Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What's Happening with MCPS Counselors?

It's time to get some facts in this case. From Mongomery Blair's great online newspaper, the Silver Chips:
Group claims MCPS promotes bias in counseling materials about homosexuality
New policy restricts distribution of written materials without county approval

Sarah Kinter, Page Editor

Last June, the Virginia-based Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) submitted a statement to the MCPS Board of Education and Superintendent Jerry Weast claiming that, in May, a parent had received information from a school counselor that promoted a single viewpoint on homosexuality.

In response, MCPS Associate Superintendent Carey Wright called separate meetings in mid-September for all high school counselors and school psychologists to discuss a new directive prohibiting the distribution of written materials without prior county approval.

Blair's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) sent a letter to Deputy Superintendent Frieda Lacey expressing their concerns that the policy would compromise an important outlet of support for gay students. They have not received a reply. Lacey was unavailable for comment.

Principal Phillip Gainous said that he does not support the policy since it could restrict counselors' ability to help students who are struggling with their sexual identity. He extended his support to the GSA in their efforts to protest the new regulations. "The counselors of all people need to be in a position to offer guidance and advice to students," he said.

We heard about this a couple of weeks ago, and went to the Director of the Public Information Office for Montgomery County Public Schools. He assured us that it was no big deal, just a rule that counselors could only hand out authorized materials.

That doesn't sound too bad, but then you want to know, who does the authorizing? What are the criteria? What materials have been, and haven't been, authorized?

PFOX is complaining that "a parent had received information from a school counselor that promoted a single viewpoint on homosexuality." Well, so what? The counseling service should present the viewpoint endorsed by all the mainstsream psychological and medical organizations in the country. The counseling service should help a student who needs help.

And, we have a quesion: did this parent A. really have a gay child, or B. were they lying?

My money's on B.

Look, it would be ridiculous to present "both sides" of everything. Does the school nurse have to hand out brochures encouraging kids to drink booze and smoke pot, to balance out the other stuff they offer? Should health classes give equal time to the viewpoint that you don't need physical exercise, and junk food is good for you? Of course not. And neither should schools be promoting therapy to change somebody's sexual orientation.

A kid goes to the counselor, he thinks he might be gay, maybe some kids are teasing him about it. These counselors are mostly there to help students get ready for college or whatever, they aren't necessarily highly-trained psychotherapists. So what are they supposed to do?

The fact is, there are a number of organizations that are producing very good information and support for gay students. Schools should take advantage of this fact. Gay students can learn who to contact, they can learn that they are not alone, they can get some ideas about how to deal with this situation.

Now, PFOX is trying to imply something here. When they say the school "promoted a single viewpoint" they are trying to get the attention of MCPS lawyers. In his ruling about the sex-ed curriculum last year, Judge Williams implied that there was an issue of "viewpoint discrimination" if schools taught that homosexuality was moral and only mentioned religions that approved of it. Other legal rulings make it extremely clear that school curricula are not a public forum, and thus are not obligated to present both sides of anything, but this is still a threat that someone like PFOX can threaten the schools with.

I don't know where that leaves the counseling office, this might be a legal gray area; counseling is is not part of the curriculum, but then, I wouldn't think that privileged conversation between a student and a counselor would be regarded as a "public forum," either. It would be sad if an anti-gay group like PFOX is going to be able to intimidate the school district into providing hate literature in the counseling office, but it sounds like that's where they want to take this.

So far, it sounds like the school district is just going to squeeze its eyes shut and hope the whole thing goes away.

I hope they realize that failing to provide assistance to gay students is ... failure. They might need to take a couple of weeks to study the situation and decide how to go forward, but they need to make the right decision here. It is not acceptable to provide students with false and hateful messages, telling them they can and should "change" their sexual orientation. And ... MCPS must know that the other side has lawyers too, the gay activists are not likely at all to ignore this kind of personal undermining of students who need help.

It is important that the counseling office be able to provide the correct message to gay students. There's nothing wrong with you, lots and lots of people feel the way you do, you can learn to live happily and have a full life of love. It's the right thing, and it's the professional standard.

I will be interested to hear from more knowledgeable legal-eagles, what the legal responsibilities are for a public school counseling office. Are they allowed to counsel, according to accepted professional practice? Or do they have to cater to the nuts?

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Restroom Question

The State of Maryland says that schools should teach about "sexual variation," but there isn't much indication of what that would really mean. Variation? Montgomery County has decided, more or less arbitrarily, it seems to me, to define variation as orientation. Thus the classes that are being developed will focus on heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, subjects that are defined by who you are attracted to.

But there is another question altogether, which would be, not who you're attracted to, but who do you feel like? Not everyone feels like what they look like, some people really feel that they are the opposite gender from their bodies. This feeling is not very common, but it's not as rare as you think, either.

In some cases, the physical sex of the individual is ambiguous; some people are born with both male and female anatomical features. Parents usually have to decide which way to raise their child, since it seems everything in our society is split between the sexes, including, most problematically, our language, which requires that any pronoun referring to a single person must identify their gender. In this ambiguous physical condition, called intersex, parents might decide one way at birth, and as the child grows up it turns out they guessed wrong, and the child subjectively turns out the opposite gender from what was assigned. But not all cases are anatomically ambiguous. Sometimes, it seems, the brain and the rest of the body are just tuned to different frequencies; the person's experience is pervasively, unwaveringly consistent over time, and inconsistent with the kind of body they have.

I suppose a person who feels they have been assigned to the wrong gender category can just do what people expect them to do, and play the role that has been given them, even if that means that their own experience is always discontinuous with how people perceive them. I don't know, but I have the feeling almost everyone in this situation tries that, at least for a while. I would guess that a lot of people never do make the transition, living secret lives that no one ever guesses.

Others take the plunge. It's interesting, a lot of times these are people who are older, who are just tired of living a fake life, and they go ahead and make the transition. Change their name, take hormones, have surgery, take on a new identity.

In New York, a transgender woman was recently arrested for using the ladies' room in the subway station, leading to an interesting new development. Just a tiny step forward, I think. Here's the New York Daily News:
The line for the girls' room just got longer.

Men who live as women can now legally use women's rest rooms in New York's transit system under an unprecedented deal revealed yesterday.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to allow riders to use MTA rest rooms "consistent with their gender expression," the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund announced yesterday.

The group filed a complaint against the MTA on behalf of a 70-year-old telephone repair technician who was arrested for using the women's room at Grand Central Terminal.

The technician, who is assigned to the terminal by Verizon, was born Henry McGuinness but now goes by Helena Stone.

"I'm a 24-hour woman," Stone declared proudly. "I just feel like a woman and I like to wear women's clothes." Girls' room his, too: Transgender men free to use ALL of MTA's loos

OK, there's got to be a rule here, clearly, about who uses what bathroom. I mean, this is really one of our society's biggest problems, right? So, what do you think the rule should be? You use the bathroom you were born into? You use the bathroom you look like? You use the bathroom consistent with your anatomy? Consistent with your clothes?

The problem of course is that we feel a need to stuff everybody into one of two boxes, and not everybody fits there. We have norms and taboos in our way of life that require a gender dichotomy, and that is just not the case a hundred percent of the time.

So you need a rule. And I think they settled on the right rule: use the bathroom that is consistent with your gender expression.
Michael Sullivan, Stone's lawyer, called the settlement of the complaint with the Human Rights Commission a "milestone" toward recognition of the city law that prohibits discrimination against transgender men and women.

But some Metro-North riders at Grand Central yesterday were stunned by the ruling.

"I would not like that," said Gloria David, a retiree from Connecticut. "I have nothing against gay men or drag queens, but they can use the men's room. I just don't want to go to the bathroom next to a man."

One rider feared predators might dress as women and lurk in the women's room.

I'd have to say that someone who turned himself into a woman so he could hide in the stall and listen to women pee probably has, y'know, other problems.

I understand that Ms. David would be uncomfortable, but women-who-used-to-be-men have bladders, too, they also get uncomfortable. I think this is just the correct way to decide this. Besides, I doubt that this will really have a big impact on Ms. David's life, somehow.
But Rena Gantz, 23, a college student, shrugged off the settlement.

"It doesn't bother me because it is a reality," she said. "If they believe they are women, they should be treated as one."

That seems easy, doesn't it? It's a reality.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Blogger is Bloggered Today

Apologies to those who posted comments today, and never saw them appear. They're there, we're just waiting for Blogger to heal itself and publish them.

It's a little frustrating, but this blog runs on a free service owned by Google. It's pretty good most of the time ... excellent for the price ... but now and then it gets a little screwy.

I'm sure you'll know when it's working again.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Family Blah Blah Running Out of Steam

DefCon is a web site that exists to counter the religious right. They have a post up this week that suggests that there isn't much wind these days in the sails of the Family Blah Blah groups.
Focus on the Family has cancelled two of their “Stand for the Family Events” scheduled to be held in giant auditoriums in cities across the country — moving them instead to much smaller venues and in one case to a local church where the admission will be free of charge! Talk about desperate.

Unless Focus announces otherwise, there is no doubt that these are a result of a general disinterest in the Godfather of the religious right i.e. low ticket sales. This is not turning out to be the October they hoped for...

You’ll remember that in August, Focus on the Family announced a massive campaign to influence the elections in eight targeted states. The campaign was touted as the largest political effort by the religious right since the heyday of the Christian Coalition and reportedly combines a massive voter registration effort, the distribution of voter guides, and a series of high profile “Stand for the Family” events across the country featuring both Dobson, Family Research Council head Tony Perkins, and Gary Bauer.

We’ve heard through the grapevine that the voter registration efforts are struggling, but now here’s some hard proof that these groups are not being met with the fanfare they had hoped or planned for.

Two of the three Stand For the Family events with Dobson and Perkins were cancelled and moved to much smaller venues. The first, on October 3rd in St Paul was initially to be held at the Xcel Energy Center, capable of holding 18,000 depending on the configuration, however at the last minute it was moved to the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, with a capacity of a little under 6,000 — there were less than half that many there.

You’d think that the upcoming event in the bible belt city of Nashville might prove more successful. Wrong. The October 16th event was to be held at the Nashville Auditorium, whose arena holds nearly 10,000. This event was just cancelled and moved to a local church where admission will be FREE OF CHARGE! Stand For The Family Events Bomb

Two years ago, these guys were on top of the world. Here in Montgomery County, the Recall Group formed to kick out the school board over imagined outrages in the new sex-ed curriculum. As they complained about the "sodomites" and the "deviants," they really believed they lived in a world that saw things their way. They had their guys solidly planted in the White House and Capitol Hill, Dobson and Perkins and Falwell and the other betterthanyou guys were politically prominent, it looked like things were really going to go their way: America was returning to its Puritan roots.

But ... like they say, you have to be careful what you wish for. Turned out these guys weren't all they claimed to be. Oh yeah, the nuts got the White House and both houses of Congress. Even now, the President has only issued one veto in his career, preventing stem cell research. Other than that, the guys on the hill are all getting everything they want.

And what did they want, really? To defeat sin? Family values? Spiritual purity? A higher level of morality?

Uh, no, it didn't really turn out that way. They wanted bribes, sex, corruption, war. These guys, claiming to have the fine family values and all, have been the crookedest bunch of liars America has ever seen.

And now, nobody wants to go to their parties any more.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum turned up at the school board meeting Monday to whine about the usual stuff: these guys are something else. Michelle Turner, who is the president of CRC; Ruth Jacobs, who is their rep on the citizens advisory committee; and Steina Walter, who is ... their other member, I guess, all took a turn at public comments (or "pc" as we call it).

Ms. Turner had these insights for the community:
How would you feel if you were an 8th grader in a sex ed. class discussing sexual orientation and the teacher was explaining that to show "tolerance" toward people, it was necessary for you to accept the things that made these people seem different, and perhaps they were better than you?

What if your religion and parents taught you some of these differences were wrong? What if your doctor told you some were dangerous to your health?

If the 8th grader knew that the common English meaning for "accept" suggests "to approve", would he agree with the teacher? Or feel threatened and coerced by the teacher to change his beliefs and morals?

Yes, good question, how would you feel if you were a kid and the teacher told you that somebody was "better than you?"

Uh, just a minute, I said that wrong. It's not a good question, I meant to say it's a dumb question, because this will never happen. Nobody is going to tell anybody that someone is better than them.

But it's so much easier to argue against things you make up than real things.

And, tell me ... what religion, exactly, is it that teaches that some differences are wrong? Please, reader, run that through your brain one time, OK? Does that make sense? Did Jesus stand up on the mountaintop and say, "Verily, I say unto thee, thy differences are wrong?" Differences are not wrong, behaviors might be.

And what doctor tells you that some differences are dangerous to your health? I'd like to know what doctor says that. Differences aren't dangerous to your health, some behaviors are.

Finally ... look, every word of this is pure rubbish ... look at the way she transforms the word "accept" into the word "approve." She tells us they mean the same thing, then substitutes "accept and approve" everywhere that "accept" belongs.

I rode on the train this morning next to a guy with the ugliest tie I have ever seen. It was like booger-green and baby-poop brown, and it was tied crooked. I did not approve of that tie. Did I accept it? Why, yes, I did. Did I tolerate it? Yes, I did that, too.

Ah, but she wasn't finished:
How would a sexually abused child assimilate this information in his life? Or a child with strong religious convictions? or a child concerned about health risks?

Are 8th graders wise and mature enough to reject what the teacher says or should they accept whatever the teacher says and ignore their own beliefs so they can get the answer right? When schools start telling our children what they must think and how they must feel about others-indeed that they must accept and approve the feelings of others, aren't the schools getting out of education and into indoctrination?

I can't figure out where she's going with these first three questions. Like, how will these kids assimilate this information into their lives? What does that mean? How do you assimilate polynomials into your life, or the periodic table of elements, or The Taming of the Shrew?

You just do it, I guess. It mostly doesn't hurt anything.

This last paragraph is just more of the usual -- note the "accept and approve" sleight-of-hand. As far as telling students how they must feel about others, I'm sorry, but school does that. They will learn about prejudice, discrimination, conflict resolution, all kinds of things that have to do with accepting the feelings of others. That's not new.

Look, school isn't a place that just pours information into the top of kids' heads. The point is not to just teach them useful tricks, the real function of a school is to produce good citizens. You can't get around that. A public school has a special challenge to deal with, because students may come from all kinds of homes, and it is not appropriate to disrespect honest citizens' differences. But some differences do not have to be accommodated. For instance, a student who comes from a home full of bigots may learn some values that contradict that: it is in society's interest to promote domestic tranquility, cooperation, a sense of responsibility and respect for others. Get over it.

