Friday, March 30, 2007

Managing the Paperstorm

I was thinking this morning that a reader unfamiliar with our situation, seeing the CRC's paperstorm in the previous post, might conclude that there're really a lot of problems with this new curriculum, and that the CRC wants to make sure they are fixed.

<British_accent>I regret to inform you, that is not the case.</British_accent>

The CRC sued in 2005 over a different curriculum, which they have now decided they liked better than this newer one. They did the same thing, threw in the kitchen sink, complained about every word in the curriculum. And they got a judge who would believe that some things buried in the teacher's resources were actually part of the curriculum, and that "the curriculum" dissed some religions, and in the long run the whole thing got thrown out. The judge ignored most of the noise, but did find a jewel in the ... stuff on the ground at a pig farm.

This time, deja vu again. They are complaining about things that don't exist, things that aren't there that conceivably could be, things that are there that conceivably don't have to be, things that can be taken out of context and made to sound bad, things that are commonsense but not published in any scientific paper, things that are published in scientific papers that violate common sense; they are complaining because the curriculum doesn't teach about homosexual sexual behavior, and complaining that it does, but in a veiled way...

I transcribed a blurry pdf file so we could have it in front of us as we watch the next stage unfold. We have gone over nearly all of these complaints many times, and I'm not going to try to explain the utter bogosity of every single item the CRC has listed.

There are two reasons they are doing this. One is, obviously, to drain the opposition dry. They make these ridiculous charges, and then somebody, some high-priced lawyer in particular, is supposed to sit down and research every one of these things and write up a response to them. This has been their main strategy all along, they try to wear you down. In the citizens advisory committee meetings, they proposed hundreds of changes to the curriculum, most of them totally absurd. And then the whole committee had to stay late, week after week, discussing and voting on these things. And how many times did they propose delaying some decision or another? Everything needed more time. It's their favorite trick, and the one thing that can work in their favor. Eventually, they might be able to drain the energy out of everybody around them, and get their way. (Heh-heh. Not everybody, but they can try.)

The other reason, I suppose, is that they think they can make the school district look bad if it doesn't take them seriously. The State Board is going to get this stuff, and they just might look at it and say, why doesn't the county provide all these materials? Or, why doesn't the county answer this or that question? And, as you see in the county's response, there are good reasons for them to refuse to play along with the Drain Game. They have done what they are required to do, and the state guys should be savvy enough to see what's going on. I imagine they've been drain-attacked by rightwingers before, themselves. It's not like any of this is original.

You may have noticed the dog that didn't bark, the reason that is not plausible here: the CRC did not ask these questions in order to learn the answers to them. These are not serious inquiries, this is time-wasting, money-wasting, passive aggression as an art form.

We can imagine a non-dysfunctional community group that had a true interest in improving the quality of a course in the public schools -- even a conservative group. We can imagine them making up a list of perceived errors or weaknesses in a planned class, and submitting that to the school district. And you know what? The school district would be wise to consider it, and to make adjustments if those turned out to improve the course. The whole community could benefit from that.

That isn't what's happening here. The CRC is a non-non-dysfunctional group, and their aim is not to improve anything, their aim is not to make an adjustment in the course content in order to accommodate conservative perspectives. No, their aim is to disrupt the process altogether, to stop the implementation of the new curriculum, because it doesn't say bad things about gay people.

I'm no lawyer, and I don't know what MCPS should do in this situation. They need to win this, but they also need to be careful not to get sucked into the vortex of nonsense that the CRC is spinning here. Answering these would only support the idea that they were valid questions in the first place. On the other hand, if the state mistakenly takes these complaints seriously, as real criticisms of the curricula, not-answering may create the appearance that the school district has no answers. Hate to say it, but MCPS attorneys have been perceived as arrogant in the past, and it counts against them, to the detriment of all of us who live here.

The state school board has to decide whether to overrule the county board's unanimous decision to implement curriculum that was developed with the participation of a flock of physicians, a herd of attorneys, a committee of citizens, and a gaggle of bureaucrats. The real question before the state is whether they can accept the competence of the Montgomery County Public Schools to make their own decisions. The question is not whether there is a citation in the scientific literature for the use of the word "innate," or whether when you talk about coming-out you need to discuss anal sex. The question before the State Board is whether Montgomery County is competent to make these decisions on their own, or if they need the state to tell them what to do.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Paperstorm in Sex-Ed Appeal

We recently got a look at some legal papers filed by the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, trying to get more of a response from the Montgomery County Public Schools and the state school board. I'm no lawyer and will probably get some of this wrong, but let me fill you in.

The set-up is this. The CRC asked the State Superintendent of Schools to stop the pilot testing of new 8th and 10th grade health curricula. She didn't. Then they appealed to the State Board of Education to stop the implementation of the new health curricula in the fall. They are pondering that request now; I think we expect a decision from them in July or so. And now the CRC are crying because everybody's not playing the game by their rules.

The first CRC document is to the Assistant Attorneys General of the state of Maryland and the state school board.
... this is to respectfully request that the State instruct the MCPS BOE to transmit the record in this case and for an extension of time to file a response to the motion for summary affirmance filed on March 6, 2007 by the Montgomery County Board of Education ("MCSP BOE") in accordance with COMAR 13A.01.05.04(B)(1).

Well, the point is that the county had twenty days to give the state "the entire record of the controversy," meaning, I guess, all the materials relevant to the case. Twenty days was February 27th, they say, and the CRC is saying that the school district still hasn't given them a copy of the condom video DVD.
In addition to failing to transmit the condom DVD, the Appellee has failed to transmit other significant parts of the record. For example, although certain information was provided on the alternative classes offered to pilot test students who chose to opt-out of the Additional Lessons, there has been no specific information transmitted concerning the alternative classes to be offered once the curriculum is adopted county wide or how long students will be forced to sit in the library out of their normal class...

Then there's a list of stuff they want from the county school district:
  • the condom DVD to the State Board with a copy to the Appellant,
  • full and adequate information concerning the alternative lessons, the number of weeks the students will be taking such alternative lessons and how these lessons will be administered,
  • the record supporting the County's assertion that the curriculum was adequately reviewed by health officials and the CAC, specifically that portion of the eight [sic] grade lesson which states that homosexuality is innate which was added on January 9th,
  • the record supporting the County's assertion that the curriculum was adequately reviewed, specifically the Health Department official who reviewed the HIV portion of the Additional Lessons as required by COMAR Section [sic], and
  • the expert support for its contention that homosexuality is "innate",
  • that part of the existing curriculum which supports Appellee's contention that the students are informed that condoms are not reliable for use in anal intercourse

I doubt they'll get far trying to prove that one line of the course, which was already approved for tenth grade and added to eighth grade for consistency, was thoroughly reviewed by health officials or the CAC, or needed to be.

Also, if the "Additional Lessons" are the new stuff -- there's no "HIV portion."

And ... I'm trying not to go through this, but some of these things, you just gotta say, they contradict themselves when they try to say the schools should teach that "condoms are not reliable for use in anal intercourse." The fact is, and the point they usually make is, that there is no evidence one way or the other -- the required research would be unethical and too dangerous to conduct. It's one thing to say, "there's no research indicating that condoms are safe for anal intercourse," which is true but meaningless -- I mean, there's no research evidence that they make great balloons, either, but they do -- and it is another thing to imply that there is evidence that "condoms are not reliable for use in anal intercourse." But nice try. OK, back to the papers.

There's a little more, then the bottom line -- what this is really about:
... we request an extension of time to respond through and including April 5th. We reserve the right to request an additional extension in the event the MCPS BOE fails to transmit the record.

Finally, they want to meet to set the agenda for a trial, etc.

OK, that's what this is all about. They want more time, and of course need to blame everybody else for making them late.

The school district filed its response to that document, and it seems pretty clear: they don't need to provide materials.
The adoption of a curriculum by a county board of education is a legislative or quasi-legislative act, not a contested case involving individual rights. ... [ellipses indicate omitted legal references] As such there is no discrete "record" as there would be in a quasi-judicial matter. Appellants submitted extensive exhibits with their appeal. The exhibits, presumably, were all of the materials that were germane to and in support of their appeal. The County Board included exhibits in its submissions only for convenience or because exhibits submitted by Appellants were incomplete.

A copy of the so-called "condom DVD" was not included because there is no dispute about what is actually in the video. Rather, Appellants' objection to the video is based on the fact that it does not contain additional information about transmission of disease that Appellants believe should have been included in the video instead of later in the curriculum as part of the lessons on infectious diseases. ... There is no factual dispute about what the video says and, therefore, it was not necessary to include a copy of it. Nevertheless, a copy of the transcript is enclosed with this response for your information and that of the State Board.

And it is, right at the end.

But wait. There's more:
The alternative lessons for those students who did not opt to participate in the field test of the Revised Lessons are not part of the record because the County Board took no action on them, nor were they a part of the Appeal filed on February 7, 2007. The County Board is not required to and does not take action to adopt individual lessons for every class in every course for which it adopts a curriculum. Because there had been prior litigation and because the Revised Lessons constituted a significant change in the existing health curriculum, the Superintendent chose to provide the County Board and the public with particularly detailed lessons plans so everyone would know exactly what the curricular change encompassed. The County Board, however, took no action on the alternative lessons. Moreover, the content of the additional lessons, their number, and "how these lessons will be administered" were raised by Appellants only in relation to Request for Stay and, more particularly, in their Reply in Support of Stay, not as part of their appeal. At the State Superintendent's request, information about the additional lessons, supported by an affidavit, was submitted in the County Board of Education's Surreply in Opposition to Request for Stay.

Appellants raised a number of purely legal issues in their Appeal and Request for Stay. There are no disputes of material fact: the lessons reflecting the curricular changes say what they say. The State Board has been provided copies of the instruxctional delivery plan for each lesson, the materials to be provided to the students for each lesson, the materials to be used by the teacher for each lesson, and the overheads to be used by the teacher for each lesson. The content of DVD demonstrating proper use of a condom is not disputer. The DVD says what it says and does not say what it does not say. There are no new materials...

... and so on. Pretty good.

They wind it up by putting their foot down:
There is no need for and no basis for an extension to reply to the County Board's Motion for Summary Affirmance other than to delay the State Board's decision in this matter. Therefore, the County Board opposes any extension of time to respond to the County Board's Motion for Summary Affirmance.

There are no dates on these documents, so I don't know exactly when they were filed, or what state the decision is in about whether to grant an extension to the CRC. I'll tell you when I know.

The CRC submitted another one to the state. Interestingly, they really really don't want the Maryland State Attorney General's office involved in this. They want the State school board to decide whether to overrule the county and throw out the new curricula.

They criticize the county's response to their initial complaint, saying it was "far more rhetoric than substance." And then -- now this will come in handy -- they list all the stuff they were whining about in the first place, which the County (according to CRC) did not address in their response to the state. You want to see a list of all the stuff the CRC is complaining about? Check this out:
  • There is no defense of mention of the county's controversial teaching that homosexuality is "innate." Notwithstanding the fact that every court that has addressed the issue has found precisely the opposite.
  • There is no defense or mention of the county's failure to place Focus Three Subject Matter in an Optional Course.
  • There is no defense or mention of the county's failure to divulge to students that condoms are not reliable protection against HIV/AIDS in anal intercourse.
  • There is no defense or mention of the condom video and lesson's misleading impression that condoms are reliable barriers to disease in all types of intercourse (i.e. anal intercourse). Nor the false implication that vaginal and anal intercourse of [sic] equal health risks.
  • There is no defense or mention of the age appropriateness of the Approved Lessons.
  • There is no defense or mention of the biased vignettes which portray exclusively non-heterosexuals.
  • There is no defense or mention of the fact that the only counselors mentioned to students are GLSEN, a gay advocacy group.
  • There is no defense or mention of the problematic definitions of "homophobe" and "prejudice" which by their definition stigmatize people holding traditional religious convictions.
  • There is no defense or mention of the treatment of the transgender Portia in the vignette as a "she" instead of a "he" despite the fact that the law and society classify him [sic] as a he.
  • There is no defense of the treatment of transgenderism as a sexual variation instead of a mental disorder.
  • There is no defense or mention that the curriculum fails to inform students that transgenders are no longer being given sex change operations and hormone therapy at respected medical hospitals in light of the current view that such does not treat the underlying mental disorder.
  • There is no defense or mention of the fact that the curriculum encourages students to "come out," despite the documented risks to youth of coming out, and despite the fact that this is clearly promoting and encouraging sexual activity.
  • There is no defense or mention of the move away from teaching abstinence in this curriculum.
  • There is no defense or mention of the fact that heterosexuality is barely mentioned and marriage is never mentioned.
  • There is no defense or mention of the fact that homosexuality is treated as a norm and as normal behavior despite evidence to the contrary showing it to be present in only a small percentage of the population.
  • There is no defense or mention of the local board's refusal to pay any heed to the testimony of disease specialist Dr. Ruth Jacobs or to the petition signed by the numerous (now 270) area medical doctors urging the local board to warn students that condoms are not reliable in preventing disease in anal intercourse and that anal intercourse is simply too risky to practice.
  • Furthermore, left unmentioned in the Appeal but highly significant to parents, the MCPS direction to teachers to direct student questions to "A Responsible Adult." MCPS defines a responsible adult as someone over age 18 who the student trusts. No mention of parents is suggested or even considered. Are not parents responsible adults for student questions regarding sex?

