Sunday, December 31, 2006


As we celebrate the end of 2006, the United States has just passed another milestone in our war against Iraq.

From Reuters:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq has reached 3,000 since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, an authoritative Web site tracking war deaths said on Sunday.

The milestone comes as President George W. Bush weighs options, including more troops, for the deteriorating situation in Iraq, where daily violence plagues Baghdad and much of the country and has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis.

The Web site,, listed the death of Spec. Dustin R. Donica, 22, on December 28 as previously unreported, and said that 3,000 U.S. military personnel had now died. U.S. military deaths in Iraq reach 3,000

The President, refusing the advice of his generals and of the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group, insists on escalation and "victory," though no one will know when we have attained that; not only does the "war" have no objective, we don't know who the enemy is. Normally victory in war is defined by the surrender of one side; in this case, the Iraqi people have no official spokesman who could surrender for them -- not that they would, but it would at least be a way to know the war was ended.

So we continue to fight, and Americans and Iraqis continue to die.

The Ethics of Gay Sheep

I almost blogged about this earlier in the year when PETA joined the fray, but it was too easy to joke about it, and not-so-easy to see what the real issue was. (Personally, I don't think PETA's issue is the important one.)

These scientists in Oregon are experimenting with gay sheep, seeing what it would take to make them straight. For one thing, farmers don't like gay sheep because they're not good for production. For another thing, with all the arguing about what causes sexual orientation, wouldn't you like to know the answer? But there's another thing. If you could change people's sexual orientation, say by giving them some medicine or performing brain surgery on them, what's the chance some members of our society would not think that was a good idea? See what I mean? It goes somewhere dark.

From the UK's Times Online:
SCIENTISTS are conducting experiments to change the sexuality of “gay” sheep in a programme that critics fear could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans.

The technique being developed by American researchers adjusts the hormonal balance in the brains of homosexual rams so that they are more inclined to mate with ewes.

It raises the prospect that pregnant women could one day be offered a treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual. Experts say that, in theory, the “straightening” procedure on humans could be as simple as a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn on the skin like an anti-smoking nicotine patch. Science told: hands off gay sheep

There's a "could be" in that last sentence that carries a lot of baggage. At this time, it's pure speculation, but in the long run, that is the crux of the ethical issue.
The research, at Oregon State University in the city of Corvallis and at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, has caused an outcry. Martina Navratilova, the lesbian tennis player who won Wimbledon nine times, and scientists and gay rights campaigners in Britain have called for the project to be abandoned.

Navratilova defended the “right” of sheep to be gay. She said: “How can it be that in the year 2006 a major university would host such homophobic and cruel experiments?” She said gay men and lesbians would be “deeply offended” by the social implications of the tests.

But the researchers argue that the work is valid, shedding light on the “broad question” of what determines sexual orientation. They insist the work is not aimed at “curing” homosexuality.

I agree with you, it's kind of hard to be too serious about whether sheep have the right to be gay. They do have the right to become sweaters and mutton-chops, but the personal rights of sheep have never been given a very high priority. Dogs, maybe.

So far I'm siding with the researchers. You can do all the twin studies in the world with humans, and some nut is still going to whine that there's not a "one hundred percent correlation," and so nothing is proven. But if animal studies can experimentally flip sexual orientation, that would be some pretty strong evidence that the mechanism is biological, and that it's getting to be pretty well understood.

And remember, this week the FDA told us that cloned meat is just the same as naturally produced meat. In other words, the agriculture industry has a lot of money, and can get the Bush administration to say whatever will be profitable for them. And gay sheep are not good for the agriculture business, they make it harder to breed animals. So if you're going to protest that gay sheep have rights, too, you're arguing against guys who expect to get their way -- politically, this is an uphill battle.
Approximately one ram in 10 prefers to mount other rams rather than mate with ewes, reducing its value to a farmer. Initially, the publicly funded project aimed to improve the productivity of herds.

We don't know what the percentage is in humans, really, but about six percent of American men have had sex with another American man, at least once, so if you figured in the shame and stigma aspects, the percentages might be about the same.
The scientists have been able to pinpoint the mechanisms influencing the desires of “male-oriented” rams by studying their brains. The animals’ skulls are cut open and electronic sensors are attached to their brains.

By varying the hormone levels, mainly by injecting hormones into the brain, they have had “considerable success” in altering the rams’ sexuality, with some previously gay animals becoming attracted to ewes.

Professor Charles Roselli, the Health and Science University biologist leading the research, defended the project.

He said: “In general, sexuality has been under-studied because of political concerns. People don’t want science looking into what determines sexuality.

“It’s a touchy issue. In fact, several studies have shown that people who believe homosexuality is biologically based are less homophobic than people who think that this orientation is acquired.”

Well, true, there's that. If these guys are successful, it should make it much harder to argue that being gay is a choice. As the guy says, if you think it's biological (ignoring the fact that psychology is a branch of biology) you're more likely not to blame people for having a different sexual orientation from you. So ... it works that way.
Potentially, the techniques could one day be adapted for human use, with doctors perhaps being able to offer parents pre-natal tests to determine the likely sexuality of offspring or a hormonal treatment to change the orientation of a child.

Roselli has said he would be “uncomfortable” about parents choosing sexuality, but argues that it is up to policy makers to legislate on questions of ethics.

So, two problems. Parents could use it the way the Chinese use ultrasounds, they could say, if the baby's going to be gay I want to abort it. Great. Just great. Or it could be implemented as a "cure" for homosexuality, in the womb.

It seems to me the article talks about implementing the treatment on the gay sheep itself, while the speculation about the future talks about treating the pregnant mother. Maybe there're some details that've been left out. If the treatment is applied to the gay subject himself, it is not hard to imagine an anti-gay society that would force people to undergo this kind of treatment, or even a religious group that would encourage their "flocks" to take the treatment.

It could show that God that is greater than Nature, isn't that wonderful?
Michael Bailey, a neurology professor at Northwestern University near Chicago, said: “Allowing parents to select their children’s sexual orientation would further a parent’s freedom to raise the sort of children they want to raise.”

Critics fear the findings could be abused.

Let me mention, that describing Michael Bailey as "a neurology professor at Northwestern University" is ... an understatement. Bailey is a highly controversial figure, as this quote would suggest. For instance, he was formally investigated for research misconduct by that university, and they have never said what the result of that investigation was. He's on the hot-seat for a lot of iffy stuff, and is not exactly the expert professor he is made out to be here.
Udo Schuklenk, Professor of Bioethics at Glasgow Caledonian University, who has written to the researchers pressing them to stop, said: “I don’t believe the motives of the study are homophobic, but their work brings the terrible possibility of exploitation by homophobic societies. Imagine this technology in the hands of Iran, for example.

“It is typical of the US to ignore the global context in which this is taking place.”

This is the classic ethical dilemma in science. Once you have this knowledge, what will people do with it? I think it is fascinating and important to understand the factors that influence sexual orientation. But anyone reading this article, or hearing about this research, immediately understands that some people are going to try to use it to engineer a "more perfect" society.

You can choose your explanation, God created or Nature evolved us the way we are today -- either way, we don't really know what all went into the creative/evolutionary decision-making. But there is a clear danger in humans presuming they can outsmart God/Nature, that people know better how to engineer our own species.

Tough one.

As an afterthought, I was just re-reading this, and had this flash. Maybe the research finds out how to switch it both ways. Say you could take a pill and be gay for a day. I'm not real sure people wouldn't do that. (It might just pave the way to a cure for homophobia.)

Happy New Year: A Rare Appeal

2006 has been a great year for and Montgomery County. A new sex-ed curriculum has been written by the school district staff, and it was approved by the citizens advisory committee, who will pass it to the school board. The curriculum features a new condom video and accurate and fair treatments of sexual orientation and gender identity. The November elections really proved that our community supports the kind of progressive thinking that stands for.

It's nice to look back on our successes, but we can't sit around congratulating ourselves for long. For one thing, PFOX has already started taking advantage of the recent court ruling about sending flyers home in students' backpacks; for another, CRC has threatened to sue again if the new curriculum is implemented. Last time, MCPS lawyers dropped the ball; this time, we won't let that happen. plans to join other members of Montgomery County's activist community in protecting our public schools from attacks by the radical religious right.

Our 2006 forum on religious inclusiveness was a terrific success and widened our working partners to include clergy members of the Interfaith Fairness Coalition of Maryland. We have videotape of that event, and plan to edit it for a DVD, so we can share all the exciting ideas that were discussed with our larger community. Our candidate forum cosponsored with Equality Montgomery County was well attended and made candidates' positions on education clear to the voting public.

Remember, formed under the dark cloud of the 2004 elections, when the religious right was claiming that it had a mandate to impose its radical views on all of us. They exercised that alleged mandate in a million ways around the country, but they failed here, because the community fought for what's right. When they came for our school board, we stopped them cold.

This is a time of year when we ask you to think about making a tax-exempt donation of some small amount to We are a volunteer organization, but it costs something to maintain the web site, to put on forums, to print documents and make copies, and all the other things we do. If you support what we're doing, please consider making out a check and sending it to:, Inc.
9001 16th Street
Silver Spring, MD 20910-2144

or -- since you're here already -- go to the right side of this web site and click on the "Donate" icon. We appreciate it.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Our Fair and Balanced Park Service

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) have a press release this week that reminds us just where this stuff could have been headed, if we didn't fight tooth and nail every inch of the way:
Washington, DC — Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment.’” HOW OLD IS THE GRAND CANYON? PARK SERVICE WON’T SAY — Orders to Cater to Creationists Makes National Park Agnostic on Geology

Big controversy: the rocks in the Grand Canyon are real old. No they're not. Yes they are. No they're not -- they can't be, the Bible says God made them a few thousand years ago.

C'mon, even you born-again Christians who follow this blog, you must grit your teeth and cringe when you see this ... don't you? Millions of people from around the world visit the Canyon every year, including schoolkids who have questions. How'd that hole get there? How long did it take? They have questions, and the answers are known.

But instead of giving honest and accurate answers, our government is happy to sell them books that say it was created during The Flood, that the Canyon is several thousand years old.

Look, this isn't a point of debate. The Grand Canyon is not several thousand years old. It's not like we don't know, it's not like we have to base our guess on Old Testament myth. Geologists know how the Canyon got there, they know what kinds of rocks those are, and how old they are, how they were worn down as they were. The Colorado Plateau was lifted up about sixty-five million years ago, steepening the angle of descent of the Colorado River, increasing its ability to cut into the billions-years-old rock. Most of the erosion has happened in the past two million years, and the Canyon itself is said to be five or six million years old. It's no secret, no mystery. Water cuts rock. Go back to your Lao Tse.

This is not a matter of opinion, this is a matter of knowledge versus ignorance. It is essentially the same situation we face here in Montgomery County, where we have a small cell of radicals who want to slime gay people based on a couple of shreds of ambiguous scripture, versus the scientific establishment that includes all the major psychological and medical professional organizations in the country.

They would like you to think the question is out -- nobody's really sure if the Grand Canyon came from Noah's flood, or if gay people decide to be that way, in violation of God's will -- and that authorities are debating these things. Oh yeah, evolution, too. They want you to believe that biologists are seriously debating whether evolutionary theory is sound.

People, the question is not out. It took millions of years for the Colorado River to erode that plateau into the Canyon we now see. People don't choose their sexual orientation. Humans are mammals, and part of nature. It's not demeaning, doesn't take anything away from us, doesn't cost anything other than the sacrifice of illusion.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sometimes You Gotta Laugh

Just to keep from crying. AP-AOL had a survey to see who Americans considered the worst villain of 2006:

Worst Villains
  • President George W. Bush (25%)
  • Osama Bin Laden (8%)
  • Saddam Hussein (6%)
  • President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran (5%)
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong II (2%)
  • Donald Rumsfeld (2%)
  • Satan (1%)
  • Hugo Chavez (1%)
  • Tom Cruise (1%)
  • Dick Cheney (1%)
  • Hillary Clinton (1%)
  • John Kerry (1%)
  • Rosie O’Donnell (1%)
AP-AOL News Poll Reveals: America Perplexed by George W. Bush

OK, worse than Satan I can understand, but ... worse than Dick Cheney? That has to hurt.

On the other side, an underwhelming 13 per cent of respondents said President Bush was the "biggest hero," which made him number one there, too, above the troops in Iraq, Jesus, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and others.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ruling in Minnesota Favors Gay-Straight Club

The Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune had a pretty informative article about this case up there in Maple Grove, Minnesota, where a Gay-Straight club sued to get their meetings announced on the school PA system.
A straight-gay student group at Maple Grove High School has the same right to advertise itself in school public-address system announcements and on bulletin boards as many other student groups do, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

In the ruling issued Friday, the court affirmed a lower court's preliminary injunction that in April directed the Osseo School District to give Straights and Gays for Equality (SAGE) the same communication rights as many other student groups.
Since SAGE has been able to advertise itself more freely, attendance at meetings has gone up and "everyone's aware of what's going on, not just the GLBT population," L.J. said. "It's been really great." Court backs straight-gay group's rights

There's a lot more here... Turns out, the school gives higher priority to curricular activities when they decide what gets announced. And, that's cool, you can understand that, but they were considering synchronized swiimming and cheerleading to be curricular activities, even though they weren't taught in classes.

So the judge ruled that Straights and Gays for Equality should be given the same prioirity as synchronized swimming. Pretty shocking.

Just a little thing, I know, but it adds up.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Saletan: The Research on Gay and Lesbian Parenting

The series of Dobson news stories last week had a common theme: the misappropriation of scientific research to support anti-gay bigotry, in particular as it has to do with the pros and cons of gay parenting.'s William Saletan has a great article in this morning's Washington Post; the APA has assembled the research, and Saletan spells it out in layman's terms.
Poor Dick Cheney. He was sure we'd find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We searched and searched, but he refused to give up.

Now he's discovering what it's like to be on the other end of such obtuse certainty. The conservative jihad has turned from Saddam to Sodom. Moralists are denouncing Cheney's pregnant daughter, Mary, for disclosing that she and her lesbian partner will raise the baby together. The moralists are confident that having two mommies is bad for kids. And no evidence to the contrary can dissuade them.

The 30-year search for proof that gay parents are destructive looks a lot like the hunt for WMD. The American Psychological Association has compiled abstracts of 67 studies. Some are plainly biased, and only the latest two or three have avoided the methodological flaws of earlier investigations. But after 67 tries, you'd expect the harm of gay parenting to show up somewhere. Yet in study after study, on measure after measure, kids turn out the same.

One study found that straight parents "made a greater effort to provide an opposite-sex role model for their children," but it doesn't say whether this affected the kids. Another says that children raised by lesbian couples "were more likely to explore same-sex relationships," but it doesn't say that they turned out gay. Other studies say they seldom do. Mary With Children

The money quote: Yet in study after study, on measure after measure, kids turn out the same.

Let me get technical for a moment. In order to prove that something causes something else, you have to do an experiment. You have to randomly assign cases to conditions, administer the manipulation, and measure the effect. That would mean you'd have to randomly assign people to be straight or gay, assign children for them to raise, and then compare the children of the two groups. Short story: ain't gonna happen.

So the best we can do is observe differences between self-assigned groups, that is, the best we can have is correlation, and as every college sophomore knows, "correlation does not prove causation." It may give supporting evidence, but it's not proof. The reason this is worth mentioning is that somebody can always come along and criticize the studies, can always say they "don't prove anything." In a situation where proof is impossible, though, supporting evidence is the best we can look for (see Cook and Campbell for the authoritative dicussion of this subject).
That's the evidence against gay parenthood. On the other hand, three studies say that lesbians share child care more equally than straight couples do. Others conclude that lesbians are more satisfied with their relationships, that they show more "parenting awareness skills," that non-biological lesbian moms "played a more active role in daily caretaking than did most fathers," and that their kids experience "greater warmth and interaction with their mother."