Is MCPS compromising the child's own thoughts and feelings carefully nurtured by the child's parents and religion and protected by the US Constitution?

"Tolerance", "empathy" and "respect" are some of the incorrect words used in this 8 grade curriculum. The definition for "gender/sexual identity" doesn't even appear in the 8th grade frameworks or in the 8th grade approved resource material.

Yeah, sure, boo hoo ... why waste time on dumb stuff like tolerance, empathy, and respect? It's unconstitutional, yeah sure, waa waa. Yer breakin' my heart here.

Dr. Ruth Jacobs addressed the board. I'm not going to quote her statement, it's pretty familiar already. She's complaining about condoms and anal sex. Quotes the Surgeon General. Doesn't mention the quote is from the 1980s.

Ah, OK, I'll give you the meat-n-potatoes from her talk:
... I am concerned that the committee has voted to include recommendations for condom use for oral, anal, and vaginal sex in the condom use video. This has the effect of "normalizing anal sex" without fully explaining the increased HIV transmission or the untested nature of condoms with anal sex.

Right. A bunch of government web sites recommend using a condom for anal sex, and any doctor, even Dr. Jacobs I'll just betcha, will tell you the same: if you're going to have anal sex, use a condom. But there isn't much research, mostly for ethical reasons. So ... what should the schools do? Recommend not using a condom? Ignore this important advice altogether? Should there be a whole class on anal sex? Sorry, there's no way around this one. You have to mention it and move on.

Finally, Steina Walter spoke about the interesting problem of the alternative lessons. In Montgomery County, a kid has to have a signed permission slip in order to take sex-ed, in 8th and 10th grades, at least. And if they don't have one, they get sent to the library for some busy-work. Previous informal reports were that about one percent of students opt out of it. Even more informal reports have suggested that these were mostly Muslim girls -- I can't swear to that, they don't actually collect the data on this but they talk among themselves and MCPS insiders have intimated this observation.

There isn't an alternative sex-ed class for opt-out kids, they study something else in that time. "Some people" think this provides an opening for suggesting, you know, their kind of class, as an alternative.

Here's Ms. Walter:
Why is MCPS not providing a meaningful alternative curriculum for those children who plan not to take the two week optional human sexuality curriculum? This new 8th grade Human Sexuality curriculum contains a two day class on sexual orientation: however in order for parents to exclude their children from this two day optional sexual orientation section; they will have to have their children not opt into the entire two week human sexuality classes.

Does that sound reasonable? Many parents like for their children to take the human sexuality part without the sexual orientation sections. Now students will be "punished" for not taking the entire two weeks by going to the library for two weeks. Can't MCPS do better than that?

Look lady, there isn't alternative algebra for those who oppose irrational numbers; there aren't separate Civil War History classes for Southerners and Northerners... It just doesn't work that way.

And as for "many parents" not wanting their kids in the sexual orientation sections, well, so far there aren't any sexual orientation sections, so this statement is meaningless.
As MCPS has seen, the sexual orientation issue is a controversial issue, however by requiring parents to take "all or nothing" MCPS may end up destroying the benefits of the human sexuality part of the health curriculum.

We hope MCPS will have an alternative curriculum ready along with this new curriculum

Sexual orientation isn't a controversial issue; it's very simple. Some people have one sexual orientation, other people have a different one. See? Easy.

The "controversy" was invented by a tiny group of radicals who originally wanted to recall the entire school board, and settled for suing the county instead. Why they picked this topic, or this time, or this place, I can't tell you. The curriculum that was proposed was not inherently controversial, these guys were just feeling their oats after the 2004 elections, and wanted to pull the school district down. It didn't work. The "controversy" was fake and opportunistic. Let's call it what it is.

She said more... do you want to hear it? She tells of her experiences pulling her daughter out of 5th grade sex ed, and explains what it did to her son. I won't take up space with it, but this part is interesting:
We have a son in 7th grade who did take this course when he was in 5th grade, and his attitude toward sex changed from our teaching of waiting until he was married, to sex is pleasure and a need that should be fulfilled and as long as boys wear condoms there is no need to worry about pregnancy, aids or other sexually transmitted diseases. Another piece of information he seemed to get out of that unit was "oral Sex" without the consequences.

Now ... raise your hand if you think any of this came from a fifth grade health class. Hold 'em up there where I can see 'em.

Hmmm, none.

The problem is that when they say this stuff, some gullible people will believe them. So you've got to go around sweeping the streets behind them, cleaning up after the lies and misconstruals. It's time-consuming, but it needs to be done.

The Committee Bangs Away At It

Last night was the meeting of the MCPS citizens advisory committee that is evaluating and suggesting revisions to the new sex-ed curriculum. This job is incredibly tough. There are details of the curriculum that have to be correct, for instance, words have to be defined in a correct and natural way -- last night we discussed the meaning of the word "respect." You try to define it. But beyond that, there are nuances that suggest philosophies and beliefs that maybe everybody is not comfortable with -- not just, is this correct, but does this say something that could be interpreted as having some implication you don't intend. Very tough: dragons be there.

Like last night, the CRC representative brought in a different definition for gender identity, and I liked it. I had planned to vote for it, but then the guy from MCPS pointed out that the reference was the DSM-4, and its full title is Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which would be on the student handout. He said the kids will really make a big deal out of that "mental disorder" bit. So I ended up voting against it, but then she had another definition that was from a more acceptable source and said essentially the same thing, so we voted and accepted that. See what I mean? Dragons.

Then there are the personalities. These aren't just random people from the county. Everybody in that room is used to being right, we all like to run at the front of the pack, we all like to have the last word, even the student members, it seems to me. We know what we think and we are strong enough, each of us, to try to convince the others. The glance-catching and nearly-imperceptible expressions are incredible, everybody is reading everybody else's mind through the whole meeting. People on the same side of an issue, and people on opposite sides, both. It is very exhausting.

There are usually only a few people in the audience -- well, this is the most boring spectator sport I could possibly imagine. But several times I've heard them out there, muttering under their breath, just dying to be part of the discussion. A couple of people have even come up to me at the table and passed me notes. It's not usually anything really important, not like the coach sending in plays, but more often just pointing out where someone got a fact wrong, or there was something that nobody mentioned. Stuff that you can't really do anything about, they just couldn't help themselves.

Last night the school district introduced the tenth grade curriculum, and then we went through suggested changes for eighth grade. The first part went fast. The second part is going very slowly. We take one suggested change at a time. The person who proposed it explains what they meant by it. Somebody has a question, or a comment, or we notice that it ties in to some other part of the course, and we try to figure out how to fit it all together. Sometimes we discuss and debate these angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin things for a long time. And you just know, some bunch of stinky, sweaty, zit-faced teenagers are going to file into a classroom, plop themselves down, and stare out the window while some poor teacher tries to teach them this stuff we've worked so hard over.

For some crazy reason I think this is really fun. We have people who are adamant about some things, people who are open to different ideas, well, maybe we are all both of those things at different times. All in all, it seems to me that we work together pretty well. It's hard when you propose something and the group doesn't vote to accept it, or you have an idea and then somebody points out something obvious about it that you missed, but everybody keeps their chin up. It's not the World Series, but it's hardball.

This is how a community group should work, it seems to me. We knew from Day One that we will not agree on everything. We cheer whenever there is a unanimous vote... well, there weren't any last night, but it has happened. We don't expect that. We do listen to one another's ideas, and often it turns out there's something reasonable in them. Sometimes there's not, and we vote and the proposal doesn't pass and we move on. We can do this. We can work together.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Breaking News: New Jersey to Give Equal Rights to Gay Couples

Today the New Jersey Supreme Court just ruled that that state's constitution gives same-sex couples all the same rights as opposite-sex people who are married, though they don't have to call it "marriage." A similar ruling in Vermont had resulted in that state defining "civil unions," in which same-sex couples have the same rights as opposite-sex married couples.

I don't follow this sort of thing that closely, but it does not seem to me that gay people are unified in demanding "marriage" as a word or an institution. Like, I don't think it matters to everybody, exactly what you call it. But at least you should be able to visit the one you love in the hospital and make important decisions for them in a time of crisis, you should be able to include a loved one under an insurance policy, things like that. Only Massachusetts allows same-sex marriage, calling it that. Connecticut also has civil unions.

You can read the text of the judges' opinions HERE.

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog points out that this decision is exactly what President Bush recommended in 2004.

I have no idea how different groups will react to this. It's not "marriage," so I don't see how the Family Blah Blah guys can complain. On the other hand, it's not "marriage," so gays and lesbians may not be satisfied with it.

On the other other hand, the Family Blah Blah groups can certainly be upset that gay people are being treated like ... people, and gay people might just decide they can live with equal treatment, no matter what it's called.

Let's watch and see.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hashing Out the Proposed Changes

The citizens advisory committee will meet tomorrow evening to hear the proposed 10th grade sexual orientation curriculum, and to begin going over changes to the 8th grade curriculum that have been recommended by committee members.

Yesterday MCPS sent out a 39-page, eleven-megabyte PDF document listing all the changes that were suggested. Because I was in China, very busy, and largely cut off from a computer, I didn't submit any changes, but it looks like other members put in most of the stuff I would have suggested.

This will be a good one -- we are now to the part where the rubber meets the road. One camp seems to be campaigning for more statements pointing out that homosexuality is not a disease and it's not a choice, for the inclusion of more pointed statements from the medical and psychological associations supporting acceptance of gays and lesbians. The other side wants to include "former homosexuals" -- you know, someone who used to be gay and now isn't... mmm hmmm, we sure see lots of those around. Some members want to take out the word "tolerance," and we can see why.

Interestingly, a lot of the suggestions, maybe even most of them, don't really fall on one side of the culture-war divide or the other. Some terms do have weird definitions in the draft curriculum. Some things aren't clear. Some sections are disorganized. I don't think either side really wants to make sexual orientation a kind of subtopic, under the heading, Bullying.

A difficult problem: sexual identity, gender identity. I'm afraid the literature, including the textbooks that the school district likes, is, let's say, confused about these concepts. There are definitions out there, even in apparently authoritative sources, that flatly contradict one another. Committee members have proposed this and that, and I'm afraid it will be difficult to straighten it all out. But we have to, and we will.

Well, there is a ton of stuff here to read, including several entire journal articles in this PDF file. I hope everybody can work together to produce classes where our students learn something, both some facts that they may not have known, and some values that perhaps they have not been exposed to, having to do with how people can get along with one another. It might just be that it comes down to a face-off between forces wanting to create the impression that there's something wrong with gay people and those who promote the idea that sexual minorities are people, too. I wish it didn't come down to that, but that's the way the situation has been defined, and we probably can't avoid it. In that case, it just comes down to votes, and the question will be, can the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and PFOX accept losing?

Pictures Must Be Released

America has the strangest perspective on sex. On one hand, we're horrified by it, scandalized whenever anyone's good judgment is overcome by passion -- Clinton's sexual misadventure is seen by many Americans as worse than Bush's slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents. On the other hand, we're obsessed with it. "Sex sells," we know, and so it's everywhere, from the movies to billboards, to department stores, everywhere.

Some argue that the naughtiness is what makes it good. This is a kind of extension of the school of thought that what the stripper leaves on is more important than what she takes off, the "leave a little to the imagination" school of thought. I tend to think this is a cop-out. Oh, it may be correct that teasing has its own kind of arousing effect, but I don't think this is really what the American state of sexual denial is really about. Repression doesn't make it better.

To tell you the truth, I don't think it's healthy. It seems to me that someday we've got to get over it, recognize sex as the part of human nature that it is, and learn to behave decently -- in harmony with our nature, not in opposition to it. This idea that we will white-knuckle reality as tightly as possible for as long as we can, and maybe somehow get through life without sinning too badly, just doesn't hold water.

The result, it seems to me, is that America has a dark side that it's hard to admit. Secrets we can't face.

Here's one. From Editor and Publisher:
NEW YORK A federal judge ruled today that graphic pictures of detainee abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison must be released over government claims that they could damage America's image. Last year a Republican senator conceded that they contained scenes of "rape and murder" and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said they included acts that were "blatantly sadistic." Judge Orders Release of Abu Ghraib Photos

Look, nobody wants to see these. Nobody wants to admit they exist. This will not get any media attention. We want to believe that these kinds of things just don't happen, that good Americans don't behave like depraved monsters.
What is shown on the photographs and videos from Abu Ghraib prison that the Pentagon has blocked from release? One clue: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress last year, after viewing a large cache of unreleased images, "I mean, I looked at them last night, and they're hard to believe." They show acts "that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhumane," he added.

A Republican Senator suggested the same day they contained scenes of "rape and murder." Rumsfeld then commented, "If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse."

The photos were among thousands turned over by the key "whistleblower" in the scandal, Specialist Joseph M. Darby. Just a few that were released to the press sparked the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal last year, and the video images are said to be even more shocking.

Look, we really do have to ask ourselves, why has this happened? Rape, I'm sorry to say, has always been part of war. But this isn't even that. This isn't "just" rape. This is depravity that far transcends rape.

The troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are our neighbors and relatives. They're regular guys and gals from homes like ours, serving our country. So why have they behaved like this?

Of course we condemn it, but how do we understand it?
In the same period [Spring, 2004], reporter Seymour Hersh, who helped uncover the scandal, said in a speech before an ACLU convention: "Some of the worse that happened that you don't know about, ok? Videos, there are women there. Some of you may have read they were passing letters, communications out to their men ... . The women were passing messages saying 'Please come and kill me, because of what's happened.'

"Basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys/children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. The worst about all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror it's going to come out."

Why has this happened?

We have a lightweight local controversy here in Montgomery County, some people are afraid about what will be taught in a sex-ed class. But it seems obvious that our society needs to heal itself, we need to find balance, we need good comprehensive, unbiased education, just so we can learn to deal with sexuality as a natural part of life, so our society doesn't feel the need to express itself in these kinds of acts. You know I'm right about this.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Suddenly Open Source Voting

Maryland's primary elections, you might remember, were a disaster. The governor was calling for paper ballots for the November election, but what ever happened with that? No, it looks like we're stuck with the electronic voting machines. Computer experts have shown that they can be hacked easily to give incorrect vote counts, using programs that delete themselves after they've done their business, so nobody ever knows what happened. Well, we've seen all kinds of problems with these machines.

So this is a little funny:
Diebold Election Systems Inc. expressed alarm and state election officials contacted the FBI yesterday after a former legislator received an anonymous package containing what appears to be the computer code that ran Maryland's polls in 2004.