Additionally, even to topics given some coverage in the Appellee's brief, the arguments are simply not meritorious:
  • Appellee fails to recognize that Appellant has shown to any degree that the curriculum advocates homosexuality as a "natural and morally correct lifestyle" and states that Appellant "do not and cannot cite to any part of any lesson to support this assertion" ... MCPS expects the State Board to accept this bald assertion simply because it says so. Appellee, in taking this position, simply refuses to make any attempt to refute the many examples of bias and exclusive moral viewpoint shown by Appellant. Ex-gays are marginalized throughout the brief in every instance they are mentioned and the Appellee goes so far as to argue that Appellant has failed to come forth with an ex-gay student or a student struggling to overcome same-sex attractions ... Appellees have not come forth with a transgender, intersexed or bisexual student, yet transgenders, bisexuals and the intersexed are included in the Curriculum.
  • Appellee erroneously contends that students will be warned of the dangers of anal intercourse in a separate, later part of the curriculum ... No evidence of this is submitted for the simple reason that it is not true: the curriculum framework nowhere else provides that the students are to be taught the dangers of anal intercourse. Additionally, even if this were true, it would not obviate the confusion caused by the condom lesson and video on this point but only increase such confusion. Children's lives are at stake here: there is no room for confusion here or a total failure to warn here. MCPS' students' health must be the primary concern of any health class.
  • Appellee fails to adequately address the egregious fact that students who do not opt-in to the Additional Lessons are constrained to sitting in the library by themselves, conspicuously, with no teacher, with no class, for SIX WEEKS; while Appellee disingenuously argues that there is no "disparate treatment." ...
  • Appellee blithely states that there is no opt-out, there is simply an opt-in ... Appellee refuses to address that students who do not "opt-in" to their regularly scheduled MANDATORY class are constrained to the library for SIX WEEKS of INDEPENDENT STUDY. Appellee fails to adequately address the egregious fact that parents who seek to protect their children's religious beliefs and the family values, have no recourse but to convice their children to sit in the library for six weeks while still having to sign in every day in front of their peers with their teacher. That during that six week period, they have no teacher, no class and are fully isolated ... Clearly, Appellee's assertion that there is no "opt-out" ... is patently false.
  • Appellees further assertion that this opt-out does not compel students to reveal their moral, ideological, or religious views simply because, according to Appellee, there is no opt-out ..., is also false and represents callous disregard for the parents and students who hold traditional values. Furthermore the Appellee criticizes as "incendiary" Appellants statement that: students "are being molested on account of their religious beliefs by being forced with the NO CHOICE of either leaving the class and sitting in a library doing independent work ... or having to listen to negative stereotyping and epithets (homophobe and prejudiced) being directed at them as members of a group holding a moral view antithetical to the viewpoint espoused by MCPS." ... MCPS asserts without any proof that it is not intolerant toward students and parents with certain religious beliefs. Its only proof of not being intolerant and judgmental toward certain religions is its own prideful statement that its [sic] not. The fact that thousands of students and parents object to the intolerance is proof that indeed MCPS is a religiously bigoted government entity. Appellants will provide the board with numerous examples of religious bigotry including all the lawsuits MCPS has already lost trying to discriminate against certain religious sects. MCPS completely ignores the free exercise clause of both the Maryland and federal constitution. Putting a muzzle on the religious views of students is a violation of the worst kind and is the pinnacle of intolerance.
  • The many cases cited by Appellee are without exception outside of Maryland and largely outside the Fourth Circuit

Finally, we note that Appellee argues that an Appellants complaint "really boils down to a complaint that community values do not perfectly coincide with their opinions." ... Here we see a truly callous disregard for the religious convictions of many families in Montgomery County: according to Appellees, religious convictions are mere "opinion." [omitting chatter]

Additionally, MCPS has failed to prove, or even attempt to prove, its' [sic] assertion that the Additional Lessons represent "community values." Which it surely does not... [text omitted]

In closing, we note that there are legal Prohibitions against use of federal funds obtained Under [sic] the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND(Act of 2001) ... [text omitted]

Ow. I've got writer's cramp, or whatever you call it when you're pounding on a computer keyboard.

At the end there, they seem to be saying that talking about the pros and cons of coming-out amounts to a violation of NCLB, because coming-out, to the CRC, is identical with having sex. And you can't "promote or encourage sexual activity" in a class funded by NCLB. That is a very weak argument, like the rest of these, but the point is not to make a good case, the point is to waste time.

Well, that was a list of the things, mostly imaginary, that the CRC believes everybody else should take seriously. Normally, I'd go through this item by item, but ... c'mon, this is ridiculous.

Oh, and this is cute. The last page of this document is signed by the mother of a third-grader from Sequoyah Elementary School in Derwood, who swears that "As a practicing member of the Catholic Church, I believe that homosexual acts are immoral" and other statements. I guess the CRC found a real MCPS family that could claim to be victimized by this curriculum, since none of them will be.

As Expected, No Big Deal

The Gazette yesterday reviewed the excitement of pilot testing of the new sex-ed classes, and concluded that it really wasn't all that exciting.
Health teacher Jody Tyler read the new scripted sex-ed lesson last week and the hotly debated field test of the revised health curriculum at Watkins Mill High School was over without much ado.

While the revised curriculum sparked a legal challenge and a battle among school advocates and some parents, all but a few students at Watkins Mill took part in the pilot program.

Watkins Mill Principal Peter J. Cahall didn’t hear much from parents — and even less form students.

"It came and went. It was so not a big deal," Cahall said. "It was there and gone before I even blinked."

Lon Hamann, president of the Watkins Mill Parent Teacher Student Association, also said there hasn’t been much of a stir among parents.

"It hasn’t been brought to the PTSA as a big issue yet," he said last week. Sex-ed pilot ‘not a big deal’ at Watkins Mill

OK, good. The fact is, the courses were carefully planned out, carefully designed by a team of pediatricians to make sure facts were medically correct, they were reviewed by a gang of lawyers to make sure nobody's religious beliefs or First Amendment rights were threatened, everything was thoroughly evaluated by a committee of citizens, it went through the bureaucratic mill at MCPS, was adopted unanimously by the Board of Education -- there was no reason to think there would be anything weird about it.

Oh, did I mention the whiners who stole information from the PTA directories and sent letters, emails, newsletters, and made robo-calls to the homes of families at the test schools? Did I say anything about the head of the American Family Association sending a newsletter around warning Montgomery County parents not to send their children to these horrible classes? Did I mention the wackos that walked around outside the schools carrying signs protesting "Unisex Bathrooms" and other scary things? Did I mention that the state school board still has the tedious task of reading the appeal and reviewing the curriculum to find out if there is really "covert politically correct code talk" between the lines of the new curriculum?

Naw, none of that matters. The school district did a good, professional job despite the background noise; they developed the courses following all the steps they are supposed to take. Now the classes have been tested, and it turned out, as expected, that it was no big deal.

This Gazette story carries the obligatory quotes from the "other side," a couple of CRC people are given this megaphone to express their irrelevant opinions. In general, the story is: business as usual, no big deal.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

McCain Supports Gay Marriage on MySpace

Oh -- this is great.

John McCain's MySpace page uses a well-known template that was developed by Newsvine Founder and CEO Mike Davidson (see his original HERE) -- then McCain's site HERE). Davidson has said that people can re-use the template, if they give him credit for it on their site.

McCain used it, didn't give credit. Also, instead of putting the images it uses on his own site, he linked to the ones at Davidson's MySpace. That means that every time you look at John McCain's MySpace, you're using up bandwidth on Davidson's server. This is considered Not Cool on the Internet, hot-linking to somebody else's images.

But Davidson had the perfect solution. Since he had control, basically, over stuff that appears on McCain's web site ... he changed it.

As TechCrunch explains:
Davidson decided to play a small prank on the campaign this morning as retribution. Since he’s in control of some of the images on the site, he replaced one that shows contact information with a statement:
Today I announce that I have reversed my position and come out in full support of gay marriage ... particularly marriage between two passionate females.

Here are the before and afters:

I think that's fair enough, don't you?

[Thanks to Crooks and Liars for pointing this one out.]

I Hate Being On TV

I just got back from a TV interview. I doubt that it will look very good.

The lady had an idea what I should say, and I wasn't very successful at reading her mind. She wanted me to talk about how important it will be for the CRC and "us" to come to a compromise, because she had just interviewed John Garza, from the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, and he had told her that they just want to negotiate something everybody can live with. Which is of course is not the truth at all.

I started to explain that the problem is that the CRC won't compromise. I began describing the pilot testing, and how they are trying to disrupt it, instead of letting the school district find and fix problems. I described the letters, the robo-calls, the meeting, the media. And in the middle she just ... interrupted me. Changed the subject. So there I am, complaining about them, and then we're talking about how important the curriculum is for gay students. It can't make any sense to somebody watching.

It was interesting sitting in the green room shooting the breeze with a guy who was waiting to go in and criticize the curriculum; it was the guy the Times interviewed yesterday, or whenever it was. Seemed like a decent guy, has six kids. He has no idea what kind of mess he's stepped into here. The other guy in the green room, the supervisor for these shows, mentioned after my interview that he had received a letter from the CRC -- he has a kid at Sherwood -- saying that the schools wanted to teach the kids about anal sex and everything. "What are you supposed to think?" he said.

I hate being on TV. I hate it in the way that makes me want to figure out how to do this, how to get my point across in a couple of minutes, talking to a person who doesn't know anything at all about our situation. Or ... do I want to learn to do this? Do I want to learn to talk in sound bites?

Ah, I don't know what I want.

Transgender Bill Killed By a Close Vote in Committee

A bill protecting transgender people from discrimination had strong support in the Maryland legislature, but was killed in the state Senate Judicial Proceedings committee last week by a vote of 6-5.

From an Equality Maryland press release:
"This is an incredibly sad day for our staff, lobbyists, boards, and legislative allies," said [Equality Maryland] Executive Director Dan Furmansky. "This legislation was our number one priority, and there is simply no excuse for any legislator to oppose legislation that aims to protect people from arbitrary discrimination. We had the votes both on the House and Senate floor so to have this killed by one vote in committee stings."

Senate Bill 516, sponsored by Lisa Gladden (D - Baltimore), was heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee earlier this month and marked the first time in U.S. history that a state bill on transgender rights had no written or oral opposition. Maryland would have become the 10th state to prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals. Baltimore City passed similar legislation in 2002. Equality Maryland Deeply Disappointed By Defeat Of Transgender Equality Legislation

Somebody mentioned to me the other day they thought the case for transgender rights is stronger than for gay rights.