Such unwelcome findings haven't chastened the anti-gay lobby any more than they've chastened the Bush administration. If the direct evidence doesn't bear you out, look for indirect evidence. So conservatives have developed a subtler argument: On average, children do best when raised by their two married, biological parents.

Yes, and watch how this works. It gets pretty tricky, but Saletan is going to walk us through it.
Let's take this argument one piece at a time. It's true that two parents are better than one. It's also true that married parents are better than unmarried ones. But those aren't arguments against gay parenthood. They're arguments for gay marriage.

Repeat: for gay marriage. For.
The biological part of the argument is more serious. On average, kids do better with parents than with stepparents. Focus on the Family, a leading moralist group, concludes that gay parenthood is unhealthy because "it is biologically impossible for a child living in a same-sex home to be living with both natural parents." Actually, that may change. Scientists recently produced a fertile adult mouse by combining DNA from two females in one embryo. But a lesbian who wants a genetic bond to her partner's baby doesn't have to wait for such technology. She can simply ask her brother, if she has one, to donate the sperm.

If you believe, as Focus on the Family does, that we should stop creating families in which one parent is biologically unrelated to the child, then gays are the least of your worries. By professional estimates, 40,000 children are born each year from donated eggs or sperm. You want to stop non-biological parenthood? Go chain yourself to a sperm bank.

And what -- these people are against adoption? It's better to have orphans? Roy and Dale are rolling in their graves.
And let's not forget that the case against non-biological parenthood is based on averages. Averages make bad law. The best critique of gay parenting studies is that because many homosexuals are closeted, those whom researchers find and who agree to participate are disproportionately white, well-educated and female. But that's exactly what Mary Cheney is. Should she and her partner abstain from motherhood because they're above average?

The same goes for gender averages. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, says that Cheney's pregnancy is a bad idea because a father "makes unique contributions to the task of parenting that a mother cannot emulate," such as "a sense of right and wrong and its consequences." You must be kidding. Cheney's partner is a former park ranger. They met while playing collegiate hockey. If they want a night out to catch an NHL game, Grandpa Dick can drop by to read bedtime stories about detainee interrogation.

Yeah, there's be a good influence for you.
If you're going to base family policy on averages, the chief problem isn't stepparents; it's men. That's what "pro-family" groups keep covering up. According to Focus on the Family, "increased risks of physical and sexual child abuse at the hands of non-biological parents are another serious concern for same-sex families." Nope, not for lesbians. The latest study the group cites actually concludes that the "key risk factors are living with a stepfather or the mother's boyfriend." Of 55 child deaths reviewed in the study, the number caused by a stepmother or by a biological mother in a stepfamily or live-in relationship was zero.

Woops. Mary Cheney's baby might actually be safer than one with a daddy.
The Family Research Institute says that Cheney's child "will disproportionately associate with homosexuals -- who are as a class considerably more apt to have STDs and a criminal history [and] be interested in sex with children." That's hilarious. Women commit 3.5 percent of single-perpetrator sexual assaults and make up 7 percent of the prison population.

The Family Research Council says that lesbians are dangerous parents because of their "high prevalence of life events and behaviors related to mental health problems," particularly rapes and sexual attacks. But if you look up the study cited by the council, guess who committed virtually all the rapes and sexual attacks? Men.

It's not funny, and probably this is the problem our society should be working on: creating a world where men can be men without committing crimes and acts of violence. I admit, I have no idea how you'd do that, ... that is our problem.

Saletan has an idea, though it's not going to make everybody happy.
You want to protect kids? Here's my proposed constitutional amendment: "Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union involving at least one woman."

Or you could just let Mary Cheney raise her child in peace.

Before I let him off the hook too easily, I should note that those 67 abstracts give no indication that two-male parenting presents any risk to the children. I suppose allowing lesbian marriage would be one step forward (and note that polygamy would slip in the door on the same amendment), but we know gay men who are excellent, loving parents. Yeah, maybe boys will be boys, gay or straight, maybe their kids will never learn to pick their socks up off the floor or throw their beer cans away at the end of the night, but the fact is, there's no evidence that two men can't be good parents, too.

So, I'll take the second option: just let Mary Cheney raise her child in peace.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pope Criticizes US Bellicosity

The Pope released some statements for the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace. May not be happy with Bush's war. Could get interesting. From the UK's Daily Mail:
Pope Benedict XVI criticised George Bush as he declared states had to set ethical limits in what they do to protect their citizens from terrorism.

He also suggested some countries had flouted humanitarian law in recent wars.

Read here also...

International human rights groups have criticised the U.S. over its treatment of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay and the practice of 'rendition', or flying terror suspects to third countries for interrogation.

Although the Pope did not identify any specific countries, Vatican sources made it clear he was referring to the U.S. particularly.

The Pope made his comments in an annual message for the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace, celebrated on January 1. In the message, which is traditionally sent to governments and international organisations, he also repeated his belief that war in God's name is never justified. Pope's message contains veiled criticism of US 'terror' tactics

Remember when, at Christmastime, you'd see banners and cards that said "Peace on earth, goodwill to men?" You seeing much of that lately? I'm not either.

Friday, December 22, 2006

News in the Brave New World

You've never seen anything like this in the United States of America: Government-Approved Editorial

If you haven't registered for the New York Times, it only takes a minute and doesn't cost anything. Or, you can get a password and logon ID through Bug Me Not.

Remember, all of the redacted information is already in the public record. Some of it has been published in newspaper articles, some has been released by the government. None of it is classified.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Slow Blogging Ahead

I'm going to be out of town this week, probably won't post anything new here until the New Year. I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a spirited Yule, and hope you get to spend some time this week with people you love.

January will bring some breaking news on the sex-ed front, so let's catch our breath and get ready for whatever happens next.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Extry, Extry, Just About Everybody Has Sex Before Marriage

This just supports what other surveys have shown, but it's making the papers this time around, so let's post it.
NEW YORK - More than nine out of 10 Americans, men and women alike, have had premarital sex, according to a new study. The high rates extend even to women born in the 1940s, challenging perceptions that people were more chaste in the past.

"This is reality-check research," said the study's author, Lawrence Finer. "Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades."

Finer is a research director at the Guttmacher Institute, a private New York-based think tank that studies sexual and reproductive issues and which disagrees with government-funded programs that rely primarily on abstinence-only teachings. The study, released Tuesday, appears in the new issue of Public Health Reports.

The study, examining how sexual behavior before marriage has changed over time, was based on interviews conducted with more than 38,000 people — about 33,000 of them women — in 1982, 1988, 1995 and 2002 for the federal National Survey of Family Growth. According to Finer's analysis, 99 percent of the respondents had had sex by age 44, and 95 percent had done so before marriage. Most Americans have had premarital sex

Look, don't blame us. We're not endorsing this sort of thing, we're just saying ... you need to prepare students for reality.
Even among a subgroup of those who abstained from sex until at least age 20, four-fifths had had premarital sex by age 44, the study found.

Finer said the likelihood of Americans having sex before marriage has remained stable since the 1950s, though people now wait longer to get married and thus are sexually active as singles for extensive periods.

The study found women virtually as likely as men to engage in premarital sex, even those born decades ago. Among women born between 1950 and 1978, at least 91 percent had had premarital sex by age 30, he said, while among those born in the 1940s, 88 percent had done so by age 44.

"The data clearly show that the majority of older teens and adults have already had sex before marriage, which calls into question the federal government's funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for 12- to 29-year-olds," Finer said.

Under the Bush administration, such programs have received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

"It would be more effective," Finer said, "to provide young people with the skills and information they need to be safe once they become sexually active — which nearly everyone eventually will."

I don't have much to add to that. Why do we support wishful-thinking programs with our tax dollars? Just another sign of the nutty times we live in, I guess.

We have people running around saying how the schools are "normalizing" this and that, as if people wouldn't have sex if the school didn't tell them about it. That's just ... so wrong ... Students need complete and accurate information.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Bush Library Looks for a Home

At first when you hear it, it just sounds like a contradiction in terms: The George W. Bush Library. What's that, a couple of comic books, maybe a Playboy from the 70s, a couple of Cliff's Notes from his college days? Oh, yeah, and The Stranger and several Shakespeares.

I guess every President has one, right? So Bush plans to build the most expensive Presidential library ever, naturally, and they're trying to figure out where to put it. Southern Methodist University, being in Texas, is one of the three contenders for this great honor. According to Texas Monthly blogger Paul Burka, "a letter, dated December 16, from 'Faculty, Administrators, & Staff' of the Perkins School of Theology to R. Gerald Turner, president of the Board of Trustees, is now circulating not only on the SMU campus but also among a wider academic community, urging the board to 'reconsider and to rescind SMU's pursuit of the presidential library.'"

It says, in part:
"We count ourselves among those who would regret to see SMU enshrine attitudes and actions widely deemed as ethically egregious: degradation of habeas corpus, outright denial of global warming, flagrant disregard for international treaties, alienation of long-term U.S. allies, environmental predation, shameful disrespect for gay persons and their rights, a pre-emptive war based on false and misleading premises, and a host of other erosions of respect for the global human community and for this good Earth on which our flourishing depends."

"[T]hese violations are antithetical to the teaching, scholarship, and ethical thinking that best represents Southern Methodist University."

"Another matter that warrants our attention is that whether it aims to or not SMU will, in the long run, financially profit on the backs of hard-working Americans who feel squashed by policies they've now rejected at the polls. Surely it's not the case that SMU will allow itself to benefit financially from a name and legacy that globally is associated with suffering, death, and political 'bad faith.' Taken together, all these issues set decision-making about the Library in a framework of inescapable ethical questions, and remind us of a key imperative adopted by many leading universities around the globe: 'to be critic and conscience of society.'"

It appears that all you have to do is undermine the Constitution, embarrass your country internationally, kill a few hundred thousand people, and destroy the environment, and these thin-skinned liberal professors want to act like they don't know you. Sheesh.

Part of the question, apparently, is whether this would just be a library, that is, a place where documents could be stored and accessed, or a think tank where Bush conservatives can plan their next brilliant war or crime or whatever. (It seems important to distinguish between "Bush conservatives" and ... conservatives.)

I cannot imagine any university accepting the latter on its campus. Maybe some books, some papers, and the usual Bush accouterments -- snipers on the rooftops, concrete barricades in the driveways, cops checking IDs, retina scanners, metal detectors, database background checks ... but not a center for conspiring against the planet and all those who inhabit it. I just don't think any university would accept that.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Another Letter From a Researcher Misquoted By Dobson

Wayne Besen's Truth Wins Out web site has been sent the third letter this week from a researcher who says her work has been distorted and misrepresented by Family Blah Blah Poobah James Dobson.

Professor Angela Phillips, author of a book called The Trouble With Boys, wrote:
Dear James Dobson:

It has come to my attention that my book "The Trouble with Boys" has been seriously mis-represented in writings by James Dobson.

Having read his newsletter; "How Boys Learn to Become Men" on the Focus on the Family web site I was incensed to find that I have been quoted as a source for suggesting that:

"The high incidence of homosexuality occurring in Western nations is related, at least in part, to the absence of positive male influence when boys are moving through the first crisis of child development."

I certainly agree that boys suffer from a lack of positive men in their lives but I am at pains to point out that positive men are often as much lacking in two parent households as they are in lone mother (or two mother) households. I do not suggest that lack of positive male role models leads to homosexuality (or indeed that it would be problematic if it did). My concern is that boys without positive men around them are more likely to be violent, angry and lacking in self control. I have never heard that these are characteristics that are associated with homosexuality.

Dobson goes on to say: "One of the primary objectives of parents is to help boys identify their gender assignments and understand what it means to be a man.

My concern is that boys are currently learning, either from their fathers, or in the absence of fathers, from the women who rear them, and the men they encounter, that the most important thing about being a man is being: "not gay", "not gentle" and not "girlie". While adult men are afraid to demonstrate that it's okay to be gentle and caring how are boys to learn anything positive about what it means to be a man?

I would be grateful if you could publish this letter prominently on your website.

I look forward to a swift acknowledgement.

Yours sincerely

Angela Phillips
Author of The Trouble with Boys
Truth Won Out

The problem is that Dobson's flocks will never hear about any of this. He will continue to twist the facts to fit his message, and that's all they'll hear.

For some reason people like him think you can just say anything, claim any assertion to be true, and that's all there is to it. We see it from the White House all the way down to the CRC and into our comments section. It's like it doesn't occur to them that there are research methods, theoretical nuances, years of study, behind these people's writings. No, they treat it like some comic strip that you can read over breakfast, get the whole thing between bites of corn flakes, and tell people about later in the day. It won't matter if you forget the punchline, or tell it a little wrong. This shows a profound disrespect for erudition.

Slowing Down for the Holidays, Reviewing

As we decelerate into the holiday season, it might be good to wrap up where we are in the development of the MCPS sex-ed curriculum.

The short story is this: the school district proposed a framework and then curriculum materials regarding a 10th grade condom lesson with video, and 8th and 10th grade sexual variation lessons comprising two 45-minute classes in each grade. These were reviewed by the citizens advisory committee and a number of changes were suggested for each of the sections. The school district took the committee's recommendations for further consideration; they are not obligated to accept suggestions, but I think the feedback was pretty good, and they will want to use a lot of the ideas. On January 3rd, the committee will meet to be briefed on the final recommendations to the Superintendent, and on January 9th the Board of Education will be presented with the new curriculum, and as far as I understand, they will vote at that meeting about whether to accept it or not.

That's the stuff on the agenda.

There's also a lot of background noise. The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are complaining that there isn't enough anal sex in the curriculum. Well, there isn't any, actually, other than one mention that you should use a condom if you do that. They obviously didn't get the point of the sexual orientation material; it isn't about sexual intercourse, it's about being a person with feelings. They got porn on the brain, if you ask me.

They're saying they have hundreds of doctors supporting them, signing their petition. It doesn't look like the doctors understood what the petitions were really about when they signed them, and you will notice the CRC is very hesitant to make a big deal out of this. If they keep it quiet, just mention it here and there, they might be able to get away with it, but if they go on the news saying these Shady Grove doctors support them, and the doctors hear about it, this will backfire on them. Like just about everything else they've tried.

They are also saying that students' First Amendment Rights are going to be violated if they aren't allowed to express their opinions about gay people in class. Indications are, they think they can convince a judge that this is a problem, that the school has to let students say whatever they think in class, according to the Constitution. I refuse to be optimistic; it is possible that MCPS lawyers will be staring off into space, like last time, and let them get away with it. The constitutional rights of students turns out to be a tough legal subject. It depends on what kind of "forum" you frame it to be. Precedent has established that the classroom is not a public forum, and you don't have the legal right to say every ugly thing that comes into your head, but they've had a lot of time to develop their arguments, and the district won't know what they're going to say until they go into court. At this point, it is a simple matter of preparation for MCPS legal representatives.

The CRC filed a "minority report" to the school board. They filed it under CRC President Michelle Turner's name, but it appears that they mean for it to represent the views of three members of the citizens advisory committee, and Ms. Turner was not on that committee. It's not clear what the official status of this document is, but it's on the record, for what that's worth.

