 percent have engaged in “heavy petting;” about 55 percent have had oral sex; and by age 19, 11 percent of have had anal sex.

It is against this backdrop that a fierce battle is being waged regarding how best to educate our nation’s children about sex. Lis on Law: Just Say 'No' — To Sex

Yes, and we're right in the middle of it.
On one side, there are proponents of “abstinence-only” education that does not include information about contraception or disease prevention. This side is currently being led by President Bush as well as citizens like Cindy Wright of Lubbock, Texas, who contend, "The Bible says you are supposed to get married before you consummate a relationship — I don't think teaching anything other than abstinence is right.”

On the other side, are those who favor a more comprehensive approach which includes information about contraception and disease prevention. This side is made up of every prominent American health organization, including the American Medical Association, as well as over 90 percent of American parents.

Nevertheless, by all accounts, the abstinence-only side is winning.

I hate the idea that these two approaches have to oppose one another. It must be possible to come up with some way to bring the two sides together.

Ah, I just remembered why that won't happen. Never mind.
Federally funded abstinence-only programs have been around since President Clinton, who amidst a swirl of criticism from his own party, placed his signature on the Republican Congress’ 1996 welfare reform bill. Though Clinton himself admitted the bill was "far from perfect," he offered, "We can change what is wrong. We should not have passed this historic opportunity to do what is right." (Among the law's most controversial features were several provisions promoting abstinence-only education.)

In the meantime, under President Bush, funding for abstinence-only programs has skyrocketed — going from $80 million annually by the last budget of the Clinton administration, to $170 million in 2005. "When our children face a choice between self-restraint and self-destruction, government should not be neutral," Bush has explained.

By contrast, no federal funds are dedicated to supporting programs that teach comprehensive sex education. In fact, to receive federal funds for sex education programs, grantees must offer curricula that have as their "exclusive purpose" teaching the benefits of abstinence.

Oh, so that is what they mean by "winning." The abstinence-only side is winning like we're "winning" the war on terror.
Even more troubling, a recent federal survey lambasted the erroneous information being propagated by several abstinence-only programs. One such claim, shamefully unrefuted by Senate majority leader (and medical doctor) Bill Frist (R-TN) on ABC’s "This Week," stated that HIV can be transmitted via sweat and tears. Another assertion was that condoms fail one in seven times — a statistic that is accurate only if people are counted who use condoms incorrectly or forget to use them at all.

So is the “just say no” approach working? As abstinence-only programs have become more common, rates of teenage pregnancy have indeed dropped — by one-third for girls ages 15-19 from 1991 through 2003. In addition, a study by the conservative Heritage Foundation concluded that girls who took the pledge were 12 times more likely to forgo premarital sex.

Funny, so far I can't tell which way she's going with this. It is Fox, and I can hardly believe she's going to make the point that kids should be taught facts... so far she hasn't tipped her hand.
But the big picture contains several caveats. Two prominent researchers of adolescent sexuality, Peter Bearman of Columbia and Hannah Brueckner of Yale found that while teenagers who took virginity pledges as part of abstinence-only programs were more likely to delay sexual activity (by about 18 months), they were just as likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases — and tended not to use contraceptives once they did become sexually active. Moreover, virginity pledgers are five times more likely to have oral or anal sex in the belief that such activities do not violate their pledges.

Ultimately, more data is needed in order to determine what, if any, positive effect abstinence-only programs have had. Unfortunately, many abstinence-only proponents are opposed to the kinds of surveys researchers rely on to gather such data because they include specific questions about sex. “Questions plant ideas,” warned Peter Brandt of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. "Individuals involved with condom programs shouldn't have a role in evaluating abstinence programs," he argues. "And who cares what those people think, anyway?"

Yeah, who cares what a bunch a dumb ol' scientists and professors think? They're not on our side, they're not going to give us the answers we want.

Really, it's unbelievable that she was able to get somebody to say something like this. It's like this Family Blah Blah guy is the one wearing the "I'm Stupid" shirt.
Interestingly, California (one of three states that refuse to accept federal sex-education funds and opt instead to provide a more comprehensive sex education) saw its teen pregnancy rate drop 40 percent between 1992 and 2000, well ahead of the national average during that period of 24 percent. And the Netherlands, which has long had a comprehensive sex education curricula has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world — just 8.1 per 1000 for girls ages 15-19.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world at 93 per 1000 — at least twice that of Canada, England, France, and Sweden, and 10 times that of the Netherlands. “As a direct result, abortion rates are twice or three times as high as European countries,” said Sharon L. Camp, president of the Guttmacher Institute, a non-partisan research organization. Moreover, one of every two young Americans will get a sexually transmitted disease by age 25, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Don't you love the way she compares California to America? That's just fun.

But the point in that last paragraph is important. Despite our phobia/obsession with sex, or probably because of it, we have a mess on our hands. We just can't figure out how to let sex be part of life, without going flat-out insane about it.

C'mon, people, simmer down a little bit.
So what’s the bottom line? Abstinence-only education is short-sighted, dangerous, and against the will of both health professionals and parents. In a country where 93 percent of men and 79 percent of women report having sexual intercourse prior to marriage, a federal policy that seeks to prevent its citizenry from obtaining the information it needs to protect itself is unconscionable. As Isabel Sawhill wrote for Brookings Institution, “Family and community values, not a federal mandate, should prevail, especially in an area as sensitive as this one.”

Well, hey, cool -- good for Fox.

We are currently working on a new curriculum. Montgomery County schools are some of the best in the country, and this should be a flagship program. We can't cut corners, we can't mamby-pamby this. We need to stare it right in the face and do what's right.

Students need to be given facts so they can make good decisions. It's as simple as that.

Naked in Vermont

Personally, I'm thinking this is funny. I'll bet you we have some readers who won't.

Seems that the Brattleboro, Vermont (not known as "New England's Las Vegas") has a problem with naked teenagers. There's a big parking lot known as the "Harmony Lot," where kids hang out, pun intended. Hmm, looking around on Google, I see that the Law Enforcement News was writing about this hang-out way last year:
Harmony Lot - a popular teenage hangout bordered on nearly all sides by commercial buildings in downtown Brattleboro - has been a hot spot for drug dealing, vandalism, fights and car accidents, the police chief said.
"I think they should get off their (duffs) and out of the cars and do some community policing," said [Nancy] Braus, whose store has entrances from Elliot Street and Harmony Lot. "I never see the police patrolling the downtown on foot." Brattleboro, Vermont Police Plan Cameras Downtown

I love the fact that, whatever this lady actually said, they paraphrased it with the word "duffs." Is a duff ever anything, except something you get off of?

OK, so anyway, the kids, it appears, have always hung out in the parking lot. And I guess some of them realized there was no law against going naked.

So they did.

Last week, the Selectboard (like a city council) decided not to pass a new law.

Remember, this is Vermont.
The Selectboard decided to hold off until next year on an anti-nudity ordinance, calling it a "knee jerk response to an isolated incident."
"Winter is coming. If spring comes and we still have a problem, we'll take another look at it," said Selectboard Chairman Steve Steidle. Board puts off nudity decision

Ah, yes, the wise elder speaking.

We'll just let those kids freeze their duffs off.
Board member Dick DeGray suggested young people in the Harmony Lot police themselves and be considerate.

"It's a respect factor," he said. "Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should do it."

Ian Bigelow, who hangs out in the Harmony Lot, said it will probably blow over and suggested it's time to move on.

"There's not a movement in Brattleboro," he said. "It's just silliness that got out of control. It's cold here most of the time and I think we should forget about it."

See, part of the problem is figuring out ... what's wrong with it. I mean, we're all naked under our clothes, right?

So this little town ended up on Dr. Phil and those kinds of shows. Embarrassing to the city fathers, I'm sure.
Tuesday's debate on nudity was in response to resident Theresa Toney complaining at a previous Selectboard meeting about a woman in the Harmony Lot who walks around topless.

"I just think it's anarchy, because they won," she said Tuesday after the meeting. "It's inappropriate behavior for downtown. It has nothing to do with the weather. There's good behavior and there's bad behavior and that's bad behavior."

Yes, I love that reasoning. Good and bad behavior are defined, I assume, in Heaven, and certain people, such as Theresa Toney of Brattleboro, Vermont, have the gift of seeing the difference.

Is there another point of view? --Of course.
Adhi Palar, guilty of parading around in his birthday suit last month, spoke of upholding freedom and the value of the human body.

"Our acting in nudity is an act of celebration of this history and traditional values as a place where you're allowed to be nude," he said. "I find that important and I find that proud."

OK, kid, sure.

Here, wrap yourself in this flag.
Peggy Frost, a Vernon resident, found it disturbing. It's traumatizing to children, she said. Parents should teach their children the difference between the male and female anatomy -- they shouldn't see it on the street. She said she refuses to shop in Brattleboro until the issue is resolved.

"How can children tell the difference between a nudist and a pervert?" she asked. "They can't until it's too late."

What a terrific question.

I just love that question.

More differences of opinion:
Rev. David Garrecht, from Guilford, said the media attention to the public display is painting Brattleboro as an X-rated town that tourists will simply pass by.

Remillard said the incident has done damage to the town, and wanted to know how it could be resolved.

"We have been the brunt of phone calls from all over the world," Remillard said. "The media has made this into nothing less than a circus. I want to know how they are going to fix it.

"The effect was beneficial," said resident Spoon Agave. The sidewalks were packed on Friday night (for Gallery Walk)."

Hey, look at those works of art over there!

I do wonder, though, what it means to be the "brunt of phone calls from all over the world." Like, people call up from foreign countries and make jokes about it?

MoCo Election Screwed Up

The Montgomery County Board of Elections office is right in my neighborhood. They share a building with a drug treatment center. Every election season, we see more and more cars over there each day until election day. And then we see the TV crews, the lights, the crowded parking lot.