Cheryl C. Kagan, a longtime critic of Maryland's elections chief, says the fact that the computer disks were sent to her - along with an unsigned note criticizing the management of the state elections board - demonstrates that Maryland's voting system faces grave security threats.

A spokesman for Diebold, which manufactures the state's touch-screen voting machines, said the company is treating the software Kagan received as "stolen" and not as "picked up" at the State Board of Elections, as the anonymous note claimed. Lawyers for the company are seeking its return. Former delegate gets purported Diebold code

OK, listen, there is an important twist to this story.

There are two kinds of computer code in this world: proprietary code and "open source." Proprietary code is written by developers inside a company who do not let anyone else see how their programs work. I guess the advantage of that is that it would be hard for somebody to copy the functionality of the application, as they'd have to reverse engineer the whole thing and most people wouldn't bother to do that. It makes it harder for people to steal the software.

Open source means that the computer code for the application is available for the public to look at. While this may seem risky -- you might think this was make it easier for hackers to find a way to break into the program -- in reality this makes it much more secure. What happens is that programmers can see if there are vulnerabilities in the program, so they can tell the original developers where it is and how to fix it. This really happens. Open source keeps you honest, you can't have weak security, for instance, in an open source program, because everybody would know.

The problem with the Diebold voting machines, really, is that the code is proprietary. Nobody really knows how the developers wrote the programs that run on the voting machines. We don't know what kinds of loopholes they might have left in accidentally, or even added intentionally, that would allow easy manipulation of votes.

People in the computer science world are amazed that America would allow something as fundamentally important as voting to be managed by proprietary code. It just doesn't make sense. Voting belongs to the public, it doesn't belong to one company. The public should have every right to see how it's done.

Thus the irony of this news story. Diebold is suddenly ... open source. This legislator who received this package took it to an expert to have it analyzed, to see if it was real or not. It would seem amazing, unbelievable, if somebody along the way didn't make copies of these programs. Everybody should have a look at this stuff, so we can find out just how bad the situation really is.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Condoleezza Sets Off the Family Blah Blah Guys

Interesting tidbit here from the Focus on the Family newsletter, CitizenLink. As might be expected, the betterthanyou guys are in a tizzy about Condoleezza Rice's apparent acceptance of gay marriage. Well, let them tell you... it gets better:
from staff reports

Secretary of state refers to mother of new ambassador's same-sex partner as his "mother in law."

America 's new deputy global AIDS coordinator was sworn in this week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — while his same-sex partner held the Bible used in the ceremony.

Not only that, but Rice referred to the mother of Ambassador Mark Dybul's gay partner as his "mother in law."

Tom Minnery, senior vice president of government and public policy for Focus on Family, called Rice's comments "astonishing."

"This is very provocative," he said, "and very disappointing."

In response to inquiries from Focus, Minnery heard from the State Department on Wednesday.

"Secretary Rice's chief of staff called to say it was a mix-up," he said. "That somebody should have checked this mother-in-law business, didn't do it, and it got out." Rice Affirms Appointee's Gay Partner

Mmm, that's funny, because the White House isn't saying that. When he was asked about it, White House press secretary Tony Snow said, "The secretary said what she said and she was showing due deference to the people involved."

Oh well, lying to the nuts isn't anything new. Mainly, you want them to vote for you, right? They're not going to watch the actual news anyway, so the Family Blah Blah sites like this can tell them whatever they want to hear.

But look -- here's the local angle to it. A member of our MCPS citizens advisory committee has an opinion on the subject:
Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council, shared Minnery's disappointment.

"It's not that it shows they're pushing an agenda in favor of same-sex marriage," he told Family News in Focus, "but it shows they're really rather apathetic about the efforts to defend traditional marriage."

Not to mention the conflict of interest inherent in appointing a gay man to head the nation's AIDS-prevention efforts.

I can't tell if he said that -- it's not in quotation marks, or if the CitizensLink stenographer just didn't want to leave it out. I also can't tell what it's supposed to mean -- a gay guy should not be qualified to fight the AIDS epidemic? Conflict of interest? What -- he doesn't want to see his friends die? That's a conflict of interest?
"If we are not willing to say that men should not engage in sex with other men," Sprigg noted, "then we are really not willing to tackle the root causes of the AIDS problem."

Sprigg added it's unlikely a gay man can effectively articulate that point — if it's still the point the administration wants to make.

OK, I hate to state the obvious but once again it seems necessary. AIDS is spread through exchange of body fluids, most prominently through sex and sharing needles. In the United States and Europe, because of the historical roots of the epidemic, it is a disease that has attacked the gay population disproportionately. The majority of new HIV cases, even in the US, are not due to men having sex with men, but there are more of those cases than there should be. Worldwide, AIDS is overwhelmingly a disease that is spread through heterosexual contact.

"Men having sex with other men," as Mr. Sprigg puts it, are not at increased risk of becoming infected. Men who have sex with men they don't know well, or with men whose HIV status is unknown, are at risk, yes. But men who have sex within a committed relationship with another man are at no more risk than any of the rest of us.

Having unprotected sex with someone who is infected with HIV puts you at risk. If you don't know if they're infected or not, of course the probability of infection goes up. That's not hard.

Unfortunately for them, the Family Blah Blah logic turns back on itself. These guys want to say they're "pro-family," but then they don't think certain members of our community deserve to start a family -- it's bizarre. We believe in marriage, except for you and you. Listen, if you want to prevent AIDS, you should encourage gay men to enter stable relationships. You should encourage them to marry. This is such an obvious conclusion that you hate to have to say it out loud.

Behind the Fear Curtain Again

What a shock to be back behind the fear curtain. Beijing was bustling, the airport shops were busy, but you got your first hint: outside every duty-free shop was a big sign saying that "according to the latest information," you can take things you buy in the duty-free zone -- that is, in the secured part of the airport -- into the United States. They couldn't promise, felt they had to warn you it might not work, would hate to lose your business.

No other country. Flights to any place in the Middle East, to African countries, Indonesia, anywhere, no problem. The US? The fear is palpable.

At security in Beijing there are sixteen lines. Lines 1-12 are for international travel, and 13-16 are for Americans. Why? Because we have so many more restrictions than anybody in the world. In the world. A guy in line up ahead of me tried to drink half a bottle of Jack Daniels before they took it away from him. And ... why would they take it away from him? Because it might blow up? Come on. The lady immediately ahead of me had all her makeup in a plastic bag, just like you're supposed to, but they took it away from her because it was "too full." And what -- her makeup is a bomb? Only the USA would think that. It's absurd.

But it was landing that really got you. Look, I've been flying around China, a repressive country that does not claim to be "free" or democratic, doesn't even try. They x-ray your stuff, they pat you down, and then you're in. Flying into Newark, USA, you take off your shoes, your coat, your belt. You put them in a tray. Our line had to walk over behind the table to pick up our trays, but other lines had them at the front of the table. So a kid -- you know, early twenties -- went over and got a stack of trays for us and put them by our table. This TSA lady told him to get back in line. He said, "I was just getting some trays." She said, "Get in line, I don't need no shit from nobody." Hey, welcome to America.

The guy at the metal detector was telling everyone he's an "expert at screening." He said, "I know everything there is to know about screening." You wanted to ask, yes sir, and how many terrorists have you caught? Because ... this isn't about terrorism, it's about humiliating people, it's about scaring people. Everybody in line just stood there with their mouths shut, too afraid to complain. You can't ask questions, and of course you can't joke about it. You have to pretend to take it seriously. Even if you aren't actually intimidated by reality, you have to act like you are. Mission accomplished.

This poor old couple. The old man was senile as a post. But something in his bag had set off an alarm of some sort, and they had pulled him aside and were searching him. He was so confused, he didn't know what was happening, and his wife was trying to calm him down. I compare that to the old man in Hefei who came through security with a big, stout, wooden cane. When he came to the gate, everyone let him go first. They helped him onto the shuttle to take us out to the plane. They weren't afraid of his cane. He needed it. People just wanted to make sure that he was okay.

If I may say so: those are family values.

And then, in Newark, as I walked through the corridors of the airport to my gate, you heard nothing but announcements about how you can't trust anybody. Don't take anybody's bag, report any suspicious behavior or unattended packages. Unbelievable cynicism, right out of 1984.

We accept this as if it were a necessity, as if we are under such a constant threat that we need to remain suspicious all the time. But ... let's say there is a threat of terrorism. What are the chances that you or I are going to spot something that prevents a terrorist attack? The probabilities are so low that, well, so far they're zero. The only person I can think of who ever spotted something that (nearly) prevented a terrorist attack was Richard Jewell, and the FBI and media hassled him for years about that, until he sued all the news agencies and made a pretty penny off it. Other than that, nothing. We have agencies and experts to monitor the terrorists, and the idea that citizens should abandon their trust of one another, on the off-chance that someday somebody will prevent a terrorist attack, is ridiculous. The point is not protection, it is fear: a fearful populace is obedient, subservient, easy to control. This isn't about protection, it does not make us any safer. It only drives us apart, makes us afraid of one another.

People, how far do you want to take this? Do not delude yourself that "the world is a different place" now. It's not. The world is doing fine. People are happy and living their lives. America is a different place. We are a country cowering behind a curtain of fear that cuts us off from all the rest of humanity.

How far do you want to take this? Is it time for a change yet?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tried It -- It Didn't Work

Sorry, I haven't had much time for blogging lately. But I had an interesting experience yesterday.

I was in my hotel room in Hefei, which is a small city of about a million people in Anhui Province, China. I was watching TV, which in China is just a hoot. Naturally you can't tell what they're saying, but they have these surrealistic stories, and you are constantly reminded that you are not in Kansas any more. It is really entertaining, sometimes it's old-times princes and princesses or evil warlords, or wacky contemporary love stories with ... crazy stuff. People fly, furniture talks, crazy fun magical stuff. Also, there's Chinese MTV and other more familiar programming.

Anyway, I was clicking the remote and I came across the news in English. It was read by a Chinese anchor and had Chinese reporters, but it was in English. This was the only time I've seen this here, though I admit I haven't watched a whole lot of television while I've been in this country.

So I sat here in China watching the President of the United States sign a bill allowing unlimited detention, without legal representation, of noncitizens, even those living in the United States, among other things. They can be put to death without being able to defend themselves. The Chinese lady read her script in near-perfect English, noting that some people considered the bill controversial.

He had a little banner hanging over his podium that said "Protecting America," as I recall.

Pretty soon it switched back to Mandarin, and I clicked again.

Try to imagine what this is like to the people in a place like China. My friend told me the other day, very carefully, that "there are some limitations" on what you can say here. We know it's true, there is censorship. China is opening up to the world, but they're doing it slowly and carefully.

The United States of America have shown the world that freedom doesn't work. We tried it, it didn't work, we're rolling it back.

I guarantee that's what they're thinking over here when they see this. If it doesn't work, why bother?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Gay Old Party

Hey, I really don't have time for this, you know, I have to give an opening address to a conference here in China, and I need to leave in less than an hour. But Jack Drescher just forwarded this, and I think it deserves a posting on the old blog, don't you?


Because as we dive into consideration, now, of the 8th grade curriculum on sexual orientation, we're going to hear complaints from the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. We know, from messages that Google kindly posted in their cache last year, that the Republican Party coached them their early meetings, this whole "controversy" was a GOP operation, with Family Blah Blah support.

So the revelation that the party in control is run by gays -- anti-gay gays, I don't understand that, but -- is making the news more interesting than ever these days.
The Gay Old Party Comes Out

By Frank Rich
New York Times
October 15, 2006

PAGING Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council: Here's a gay Republican story you probably did not hear last week. On Tuesday a card-carrying homosexual, Mark Dybul, was sworn into office at the State Department with his partner holding the Bible. Dr. Dybul, the administration's new global AIDS coordinator, was flanked by Laura Bush and Condi Rice. In her official remarks, the secretary of state referred to the mother of Dr. Dybul's partner as his "mother-in-law."

Could wedding bells be far behind? It was all on display, photo included, on www.state.gov. And while you're cruising the Internet, a little creative Googling will yield a long list of who else is gay, openly and not, in the highest ranks of both the Bush administration and the Republican hierarchy. The openly gay range from Steve Herbits, the prescient right-hand consultant to Donald Rumsfeld who foresees disaster in Iraq in Bob Woodward's book "State of Denial," to Israel Hernandez, the former Bush personal aide and current Commerce Department official whom the president nicknamed "Altoid boy." (Let's not go there.)

If anything good has come out of the Foley scandal, it is surely this: The revelation that the political party fond of demonizing homosexuals each election year is as well-stocked with trusted and accomplished gay leaders as virtually every other power center in America. "What you're really seeing is the Republican Party on the Hill," says Rich Tafel, the former leader of the gay Log Cabin Republicans whom George W. Bush refused to meet with during the 2000 campaign. "Across the board gay people are in leadership positions." Yet it is this same party's Congressional leadership that in 2006 did almost nothing about government spending, Iraq, immigration or ethics reform, but did drop everything to focus on a doomed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The split between the Republicans' outward homophobia and inner gayness isn't just hypocrisy; it's pathology. Take the bizarre case of Karl Rove. Every one of his Bush campaigns has been marked by a dirty dealing of the gay card, dating back to the lesbian whispers that pursued Ann Richards when Mr. Bush ousted her as Texas governor in 1994. Yet we now learn from "The Architect," the recent book by the Texas journalists James Moore and Wayne Slater, that Mr. Rove's own (and beloved) adoptive father, Louis Rove, was openly gay in the years before his death in 2004. This will be a future case study for psychiatric clinicians as well as historians.

Yes, I repeat, it isn't just hypocrisy, this is pathology.
So will Kirk Fordham, the former Congressional aide who worked not only for Mark Foley but also for such gay-baiters as Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma (who gratuitously bragged this year that no one in his family's "recorded history" was gay) and Senator Mel Martinez of Florida (who vilified his 2004 Republican primary opponent, a fellow conservative, as a tool of the "radical homosexual agenda"). Then again, even Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania senator who brought up incest and "man-on-dog" sex while decrying same-sex marriage, has employed a gay director of communications. In the G.O.P. such switch-hitting is as second nature as cutting taxes.

As for Mr. Foley, he is no more representative of gay men, whatever their political orientation, than Joey Buttafuoco is of straight men. Yet he's a useful creep at this historical juncture because his behavior has exposed and will continue to expose a larger dynamic on the right. The longer the aftermath of this scandal continues, with its maniacal finger-pointing and relentless spotlight on the Republican closet, the harder it will be for his party to return to the double-dealing that has made gay Americans election-year bogeymen (and women) for so long.