So here's how they see it. A committee meets for months, considers dozens, if not hundreds, of suggestions, mostly by the CRC and PFOX members. Stays late, schedules extra meetings, discusses these often-bizarre suggestions, votes on them. Some pass, some don't pass.

So far, we are talking about a common kind of democratic process, hard-working community volunteers trying to do the right thing. All opinions get a hearing, and the group votes.

But the CRC won't accept that. Their feeling is that the majority was just wrong, and they are right. The school board needs to see their suggestions and hear their opinions anyway, even though the committee, following every rule in the book, declined to endorse them.

The truth is, this is what they're about. It's not about creating a curriculum that our community can accept. No, it's about creating ... a disruption.

The only questions now have to do with when they will file the inevitable lawsuit, and what the grounds for it will be. Last time they didn't have much of a case, but by filing it right before pilot testing was to begin, they were able to rush the judge and catch the school district unprepared, and all it took was a temporary restraining order. I don't know much about these things, but Great Swarmy says we can expect them to try something like that again. There's an established process for developing curricula, and there is disruption; we know what the process is, but we will have to wait to see what the disruptors choose to do.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Vicky Pollard and the NIH Slogan

I love this. An article in Great Britain, or as Our Leader would say, "a Great British article," recently asserted:
Britain's teenagers risk becoming a nation of "Vicky Pollards" held back by poor verbal skills, research suggests.

And like the Little Britain character the top 20 words used, including yeah, no, but and like, account for around a third of all words, the study says. UK's Vicky Pollards 'left behind'

Vicky Pollard, it turns out, is a character on a British TV show, an obnoxious glue-sniffing juvenile delinquent. Her stammering seems to be the British equivalent of a Valley girl, maybe worse.

The BBC story had a few other nuggets.
Employers often complained that new employees were unable to answer the telephone in the formal way required of them for work and that they were also intimidated by speaking formally in meetings, the professor added.

He put this down to a lack of training and the overuse of technologies such as computer games and MP3 players.

"This trend, known as technology isolation syndrome, could lead to problems in the classroom and then later in life.

"Employers are already complaining that first jobbers are lacking basic verbal communication and it seems things could be set to get worse.

"Kids need to get talking and develop their vocabulary."

Technology isolation syndrome. Good one, that. Watch for that to catch on over here soon.

OK, so this is one of those things that sounds so plausible, you figure it's just obviously true.

But this morning I was reading Language Log, which is one of my favorite websites, and I came across a kind of replication of the analysis, with a twist. This time the subject of the analysis was not teenagers, but the BBC article that reported the story in the first place.
I took the entire text of the actual BBC article reporting this news of verbal poverty, ... computed the top 20 most frequent words in it, and worked out what percentage of the total it was. The answer is between 36 and 40 percent. (The difference depends on how much you collapse different word forms together into lexemes. Collapsing genitives and plurals with non-genitive singulars makes hardly any difference to the results, but treating is, are, was, and were as different words rather than as representatives of the verb be lowers the figure slightly. If you do the collapsing, the top 20 words make up over 39.5% of the text. If you don't, the top 20 account for just over 36%.)

So this is the situation. This staggeringly stupid news report states that Britain's teenagers are "held back by poor verbal skills" because the evidence shows that the top 20 words in their speech account for 33% of all the words they use — the implication being that they aren't using enough words, they're just repeating a few words like "yeah" and "no" and "but" and "like". But in the staggeringly stupid article itself, the top 20 words account for substantially more than that. So Britain's science writers (at least at the BBC) are even more verbally retarded.

There are two lessons to be learned here. The first has to do with the dependence of the Zipf distribution on sample size. But I don't think we'll get very far going on about that.

The real lesson has to do with the willingness of people to believe anything that confirms their expectations. By invoking the stereotype of "Vicky Pollard" (and you must realize, all of the UK watches the same -- very few -- television channels, they all know who she is), the author made the conclusion that British teens are basically a bunch of blabbering fools seem very reasonable.

In our controversy in Montgomery County, we have seen a kind of artificial amplification of this effect. The analysis just reported allowed a perfect sampling of all the words in the article. But in our discussions, let's say we want to confirm or deny some facts from the peer-reviewed scientific research. We could do a meta-analysis of aggregated reports to find out, say, if anal sex is indeed riskier than vaginal sex, or to find out if learning about homosexuality makes one more likely to become gay. In that case, we would take all the published papers on the topic, aggregate their results, including the p-values obtained, and using some well-established methods we could come up with an estimate of confidence for each hypothesis.

But we can't do that because, basically, there's no data on those questions. The CRC says anal sex is incredibly risky, but out of the other side of their mouth they warn that we just don't know if anal sex is safe. The fact is, nobody would permit research that randomly assigned subjects to the "anal" and "vaginal" groups, and told them to do nothing but that for, say, a year, and then measured which group had more STDs. There is no experimental research, only some inferential chains of reasoning that might lead one to conclude that anal intercourse is riskier.

And of course there's no evidence in the world that teaching students about sexual orientation will turn them gay.

So what happens is that we find people taking a sentence here or there and repeating it over and over again, because it seems plausible in the context of their expectations. An example is the CRC's emphasis on the sentence from an NIH report that "The highest rate of [HIV] transmission is through anal exposure." They want to use this one sentence (and another one that a Surgeon General possibly uttered in the 1980s) to begin teaching students about anal sex and how horribly dangerous it is. The NIH report on condom effectiveness specifically says: The workshop addressed condom effectiveness in preventing infections transmitted via penile-vaginal intercourse. It wasn't about anal transmission at all, didn't consider it, examined no data on the subject, but the CRC takes this one sentence out of context and throws it around as if it were a major finding of the workshop.

This is just the "Vicky Pollard" effect; the BBC's report seemed plausible, and so millions of readers went away taking it as fact that young people can barely speak the language, that schools are underemphasizing verbal skills. It seemed plausible because the TV show had people primed already to believe it. But the relationship between frequency and rank is especially well-studied in language, and this same result would pop out in almost any corpus of text. You would find this same thing, to some degree, in Moby Dick or the Bible.

In the same way, the NIH sentence takes on a vibrant life of its own among people who easily associate anal sex with homosexuality; the fact that they make that association tells you that the negative stereotype is primed and accessible. To those people, this sentence seems deeply important and true.

We don't need slogans in all of this, we need knowledge. Our students should be presented with known facts, not dark warnings without substance.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Welcome New Visitors

Our server statistics the past few days have been very good, thanks to links from several of the bigger blogs: AmericaBlog linked us first, and then Pandagon and Pam's House Blend noticed and linked to us. They were interested in my discovery of James Dobson's plagiarizing in Time magazine.

Because we have so many new readers, I'm going to talk a little bit about this web site and why we're here.

It's easy to explain. exists to support the Montgomery County, Maryland, public school district in implementing a new sex-education curriculum.

That doesn't sound like much, does it? The state told them to include a section on "sexual variation," and so they did, in 2004. And then all hell broke loose. The anti-gay element, taking their marching orders from groups like Dobson's Family Blah Blah, tried to recall the entire school board. They held meetings, they sent out press releases, they went on TV and talk radio. They misconstrued, they lied, they slandered, they twisted the truth. The only thing that worked for them was a lawsuit, where Jerry Falwell's lawyers came in and did some smooth drive-by lawyering and ended up getting the curriculum thrown out and a new one developed.

Which is where we are now, there's a new curriculum and the nuts are still screaming about it.

For two years we have stood here fighting to keep this noisy minority from disrupting our peaceful suburban county. They don't have much gas these days, it's just a couple of them, but you still have to fight them.

This blog documents our particular little battle in the culture wars. It seems like a pretty narrow focus, but it's a microcosm, our fight is just like hundreds of others around the country. They're not all about sex-ed, of course, but it's the same thing, extremists trying to take over in communities across the country. Yes, they got the White House, but they're going to have to fight for City Hall.

Dobson's Time article got more attention on this blog than most things like that, because it is so much like what we have seen in our local fight. The nuts cite scientific articles, pulling one little sentence out or twisting the whole thing, or they cite fake science, claiming that it's valid. They'll do or say anything as long as they win, because they know, they just know, that God Himself is directing them.

Dobson's plagiarism is not the most important thing in the world, but I was shocked to discover it. You'd think that if you had a writing assignment from a major publication like Time you would at least put a little effort into it. At the least, he could have said, "As writer Glenn Stanton has said ..." Instead, he just passed on the guy's writing as if he had written it himself. Changed a couple of little words and used it.

We hope you'll check back occasionally. The idea is that some local families have banded together to stand up for what's right, and if groups like ours can all learn from one another, we just might get the country back on its feet.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christian: America Not A Christian Country

Man, I would never in a million years think that I would post something by Cal Thomas, self-righteous radical rightwing religious nut. Like, HERE he philosophizes about last year's Montgomery County condom video. Brilliant, really got a lot to add to the discussion.

But like they say, even a blind pig finds an acorn every once in a while. Today he makes a little sense.

From The Post:
Isaiah Already Answered This Question

The prophet Isaiah wrote: "Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales...Before Him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by Him as worthless and less than nothing." (Isaiah 40:15-16). That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for those who claim America is a "Christian nation."

What does that mean? That we are all Christian? Of course not, because all are not.

Declaring America as special, or uniquely Christian, or more favored by God than, say, Canada, or Mexico, or even Iran, is a form of idolatry.

It also reflects an unbiblical view that God's Kingdom and the United States have a kind of "special relationship," the theological equivalent of the "special relationship" that has existed between the U.S. and Britain. A lot of Scripture has to be twisted to reach such a conclusion.

Only individuals can be Christian, not countries, and those who think otherwise are in danger of breaking the Commandment, "Thou shalt not have no other gods before me." Isaiah Already Answered This Question

Of course, that isn't what the Commandment says, but ...

OK, this should close the question.

Ten Thousand Scientists

This was mentioned in the thirteenth paragraph of a story on page A-26 of The Post yesterday. BBC has more detail:
Some 10,000 US researchers have signed a statement protesting about political interference in the scientific process.

The statement, which includes the backing of 52 Nobel Laureates, demands a restoration of scientific integrity in government policy.

According to the American Union of Concerned Scientists, data is being misrepresented for political reasons.

It claims scientists working for federal agencies have been asked to change data to fit policy initiatives.

The Union has released an "A to Z" guide that it says documents dozens of recent allegations involving censorship and political interference in federal science, covering issues ranging from global warming to sex education.

Campaigners say that in recent years the White House has been able to censor the work of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration because a Republican congress has been loath to stand up for scientific integrity.

"It's very difficult to make good public policy without good science, and it's even harder to make good public policy with bad science," said Dr Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security.

"In the last several years, we've seen an increase in both the misuse of science and I would say an increase of bad science in a number of very important issues; for example, in global climate change, international peace and security, and water resources." US scientists reject interference

The word "science" comes from the Latin scientia, "knowledge." I am fascinated by the process, the turbulent social evolution of knowledge as researchers around the world compete and cooperate and learn from one another and teach one another, all at once. The heart of the matter is peer review, where scientists judge one another's research to determine whether it meets a standard for publication.

The intent of science, if we can say there is such a thing, is the development of knowledge. It is not just the accumulation of facts, of data-points, but the increase in understanding that comes when a good theory well explains the interrelationships among those data points. And the point of a theory is not just to produce a formula that satisfies a lot of constraints, but to contribute to human knowledge.

And we don't think about this very often, but knowledge is nothing without a knower. Knowledge does not exist outside of our heads or outside the society that maintains it. You and I are where knowledge lives. And scientific knowledge is nothing more than the knowledge maintained by groups of individuals who have trained themselves to understand minute details of their field, all the facts and all the perspectives and how they all fit together.

So yeah, blah blah blah, there he goes again. No, I am making a point. Knowledge is a subtle thing, even scientific knowledge. Scientists rigorously and jealously guard their process, there are endless debates about possible contamination of science by popular culture, for instance. If you ever had to take the seminars and read all those books and papers about validity in its many forms, you know what I'm talking about.

And how much does the Bush administration respect all that? They have made it clear, they don't understand how it works and they don't care how it works. All they want is answers that support their position. All the nuance is lost on them.

And that can be OK, I guess, you shouldn't have to be a scientist to govern a country, in fact the idea brings up some pretty funny images. But there should at least be respect. And that's what this is about, there is no respect for the difficult commitment these people make to increase our knowledge of the world. This is ten thousand researchers signing this petition. Fifty-two Nobel-Prize winners.

I like science. I don't think science is opposed to religion -- I doubt that God would have created a world so terrible that learning the facts about it would disprove His existence.

Yeah, think about that one for a while, Grasshopper.

We're here to promote a good sex-education curriculum in Montgomery County schools. That's it. It's a little fight, a minor battle in one little corner of the country, but you have to fight every day. And this story tells you why. The war on science is a war on knowledge. There are people who want to replace thinking with believing -- not just their own, but yours and mine, too, and our kids'. They want to replace facts with wishes. We've got to stand up to them, just like these scientists are doing.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Time Rebuts Time

[Note to new visitors: the Dobson-plagiarism post follows this one.]

I think the folks over at Time realized they screwed up, providing an outlet for the poisonous hypocrisy of James Dobson. This evening they gave Jennifer Chrisler of the Family Pride Coalition a chance to ... shall we say ... provide some balance.

She does not mince words.
... Responding to the news of the pregnancy of Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of the Vice President, Dobson, writing in a viewpoint in TIME magazine, put to work the time-worn tools of lies and distortion to make his argument that lesbian and gay parents are not able to provide environments for their children comparable in quality to those created by heterosexual parents.

These are the facts. According to the 2000 census, the vast majority — more than 75% — of American children are being raised in families that differ in structure from two married, heterosexual parents and their biological children. We are a nation of blended and multi-generational families, adoptive and foster families, and families headed by single parents, divorced parents, unmarried parents, same-sex couples and more. Despite Dobson's assertions to the contrary, there is no single "traditional" family structure in the United States. Two Mommies or Two Daddies Will Do Fine, Thanks

There's a ton of good stuff here ...

I liked this one:
... To say that Dobson is misinformed here would be inaccurate. He is simply lying. The people who are misinformed by these untruths are the readers of his material and those who publish his work without appropriately verifying his assertions....

Ooh, she's talking about Time ... in Time. And they're publishing it. That, in itself, is remarkable. They know they screwed up.

I'm leaving a lot out, go click on the link and see. Here's how she finishes him off:
The fundamental reality is that all parents, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, are linked in a very real way. We want our children to be safe, healthy and happy. When any of our families are politicized, it is an assault on our ability to protect ourselves, each other and our children. When people like Dobson profess "concern" for the welfare of children, while simultaneously attacking those very children's parents and family structures, their insincerity becomes evident. If their paramount focus is truly the health and well-being of children, then we invite Dobson and his colleagues to join our fight to ensure that all loving families are recognized, respected, protected and celebrated.

As Montgomery County has been under attack by these same nuts for two years now (our local nuts have just enough gas left to possibly get them to the next lawsuit), we have learned a lot about how to read them, we've learned not to take them seriously, we've learned to sling stuff right back at them. But most people are trusting, and not everybody takes the time to learn the facts, so people like Dobson who simply make assertions with nothing to support them are able to gather a following.

We've had to deal with them here, undermining our public schools, insulting reasonable and good people, lying, misconstruing everything that is said in good faith.

The lesson learned is that you've got to stand up and fight back, you've got to be tough, or eventually the bad will drive out the good.

Thank you, Time, for having the decency to publish this.

Medical Researcher "Startled and Disappointed" by Plagiarist Dobson

Another researcher is blowing the whistle on James Dobson and Time magazine.