Last night, driving by, it seemed to me there was more activity than usual.

Oh. I see.

Here's The Post:
UNTOLD NUMBERS of people were turned away from polling places yesterday in Montgomery County. The official responsible for their disenfranchisement called it "a clerical error." We call it gross incompetence that strikes at the very heart of our government. More than apologies are in order.

Election officials in Maryland's largest and richest jurisdiction, one that prides itself on a reputation for good service, forgot to deliver the computer cards that operate the voting machines. Confusion reigned. Some people were told they couldn't vote and should come back later. Others were given paper provisional ballots, but many precincts ran out of the forms. Communication was abysmal. Many voters who could not make a return trip were frustrated -- as were candidates who feared that the debacle could well make the difference in a close race. With important local, state and federal offices at stake, some were questioning the legitimacy of the election even before the polls closed. The Mess in Montgomery

Yeah man, they screwed it up. What can you say?

Somebody's job is to plan the election. It should be a big deal, you plan for two years for a task that basically takes a day to do. OK, let's say, with delivering the machines, training, stuff like that, maybe you spend a week or two actually doing something. Whatever, the basic steps are the same every time, it's routine, the task of voting is made to be as simple as possible so everybody can do it and there is nothing complicated in the counting.

But ... they forgot to deliver the computer cards?

I can't imagine how this happened. Tuesday morning, they're going down the checklist:
  • Coffee -- check
  • Doughnuts -- check
  • Unlock the building -- check
  • Plug in the machines -- check
  • ...

And they just left deliver the computer cards off the list?

I tend to synmpathize with bureaucrats who get caught up in the mess and end up taking the blame for something they had no control over. One day you're doing a heckuva job, and then you're fired.

But in this case, I'm struggling to find the sympathy. We pay our taxes, we expect a little something for it. Somebody is calling themselves the "Board of Elections," and is overseeing this simple, routine, and extremely crucial process of voting.

Mmm, maybe The Post will be nicer about it:
The county Board of Elections has one essential job -- to ensure fair elections -- and yesterday that job wasn't done. The system needs to be held to account. Board President Nancy H. Dacek has promised an investigation, but her standing has been so damaged that she must consider whether her continuance in office serves the public good. Election Director Margaret Jurgensen is paid $113,033 a year to run day-to-day operations; part of that must be telling the public exactly who and what went wrong and what the consequences and remedies are.

Check that out, these people are making Real Money doing this.

To them, I would say: bye-bye.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Extry, Extry, CRC Likes Video

I guess this is the man-bites-dog of the sex-ed world. From The Post:
The Montgomery County public school system's new condom video is getting positive reviews from some unexpected quarters.

Members of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, one of two groups that sued to block the original condom video from being shown to 10th-graders in Maryland's largest school system, say they are pleased with a new version that they think takes a more "clinical approach" to condom instruction.

The Montgomery County public school system's new condom video is getting positive reviews from some unexpected quarters.

Members of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, one of two groups that sued to block the original condom video from being shown to 10th-graders in Maryland's largest school system, say they are pleased with a new version that they think takes a more "clinical approach" to condom instruction. Foe of Condom Video Praises Revision: Group Sued Montgomery

This word "clinical." I'm hearing that to describe the new video. Is that a good thing?

I understand that they don't want to glamorize teen sex, nobody wants to promote it or encourage it. But is that the reason for the video? -- to "not promote" something?
"You don't have a cute little blonde and a cucumber," said Michelle Turner, president of CRC. "It's not MTV. It's very factual and clinical. There are no frills or fluff."

So we are understanding that CRC likes what's not in the video. No blonde, no vegetables, no MTV, no frills, no fluff.

I think when she says it's "very factual" she means something like, there is "nothing but facts" in it. Not that there are "a lot of facts" in it, which, I admit, I would prefer.
In the original eight-minute video, a blond female health education teacher spoke about proper condom use, then used a cucumber to demonstrate the correct way to put on a prophylactic.

In the new version, a wooden penis replaces the vegetable. Only a pair of hands is shown putting the condom on it, and an off-screen narrator describes the details. In both versions of the video, the narrator emphasizes that abstinence is the most effective way to avoid pregnancy and the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease.

Off-screen narrator. Hmm, funny, I assumed the guy whose hands you saw was talking. I guess it doesn't need to be.

And ... a little correction here. He does not say "abstinence is the most effective way to avoid" risks, he says it's "the only way."

And that's wrong.

Yes, she called me, too:
"It's very impersonal," said Jim Kennedy, a member of the citizens advisory committee working with the school system on the curriculum rewrite. "This is a starting point. I'm sure the committee may want to make some changes."

(Do I talk like that? Do I say "I'm sure" about things that "may" happen? Well, I guess I do sometimes.)(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Here's how the school district is seeing it:
The previous video was "more of an entertainment style," said Betsy Brown, director of the school system's department of curriculum and instruction. The new video "is about life-and-death matters, and the tone is very much how a health practitioner might approach this."

OK, that explains the "clinical" style. They were trying to make it sound like a doctor. Or, at least, like a doctor with his head cut off. Or a doctor with a PowerPoint slide show. Or a mortician, maybe... OK, I'll quit.
The proposed video, part of a 45-minute lesson, comes with a 37-page guide -- essentially a script -- to what teachers should tell students and includes worksheets for students. A draft of the lesson plan includes this statement in bold type: "Under no circumstances are teachers permitted to bring in or use resources other than those provided for this lesson." And it says, "This lesson is scripted and should be read and followed in its entirety."

I don't know how good I feel about that. Montgomery County has some really good teachers, it seems like a shame to make them read a script for this. What does that tell the kids? The teacher's scared to speak honestly? The school district's scared to let her?
Brian Edwards, spokesman for the Montgomery school system, said board members are scheduled to vote on the new materials in January. The three 45-minute lessons, part of a semester-long health education class, will then be used as a pilot program in a limited number of middle and high schools. Depending on the outcome of the pilot effort, the board would make a final decision about the curriculum in June.

And there you have the plan. We all hope it moves along at a good clip.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Discussing the Video

There have been some really interesting email discussions going on, among people reacting to the condom video. I'm going to cut and paste some choice comments out of the discussions here, so you can get a little bit of the feel of it.
This video implies that sex is a one-person activity. There is no mention of a partner. None.

Especially a female partner.

From one perspective it appears that the video has been produced to show a guy how to put a condom on another guy. While that does have some education value, some of us have never really been in the position of needing to do that. And if the classroom is half girls, you wonder, what are they getting out of this?

At worst, it shows a guy how to put on his own condom, which is useful, but ... is there another person with him? What're they doing? Can't they help? Do they have anything at all to do with all this?

It's not a joke. It's something really strange in this video: Lone Guy Sex.

Ah, somebody caught something subtle and important.
The statement "Condom use may decrease, but does not eliminate..." the word MAY does not belong there. It implies that the question of risk reduction is still up in the air. The narration should state that condoms do reduce risk and that the level of reduction is a direct result of the how correctly and consistently condoms are used.

Yes, I saw a study once that showed that even using it wrong, even if the thing breaks, it still obstructs the passage of some semen and germs, at least a little bit. Even a broken condom is better than nothing. So it's not that it may decrease the risk of something -- it will decrease the risk.
The message that a fresh condom should be used before every sex (oral, anal, or vaginal) act is not strong enough. The message that the condom should be applied before the first genital contact is not strong enough.

I agree -- this is the kind of information I think needs to be there.
The video does not advise the viewer to discard the condom if it has been mistakenly applied inside out.

Exactly. Another one of those pieces of information. This one really needs to be there, especially since it's so easy to say, it's not obvious, and I can't think of any way to misconstrue the statement as something lascivious.
The video does not tell the viewer to turn away from his partner before removing the condom.

The video does not advise the viewer to wipe away remaining semen after removing the condom.

The FDA actually has a web site that has a whole list of things like these. As far as I'm concerned, the whole list should be in the video. The thing we're trying to do is to teach students how to use the condom effectively, not just how to roll it on and peel it off, but what are the things you need to do, and not do.

Because not all of it is obvious.

Here's a nice comment that somebody made:
The video states that more information MAY be available in class. As a parent, I say that more information had better be available in class. Look, if the teachers have to add a unit in which they go over all of the information missing in this video, let's ditch the video and have the teachers do the demonstration themselves.

Then somebody else came back with this comment, which I thought was correct and also kind of fun:
As for me, the "video"(more like a bad power point) is boring, unclear(does anyone think a teenager knows water based from oil based lubricants-adults don't!) and not very helpful. It has been years since I used a condom - but this video wouldn't do much to teach me if I had to do it again. I mean gosh- we don't want to be graphic(oh, noooooo)- but didn't the old video say -never use your teeth to open a condom- because I know I did(of course, this was only within the confines of a monogamous heterosexual marriage- and it was the one time we had sex not for procreation- the other two times produced our two children-god fearing, flag loving, non-authority questioning children). Why did they leave out so much but choose to emphasize that using two condoms isn't better than one? I thought the problem was that kids don't even use one-are so many of them using two or more???

Yes, several good points there. The video tells students not to use an oil-based lubricant, but who knows what that means, really? OK, I know Vaseline is oil-based and K-Y is water-based. Are those the only two lubricants in the world? And do teenagers know the difference? I doubt it.

And, sorry, but most guys are going to use their teeth to tear open that package, unless you explicitly point out to them that they can tear the condom that way. It's easy enough to mention, and it should be mentioned.

Here was an interesting message:
Last night ... my husband and I watched the video together. He is furious about the boring affect of the video; he thinks it will make students less likely to use condoms ...