The moment Mr. Foley's e-mails became known, we saw that brand of fearmongering and bigotry at full tilt: Bush administration allies exploited the former Congressman's predatory history to spread the grotesque canard that homosexuality is a direct path to pedophilia. It's the kind of blood libel that in another era was spread about Jews.

The Family Research Council's Mr. Perkins, a frequent White House ally and visitor, led the way. "When we elevate tolerance and diversity to the guidepost of public life," he said on Fox News Channel, "this is what we get - men chasing 16-year-old boys around the halls of Congress." A related note was struck by The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, which asked, "Could a gay Congressman be quarantined?" The answer was no because "today's politically correct culture" - tolerance of "private lifestyle choices" - gives predatory gay men a free pass. Newt Gingrich made the same point when he announced on TV that Mr. Foley had not been policed because Republicans "would have been accused of gay bashing." Translation: Those in favor of gay civil rights would countenance and protect sex offenders.

This line of attack was soon followed by another classic from the annals of anti-Semitism: the shadowy conspiracy. "The secret Capitol Hill homosexual network must be exposed and dismantled," said Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media, another right-wing outfit that serves as a grass-roots auxiliary to the Bush administration. This network, he claims, was allowed "to infiltrate and manipulate the party apparatus" and worked "behind the scenes to sabotage a conservative pro-family agenda in Congress."

There are two problems with this theory. First, gay people did not "infiltrate" the party apparatus - they are the party apparatus. Rare is the conservative Republican Congressional leader who does not have a gay staffer wielding clout in a major position. Second, any inference that gay Republicans on the Hill conspired to cover up Mr. Foley's behavior is preposterous. Mr. Fordham, the gay former Foley aide who spent Thursday testifying under oath about his warnings to Denny Hastert's staff, is to date the closest this sordid mess has to a whistle-blower, however tardy. So
far, the slackers in curbing Mr. Foley over the past three years seem more straight than gay, led by the Buffalo Congressman Tom Reynolds, who is now running a guilt-ridden campaign commercial desperately apologizing to voters.

Listen, I said it before: saying gays have "infiltrated" the Republican Party is like saying Sicilians have "infiltrated" the Mafia.
A Washington Post poll last week found that two-thirds of Americans believe that Democrats would behave just as badly as the Hastert gang in covering up a scandal like this to protect their own power. They are no doubt right. But the reason why the Foley scandal has legs - and why it has upstaged most other news, from the Congressional bill countenancing torture to North Korea's nuclear test - is not just that sex trumps everything else in a tabloid-besotted America. The Republicans, unlike most Democrats (Joe Lieberman always excepted), can't stop advertising their "family values," which is why their pitfalls are as irresistible as a Molière farce. It was entertaining enough to learn that the former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed wanted to go "humping in corporate accounts" with the corrupt gambling lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The only way that comic setup could be
topped was by the news that Mr. Foley was chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus. It beggars the imagination that he wasn't also entrusted with No Child Left Behind.

Cultural conservatives who fell for the G.O.P.'s pious propaganda now look like dupes. Tonight on "60 Minutes," David Kuo, a former top official in the administration's faith-based initiatives program, is scheduled to discuss his new book recounting how evangelical supporters were privately ridiculed as "nuts" in the White House. If they have any self-respect, they'll exact their own revenge.

Ah -- I thought they liked being called nuts. I thought that's why they acted that way. Silly me.
We must hope as well that this crisis will lead to a repudiation of the ritual targeting of gay people for sport at the top levels of the Republican leadership in and out of the White House. For all the president's talk of tolerance and "compassionate conservatism," he has repeatedly joined Congress in wielding same-sex marriage as a club for divisive political purposes. He sat idly by while his secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, attacked a PBS children's show because an animated rabbit visited a lesbian couple and their children. Ms. Spellings was worried about children being exposed to that "lifestyle" - itself a code word for
"deviance" - even as the daughter of the vice president was preparing to expose the country to that lifestyle in a highly promoted book.

"The hypocrisy, the winking and nodding is catching up with the party," says Mr. Tafel, the former Log Cabin leader. "Republicans must welcome their diversity as the party of Lincoln or purge the party of all gays. The middle ground - we're a diverse party but we can bash gays too - will no longer work." He adds that "the ironic point is that the G.O.P. isn't as homophobic as it pretends to be." Indeed two likely leading presidential competitors in 2008, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, are consistent supporters of gay civil rights.

Another ironic point, of course, is that the effort to eradicate AIDS, led by a number of openly gay appointees like Dr. Dybul, may prove to be the single most beneficent achievement of this beleaguered White House. To paraphrase a show tune you're unlikely to hear around the Family Research Council, isn't that queer?

Drescher links to another story, too. What the hey -- from the UK:

Religious Conservatives Fail to Make Gay Link to Foley Scandal
Despite Links by Conservative Groups, Majority of Americans Do Not Link
Scandal to Gays

BBS News (Your true conservative news source)
Saturday, October 14 2006 @ 12:55 AM EDT

HRC via BBSNews 2006-10-14 -- WASHINGTON DC - The Human Rights Campaign today released a new nationwide poll that shows the aggressively coordinated attempts by anti-gay right-wing leaders and anti-gay groups to brand the Mark Foley scandal as a gay issue are a resounding failure.

The new, nationwide poll shows that, by a 2-to-1 margin, voters believe that "this type of behavior is typical of politicians" over "this type of behavior is typical of gay men." The poll also showed support for either civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples at 66 percent, which is consistent with other polls on the same question.

"Some right-wing leaders and politicians have tried to divert attention from the congressional leadership's failure to investigate Mark Foley's abhorrent behavior, and their cover-up in order to hold on to power, by insisting that his being gay was the central issue," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Conservative politicians have tried to promote prejudice against gay Americans, rather than push for accountability in this scandal. Today's poll shows that Americans reject their outrageous claims."

Since this scandal was made public on September 29, Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Pat Buchanan and other ultra-conservative leaders have spoken out numerous times to national media outlets pushing the idea that this is a gay issue, in an attempt to shift the public's perception of this inappropriate behavior and subsequent cover-up by the Republican leadership on gays.

Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. conducted a poll of 806 registered voters nationwide from October 9-11, 2006. The results of the poll show that the attempt to scapegoat gay Americans has been an utter failure, as the American people continue to focus on the lack of leadership displayed by the Republican leadership through this scandal. The poll also finds the American people continue to believe gay and lesbian Americans deserve the same rights and protections as all Americans and their relationships deserve legal recognition.

The Human Rights Campaign has been monitoring what seems to be a coordinated effort to place blame on the gay community and equate Mark Foley's disgraceful behavior to the fact that he is gay. Below are some of the quotes spewed by conservatives in their failed public relations blitz to lay the blame on gays:

"The news is the Republicans have formed a circular firing squad, and they're firing away. It's just insane, this atavistic spirit to find blame just before an election. They'd be better to say, 'Well, this man's gay, he does what gay people do, and so don't worry about it.'"
- Pat Robertson on "The 700 Club," Oct. 5

"If the Republican House leadership is guilty of anything, it is of being too tolerant, of allowing Political Correctness, a fear of being called homophobic, to trump common sense. Whether we admit it or not, many male homosexuals have a thing for teenage boys, which is why so many of them wind up with black eyes when they try to pick them up."
- Pat Buchanan, Oct. 6

"Democrats seeking to exploit the resignation of Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) are right to criticize the slow response of Republican congressional leaders to his communications with male pages. But neither party seems likely to address the real issue, which is the link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse."
- Tony Perkins, Message to Friends of Family Research Council, Oct. 2

"We are very concerned that the early warnings of Mr. Foley's odd behavior toward young male pages may have been overlooked or treated with deference, fearing a backlash from the radical gay rights movement because of Mr. Foley's sexual orientation."
- The Arlington Group in a statement, Oct. 3

"For the sake of honest and open government, not to mention protection of the children, the secret Capitol Hill homosexual network must be exposed and dismantled."
- Right-wing blogger Cliff Kincaid, Oct. 9

"Where does post-modern American ethics place Mark Foley's homosexuality on a scale of 1 to 10 - a 1 being just another gay guy and a 10 being a compulsive, predatory sex offender?"
- Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal deputy editorial page editor, Oct. 6

"The fact that Americans find former Rep. Foley's alleged conduct reprehensible shows we have not bought into the false ideology that 'all sex should be celebrated' or that age of consent laws should be reduced as some special interest groups demand. Not all 'diversity' should be accepted and not all conduct or beliefs should be 'tolerated.' In the real world, there is such a thing as right and wrong."
- Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, Oct. 3

"Here is the real problem. It has been known for many years that Congressman Foley was a homosexual. Homosexuals tend to be preoccupied with sex."
- Paul Weyrich on "All Things Considered," Oct. 4

"I think that this -- there's an indication, there's clear research that shows that homosexual men are more likely to abuse children than straight men. And when it comes to government, yes, I have a concern that any type of sexual deviancy is a problem."
- Tony Perkins on "Hardball," Oct. 3

The other day I was parking my car, and I heard a weird noise. I was nuts falling out of a tree, hitting the roof of my car. It sounded just like that.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Thoughts After a Day or Two

(I say "a day or two" because I don't actually know what day it is, or how long it's been since the citizens committee meeting... you'll see...)

I've been thinking a little bit about this new 8th grade curriculum. I appreciate the thought of structuring it around the idea of tolerance and empathy versus bullying and stereotypes, but I'm not sure that's really the way to approach it.

Is that really the defining quality of sexual orientation -- bullying? Is the issue really tolerance and empathy?

I would've thought it was about who you like.

(Hey, you wouldn't believe where I am right now. It's four-something in the morning where you are, but it's four-something in the afternoon here. I'm inside a little room or booth with bamboo curtains and a high-speed Internet connection and a picture on the wall of an ivory lady with chopsticks in her hair. I've got a big table here with neat little engraved toothpicks.

A guy just got about a fifteen-dollar tip, I think, for getting me this room and ordering some coffee for me. Hmm, I'd better learn the money while I still have some.)

So, anyway, I will be very interested to hear what people say about this curriculum. I understand that some people are disappointed, but a couple of people I got a chance to chat with mostly said they wanted to think about it. Of the two days of classes, the first day (as I recall, I don't have it in front of me) mainly just mentions sexual orientation in a question for students to think about. It's more about healthy and unhealthy relationships... It's good to address issues of bullying and tolerance, but is the sex-ed class the place for that?

It shouldn't be a total mystery, figuring out what to tell eighth graders. By that age, most of them, but not all, have gotten through puberty or they're well into it. They're having feelings. Some small number of them are likely very confused about those feelings. I think eighth grade is a time to say, look, most people are attracted to somebody of the opposite sex, but not everybody is. It's a good time to talk about the diversity of feelings that they may be experiencing, to help those who are worried about themselves and to help the others understand their friends. If you're talking about sexual orientation in eighth grade, that seems like the issue -- how you feel is normal even if it's different from most of the other kids, and how your friend feels is normal, even if you don't feel that way yourself. There's no freaks here, there's just a lot of normal differences between people.

I remember being in about eighth grade, and realizing that there's somebody in this world for everybody. I was looking out the window at two special-ed students holding hands and just as happy as you can be, and it was one of those epiphanies that you don't forget. The fact is, nobody needs to be lonely. Somebody who's just coming into their adult emotions might be feeling like there will never be anyone for them, but that's not right. Everybody can find love.

Isn't that what this should be about?

Next week's citizen's committee meeting is cancelled, so we'll have some time to put together our comments and get them in. It will be interesting to see what people propose.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New Eighth Grade Curriculum Unveiled

I got a lot to do and no time to blog, but wanted to catch you up on the unveiling of the eighth grade sexual orientation curriculum. The citizens committee just met, and MCPS staff handed out materials and walked us through the two days of classes.

The first day is all about respect, empathy, and tolerance, which are part of a healthy relationship, and then about bullying, harassment, and stereotyping, which, it turns out, are not part of a healthy relationship.

The second day defines a couple of terms and talks about them a little bit. There's an overhead that talks about "human sexuality," "gender/sexual identity," and "sexual orientation," and gives tight little textbook definitions of these. The words heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual are defined under sexual orientation.

I will have some recommendations for changes, just a few at the moment but I'll want to look at this some more and think about it. I am pleased with the direction it goes, but, kinda like the condom video, I wonder if they couldn't have gotten a little more information in there. There's a pretty nice textbook excerpt, very benign, very light.

My first reaction is that it's basically OK, just kind of light. I think I liked the educational tone of the last curriculum better, it just seeemed a little more formal and had more meat and potatoes, but whatever, that one's off the table now. It will be very interesting to see what changes committee members propose. So far, this seems to stick very close to the regulations, every definition has a source and everything ties together.

I can't imagine that anyone would be able to make this out to be some kind of "homosexual agenda" brainwashing our children, but after two years of playing this game I can't be surprised any more.

Double Lives

This guy, Cliff Kincaid, is editor in chief of the nutty conservative group Accuracy in Media. He has a column this week called "Homosexual Blackmail on Capitol Hill," and I'd have to say his conclusions are wacky, but there's something fun here. I don't know, I guess I should admit I see a certain kind of dark humor in some of this. Get this, the first few paragraphs of the piece:
It has been tempting for some conservatives to blame the Mark Foley homosexual predator scandal on George Soros and the Democratic Party, rather than Foley himself and the Republicans who protected him. But Soros and the Democrats did not put Foley in the position of House Deputy Majority Whip. What’s more, Soros and the Democrats did not establish or maintain what the New York Times describes in an explosive Sunday article as a secret network of Republican homosexuals on Capitol Hill.

The Times story by Mark Leibovich reports that “The presence of homosexuals, particularly gay men, in crucial staff positions has been an enduring if largely hidden staple of Republican life for decades, and particularly in recent years. They have played decisive roles in passing legislation, running campaigns and advancing careers.”

In another dramatic revelation, The Los Angeles Times reports that one former page was seduced into having sex with Foley, and that Foley used the page program to physically assess male teenagers in order to cultivate them as sex targets.

As I contended during an interview on the public television program NOW, the Republicans have only themselves to blame for this scandal. House leaders permitted homosexuals to infiltrate and manipulate the party apparatus while they publicly postured as friends of family values and traditional marriage. The facade is now in ruins. The press can’t be blamed for seizing on a real and legitimate story. Homosexual Blackmail on Capitol Hill

Now, this guy's a nut but it's still nice to see Republicans admitting that their party is run by gay guys. That particular irony has been noted by many observers, but the ruling party has been in a ... what did he call it? ... a State of Denial.