In his article about Mary Cheney's baby, Dobson quoted Kyle Pruett, MD, of the Yale School of Medicine, in this way:
The unique value of fathers has been explained by Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School in his book Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. Pruett says dads are critically important simply because "fathers do not mother." Psychology Today explained in 1996 that "fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children." A father, as a male parent, makes unique contributions to the task of parenting that a mother cannot emulate, and vice versa. Two Mommies Is One Too Many

Listen, this is funny.

I just discovered that Dobson plagiarized this.

Yeah, he took it from his own Family Blah Blah web site: HERE.

Listen to what writer Glenn T. Stanton said there:
The fathering difference is explained by fathering scholar Dr. Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School in his book Fatherneed: Why Father Care is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. Pruett says dads matter simply because “fathers do not mother." Psychology Today explains, “Fatherhood turns out to be a complex and unique phenomenon with huge consequences for the emotional and intellectual growth of children.” A father, as a male parent, brings unique contributions to the job of parenting that a mother cannot.

Like a lazy seventh-grader, James Dobson changes a few words and calls it his own. Amazing.

If Time asked you to write something for them, wouldn't you take a few minutes to make up your own words?

But that wasn't even why I was looking at this. Earlier today I reported about a social psychologist slash feminist who wrote Dobson a letter telling him to stop quoting her. She wasn't happy about it.

This afternoon, Wayne Besen has posted a letter by a second researcher cited by Dobson, Dr. Pruett:
Dr. Dobson,

I was startled and disappointed to see my work referenced in the current Time Magazine piece in which you opined that social science, such as mine, supports your convictions opposing lesbian and gay parenthood. I write now to insist that you not quote from my research in your media campaigns, personal or corporate, without previously securing my permission. You cherry-picked a phrase to shore up highly (in my view) discriminatory purposes. This practice is condemned in real science, common though it may be in pseudo-science circles. There is nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such conclusions. On page 134 of the book you cite in your piece, I wrote, “What we do know is that there is no reason for concern about the development or psychological competence of children living with gay fathers. It is love that binds relationships, not sex.”

Kyle Pruett, M.D.
Yale School of Medicine

Yale Professor Says James Dobson ‘Cherry Picked’ His Research In Time Magazine Article

I am really heartened to see the researchers fighting back. Too often these nutty guys find a line of a study that they can distort to serve their purposes, and they go around sounding like they know what they're talking about. This isn't how science works, and it isn't how intelligent people work.

Researcher Nails Dobson

I don't know what the editors were thinking, maybe just trying to stir up controversy, but they let Family Blah Blah guy James Dobson soil the pages of Time this week with an editorial about Mary Cheney having a baby.

He started out acknowledging that the lesbian baby dilemma is a trap for people like him:
A number of social conservatives, myself included, have recently been asked to respond to the news that Mary Cheney, the Vice President's daughter, is pregnant with a child she intends to raise with her lesbian partner. Implicit in this issue is an effort to get us to criticize the Bush Administration or the Cheney family. But the concern here has nothing to do with politics. It is about what kind of family environment is best for the health and development of children, and, by extension, the nation at large. Two Mommies Is One Too Many

It's a little predictable, but Dobson believes there should be a father in the family. OK, I guess we would've guessed that.

So he goes on a little bit. Quotes some research:
According to educational psychologist Carol Gilligan, mothers tend to stress sympathy, grace and care to their children, while fathers accent justice, fairness and duty. Moms give a child a sense of hopefulness; dads provide a sense of right and wrong and its consequences. Other researchers have determined that boys are not born with an understanding of "maleness." They have to learn it, ideally from their fathers.

It might strike you as a little strange, if you followed these things, that a traditionalist like Dobson would be quoting the founder of "difference feminism," a researcher who has long argued that women's values and morals differ from men's, and who has emphasized that the Dobsonistic patriarchal form of "justice morality" has its equal in the "ethics of care," a feminine morality that treats relationships as primary.

It did strike Dr. Gilligan as strange. And she wants him to stop misquoting her.

Wayne Besen has the letter she sent Dobson:
Dear Dr. Dobson:

I am writing to ask that you cease and desist from quoting my research in the future. I was mortified to learn that you had distorted my work this week in a guest column you wrote in Time Magazine. Not only did you take my research out of context, you did so without my knowledge to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with. What you wrote was not truthful and I ask that you refrain from ever quoting me again and that you apologize for twisting my work.

From what I understand, this is not the first time you have manipulated research in pursuit of your goals. This practice is not in the best interest of scientific inquiry, nor does bearing false witness serve your purpose of furthering morality and strengthening the family.

Finally, there is nothing in my research that would lead you to draw the stated conclusions you did in the Time article. My work in no way suggests same-gender families are harmful to children or can’t raise these children to be as healthy and well adjusted as those brought up in traditional households.

I trust that this will be the last time my work is cited by Focus on the Family.


Carol Gilligan, PhD
New York University, Professor

I am somewhat pessimistic about Dobson actually getting the message here. If he had to be truthful, had to stop bearing false witness, had to stop taking research out of context to support discriminatory goals, what would be left?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Parents and Friends

The CRC's minority report has a paragraph about us, and I want to comment on this. They say:
Two of the committee members appointed to develop the lesson plans show outright disrespect of the ex-gay community while promoting tolerance for gays and transgenders. One member [look ma, they're talking about me] represents a group that actively promotes disrespect towards the ex-gay community, as evidenced by their statements against ex-gays on their blog, protests at ex-gay events in Montgomery County, published letters to the editor belittling former homosexuals, and stated opposition to ex-gay organizations participating in MCPS's flyer distribution program for all community organizations. Their hostility to former homosexuals is evidence that ex-gays need to be part of MCPS's new "respect sexual differences" lesson plans. Ex-gays are the only sexual orientation group that does not receive respect and tolerance.

Look, PFOX isn't made up of "ex-gays," as much as they would like you to think so. No, it's in the name: Parents and Friends. These are people who wish gay people would change. Regina Griggs, Executive Director of PFOX, has a gay son. Not an "ex-gay" son. She wishes he would change, and she issues press releases about it, and the rightwing press picks them up and treats this as if her wishes were facts. That whole thing is tragic, if you ask me.

Richard Cohen, President of PFOX, claims to be ex-gay, and then spends his days cuddling gay men as "therapy." Sorry, everybody agrees, that is one creepy dude.

Uh, any others?

Oh yeah, I remember PFOX brought a guy down from a church in Rahway, New Jersey once who told the school board he was "ex-gay." I didn't say anything bad about him, just noted that they had to go pretty far to find one.

Oh. Reverend Grace. She was at the school board meeting yesterday. I like Reverend Grace. She has a story -- went off the deep end, living as a lesbian, dressing like a man, doing, by her account, a lot of drugs, cocaine especially, and going wild sexually. I totally sympathize with her realization that she needed to straighten up and fly right. Maybe she goes overboard with the whole mission thing, trying to get other people to stop being gay, but I understand that this was a good turnaround for her personally, before an almost-certain major crash-and-burn. As fanatics go, she's cool, I understand where she's coming from, and wish her the best.

PFOX is straight people telling gay people how to live. That's what I don't like. They incessantly whine that we, and especially I, don't respect "ex-gays" and we "act like they don't exist." Well, if they exist -- where are they? All we see is straight people talking about it. And it bugs me.

I don't know, and I don't care, if somebody's sexual orientation changes. I don't even know what that means, and the people who advocate it aren't very clear either. If it happens, it does not happen very often; it is certainly not a significant aspect of sexual orientation. It's an ideological fiction, or at least exaggeration, created by people with certain religious beliefs to con gay people into going back into the closet.

Anyway, who is the other committee member they're talking about?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

CRC Threatens "Huge Legal Expense"

Henrietta Brown ("Retta") addressed the Montgomery County Board of Education this morning.

She complained about some stuff and then noted that:
CRC's representative to the CAC [citizens advisory committee] has joined with several other members of the CAC in submitting a minority report that raises many of these concerns. I would urge the Superintendent, his staff and the BOE to carefully consider the points raised in the minority report and to take them into consideration before approving the new school curriculum

We guess those "several other members of the CAC" would be Peter Sprigg, who is the PFOX rep, and Maria Peña-Faustino, who is .. a Republican, I guess, she wasn't on the committee as a representative of any group -- she voted with them on most things. I'll bet you money that "several" in this case really means "two." Or as they say in the CRC, "two thousand."

The next part of the text used some words like "egregious" and "exacerbated," and sounded, well, like somebody else wrote it.

She ended her presentation with a not-very-veiled threat:
The children, parents and other tax payers of Montgomery County need a new curriculum but they do not need or deserve another round of huge legal expense caused by MCPS continuing to wrestle with what should be settled law.

It is a sad thing, but a big part of our litigious society, that somebody can push somebody around by threatening to sue. The sheer expense of legal representation is enough to make many people and even corporations back down, and give the blackmailers whatever they're asking for. We don't believe you actually slipped and hurt yourself in our store, but it's cheaper and easier to just give you X dollars than to spend Y dollars on lawyers and make the newspapers.

That's what it's come down to. Do it our way or we'll cause "another round of huge legal expense."

I addressed the board, too, mainly to present them with our point-by-point rebuttal of the CRC "minority report." They have been passing around a draft of this document, and so we put together about nine pages of responses to their points. I also told the board that the citizens committee worked very hard to treat the CRC and PFOX reps fairly, that we had discussed every suggestion no matter how frivolous it was, and that they should not think we had mistreated the suers.

I didn't say "suers." It was in my first draft but I took it out. I didn't want to start laughing, you know, talking about serious stuff. And I didn't want the Board laughing while I was talking. You only have two minutes and that's not very much time.

Some questions. I don't know who is representing MCPS legally right now. The last lawsuit was not won by the anti-MCPS groups, it was lost by school-district lawyers who went into court unprepared and were taken by surprise. Whoever's representing the county should be looking very closely at the stuff CRC is saying. Retta spelled out their legal strategy today, and there is no excuse for any lawyer being surprised when they are sued for 1.viewpoint discrimination issues and 2.students' First Amendment rights. They handed it out today, and Retta spoke into the microphones. It was on the Internet, it's on tape, you can watch it in beautiful Microsoft-Vision in the comfort of your own web browser. If the lawyers see it coming, they can beat this. It's not a strong case, either way, but if you're standing there stratching your head, trying to figure out what's going on and why they're saying these things, it is still possible to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Like last time.

Will the district back down because of the cost? TeachTheFacts exists to support the Board in defending itself from this attack by extremists, but that doesn't work if they won't ... defend themselves. It's not just themselves they're defending, of course, it's all of us, this is for the good people of the county who want to treat others fairly and want kids to get a good, clear-eyed education. I don't think we'll just sit back and watch passively if MCPS decides to avoid the fight, if they concede any of their ground in order to placate this tiny group of radicals. Looking at the new school board, I know their hearts are in the right place -- do they, as a group, have the grit to fight for what they believe?

"One-sided ... Misrepresented ... Retract My Signature"

You know that all correspondence with the school board is public domain, anybody can see it. Most of it is ultimately boring, but occasionally something interesting turns up. Like today.

The CRC is telling everybody that hundreds of doctors support their position, based on a petition that their Dr. Jacobs passed around at her workplace, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

Yes, a couple hundred signed it. We were told, early on, by people from Shady Grove that some of the doctors said afterwards that they didn't really understand what they were signing, and we were also told they were busy and couldn't be expected to retract their signatures. I know I wouldn't want to try to go around to all of them and explain what was going on.

Well, one pediatrician felt badly enough about it to write the school board.
November 19, 2006

Montgomery County Board of Education

Re: Petition for Change to School Health Curriculum

To Whom It May Concern:

Dr. Ruth Jacobs circulated a petition at a Shady Grove Hospital Pediatric Department meeting recently after a brief presentation about changes to the sex ed curriculum for the public schools. Unfortunately the information she presented was one-sided and misrepresented the issues at hand. I would like to retract my signature on the petition in support of adding the statement that "anal intercourse is simply too dangerous to practice." This statement is not supported by scientific evidence and does not belong in the curriculum.


[name deleted], M.D.

(Received November 20, 2006)

[Note: I decided to remove the name, just to be prudent.]

Unfortunately, all the signers are very busy people. I don't think this is that important to them when they're running around saving lives. I don't expect to see a lot of these, but even one tells you things are not as they have been represented.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Another Megapreacher Comes Out

Ho-hum, another day, another big preacher falls out of the closet.
In a tearful videotaped message Sunday to his congregation, the senior pastor of a thriving evangelical megachurch in south metro Denver confessed to sexual relations with other men and announced he had voluntarily resigned his pulpit.

A month ago, the Rev. Paul Barnes of Grace Chapel in Doug las County preached to his 2,100-member congregation about integrity and grace in the aftermath of the Ted Haggard drugs-and-gay-sex scandal.

Now, the 54-year-old Barnes joins Haggard as a fallen evangelical minister who preached that homosexuality was a sin but grappled with a hidden life. Pastor resigns over homosexuality

These guys ... what can you say?

I am becoming more and more convinced that the real powerhouses of the anti-gay movement are gay guys themselves, who decided out of shame to pretend to be straight, and then have spent their whole lives resenting those who chose to be honest with themselves. I used to think the theory was unkind, but when I see the damage they've done, the wreckage of lost souls, I don't care.

And here's a nice little piece of insight for the "it's a choice" folks out there:
"I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy," Barnes said in the 32- minute video, which church leaders permitted The Denver Post to view. "... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away."

Can somebody tell us why a 5-year-old boy would choose to be gay?

And then, having chosen that, why was he crying himself to sleep? Why didn't he just choose to be straight?
[Associate pastor Dave] Palmer said the church got an anonymous call last week from a person concerned for the welfare of Barnes and the church. The caller had overheard a conversation in which someone mentioned "blowing the whistle" on evangelical preachers engaged in homosexuality, including Barnes, Palmer said.

Palmer met with Barnes, who confessed. At an emergency meeting Thursday, a board of elders accepted Barnes' resignation after he admitted "sexual infidelity," violating the church's code of conduct. Church leaders also must affirm annually that they are "living the moral and ethical teachings of Scripture in my public and private life."

I don't know, I am actually feeling sort of sorry for this one. He avoided the political stuff. Yeah, he preached about the sins of homosexuality but he didn't join in with the ones who wanted to pass the anti-marriage-equality amendment. I think he knew this day would come.

Strange little story here:
Sitting cross-legged in jeans and an open-collar shirt, Barnes spoke in his video about evolving feelings growing up in a firm moral family: from confused little boy to adolescent racked with self-loathing and guilt.

In their only talk about sex, Barnes said his father took him on a drive and talked about what he would do if a "fag" approached him.

Barnes thought, "'Is that how you'd feel about me?' It was like a knife in my heart, and it made me feel even more closed."

When Barnes experienced a Christian conversion at 17, it gave him a glimmer of hope. But his homosexual feelings never went away, he said. He said he cannot accept that a person is "born that way," so he looks to childhood influences.

OK, what would it take for these guys to start a new kind of Evangelical movement that accepts people the way they are? There must be enough of them now, aren't there? They could set it up so the "straight" preachers could join up with them and it wouldn't be, y'know, an admission of anything.

Lots of gay folks have strong religious feelings, and the church's rejection of them hurts more than anything. Even if your family can't accept you, you hope that God can. And then you find out He can't.