The thing is, the real problem for transgender people is that their private and public selves are at odds. They don't feel like what they look like. So, more than sexual orientation, gender identity is something that can't be managed, really, in private. It's when you're talking to people, and you know constantly that they're not looking at the real you, that there's a problem. After enough years, a person who feels like that figures out that the feeling isn't going to go away; correcting the problem requires an adjustment of their public appearance. And that attracts attention, confuses people, upsets people, makes them uncomfortable.

Talk to these people: it's not a joke, it's not a whim. The decision to make the transition is not like deciding to get a tattoo, or deciding to hold your cigarette a certain way -- the decision to change your public identity means that you've decided to brave all the derision of people who don't understand, in order to get your own life in order, to stop living a lie. It's a brave and extremely difficult decision, and I have the suspicion there are a lot of people out there who feel they are living a false life, but don't have the courage to change.

Some concepts of gender identity will be discussed in the new tenth-grade curriculum. The CRC tries to make it sound like tomboys and sensitive boys will label themselves as transgender in the new sex-ed curriculum, and they incessantly point out that Gender Identity Disorder is in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as if that implied that there was something ... I don't know what they mean to imply, other than that they're better than "those people." The idea that it's in the DSM doesn't seem to advance their case in any way, but only makes it sound like there's something "wrong" with some people. Why is that a threat to members of the CRC?

More from Equality Maryland:
All of the Republicans on the committee voted against the bill. Two Democrats also voted against the bill -- Norm Stone of Baltimore County, who had earlier indicated that he would consider supporting the bill, and C. Anthony Muse (D - Prince George's County), whose district covers the Ft. Washington/Camp Springs area. Sen. Muse committed to supporting the measure on a number of occasions to Equality Maryland lobbyists, and also expressed his support to the head of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, who came to testify for the measure. It's not uncommon for Senate leadership to orchestrate the defeat of a bill for which there would otherwise be sufficient support for passage.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Lisa Gladden, expressed disappointment and resolve. "Although this bill was voted down," she said, "we made tremendous progress on educating the committee and the members of the General Assembly on this important issue and we will reintroduce and pass this bill next year."

Furmansky echoes this sentiment: "The overwhelming majority of the General Assembly support this crucial civil rights legislation and we will continue our important work across Maryland to educate people on the lives of transgender individuals and the arbitrary discrimination this community faces. We will return in 2008 stronger than ever to pass this long overdue measure."

There is a certain amount of stiff-upper-lip in the state these days, as people who really wanted to see this pass have to settle for appreciating how close it came. I think the consensus is that there is a good amount of momentum built up, at least, and next year it will probably go through. In the meantime, some people will have some 'splainin' to do -- the backroom aspect of this vote is nontrivial.

It was a close vote in the committee; there is no chance this issue will just die and blow away.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

CRC Attack Fails: Less Than Five Percent Opt Out

In testing the new sex-education curricula, the default position is to opt out. Parents have to sign a form asking the school to allow their students to take the class. If they do nothing, the kid misses the class.

The CRC did everything they could to try to get people to not ask for their children to be allowed to attend the classes. They sent letters to the families at the test schools and used an automated dialing system to call their homes and play a recorded message (all in violation of PTA rules about the use of directories); they held a big media event with yellow signs and Powerpoint slides and TV interviews, and videos that made gay people look bad. They sent out emails by the thousands, asking people to forward them to ten other people. They got the American Family Association's Donald Wildmon to write people in our county, encouraging them to refuse to allow their children to participate in the testing.

People had to ask the schools to include their children in the classes, and the CRC tried to get them to do nothing.

Did it work?


Here is the article in this morning's Washington Times.
Roughly 10 percent of Montgomery County students did not attend the school system's new sex-education classes that include lessons on homosexuality and condom use.

Three lessons were taught last week for 10th-graders at Watkins Mill and Bethesda-Chevy Chase high schools. And two lessons were held for eighth-graders at Argyle and Julius West middle schools.

Of the 488 students enrolled in the classes, 24 presented a parental-permission slip excusing them, and 17 failed to bring a permission slip allowing them to take the classes, said county schools spokesman Brian Edwards. Most students present for sex-ed class

Let me re-do that math for you, from The Times' numbers: 488 total, 17 forgot to return the slip, 24 opted out.

"Roughly 10 percent" is really more like "8.4 percent" (41/488) of students who did not attend the classes (because 17+24=41). About 3.5 percent (17/488)of the little darlings forgot to show the form to their parents and return it to school.

4.9 percent (24/488) of parents opted out of the classes.

In other words, less than five percent of parents, with all this commotion, chose not to ask the school to teach this new material to their children.

Skipping down...
Michelle Turner, spokeswoman for Citizens for Responsible Curriculum, which opposes the lessons, said some students were left to sit in the library during the class.

The group sent letters and automated-phone calls to parents urging them not to allow their children to attend the classes.

A Watkins Mill student decided not to take the classes because of what they taught was contrary to her beliefs, said her father, John Fichter.

The lessons she would have heard include definitions of the terms homosexual, bisexual, transgender and homophobia," he said.

Whatever, man, if that would be so upsetting, it's easy enough to keep your kids out of the class.

There's more, you will find it interesting. They quote me near the end.

The CRC wants to pretend there's a controversy, but as you can see, even with the most intense pressure they can apply, less than one family in twenty decided against asking permission for their kid to learn this important information.

Letter in the Post

I noticed this little letter in the Washington Post this morning.
I object to the pilot curriculum being rolled out at several Montgomery County public schools ["The Wide Spectrum of Sex- Ed Courses," Metro, March 18] for the following reasons:

  • The recommendations for changes in the curriculum made by the advisory committee to the Board of Education were largely ignored.
  • The new curriculum was not written by health-care professionals.
  • There was no parental input in the writing of the curriculum.
  • Children whose parents opt out of this curriculum are being discriminated against for not participating. Students are sent to media centers to complete independent projects, with little guidance or specifics. In other words, students who opt out are not given the same level of instruction as children who remain in the sex-ed setting.
  • And the curriculum states that homosexuality is "innate" but fails to include a citation to support this statement.



Shall we? Oh, let's.

The recommendations made by the advisory committee were largely accepted. I'm on that committee, and I know. Hundreds of suggested changes were voted on by the committee, dozens were accepted by the group, and most of these ended up being adopted by the school district. Some weren't -- some of my favorite suggestions were not, for instance, and I still hold out hope that some will be adopted after we learn something from the pilot testing. But ... there simply wasn't room for everything, and not everything fit the MCPS vision for what should be taught.

The new curriculum was written by health-care professionals. A team of pediatricians recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics drafted the initial framework for the 8th and 10th grade curricula, and selected materials that they considered to be appropriate.

So far, this person's comments are one hundred eighty degrees wrong.

Regarding parental input -- the school district did not go out and ask random parents to write parts of it, this part is true. Does that ever happen? Would you want parents writing the algebra curriculum? I can hardly see this as a criticism. The curriculum was rigorously reviewed by a committee of community citizens, most of whom were parents. The information is on the Internet and easily obtained from the school district, if parents are interested. Anybody can look at it and comment.

Children who opt out -- this is a weird one. OK, you have a choice: take the class, or don't take it. If your parents sign the permission slip, then you take the class. If your parents don't sign the permission slip -- this person seems to think the schools are obligated to create something equally stimulating for them to do? No, it only means you don't take the class. You get some instructional packet to work on in the library, it's not much, but that's the choice -- take the class or don't take it. It's certainly not "discrimination" to send a kid to the library when their parents won't let them do what the other kids are doing.

The "innate" thing -- what can you say? I will address this seriously. As a researcher, I know that the only certain way to establish a causal relationship is to conduct an experiment. You manipulate an independent variable and observe changes in the dependent variable. It's really the only way to know for sure that one thing causes another.

But sometimes you can't manipulate the independent variable. You can't manipulate somebody's genes before they're born, for instance, or you can't raise them in a certain way, just to see how they turn out.

So it is impossible to prove one way or the other, what causes something like sexual orientation. The closest that science can come will be to identify mechanisms, for instance, brain structures, genetic patterns, precursors and correlates. And that research is coming along, new findings are coming out every month.

But -- listen, there are some things science doesn't really need to prove, for us to agree they are true. The fact is, everybody understands that their own sexual orientation is innate. You didn't sit down at the age of twelve or thirteen and make two lists, one titled "What I Like About Boys" and the other "What I Like About Girls," and choose one. No -- it just happened. Everybody knows this. Straight people as well as gay people all say the same thing, and there is no serious reason to doubt everybody in the world. The only people who "choose" are those who realize they are homosexual and decide, for social reasons usually, to pretend they are straight. But even for them, they are innately homosexual, they are just acting as if they weren't. Everybody knows this is true, and the argument against innateness is sophistry.

Those in the scientific and medical communities who study these things have looked at it from every angle, and have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice, it is something innate. How it develops is probably a complex topic, and there is a lot to learn about it, but respectable, mainstream experts agree it's something innate.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Ridiculous Springish Morning

This kind of morning is ridiculous. The leaves have not yet returned to the trees, so there is nothing to impede the streaming clear sunlight that reflects everywhere. This breeze is unlike those we have been having, the ones that made you pull your jacket-collar up tighter under your chin; this breeze smells like flowers, and it's just a little bit cool, blowing over the just-greening patches of grass.

Last week we were doing something up on the shelf near the ceiling in the kitchen, which is where the antenna for the radio is. It had been bugging us that when you were listening to the radio in the kitchen you had to stand in certain places, or it wouldn't come in right. It was worth doing, posing between the island and the dishwasher to get Howlin' Wolf (always pronounced "woof") singing "Smokestack Lightning" on WPFW nice and clear. But there are times you might want to move around the room, even when a great song is playing. So I was up on the stepladder, putting some pots away up there, and I added another six or seven feet of copper wire to that antenna, and now -- it doesn't matter where you stand. It comes in great. Taa-Daa.

I'm glad of that now, because here I sit, at the kitchen table, listening to some fast, arpeggiated acoustic guitar on the radio, crystal-clear and static-free, while I'm working on a nice cup of fresh coffee. Everybody else is still in bed. I just got some email from Europe overnight with a bunch of papers to review, and they want them fast, but ... first things first. I wanted to tell you about the signs the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have been carrying to protest the new sex-ed classes.

The CRC had their "big meeting" a couple of weeks ago, and they had it all organized to look nice on TV. They had made up big yellow signs that they set on easels up at the front of the room. The signs are the same as the ones they've been carrying at the schools where the pilot testing is being held.

Here's a picture I took from the back of the room when John Garza was speaking. You can see how it's set up. I see four signs in this picture, and I think that's all they had. By the way, the three closest heads you see are TTF folks. Here the picture is cropped so you can see the signs:

Left to right, they say:

  • No unisex bathrooms
  • Don't label my child
  • Health before politics, and
  • No unisex bathrooms [again]

Let me go through them. Since "No unisex bathrooms" comes twice, I'm going to address it last.

"Don't label my child" is an interesting slogan. The CRC and other antigay groups like to quote a piece of research that shows that the probability of a gay person committing suicide is negatively correlated with their age at the time of coming out, or disclosure, that is, the younger you are when you come out as gay, the more likely you are to attempt suicide. The paper is not available online (and the CRC always spells the author's name wrong, which makes it harder to find), but you can read the abstract HERE. Well, actually, the paper's available if you want to pay for it. Which to me means "not available."

Anyway, the abstract gives us what we need. It concludes:
... Subjects were 137 gay and bisexual males, 14 through 21 years of age, from the upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Forty-one subjects (41/137) reported a suicide attempt; and almost half of them described multiple attempts. Twenty-one percent of all attempts resulted in medical or psychiatric admissions. Compared with nonattempters, attempters had more feminine gender roles and adopted a bisexual or homosexual identity at younger ages. Attempters were more likely than peers to report sexual abuse, drug abuse, and arrests for misconduct. The findings parallel previous studies' results and also introduce novel suicide risk factors related to gender nonconformity and sexual milestones.