But the idea that they've "inflitrated" the party is, of course, classic conspiracy-theory junk. Gays didn't infiltrate the party, they are the party. Look, who wants to bet their hard-earned money that the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, is heterosexual? Nobody in their right mind. That isn't "inflitration," that's the Top Guy.

It's like saying that Sicilians have infiltrated the Mafia.

You've had gay men running the anti-gay party, and so of course they had to keep their own affairs secret. And that is the problem. It's not that they're gay, it's that they're gay in an organization whose mission is to malign gay people.

I have seen several bloggers make an interesting observation in the wake of this Foley mess and the excuse-making that has followed it. They say, it makes sense that Republicans hold a sex-obsessed, dirty, devious stereotype of gay people -- that seems to be how gay Republicans really are. The rest of us know normal gay people, who are just like everybody else except for who they go home to at the end of the day. The gay people we know don't have to hide it from us. I'm not proposing sainthood for anybody, just saying that our side doesn't recognize the stereotype, because our gay friends aren't like that.

So, yeah, the anti-gay party has a lot of gay people in it. Did anybody think that would go somewhere good?

Look, it's easy. Give it up, already. We hear these stereotypes, we hear the scare stories, we see the ugliness, but look, just get over it. Some people are gay. They don't do it to hurt you, it's just how they are. The more you force them to lead double lives, the more this kind of stuff is going to happen. The solution is obvious: tolerance, inclusion, get over it.

Faith and Politics, in Ohio

This sounds pretty neat. Over in Columbus, Ohio, they got some preachers and religious leaders from the left and the right together and had a forum, let everybody express their hopes and fears, especially focusing on questions about the role of religion in American politics.

The Columbus Dispatch tells you about it:
The country has gone awry when children can't sing Silent Night or pray in school, a minister told an audience Downtown yesterday.

"The forces of darkness … should never silence people of faith," said Russell Johnson, senior pastor of the Fairfield Christian Church in Lancaster.

"We don't want to be muzzled behind stained-glass windows. We want to make a difference."

Eric Williams, senior pastor of North Congregational Church of Christ in Columbus, said he is concerned when religious values won't value all citizens.

"The church needs to stand apart from government and be an able partner so that all citizens might benefit," Williams said.

Johnson and others argued the left has worked to stifle the voice of religion in the U.S.

Williams and others voiced a concern that some in the religious right are promoting a Protestant theocracy. Faith's place in politics debated: Event questions role of the right and left in pushing agendas

Reading this, you want to agree with both of them. People will believe, and that's fine. Honestly, I think the problem comes when some people think they should convert other people to their religion. If it wasn't for that, what's wrong with a little Silent Night at Christmastime? It's a pretty enough song. It seems to me that our schools in Rockville typically have a holiday concert, and they do songs from a lot of religions. Well, we have students from a lot of religions, that makes sense to me, especially if the music's good. It's not necessarily just "politically correct" to sing songs that reflect other ways of life, is it?

And the theocracy thing, too. What he said.

Anyway, it's not easy. I can't say I have the answer.

(Hey, this was funny, the rightwing web site WorldNet Daily had a letter last year that put the shoe on the other foot. Check it out HERE. This dude had his eyes opened for good.)

So what was this event?
The speakers were joined by activists on their respective sides, at a forum called "Church and State in Ohio's Electoral Politics." An audience of more than 150 watched a lively but civil discussion in the Riffe Center.

"The issue in Ohio is the same all over the country," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which co-sponsored the forum. "Will churches willingly or unwittingly become soap boxes for certain candidates?"

Williams and 30 other ministers filed a complaint against Johnson and World Harvest Church Pastor Rod Parsley in January, claiming the two were violating laws for tax-exempt organizations. The ministers said the evangelical pastors were politicking for J. Kenneth Blackwell, the conservative Republican candidate for governor. Johnson leads the conservative Ohio Restoration Project to enlist "patriot pastors" and register "values voters" for conservative causes.

All of the panelists agreed that church leaders can speak about issues such as abortion, poverty and war in the context of current events.

Well, it goes on. Follow the link for more.

You see that phrase -- "lively but civil?" I like that. It definitely sounds like these guys said what they meant, didn't beat around the bush, but they didn't have to get all CRC about it. I don't see where anybody sued anybody afterwards. I didn't see anybody accusing anybody of being atheists or Satanists.

Of course religion is at the heart of our controversy here over sex education in Montgomery County. Some people say their religion tells them that homosexuality is a sin, and they don't think it ought to be mentioned in a health class. Others belong to religions that promote the idea that gay people can and should stop being gay, and they think that ought to be part of the curriculum. And some of us just think it would be nice to teach what most scientific and medical experts in the field believe to be true, and what anybody with common sense sees to be the kindest approach, that some people are just gay and that's that.

We're planning to have a forum soon on this topic, ourselves. Teach the Facts is working with another group to present some discussions of the role of religion in the schools. We have been contacting speakers, and arranging a room and stuff, for later in November. It's tricky, these preachers are busy people. But we think it would be worthwhile to bring together some leaders from different religious institutions in our county, and hear what they think about the interaction of religion and education. Should religion be kept out of the schools? What speech is protected, and what is offensive? The pamphlet-in-the-backpack thing -- I don't think anybody's happy with the way that whole issue has gone -- what about materials that get handed out at school? How should religion affect the development of a curriculum, or should it at all?

None of this is easy, America has been negotiating a tricky course for the last couple of hundred years. The interpretations keep changing, but the Constitution stands solid.

Anyway, we'll keep you informed about our plans as we go along.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Red-Hot Morals

I didn't mention this last week because it appeared to me that some people had gotten the quote wrong. But Media Matters has a column about the right's response to the Foley affair. In particular, they have some quotes from Focus on the Family's James Dobson, and I found this one section most interesting. Here he is:
DOBSON: We condemn the Foley affair categorically, and we also believe that what Mr. Clinton did was one of the most embarrassing and wicked things ever done by a president in power. Let me remind you, sir, that it was not just James Dobson who found the Lewinsky affair reprehensible. More than 140 newspapers called for Clinton's resignation. But the president didn't do what Mr. Foley has done in leaving. He stayed in office, and he lied to the grand jury to obscure the facts. As it turns out, Mr. Foley has had illicit sex with no one that we know of, and the whole thing turned out to be what some people are now saying was a -- sort of a joke by the boy and some of the other pages. Echoing Drudge and Savage, Dobson and Henninger claimed Foley scandal is "sort of a joke" and a "prank[ ]" by pages

So first of all, this is really all about Bill Clinton. And then it's a sixteen-year-old kind playing a joke on a Congressman.

Later in the article, the page's lawyer is quoted:
Stephen Jones, the attorney for the page who reportedly originally came forward with explicit instant messages allegedly sent by Foley, told The Oklahoman that the suggestion that his client's allegations are a prank is "a piece of fiction," adding: "There is not any aspect of this matter that is a practical joke nor should anyone treat it that way."

Well, all-rightey then. That was pretty clear.

Of course the interesting thing about all this is how it exposes the hypocrisy of the religious right. They're going around carrying signs that say "Values," hollering "Morals - morals - morals - getcher red-hot morals right-chere!" Oh, they are proud of their betterthanyou selves.

They judge everybody, accuse anybody who's not one of them of lacking in values, but what do they do when it's one of their own? Why, they cover it up. They lie about it. They blame the victim, or some guy who wasn't even around when something happened. They change the subject.

I don't know what motivates these people. I just know that we can't let their red-hot morals decide what our county's school are going to teach our kids. We need to raise up a generation that knows how to think critically and rely on facts.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Was That the October Surprise?

From what I see on the Internets, it appears that the North Korean nuclear bomb was a dud.

Remember, a month or two ago, the rightwing web site NewsMax was predicting, based on insider information, that Karl Rove was planning an "October Surprise," to frighten the American people into voting Republican again. Most bettors assumed they would produce Osama bin Laden, but maybe this was supposed to be it, the North Korean atom bomb. I am assuming it was supposed to go more like "BOOM" than ... "boo."

Except, I don't see the logic of this. You have probably forgotten this little 2002 news story from the BBC:
The US Government has announced that it will release $95m to North Korea as part of an agreement to replace the Stalinist country's own nuclear programme, which the US suspected was being misused.

Under the 1994 Agreed Framework an international consortium is building two proliferation-proof nuclear reactors and providing fuel oil for North Korea while the reactors are being built.

In releasing the funding, President George W Bush waived the Framework's requirement that North Korea allow inspectors to ensure it has not hidden away any weapons-grade plutonium from the original reactors. US grants N Korea nuclear funds

OK, so President Bush gave North Korea money to develop a nuclear program, told them not to bother about inspections, and then ... guess what! They've got an atom bomb.

Was that supposed to make us vote for his party again?

It's like last time, when Osama appeared on videotape right before the election, the pundits said that made all the difference. Apparently it scared people so much they decided at the last minute to vote for the party that had let him live free, not captured, not killed, not charged with any crimes, after perpetrating a heinous attack on our sovereign soil. They do, they say that was an important factor in the 2004 elections.

Obviously there is something about politics that I don't understand.

Claiming Honor

Everybody's having so much fun with the Foley scandal that some other big stuff has slipped by, nearly unnoticed. First, Bob Woodward's book is, as everyone has already noticed, mostly the same old stuff, but from a source that seems to have had his eyes opened.

What? Bush lied, you say? What? Iraq's not going well? --You don't say.

The news there, really, is that Woodward wrote it. One of Bush's biggest enablers over the past six years, he finally recognizes that the Great Leader was a sham. Unfortunately, the new stuff in his book -- in particular, details about the administration's failures to deal with the threat of al Qaeda in the months before 9/11 -- has been drowned out by the more lurid news that the Republican Party leadership has been covering for the sexual exploitation of young congressional pages.

Of course, it has been interesting to discover that the anti-gay party is largely made up of closeted gays. I wonder when that list is going to hit the Internet...

Most interesting, though, is the implication of the sudden resignation of Karl Rove's assistant, Susan Ralston. The White House had claimed they hardly knew Jack Abramoff, finally admitted that he'd been there a couple of times, showed us a picture of him standing in the background -- remember, they had to draw a circle around his head, so we'd know which one was him.

Now it turns out he basically had an employee working full-time inside the White House. Susan Ralston was getting very nice bennies from Abramoff in exchange for information from the inside, and, apparently, was passing strategies and information in to the administration, as well.

This is not borderline scandalous, this is outrageous. Abramoff was a crook, flat out. And he wasn't just hanging around the free food at the President's parties, he had an office and staff right there, in Karl Rove's section of the White House.

This lady didn't even bother to say she had to spend more time with her family. The news got out, she quit. Fast as Foley.

The Post nailed it pretty good yesterday:
REMEMBER WHEN President Bush promised to restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office? He doesn't either, it would seem. A report by the House Government Reform Committee, based on three years of e-mails and billing records from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's former law firm, detailed how Mr. Abramoff and his team billed clients for hundreds of contacts with White House officials and dispensed coveted tickets to sporting events and concerts to favored officials, including adviser Karl Rove and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, then the White House political director.

A particular recipient of Mr. Abramoff's favors was his former assistant, Susan B. Ralston. She had gone to the White House to work for Mr. Rove but stayed in close touch with her former boss -- more than half of Mr. Abramoff's 66 contacts with the White House were with her. Mr. Abramoff turned to her as a conduit to Mr. Rove and others, seeking her help in placing allies in government or obtaining other favors, not always successfully. Ms. Ralston, in turn, used Mr. Abramoff as a personal Ticketmaster service, taking free tickets to Bruce Springsteen and Andrea Bocelli concerts, Capitals, Wizards and Orioles games. When Ms. Ralston was looking for four floor seats for a Wizards game -- valued at $1,300 -- Mr. Abramoff emailed back, "For you? Anything!"

You might think a White House worried about honor and integrity would want to look more closely at Mr. Abramoff's dealings. You might think it would be concerned about whether Ms. Ralston violated the rules that prohibit administration officials from taking gifts valued at more than $20, though there is an exception for gifts based on preexisting friendships. You might think it would want to make clear that -- whether technically permitted by the rules or not -- this is unacceptable behavior from government officials.

Not this White House, which has been resolutely incurious about Mr. Abramoff's activities and equally unwilling to provide information about it -- making it impossible to know how many of the reported contacts are classic Abramoff puffery and how many real. "Nothing more will come from the report, no further fallout from the report," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Friday. 'No Further Fallout'

Ah, that old word "incurious" again. I think that's the one that'll follow him. Like "Honest Abe." "Incurious George."

There's more, you might enjoy it.

It's really that first sentence that says it all. Bush promised to restore honor and integrity.

Look, anybody can screw up. Everybody has good intentions. Some people try harder than others, some people talk about it more than others. And, sadly, there seems to be an inverse correlation between those two things.

Why would it be, that those who talk most about "morality" and "values" and even "honor" and "integrity" are the very ones who have the least of any of these qualities?

This is the issue we face in Montgomery County, as we struggle to put together an accurate and fair sex-ed curriculum. We have a group of people howling about values and morality, but we have caught them lying countless times, caught them pulling dirty tricks -- here, try this, try this web site: www.teachthefacts.com. See what I mean? Is that the morality they're bragging about, buying up a domain name just like ours and pointing it at their own site? They've lied about what's in the curriculum, they lied about planning to sue, they lie about what we say and who we're associated with ... anything. They have neither values nor morals, neither honor nor integrity. These are just code-words, in the President's administration and in the betterthanyou movement from top to bottom. They want you to think they have honor, they have morals, and you don't.

When you get to the bottom of it, we all want the same things. We want our kids to be safe, happy, well-informed. We want to preserve innocence in their young years, and draw them into the baffling dilemmas of adulthood at a bearable pace. We want our children to grow up to be moral, to have pure values, to have honor and integrity. People on both sides want that.

But one side claims the title for themselves, and accuses the other side of being immoral, valueless, dishonorable, lacking integrity. It seems that the very act of doing that, the very act of claiming superiority for yourself, somehow puts you at risk, even as you pull it around your shoulders you forfeit your right to wrap yourself in that particular warm blanket. It is as if the claim voids itself, saying it out loud makes it not-true.

Has ever an honorable man tried to convince the world of his own honor? Do moral people go around telling everyone how moral they are?

I don't know why it's like that, but it seems to be a fundamental rule of human nature: morality, values, honor, integrity are titles that have to be earned, that are bestowed by others. Never trust anyone who claims these things for themselves.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

It'll Be Light on the Blog

Just to let you know, I may be away from the Internet for a while, starting later this week. Maybe there'll be Internet, I don't know. I'll be in a country with heavy censorship, I don't know if I'll have wifi in the hotel -- maybe I'll be able to read the blogs and the local news and maybe I won't.