Why would be it be so hard to make that little adjustment? This poor guy here, weeping, knew at the age of five, doesn't know why he feels the way he does, tried to keep it a secret, and now his life is destroyed.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Sorry, but Blogger is behaving strangely these days. You might find that your comments don't appear very soon after you post them -- it might even take hours. And when I post something, it often simply fails to appear. It gets to zero percent and stays there.

This service has been funky for nearly a week, but these last couple of days have been especially bad.

These things happen, and it usually sorts itself out in a few days. Hang in there.

New School Board Member Appointed

The school board has selected a new member to fill Valerie Ervin's seat. The Post:
Christopher S. Barclay, a community activist from Takoma Park with three daughters in Montgomery County public schools, was appointed yesterday to the board that oversees Maryland's largest school system.

The county's Board of Education chose Barclay, 45, to replace Valerie Ervin, who was elected in November to the County Council and took office last week.

Barclay, who will occupy the District 4 seat from the county's east side, won support from five of the seven remaining board members after the panel interviewed five applicants in an open session yesterday morning. He will serve the remaining two years of Ervin's term and could seek reelection after that.

Board members are elected countywide in nonpartisan races and serve at large or from districts.

The selection of Barclay foreshadows the emergence of a new coalition on the eight-member school board, which has a student member. Many of the members had received strong backing from labor unions and groups pressing for greater aid to underachieving students.

Barclay's appointment also increases African American representation on the board to two, at a time when minority parents have raised concerns about the continual lagging of black and Hispanic students behind their white and Asian American classmates. Newcomer Judy Docca (District 1) also is African American, as is Ervin, whom Barclay replaced.

Board Vice President Sharon W. Cox (At Large), who had hoped to be elected president when the panel meets Tuesday, said yesterday that she is taking herself out of contention.Activist, Father Tapped For School Board Seat

OK, Mr. Barclay, welcome to the wild and wonderful world of Montgomery County Public Schools! Hold on to your hat.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Huge CRC Has Support of Hundreds of Doctors

Blair High School kids have a TV show called "Shades of Life," and they had a segment on this week about the sex-ed curriculum. They taped a couple of us from from, and brought in a health teacher and a school board member, plus John Garza, the CRC's lawyer.

Here's how he wrapped up his part:
The reason we filed suit was because we begged Jerry Weast and the Board to meet with us to talk about our concerns. They refused to talk to us. We sent them letters. We literally crawled on our knees and asked them please just listen to what we have to say. We have 4,000 parents here. We have a petition from 225 doctors that agree with what we have to say who are here in Montgomery County. We asked 226 and 225 agreed with us and the Board won't meet with us.

Not that hard to imagine why the school board wouldn't meet with them. Was it because they're a bunch of nuts? Or maybe it was because they made up stuff and lied about what was in the previous curriculum, and then sued the county. Really, why should the board meet with them?

They literally crawled on their knees?

My wife and I went to the Sanctuary of Fátima, Portugal, a few years back, where three children in 1917 saw visions of the Virgin of the Rosary. At Fátima, they have a path of carpet laid down, so pilgrims can literally crawl on their knees to offer prayers to the Virgin Mother. They literally crawl for hundreds of yards.

I don't remember seeing the CRC do that, do you?

And that 4,000, wow. Earlier in the interview, when he was asked about who the CRC was, he said they have "4,000 parents."

Let's just say, the CRC has closer to "four" members than "four thousand."

But it's that petition part that needs attention. We have a petition from 225 doctors that agree with what we have to say who are here in Montgomery County.

The CRC's representative on the citiziens committee, Ruth Jacobs, is a physician who works out at Shady Grove hospital. She brought a petition to work and asked doctors to sign it. Here's what it said:
To MCPS Board of Education and Superintendent Weast

Health education is important. We the undersigned recognize that anal intercourse is a particular high risk sexual practice (1) and it is associated with the highest risk of HIV infection. We further recognize that "although there is strong evidence that condom use generally reduces sexual transmission of HIV, solid data showing the effectiveness of currently available condoms during AI, a particularly high-risk sexual practice, still are lacking."

As physicians, we are concerned for the health of the students and recommend that the new MCPS condom use lesson must use the Surgeons Generals statement and NIH consensus conference (3) statement to warn students of the risks of anal intercourse and of the risks of condom failure during anal intercourse.

Getting doctors to sign a petition against anal sex is not going to be especially hard, and it does not indicate that they support the CRC's position on anything.

The first paragraph here says that there is no research saying whether condoms are effective for anal intercourse or not. No surprise, doctors will agree to that.

The second paragraph, in case any of them read that far, says that the new curriculum "must use the Surgeons Generals statement and NIH consensus conference (3) statement to warn students of the risks of anal intercourse and of the risks of condom failure during anal intercourse."

First of all, look, the first paragraph said "solid data ... are lacking," so why would you sign a petition warning about the "risks of condom failure" when there are no data? That's just embarrassing.

And that Surgeon General's statement. Quick: what is the name of the Surgeon General? Can't think of it?

You're right.

There isn't one.

This refers to a Surgeon General back in the 1980s, during the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, when they realized that gay men were passing the virus through anal intercourse. C. Everett Koop tried to get them to stop that, he told them how dangerous it was. It was a bold statement in those days, and we applaud him for it.

But for the ordinary person today, the statement is not correct. Just not correct. A recent survey says that about forty percent of adult Americans have had anal intercourse. And nothing horrible happened. Oh, maybe they didn't like it, maybe it hurt, but the fact is, it's a common behavior, riskier than vaginal sex if your partner has an STD, but not much. It doesn't deserve a scary, out-of-date, misrepresented warning from a long-gone Surgeon General.

And the "NIH consensus conference" did have a statement that HIV/AIDS can be sexually transmitted by anal, penile-vaginal, and oral intercourse. The highest rate of transmission is through anal exposure. Interesting statement, I think that is a way of saying that gay guys get HIV more than the rest of us. True, that.

But this petition is about condoms. And look what that same NIH report says about condoms:
The methodological strength of the studies on condoms to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission far exceeds that for other STDs. There is demonstrated exposure to HIV/AIDS through sexual intercourse with a regular partner (with an absence of other HIV/AIDS risk factors). Longitudinal studies of HIV- sexual partners of HIV+ infected cases allow for the estimation of HIV/AIDS incidence among condom users and condom non-users. From the two incidence estimates, consistent condom use decreased the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85%. These data provide strong evidence for the effectiveness of condoms for reducing sexually transmitted HIV.

Since they already said that anal exposure accounted for the highest rate of transmission, they are obviously talking about anal intercourse here.

And yes, the research is in, it's good, condoms really do reduce the risk of catching HIV. Strong evidence for the effectiveness of condoms for reducing sexually transmitted HIV. What more do you want?

But the CRC's position opposes teaching about condoms for anal sex. The NIH consensus conference recommends them, CRC is against them.

So how is it that doctors sign a petition against anal sex, and in favor of condoms, and John Garza refers to them as "225 doctors that agree with what we have to say?"

Bush at All-Time Low

Weird: thirty percent of Americans still see something they can approve of in George W. Bush.
The national job approval rating of President Bush has plummeted to 30%, an all–time low in the latest Zogby International telephone poll, sinking below the 31% approval rating he dropped to in early June.

The President’s positive job rating is down from 36% in late October, in the weeks heading into the congressional midterm elections. Since then, the Democrats swept to control of both houses of Congress, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned and was replaced by Robert Gates, who said the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq. Release of the Iraq Study Group’s report calling for significant change in the way the U.S. is conducting the Iraq war came as this latest Zogby poll was in the field.

Sixty–eight percent said they believe Bush is doing only a fair or poor job leading the nation.

Support for the President waned in key demographic groups, the Zogby poll shows. Among all Republicans, just 60% gave him a positive job rating, while 39% gave him negative marks. Just 9% of Democrats and 22% of political independents gave him good marks for his work. Among married respondents – typically a group who favors Republicans – just 35% said Bush was doing a positive job. Among men, another favorable GOP demographic, just 31% gave him positive marks, while 69% gave him a negative rating. Even among stalwart Born Again respondents, just 43% had positive ratings for the President on his overall job performance. President slips to all-time low in the Zogby Poll as key demographic groups jump ship

After 2000, Americans could at least claim he wasn't really elected by the people, he got into office even while losing the majority of the popular vote. Oh, and we couldn't really tell how bad he was going to be -- remember, Gore and the focus groups, and all that? The rest of the world gave us a break on that account, too -- it was a close election that actually went the other way, Americans must have just not been paying attention. But after 2004, we should have known better. 2004 was the heartbreaker, when you realized that half the country really couldn't tell the difference. We showed the world, at that point, that Americans really are like that: belligerent, rigid, self-serving, near-sighted, incurious.

It's too late, people. The guy's got two more years. The Pottery Barn rule is in effect: you broke it, you own it. Just sit back and watch what wonderful new things the guy can dream up for our country.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Canada Gives Up On Marriage Inequality

Personally, I don't find the debate over marriage equality to be all that fascinating. Obviously, it's time for gay and lesbian couples to be allowed the same rights as other couples, I don't see any argument against that. A couple stays together for years, they invest their lives in one another, they should be able to visit each other in the hospital. They should be able to buy a house together. It's just the right thing to do. But whether you call it "marriage," I don't have a strong opinion about, and I don't think that's really the issue anyway. Of course gay people would be glad to be like everybody else in that regard, but as long as people want to make a big misty-eyed thing out of their narrow view of the institution of marriage, I don't think the word is worth fighting over. But that's just me, it's not really my fight.

Now, you know Canada has a conservative Prime Minister. Like conservatives here, he wanted to keep gay people from marrying each other. So Parliament voted on a measure to define traditional marriage as "between one man and one woman blah blah blah," and the measure lost.

This kills me. It's shocking. How do you think that Prime Minister reacted after the vote?
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared the contentious issue of same-sex marriage to be permanently closed.

After a Conservative motion calling on the government to restore the traditional definition of marriage was defeated yesterday by a resounding 175 to 123, Mr. Harper said he will not bring the matter back before Parliament.

"I don't see reopening this question in the future," he told reporters who asked whether same-sex marriage would return to the table if the Conservatives won a majority government.

Nor does he intend to introduce a "defence of religions" act to allow public officials, such as justices of the peace, to refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

"If there ever were a time in the future where fundamental freedoms were threatened, of course the government would respond to protect them," said the Prime Minister, who voted for the motion. "The government has no plans at this time." Same-sex marriage file closed for good, PM says

Can you imagine that happening here?

Like ... in Montgomery County in 2004, the school district put together a sex-ed curriculum, and a citizens committee evaluated it, made some changes, and passed it on to the school board, who approved it unanimously. Some members of that committee didn't like the curriculum, but they were consistently outvoted. So they organized a group and held meetings and issued press releases and called for the removal of the school board, and started a web site and a blog and a forum which everyone ignored. They sent out mass mailings and passed petitions around at churches. Finally, they filed a last-minute lawsuit that won them a temporary restraining order, based on confusion between materials that were in the curriculum and materials that had been used to develop the curriculum.

Because they were outvoted.

Then there was a settlement agreement, the curriculum was thrown out, and another curriculum was developed. Another citizens committee was formed, and the same thing happened. The nutty group wanted changes made, and the committee voted against them. The changes didn't make sense, and they didn't represent the views of the community, simple as that.

Now we understand the group's lawyer has been passing around a "draft minority report" about the new curriculum. They just can't accept that their ideas were not accepted by the school district, and they want people to read what they wanted.

Naturally, there are people who are more conservative and those who are more liberal, and the two groups need to be able to discuss and negotiate and compromise. Sometimes everybody can get what they want, but not always. And then grown-ups move on to something else.

Council Can Remove School Board Member

I have mixed feelings about reporting on this story, because Steve Abrams has always seemed supportive enough of a good comprehensive curriculum, and we don't have anything against him. He's the only Republican on the school board, it's true, one of the very few in the county, it turns out, but we're nonpartisan, we don't hold it against him.

But the guy screwed up. Sounds like he snapped, went into a rage at one of the other county Republicans, used some racist language, threw the guy around a little bit.

This is not setting a good example for the children.

As Ann Marimow and Lori Aratani wrote in The Washington Post this morning:
There's an interesting side note to the alleged brawl between two members of Montgomery County's Republican Central Committee -- school board member Stephen N. Abrams and former County Council candidate Adol T. Owen-Williams II. In recent weeks, both men have filed complaints charging the other with assault in an incident that took place Nov. 13.

While prosecutors are still looking into the merits of the men's charges, some watchers have begun to ask questions about what this incident could mean for Abrams's political future in the county. The 63-year-old is a former Rockville City Council member who has two years left on his school board term representing residents in the Rockville-Potomac district. Could his tenure be cut short because of the alleged assault charges?

Turns out under state education law, it would be left to the County Council -- not the school board -- to determine. Under the law, the County Council could remove a school board member for four reasons: immorality, misconduct, incompetence or willful neglect of duty. There is a process that must be followed to avoid the arbitrary removal of a public official. The person would have to know what the allegations are and have a chance to respond during a hearing. A Fight, and Now Dueling Complaints?

A few years ago, the CRC, then called, really wanted to remove all the members of the board, for unanimously adopting a sex-ed curriculum that failed to say negative things about gay people. They gave up, they say, because there was no way to do it.

Yes, there is a way. You have to get the County Concil to do it. Doesn't seem the CRC figured that out. Hey, if you're so convinced about this, call it "immorality."

To be fair, I should mention that it didn't help that the vast majority of the county's population, including the council, thought they were a bunch of nuts.
It's important to note that the case is pending, and it's possible that the complaints can be dealt with in a mediation session, scheduled for today.

Owen-Williams claims that Abrams attacked him -- grabbing him by the throat and slamming his head against a wall -- after he inquired about a pledge to settle campaign debts. Owen-Williams, who was a Republican candidate for County Council, stepped aside in October to allow Abrams to take his spot on the November ballot. In exchange, he said, Abrams pledged to help him take care of the $5,000 he'd spent in the primary race.

Abrams said it was Owen-Williams, who is five inches taller, who attacked him that evening in the stairwell at Republican headquarters in Rockville. And while he may have offered to help Owen-Williams with his debt, Abrams said, that didn't mean giving him the money outright.

"He hit me first" doesn't work on the playground, and it doesn't work in the boardroom. Abrams screwed up. There were witnesses. On the other hand, they were all Republicans.

We'll continue to watch this situation. Abrams may be the only Republican in public office in Montgomery County -- I could be wrong about that, but there can't be more than a few. If he's kicked off the board, I guess the school board selects someone to replace him, and I don't think there's any reason to think it would be another conservative.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Conservative Rabbis Decide on Gay Issues

There was a significant story on page A-17 of The Post this morning.
NEW YORK, Dec. 6 -- A panel of rabbis gave permission Wednesday for same-sex commitment ceremonies and ordination of gays within Conservative Judaism, a wrenching change for a movement that occupies the middle ground between orthodoxy and liberalism in Judaism.

The complicated decision by the Conservatives Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards leaves it up to individual seminaries whether to ordain gay rabbis and gives individual rabbis the option of sanctioning same-sex unions. Reform Judaism, the largest branch of the faith in the United States, has ordained openly gay men and lesbians since 1990 and has allowed its rabbis to perform same-sex commitment ceremonies since 2000. Orthodox Judaism does not countenance same-sex relationships or the ordination of gay rabbis.

Like many Protestant denominations, Conservative Jews are divided over homosexuality: torn between the Hebrew scriptures' condemnation of it as an "abomination" and a desire to encourage same-sex couples to form long-lasting, monogamous relationships.