What I don't agree with is any dumbing-down or skating over actual information. If they want to de-sensationalize the context, then I want them to be right up front about the content.

There is a real problem with the style of the video, which has upset a lot of people, and there are real problems with the content, which is very sparse. I hope the citizens committee will be discussing both these aspects of it.

Now, here's a good idea that MCPS will never approve!
I think that the on-going video dramas are good evidence that the teachers should be doing the demonstration in class and the KIDS should be putting condoms on those icky models. They should be giggling about it and horsing around and "getting over it" so that when the time comes to have a conversation about condoms with a sex partner, they don't back down.

You know that's true. But because the holier-than-thou critics have made this such a polarized issue, you know it will never happen.

One person who used to TA a college sex-ed class noted:
One interesting thing, most of our students said they knew how to use condoms, but most of them failed the written quiz given at the beginning of the class, before the demonstration.

The point being: we need to make these lessons very clear, and very informative. People think they know what they're doing, but they don't.

Somebody else asked about the oil-based / water-based thing:
You'd think people would know that PETROLEUM jelly is OIL based, wouldn't you? but people don't. What about hand-cream, if that's what you have sitting by the bed. Is that oil-based or water-based?

OK -- do you know the answer to that one?

And then another one of those points was mentioned:
What about saying, "Always use a condom even if your girlfriend is on the pill or has put in her diaphragm."?

This next suggestion is another one of those that you just know MCPS would never permit:
What about telling girls that sex is less messy when guys use condoms?

I am finding it interesting, just hearing these suggestions and knowing that some of them have zero probability of getting into any class. And why? It's not that it's inaccurate or unhelpful information. It's because of our society's schizoid view of sex, the simultaneous phobia/obsession that makes the topic so insanely hard to talk rationally about.

Girls: it's less messy if he wears a condom.

Hmm, here's one I hadn't thought of:
What about telling guys that orgasms do feel good with condoms, and that furthermore, the small diminution of sensation actually lets you have sex a bit longer?

Uh, yeah, that's another one we won't be hearing in Montgomery County health classes.

This one, maybe:
What about saying that if the person who wants to have sex with you doesn't want to use a condom, then that person doesn't have enough
self-respect or respect for you to be that close to you? The answer to "If you really loved me you'd say yes," is "If YOU really loved ME you wouldn't suggest it."

That one should actually be part of the curriculum.

But again, this is part of the strange denial of girls' participation in any of this. Young women should take control of their sex lives, you hate to think they'll just wait under the covers until he's ready, and then remain passive until he's "done." But this curriculum so far leaves them out of it entirely.

Or as one person emailed:
what about telling girls anything!!! this video is only aimed at boys, from what I see. gee, I wonder why.

It sounds like they think they know the answer to question. I don't. I wonder why, too.

Here was a more poetic comment:
The penis is wooden, as is the video. What has changed is that the original video implied that sex was ok and natural, and this video implies that sex is dangerous. that is a huge difference, and ... I would opt out. The take-away is that sex is scary, dangerous, and bad... Better to not have a video at all, in my opinion. I can show my kid a condom at home and teach him that sex is natural, and fun at the right age, and with the right partner.

A secondary take-away ... is that men are in charge of sex, and that girls should have no say in their reproductive health. If I had a daughter, no way would I let her see this video.

Facinating problem here. Can you imagine if anyone in this debate -- a teacher, a parent, a doctor, a lawyer -- actually came out and said that sex is a good thing? Imagine if someone pointed out that it is a pleasurable act, and something that people really enjoy doing. Man, that would be so unacceptable.

Is that weird, or what?

Finally, someone wrote:
I am not objecting to the 'boring' I don't really care about that. I am objecting to the real messages--1. men are in charge of sex, and 2. sex is dangerous and bad...

Regarding this last comment, I have some opinions.

First of all, I really doubt that MCPS staff met and decided to convey the principle that sex is a guy-thing. I do think they made the narrator a male because of criticisms about the cute girl in the previous video, and that they made a decision not to include any female persons at all on that basis. The effect though, is ... well, it is pure sexism of the worst kind. See how that happens?

I would be sure that somebody decided to cut off the actor's head -- that could not have happened by accident. And why would they have done that? To make the video impersonal. Not necessarily to portray sex as an impersonal act, but to make a video where they could not be criticized for glamorizing teen sex. But the effect, of course, is that it portrays sex as an impersonal act. It's something guys do to girls, not something girls participate in. And guys don't do it as people, they do it as faceless, truncated beings. I doubt that anyone who sees this video will miss that point. I don't believe that was the intent of the people who developed it, but that is the effect.

I agree with this last person, boring isn't necessarily bad. I think kids'll watch the video, even if it's boring, because it's about sex, which is not boring. But the other messages are potentially dangerous. There needs to be a little personality, a little respect between partners, faces with expressions. And some background music would be nice, too.

MC Schools Welcome Felons

I've been hearing a lot of people talking about this story. Having had some experience with Montgomery County Public Schools, I have to say I am really kind of upset by it myself.

Five boys from Walt Whitman High School robbed a smoothie shop. They pointed a gun at the cashier and ran off with $463 in cash. They parked the getaway car on the school grounds of Bethesda Elementary. Afterwards they went and had pizza.

The boys were caught, and all five of them were charged as adults. With felonies.

And then they were sent back to school.

Their big punishment was that they were sent to different high schools. Oh, ouch. That'll teach 'em.

Look at how this is going at Wheaton. From The Post:
More than five months after he allegedly drove the getaway car in a felony robbery and three months after Whitman forced him to finish his junior year at home, Lazear, 17, has reclaimed his place in football's hierarchy. More than 20 Division I colleges have offered Lazear scholarships, and he will likely choose between Alabama and Ohio State. Coaches at Wheaton consider Lazear's arrival to be the luckiest incident in the team's recent history. Teammates voted Lazear captain, even though the Maryland judicial system forces him to wear a black ankle monitor so it can track his whereabouts. Despite Charges, Prep Football Standout Remains Tackle-Eligible

This grates on me.

My kid started getting bad grades in middle school. He was in a play, which he loved, and they yanked him out, wouldn't let him participate. It's what they call "eligibility rules." Typically, something like forty percent of freshmen end up the year "ineligible," depending on the school. In high school the chorus went on a field trip to New York City, and they wouldn't let him go. Oh, they accepted his money, they just wouldn't allow him to go with the other kids on the trip. And so it went.

This does not exactly motivate a kid to work harder, you might say. I think we've got him on track now, but the school's treatment of him was simply to heap incompetence upon incompetence. Like, we can't teach him anything, let's not let him enjoy himself, either.

OK, we accepted that, he'd screwed up. But now I'm reading that this kid is the captain of the football team -- after committing armed robbery? And I see where one of the other robbers is playing varsity football at Rockville High School. What happened to "eligibility rules?"

I know a kid who got caught at school with two grams of marijuana in his backpack. He was suspended with recommendation for expulsion, and forced to go to Randolph Academy -- here's how MCPS describes it:
The Randolph Academy serves 50 highly disruptive students grades 9-12 to provide an individualized academic program in courses for credit toward a high school diploma. Students are referred by the Chief Operating Officer's office in lieu of expulsion. Students unsuccessfully discharged from level 2 programs may also qualify. In addition, 45-day alternative placement special education students attend here. Distance learning is utilized. This program is considered a Level 3 program in the continuum of intervention services for at-risk students.

They ship you off to reform school for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, but armed robbery? No problem. You're a hero.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Freedom to Choose Freedom

This topic has gotten a bit of attention from some bloggers, and I can see why. A publisher's book blurb has summarized an important argument that is rarely spelled out in black and white, but is often assumed. By putting it in the light of day, they have given us an opportunity to think a little more clearly about some beliefs that divide us as a country.

Look, here's Amazon-dot-com's blurb on Dinesh d'Souza's new book, The Enemy at Home:
Book Description

In THE ENEMY AT HOME, bestselling author Dinesh D’Souza makes the startling claim that the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist acts around the world can be directly traced to the ideas and attitudes perpetrated by America’s cultural left.

D’Souza shows that liberals—people like Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Barney Frank, Bill Moyers, and Michael Moore—are responsible for fostering a culture that angers and repulses not just Muslim countries but also traditional and religious societies around the world. Their outspoken opposition to American foreign policy—including the way the Bush administration is conducting the war on terror—contributes to the growing hostility, encouraging people both at home and abroad to blame America for the problems of the world. He argues that it is not our exercise of freedom that enrages our enemies, but our abuse of that freedom—from the sexual liberty of women to the support of gay marriage, birth control, and no-fault divorce, to the aggressive exportation of our vulgar, licentious popular culture.

The cultural wars at home and the global war on terror are usually viewed as separate problems. In this groundbreaking book, D’Souza shows that they are one and the same. It is only by curtailing the left’s attacks on religion, family, and traditional values that we can persuade moderate Muslims and others around the world to cooperate with us and begin to shun the extremists in their own countries.

Terrorist attacks happen because liberals abuse their freedom.

You can run so many different directions with this.

First of all, of course, there's a core of truth to what he says. We can all see what people hate about America. We're trashy, rowdy, provincial, rude, not to mention fat. We have no breeding, no taste, no manners. We like our women sexy and half-naked and our men burly and macho -- at least on television and in the movies. Our mass-produced commercial culture is lacking in quality, personality, nuance.

I mean, c'mon, that's easy.

But, uh, what does that have to do with "liberals?" Like, Red Staters don't shop at Wal-Mart and eat at McDonald's?

Here's the money quote from this blurb:
He argues that it is not our exercise of freedom that enrages our enemies, but our abuse of that freedom—from the sexual liberty of women to the support of gay marriage, birth control, and no-fault divorce, to the aggressive exportation of our vulgar, licentious popular culture.