As you know, not every gay person registers the same on the gay-dar. There are people who, when you learn they're gay, you're surprised. Lots of them. You also know people who push the needle to eleven just walking down the sidewalk. These are people who would be teased as children, and who would have had to "deal with it" at an early age, probably before puberty, because it was just so obvious to themselves and everybody else that something was different about them, and they had to figure out what it was.

Nearly thirty percent of the subjects had tried to commit suicide. There's no question, this is a significant public-health issue, and a terrible tragedy every time it happens. This particular study is showing that people who register highest on the gay-dar (for want of a better way to describe this dimension) are also most likely to try to commit suicide. They're also more likely to get in trouble for other things, use drugs, etc. That's not an especially surprising phenomenon, the scientific discovery that people who, lacking any other information, might infer that they are freaks of nature and unlike anyone else who has ever lived, would tend to be out-of-control and suicidal. This study is actually a call for good, clear information, so those young people know what's happening to themselves, and so those around them understand, too, and can help them through it. If you asked me.

The CRC doesn't see it that way. Here's how they take it: disclosing that you are gay at an earlier age makes you more likely to try to kill yourself. To them, labeling causes suicide.

Their reasoning is: if the schools tell students that there are various forms of sexual identity, and tell them what some of those categories are, students may categorize themselves -- "label" themselves. This act of labeling themselves then makes them susceptible to killing themselves.

Listen, this is bizarre, but I'm not making it up. They have explained this over and over. They want you to believe that teaching some facts about sexual orientation actually increases the risk for gay students. For instance, in their "minority report" to the school board, they said:
Research is conclusive in this area: the risk of suicide decreases by 20% for each year that a young person delays homosexual or bisexual self-labeling (Remafidi et al, 1991).

See? I'm not making this up. Labeling causes suicide. In their minds. And they do spell the guy's name wrong.

The second sign says "Health before politics." This sign reflects the often-hilarious blindness to irony that has defined the political right in our time. Look, the school district has written a new section of the health curriculum. It meets a legal requirement of the state, and it addresses a significant public health issue, the tip-of-the-iceberg of which was mentioned just now. The CRC itself exists solely to oppose this curriculum for political reasons. They had representatives from the Republican Party at some of their very first meetings, urging them on, coaching them on strategy. They are the ones with the political signs. They are the tax-exempt organization that endorsed candidates in the school board elections. Them, and nobody else.

We, for instance, never said a word one way or the other about any political candidate.

These are some strange, weird and wacky times we live in. But -- this is a health class. It would never have occurred to any of us to politicize a health class. This sign is an terrific example of the karlrovian technique of "projection," which is well documented (here's Digby discussing it). You accuse your opponent of whatever it is you do. If you're George Bush, you attack your political opponent for his record in the military, you say he didn't deserve the medals he was awarded. Then you force him to play defense, while nobody looks at the fact that your own military record is in the file drawer labeled "AWOL."

So here they are saying "Health before politics," even as they send out the press releases to politicize the health classes. Sorry, guys, it's true Karl Rove has this down to an art form -- or did, his magic powder doesn't seem to make things invisible these days -- but the CRC ain't got that talent. The CRC made this "controversy" political, and everybody knows that.

The last one: "No unisex bathrooms."

Many times over the past couple of years, news stories have broken here first, on the Vigilance blog. People call us, they email us, we talk among ourselves, we hear things. This is a big one. I could hardly hold this to the end, but I did it.

I am breaking this story here first -- reporters, please give the correct attribution when you write this up, and remember, it's "org" and not "com." Okay, here we go, pencils ready: It has been learned that almost all the leaders of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have unisex bathrooms right in their own homes!

I have run this through the TTF Towers legal offices, and our team of high-powered attorneys tells me I am safe from slander charges here, since I have it on perfectly unimpeachable evidence that numerous CRC members themselves, possibly a majority of them, keep unisex bathrooms hidden within the walls of their own houses.

Let me tell you what these signs mean.

The CRC just hates the 10th-grade handouts that come from a Holt textbook, giving vignettes about some young people whose sexual identities are outside the mainstream. Hate 'em. The problem is, the vignettes make these people seem likeable, human, they make you empathize with the protagonist -- empathy is actually one of the themes of the eighth-grade classes, but the CRC hates-hates-hates that.

The CRC actually copied this page and sent it to the families at the pilot-test schools, assuming they would be so shocked that they would opt out of the testing, once they saw the truth about what was going on.

Note, these vignettes are not used in eighth grade, these are only for the tenth-graders. The CRC carries this sign outside the middle schools, too. Can you imagine driving by and seeing people protesting unisex bathrooms?

So -- the one they hate the very most. There's a vignette about a transgender student, Portia. I'll transcribe the whole thing here:
I am incredibly lucky to have such supportive parents. When I was young, I loved dressing up in pretty things and playing with dolls. My mother never made me feel ashamed. I began school feeling good about myself. Elementary school was fine, but by middle school things got pretty bad. I was made fun of, called names, shoved in the halls, and pushed down the stairs. High school was better in some ways. I had friends who stood by me, but even with their support, I was very depressed. I was supposed to be a boy, but every feeling inside told me that I was a girl. I hated myself. I knew I wanted to live as a girl, but I didn't know how people would respond. My parents and I had many long talks. When I said I couldn't go on lying, they agreed to support me. We had a meeting with the principal. I explained to her that I was transgender and that I wanted to be known as a girl and not use my birth name. I expected resistance, but the principal was incredible! She said that the staff had received LGBT training and wanted to be sensitive. She gave me a new student ID and a key to the teachers' single-stall restroom. Some of my teachers don't understand, but they're trying. I know that my experience is unique. Few transgender youths get the support that I was fortunate to receive. Hopefully, that situation is changing. I now speak about transgender concerns at schools and work with other transgender youths to help them get through some of the challenges that they face. I try to be living proof that a person can live honestly and openly.

That's it, the whole thing. The story of Portia. It's not exactly great literature, but it makes you think, just for a minute, about what that must be like. Gender identity issues are very difficult to discuss, because there are so many causes and varieties, affecting a statistically small proportion of the population, and because people who feel this way usually try to keep it to themselves. You might never in your life meet somebody who tells you they feel like this. So how would you know anything about it? Hopefully, you will spend two or three minutes in a health class learning that such a phenomenon exists and what it's called, and you might spend a minute of your life thinking about what that might be like for the person.

The CRC doesn't see the value in any of that. They read this in horror. Why, this story has a unisex bathroom in it!

It seems to me that there really are some bad things in the world. But to some of these nutty people, this is the thing that makes them spring into action, the idea that students will read a story where a character uses a "single-stall restroom."

Well, one kid is up. I have been informed that the bicycle tires have no air. They're playing some koto music on the radio, which I think sounds really cool, and I have gone through most of a pot of coffee. I have some papers to review, tires to fill, dragons to slay.

Go outside.

Friday, March 23, 2007

CRC Brags: Parents Unimpressed

The CRC is really trying to undermine the pilot testing. Here's part of a newsletter they sent out a couple of days ago:
The opt-out program is going well. We have mailed information, and town-hall postcards, to all of the schools but one (Argyle) and a significant number of parents are choosing not to let their kids participate. We also autodialed three of the schools -- Westland, Watkins Mill and Sherwood, and have picketed at Argyle, Julius West, Westland, and Watkins Mill. Our picketers have been favorably received by the parents at all the schools so far -- honks and thumbs up all around.

If you haven't signed the on-line petition yet, please do so, it is almost over 2000 signatures.

Yes, bragging about auto-dialing the schools. They are trying to get people to opt out of those classes, so they can ... I don't know what. So they can prove that scary letters and phone calls can make people opt out of a health class?

There has been some discussion about the "thumbs up." Was the actual digit possibly misperceived? <strokes_chin_while_gazing_into_the_distance>

And another thing. The petition is "almost over 2000 signatures." We note that on March 14th, they said (here in the comments) that it was "up to 1900" signatures. You know they're bustin' the emails and sending letters and stuff: that doesn't sound like they're getting signatures very fast, does it? Less than a hundred in a week.

We remember back in January 13, 2005, when they planned to get 50,000 signatures on their petitions (as revealed by their online bulletin board, found in the Google cache). At this rate, that will take, by my calculations, 9.23 years. Good luck with that. (This was the same message that proposed: John Garza proceeding immediatley with his lawsuit. Lawsuits tend to get peoples attention - merit or no merit because it forces them to deal with their legal team on a continuing basis.)

The effectiveness of their attack is demonstrated by this email by a mom on one of the schools' listserves:
Subject: Phone Call from Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum

Last night, my family received a phone call with a pre-recorded message from the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, encouraging us to "opt out" of the upcoming pilot health ("sex ed.", as the message called it) curriculum for 8th grade students at [the school]. I didn't complain last week when I received the letter from CRC. Instead, I read it and discarded it, simple. However, I strongly object to our personal information from the [school] directory being used by an outside organization to phone my home with a pre-recorded message.

In my opinion, a line has been crossed that must be addressed. It has certainly been made clear to CRC that our directory should not be used for this purpose. To me, it is an extreme arrogance that leads a group to believe its message is so important that they don't have to follow "the rules" by respecting the privacy of those who released their information for use by other families listed in that same directory, not by an organization with an agenda. Is there anything we can do to address this?

Notes to CRC: If you're trying to persuade me to your point of view, sending a pre-recorded message that is received by my 10 year old son, who happened to be the one to first hear the message last night, is not an effective strategy.

This approach is r-e-a-l-l-y working, guys -- keep it up.

Cohen, PFOX In Meltdown Mode

The Daily Show is part of the routine at our house. It comes on at eleven, and my wife and I usually watch it before we crash, for a last laugh before the day ends. We have to have the coffee made, the dog walked, the lights turned out, by eleven. Well, sometimes, eleven-thirty, for Colbert.

The other night you might have seen Richard Cohen and Wayne Besen on. Besen, I don't know, I guess that was funny. But Richard Cohen ... man, what a weirdo.

Cohen, if you don't know, claims to be "ex-gay," and practices a kind of unlicensed psychotherapy that he claims changes people from gay to straight. But, you look at him, and -- what can you say? The best part, I thought, was throwing the football at the end.

Cohen has been banned for life from the American Counseling Association for ethical violations. He's an ex-Moonie who was president of PFOX -- the anti-gay group that joined in the lawsuit against our county in 2005, and in the appeal to the state this year -- but his name seems to have disappeared from their literature (though his web site still lists him as an "advisory board member" for PFOX). He has sat in the Montgomery County boardroom and addressed our school board, trying to get "ex-gays" added to our kids' curriculum. He lives in Bowie.

In reality he's a laughingstock. He has been on several TV shows this past year, where they made fun of him and made him look like an idiot. Well, they didn't really do anything but invite him on, he did the rest. His counseling business is essentially a sham, his techniques are bizarre and self-serving (he likes to hug and cuddle with men who are trying not to be gay, as he is). Warren Throckmorton did some digging after the Daily Show, where Cohen claimed to be a "Certified Sexual Reorientation Coach," and found that Cohen is "the lead certifier and, at present, probably the only CSRC in the world."

Now a prominent "ex-gay" spokesman is coming unglued. Pam's House Blend had it:
Yipes. Is there a catfight? After "conversion therapist" Richard Cohen's embarrassing, clownish appearance on The Daily Show demonstrating his techniques on how he frees men from homosexuality ..., Exodus International's Randy Thomas couldn't take it any more. He had to unload on Cohen for making the movement look bad.

She goes on to quote Thomas, who said:
Richard is not the foremost of anything except making a spectacle of himself and completely misrepresenting the larger "ex-gay" movement. He is not a part of Exodus and apparently not willing to take our private feedback and accountability to heart.

So, if he is willing to allow "ex-gays" to continue to be circus show fodder for those who mock our sincere beliefs, he deserves the public denouncement this post brings.


By the way, note that Exodus puts "ex-gay" in quotes.