Though stopping short of endorsing same-sex marriage, the rabbis wanted to allow commitment ceremonies "because in Jewish sexual ethics, promiscuity is not acceptable either by heterosexuals or by homosexuals, and we do in fact have both a Jewish and a social and a medical need to try to confirm those unions," said Rabbi Elliot Dorff of Los Angeles, one of the authors of the change. Conservative Rabbis Allow Ordained Gays, Same-Sex Unions

Weird, it sounds so sensible, you wonder why everybody doesn't see it this way. How can it not make sense to encourage gay people to form long-lasting monogamous relationships?
After years of discussion and two days of intense debate behind closed doors at a synagogue on Park Avenue, the law committee accepted three teshuvot, or answers, to the question of whether Jewish law allows homosexual sex. Two answers uphold the status quo, forbidding homosexuality.

But a third answer allows same-sex ceremonies and ordination of gay men and lesbians, while maintaining a ban on anal sex. It argues that the verse in Leviticus saying "a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman" is unclear, but traditionally was understood to bar only one kind of sex between men. All other prohibitions were "added later on by the rabbis," Dorff told reporters.

The Post does us Gentiles a favor by explaining how important this change is, and how it works in Jewish tradition.
The issue has been particularly difficult for the Conservative movement, which claims about 2 million members worldwide, because it does not lightly depart from traditional Jewish law, or halakha. Conservative Jews generally keep the kosher dietary rules and observe the Sabbath, though perhaps not as strictly as Orthodox Jews do.

Since the mid-1980s, however, the Conservative movement has departed from traditional law in several ways, including ordaining women, permitting Jews to drive to synagogue on the Sabbath, and eliminating special treatment of "illegitimate" children.

Some Conservative Jews argue that the reconsideration of homosexuality is no more significant, in terms of Jewish law, than these other changes. But Rabbi Joel Roth, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary who was among those who resigned from the law committee, said he considers the change to be "outside the pale of acceptable halakhic reasoning."

Rabbi Jerry Epstein, chief executive of the association of 700 Conservative synagogues in North America, said he did not know whether any of them would leave the movement in protest. He said he believes that they are about evenly divided for and against allowing same-sex ceremonies.

As the Conservative rabbis met in New York this week, they were conscious that they were not only deciding an important matter for their constituency but were also contributing to a national debate on the status of same-sex couples. Dorff said he hoped that the adoption of two optional, conflicting positions would serve as a model for other religious groups of how to handle deep disagreements, "so movements don't have to split up over these kinds of things."

How sensible.

Cheney Baby Dilemma Update

From CNN:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Conservative leaders voiced dismay Wednesday at news that Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Dick Cheney, is pregnant, while a gay-rights group said the vice president faces "a lifetime of sleepless nights" for serving in an administration that has opposed recognition of same-sex couples.
Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America described the pregnancy as "unconscionable."

"It's very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father," said Crouse, a senior fellow at the group's think tank. "They are encouraging people who don't have the advantages they have."

Crouse said there was no doubt that the news would, in conservatives' eyes, be damaging to the Bush administration, which already has been chided by some leaders on the right for what they felt was halfhearted commitment to anti-abortion and anti-gay-rights causes in this year's general election.

Carrie Gordon Earll, a policy analyst for the conservative Christian ministry Focus on the Family, expressed empathy for the Cheney family but depicted the pregnancy as unwise.

"Just because you can conceive a child outside a one-woman, one-man marriage doesn't mean it's a good idea," Earll said. "Love can't replace a mother and a father."
Mixed reaction to Cheney's daughter's pregnancy

Think about that one for a minute: Love can't replace a mother and a father.

Do you believe that's correct?

Well, they've got to say something.

Delicious Backpack Irony

I am taking a certain pleasure in this little story, which Blog from the Capital aptly titled "The Shoe on the Other Foot..."

Let me take you back to September 28, when a local central Virginia news web site called The Hook, which bills itself as "Charlottesville's home page," carried this little story.
A letter from the Jerry Falwell-linked Liberty Counsel has prompted the Albemarle County School Board to change its policy. The Board will now allow religious organizations to send home fliers with school children in backpack mail.

Liberty Counsel, which, according to its website, is "dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family," wrote the Albemarle County school system that its policy banning distribution of religious materials was unconstitutional.

This summer, Hollymead Elementary twins Gabriel and Joshua Rakoski wanted to distribute fliers about their church's vacation bible school. When their teacher refused, their father, Ray Rakoski, contacted the school and was advised of the county's policy that prohibited "distribution of literature that is for partisan, sectarian, religious or political purposes."

Rakoski sicced the Liberty Counsel on the county, and the new policy that opens up so-called "backpack mail" to religious nonprofits could be voted in by the School Board September 28.

"We're pleased the school changed its policy so quickly and correctly," says Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman. "The law is clear-- when schools allow the distribution of secular material, they must accommodate religious material."

Staver refers to a recent 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a Good News Club's right to distribute fliers in Montgomery County schools in Maryland.

School have two choices, says Kent Willis, director of the ACLU of Virginia: prohibit any distribution of material by outside nonprofits or allow all materials to be distributed.

"The real issue is viewpoint discrimination," he explains. For instance, schools can't allow YMCA basketball league to send home fliers but refuse one for Bible school or the gay-straight alliance. NEWS- Frequent fliers: Albemarle okays religious mail

OK, we know Liberty Counsel, they were the Falwell-connected legal team who represented the anti-MCPS suers last year, here in Montgomery County. Now they're down in Albemarle County, Virginia, doing the same kind of thing. This is not surprising, somehow.

So now kids down there are going to be getting Chick Publications and Watchtowers in their backpacks. Great.

And I wouldn't want to leave out this part:
"I think it would be unconstitutional to prohibit political material," says Liberty Counsel's Staver, who isn't worried about schools being inundated. "They're not required to accept everything," he says, citing exemptions for libelous, obscene or pornographic material. Nor does he object if Muslim or Jewish groups want to distribute information about their events in schools. "The First Amendment is not just for the Liberty Counsel," he says. "You can't just pick and choose."

Even nonprofits that often oppose Liberty Counsel-- for example, Planned Parenthood-- should be allowed to use the schools to get their messages out, Staver says. "You can't transport kids to an abortion clinic," he stipulates, "but you can send material home and let parents make a decision."

And if the Aryan Nation is having a family event? "You can always think of a hard example," concedes Staver. "I haven't seen the Aryan Nation come up with outreach to kids with picnics or lessons."

(But Straight Nation, aka PFOX, will ...)

Flash forward to the ironic moment, relayed to us by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This article was written by Rob Boston, who spoke at our great religious forum last month. I missed it, but I think we will have a transcription of Mr. Boston's talk soon, which I hope to post here -- everybody says it was really inspirational and informative.
A group of Pagans in Albemarle County, Va., was recently given permission to advertise their multi-cultural holiday program to public school children – and they have the Rev. Jerry Falwell to thank for it.
Some local Pagans who attend Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Charlottesville, decided to take advantage of the new forum as well. They created a one-page flier advertising a Dec. 9 event celebrating the December holidays with a Pagan twist and used the backpack system to invite the entire school community.

“Have you ever wondered what ‘Holidays’ refers to?” reads the flier. “Everyone knows about Christmas – but what else are people celebrating in December? Why do we celebrate the way we do?”

The flier invites people to “an educational program for children of all ages (and their adults), where we’ll explore the traditions of December and their origins, followed by a Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule.”

It concludes, “Come for one or both parts and bring your curiosity.” Falwell’s Flub: Jerry-Rigged Policy Opens Door For Pagan Proselytizing In Virginia Public School

Hmm, I think I like this.

Find out about the holidays.

Like, can somebody please show me the passage in the New Testament that says, "Thou shalt decorate the evergreen in thy homes, and lay gifts thereunder"? No, that would have been a pagan tradition, would it not? This wouldn't be the practice that was condemned in Jeremiah 10:2-4, because of its pagan origins ... would it?

And how about that Santa? Please open your Bibles to verse, uh, where was that again? A guy in a flying sled with a white beard, all in red? And where was that?

Hey, and those reindeer? Weren't there reindeer in the manger? No? There weren't? So don't tell me those came from some Teutonic pagan practice ... oh, they did?

Turns out, Christmas is the "most Magickal time of the year," as the song says.

Well, c'mon, you have to see the humor in it. The religious right wanted to stuff their nutty stuff into kids' backpacks, but it turned out they'll have to share the space.

Here's the fun part:
Suddenly not everyone was pleased by the open forum. Jeff Riddle, pastor of Jefferson Park Baptist Church in Charlottesville, wrote on his personal blog, “If the school allows the Baptist or Methodist church to send home a note to its students about Vacation Bible School, it also has to allow the Unitarian Church to send home a note about its ‘Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule’….This kind of note adds weight to the argument that it is high time for Christians to leave public schools for reasonable alternatives (homeschooling and private Christian schools).”

Another conservative Christian blogger in the county complained about finding the flier in her child’s folder. Apparently unaware of Falwell’s role in bringing it about, the blogger who goes by the name Cathy, noted disclaimer language at the bottom of the flier noting that the event is not connected to the school and wrote, “They [the school officials] aren’t endorsing or sponsoring this? Then it shouldn’t have been included in the Friday folders. The Friday folders have never been used for any thing other than school work and school board and/or County sanctioned/sponsored programs.”

She then fumed that a “pagan ritual” is “an educational experience my children don’t need.”

Well, Cathy and Jeff, it’s a new day. Your pals Falwell and Staver have opened up this forum, and now everyone gets to use it. Isn’t that what you wanted all along – freedom of religion? That freedom means all religions – even ones you don’t happen to like.

Oooch, that shoe-on-the-other-foot thing can hurt.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Somebody Tell Us -- What Are We Supposed to Think Here?

Earlier this year, a Sacramento satirist wrote a column proposing the ironic hypothesis that being conservative causes you to have gay kids. How else can you explain it? He starts with the Cheneys and goes on:
In addition to Mary Cheney, there’s ... oh wait. I’ve got a list. The public conservatives with gay children, grandchildren or siblings include: Phyllis Schlafly (queen of the anti-feminists), Randall Terry (of Operation Rescue fame), Newt Gingrich (Mr. Contract With America), Jesse Helms (who needs no description, except that he’s slightly to the right of Genghis Khan), the late Barry Goldwater (a libertarian who really didn’t care who loved who), and the late Sonny Bono (yes to gay daughter, no to gay rights).

Alan Keyes--former presidential candidate, family-values advocate and, most recently, a carpetbagger who sought to keep liberal Democrat Barack Obama from the Illinois Senate gig--put his college-student daughter, Maya, on the campaign trail while he bashed Dick Cheney for tolerating his lesbian daughter. Then Maya came out, and in a flurry of family values Keyes tossed her from the family home and cut off her tuition money. Don’t you just absolutely love those conservative family values?

But that’s not all. There’s the recently deceased Charles Socarides. He fathered both the discredited “reparative therapy” movement (which claimed that sexual orientation could be changed through psychiatry) and Richard Socarides, an openly gay official in the Clinton administration.

Regina Griggs, executive director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), a group that advocates “tough love” and lots of scripture to turn your homo kid around to heterosexuality, has a gay son. Sadie Fields, a state chair of the Christian Coalition in Georgia, has a lesbian daughter, as does Bill Byrne, the Cobb County, Ga., commissioner who pushed through a resolution declaring “the homosexual lifestyle” unwelcome in suburban Atlanta. Apparently his daughter’s not invited to Thanksgiving. Not that she’d want to go.

And in our own state, we had the late state Senator Pete Knight, a traditional-values firebrand who led the so-called Knight Initiative, 2000’s Proposition 22, which amended the state constitution to refuse legal recognition of same-sex marriages. Knight’s plan to keep gay couples from marrying didn’t stop his gay son, David, from tying the knot with his long-term partner during San Francisco’s giddy wedding party in early 2004, before the courts overturned the marriages. It's a family tradition

The weird thing is, a lot of these aren't just "conservative" people, many of them are rabidly anti-gay "family values" hypocrites. You wonder how it is when they talk with their kids, do they just avoid the subject, or how does that work?

How do you spend your working day trying to undermine your own child? And why? Sometimes we are asked what motivates "those people." The only good answer is, "I don't know." (But ... we have our theories.)

This old article comes to mind today because of something in this morning's Post. I am just dying to know how this is going to play in the Family Blah-Blah side of the world.
Mary Cheney, the vice president's openly gay daughter, is pregnant. She and her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, are "ecstatic" about the baby, due in late spring, said a source close to the couple.

It's a baby boom for grandparents Dick and Lynne Cheney: Their older daughter, Elizabeth, went on leave as deputy assistant secretary of state before having her fifth child in July. "The vice president and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild," spokesman Lea Anne McBride said last night.
Cheney, 37, was a key aide to her father during the 2004 reelection campaign and now is vice president for consumer advocacy at AOL. Poe, 45, a former park ranger, is renovating their Great Falls home.

News of the pregnancy will undoubtedly reignite the debate about gay marriage. During the campaign, Mary Cheney was criticized by gay activists for not being more publicly supportive of same-sex marriage. Her father said people "ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to" but deferred to the president's policy supporting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. Cheney herself called the proposed amendment "a gross affront to gays and lesbians everywhere" in her book, "Now It's My Turn: A Daughter's Chronicle of Political Life," which was published in May.

Cheney has described her relationship with Poe -- whom she took to last year's White House dinner honoring Prince Charles and Camilla -- as a marriage. The two met in 1988 while playing ice hockey and began dating four years later. They moved from Colorado to Virginia a year ago to be closer to Cheney's family. In an interview with the Post six months ago, when asked if she and Poe wanted children, Cheney said that was a "conversation I think I should have with Heather first."

In November, Virginia voters passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions; state law is unclear on whether Poe could have full legal rights as a parent of Cheney's child. The circumstances of the pregnancy will remain private, said the source close to the couple. This is the first child for both. Mary Cheney and Partner Are About to Be Moms

To his credit, Satan -- uh, I mean, Dick Cheney -- has been quiet about his daughter's sexual orientation. Never mind that he sits over there in the White House ... keeping quiet ... while The Party campaigns as hard as they can to make sure gay people are prevented from adopting family values. His fake-outrage over John Kerry's mention of something everybody knew was an overly-facile exploitation of her situation, it seemed to me, but I suppose a professional politician like Cheney knows if he's gone too far.

That's, I say, that's a joke, son, a joke.

One thing I'm not seeing in this Post article is anything about how Ms. Cheney got pregnant "... the circumstances will remain private..." I don't know much about this stuff, having taken, y'know, the old sex-ed curriculum, but it seems to me two women would need something else -- has David Crosby been in the area lately?

And the idea that they consider this a marriage, while living in Virginia. John at AmericaBlog explains what that means:
... Virginia had already set up new Jim Crow laws targeting gays two years ago. Those laws may vitiate any legal agreement between the two, period, about anything. The law ensures that Mary's partner has no legal rights whatsoever in their child, or in what happens to Mary (or vice versa), such as if one partner has to go the hospital, the other can't visit. The law may even nullify any wills that Mary and Heather write regarding each other, and it may make it impossible for gay people to go to court to resolve any difference about anything - the courts can't recognize gay unions, so they can't make any decisions that would imply recognition (custody, hospital visitation, wills, etc.) It's beyond ironic that Virginia's new law, one of the most hateful, bigoted laws on the books, is now targeting the vice president's own daughter and soon-to-be new grandchild.

Read more here, it's chilling the extent to which Virginia has slipped back into its racist, hateful path. BREAKING: Cheney's lesbian daughter Mary is pregnant!