The whole thing turns on the distinction between the "exercise" and "abuse" of freedom.

To tell you the truth, there are lots of times I wish I was different. I wish my thoughts were clearer and more logical, that my mind was more disciplined. I wish I didn't get distracted when a pretty girl walked by. It would be good if I listened to more classical music and less blues. I should be forty pounds thinner. It would be better if I drank less and exercised more. These are all choices I make, given that I have the freedom to make them; I make bad choices.

But, dude, that's no reason to blow yourself up in a crowded place.

See, the problem with this freedom stuff is that we are just as free to make bad choices as to make good ones.

And so some people -- and I am using myself as an example, but you're just as bad -- make some bad choices. I chose to pick up a piece of cake after the going-away party at work Friday: bad choice.

Now, I am trying to imagine a "freedom" where people are only allowed to make good choices. I'm sure, as Mr. d'Souza is saying, that if America were The Land of Good Choices Only the terrorists wouldn't hate us, we wouldn't have been attacked five years ago, and the USA wouldn't have to cower in constant fear as we do now.

But you notice I had to put the word "freedom" in quotes. Because ... that wouldn't be freedom, would it?

That's the paradox. It's the exercise versus abuse thing. If you can't abuse your freedom then you ain't got none.

Exercising freedom is, by some standards, identical to abusing it, and that's really the problem, if you ask me. You will choose to do something different from what other people are doing, and lots of times they have chosen to do what they're doing because it's a good thing to do. People who think perfectly logically are doing the right thing. Classical music is better than blues. It's usually better to keep your mouth shut and go along with things, better for you of course, but it also turns out people often know what they're doing and you don't. Conformity serves an important function, and generally it will serve society well.

We really should be more logical and listen to better music (he said, with Dylan's new CD blasting in the background).

Of course that would be a boring nightmare, you're thinking. Life would hardly seem worth living.

So which is it? What do you want? Freedom, and the mistakes and the danger that come with it, or totalitarian uniformity and safety?

What we have to do is to model good choices and allow bad ones. There are a million reasons why it is necessary for people to learn by trial and error, to learn by doing, why people need to be allowed to make bad choices. Besides making life, y'know, "interesting," people need to try things in order to innovate, to make life better. Any inventor, any artist or musician, any creative person will tell you they get it wrong a lot of the time, a lot of the things they try don't work out. A country where everybody only did what was perfectly acceptable to everyone would be a country of such incredible wimpiness that it would be unable to defend itself, a country of such blandness that nobody would want to live there, and country that would go to the back of the line where innovation and entrepreneurship were involved.

So we've got this freedom thing, thanks to Founding Fathers and subsequent diligent custodians. People like d'Souza want to give it up so the terrorists won't hurt us. People like the President and the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense want to accuse those who exercise their freedom of abusing it, they want to assert that we're traitors or worse for expressing opinions that deviate from theirs. It seems that there's a lot of pressure for everyone to walk the same straight-and-narrow.

The choice seems obvious to me, but obviously I'm just one guy. We could use the power of our government to ensure that Americans make only good choices, and after a while I'll just betcha that, like Mr. d'Souza is saying here, the terrorists would stop bothering us.

Or ... we can go on being the regular slobs we are, each of us in his or her own way trying to figure out what works and what doesn't through a chaotic cacophony of mass blundering trial and error, exercising and maybe abusing our freedom in the hope that maybe there are better ways to live.

That's easy. I choose blunder.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Path to "The Path to 9/11"

This story is taking a beautiful, week-long nose-dive. I wasn't going to say anything at first, because it was just regular dirty Republican politics, but now the story of the special show, called "The Path to 9/11," is taking some surprising turns.

OK, the story. ABC and Disney were going to have a special on September tenth and eleventh about the events leading up to 9/11/01, that date we all remember so vividly. They were going to run two three-hour shows. Everybody in the United States was going to watch it.

Scholastic, Inc., the people who make all the textbooks and stuff, were going to distribute the movie and associated materials to schools across the country, to show in history classes. Well, naturally, everybody would like to keep the memory of that day alive, no one wants to see the details of it vanish from our memory. This all sounded like a good idea, I think, to everybody, a good commemoration.

But then, just last week, somebody smelled a rat. ABC leaked copies of the movie to selected journalists and pundits. Like ... Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, people like that. Rightwing bloggers. Democrats, even Bill Clinton himself, couldn't get copies of it. And these rightwingers started talking about it on the air and on the Internet.

Turns out this movie was going to blame the 9/11 attacks on Bill Clinton. They had made up scenes showing Clinton letting Osama bin Laden get away, showing Clinton too busy with Monica Lewinsky to pay attention to terrorism, total fiction. They really just made up stuff to paint history a new color. They don't even deny it. Over the past week, the authors of the movie have admitted it's fiction. They say they "fictionalized" it, but they won't admit they have completely flipped the story around.

Because a Republican 9/11 Commission member worked as an advisor to the production, they're advertising it as "Based on the 9/11 Commission Report."

Meantime, members of the 9/11 Commission -- I should say Democratic members of the 9/11 commission -- have come out and said the movie is full of lies, and does not reflect the truth at all.

OK, you know what? We see this kind of junk every day -- look at the stuff Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld have been saying all week about appeasers and Nazis and stuff, it's atrocious, and it happens every single day. I wasn't even going to bother with this. We got emails, comments on the blog, have you guys seen what's going on with this movie? But it was just political. A corrupt, lying Republican, you say? Dog bites man.

But yesterday a couple of things came out that make it more interesting, to me at least. Crooks and Liars posted a video and part of the transcript of the lead actor from the movie, Harvey Keitel (he was in Pulp Fiction and some other things), saying:
Keitel: Yea, I had questions about events–material I was given in the Path to 9/11 that I did raise questions about. Yes, I had some conflicts there.

Q: How was that met?

Keitel: With discussion..ummm with argument. When I received the script it said ABC history project –I took it to be exactly what they presented to me. History–and that facts were correct. It turned out not all the facts were correct and ABC set about trying to heal that problem..In some instances it was too late because we had begun. Harvey Keitel speaks out on Path to 9/11: “It turned out not all the facts were correct”

That "ABC History Project" thing rang a bell with somebody on the Internet. A commentor at DU named "SheWhoMustBeObeyed" noticed that director of the film, David Cunningham, is the son of Loren Cunningham, founder of the worldwide evangelical group Youth With a Mission. (YWAM).

One branch of Youth With a Mission is a film company called The Film Institute. The people at the Film Institute had some stuff on the Internet that said:
TFI's first project is a doozy: simply being referred to as: The Untitled History Project, it is already being called the television event of the decade and not one second has been put to film yet. Talk about great expectations!

Our goal is to help filmmakers, actors, technicians, etc. realize their God given potential and purpose in perhaps the most influential sphere of modern culture - film and television.
Our next big project is to assist in the development of the new YWAM auxiliary - The Film Institute (TFI). The Film Institute is dedicated to a Godly transformation and revolution TO and THROUGH the Film and Television industry;

TO it, by serving, living humbly with integrity in what is often a world driven by selfish ambition, power an money - transforming lives from within, and THROUGH it, by creating relevant and evocative content which promotes Godly principles of Truth married with Love.

These comments were deleted from the website yesterday morning, but the trusty Google cache has them HERE and HERE.

And check out this Fox story about the "secret" 9/11 movie that's being filmed...
NEW YORK — Filming has quietly begun under a shroud of secrecy on ABC's ambitious miniseries about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
At the moment, ABC officials are calling the miniseries "Untitled Commission Report" and producers refer to it as the "Untitled History Project." First 9/11 Miniseries Starts Filming

Yep. Same project.

So now we've got this stealth evangelical group filming a movie that they claim is going to change the world by promoting "Godly principles of Truth married with Love." Mmm hmmm.

Now, I'm following different discussions on the Internet here, I did not do all this research myself...

A Canadian newspaper reported this local news:
September 20, 2005 – On Saturday, September 24th, City Hall will be transformed into the American Embassy in Yemen for the filming of a television production, and the American flag will fly from the flagpole during the shooting. The Yemeni and United Nations flags will also fly from the flag standards on the Council Chambers roof.

UHP Productions will be on site filming a miniseries starring Harvey Keitel (of Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction fame), Patricia Heaton (best known as Debra Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond), and former “New Kid On the Block”, Donnie Wahlberg. The production is currently referred to as the Untitled History Project. City Hall to fly Stars and Stripes for movie production

Somebody snooped around and found that UHP Productions has only ever produced one movie -- this one. Also, their address is the same as Disney's address in Burbank, and the person who bought the domain name is Disney's Corporate Secretary, March L. Reed.

So this movie was being made by a stealth company somehow intertwined with Disney, but it was being done by these evangelicals who were going to change the world, basically, by re-writing history. Man, there must have been gazillions of dollars spent on this crazy thing. All done in the dark, no title, only the vaguest news, so it wasn't until the last minute that anybody noticed what was going on.

Then it started dawning on people.

I won't go into the entire reaction, but let's say, people aren't sitting still for this. President Clinton wrote a four-page letter to ABC, telling them to cancel the movie. A group of leading historians wrote a letter challenging the movie, calling it "fraudulent." FBI agents told the company the movie was a fraud. Democratic leaders in the Congress sent a letter to Disney. Conservatives, including John Podhoretz, Chris Wallace, the bloggers at Captain's Quarter, Bill Bennett, and even ... even ... even Bill O-freakin-Reilly have spoken out against this craziness.

The sad thing is that people sit in front ot their television sets watching the world as it is represented by three or four media corporations. That image on the tube is reality, as far as many many Americans are concerned. And that reality is for sale. It's no secret that the advertising dollar has its effect on programming, but you wonder how the political dollar works. What does ABC get in return for this big fat campaign donation?