Then, yesterday, gay-converting shrink Warren Throckmorton posted a letter by Cohen to ... the world, basically, apologizing for being a buffoon. Part of the letter said:
I would like to address the questions that some friends have expressed in regard to some of the media appearances I've done recently, including Jimmy Kimmel Live, Paula Zahn Now, The Montel Show, and this week's Jon Stewart's The Daily Show on Comedy Central.

I've chosen to do interviews on shows such as these in an effort to reach people who would normally never hear our message. Some of these shows have mocked me and this work. Most times though, the interviews on these and other shows have turned out in our favor. I have had wonderful opportunities to get the truth out clearly and have seen many people respond because of these interviews, seeking out healing and change through various PATH (Positive Alternatives To Homosexuality) organizations.


This week's interview on The Daily Show was difficult. It took place in my home and office, and was the most degrading experience I've had in the media. I unknowingly allowed myself to be manipulated and coerced by the producer and the host. I take full responsibility for this mistake. I have learned since my interview with The Daily Show that this program treats most of the experts they interview the same way they treated me: taking bits and pieces of the interview, re-edit it out of order, and make the interviewee appear foolish.

Happily, regular Daily Show viewers-which I am not-are in on the gag and know that this is the way the show generates laughs. I have learned well from this experience to better research future interview opportunities and to be more discerning about the offers that I accept, and what therapeutic approaches I demonstrate on the air. I sincerely apologize if my decision to be on this and other interview programs has caused you any hurt or harm. Please forgive me.

Read the rest if you're interested.

Meanwhile, one of the leaders of the "ex-gay" movement, Alan Chambers, had joined up with PFOX (stands for Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays). ExGay Watch has it:
One of the conditions of this arrangement was that PFOX remove all ties with Richard Cohen, the unlicensed, self described "psychotherapist and educator," and director of the International Healing Foundation. Cohen has received notoriety for frequently appearing on TV, sometimes in venues one might find questionable (Howard Stern?) for someone claiming to be able to "heal homosexuality."

To date PFOX remains deeply entrenched in Cohen's questionable ideology, and Cohen's own site lists him as "an advisory board member of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX)." Citing this, and a heavy work schedule of his own, Alan Chambers has informed us that he has resigned from the board of PFOX and is no longer associated with their operation. Exodus President Alan Chambers Resigns from PFOX Board

Also, they note that Chambers' organization, Exodus International, has posted this statement:
Exodus International does not endorse the work of Richard Cohen or the methods utilized in his practice. Some of the techniques Mr. Cohen employs could be detrimental to an individual's understanding of healthy relational boundaries and disruptive to the psychological and emotional development of men and women seeking clinical counsel and aid.

Now ... let me say something.

Our county, Montgomery County, Maryland, has been under attack by a loose band of ignoramuses or ignorami, depending on how proper your Latin is, who do and say anything to make gay people look bad, and to try to stop the schools' attempt to teach some factual information about sexual orientation.

That band of anti-gay radicals identifies itself with several larger groups. Well, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum is just a couple of people, but nowadays they are joined by a Mormon group called Family Leader Network or something, and -- PFOX.

I never knew anything about this stuff before, so the past couple of years have been a real education for me. One thing is, I have met and talked to a pretty wide range of people who are gay and grew up in really strict Christian religions that do not approve of homosexuality. I actually sympathize with them. When I read thoughtful web sites like Box Turtle Bulletin and ExGay Watch, I see that these guys are really trapped, they really don't know how to resolve the dilemma. Why do God and Nature pull in opposite ways for them, but not for everybody else? Jesus went into the desert for forty days of temptation and fighting the devil, but the trials last a lifetime for these people. They feel forsaken, and yet, they are brave enough to face who they are and how they feel and try to reconcile their feelings with their faith.

I think some of the organizations really try to support these poor souls and help them meet the demands of their church. I personally would not choose that, but it's there if they want it, and some do. I don't understand, exactly, but it looks to me like some of them are sincere.

PFOX isn't like that. The executive director of PFOX has a gay son and PFOX represents the institutionalization of her state of denial; the organization's desperate goal is to force the rest of the world to play along with the pipe-dream that gay people can magically become straight. PFOX insists that gay people can change, that they should change, and they pretend that there are thousands -- sometimes they say tens of thousands -- of formerly gay people who have completely changed their sexual orientation. I have called this a "cruel hoax," and I stand by that.

You grow up, you find that nature has made you attracted to your own sex, you belong to a church that doesn't approve of that: what do you do? Personally, I'd be shopping for a new church. But if you've grown up with those beliefs, those values, belief in that God who doesn't approve of you, it is not that simple. PFOX holds out the hope that they can just stop having those feelings, and that's not right.

Richard Cohen is a huckster, and PFOX is a pathological case. These people have no place telling anybody what should be taught in school. The other ministries put up with them for quite a while, and it sounds like they even tried to help them out, but now PFOX is on their own. They're exposed as a bunch of nuts, and the serious ones have abandoned them.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Good Morning America Transcript

Good Morning America has this morning's story online, written up like a news story HERE. Watch (most of) the video HERE.

Here's the transcript of this morning's show about the Montgomery County sex-ed controversy, verbatim.
Transcript - Good Morning America, March 22, 2007

"A Whole New Sex Ed: Do you know what's being taught?"

Robin Roberts: ....those grainy sex education films. They're a thing of the past replaced with a new kind of sex ed class. Birds and bees are getting a new makeover. Not everyone is happy with it. Parenting contributor, Anne Pleshette Murphy, has the story.

Murphy: Today's children grow up inundated with messages about sex. From the Internet to television, children see, hear and learn more than ever. But what are they learning in the classroom?

Sex education in schools has sparked controversy since it's inception. How should it be taught, what should be taught? The question today - should sexual orientation be part of a sex ed curriculum?

Monica Rodriguez, SEICUS: Young people are growing up in a world where sexual orientation isn't as big of a taboo topic as it used to be for many people of different generations.

Murphy: Earlier this month, several schools in Montgomery County, Maryland launched a pilot program for 8th and 10th grade health classes that includes references to sexual orientation, homophobia, and transexuality. Some parents are outraged.

Michelle Turner: Starting at the 8th grade level, we are concerned about the ability of these 12 and 13 year olds to be able to fully grasp what is being presented to them.

Murphy: Michelle Turner co-founded Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum in late 2004 when the Montgomery school board first introduced sexual orientation into the classroom. She says the curriculum is factually inaccurate. Fellow Montgomery resident and father Jim Kennedy disagrees.

Jim Kennedy: Some people think that you can just not mention something and it will just go away.

Murphy: Kennedy and others strongly believe the program will help promote tolerance among students.

Dr. Justin Richardson, Psychiatrist: Well I think that given that some of these children who are sitting in these classes are going to grow up to be gay, I think that schools do have a responsibility to try to help those kids come to terms with themselves and their sexual orientation.

Murphy: Dr. Justin Richardson who's written on the subject of sex education is not surprised by the controversy this program is causing.

Dr. Richardson: Parents will continue to have a concern about what their child's sexual orientation is going to be. It's something that's out of their control and I think some parents at some level realize this and so they're naturally concerned about what are the other influences that may affect their child's sexual orientation.

Murphy: Currently there are at least seven states prohibiting a positive portrayal of homosexuality in schools. But sex education varies state to state and the actual curriculum is often decided by individual school districts. In Montgomery County, the debate rages on.

Turner: The schools, in teaching this curriculum are imposing their own moral rightness under the guise of tolerance in telling students that they have to accept individuals who are making choices that...that many kids have been taught are wrong or inappropriate.

Kennedy: I think for everyone to be more educated about this topic is a good idea. But it's not about....this is not a gay rights issue to me. This is about truth in education.

Roberts: And now our parenting contributor Anne Pleshette Murphy. Annie, sex education has been around for years. We all know about that. The controversy now seems to be about teaching children about sexual orientation. Parents, a lot of parents are concerned about this.

Murphy: Yes, they are but 93% of parents approve of sex ed being taught at schools and 73% of them think homosexuality and sexual orientation should be part of the curriculum. So it's gaining acceptance to put it mildly. But if you are worried about it, check out the curriculum. You have that option. You also have the option to opt out. You can Montgomery County they do not need to participate; they don't have to. So you can choose to opt out and the other thing is, in my opinion, it's much more important to check out the messages they're getting on-line, in the media, in movies and use those, you know opportunities as a teachable moment. You know, to share your values. That's where it gets shaped in the family, not at school.

Roberts: It's been shown that what kids learn at home is so invaluable. It really goes a long way.

Murphy: Absolutely and parents are the most important teachers, particularly when it comes to sex.

Roberts: All right. Thanks so much.

A Personal Petition

We have a petition on our web site that you can fill out, and copies go to us and to the Montgomery County school board. (Click on "Take Action" in the upper righthand corner of this page.) You can edit the text if you want, though most people don't.

A couple of days ago somebody submitted a petition, and they added a really nice message to it. I am taking off their name, because I didn't ask them if I could use this, but once it's speeding through the tubes of the Internets, once it's been emailed to the school board, it's public domain. And actually, I don't think they'll mind.
Dear MCPS Board of Education:

I attended Montgomery County Public Schools from the age of 5 to 16. From Southlake Elementary, to Stedwick Elementary, to Montgomery Village Jr. High, to Gaithersburg High School. In fact, my father worked the majority of his career in MCPS. I was in the gifted-and-talented and honors courses for a large part of my MCPS education. But for years, I continued to believe I belonged in an asylum. For years, I held a deep dark secret that I could not come to terms with. From the age of 4 or 5, I knew I was different than other girls.

While I tried to temper the fact I had kissed my best friend in second grade, or I was in love with my third grade teacher, or I had a huge crush on a girl in 4th grade...while I tried to temper that by trying to have crushes on boys, it only led me into a deep dark depression that started as early as 5th grade and continued through 10th grade, when I finally chose to interrupt my fall towards suicide by quitting high school.

Whether it's nurture or nature, it doesn't really matter. I know if there were accurate information in the schools, if I had had LGBTQ role models, if information were presented in 5th grade and 8th grade sex education to isolate gender role/sex assignment, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression, cultural indications of masculine and feminine - I may not have hated myself so much. It wasn’t until I was twenty-three and I finally came out that I finally understood where my pain came from.

I urge you to consider the LGBTQ students and children, and for their sake, vote to have a broad sex education curriculum. We, LGBTQ children whose adolescence is broken from society's rejection, do not ask for such animosity to be showered upon us. Religious beliefs have no place in the educational system. It was difficult enough, as a Hindu, to deal with having to say 'one nation under God' when we were required to do the pledge of allegiance, but to present the intolerant views of religious fundamentalists is unconstitutional and detrimental to the psyches of children.

While students whose religious beliefs prohibit them from accepting homosexuality have that right, they are not directly harmed by the presentation of the facts, that people like me exist. But if you fail to have a curriculum that acknowledges our existence, you will harm students like me directly. What you communicate by not including accurate information in the curriculum and mixing religion (neither proven or refutable), science (testable hypothesis), and/or putting them side-by-side as if they have equal merit is to only support bigotry and intolerance, and promote bullying and hateful acts against children who are or are perceived to be different ...

The usual petition text follows.

See, in one way, this is what it's all about. This poor girl did not know what was going on. Your parents don't prepare you to be a lesbian, they're as surprised, and probably just as ignorant, as anybody. It can't be wrong to give middle and high school kids a heads up -- some people feel different, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. She talks about feeling suicidal, living a fake life, trying to have crushes on boys, feeling like she must be mentally ill. It is not that hard to send a lifeline to a kid like that.

This is one strong case, out of several, for giving good, honest information about sexual orientation. The Nutty Ones will claim that the classes "promote" homosexuality, as if it was something you caught by being exposed to it. But you know that's not correct; some people are just that way, innately. Here's a concrete example, as clear as can be. I don't see any reason for the school district to promote denial as the alternative.

These classes are objective, they're low-key, they stick to the facts. Here's how some people are, no need to judge or hate or fear.

Oh, the CRC hates those vignettes! They sent them to all the families at the pilot-test schools, as if it were some scary thing. Imagine, first-person accounts of what it's like growing up gay, or transgender, imagine the horror of seeing what that's like! Imagine empathizing with those people!