So if it's a little quiet around here ... don't get your hopes up. I shall return to battle the wicked ones.

Just to let you know.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Pornographication of Innocence

This week the world is going to learn what MCPS thinks is appropriate for a curriculum about sexual variation -- defined as sexual orientation -- for eighth graders. We have no idea what to expect.

One thing I have discovered in a year or two of this Teach the Facts stuff is that the people who think homosexuality is terrible and immoral seem to think of it almost entirely in terms of things you do with your pants off.

For instance, you'll hear them say that maybe you can't decide your sexual orientation, but you can decide your behavior. And, tell me, what behavior would that be? Would that mean that when you walk down a busy street, you can decide to point your eyes toward members of the opposite sex only, and that you can decide to be completely oblivious when an attractive man (because we're talking about guys here, lesbians are a relatively minor part to this discussion) smiles at you?

No, I think what they mean is that you can decide not to have anal or oral sex with another guy.

For some people, that's what it comes down to. Sexual orientation is a matter of what shelf you pick your porn from.

I doubt that the school district needs to go into the sex of sexual orientation at all, really, at this point. Isn't that odd? It seems to me that that's the least important part of it. A kid grows up, realizes he's different. He's getting teased, and doesn't know what to do about it. He likes a boy but doesn't know what to say to him. Other boys are going out with girls, and that interests him not at all. Should he go along with everybody else? Should he pretend he's like them? How bad will it be, really, if he acts the way he feels? This kid needs to learn something, and I'll bet it would be a good idea if his friends learned a thing or two about what he's going through, as well.

I remember being in eighth grade, and walking Christine Bishop home from school. She was at least a full head taller than me, with braces, but ... man, I'll never forget that. I didn't have sex with her, uh, it never ... crossed ... my ... mind. I just know that my ears were ringing and my palms were sweaty and I didn't know what to say, and the world was just busting open with possibilities.

Possibilities of what?

Well, mainly possibilities that she would like me.

That's eighth grade.

(She didn't.)

(But Janey Anliss, who was actually shorter than me, did.) (For a while.)

The last eighth grade curriculum, that was thrown out in the settlement agreement, defined these terms:
  • Heterosexual or "Straight"
  • Homosexual or Gay
  • Lesbian
  • Bisexual or "Bi"

You might find it interesting to read that curriculum HERE.

It talked about stereotypes based on gender roles, gender identity, and sexual orientation, factors that affect stereotyping, and how to accept differences. Pretty wild stuff.

The old curriculum gave some myths about sexual orientation and explained them: most experts say it's not a disorder and that it's not a choice; fleeting attraction doesn't mean you're gay; gay people's kids don't tend to be gay any more than anybody else's.

That was pretty much it, actually. The sexual orientation material was part of a framework that discusses relationships, values and beliefs, effects of family stress and divorce. It went on to, y'know, the usual 8th-grade stuff, where babies come from, hormonal changes through the life cycle. You remember all that, don't you, from eighth grade?

There was a big section on peer pressure and how it can affect your decision to have sex. Consequences of sexual activity. The curriculum reviewed the social, economic, and emotional impact of teenage parenting.

There was a section on family planning and one on abstinence, and a section listing methods of preventing pregnancy.

That was it: sex ed for eighth graders. Just about like when I took it, in the McCarthy Era, except it gave a couple more terms and acknowledged that not everybody is the same.

Hey, where was the part that instructed them in anal and oral sex? --Why, it wasn't mentioned, naturally. It's irrelevant to the subject.

I hope the new curriculum will be as objective.

Person-of-Interest Sets Up Evidence Filter

These guys are too much. Just too much. Say there's an investigation by the FBI, and you're on a short list of names of people who may have been involved. So what do you do? You set up a toll-free number so people who know something will call you instead of the FBI.

That is brilliant.

Here's how the San Francisco Chronicle just sorta tossed it out there:
Hastert also announced creation of a page program tip line, at (866) 348-0481, for anyone who has information about the Foley case. Callers can remain confidential on the hot line, which will be administered by the Hastert-appointed clerk of the House.

Investigation begins with 44 subpoenas



Thursday, October 05, 2006

Well, All Right

The citizens advisory committee got through the condom curriculum last night. It took about three hours, but we did it. Most of the discussion, if you want to call it that, had happened in emails among the committee during the last couple of days, and by the time we got into discussing the items I think everybody knew how they were going to vote.

The condom curriculum was the easy part.

Next week we should get a look at the eighth grade sexual orientation classes. I am very curious to see what the school district comes up with.

As everyone knows, there's an election in a few weeks, and a number of seats on the school board are placed at the whim of the voting public. So even though the board is not directly involved in curriculum development, this curriculum is not being released in a political vacuum. How will that affect it? I would think that incumbents would hope the new curriculum does not call attention to itself, and that it appears to be liberal and fair-minded without really rocking any boats. In other words, they should want it to look like the last curriculum, objective, low-key, fair.

Things being what they are, the curriculum will be in the news, so that part's water under the bridge, there will be controversy, just because reporters have all our phones numbers now, and they know there's a story here already. I'm sorry it's like that, but that just seems to be how the world operates.

Now, the Big Question is this: will there be anything in the curriculum about "ex-gays?"

The question is extremely timely, in these days of Mark Foley and the big hypocrisy of anti-gay gay Republicans, with the GOP closet door straining on its hinges, on the brink of exploding open. Andrew Sullivan gave us an authentic, heartfelt look at what the closet represents and why gay people should come out and stay out. It makes sense to me that people would live and love with all their might (quoting Buddy Holly); if somebody is gay and open about it, at least everybody else knows what's going on, nobody has to keep Big Secrets. Life's easier, healthier, and happier all the way around.

But there are people on the committee, placed there not by the school board but because of a legal settlement, who want to deliver the message that gay people can and should go back into the closet. That they can call themselves "straight" and start all over again.

And why would they do that? You know the answer. It's so bigots won't make their lives miserable, mainly. Oh, they might call it religion, they might believe that God can't love them if they live and love with all their might, but ... well, let's not go there, whatever, they think they have to be straight, and some people want to tell them that that's possible.

Which is, obviously, a way to segue to a very thought-provoking article in this morning's Boston Globe, called The gay problem in the GOP -- here's the whole thing:
THE TRAGIC OPERA of former congressman Mark Foley is the revenge of don't ask, don't tell.

Foley, a Republican from Florida, resigned Friday after e-mails and instant messages between him and several teenage congressional pages surfaced. The Republican leadership knew that at least one page had gotten e-mails where Foley admired the body of one of the page's friends, and asked the page for a picture of himself, e-mails the page naturally found sick and a bit creepy.

Republican leaders responded to the potential political problem by telling Foley to knock it off. With respect to the larger issue, though, there was no asking or telling. The boy's own revulsion at the obviously inappropriate attention was ignored, not only by Foley's partisan fellows, but by some news outlets that also had seen the e-mails.

If this has a familiar ring, look in the Catholic Church for the bell. Republican leadership was acting like the Catholic hierarchy, which played shell games with men accused of sexually abusing children. And there's a good reason for the similarity. The inability to deal straightforwardly with gay people leads to other kinds of truth-avoidance when things go south. But that's what comes from not wanting to know something, and going out of your way to remain ignorant.

We've come a long way since homosexuals had two basic options: the closet or jail. But a good portion of the electorate, most of them Republican, still seems to long for the good old days when we didn't have to think about "those people." Both Libertarians and, generally, the Democratic Party have withdrawn their official support for the closet over time. States, too, are seeing what a losing battle this is, and allowing homosexuals to live their lives in conformity with, rather than opposition to, the law.

But that leaves Republicans and the religious right trying to live a 1950s lie in the new millennium. As Foley prepared in 2003 to run for the Senate, newspapers in Florida and elsewhere published stories about his homosexuality. But you'd never hear any of his colleagues saying such a thing. And Foley himself refused to discuss the issue, until his lawyer acknowledged Wednesday that the former congressman is indeed gay.

Being in the closet is hard to pull off without help, and for years Foley was eagerly abetted by his Republican brethren, whose willful blindness is at the heart of the current tragedy. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, majority leader John Boehner, and others in the House leadership are still under the impression that the closet, like Tinkerbell, will continue to live as long as we all believe. And believe, they do -- against all the evidence.

But the number of people who believe in the closet is declining day by day and generation by generation. Hastert and the rest of his cronies are their own victims. The political turmoil they caused for themselves is only just.

But their failure to acknowledge the obvious reality has other victims as well: the boys whom Foley apparently pursued. Some of the messages show some tolerance of Foley's advances, but not much more. This was no one's "Summer of '42." The healthy disgust in one boy's use of the word "sick" repeated 13 times seems about right.

But what can one expect from denying grown men -- and women -- a normal, adult sex life? Whether the denial of adult intimacy comes from religious conviction or the ordinary urge toward conformity, people who run away from their sexuality nearly always have to answer to nature somehow. For people who fear abiding and mutual love, the trust and confusion of the young is a godsend. Add to that the perquisites of power, and a degenerate is born.

Fortunately for the arc of justice, the closet ultimately works against itself. Foley's case and the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal are the last screams of the dinosaurs. It took the dinosaurs a long time to finally die off, or evolve into creatures that could continue to survive, and the same will be true of the closet's final supporters. But they will look more and more ridiculous each time that they take pride in holding up the ruins of this particular antiquity while tending to the wounded when the building again collapses.

Like the Catholic Church, the Republican Party in Washington guarantees its own future calamities in its enduring and steadfast habit of pretending that, unlike heterosexuality, homosexuality can be either denied or suppressed.

Well, all right, that is a reasonable sounding perspective, isn't it? What do you say we accept the reality of this situation and move forward? What do you say Montgomery County steps out in front, instead of dragging along the false-minded bigotry of the failed movement that is disintegrating under the pressure of its own hypocrisy, even as we speak?

Sexual orientation, one way or the other, is not deniable, and it is not suppressible. And the schools should not even hint that it is.

Banning Banned Books

Now, this is the kind of American tradition I can get behind. Every year, the American Library Association declares the last week of September to be Banned Books Week. You'll see lists on the Internet and different places of books that have been banned -- lots of them are really good ones, but some betterthanyou person has decided you should not be able to read them

It's cool that it's the Library Association, of all people, those nice little old ladies with chopsticks in their hair. (Of course I'm actually thinking of Marian the Librarian, but that's me ...) I remember back in the day, sitting at the old monochrome computer screen, using telnet, dot-profiles, ftp, reading Usenet, all in text -- the Olde Days of the Internet -- it was actually the librarians who took the bull by the horns and started making something of it. I don't remember if it was the ALA or another librarians' group, but they were the ones who really started to use the Internet for good, before there were web browsers and AOL and a gazillion people out there.

Because it turns out, libraries are about information. They're not about shushing people, they're about getting information to them.

Remember earlier this year, when the Montgomery County Homeland Security guys tried to bust a guy looking at stuff they didn't like on the library computer? It was the librarians who threw a fit, they don't want the Secret Police hassling their customers.

So it's a little sad to see that this school in Harrisonburg VA is banning the banned-books display.
A display at Harrisonburg High School of books that have, at some point in history, either been banned or challenged was ordered removed last month by Harrisonburg Schools Superintendent Donald Ford.

The display, which Ford ordered removed Sept. 27, was part of the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, the last week of September.

Ford said he was concerned the school division would encourage students to read banned books because they are on a controversial list and not because of their content. Display of Banned Books Removed at Harrisonburg High School

Look, the ALA has a whole lot of lists of banned books, ordered all different ways, HERE. Like, just for a flavor, I'll give the "ten most challenged books of 2005," from that site:
  • “It's Perfectly Normal” for homosexuality, nudity, sex education, religious viewpoint, abortion and being unsuited to age group;
  • “Forever” by Judy Blume for sexual content and offensive language;
  • “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger for sexual content, offensive language and being unsuited to age group;
  • “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier for sexual content and offensive language;
  • “Whale Talk” by Chris Crutcher for racism and offensive language;
  • “Detour for Emmy” by Marilyn Reynolds for sexual content;
  • “What My Mother Doesn't Know” by Sonya Sones for sexual content and being unsuited to age group;
  • Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey for anti-family content, being unsuited to age group and violence;
  • “Crazy Lady!” by Jane Leslie Conly for offensive language; and
  • “It's So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families” by Robie H. Harris for sex education and sexual content.

Now, you gotta agree, that is some scary stuff. The grown-up half of those were mostly on my wife's reading-club list this past year. As for the other half, uh, it appears we are surrounded by idiots.

The great thing is, everybody knows what this is about. That's why we "celebrate" banned books week. All the bloggers put up lists, bolding the ones they've read, nobody is sorry they read any of these books, we brag about it.

Let me repeat: Captain Underpants.

Banning books is a classic way the puritans try to force their ridiculous narrow worldview on the rest of us. Well, that, and burning Elvis forty-fives. And throwing fits over sex-ed.

Go ask your parents what a forty-five is.


More from this story:
The high school library has participated in at least the past two Banned Books Week, said librarian Elsie Garber, who is in her third year at the library.

Garber would not comment on the display, other than to say it included several books.

Yeah, do librarians ever "need to spend more time with their families?"
School administrators would not release a complete list of the books in the display.

However, High School Principal Irene Reynolds recalled that the titles included "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain; "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury; "The Diary of Ann Frank," and "The Bible."

The American Library Association has held Banned Book Week since 1982.

According to its Web site, the ALA’s banned book week celebrates freedom to choose or to express an opinion that otherwise might be considered unorthodox or unpopular.

"After all," the site said, "intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met."

Now -- can you imagine? We live in a time when that statement is controversial. These librarians are traitors. If the terrorists get ahold of The Diary of Ann Frank, who knows, they might figure out you can hide in attics or something.
The high school library display, Ford said, seemed to entice students into reading the books because they are on a list.

"We are not going to send a message to kids encouraging them to read ‘banned’ books. Our message should be to read books, a wide variety of books.

Oooh hee hee hoo hoo, no, your job, dude, is to get kids to rise up against The Man. Obviously.

C'mon, the school is a place to learn, and kids need to know that grownups know that somebody is trying to put blinders on all of us. It's just a fact of life in America today, "some people" want to maintain a delicious state of outrage that demands you change your ways, whatever it is you're doing. And it's not just kids that get restrictions put on them, it's all of us.

And anyway, this is The American Librarian Association -- how can you be against a bunch of librarians?
"But I don’t think we should tease kids into reading a book by trying to say, ‘there might be something juicy or controversial in this book. Therefore, it would be a good one for you to sneak home and read."’