Oh, and President Bush has arranged to interrupt the show Monday night with a 20-minute speech, just as the show starts into its last hour. ABC plans to stop the show, present the President's speech, and then resume. Think about that for a a minute (while you're considering who to vote for in the upcoming elections).

As fans started being hit by stuff, Scholastic pulled out of the deal to distribute this to schools (see their most interesting CYA statement HERE), but ... just imagine this fake thing being shown in history classes. What does that tell you?

We have an education system that makes an interesting assumption, one that is slowly being eroded away. When our kids go into a classroom, we assume they will be taught something that is objective, accurate, and true. We make an assumption that there is an objective reality "out there," and we assume that educators are motivated to put our children in touch with it. From a purely philosophical, absurdist, solipsistic position, we can question whether external reality actually exists, but in everyday life we don't doubt it. Yet here are people who will take advantage of the fact that all we have is a socially shared representation of the world. They will insert themselves into the representation process, in the Orwellian sense, and modify the representation in a way that will favor their own outcomes. These people fully intend to write history in a way that puts the white hat on the bad guy, and then keep telling that story until people can't remember the original. And they might get away with it. As I write, this thing is still scheduled to air tomorrow.

This secret group of evangelical nuts, teaming up with corporate media giants Disney and ABC and the ruling political party, were going to purely re-write history. They were making up their own script, slandering people who are still alive today to complain about it, when there are still people walking around who actually know what the facts are -- newspapers from the pre-9/11 era aren't even yellow yet. You put this on TV and the country watches, and a big percent of them won't know it's made up. We've seen it before, people re-writing the past, hammering it into our heads over and over until lies become equivalent to truths.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Gangs in the Burbs

I didn't say anything here about this when it happened, but a couple of months ago my sixteen-year-old was walking across a park in our neighborhood in Rockville late at night, within about a hundred feet of our house, when a bunch of guys jumped him and beat the crap out of him. They knocked him down and kicked him until he passed out. Busted his glasses and knocked his front tooth clean out -- we never were able to find it in the grass. Luckily the kid is tough and wasn't badly injured. He walked a little carefully for a week or so, but he's fine now, except for that hole in his grin. It was totally random, he'd never seen the guys before; he said they were older than him, like twenty.

I think of our neighborhood as basically a no-crime area. Yeah, some kids set fire to some cars down the street a few months ago, but they got caught bragging about it on MySpace. Not exactly hardened criminals. Just dumb stuff. We find a beer bottle along the curb occasionally, that's about it.

But now it's here.

The Washington Post:
Crime committed by gang members in Montgomery County has increased notably in recent months, and the number of identified members has also risen, an assistant police chief said yesterday during a congressional hearing.

Montgomery Assistant Chief John King told the House Committee on Government Reform that detectives had identified 930 gang members as of May, a 30 percent increase from November. Crime attributed to gang members increased 30 percent in those six months, contributing to surges in burglaries, robberies and vandalism, King said.

King said the three leading gangs in the county are Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, consisting primarily of Central American immigrants, and the Crips and the Bloods, which are made up largely of African Americans. During the second quarter of this year, Crips members were linked to 21 incidents, making that gang more active than the other two, which were linked to 18 each. Gang Figures Rising In Md.

I'd have to guess my kid's perpetrators were of the latter varieties, rather than the former.
Patrick Word, a detective with the Gaithersburg Police Department who is president of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Gang Investigators Network, said the counties have come a long way in the past couple of years.

Word, who did not attend the hearing, said local officials for many years played down the scope of the gang problem but now present a realistic assessment. "We don't have to preach that anymore," Word said. "People know there are gangs."

He said the rise in Crips and Bloods activity is by no means isolated to Montgomery County, and he urged elected officials and local leaders to not disregard the threat these gangs pose in the Washington region.

We have been reading about, basically, a crime wave in Washington DC, violent crime out of control. I guess it was only a matter of time before it spread to the suburbs.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Form and Substance

Fox News had a little piece on the condom video yesterday. They interviewed our Christine Grewell on-camera, and the CRC's President Michelle Turner.

It wasn't a bad piece, just a few seconds to fill in the time, but it does kind of point to some interesting dimensions to the discussion.

The anchor starts out with a little intro that ends:
... now a new video is out and as Fox 5 's John Henrehan found out, conservatives are mostly praising this version but liberals wonder if it's too boring.

Well, the fact is, the school district made this video as boring as they possible could. There's no doubt, that was their intent. It's repetitive, with no music, a blurry computer-generated background behind text, most of the time. When there is a person, his head is cut off, so you aren't distracted by any personality, or facial expressions, or anything. Everybody knows it's boring. It's not a conservative-versus-liberal thing. (And anyway, I have heard CRC complain more about the boringness of it than anybody on our side.)
John Henrehan: The dispute is not over whether Montgomery County teenagers should be taught about condoms but over the content and the style of presentation. Some parents believe information about condoms is crucial.

Christine Grewell: With consistent and correct usage, condoms can be 98 percent effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy. With typical usage, they're about 85 percent effective. So we'd like to gun that up from the 85 to 98 percent with some good training.

Bingo. Thank you, Christine.
Henrehan: But the last proposed sex education curriculum for 10th graders sparked objections.

Michelle Turner: The cucumber for starters. This is a mature subject and we should be teaching and talking to these kids in a mature manner and using a cucumber is just the silliest thing.

Henrehan: Parent Michelle Turner wishes abstinence had been stressed a little harder.

Turner: It was a little too relaxed, too informal, more Hollywood type presentation. I think that young men would have been distracted by the attractiveness of the young woman who was doing the video.

Funny, she doesn't say she "wishes abstinence had been stressed a little harder." These news guys, they kill me.

Listen, everybody knows there was a lawsuit here in Montgomery County, over the sex-ed curriculum. Everybody knows that the controversy had to do with a new condom video, which was called Protect Yourself, and the sexual orientation lessons.

One thing that people forget is that the lawsuit barely mentioned the condom video, and it wasn't part of the settlement agreement at all. The school district decided to produce a new one, not because any judge told them to, or because they had to as part of a settlement agreement, but because the Superintendent thought it could've been better.

You can see in this interview that the CRC's compaints are, really, cosmetic. They didn't like that the girl was cute. They didn't like that it was a cucumber. The movie was "too relaxed, too informal."

Another thing that people forget is that there already is a condom video, Hope Is Not a Method, which is being used in classes today. And while the CRC types complained because Protect Yourself mentioned that you should use a condom for anal and oral sex, the fact is, Hope Is Not a Method says the exact same thing. (Also, in my humble opinion, and hopefully I can say this without hurting anybody's feelings, I thought the girl in Hope Is Not a Method was cuter than the one in Protect Yourself.)
Henrehan: Now there's a new proposed sex ed tape. The new condom video, instead of using a cucumber, uses an anatomically correct male organ. It is so lifelike , we're a little reluctant to put in on a television newscast.

Uh ... lifelike? It looks like an oversized chess piece to me.
Video: Be sure to open the packet carefully.

Henrehan: This time, it's a male narrator and you see only his hands. The social conservatives kind of like this one, but the liberals wonder if its too dull.

Grewell: Well, I did hear one of the comments from one of the student members of the Citizens Advisory Committee, that was the first thing out of her mouth, "Oh, that was so boring, I fell asleep after two minutes into the film." That was from a student.

It's funny, there have been kind of a lot of comments about the production style of the video. As you see from Ms. Turner's comments, the complaints about Protect Yourself were really mostly about the look-and-feel, not much about what it said.

The "medium is the message" kind of analysis tells you a lot. Clearly, judging from the anti-MCPS side's comments, the meta-message is at least as important as the facts, or lack thereof, contained in the video. The last one had a cute girl, this one has a beheaded man; the last one had music, and people in the background, and a cast of a dozen or so young people; this one has generic blur for a background, no music, and a cast of ... somewhat less than one entire human being.

I am a little concerned about the message that is conveyed by the medium. For one thing, I think critics should seriously consider whether you want the act of putting on a condom to be something that only guys do. The message here is that women have nothing to say about it, nothing to do with it, they're passive observers of the act. (If that -- maybe they're supposed to keep their heads under the covers while all this is going on.) Teenagers watching the movie won't complain about this, of course, but I doubt they are impervious to the implication.

The intentional boringness of it will be well understood by all, teenagers and adults, to convey the message that sex is embarrassing, dirty, something we have to talk about, but we're not going to show our faces while we do it. There is simply no doubt about this message -- we are surrounded by vibrant, expressive, eye-catching, video material, from television to YouTube, and the Ben Stein-ness of this thing is not something you can ignore. Kids will get it.

But even beyond the generic background, there is this idea that they cut the guy's head off. Sex is dirty, sure, kids hear that all the time, that's just grown-ups.

But the idea that sex is impersonal, that's an entirely different message. And is that what you want to convey, really? It seems to me that sex is best, from almost all points of view, when it is shared with someone you love. We can quibble about whether you should wait for marriage, or just until a relationship is sufficiently serious, but all sides agree (I hesitate to speak for CRC, but I'd be pretty sure here) that sex with strangers is not a good idea. So why is this man in the video hiding his face?

Reactions are pretty strong on this topic. I got one email from a mom who said it was ... too coincidental that the example penis is wooden-- the entire video is wooden. Definitely I don't want my child coming out of this class absorbing the subtext of this video. I would opt out.

My opinion is this. I am sure that a good number of the kids will perfectly well understand that grown-ups want them to think that sex is dull dull dull, and they will see the production for what it is. Any parent knows that look, when a kid's eyes glass over, when you've slipped into Lecture Mode. But I am not so negative about the production quality of the video. I think kids will watch it, and that they can learn something even from a video as boring as this, because, duh -- it's about sex. You're going to hear words like "penis" in class. You're going to see that kinda penis-looking wood thing. They're going to show you a condom. They'll keep their eyes open for that.