Naw, it's time to get over it. The person who wrote this petition statement is very eloquent; we should be remembering these students who are in the classrooms right now, suffering, confused, needing knowledge.

Good Morning

I'd have to say that Good Morning America gave a fair enough presentation this morning, even if there were still piles of debris visible in the background while I typed at the computer. Well, I call those "stacks of paper," or sometimes, "work." Also, you couldn't tell, but that laptop was not connected to the Internet, for some reason the wireless wasn't working. I was writing stuff in Notepad like, "Herre I acm typpping stff with tehe camrea poidnted st me, tryign not to uuse te bckspace kkey so it dosnt' look likke Im mmaking a lllot of misakes." Yeah, I was going fast, too. America should have been impressed.

Before the show came on, they had a couple of teasers that gave me the uh-oh feeling. Some lady (I never watch this show, I don't know one of them from the other) said something like, "Sex-ed -- has it crossed over the line a little bit?" Then the usual stay-tuned stuff. And I was thinking, oh great, I spent a whole night talking to these guys so they could make a big point about Sex Ed Gone Wild.

Then Diane Sawyer came on to introduce the piece (her I do recognize from somewhere, did she used to be on a different show?), and she took the same angle: "Sex ed. Your child's education. Do you really know what they're being taught?"

And I'm thinking I'd better turn this off now. Because, look, it's no secret what they're being taught. The school district has it on their web site, we have it on our web site, the CRC has it somewhere on their web site. The teachers are supposed to pretty much read the script word for word, so what you see there is what is taught.

And when the story started, there was the banner thing at the bottom of the screen saying, "A whole new sex ed -- Do you know what is being taught?"

Like it was some big secret or something, like parents are going to be shocked to find out what's going on.

But then the story was fine. Michelle Turner said her regular thing, I said mine, a psychiatrist said something, they showed some statistics. Most people in the country agree with Teach the Facts. OK, we knew that, and we know the proportion is much greater in Montgomery County than in most places.

Anyway, the interviews were good enough. They showed the usual school hallway scenes, a couple of shots of the CRC's meeting a couple of weeks ago, with their big yellow signs.

I think that viewers of the show can look at that story and know what side they're on. I doubt that we changed anybody's mind.

The producer had called me the night before to tell me when it would be on. I think it's interesting how they do this. They have an idea for a story, they send out some camera crews to the usual suspects and get some tape of people talking, and then they sit in New York and put together a script, stringing statements from the tapes together with narrative in-between. When I talked to her, eight or nine o'clock the night before, they still hadn't actually put the show together. She said she had been working on the script. So it's like "found art," but on a big budget, put together in real time, and real fast. I respect what those people have to do (even though I do not accept that the reality on TV has anything to do with "reality"). They work under a lot of pressure -- this sort of thing could really blow up in your face, but they make something of it.

It looked to me like there was a disconnect between two levels of producers. The higher-up guys assigned a story about shocking changes in education that will just now be revealed to parents for the first time, and the in-the-trenches people saw the tapes, saw that there is a real issue here, saw what was going on, and put together a show that was closer to the truth.

I understand somebody got it on tape, and we ought to have a transcript at some point, maybe today. It went by pretty fast, I didn't exactly memorize it. They didn't use the really stupid stuff I said, and they cut out all the stammering and cussing. Just joking, I didn't stammer.

You talk to the camera for like a half hour, and then they use ten seconds of it. That's TV.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mid-Testing Update

Things seems quiet right now, but there's a lot going on in Montgomery County. The schools are in the middle of pilot testing the new health classes, with the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum trying as hard as they can to disrupt it. They have sent letters to the families at the schools, telling them not to sign the permission slips. They have been robo-calling people at home with messages trying to undermine the school district. At one school -- I don't know about others -- they stood out front with signs, until school staff kicked them out. Three people, out in the cold, holding yellow signs with irrelevant messages on them ("No Unisex Bathrooms!"), doing what they can to make it harder for the schools to test their new materials.

The first school to start testing was Argyle Middle School, and it does sound like they were stealthy about it. They caught the CRC off guard, and started testing before these fine taxpayers, who only want the best for our kids, could interfere. Of three reports I've heard, two people said that nobody opted out at Argyle, and one report said there was one. So, between zero and one students' parents refused to sign the permission slip, when there was no pressure from the CRC, who stand for morality and goodness.

Rumor has it that nine students opted out at Julius West, and nine at Watkins Mill. Plus, a lot of Watkins Mill students forgot to bring in their permission slips, which is different. Well, it's a high school, and the others are middle schools. High school kids are not too good about showing their parents what's in their backpacks, at least in my experience.

So I imagine the letters and phone calls are having their effect. Nine kids, that's a lot for one school. If there are two classes, that might even be fifteen percent, fifteen times higher than usual. That would be solid evidence that scary, misleading letters and phone calls can work. It doesn't say anything about the curriculum, though.

The CRC thinks the best thing for our community would be if people boycott the testing, so the school district won't be able to assess whether the new sex-ed program is going to work or not, and so they can't tell if there is anything that could be improved in it. I don't know if this will work for them or not. What is that like, do you think, having people writing you letters and calling you on the phone, telling you scary things about the new classes? I know how I'd react. Call me dumb, or stubborn, I get it from my old man.

I really think it's rotten for them to use the PTA directories to call people. Last time around, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs met and drafted a resolution telling the CRC not to use the school directories for their stupid letter-writing campaigns. Plus, every directory has a message on it, saying that it is not to be used for that sort of thing. Somehow everybody else figures out how to play by the rules, but of course the CRC's mission is so important that it transcends silly stuff like rules.

This year it wasn't just letters (which it sounds like they have sent a lot of). This time they're also calling people at home. The whole point is to wreck the pilot testing, because they care so much about our community.

To me, this is a kind of test of the effectiveness of the PTA, both at the school level and at the county and state levels. If they want to just sell cookies to buy band uniforms, well, fine, schools still need that. But if they are really going to provide meaningful support for the parents, teachers, staff, and students, then they have to show us right now that they can move into action. Oh, they can meet and pass resolutions, we've seen what that gets you. I don't mean that.

And so the CRC keeps pushing it. This little band of whiners -- I mean, parents and citizens who know better than the rest of us -- is working as hard as they can to cause confusion while the school district is trying to develop and implement a new curriculum. Their hatred for homosexuality overrides everything else, and they don't care what they have to do to ensure that students are denied a fair and objective lesson on the subject.

Taping At Home

So here's the phone conversation with my wife yesterday:

Her: I won't be home after work, I have to go shopping for the thing Saturday.

Me: Yeah, OK. I'll send the kids to Chipotle, no problem. When will you be home, do you think?

Her: I don't know, I hate shopping, I'll probably get fed up after a couple of hours.

Me: OK, I'll see you then. Oh, by the way, Good Morning America is sending a camera crew to our house tonight.

I'll tell you: that cheered her up.

Mmm, no, not really.

When they do one of these shows, they go fast. Apparently somebody saw the story in the Post the other day about sex-ed in different cities and states, and thought that would make a cool topic for their TV show. I thought it was a good topic, too, I didn't know what other places did.

So yesterday I got a couple of emails and then a phone call. Nothing too clear, they're doing this show, needed a parent, I came to mind. Funny, I felt like I had to almost apologise for not having a gay kid -- that would've made it better, they thought. At first. But then they started thinking about it, and decided that might actually be better -- Straight Guy With Straight Family Fights for Gay Rights. Man Bites Dog, absolutely.

They weren't sure when the camera crew could come. They had another interview to do, and then the President was speaking or something, and they didn't know if the crew they wanted would have to go to that. You know, this happens every day, people have to choose whether to visit me or the President of the United States.

The guys showed up about nine thirty. Two guys in a van. I had run around when I got home, sucking up the dust bunnies and moving piles of debris so we could have a camera shot without stacks of junk in the background. I figured either the kitchen table, or the little sofa in the living room.

These guys came in and sort of took over the house, striding from room to room, eyeballing the layout. They decided on the living room, but didn't like the sofa. It turned out we don't have the right kind of chairs. I told them, "If I knew you were coming I would've run out and bought the right kind of furniture."

We ended up bringing in the two wrought-iron chairs from the front yard, plopping them right in the middle of the living room.

First thing they say: "Do you have a speaker-phone?" I guess my cell phone has a little speaker on it, but ... Turned out they had something we could use.

Then a crisis: my living-room electrical outlets are ungrounded. Two prongs. Well, it works OK for Christmas-tree lights, which is about the only time we plug anything in there. I found a couple of adapters, and they found outlets in other rooms they could reach, and eventually they had the living room totally filled up with lights on tripods, shining all different directions.

The one guy said he'd been fishing all day, so we talked about that a little bit. He was talking about shad, which ... I don't think we have in Arizona, at least I never heard of them, growing up. The other guy was from Iowa, and he didn't know about shad, either. Must be an East Coast thing. Anyway, this guy was fishing for bass on a farm pond, and the water's still too cold. We all agreed that it was still way worth doing, even if the fish weren't biting.

I guess it took about a half hour to set it all up. These guys were like a regular Laurel and Hardy. What? Huh? Never mind, ask your parents who that was, or your grandparents. They made jokes about each other and gave each other a hard time, like guys do everywhere when they have to work together all day. It looks like one does video and the other one does audio, but really it takes two people to set it all up. Like, one sits in the chair while the other one arranges the lighting, with a bunch of lights at different angles, this big round reflector, a giant floodlight on a pole with a kind of venetian-blind thing that directs the light on the person being interviewed but leaves the rest of the room mostly dark. Stuff kept shifting, and they were adjusting this and that, helping each other out. At one point they put a dimmer on the table-lamp, and then took it out again, I think because it was making a noise in the microphone.

Then they got the producer on the phone. She interviewed me from New York, over a cell phone. The first question, I swear, I gave her a great answer. It was classic, I was funny, articulate, threw in some highly-detailed facts, smiled handsomely ... and they said I was talking too loud and looking in the wrong place. See, the lady is on the phone, and you want to speak loudly because of that, but I was wearing a lapel mike, so I didn't need to.

And the hardest thing. The sound guy is sitting in the chair facing me, holding the phone, and I'm supposed to look at him, like I'm talking to him. So the lady on the phone asks me a question, and I answer this other guy. It seems that it's especially bad if I look right at the camera, which is behind his shoulder, they really didn't like me to do that. Now and then the guy in the chair would nod or point to his face, to remind me to talk to him. Do you know how weird that is, when somebody asks you a question and you answer somebody else?

Anyway, I hate this. I am not a made-for-TV kind of guy. TV is all about appearances. The world is a two-dimensional screen, and the meaning of a thing is what it looks like. Sorry, but I don't do that well with that. Like, once there was a noise while I was saying something, and they said, "OK, say that again." Can you do that? I think they'll probably try to salvage the first one.

Of course I had some things ahead of time that I wanted to say, and naturally I forgot. Like I said. Sometimes I see these politicians on TV, and they give the same answer, no matter what the question was, because they understand how TV works. Nobody quotes the question afterwards, they only quote the answer. So if they ask you about global warming and you answer about the economy, the next day everybody will be talking about what you said about the economy. See, I can't do that. Let's say, that's one reason I'd never make it as a politician. Not the only reason, just one.

Afterwards the guys took their time winding up their cords. We showed them my daughter's paintings, and they talked about their kids. And of course the guy from Iowa had to talk to my wife, who's also from Iowa, and they talked about these little towns that they both knew -- the technical college there, the fountain in the middle of town, stuff like that. The other guy made a couple of jokes about the secret Hawkeye handshake, because those two were off in a world of their own.

We have these little white fences in our doorways to keep the dog out of certain rooms, so the cats can have some peace, mostly. At first the fences were about a foot and a half high, but after a while I sawed down to about six inches. The dog never figured out that he could step over it. Now we just lay the fence down in the doorway, flat. He could walk right across it, but he won't. The camera guys thought that was pretty funny.