We have seen it over and over again, the ability of the anti-gay nuts to compartmentalize. If they know a gay person, that person is either the perfect limp-wristed interior-designing stereotype, or they are a completely unique mystery -- they can't just be a person whose partner happens to have the same plumbing as them.

So here they're going to have to figure out what to do. Not only are these two women acting like they're married, but one got pregnant! What if we learn that she had ... oh, it's too much to think! ... what if she had sex outside of marriage?!?! No, put that out of your mind: it's possible that it was an implanted embryo, but even then -- that would mean that somebody masturbated, wouldn't it?

It will just be too fun, watching the hypocrites dance around this one.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Board Appointment Saturday

Since school board member Valerie Ervin won a seat on the County Council in this last election, the board needs to appoint somebody to fill her position. Looks like this Saturday they will select somebody.

Here's The Gazette:
A group of PTA advocates, including a former county school board candidate, are the five finalists for the District 4 seat on the Montgomery County Board of Education.

The finalists named Monday are:

*Christopher S. Barclay of Takoma Park, a project manger for Verizon who was the Blair cluster coordinator from 2003 until earlier this year.

*Sheldon Fishman of Silver Spring, a former county council of PTAs vice president and PTA advocate who ran unsuccessfully for board in 1990 and was defeated by Valerie Ervin in 2004.

*Alies Muskin of Silver Spring, chief operating officer of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America and an advocate with the county council of PTAs and an Einstein cluster coordinator.

*Victor B. Salazar of Silver Spring, vice president for legislation with the county council of PTAs.

*Beth A. Wong of Silver Spring, acting deputy director for the Prince George’s County Office of Community Relations and a PTA advocate and president who was vice president for administration with the county council of PTAs.

On Saturday, the board will conduct 20-minute interviews every half-hour beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the boardroom of the Carver Educational Services Center at 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville.

The board will vote on a new member at the conclusion of the interviews. The new member will be sworn in on Dec. 12 and will serve the remaining two years on the term of Ervin of Silver Spring, who resigned following her election to the County Council.

The finalists were the top five candidates receiving votes on a ballot e-mailed to board members over the weekend. Twenty people applied for the vacancy. One applicant was later ruled ineligible because he was not registered to vote. District 4 encompasses Takoma Park and parts of Silver Spring and Wheaton. School Board narrows field to five for its open seat doesn't advocate candidates, so we're not saying who we like and don't like. But I think the school board will pick somebody good.

They Don't Know What They Believe

I went to graduate school in North Carolina, and I remember one particular conversation I was having with a religious guy. He was talking about the end of the world coming, and the signs of it, and we was quoting Revelations, with its dragons and plagues ... and then, I realized, he was actually talking about Nostradamus! Somewhere in the middle of the conversation he had derailed and switched tracks, and now he was talking about the signs of this-and-that, but it wasn't the Bible any more...

AlterNet has an interesting article up this morning about the sad fact that many of our most passionately devout Americans don't really know very much about their religion.
It's been a rough season for the Christian right. Even for an eschatological movement, these are dark days. First came former Deputy Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives David Kuo's public admission that evangelicals were often derided as "nuts" and "goofy" within the inner sanctums of the Bush administration. Then, weeks before losing their shotgun seat in the 109th Congress, the booming voice of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, was silenced in a scandal involving a gay hooker, massage oils, methamphetamine, and a string of Denver hotel rooms booked under false names.

But even before all that hit the fundamentalist fan, the movement was contending with a quieter, more systemic crisis: functional Biblical illiteracy among the flock. That's right, religious conservatives aren't so religious, after all. The Christian Right Goes Back to Bible Boot Camp

This is a hard thing to discuss, because there are a lot of good-hearted, well-intending people out there who go to church and try to live a good life, and I don't have anything really against that. But the church leaders have gotten wound up in political issues, they've gotten used to living high on the hog, and they use the numbers of their flocks to do serious damage to the ability of our society to live in harmony. So, for those poor salt-of-the-earth people who trust their leaders and believe what they're told, I say, I'm sorry it's turning out like this. But the rest of us have to stop playing along.
This alarm was sounded by George Barna, chief pollster and CEO of the Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif.-based Christian polling and communications outfit. In August of 2005, Barna reported that less than ten percent of born-again Christians held what he termed a "Biblical worldview." Based on his survey, very few grasped the nuances of scripture or believed in "Absolute Truth" any more than their secular counterparts; the "Body of Christ" had been infected with the virus of relativism, a wasting disease.

"Although most people own a Bible and know some of its content," reported Barna, "our research found that most [professed evangelicals] have little idea how to integrate core biblical principles to form a unified and meaningful response to the challenges and opportunities of life."

The prolific Barna dashed off a book in response to this worrying discovery. Entitled "Think Like Jesus" -- and marketed as "one of those books that really ticks off Satan" -- it quickly sold out in Barna's online bookstore. A second edition of "Think Like Jesus" soon went to press to further aggravate the Lord of Darkness.

The Lord of Darkness is spitting fire, but Mammon is happy.
Barna's poll and subsequent call to think like Jesus caught the attention of Dr. James Dobson, patriarch of the two most important religious right groups, the $140-million-a-year Focus on the Family, and its more politically minded spin-off, the D.C.-based Family Research Council. Dobson called Barna's report on Christian America's disappearing Biblical worldview "very distressing news" and felt that it warranted a muscular response, one befitting the massive resources at his disposal. The result is Focus on the Family's "The Truth Project: An In-Depth Christian Worldview Experience," a slick and intensive two-day training conference that kicked-off a North American tour last month at a megachurch outside Atlanta. It has since visited sell-out audiences in six cities; there are already 10 events planned for 2007.

Man, the way these guys come up with names: "The Truth Project." They could call it ... oh, never mind, sometimes this is just too easy. You hate to make fun of people who don't know any better, but it is hard to stomach the exploiters.

I can hardly wait till these folks find out what Jesus really said. Man, they are going to be embarrassed.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

More On Guidance Counselors and Backpacks

I hadn't seen this article in Blair High School's Silver Chips online newspaper, from several weeks ago. There is an odd situation involving how school counselors can work with gay students, and I'm not sure where it's headed.

This reporter did a lot of digging, and I'm going to include, I think, the whole thing.
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 two 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 on Oct. 4 expressing their concerns that the policy would compromise an important outlet of support for gay students. As of Nov. 6, they had not received a reply. Lacey was unavailable for comment.

Principal Phillip Gainous does not support the policy because, he said, it could restrict counselors' ability to help students who are struggling with their sexual identities. He extended his support to the GSA in their efforts to protest the new regulation. "The counselors, of all people, need to be in a position to offer guidance and advice to students," he said. Group claims bias in counseling materials: MCPS restricts guidance

OK, the story is that a parent went to a school counselor saying that their kid was gay, and asking if there was any literature they could take home. It was a set-up. Some versions have this parent as a CRC member, the Silver Chips version seems to suggest it might have been somebody from PFOX.

Whatever, you do want to know exactly what that "new directive" is really about, and what "county approval" is.
Counselors now require approval from the MCPS central office before they can distribute written materials to students or parents, according to Bonnie Cullison, president of the Montgomery County Education Association. MCPS is currently working to assemble a list of pre-approved sources from which counselors can obtain reliable information, Cullison said.

The meeting for counselors stressed the importance of accurate information regarding "gender-specific issues" and sexuality, according to Blair counselors Dwayne Thomas and Melba Battle, who attended the meeting.

No written statements have been produced regarding the new regulations, which Johnson and Battle believe may be due to MCPS administrators' reluctance to formalize the policy. Christina Webb, executive assistant to Lacey, denied the existence of an official policy addressing the written materials distributed by counselors.

According to Battle, the new directive was issued in response to a complaint from a parent who considered information provided by an MCPS counselor to be promoting one viewpoint of homosexuality over others.

Well, there is one viewpoint, shared by all the major medical and mental health organizations, and that should be what they carry.

Since this is PFOX, and we know that the president of PFOX, Richard Cohen, was expelled for life from the American Counseling Association, we infer that when they say they want more than one viewpoint, they mean they want the illegitimate views promoted by PFOX to be distributed in school counseling offices.

After careful thought and many, many long-winded and contentious meetings of officers and directors, we have decided that our official point of view will be to oppose the distribution of PFOX's bogus materials at the schools.

Silver Chips continues:
Regina Griggs, executive director of PFOX, said that a parent contacted PFOX after the alleged incident occurred on May 17. Griggs said the information that the parent received included a list of web sites for "pro-gay" organizations and instructions for starting a gay-straight alliance in high school. She said that the counselor did not give any information presenting the viewpoint of "ex-gays" — the belief that people who define themselves as homosexual can later change their sexual orientation. PFOX said the information promoted a biased view of homosexuality.

Griggs would not disclose the name of the school at which the incident occurred.

If you know which school this was, put something in our comments, OK? We hear rumors, but they're not solid enough to post in a blog on the Internet.

And gee, don't you just wonder why they didn't give out any information about "ex-gays?" Do they mean information about ... straight people?
On May 23, PFOX wrote to MCPS Director of Public Information Brian Edwards to request materials on sexual orientation and sexual identity. When they did not receive a response, PFOX wrote another letter on June 5 to MCPS School Counseling Services Supervisor Kent Weaver, the Board of Education and Superintendent Jerry Weast, calling the incident "a clear bias against credible viewpoints about former homosexuals."

Edwards responded to the May 23 letter on June 26, saying that the county had no official materials to distribute regarding sexuality. On Aug. 4, PFOX wrote back informing Edwards that "several parents" had received materials from counselors about homosexuality.

If you're going to hand out stuff about "ex-gays," in order to really avoid bias you'll have to include stuff about ex-straights, too. Because, to tell you the truth, there are way more ex-straights than people who went the other way. Just ask Ted Haggard, the ex-straight preacher. Or James McGreevey, the ex-straight governor of New Jersey. Or Jim West, the ex-straight mayor of Spokane, Washington. Or ... you see what I'm saying.

And how many "ex-gays" can you name?

Silver Chips again:
To ensure that students receive equal information, Griggs said that PFOX plans to distribute fliers to all MCPS students over the course of the school year. A new MCPS policy requires that all fliers produced by non-profit organizations only be distributed through MCPS during one set period per quarter. PFOX's flier, which contains information about the organization and their views on homosexuality, will be distributed during the next quarterly period at Quince Orchard. PFOX's ultimate goal is to distribute fliers regarding sexuality in all MCPS high schools, said Griggs.

Griggs said that PFOX is not satisfied with MCPS's new requirements for counselors. She proposed that specific, approved materials be mandatorily distributed to all students who request information to ensure that students receive all available, credible, pre-approved information. "I don't think we want to have to continually do legal battles to make sure children have all the information," she said.

PFOX sued MCPS in June 2005, to revise MCPS's proposed health curriculum, which PFOX claimed "contained resources that were factually incorrect, biased, opposed certain religious viewpoints, and did not present different scientifically based views on the subject of homosexuality," according to the June 5 letter. Griggs cited the counselor incident as another example of how MCPS has omitted valid viewpoints in its presentation of homosexuality to students.

Now, I've never met Ms. Griggs, but news reports do mention that she has a gay son. Can you imagine being a gay guy, and your mother is telling people every day of her life that you can change? Can she really believe it? If she does, what does she think about her son, who insists on choosing to stay gay?

Some of these things are so sad you almost don't want to joke about them.

But you have to.
Cullison explained that the new regulations aim to ensure objectivity. She said that while verbal conversations between a counselor and student are confidential and cannot be regulated, written information distributed by counselors should be neutral. As a public school system, MCPS has a legal obligation not to promote any one viewpoint over another. Ultimately, MCPS and its counselors all care about the well-being of students, she said. "The school system is really focused on what it has to do and tries to stay out of big social issues and avoid legal activity," she said.

GSA sponsor and social studies teacher Mary Thornton said that she is disappointed by MCPS's response to the PFOX complaints. "We keep backing down from lawsuits that we should stand up to and fight," she said. "We're supposed to stand for the students and their own pursuit of their fullest potential."

Thornton added that PFOX, based in Virginia, should not be involved in MCPS because they are not "stakeholders" in MCPS education.

Well, yes, that's something. These people don't even live here.

This stuff that they're saying, about a school not promoting one viewpoint over the other, is very dangerous. That would mean you can't mention the NAACP without bringing in the Klan -- I mean, c'mon, anybody can see the insanity of this... can't they?

And we're not talking about some difference of opinion here. Medical and psychological experts are in accord about how to treat gay individuals. There's a right answer to the question, and PFOX doesn't have it.

Think about the idea that a school has to express both sides of every issue equally. As someone noted in the comments to this article online, "it's absurd."
Blair counselors agree that the new regulations serve a necessary purpose and that they do not feel restricted by the rule. Resource counselor Marcia Johnson said the meeting was a "reminder" rather than a real policy change. "We already knew that we need to make sure we get approved information, as opposed to information from agencies that are not established," she said.

Thomas said that he understood the meeting as a discussion of how counselors can be better prepared to deal with issues like homosexuality.

Before the meeting, counselors often did not know what kind of information to give students who request literature on sensitive issues, Battle said. She hopes that MCPS compiles the list of approved sources, which would be a helpful resource for all MCPS counselors.

See, this can't work out well for PFOX. Their literature is all religious, for one thing; there's really no other argument for denying your deepest feelings and living your entire life without love. Their beliefs are soundly rejected by all the professional organizations, for another. The idea that there are "two sides" to the issue is a complete fiction they have dreamed up. Nobody thinks you can change who you're attracted to, and most sensible people fail to see the virtue in pretending to be what you aren't.

Think of PFOX as the Flat Earth Society, constantly suing to have "both sides" of the debate included in the schools.
GSA President Avi Edelman is concerned that gay students will not get the guidance they need because of the limitations on counselors and psychologists. "Being gay in high school is such a tough thing," Edelman said. "[The new MCPS regulation is] something that should really concern students. To me, it's saying that a bureaucratic process is more important than the concerns of the students."

Gainous read the GSA's letter and supports the club's efforts to protest the policy, which he worries will eliminate an important source of support for students. "We've got all these young people seeking answers in the street when we could be the ones responding to their individual needs," he said.

Norman Aaronson, an education law professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said that MCPS is legally entitled to require information distributed by counselors to be approved by the county. Aaronson cited the Supreme Court case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier for giving the school system the power to control the information distributed to students. "As long as they can relate it to legitimate concerns, the school system can control information that's disseminated through employees," he said.

People we've talked to inside the school district are reassuring but vague. It is impossible that they'll ever hand out PFOX junk. As far as materials produced by groups that support the gay community, what's wrong with that? Is the American Heart Association's brochure on heart disease biased? Of course the gay advocacy groups know something about being gay, and it's silly to propose that their materials should be restricted.

By the way, it's fun reading the comments on this article at Silver Chips. Like, somebody points out that the school computer system blocks the PFOX web site, which is hilarious. One commenter made this good observations: pfox is Parents and Friends of ExGays and Gays. but what are ex-gays? former gays. could these "ex-gays" be "bisexuals?" i think so. why are only parents/friends in pfox? where are the gays and ex-gays themselves?

The school district would like this problem to go away. But when you have someone as irrepressibly annoying as Regina Griggs popping up through every possible opening -- it's not going away. The guidance counselors have no business even considering PFOX's ridiculous ideas, and I think MCPS must understand that if they start promoting this particular flavor of nuttiness they will have the whole community jumping down their throats. Not just a couple of annoying whiners: all of us. Hopefully they are being careful here.