And also, I think students will want to learn this stuff. It affects them personally, very personally, if not tonight then maybe in a couple of years, and they'll want to know how to do this.

So I'm not worried about the dullness of the production. But look, this same premise goes in another direction, too. If kids will watch it because they want to learn the truth about how to use the condom, then that is a good reason to give them more information.

It may be a little crazy of me, but over the weekend I typed up the whole video script in two columns. On the left, I put the text that appears on the screen, and on the right, the spoken narration that goes with it. And let me tell you, from 0:40 to 1:16 in the video they tell you how to examine a condom. That's thirty-sex seconds. Then they review. Then, from 1:50 to 2:26, they tell you how to put it on. That's another thirty-six seconds. Then they review some more. Finally, from 3:00 to 3:19, they tell you how to remove it -- nineteen whole seconds. That adds up to 91 seconds, or just a minute and a half, of actual, new information. Everything else is either boilerplate or review.

I'm thinking that maybe we need to talk about content, more than the appearance of this video.

CRC Violates MCPS Condition

At the citizens advisory committee meeting last week, committee members were shown the new condom video and accompanying materials. We were also given a URL to watch the video online, written on a sheet of paper. To see it, you had to log in and give a password. The Montgomery County School District (MCPS) representative who gave out the information told the committee (of which I am a member) that it was OK to let members of our organizations watch the video, but that it was not for public consumption, and he asked us not to distribute the login and password.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum stands for family values and a morality that is far superior to that of the rest of us. That must be why they decided that it was all right for them to put a link to the video on their web site, and to post the login and password information for the entire Internet to use.

Their disclaimer:
This video is copyrighted by MCPS. While Mr. Porter indicated the video could be shared “with your constituents”, ie the public, and because the video is protected by copyright, it should not be copied or offered for sale without the express permission of the Montgomery County Public Schools.

Ah, of course, their constituency is "the public."

No, he didn't ask us not to offer it for sale, he asked us not to distribute it to the public.

It will be interesting to see how MCPS responds to this breach.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Olbermann on Bush

Keith Olbermann has been good lately. He has found his voice, a kind of classic style of speaking that reminds you of the old voice of civilization that you used to hear, back when leaders were leaders and a man's opinion was something he had thought all the way through.

Just a few words from HERE:
“In the 1920’s a failed Austrian painter published a book in which he explained his intention to build an Aryan super-state in Germany and take revenge on Europe and eradicate the Jews,” President Bush said today, “the world ignored Hitler’s words, and paid a terrible price.”

Whatever the true nature of al Qaeda and other international terrorist threats, to ceaselessly compare them to the Nazi State of Germany serves only to embolden them.

More over, Mr. Bush, you are accomplishing in part what Osama Bin Laden and others seek—a fearful American populace, easily manipulated, and willing to throw away any measure of restraint, any loyalty to our own ideals and freedoms, for the comforting illusion of safety.

It thus becomes necessary to remind the President that his administration’s recent Nazi “kick” is an awful and cynical thing.

And it becomes necessary to reach back into our history, for yet another quote, from yet another time and to ask it of Mr. Bush:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

The NYT's Condom Article

Ah, I missed this one a week or two ago in the New York Times. Well, maybe it's more timely now that the citizens advisory committee is evaluating the new condom video.

The Times' Health section had a big article about condoms. Let's see what they had to say:
In a perfectly safe world, everyone who is not sexually abstinent would have sex with only one other person, who in turn is also monogamous for life. But, as we all know, the world is far from perfect. Most people have, in the course of their lives, more than one sexual partner. Hence, we have a worldwide epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, and the most disastrous is AIDS.

"A condom can keep you from dying," said Dr. M. Monica Sweeney, author with Rita Kirwan Grisman of "Condom Sense: A Guide to Sexual Survival in the New Millennium" (Lantern Books, $10). "The health of the world depends on condoms."

"My candidate for the greatest technological invention of the past 2,000 years is the condom," said Dr. Sweeney, a clinical assistant professor at the State University of New York Health Sciences Center and the vice president for medical affairs at Bedford-Stuyvesant Family Health Center. PERSONAL HEALTH; Condoms Stay Faithful When Prevention Is the Goal

Wow -- the "greatest technological invention of the past 2,000 years?" Better than Mister Coffee? Better than Instant Messaging? This writer is enthusiastic!

Hey, do you remember an old poem that begins: In days of old when knights were bold ... ?

Uh, never mind ...

I just found something cool. HERE is a picture and blog post about the world's oldest known condom. It dates back to 1640, in Sweden. Hmm, interesting ...

Back to the present:
Compelling statements indeed. But there is more truth than poetry to the claims. And while they stem primarily from Dr. Sweeney's fight against H.I.V./AIDS (she is a member of the President's Advisory Council on H.I.V./AIDS), they apply equally to increasing concerns about other sexually transmitted diseases, some of which can rob women of their fertility.

And the value of condoms goes far beyond disease prevention. Recent studies have proved that their consistent and correct use provides excellent protection against unwanted pregnancy, with no advance preparation required. In other words, you get double value for your money.

Well, it is the only technology that prevents both unwanted pregnancy and infection, isn't it? Cool: two for one.
Dr. Sweeney and Ms. Grisman recount the many proven advantages of condoms, both for contraception and disease prevention.

Condoms are ready when you are. It's easy to keep them nearby for the moment they're needed.

Condoms are 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy if used from start to finish every time you have sex. The contraceptive effect of condoms is limited to the time of use. Fertility returns as soon as you stop using them.

Condoms, again if used properly and consistently, greatly reduce the risk of acquiring most sexually transmitted diseases, including H.I.V., gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes simplex virus, trichomoniasis and chlamydia, in men and women.

The newest study shows that condoms can prevent infection by human papillomaviruses that cause cervical cancer. Another recent study showed that among women already infected with H.P.V. who have early signs of developing cancer, the use of condoms can lead to regression of their cervical lesions.

Condoms reduce disease risk during vaginal, oral and anal sex. Unlike oral contraceptives, condoms are safe even if you smoke. And they do not cause weight gain. And unlike IUD's, condoms do not cause heavy menstrual bleeding.

Condoms are not messy, like spermicidal creams and jellies. Condoms need not disrupt sexual spontaneity. Rather, they can be easily incorporated into foreplay. Condoms are inexpensive, require no prescription and are readily available in pharmacies and other retail venues.

And condoms can be used safely and effectively at any age, from the teens to the golden years, with no risk of harmful side effects.

Wow, these things sound pretty good.
Many people harbor misconceptions about condoms. The modern latex condom, the only kind that can prevent transmission of H.I.V., is much thinner than condoms of yore and can provide the wearer with more sensation while preventing pregnancy and disease.

Dr. Sweeney says, "For all those guys who posture and rant about the pleasure that condoms deprive them of, I have this question: Have you ever had an orgasm worth dying for?"

Another major misconception concerns the condom's ability to prevent pregnancy. As typically used, condoms are associated with a pregnancy rate of 15 percent, which, as one expert put it, "suggests suboptimal use."

This expert, Dr. Anita L. Nelson of the University of California, Los Angeles, said, "Pregnancy rates with correct and consistent condom use are only 2 percent." This is no different from the contraceptive effectiveness of birth control pills.

So why this discrepancy? And why is protection against sexually transmitted diseases less than what experts say it should be?

I think the percentage difference is really what justifies putting together a terrific class and video on condom usage for MCPS students. If you use it right, it works great, if you use it like most people do, it's not that good. So let's make sure they're getting the 98-percent effectiveness, not 85 percent.
Absence of Consistency

A study of 243 sexually active women by Dr. Nelson published in April in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported common impediments to the consistent use of condoms. The women were provided with free condoms and detailed information and demonstrations about how they should be used.

Nearly 44 percent of the women reported inconsistent condom use, with the least consistent use among those who were most sexually active. Thinking they were not at risk of pregnancy was the most common reason, followed by running out of condoms, disliking condoms, using withdrawal for contraception and forgetting.

Dr. Nelson suspects that because information about condom use depends on self-reporting based on recall, it "can overstate actual condom use, so that consistent condom use may be even less than reported."

The highest risk of unprotected sex occurs among adolescent women. In addition to excuses like not expecting to have sex or being overcome by passion and desire, many teenage women with boyfriends say they are coerced into having sex they do not want.

The most common reason is fear of losing the boyfriend. In such cases, negotiating the condom use may be beyond most young women. They should be taught to say, "No condom, no sex."

There's a little more, plus a correction.

It might almost be worthwhile to include this article in the students' classroom materials. It seems positive, informative, readable, and it gives explanations for things that MCPS teachers won't be able to explain.
The Challenge of Negotiating

In a study of 1,843 men and women followed for 18 months, women had nearly twice the risk for getting a herpes infection as heterosexual men. Forty percent of the participants reported condom use zero to 25 percent of the time, and 29 percent reported using them more than 75 percent of the time. Those with the highest level of condom use had the lowest rates of herpes infections. The findings were published Nov. 15, 2005, in The Annals of Internal Medicine.

There is recourse for people exposed to H.I.V., but it's not as simple as a morning-after pill. It involves a six-week regimen of antivirals.

Condoms are not perfect. They do sometimes, though rarely, break. And while they include instructions, few people bother to read them, especially in the heat of the moment. Dr. Sweeney urges men to practice in advance, learning how to open the package without damaging the condom and how to put one on and remove it.

Proper use of a condom requires putting it on the erect penis prior to any genital contact, withdrawing while the penis is still erect, holding the condom firmly to keep it from slipping off and using only water-based lubricants.