That is not the message, Ford said, that he believed librarians were trying to send with the display.

"I don’t believe there’s a significant difference in what they wanted to accomplish, and what I want to accomplish in terms of our libraries and reading," he said.

Something juicy? In Huckleberry Finn? In Diary of Ann Frank? Man, I might have to go back and look at those, because ... I missed it the first time.

Meanwhile, Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance is still up there at Number Nineteen at Amazon, thanks to Hugo Chavez, and my book has risen to Number One Hundred Ninety Eight Thousand, Nine Hundred Eighty Third. Thank you, my reading public, for putting me where I am today.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Yglesias on Pedophilia

I was going to try to write something about this, but I kept getting it tangled up, and besides, I just noticed that Matthew Yglesias said it perfectly well. Here's his post in its entirety (including the picture):
Not to get too thick in the weeds of apologetics here, but it's certainly true that use of the term "pedophilia" in the context of the Mark Foley scandal should be resisted. What Foley was up to was sleazy and wrong (and, it seems, possibly illegal) but being attracted to older teens isn't pedophilia. I think the gay angle clouds people's thinking about this.

You'll see on the right a photo of Scarlett Johannssonn in Ghost World. She was born on November 22, 1984 and the film was released in 2001, so it would have been shot was she was sixteen years old. I think it's rather self-evident that to classify anyone who thinks this is a picture of an attractive woman as a pedophile would be to drain the term of any real meaning. One could fairly subject a much older man actively persuing a sexual relationship with a sixteen year-old to all sorts of criticism, but pedophilia isn't a plausible candidate.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, it's possible for something both to be wrong and to not be pedophilia. Lots of things that aren't pedophilia are wrong. I'm trying to defend the English language here, not Foley's conduct. "Pedophilia"

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ain't That America

Woops -- lawsuit time:
A Denver-area man filed a lawsuit today against a member of the Secret Service for causing him to be arrested after he approached Vice President Dick Cheney in Beaver Creek this summer and criticized him for his policies concerning Iraq.

Attorney David Lane said that on June 16, Steve Howards was walking his 7-year-old son to a piano practice, when he saw Cheney surrounded by a group of people in an outdoor mall area, shaking hands and posing for pictures with several people.

According to the lawsuit filed at U.S. District Court in Denver, Howards and his son walked to about two-to-three feet from where Cheney was standing, and said to the vice president, "I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible," or words to that effect, then walked on.

Ten minutes later, according to Howards' lawsuit, he and his son were walking back through the same area, when they were approached by Secret Service agent Virgil D. "Gus" Reichle Jr., who asked Howards if he had "assaulted" the vice president. Howards denied doing so, but was nonetheless placed in handcuffs and taken to the Eagle County Jail. Arrest over Cheney barb triggers lawsuit

Well at least the kid is learning to have a good sense of respect for authority.

Tolerance is the Problem

In contrast to the previous post, the Family Reseach Council released a statement, which has FRC President Tony Perkins saying:
"We are all shocked by this spectacle of aberrant sexual behavior, but we shouldn't be. This is the end result of a society that rejects sexual restraints in the name of diversity. When a 16-year-old boy is not safe from sexual solicitation from an elected representative of the people, we should question the moral direction of our nation. If our children aren't safe in the halls of Congress, where are they safe? Maybe it's time to question: when is tolerance just an excuse for permissiveness?" FRC Statement on Mark Foley

The Closet

The scandal over Mark Foley's fascination with underage Congressional pages brings up an important point, having to do with keeping your true nature a secret. These days gay politicians aren't really that rare. I can't vouch for every one of these, but Wikipedia lists 139 of them. You're gay, you run for office, people vote for you or they don't, it doesn't need to be a campaign issue.

Ah, but these are "politicians who identify as gay men." (Lesbians, bisexuals, and trangender people have their own Wikipedia pages.)

What about the ones who don't identify themselves publicly? What about the Mark Foleys? It does not seem to me to be a good idea to force guys like him to remain hidden, constantly trying to cover-up, constantly doing things to undermine their own interest, while their sexuality becomes whatever they can "get away with" without being exposed.

I linked to this yesterday, but will quote the whole thing today, because Andrew Sullivan has said something really quite eloquent about the Mark Foley incident:
For almost my entire adult life, I've been openly gay. Why? It was too humiliating and psychologically destructive to lie. I don't think of this as a virtue, really. In some ways, I think it was my pride that forced me to be honest with myself and others; and a deep sense that obviously this was how God made me, and it behooved me to deal with it forthrightly. It was alo fueled by a conviction, as the 1980s darkened for so many gay men, that I had an actual responsibility to be out, and to advance the dignity of so many fighting literally for their lives. It was like being black in the 1950s. My own HIV diagnosis convinced me to fight harder, because I truly believed it might not be for much longer. And in those years and beyond, others chose to sit it out, to run for cover, even to distance themselves from who they were and from their fellows who so desperately needed their help.

Maybe we should feel anger at these people. I don't. I feel sadness. Sadness at the compromises they made and the misery they fueled for themselves. In so far as someone like Jim McGreevey has, for whatever reason, overcome his shame, then I have no interest in judging him. I feel glad he has found some happiness at last, despite his past corruption, human flaws and past opposition to marriage equality. We are all human, and my own life has its own share of emotional and sexual mistakes. Equally, the news about Mark Foley has a kind of grim inevitability to it. I don't know Foley, although, like any other gay man in D.C., I was told he was gay, closeted, afraid and therefore also screwed up. What the closet does to people - the hypocrisies it fosters, the pathologies it breeds - is brutal. There are many still-closeted gay men in D.C., many of them working for a Republican party that has sadly deeply hostile to gay dignity. How they live with themselves I do not fully understand. But I have learned you cannot judge someone's soul from outside. That I leave to them and their God, and some I count as good friends and good people.

What I do know is that the closet corrupts. The lies it requires and the compartmentalization it demands can lead people to places they never truly wanted to go, and for which they have to take ultimate responsibility. From what I've read, Foley is another example of this destructive and self-destructive pattern for which the only cure is courage and honesty. While gays were fighting for thir basic equality, Foley voted for the "Defense of Marriage Act". If his resignation means the end of the closet for him, and if there is no more to this than we now know, then it may even be for the good. Better to find integrity and lose a Congressional seat than never live with integrity at all.

The Closet

And, in case there is any question about it, let's remember that "ex-gay" simply means "re-closeted."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Social Networks and AIDS

I don't usually follow up on a post with another post explaining it, but these are very difficult questions, and I want to share a thought I have.

Talking about the Surgeon General's comment I mentioned that a disease like AIDS moves along a social network. By that I mean a particular thing, there is a science of social networks, related to graph theory in mathematics but applied to sociology and usually practiced by physicists, go figure. Generally, you imagine a graph, where each person is a node, say a little circle, and there are lines connecting various ones of them. Not every node is connected to every other, you typically have dense regions -- clusters -- with sparse connections between them.

You've heard it said that everyone in the world is connected by seven or less steps to everyone else -- the "six degrees of separation" effect. Well, now you're talking about social networks. Who's connected to who, what links you'd follow to get from you to Kevin Bacon. More to the point, you've probably heard it said that when you have sex with somebody, you're having sex with everybody they ever had sex with, and so on, moving out through the social network.

Some diseases are just distributed randomly in the population. Somebody gets the flu, they cough and sneeze, the virus goes into the air, and people nearby are exposed to it. There is some probability of them actually getting sick, but there is no requirement that they actually know the person they caught it from. Some proportion are sick, and that is a parameter of the population; some have recovered already, some have not caught the disease yet, some have died ... these are just parameters that can be entered into a formula or model to make predictions.

On the train-ride home I started thinking about this. After seeing some of the comments on that last post, I realized that some people don't have this concept. So I Googled [AIDS epidemic "social network"]. The first hit was about drug users, so I clicked on the second one.

It's a pdf file of a scientific paper by a lady named E. Ann Stanley, published in a journal called Connections, which is put out by ISNSA, the International Network for Social Network Analysis. She used to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, then at Iowa State University, and now she lists her affiliation as "Bend, Oregon." I don't know her, but I do know a couple of people who have co-authored with her, and I see that her publications look very good. She was involved in some of the early modeling of the AIDS epidemic, even back into the Eighties.

This 2006 paper is really just a kind of introduction to social networks, drawing upon other more technical papers that the author and others have published. It's called Social Networks and Mathematical Modeling.

This blog is not the place for technical mathematical papers, but let me copy and paste a few paragraphs from this one for you, because it's right on the money.
Mathematical modeling studies have shown that the AIDS epidemic is very sensitive to the human behaviors that spread HIV, including: the amount of risky behavior; the manner in which that risky behavior is distributed in the population; and the social network structures within which people practice those risky behaviors. In fact, these models have shown that if we do not understand all three of these factors, then we cannot hope to predict and control the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases(Hyman and Stanley, 1988, 1994; Stanley, et al., 1991).

One of the earliest indications that this was so occurred in the mid-1980's. At that time, the US Centers for Disease Control was predicting that the AIDS epidemic was already dying out. They predicted this based upon the fact that the epidemic was growing more slowly than exponentially. With infections that are transmitted via casual contacts, such as measles or the common cold, case data which grow less than exponentially does indeed indicate that an outbreak is peaking and will soon be on the decline. Early mathematical models of the AIDS epidemic also demonstrated exponential growth, followed by slowing towards a peak and then decline (Anderson, et al., 1986)

See, they were thinking it was like the flu, and the only thing you had to know was how many people have it. But AIDS is different. Every contagion event occurs intimately between two people, the disease passes from node to node through the network; you don't catch it from doorknobs, you catch it from somebody you know. And the population-level effects of these two kinds of processes look different.

Excuse me, but I love this stuff.

She continues:
However, while these early models did account for both sexual activity levels and the distribution of those activity levels in the population at risk, they did not account for social network structure. Instead, they assumed random mixing. Simply adding the fact that people who are high risk tend to associate more often with others of high risk, and similarly for those of low risk, to our model, along with data on the distribution of partner acquisition rates from various studies in homosexual populations, showed that the epidemic should be growing cubically in time. Reanalysis of the CDC data showed that this was indeed the case (Hyman and Stanley, 1988, Colgate, et al., 1989)

So the traditional epidemiologists were predicting that the epidemic was dying down, but these guys' model predicted that it was actually growing. Remember, AIDS has a long incubation rate, and people are infectious before they have symptoms, so there can be hidden propagation going on.

When she says "the distribution of partner acquisition rates" she means they look at how many people have lots of partners, how many have kind of a lot, how many have only a few, etc. That histogram will look different for different populations, I'd be sure, and it's an important thing to put into a predictive model. You'd also know how many of the Highs know other Highs, how many Highs the Lows know and vice versa, and so on.
This modeling effort showed that the epidemic was decidedly not dying out. This had important policy implications, since many were saying that, since the epidemic was dying out, it would go away on its own, and it wasn't worth spending a lot of money to control it.
Another important feature of the epidemic that biased mixing models captured was the fact that it was primarily the highest risk individuals who were infected first, followed by the next-highest risk individuals, and so on, whereas the random mixing models had most of their early infections in the large low risk groups.

See how cool this stuff is? If it's the flu, then anybody who rides a bus or train is going to be exposed to it: the "random mixing model." In the "biased mixing model," their model, there is more structure to the spread of the disease.
Modeling HIV spread in age and sex- structured populations pointed out another way in which network structures affect the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Since female partners tend to be younger than their male partners, women tend to become infected at younger ages than men, with the difference in age being societally-determined, and similar to the difference in age at marriage. But more than that, the way that society is structured, ie the network patterns and norms, strongly influences the speed and pattern of spread. Such questions as who goes to brothels, how many wives and concubines men have, and who gets to have multiple female partners, all affect the spread of disease via sex (Stanley, et al., 1991). Collection and analysis of network data have highlighted some of these factors, showing that clustering of heavily interacting individuals into local risk-taking networks, is an important factor in the spread of disease (Rothenberg et al., 2005 and 2005).

Some of this paper is just instructional and technical and not too relevant to this discussion.

The point is this. As soon as I posted that last comment we had a guy in the comments asserting that the epidemic targets gays because they're promiscuous. That's not what this model says. This model says that you catch the disease from somebody you know, and gay people know each other. And guess what: when you ostracise a subpopulation they tend to cluster together more densely, provide the context for something like this kind of epidemic to happen.

Neat little paper -- not too hard, either. I say, click on the link and see how you like that way of looking at contagion. (It applies to beliefs and attitudes, too.)

News From the Future

Ah, clearly the administration didn't think this one all the way through ...
A mere two weeks into her tenure, President Hillary Rodham Clinton has announced a sweeping roundup of illegal enemy combatants, the first step in a comprehensive program designed to protect the American people from potential terrorist activities. In accordance with the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the nearly one million detainees will be held indefinitely without trial or recourse to legal counsel until such time as the President determines they no longer pose a threat to the United States and its allies.

"The legal basis of these sweeps is firmly grounded in the Military Commissions Act of 2006," Paul Grisley, White House Press Secretary, said, "which is an essential component of our ongoing struggle to protect America from those who would seek to destroy Her..."

While the names and crimes of the detainees are classified to protect the interests of national security, a clue as to some of their identities could be gleaned by means of a stroll though major government offices around the country. Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices, for example, failed to show up for work, as did approximately 220 congressmen, 52 senators and a number of governors and presiding justices of district and appellate courts. President Clinton Jails 938,000 Illegal Enemy Combatants

Go read the rest. It's hilarious.

The Surgeon General's Statement

In the last go-round of curriculum development, some members of the citizens advisory committee liked to complain that the school district "refused" to include information from government web sites in the sex-ed curriculum. In this post, I am going to tell you why I, as a member of the current citizens advisory committee, intend to argue against using information from a government web site this time around.

A recent Washington Blade article had this quote:
Dr. Ruth Jacobs of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum said the curriculum should include a 2005 U.S. Surgeon General's statement that "anal intercourse is simply too dangerous to practice."

Dr. Jacobs, who is the CRC's representative on the citizens advisory committee, has also proposed to the committee that this wording should be included in the school district's discussion of condom usage.

I do not think my esteemed colleague is intentionally trying to deceive anyone, but a casual reader might have gotten the impression from that quote that the Surgeon General in 2005 said something cautioning against anal intercourse. Which is not correct.

I'm going to walk through this and then tell you why it matters. Sorry if this post is long, I'd like to get this on the record.

Dr. Jacobs was referring to an FDA web site on AIDS and condom usage, which contains this sentence:
The Surgeon General has said, "Condoms provide some protection, but anal intercouse is simply too dangerous to practice."