It was about eleven thirty when they left. They said they had another job at five in the morning. I don't know if I'm going to watch this show, I usually just break out in a sweat when I see myself on TV. I have what they call "a face for radio." Well, whatever, you do what you have to do.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

OK, I admit, I love this news story. It just about throws a double-left-handed frontways-screwball at you.

The story starts when this kid in high school wants to get on TV, and ... you have kids? Listen, they sometimes surprise you, you might say, and not always in the way that you would have really asked for.

So the Olympics were coming up, and the torch was coming through this kid's town (Juneau, Alaska), and the schools let the kids out to go see it.

Well, this kid makes a big sign that says "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" on it, and when the torch comes by, he holds it up. The principal is standing there, she tells him to take it down, he doesn't. She tears it up and tells him to go to her office right now.

OK, that's great. I have no idea in the world what he thinks his sign meant, but it's got all the elements, doesn't it?

Well, I don't know if he was on TV that day, but he's certainly been in the papers since then.

The principal kicks him out of school for ten days.
Mr. Fredericks’s ensuing lawsuit and the free-speech court battle that resulted, in which he has prevailed so far, is one that, classically, pits official authority against student dissent. It is the first Supreme Court case to do so directly since the court upheld the right of students to wear black arm bands to school to protest the war in Vietnam, declaring in Tinker v. Des Moines School District that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The court followed that 1969 decision with two others during the 1980s that upheld the authority of school officials to ban vulgar or offensive student speech and to control the content of school newspapers. Clearly there is some tension in the court’s student-speech doctrine; what message to extract from the trio of decisions is the basic analytical question in the new case, Morse v. Frederick, No. 06-278. What is most striking is how the two sides line up. Free-Speech Case Divides Bush and Religious Right

Now the question is, what exactly did the kid do wrong? He wasn't at school when he held up the sign.

This article explains one weird thing about the case. The kid, Joseph Frederick, has a bunch of organizations supporting him: the ACLU and the National Coalition Against Censorship, naturally, but also ...
... the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson; the Christian Legal Society; the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization based in Arizona that describes its mission as “defending the right to hear and speak the Truth”; the Rutherford Institute, which has participated in many religion cases before the court; and Liberty Legal Institute, a nonprofit law firm “dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights and religious freedom.”

On the other hand, taking the school's side, is the National School Board Association, two school principals’ groups, several antidrug organizations, Ken Starr, and the Bush Administration.

Ken Starr?

Yes, Ken Starr.

I guess the religious groups want to make sure you can't get kicked out of school for holding up a sign that says "Jesus" on it. The drug groups, the anti-drug groups, those are pretty easy to understand. The school board organization, of course, they're supporting their own.

Ken Starr? The Bush administration? Aren't these kind of big guns to bring in for a kid holding up a sign?
Lawyers on Mr. Frederick’s side offer a straightforward explanation for the strange-bedfellows aspect of the case. “The status of being a dissident unites dissidents on either side,” said Prof. Douglas Laycock of the University of Michigan Law School, an authority on constitutional issues involving religion who worked on Liberty Legal Institute’s brief.

In an interview, Professor Laycock said that religiously observant students often find the atmosphere in public school to be unwelcoming and “feel themselves a dissident and excluded minority.” As the Jehovah’s Witnesses did in the last century, these students are turning to the courts.

The briefs from the conservative religious organizations depict the school environment as an ideological battleground. The Christian Legal Society asserts that its law school chapters “have endured a relentless assault by law schools intolerant of their unpopular perspective on the morality of homosexual conduct or the relevance of religious belief.”

The American Center for Law and Justice brief, filed by its chief counsel, Jay Alan Sekulow, warns that public schools “face a constant temptation to impose a suffocating blanket of political correctness upon the educational atmosphere.”

Hey, man, those are some rebellious dudes, those church guys.

Really, this is an unusual alliance of bong-hitters and Jesus freaks, don't you think?
The religious groups were particularly alarmed by what they saw as the implication that school boards could define their “educational mission” as they wished and could suppress countervailing speech accordingly.

“Holy moly, look at this! To get drugs we can eliminate free speech in schools?” is how Robert A. Destro, a law professor at Catholic University, described his reaction to the briefs for the school board when the Liberty Legal Institute asked him to consider participating on the Mr. Frederick’s behalf. He quickly signed on.

And don't get me started on the "war on drugs."

But does anybody understand why the Bush administration has even heard about this kid holding up this sign in Juneau?

This same Catholic University professor talks about it.
Having worked closely with Republican administrations for years, Mr. Destro said he was hard pressed to understand the administration’s position. “My guess is they just hadn’t thought it through,” he said in an interview. “To the people who put them in office, they are making an incoherent statement.”

The solicitor general’s office does not comment publicly on its cases. But Mr. Starr, by contrast, was happy to talk about the case and the alignment against him of many of his old allies. “It’s reassuring to have lots of friends of liberty running around,” he said in a cheerful tone, adding: “I welcome this outpouring because it will help the court see that it shouldn’t go too far either way.”

What he means by that, I don't know.

The administration's position as conservatives is incoherent. As an authoritarian regime, though, they are perfectly consistent.

You Can't Assume Normalcy

I saw an interesting rant on a lefty blog the other day, which made a point I'd like to apply to our discussion.

Here are bits and pieces of thereisnospoon, talking about the debate over "the surge." Language is a little stronger than I usually use, it includes the appropriate and accurate use of a well-known colloquialism, so I'm not going to net-nanny this.
In case you missed it, the Kuwait News Agency (whatever that is) reported last week that U.S. troop deaths were down by 60%. The Kuwait News Agency gave that story directly and exclusively to rightwing hack Matt Drudge; from there it has become the GOP talking point du jour, appearing everywhere from The Economist to a wide variety of stupid right wing blogs. They are arguing, in other words, that the surge is working because U.S. deaths in Iraq are supposedly down--and that Democrats should get in line behind the brilliant Commander-in-Chief.

And what, pray tell, has been the Democratic and Progressive response? That the surge isn't working, because U.S. troop deaths aren't really down, and that Drudge and the Kuwait News Agency are lying. And, as usual, the truth is on our side, while the lies are on theirs. The Drudge/Kuwait News lies are nicely debunked by Will Bunch at Attytood, and even by Kossacks quaoar and R o o k: the Kuwait News Agency is misrepresenting data by only taking a segment of U.S. troop deaths, and claiming it's talking about the whole country.

The problem is that this response--while necessary--is absolutely stupid, and sets the debate squarely on terms favorable to the GOP. We do need, of course, to debunk lies where we see them--but to stop there and assume that we have therefore won the debate is the height of folly. By accepting the GOP's framing on this issue, we have already lost the debate about the surge (new Out-of-Iraq opinion polls notwithstanding)--regardless of which lies we may or may not debunk. The entire debate on the subject is bullshit.
The entire debate is bullshit because the success or failure of any "surge" or "escalation" of U.S. forces in Iraq does NOT hinge on the increase or decrease of U.S. deaths in Iraq. It would seem that all sides--Progressive, Democrat, Republican, and Chiliastic Authoritarian Nutcase--have forgotten the very first reason that we ostensibly still have troops in Iraq in the first place: to stabilize Iraq as a sovereign, democratic nation and to get Iraqis to stop killing one another. That is, after all, the reason proffered by weak-kneed Democrats and lying Republicans for the continued presence of U.S. troops. My Left Wing

In Montgomery County, we sometimes succumb to this attraction. We sometimes act as if there really were a debate over the details of the sex education curriculum, as if we could win the argument by debating whether this wording is optimal, that fact is accurate, or these points are made strongly enough.

You can't win that one. That's just not what it's about.

Oh, the school district has an obligation to tune up the classes, to make them as good as possible, and as citizens if we choose to get involved in the process we will have the opportunity to consider whether this source is valid, this survey is accurate, this advice is timely. And actually, MCPS is doing a great job of tuning out the noise and doing this hard work.

But the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are not attacking the details of the curriculum. They wouldn't think it was better if MCPS changed some wording, or changed the focus here or there. The CRC isn't trying to make it better, they're trying to destroy it.

Step back and look at the techniques they use. The legal attacks, the letters to families, the robo-calls, the exaggerations and lies. This isn't about improving public education in Montgomery County -- hardly any of them even have kids in the public schools here. No, it started honestly enough, as a bald attempt to replace the entire school board with extremists. Their original web site,, was not named randomly. This was -- and is -- an attempted takeover by a tiny minority who think they can seize control of the school district by incessant repetition of knee-jerk talking-points.

In some ways, the battle is about who decides. Does the school district, with input from the community, develop classroom materials, or do they give that authority to a self-appointed band of bigots who will not accept anything less than absolute adherence to their unacceptable beliefs? You know what my opinion is on that: if they want to belly-up and join in the process, they're as welcome as anyone. But a dozen or so fanatics in a county of a million people do not make demands, they don't insist, and the rest of us are not obligated to play along with them.

They don't feel they need to follow the process. They don't feel they need to tell the truth. Their mission is so incredibly more important than any processes or silly truths that they must accomplish it, no matter what. God Himself demands it, and the rest of us are simply unqualified to see His wishes.

No, sorry, I am in favor of a civil debate. I am in favor of moving the thermostat back and forth between the conservative end and the liberal end of the dial, depending on what the facts are, and what people are comfortable with. But everybody shouldn't have to freeze because a handful of nuts think it's too hot in here.

I will continue to keep pointing out the lies and the deceit, so people who live here can see just how our county is being attacked by these unscrupulous whiners. But we must be careful not to think that's what this is about.

This debate is about protecting our civil processes from being taken over by extremists who do not have our community's best interests in mind.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Using Technology to Bring Back the Dark Ages

We are hearing that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are using those annoying recorded phone calls to try to get people to opt their kids out of the new curriculum, and to visit their web site for more information. Families at the pilot-test schools are getting calls on a chilly Sunday, and when they answer it's a recording.

If the schools find that students opt out at a higher rate than previously, they will know why: it will be because people got scary phone calls and letters telling them misinformation about the curriculum. It won't reflect on the curriculum itself, and it won't affect any decisions the school district will need to make.

By the way, if you should get one of these on your answering machine - don't delete it. Send us an email at We would like to hear what it says exactly.

I hate to say it, but I think the PTA needs to take action. Last year they passed a resolution against the CRC for misuse of the PTA directories, when they sent letters to everybody at the test schools. This year, when they used the directories for letters, the PTA decided not to waste any energy on it.

This is going too far. They are obviously using directories prepared by the PTAs for the school communities in a way that they have been specifically told not to. There is a notice in each copy of the directory, and the CRC was formally notified last year by the county PTAs to stop using them in this way.

People should not be subjected to this, and the PTA should take legal action to stop it, if you ask me.

The Post Surveys the Sex-Ed Landscape

Washington Post reporter Daniel de Vise has been on the phone a lot, it sounds like. This morning he addresses a pretty good question -- how unusual is it for Montgomery County to teach about sexual orientation? To hear the CRC tell it, you'd think we were the only place in the world that ever tried this.
In Seattle public schools, sexual orientation is taught in ninth-grade health class, a one-day session that uses vignettes about fictitious teens to illustrate same-sex and opposite-sex attraction. But the topic can arise as early as grade 5, in discussions on the many changes that accompany puberty.

In Salt Lake City, schools do not address sexual orientation, in health class or anywhere else.

By adding 90 minutes of instruction about sexual orientation to eighth- and 10th-grade health classes this year, including contested material on homophobia, transsexuality and the process of "coming out," Montgomery County joins an increasingly polarized debate on how -- if at all -- sex-education classes should discuss sexuality. The Wide Spectrum Of Sex-Ed Courses: Montgomery Veers Toward Liberal End On Homosexuality

As for that headline, I doubt you would really say Montgomery "Veers Toward Liberal End." I think you could say "Montgomery County Votes Liberal On Everything." Not to quibble. It's just how we are here, not that every single person agrees to it. We're a very diverse and well-educated county, and our values reflect that.