People with latex allergies can try using two condoms -- one that is latex-free (but alas, not protective against AIDS) over or under a latex one, depending on which partner is allergic.

Correction: August 23, 2006, Wednesday The Personal Health column in Science Times on Tuesday, about condoms and prevention of disease, omitted a type of condom that can prevent transmission of H.I.V. In addition to latex condoms, polyurethane ones are also effective.

Monday, September 04, 2006

RIP Steve Irwin

Last night at four in the morning our sixteen-year-old busted into our room to tell us that Steve Irwin had been killed by a stingray. We lay awake for quite a while, not getting back to sleep, thinking about it.

People die -- celebrities, heroes, geniuses, ordinary people -- and occasionally you're surprised to see just how much that person has meant to you. Steve Irwin got to do what boys everywhere dream of doing. His life had adventure, danger, he was in nature, playing with wild animals, he was fun and funny. He was on a mission to save and protect wildlife, and he brought us all closer to the world of living things that we seem so cut off from these days.

It is both appropriate and upsetting that he died doing what we all saw him do, what he loved, that he was killed by a dangerous wild animal. You think, well, how surprising was that? Duh, the guy holds poisonous snakes right up to his face so he can say, "Croikey, look at those fangs! This one's a killah for sure!" But it did. It totally took us all by surprise.

The kids have been watching the specials today on Animal Planet, but I can't stand to. What a cool guy.

The War on Terror, 1996

Thanks to AmericaBlog for linking to this news story. It's good to jog the old memory every once in a while, especially in these days when history is being rewritten. From CNN, 1996:
resident Clinton urged Congress Tuesday to act swiftly in developing anti-terrorism legislation before its August recess.

"We need to keep this country together right now. We need to focus on this terrorism issue," Clinton said during a White House news conference.

But while the president pushed for quick legislation, Republican lawmakers hardened their stance against some of the proposed anti-terrorism measures.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, doubted that the Senate would rush to action before they recess this weekend. The Senate needs to study all the options, he said, and trying to get it done in the next three days would be tough.

One key GOP senator was more critical, calling a proposed study of chemical markers in explosives "a phony issue." President wants Senate to hurry with new anti-terrorism laws

There is an ABC special planned this week, commemorating 9/11 and, rumor has it, putting a lot of the blame on President Clinton for not doing anything about terrorism. So it might be instructive for TTF readers to read a little news from back in the day.
Taggants value disputed

Clinton said he knew there was Republican opposition to his proposal on explosive taggants, but it should not be allowed to block the provisions on which both parties agree.

"What I urge them to do is to be explicit about their disagreement, but don't let it overcome the areas of agreement," he said.

The president emphasized coming to terms on specific areas of disagreement would help move the legislation along. The president stressed it's important to get the legislation out before the weekend's recess, especially following the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park and the crash of TWA Flight 800.

"The most important thing right now is that they get the best, strongest bill they can out -- that they give us as much help as they can," he said.

Hatch blasts 'phony' issues

Republican leaders earlier met with White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta for about an hour in response to the president's call for "the very best ideas" for fighting terrorism.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, emerged from the meeting and said, "These are very controversial provisions that the White House wants. Some they're not going to get."

Hatch called Clinton's proposed study of taggants -- chemical markers in explosives that could help track terrorists -- "a phony issue."

"If they want to, they can study the thing" already, Hatch asserted. He also said he had some problems with the president's proposals to expand wiretapping.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said it is a mistake if Congress leaves town without addressing anti-terrorism legislation. Daschle is expected to hold a special meeting on the matter Wednesday with Congressional leaders.

I'm not saying ... I'm just saying.

Accusations Are As Good As Convictions, in Ohio

This is one of those stories that makes you glad you live in a Blue State.
An Ohio legislative panel yesterday rubber-stamped an unprecedented process that would allow sex offenders to be publicly identified and tracked even if they've never been charged with a crime. Plan gains to publicly identify accused

You wouldn't have to be convicted, not even charged with anything, only accused, and your name goes on a list that everybody can see.
The rules spell out how the untried process would work. It would largely treat a person placed on the civil registry the same way a convicted sex offender is treated under Ohio's so-called Megan's Law.

The person's name, address, and photograph would be placed on a new Internet database and the person would be subjected to the same registration and community notification requirements and restrictions on where he could live.

A civilly declared offender, however, could petition the court to have the person's name removed from the new list after six years if there have been no new problems and the judge believes the person is unlikely to abuse again.

I had a friend once who was a high-school coach. He was strict about attendance, and didn't give automatic A's just for showing up.

When the kids were playing football, he taught the quarterbacks to put their hands between the center's legs while waiting for the snap, and that's all it took. A couple of kids who were unhappy with him for his strict policies went and complained to the principal, saying that the guy was forcing them to touch each other inappropriately. Even though ... that's what you do in football.

It ruined his career. He was a smart enough guy, I figure, to find another job and another community where this reputation wouldn't dog him around. I won't say it ruined his life, but he had to pull up and start over.

In the Orwellian Ohio of the near future, my friend would've been on this list for at least six years, searchable on the Internet.
The attorney general's office said it continues to hold discussions with a group representing day care operators about one of the rules pertaining to what such facilities would do with information they might receive pertaining to someone on the registry if that person is living nearby.

... day care operators?

So a guy propositions a woman on the street, and the day care center needs to be notified?

There is a strange cognitive thing that people do: they attribute higher probability to things that are more vivid. If something is easier to imagine, we sense that it is more likely to happen. If we hear about something more, we think it is more probable. An obvious thing is terrorism, compared to, say, traffic accidents. Lots more people are killed in traffic accidents than terrorist attacks, but we spend a lot more energy (and money) preventing terrorist attacks.

When it comes to discussions of sexual behavior, this phenomenon is wildly explosive. Who knows why, but nearly everyone has sexual fantasies. I had a married friend once who could hardly talk to women at all, because as soon as he met one he started imagining the torrid affair that could ensue when the woman discovered she was irresistibly attracted to him, and then he started saying things to cool it down before it started. Or, worse, he would get incredibly nervous, imagining what was going to happen when his wife found out. Women saw him acting evasive, distant, rude -- little did they know what was going through his head.

In thinking about this accused-sex-offender list, it is easy to imagine bewhiskered, drooling child molestors hanging around schoolyards, it is easy to picture groping, grunting guys exposing themselves, dirty things. It is infinitely harder to imagine the more common thing, a guy who doesn't realize a girl is underage, and guy who doesn't know what to say and says the wrong thing, a guy who does nothing at all but gives somebody the uh-oh feeling. Lots of innocent people will be caught in this trap.

I was on a radio show the other day where a question was asked about the "sexualization" of everything in our society. I didn't get to respond (there were, like, five "experts" taking turns), but it made me think about what my answer would be.

Of course everything in our society is sex sex sex. And I think everybody realizes it's not healthy sex, it's not what you'd call "normal" sex, it's a kind of perverse sex, blown out of proportion. I think what happens is that there is, and always has been, an American desire to make sex disappear altogether. We could be so much more productive, so much more rational, so much less anxious, if these stupid feelings would just go away. There is a constant pressure -- in our country, not everywhere -- to suppress sex.

But the suppression of sex is a notoriously futile endeavor. We all know it won't actually go away, no matter how many Decency Leagues attack it, no matter how many Family Blah Blah organizations lobby against it. I'm afraid that what happens is that sex ceases to be a natural phenomenon and instead becomes an obsession. One of those things that, because you're trying not to think about it, you can't stop thinking about it. The phenomenon is well known in psychology under a number of names.

So then, instead of normal sex, where ordinary people find one another attractive, we have a culture of fetishistic cravings. And then ordinary people feel that, in order to be attractive to someone, they have to become a fetish object. Girls starve themselves. Guys buy absurd cars. Ordinary people, people with regular-colored hair and normal bodies, people whose conversation deviates from the patter of professional media fetish objects, are seen as un-sexy, unlovable, boring. Sexual attraction stops being something natural, and becomes something neurotic, uncontrollable, incomprehensible, exploitable.

If Ohio goes through with this, there will be a lot of people humiliated for nothing. A guy will say something wrong, or give somebody the creeps, a dad will see a neighbor watch his daughter walk down the street, and there they go, on the list. For six years. There's a lot of tension and a lot of insanity surrounding these kinds of things, they should at least have to convince a jury that the guy did something wrong.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Pope Ponders Primordial Processes

Everybody's been sort of watching the Pope to see what he's thinking about evolution. One of his top advisors recently left, and it was rumored this was because the advisor accepted the theory of evolution. The Vatican denied that, but, well, the rumors were not entirely fabricated, everybody understood. This is some complicated and challenging stuff. Then we heard that the Pope was meeting with some of his top science advisors -- is he going to come out in favor of Intelligent Design? Some papers reported that he was. Maybe he's not.

This from Reuters today:
Pope Benedict and his former doctoral students spent a weekend pondering evolution without discussing controversies over intelligent design and creationism raging in the United States, a participant said on Sunday.

The three-day closed-door meeting at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome ended as planned without drawing any conclusions but the group plans to publish its discussion papers, said Father Joseph Fessio S.J.

Media speculation had said the debate might shift Vatican policy to embrace "intelligent design," which claims to prove scientifically that life could not have simply evolved, or even the "creationist" view that God created the world in six days.

"It wasn't that at all," Fessio, who is provost of Ave Maria University in Florida, told Reuters by telephone from Rome. The Pope's session with 39 former students was "a meeting of friends with some scholars to discuss an interesting theme".

"We did not really speak much about intelligent design," said Fessio, whose Ignatius Press publishes the Pope's books in English. "In fact, that particular controversy did not arise." Pope and former students ponder evolution, not "ID"

Well, that's interesting.