Site: Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases . . . especially AIDS

[Note: that really is how they spelled it: "intercouse."]

That web page has a footnote after a later section on spermicides, saying:
[This section, "Should spermicides be used with condoms," was revised in 2005 to reflect new data about the potential impact of N-9 on transmission of HIV.]

This does indicate that the page was updated in 2005.

It does not indicate that the Surgeon General's comment came in 2005.

At the last meeting, another member of the citizens committee produced a document, an editorial published in 1991 in the Journal of Family Practice. The editorial was written by C. Everett Koop, who was no longer Surgeon General in 1991, but had been during the Eighties. In the article, he says:
Condoms provide some protection, but anal intercourse is simply too dangerous a practice.

That statement by the Surgeon General is fifteen years old.

But is that the original? Is that where the FDA web site got this quote, which CRC mistakenly says was made in 2005?

Well, maybe not. The statement might be even older than that.

In fact, the FDA web site linked above is a version of an FDA pamphlet that has been around for quite a while, since before the worldwide web. Though old versions are not apparently archived on the Internet, we can see an interesting article HERE; this comes from a publication called FDA Consumer, put out in 1990, which states at the bottom:
Some of the material in this article was taken from the FDA pamphlet Condoms and Sexually Transmitted Diseases . . . Especially AIDS.

which is also the title of the FDA web page. In fact, many paragraphs of that 1990 article are nearly exactly the same as the "2005" web site, word for word.

The authors of that page at least had the candor to print a disclaimer at the top that said:
This article was published in FDA Consumer magazine several years ago. It is no longer being maintained and may contain information that is out of date.

Well, if "fifteen" is "several," then ... at least they acknowledge it's obsolete.

The 1990 probably-out-of-date article contains this statement:
The Surgeon General of the Public Health Service has said, "Condoms provide some protection, but anal intercourse is simply too dangerous a practice."

Already in 1990 they are quoting this statement in the past tense.

And look -- here's an article in the L.A. Times from 1988 that says:
Fox also warned against considering any condom effective protection against AIDS when used in anal sex, which is practiced by many homosexuals. "I think the surgeon general has made the statement that anal intercourse is too dangerous to be practiced under any circumstances," he said. Condom Study Finding Wide Differences Among Brands

That's not the exact wording we're looking for, but it does appear to make reference to the same quote. In 1988.

Now look, there's even more. HERE is a ridiculous article on "the causes of male homosexuality" that is attributed to NARTH, the anti-gay therapists who the CRC agrees with. I can't tell when this article was written, but it contains a quote:
Surgeon General Everett Koop has stated that "anal intercourse, even with a condom, is simply too dangerous a practice." 39

That "39" at the end is an endnote, and it refers to a UPI news article by Celia Hooper, headlined, "Surgeon General Advises Doctors to Teach Patients about Condoms," and dated October 13, 1987.

We also find a legal article in the University of Baltimore Law Forum, where a lawyer from the Family Research Council (another group with which CRC is in accord) argues in favor of sodomy laws. This article, published in 1992, says:
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has stated that "anal intercourse, even with a condom, is simply too dangerous a practice." 106

where that "106" is a footnote referencing the same 1987 UPI article as the original source of the quote.

Nineteen eighty seven. Nearly twenty years ago.

Unfortunately we have no handy way to go back and look at the newspapers from those days, but I'm sure that those who disagree with our position would agree (with one another) that the sources of the reference, NARTH and FRC, are unimpeachable. In fact, for this purpose -- chasing down a reference -- I expect those sources are just fine.

To summarize so far: the CRC has often quoted this Surgeon's General's statement, recently implying that it was said in 2005, and intends to try to have it included into the MCPS curriculum. The evidence proves that the statement was made by C. Everett Koop, at least as far back as 1990 (when it was referred to as a past statement), and probably as early as 1987.

Think back to those times. AIDS had become known in 1981, when it was noticed that a number of gay men displayed a strange suite of deadly symptoms; an antibody test was approved in 1985; the Surgeon General issued a controversial report on the topic and HIV was given a name in 1986; in 1990, Ronald Reagan issued an apology for having neglected the epidemic while he was President.

Surgeon General Koop had bravely dealt with this new disease when he was in office. He advocated fighting it through education, and promoted the use of condoms as a secondary way to prevent catching the disease, after abstinence and monogamy. The epidemic emerged on his watch (1982-1989) and he did what he had to do, as new knowledge was being discovered.

So now the question is whether a strongly worded statement from 1987-1991, issued in relation to a mysterious new epidemic seen mainly among gay men, is really the best message for high school students in 2006 and onward.

According to THIS SURVEY published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anal sex is overwhelmingly a heterosexual activity. Thirty-five percent of adult American women, and forty percent of men, report that they have had anal sex with a member of the opposite sex.

If we take the most conservative numbers (say, those given by Peter Sprigg at a CRC meeting last year), let's say that two percent of men are gay. And to satisfy the stereotypes of our friends on the other side of the debate, we'll pretend that every single one of them has had anal sex with another man. If there are approximately equal numbers of men and women in our society (there aren't, women outnumber men, but we'll ignore that), then we can surmise that about one percent of the adult population has had anal intercourse with another member of the same sex.

Averaging the percentages for men and women (again assuming equal numbers), we'll say that about thirty-seven and a half percent of the American adult population has had heterosexual anal intercourse.

That is thirty seven and a half times as many straight people having anal sex, compared to gay people (these labels don't fit as snugly as I would like, it is better to label the act than the person, but we don't have that kind of data).

If anal sex itself were as dangerous as the venerable Surgeon General's statement implies, then we would expect there to be thirty-seven-something times as many new HIV cases each year spread by heterosexual contact as by same-sex contact in this country. Do you see that? Nope.

The problem is not "anal intercourse."

This kind of intimate infection is spread through a social network of individuals, one to the next, and in the United States those social network connections have disproportionately linked members of the gay community. That's not true in some parts of the world, but it is here. Most anal sex is not gay, by a long shot, but HIV in the US is commonly spread through male-to-male anal intercourse.

The problem, to state the obvious, is having sex of any kind with a person who is infected with an STD, including HIV. In our society, a large proportion of people with HIV are gay men, and anal sex is a common form of expression for them. So that's how it spreads. You don't get it by "being gay," and anal sex isn't significantly riskier than other things.

THIS government site seems to offer good advice to teens about preventing the spread of HIV. You see the wording is gentle but clear. There is lots of information but no hyperbole: a better template for MCPS.

The truth is, for most people anal intercourse is slightly more risky than vaginal intercourse. The absorbent tissue of the rectum is more receptive than the vagina to infection (which is only an issue, however, when the partner is infected with something), and because it does not produce lubricants the tissue tends to get abrasions that admit even more infection (again, only if there are pathogens). Intestinal bacteria, spread to other areas, can be infectious. Further, though I don't see any really good data, the medical lore says that condoms are more likely to break and slip when used anally. So a word of warning certainly makes sense, if the school district decides to teach about anal sex they should include information about the risks. But that wording should be commensurate with the danger.

Also, note that we are discussing a condom curriculum at this time. The condom curriculum leads into a section on sexually transmitted infections. The issue of HIV transmission in the gay population is appropriate there, not here. But if we decide to discuss the topic here, the information we propose should be accurate and timely. In the condom curriculum, it really is sufficient to teach students to use the condom for vaginal, oral, and anal sex, and it is not necessary to go into these gory details.

Surgeon General Koop's archaic statement is inaccurate when generalized to the huge majority of pertinent situations, and is irrelevant to the topic of putting on a condom. Therefore, I oppose including it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Foley Update

From reading certain news stories, you'd think that Congressman Mark Foley had said some ambiguously "creepy" things to a young page. You know, your friend is really in good shape, send me a pic, stuff like that.

If that has been your impression, then go to ABC News and check out the 9 pages of IM text they have published.

They say there, READER DISCRETION STRONGLY ADVISED: Foley's Exchange With Underage Page, and they're not kidding. Please only click on the link if you're an adult. And have a bowl to puke into next to the computer.

The Shoe on the Other Foot

I have really come to appreciate Box Turtle Bulletin, a gay-issues-oriented site that is written with intelligence and insight. They don't post very often, but everything I've seen has definitely been worth reading.

This morning they posted a link to a document that you just gotta see. It's a pamphlet called The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing the Myths. It's about 1.2 Megs, 36 pages, so be careful if you're on dial-up.

Besides the fact that is is hilarious to see the rest of us in the ugly light that gets shined on gays, this guy has put together a really great Reference section, linking to real journal articles, with a little commentary added to each entry. There are lots of facts here, many of which will surprise you, many of which you ... might prefer not to be mentioned out loud. This pamphlet is professionally done, with nice graphics, a professional-looking layout, excellent writing.

It turns out straight people are really pretty disgusting.

The point of this exercise is given in a late chapter called, "How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps." You will recognize every one of these points in stuff that you have seen, Family Blah Blah articles, televangelist comments, the CRC talking to reporters ... It's easy to take a group of people and make them look bad. Check it out, there's something in this pamphlet for everyone.

A Sunday Morning Rumination

Here I am at the kitchen table on a b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l, cool Sunday morning, a sunbeam streaming down onto my shoulders, WPFW playing some sort of klezmerish jazz, everybody asleep but me. My favorite time. So ... because nothing is interrupting me, I will go on too long.

I'm looking at the morning paper, and, oh, the bad guys are being caught, yes, but nothing's going to happen. The whole newspaper is full of corruption and degeneracy. In other times, the discovery of crimes and lies would result in corrective action. I am not so confident these days.

The Carpetbagger Report had a tidy summary of the past week, which I'm just going to copy and paste, including their links:
On Sunday, we learned that the National Intelligence Estimate, the most complete intelligence report completed by all available agencies, argues, in the words of one American intelligence official, "[T]he Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse." The same day, we learn that the president dismisses the ongoing tragedies in Iraq as "just a comma" in history.

On Tuesday, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), with no evidence at all, argued on national television that Saddam Hussein had WMD and was an accomplice to the 9/11 attacks, despite reality that says the opposite.

On Wednesday, a majority of the House of Representatives endorsed the Bush administration's deplorable torture bill.

On Thursday, a majority of the Senate endorsed the Bush administration's deplorable torture bill.

On Friday, a report explained that the White House misled the country about its connections with Jack Abramoff. A few hours later, Mark Foley, a member of the House Republican leadership, was forced to resign in disgrace for being a sexual predator.

On Friday and Saturday, revelations from Bob Woodward's new book highlighted, for the umpteenth time, that the Bush White House has been breathtakingly "clueless, dishonest, and dysfunctional" in its handling of the war in Iraq. Worse yet, the same book notes that the White House was offered a chance to kill Osama bin Laden months before 9/11, but the Bush gang didn't feel like it.

And today we learn that House GOP leaders knew about Foley's "problems" nearly a year ago, but decided not to do much of anything.

You'd think, now that the media seem to be realizing that they can't cover this stuff up any more, that something would happen, wouldn't you? You'd think the party in charge would be expecting to go out on their butts. But no. The other party can't say with certainty that they'll gain a majority in either house of Congress in the elections that are coming up in about a month.

I understand it, but I hate to believe it. I'm going to copy a few paragraphs from a news story earlier this week:
WASHINGTON - The House approved a bill Thursday that would grant legal status to President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program with new restrictions. Republicans called it a test before the election of whether Democrats want to fight or coddle terrorists.

"The Democrats' irrational opposition to strong national security policies that help keep our nation secure should be of great concern to the American people," Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement after the bill passed 232-191.

"To always have reasons why you just can't vote 'yes,' I think speaks volumes when it comes to which party is better able and more willing to take on the terrorists and defeat them," Boehner said.

After the House voted 253-168 to set rules on tough interrogations and military tribunal proceedings, Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was even more critical than Boehner.

"Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists," Hastert said in a statement. "So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled, if we followed the Democrat plan. " Wiretap bill sets up election-year issue

A bill gives away some of our most fundamental rights as citizens, guaranteed from the beginning of our country. Some in Congress vote against it -- and their explanations are in this story, too, but that's not what's on my mind this morning, it's not about the wiretapping bill. This particular story just gives some examples of a common type.

So here's the first guy saying that voting against the bill showed "irrational opposition to strong national security policies" and cautioning that the American people should be concerned about these "irrational" leaders.

But it's the other guy's comment that seals it. He says those who opposed the bill "voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists."

Listen, he can say that, it's ridiculous, but that's not actually the part that bothers me. What really worries me is that I realize now, after working this blog for nearly two years, that some people will actually believe this statement. We will have people in our country who don't care that their rights are being sold off, well, they won't really understand that their rights are under discussion here. The side that controls the dialogue says it's about giving rights to terrorists, and that's as far as some people -- lots of people -- are going to get.

Can you imagine that anyone in America would believe that any person who has been elected to Congress wants to give more rights to terrorists? The fact that this guy can paint the world black and white, and that people will agree to see it that way, is just horrifying. And the fact is, this is just one statement, buried in another news story in a time when these kinds of statements actually comprise the official public debate.

Whenever I think this problem through, I end up back at the subject of public education. This kind of rhetoric can only succeed in the absence of critical thinking.

John Dean's latest book has really opened up discussion on the topic of authoritarianism in America, which he identifies as the underlying perspective that explains so much of what's going on. Why would anybody believe that 160 Congressmen want more rights for terrorists? Because an authority says so. Nobody would reach that conclusion on their own, looking at the evidence. There has been a brisk dialogue, and not everyone was persuaded that this was the right thing to do. You don't have to be a genius to see that nobody supports terrorism. But the Speaker of the House says so, so it must be true.

If there's anything you learn in a public school, it's authoritarianism. You, the student, will fit into their, the teachers', routine. If your essay points are not on the rubric, you're wrong. You'll sit in a group and face the teacher, who stands alone; you'll listen while she talks. The institution, from coast to coast, is set up to produce obedient little robots -- in this, I agree with the home-schoolers, and, really, c'mon, doesn't everybody see that? I disagree with the home-schoolers in a significant way, though. I don't think it's right to abandon the public institution just because it's broken, I think the right thing to do is to reclaim ownership of it and fix it.

I think the schools should be where students learn to be participants in their society, not recipients of it.

This is the underlying struggle that our sex-ed controversy rides on. Some of us believe that students should be presented with facts, that valid knowledge and critical cognitive skills should be imparted, so young people can make well-reasoned decisions at important points in their lives. Others see education as a process that should insitutionalize a traditional way of life and pass well-worn, commonly-held beliefs down to the next generation. We're lucky that most people in our county don't see it that way. Just lucky, that's all.