The NYT on Gender Variance

The New York Times had a very nice article yesterday about gender identity. Surprisingly good, actually.

From the CRC's shrieks of outrage, I surmise that this is a topic that really upsets some people -- boys who feel like girls inside and girls who feel like boys. I admit I don't really understand what sets them off, but I think it must have to do with people failing to submit to the authority of the majority. Like, if most boys act like the stereotype, then why can't the rest of them just play along?

Well, I can't read their minds, but that's my best theory.
OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 1 — Until recently, many children who did not conform to gender norms in their clothing or behavior and identified intensely with the opposite sex were steered to psychoanalysis or behavior modification.

But as advocates gain ground for what they call gender-identity rights, evidenced most recently by New York City’s decision to let people alter the sex listed on their birth certificates, a major change is taking place among schools and families. Children as young as 5 who display predispositions to dress like the opposite sex are being supported by a growing number of young parents, educators and mental health professionals.

Doctors, some of them from the top pediatric hospitals, have begun to advise families to let these children be “who they are” to foster a sense of security and self-esteem. They are motivated, in part, by the high incidence of depression, suicidal feelings and self-mutilation that has been common in past generations of transgender children. Legal trends suggest that schools are now required to respect parents’ decisions. Supporting Boys or Girls When the Line Isn’t Clear

I had the opposite thing happen when my daughter was little. I was at a university, and the Developmental Psychology students sometimes used her for research. They'd observe her, interview her, whatever they do. But the thing was, when she was little, like two and three years old, she loved pink. She loved Barbies and ponies and cute stuff. And this drove those grad students absolutely nuts. They were just sure we were forcing her into traditional gender roles or something. Now, at eighteen, she's all t-shirts and blue jeans, we haven't seen anything pink around the house for years, she grew out of that phase. But look, here's the point: a kid knows who they are.

Anyway, it seems straightforward enough to let the kid work it out.
“First we became sensitive to two mommies and two daddies,” said Reynaldo Almeida, the director of the Aurora School, a progressive private school in Oakland. “Now it’s kids who come to school who aren’t gender typical.”

The supportive attitudes are far easier to find in traditionally tolerant areas of the country like San Francisco than in other parts, but even in those places there is fierce debate over how best to handle the children.

So this would be the CRC's paranoid fantasy that tolerance of one thing will lead to total destruction of all norms. No ... the fact is, it doesn't make any more sense to discriminate on the basis of gender identity than sexual orientation.

A person is what they are -- but some people seem to take rejection of differences as the default position. What's so hard about just accepting that there is a lot of variation among people?
Cassandra Reese, a first-grade teacher outside Boston, recalled that fellow teachers were unnerved when a young boy showed up in a skirt. “They said, ‘This is not normal,’ and, ‘It’s the parents’ fault,’ ” Ms. Reese said. “They didn’t see children as sophisticated enough to verbalize their feelings.”

As their children head into adolescence, some parents are choosing to block puberty medically to buy time for them to figure out who they are — raising a host of ethical questions.

While these children are still relatively rare, doctors say the number of referrals is rising across the nation. Massachusetts, Minnesota, California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have laws protecting the rights of transgender students, and some schools are engaged in a steep learning curve to dismantle gender stereotypes.

... "block puberty medically?" ... Can somebody tell me what that means? I don't know, that sentence just seems like a kind of hit and run. Do they mean parents of kids who do not have an easy-to-grasp gender identity? Or parents in general?

Look, I've got two teenagers. Are they saying here that there's a cure for puberty?

Or are they saying that if somebody's kid is different they give them steroids or something?
At the Park Day School in Oakland, teachers are taught a gender-neutral vocabulary and are urged to line up students by sneaker color rather than by gender. “We are careful not to create a situation where students are being boxed in,” said Tom Little, the school’s director. “We allow them to move back and forth until something feels right.”

The vocabulary thing is tough. Does anybody know why the English language has to have two sets of pronouns, one for males and one for females? We do pretty much the same things, why do we have to use different words? As this article notes, it sometimes happens that somebody doesn't fit immediately and intuitively into one or the other of those categories.

We had a rude member of the citizens advisory committee refer to a transgender woman as "he," and the rest of us let it pass one time. Second time was going to be a problem. On the other hand, nearly everybody has had it slip accidentally, the right pronoun just doesn't rise to the surface in the instant. It seems to me that a quick apology remedies the discomfort, in that case, but what do I know? I'm just an adult bovine creature in a china shop when it comes to these things.

This story is really good:
For families, it can be a long, emotional adjustment. Shortly after her son’s third birthday, Pam B. and her husband, Joel, began a parental journey for which there was no map. It started when their son, J., began wearing oversized T-shirts and wrapping a towel around his head to emulate long, flowing hair. Then came his mothers’ silky undershirts. Half a year into preschool, J. started becoming agitated when asked to wear boys’ clothing.

En route to a mall with her son, Ms. B. had an epiphany: “It just clicked in me. I said, ‘You really want to wear a dress, don’t you?’ ”

Thus began what the B.’s, who asked their full names not be used to protect their son’s privacy, call “the reluctant path,” a behind-closed-doors struggle to come to terms with a gender-variant child — a spirited 5-year-old boy who, at least for now, strongly identifies as a girl, requests to be called “she” and asks to wear pigtails and pink jumpers to school.

Ms. B., 41, a lawyer, accepted the way her son defined himself after she and her husband consulted with a psychologist and observed his newfound comfort with his choice. But she feels the precarious nature of the day-to-day reality. “It’s hard to convey the relentlessness of it, she said, “every social encounter, every time you go out to eat, every day feeling like a balance between your kid’s self-esteem and protecting him from the hostile outside world.”

Think back. You've known kids like this. What makes a big crisis out of it? Hint: it's not them, it's us.

A little more:
Both sides in the debate underscore their concern for the profound vulnerability of such youngsters, symbolized by occurrences like the murder in 2002 of Gwen Araujo, a transgender teenager born as Eddie, southeast of Oakland.

“Parents now are looking for advice on how to make life reasonable for their kids — whether to allow cross-dressing in public, and how to protect them from the savagery of other children,” said Dr. Herbert Schreier, a psychiatrist with Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland.

Dr. Schreier is one of a growing number of professionals who have begun to think of gender variance as a naturally occurring phenomenon rather than a disorder. “These kids are becoming more aware of how it is to be themselves,” he said.

In past generations, so-called sissy boys and tomboy girls were made to conform, based on the belief that their behaviors were largely products of dysfunctional homes.

Among the revisionists is Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, a child-adolescent psychiatrist at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington who started a national outreach group for parents of gender-variant children in 1998 that now has more than 200 participants. “We know that sexually marginalized children have a higher rate of depression and suicide attempts,” Dr. Menvielle said. “The goal is for the child to be well adjusted, healthy and have good self-esteem. What’s not important is molding their gender.”

The literature on adults who are transgender was hardly consoling to one parent, a 42-year-old software consultant in Massachusetts and the father of a gender-variant third grader. “You’re trudging through this tragic, horrible stuff and realizing not a single person was accepted and understood as a child,” he said. “You read it and think, O.K., best to avoid that. But as a parent you’re in this complete terra incognita.”

The biological underpinnings of gender identity, much like sexual orientation, remain something of a mystery, though many researchers suspect it is linked with hormone exposure in the developing fetus.

Studies suggest that most boys with gender variance early in childhood grow up to be gay, and about a quarter heterosexual, Dr. Menvielle said. Only a small fraction grow up to identify as transgender.

That's a good place to leave it off. There's a lot more to this article -- click the link and learn a little bit here. HERE it is again (it may require free registration)).

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Worst. President. Ever

Yeah, this is cold, but somebody's got to say it.

An editorial by historian Eric Foner in tomorrow's Washington Post reviews the greater and lesser Presidents and ends with this paragraph:
It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history. He's The Worst Ever

Friday, December 01, 2006

Contradictions in Charity

There were two little stories in the last week or two that resonate together, at least between my ears.

First, there's this one from Fairfax, Virginia:
... Officials said this week that a new campaign to enforce the county food code at shelters is aimed at preventing food poisoning among the homeless. But operators of shelters said forcing them to reject donations of sandwiches or casseroles prepared at home or in church kitchens is not in the best interest of their clients because it will make it harder to provide them with healthy, hot meals. Fairfax health officials ban home-cooked meals from shelters

So they're only going to accept donations from licensed kitchens. The reasoning is very, very cautious here: somebody cooking something at home might not have washed their hands, or they might not have used good, fresh ingredients, and it's possible that some food would be contaminated. A homeless person could get a stomach-ache.

Then there's this one.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer had an ordinary little story about how busy the airport was over Thanksgiving. Well, it wasn't really very busy, but you can't let that ruin a good story.

The article ends with this heartwarming note:
Overall, operations at Hopkins were smooth, DeChant said, but there was at least one unexpected hiccup this week.

"In the last two days, we have taken a dozen baked pies," he said.

Pie filling apparently is banned from carry-on luggage, too. But the pies didn't go to waste. They were taken to the airport's United Service Organizations lounge, where soldiers passing through can relax and eat. No glitches, headaches to report at Hopkins

It's nice that the soldiers get some good, home-cooked pies.

But, people, think about this -- why did they confiscate those pies in the first place? Wasn't it because they suspected there were chemicals -- poison or explosives or something -- in the pies?

And they're giving that to our soldiers? Poisoned pies?

I know, I know, everybody knows those pies are safe. Nobody's going to bring an exploding pie on an airplane over Thanksgiving.

So why do they take them away in the first place? Really. Does anybody have an answer to that one?

You can't feed the homeless without a license, but TSA feeds suspected pie-bombs to American soldiers.

... These are some weird times we live in.

Backpacks, Flyers -- What's Going On?

I have felt sort of uninformed about the "backpack" controversy, and so I did a little reading, and thought I'd share some of what I learned with you.

First of all ... what's up with the word fly? Like, I heard somebody once talking about a baseball game, and they said that the batter "flew out" to left field. I was thinking, wow, those are some pretty good steroids. Uh, did you mean he flied out to left? And how can that be -- flied? As the past tense of fly?

And now, I just don't know if the papers the school sticks in a kid's backpack should be referred to as "flyers" or "fliers." I'll stick with flyers, I guess. But it's a toss-up. (These are not guys who pilot airplanes, nor are they Japanese chickens.)

Here's what happened, as far as I can piece it together at this point. You have to dig through a lot of news stories to put this together, and so if I got something wrong, please correct me in the comments.

Back in 2004, the Good News Club, an after-school Bible-study group, wanted to distribute flyers announcing their meetings, and MCPS decided not to let them, saying that as a government institution they should not participate in proselytizing for any religion.

See, the Constitution contains a near-paradox, or at least a very fine tightrope, in terms of the government's treatment of religion. Decisions are balanced between two clauses. The Establishment Clause says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". This is generally interpreted to mean that state and federal governments should not establish or promote any religion, and the result is the commonly-cited "separation of church and state."

On the other hand, the Free Exercise Clause says, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This puts government in a bind. Allowing the use of government facilities for the promotion of religion violates the Establishment Clause, forbidding it violates the Free Exercise Clause.

This is why lawyers live in such nice houses.

MCPS did not let the Good News Club pass out their flyers, and the club sued. In 2004 the court ruled that MCPS' practice did amount to viewpoint discrimination, and that handing out the flyers did not violate the Establishment Clause. The school board then voted seven to one to restrict distribution to flyers produced by parent-teacher associations, government agencies, student groups, day-care centers, nonprofit sports leagues and the school system. This meant that religious groups could not distribute their stuff, nor could the Boy Scouts and other community organizations.

The Good News Club sued again. The district court originally dismissed the case, but the 4th circuit court of appeals overturned the dismissal and sent the case back to the district court. In the meantime, because MCPS had rewritten their policy on access, the district court again dismissed the case, ruling that the new policy mooted the free speech concerns of the Good News Club. This was appealed again and ended up back in the Fourth Circuit court, which this past summer, again, overruled the dismissal.

These things being what they are, the court's ruling is rather long-winded and I'm not going to copy it all on the blog. You can read the whole thing HERE.

The issue has to do in part with what constitutes a "public forum." While the government must maintain veiwpoint neutrality in a public forum, it is not required to in a non-public forum, such as a classroom. MCPS had rewritten its policies with the intention of establishing the latter, but the Fourth Circuit didn't agree:
To recapitulate, in a traditional public forum the government may only establish content-neutral "time, place, and manner" restrictions or content-based rules that are "necessary to achieve a compelling state interest" and are "narrowly drawn to achieve that interest." A designated public forum is "subject to the same limitations as that governing a traditional public forum." In a limited public forum, however, the government may restrict access to "certain groups" or to "discussion of certain topics," subject to two limitations: the government restrictions must be both reasonable and viewpoint neutral. Finally, in a nonpublic forum the government may employ a "selective access" policy in which "individual nonministerial judgments" govern forum participation, again subject to the same two limitations: the policy must be reasonable and viewpoint neutral.

I admit, a lot of this is Greek to me, but there's a nice readable account of all this legal stuff HERE, in the Tennessee School Law Quarterly.

OK, so this has been kicked back and forth, MCPS tried to regulate the use of flyers (and other things as well, back-to-school nights and things), and the court still ruled against them.

The school district's response this year was to issue a policy that organizations can send materials home with students four times a year, corresponding to the start of the year and the ends of the first, second, and third marking periods. Schools determine their own exact dates, but they must be near those times.

A decision tree was worked up and is posted on the Internet HERE. Decisions are based on whether the materials:
  • Come from a group that is allowed access at any time (MCPS, government, PTA, etc.)
  • Display a disclaimer message
  • Violate any laws or MCPS policies, and
  • Are from a non-profit group

Now that the policy is in place, of course it can be exploited by groups who the schools shouldn't have anything to do with. For instance, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX-GAG ... no, they call it "PFOX") got their literature in the kids' backpacks right away. PFOX exists to stuff gay people right back into the closet, the schools would never allow this in a classroom, but because PFOX is a non-profit organization and meets other criteria on the decision chart, the schools are essentially helpless. Your kids are going to be given this stuff, probably, four times a year.

It seems obvious to me that this situation cannot continue. Whether you hate PFOX or love them, you can easily see that the Klan, NAMBLA, or any other reprehensible group that qualifies as a non-profit can send flyers home with schoolchildren four times a year. The schools cannot exercise any control over what is introduced to the kids' backpacks.

It just can't go anywhere good.

Welcome to the Party

This afternoon four members of the Montgomery County Board of Education will be sworn in. They are:
  • Patricia B. O’Neill, who was reelected to the Board for a third term as District 3 representative
  • Nancy Navarro, who was just elected to her first full term. She had been appointed in October 2004 to fill the term of the vacant District 5 seat
  • Shirley Brandman, elected to her first four-year term as an at-large representative
  • Judy Docca, also elected to her first four-year term as a representative of District 1

You can watch the ceremonies at 4PM on the web HERE.

You won't find anybody in the county who agrees with every single decision the board makes, but I have to say this is an excellent group. All of them are solid supporters of comprehensive and inclusive sex education, and that's all we ask for. Two of these four, of course, were already on the board, and two are new.

Valerie Ervin won a seat on the County Council, and so will be leaving the school board. A list has been drawn up of potential appointees for that position, and we'll be watching that plot unfold.

As we move into 2007, a new year and a new cast of characters, we at have a lot to be optimistic about. The citizens of the county have reaffirmed their inherent good-heartedness, and the new school board will be extremely competent.

To the newly-elected ladies of the school board, TTF extends a big grin and a hearty "WELCOME!"