The Church has been backed into corners before by science, most famously I suppose the little incident with Galileo. Little ol' me thinks it would be smart of them to recognize the power of science to determine facts about the temporal world, and to come up with ways to adapt faith to fact. And it looks like that might be what they're working on.
Creationism -- the view that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible -- was "almost off the radar screen of the people in this group," he added. The Catholic Church does not read the Genesis account of creation literally.

Fessio said Benedict took part in the discussions but said nothing different from previous public statements, in which he has recognized evolution as a scientific fact but argued that God ultimately created the world and all life in it.

And that is a hard one. It is a good idea to get some smart heads together and figure out how this works. There are a number of ways of reconciling theology with evolution -- which approach will the Pope settle on?

I mean, I know some people don't like to hear this, but I can't imagine that one little scientific theory means that God can't exist. It means we have to expand our appreciation for His ways, perhaps. It might even mean we have to admit that some mysteries are impenetrable. Personally, I'm cool with that.
As the Pope put it at his inaugural Mass after being elected in April 2005, "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God."
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has long been rejected in the United States by conservative Christians who want to have a Bible-based view of creation taught in public schools, where the church-state separation bars the teaching of religion.
Catholic teaching accepts evolution as a scientific theory but disagrees with what it calls "evolutionism," the view that the story of life has no role for God as its prime author.

Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a close associate of the Pope, was one of four speakers who addressed the meeting. He raised eyebrows last year with a New York Times article that suggested the Catholic Church supported the "ID movement".

Schoenborn and Benedict have said several times over the past year that intelligence in the form of God's will played a part in creation and that neo-Darwinists who deny God any role are drawing an ideological conclusion not proven by the theory.

They say they use philosophical reasoning to conclude that God created the world, not arguments which intelligent design supporters claim can be proven scientifically.

Okay, dudes, be careful not to get yourself into an angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin argument. It must be possible to have faith in God, even in a world where biological destiny is guided by adaptation, where humans are part of nature and related as kin to other living things. Maybe the faith of past saints provides the proof you're looking for; maybe our sense of wonder and beauty is the proof that overwhelms some scientific theory without contradicting it.

Rescue Never Came

I have written here before about Sunday mornings. I like to sit with the laptop at the kitchen table (I am working on a big journal paper at the moment) with a nice fresh cup of coffee, listening to the radio and working. These are satisfying moments, when the family sleeps and the sun streams in from the east, and I have my music. This weekend, the anniversary of Katrina, is a little bit different.

My great grandmother was a Duncan from western Louisiana; our people are from the little towns of Egan and Crowley. She was named, as far as we knew, Ghinniganna. She used to tell us about the Great Flood of 1927. An alligator came up and took her dog right out of the boat she was in with her family. I always pictured a little pirogue full of huddled, wet, frightened people, I don't really now what kind of boat it was, but having visited relatives out there I can't imagine it was anything very big; those were some poor, tough, hard-working people. Fifty years later, when Ghinniganna told us about the flood, it was still the pivotal moment in her life, the most important thing that ever happened to her, and her memory of survival has been passed through the generations as vividly as the inscriptions in the old family Bibles.

WPFW just played Aaron Neville's "Louisiana 1927" twice in a row. The DJ came on and said something about black people, and incompetence, and about needing to change things. She said she was only speaking for herself, not for the station or anybody else, and invited us to call the station management and complain if we didn't like what she was saying. I am pretty sure nobody will call.

Now they're playing a churchy, gospel version of Nina Simone singing Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." You'd have to be here.

A year ago we watched in horror as people banged on the ceilings of their attics, up to their necks in water, hoping for rescue that never came. We saw crowds of hungry, thirsty, dying people that our government could not see, day after day. We saw terrible physical destruction, but much more than that. Much more.

One year ago was a pivotal moment, I think, for all of us, even those of us who only saw it on television. We witnessed the most unimaginable, un-American, profound example of uncaring -- I can't think of a better word. Uncaring.

Now they're playing Keb' Mo' singing "America the Beautiful." There is not a trace of irony in this, none intended, none desired, even in the decision to play it.

These are hard times we live in.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ahnold Takes a Stand

Schwarzenegger, reported on ABC News:
"I don't think one should look at greenhouse gas emissions or global warming as a political issue," Schwarzenegger told ABC News. "So, if that policy of fighting global warming is against our, the Bush Administration, then so be it."

Friday, September 01, 2006

NARTH Backs Down

NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) Scientific Advisory Committee member Joseph Berger had a blog post this week that raised more than a few eyebrows. He argued that schoolyard bullying is an effective technique for keeping transgender boys in line. He said:
The notion that a person is really someone of the opposite sex “trapped in the wrong body” is poetic stupidity. It doesn’t exist in reality. A person wishing to change their external manifestations to appear to be a person of the opposite sex is someone very unhappy with being their “real” sex and/or believing in some idealized fantasy of how much better it is to be of the opposite sex.

We don’t treat distorted fantasies with mutilating surgery.

Here in cold Canada, I often talk with mothers of small children who routinely complain about how difficult it is to get their children dressed in the winter in the multiple layers of clothing they need to go off to school. I suggest to them that they make it clear to their children that they will leave home — or that the school bus will come — at such-and-such time, and they will go whether they are ready or not. I suggest that going just one day in their pajamas or underwear will be enough to “cure” them of their procrastination.

I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex — but not counseling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings.

On the contrary, don’t interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world. Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary.

It is a mistake for various interfering, ignorant, and biased busybodies to try to “counsel” the other children into accepting the abnormal. It is very healthy to be able to draw the line between what is healthy and what is sick.

...and so on. I'd link to the blog post, but ... guess what. It's gone now, but lives on in the Google cache.

NARTH even went so far as to issue this statement:
Entry pulled on "gender variant" children

We have pulled the discussion on gender variant children in Oakland. The article contained comments that were deemed offensive to many readers and failed to accurately express the overall views of the physician who expressed them.

We apologize for publishing the article without getting proper clarifications first about how children with gender identity disorders should be treated by parents, teachers, and counselors.

NARTH President Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D. has issued the following statement related to gender variant children and remarks made by Dr. Joseph Berger:

"NARTH disagrees with Dr. Berger's advice as we believe shaming, as distinct from correcting, can only create greater harm. Too many of our clients experienced the often life-long, harmful effects of peer shaming. We cannot encourage this."

Uh, yeah, first they try to make it sound like that wasn't really what he meant. But we can read, he was very clear. He was advocating "peer shaming" as a way to control children with unusual sexual identities.

At least NARTH figured out this was a bad PR move. It's a little hard to find anybody (outside of NARTH) who actually advocates bullying, and I don't think they quite wanted to put themselves right on the bulls-eye like that.

NARTH exists to try to "cure" homosexuality. This psychiatrist Berger doesn't believe it's innate, he has said that all that talk is a "gay-activist political position" and a bunch of hooey.

Generally, a social group enforces its norms effectively. You do something weird and you're embarrassed if people find out -- sometimes they laugh at you or say something, but most of the time it's enough just to know they know. Or to know they might know. This kind of social control is extremely powerful, conformity is an incredible force in a group.

So here's a little boy who likes to dress like a girl. The social group reacts to this ... to put it mildly. The other boys are going to give this kid a tough time. For Berger, that's all a good thing, they should humiliate him until he conforms, that's how the world goes round.

I remember standing in line for something when my kids were in Catholic school, maybe sixth or seventh grade. Parents and kids had to wait for a bus, or to buy tickets, or something, I can't remember what, but a boy up in front of us, I'll call him Billy though that's not his name, was a kid with an idiosyncratic sexual identity. He played with the girls, he was kind of pretty, he wiggled when he walked. He was extremely kind and good-hearted, what you'd have to call a "sweet" kid.

And the other kids in line were brutal to him. They stood there saying "Billy's queer, Billy's queer," and poking him and bumping into him; it was a constant stream of heckling. He just looked at them, with a kind of distant look of saintliness, as their words bounced off him. Somehow he was able to take it, day after day; it didn't fluster him outwardly and it didn't make him try to be like the other boys.

Can you imagine the courage it takes to be that kid?

I can't quite congratulate NARTH for their good judgment in taking the blog post down. The article described a heinous attitude. It's bad enough that they think that way, they don't get any points for backing down when they realize that people won't put up with it.

Understanding the Enemy

From the New York Times:
“We face an enemy that has an ideology,’’ Mr. Bush continued. “They believe things. The best way to describe their ideology is to relate to you the fact that they think the opposite of the way we think.” Bush Shifting Public Focus to Terrorism and Iraq War

Fishbacks on PBS This Weekend

David Fishback, the chair of the citizens advisory committee that developed last year's sex-ed curriculum was criticized, among other things, for having two gay sons. Of course to some ... folks ... that meant he couldn't be "objective," he just had to be promoting the gay agenda, whatever that is.

Well, it seems to me that it must be a shock and a surprise, and something to deal with, having both your sons grow up to be gay. But knowing David and his family, I'd have to say they seem to have handled it beautifully.

PBS will have a show about the Fishback family, nine years after their first son came out. Here's how the press release reads:
Coming out is a life-changing journey for many people. But what happens inside a family once the secret is revealed? Dan Fishback came out to his family at age fifteen, and he didn’t have a clue how they would take to his news. In “My Gay Family” we meet the Fishback’s nine years after they first learned that their youngest son was gay. In the Life

The show will be aired locally here in Montgomery County on WHUT, Channel 32, this Sunday night (September 3rd), at 11:00 PM. WETA, Channel 26, will air it a few hours later at 1:00 AM (Monday, Sept. 4). MPT, Channel 22, will show it later in the month, on Monday, Sept. 25, at 1:00 AM.

If you can't stay up on a Sunday night, ask your kids to set up the VCR to record this.