It's a long, informative article, and I'm going to skip through it for the blog here. Put on some shoes and a sweatshirt or something, go outside into the soggy, melting ice, and pick up your paper. This is Page One of the second section.

Or fill up your cup, click on the link, and read it on the computer, you lazy bum.
In most of the country, the trend in sex education is toward "abstinence only," which dictates that sex outside of marriage is wrong and potentially dangerous. Such programs tend to bypass homosexuality, except to characterize gay sex as a public health risk.

At the same time, school systems in politically liberal communities are expanding the lexicon of sex and gender identity in health classes. Homosexuality is one of many topics covered under the umbrella of "comprehensive" sex education, which teaches students how to be comfortable with their sexuality and safe in sexual practice.

Seattle teachers tell ninth-grade health classes, "There are probably some people here who are gay, lesbian and bisexual. . . . Some people here may believe that homosexual behavior is wrong." Students take a sexual-orientation quiz: When do people first realize they are gay? (Answer: usually by their teens.) If one of your parents is gay or lesbian, are the chances greater that you will be, too? (Answer: no.)

I never knew what they did in other places. I remember a while back when somebody proposed to the school board that they should look at what other Maryland counties teach, and I thought -- who cares what they do? I don't want us to be like <pick county>, I'd prefer that they try to be like us.
Those who monitor sex-education trends say there's no telling how many school systems teach about sexual orientation, but the subject is largely absent from the curriculum across much of the South and in land-locked mountain states. SIECUS counts nine states that require "something negative" if sexual orientation is taught, such as characterizing homosexuality as unacceptable behavior.

The topic is more accepted, although not nearly pervasive, along the West Coast and in the Northeast. Health teachers in Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and throughout Massachusetts consistently teach about homosexuality, according to Judy Chiasson, a Los Angeles educator who wrote a portion of the lessons adopted in Montgomery.

There's a sidebar with this article that talks about several other states. You can link to it HERE. (By the way, thanks to digger for posting these links into the comments this morning.) It's kind of a hodge-podge sample, but you get the idea. Alabama, for instance, would meet the CRC's approval.
A 2004 poll by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government found that 25 percent of Americans deem homosexuality and sexual orientation inappropriate topics for sex education. A separate question yielded a narrow majority of Americans, 52 percent, who think schools should teach what homosexuality is but not whether it is right or wrong.

"I think a big swath of the population is opposed to promoting homosexuality," said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, an Orlando nonprofit group that advocates religious freedom and the traditional family.

Heh-heh. Yeah, Matt. A big swath of one person in four, compared to more than half who think schools should do what Montgomery County is doing.

Now, this I didn't know. Currently the state requires schools to teach about "sexual variations" in the health curriculum. But ...
This spring, Maryland lawmakers are considering a bill, unlikely to pass, that would amend the state Constitution with a ban on teaching about same-sex relationships in public schools.

Of course it won't pass, but maybe it'll generate a little discussion, people can make their points pro and con, and everybody will be a little bit better-informed for it.

More repercussions from our circumstance of living in the Bush Years:
Several organizations, including SIECUS, have noted a sharp rise in recent years in the number of schools and systems whose sex-ed lessons stress abstinence. They point to the role of the federal government, which since the mid-1990s has required a strict abstinence-only approach as a condition for substantial federal funds. Such programs, the government says, should endorse sex only in the confines of marriage, one reason they tend to skirt homosexuality.

"Abstinence-only by definition sort of wrote any gay issues out of the curriculum," said Jean-Marie Navetta, spokeswoman for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "I mean, gays can't get married. It sounds like a ridiculous premise, but it actually works."

We know that about half of teens have sex by the time they graduate from high school, it's too late to stick your thumb in that particular dike. But the federal government wants schools to teach kids to "just say no" to sex, and that's it. No information, just encouragement not to do that.

It's like how the administration supports the troops, by saying they support the troops.
About one-third of all school systems with policies on sex education require that abstinence be taught as the only option for the unmarried, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York sexual-health think tank. A larger group, about half of school systems, stipulates that abstinence be the "preferred option" for teens while allowing instruction in contraception and other topics associated with comprehensive sex-education. Virtually every school system, including Montgomery's, includes abstinence somewhere in its sex-education lessons.

A new condom-demonstration lesson for Montgomery 10th-graders makes 21 references to abstinence, including, "Abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease."

Yes, I think we hit a good balance. MCPS gives students reasons not to have sex, and also gives them clear instruction on how to minimize the risks if they do decide to. I can't imagine how to do it any better than that.
Chiasson said "countless" schools and school systems include homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality in their curricula. Although few mainstream textbooks devote space to the topic, she said in an e-mail, "good teachers utilize supplemental materials to complement textbooks' limitations."

Los Angeles schools cover sexual orientation over one to three days of the ninth-grade health course. Objectives include defining the terms homosexual, bisexual and transgender, identifying "challenges that young people may face in the process of self discovery" and explaining "why a person would want to come out about his or her sexual orientation."

Washington area school systems range in approach from liberal Montgomery to comparatively conservative enclaves in Northern Virginia, where some schools don't teach about sexual orientation.

I am skipping a short review of nearby school districts. Summary: they vary.

We've got a fight on our hands here, as a conservative group finds themselves at odds with the prevailing progressive climate of Montgomery County, and tries to drag the majority along with their wishes. But we're not the only place with this kind of trouble.
In the past two years, SIECUS has tabulated about a dozen well-publicized controversies over homosexuality at schools across the nation. The most famous involved a parent in Lexington, Mass., who objected to a fairy tale about two princes called "King and King." None quite resembled the fracas in Montgomery.

Disputes over sex-education seldom reach federal court, Staver said, because matters of curriculum are mostly left to local school boards. Many states, including Virginia and Maryland, explicitly permit parents to opt out if they don't like the lessons. Or, they can simply withdraw from the school.

I'm glad this reporter did this research.

The thing is, when we're deciding what's right and wrong, it doesn't really matter what anybody else thinks. If other communities want to jump off a cliff, does that mean we should? We look around, we see our gay friends and neighbors, and we see gay middle and high-school students and troubles they have, and we can say -- why shouldn't we teach something about this?

I never really wondered what anybody else does, but now that de Vise's looked into it, I'm glad to know. What we're asking is not so extreme. True, some places can't handle it or don't want it, but a lot can and do. MCPS was wise to turn to a team of pediatricians to put together a curriculum that was medically and scientifically sound, and we know certain types of people will squawk about it, but they missed their chance. In the long run, the citizens of Montgomery County will end up with a curriculum that they can be proud of. We're not following the pack, but we aren't asking for anything that is entirely unique, either.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

On Outing an Audience Member

I wanted to point you to a good story on the CRC's meeting last week. Josh Lynsen from the Washington Blade, DC's main gay news source, was there, and took good notes.

I reported on this after the meeting, but Lynsen has more:
Jacobs and Sprigg fielded several questions at the meeting’s end including one from a curriculum supporter.

Matthew Murguia, who is gay and works at the National Institutes of Health, asked Jacobs to explain several points, including why she touts “that HIV and gays are together” when 65 percent of all AIDS patients in Maryland are straight.

Jacobs replied by outing Murguia, who had not revealed in his comments that he is gay. She also noted her data was taken from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

“Whatever is necessary for him to say to match his gay agenda, he will say,” she said. “And I have been very careful to stick to the CDC ... because I’ve known that there would be concerns.” Md. school board faces ‘trial’ on sex ed curriculum

Now ... Dr. Jacobs response epitomized the concept "dumb." Because Matthew is gay, everything that comes out of his mouth is "his gay agenda." Never mind that he is a high-ranking official in the AIDS research office of the National Institutes of Health -- he's gay, and that's all that matters, that is sufficient to disregard everything he says.

In this case, he listed off several things that she had said in her talk that were ... just ... plain ... wrong. And she knew it. She had lied, he called her out on it, and so that was The Gay Agenda at work.

The Blade reporter talked to Dr. Jacobs after the meeting.
After the meeting, Jacobs said she outed Murguia partly because “he’s very annoying to me.”

“I believe that as part of his gay identity, he is defending his gay agenda,” she said. “And so I felt at that point, when he’s attacking me with everything he’s got, to do it without saying he’s gay ... I think is disingenuous and wrong.”

Jacobs, who said she treats gay patients, insisted her objections to the curriculum do not make her homophobic.

The Blade is obviously implying otherwise.

Can you imagine being her patient, telling her the things that horrify you about sores on your genitals, your fears of dying, the stuff you've done with your lover, and then seeing her repeat it on live TV, streaming on the Internet, talking to the Board of Education?

One other thing: the word homophobic. I saw Jahn Garza recently say it's not a scientific term, and it shouldn't be in the curriculum. Like, they care so much about science all of a sudden.

If "homophobic" were to be taken eymologically, literally, it would mean "fear of sameness." It doesn't. It means hatred of gays. You can criticize the dictionary-writers for putting the word in there, or complain about people who make up words without carefully considering their origins. But the fact is, it's just a word. "Racism" isn't an ism, either, there's no Manifesto or philosophical society that maintains that belief system. Neither is "terrorism." "Discrimination" just means that you see the difference between two things. "Ugly" doesn't necessary have to do with your facial features.

Hey, for that matter, "liberal" doesn't really mean somebody who values individual liberty and self-determination -- but they use it that way.

"Homophobe" may not mean what the CRC wishes it meant. That don't mean they ain't one.

Question is Too Tough

Man, don't you love being back into Presidential politics? They're really hitting the candidate-wannabes with some hard questions.

Here's John McCain yesterday:
Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Q: “I mean, I think you’d probably agree it probably does help stop it?”

Mr. McCain: (Laughs) “Are we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception – I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.”

Q: “But you would agree that condoms do stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Would you say: ‘No, we’re not going to distribute them,’ knowing that?”

Mr. McCain: (Twelve-second pause) “Get me Coburn’s thing, ask Weaver to get me Coburn’s paper that he just gave me in the last couple of days. I’ve never gotten into these issues before.”

If all goes as planned, any tenth grader from any MCPS high school after this year will be able to tell you: condoms significantly reduce the risk of infection with sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, but only abstinence provides a hundred percent protection.

Is McCain so uninformed that he doesn't know that (is it even possible to be that uninformed?), or is he just another weaselly weasel who's afraid of the Family Blah Blah groups?

You know the answer to that. No adult could really be this stupid.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Here's what happens:
An American woman whose doctor has told her that marijuana is the only drug keeping her alive, has been denied the right to use it by a federal court. She could face prosecution on drug charges.

Angel Raich, a 41-year old mother of two from Oakland, California, sought an injuction to stop the government prosecuting her. She suffers from several serious medical conditions, including an inoperable brain tumour, a weight-loss disorder, seizures, chronic nausea and scoliosis (a spine deformity).

Raich takes marijuana every few hours, under her doctor's advice, to control pain and give her an appetite. Her doctor has said without it she would "starve to death".

According to a Supreme Court ruling against Raich two years ago, users and suppliers of medical marijuana face prosecution, even if they live in a state that allows them to use the drug as a medicine. California, where Raich is a resident, is such a state. The conflict between federal and state law on the issue of medicinal marijuana has been highlighted by this case. Woman Denied Right To Use Marijuana As Life-saving Medication

Maybe one of our commenters can explain the sense of this... because I don't get it.

Disruption: Think It Through

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are trying as hard as they can to persuade parents not to sign the permission forms for their students to take the new sex-ed classes during pilot testing of the new sex-ed curricula. They have been sending letters to the families at the test schools, full of the usual misinformation, and begging everyone they talk to to opt out. It might work, I don't know; but I do know, if there is a high attrition rate it will be attributed to the CRC's pressure, not to the classes.

The pilot testing is being conducted in order to find if there are problems with the courses. It's a standard part of implementation of any new curriculum
-- math, English, whatever. The intent is to improve the standard of education by carefully developing and testing new material before it goes district-
wide. This kind of careful preparation is one reason Montgomery County has one of the highest-rated public school districts in the country.

But the CRC doesn't want to improve the curriculum, they want to disrupt it. This is not a plan, it's a tantrum.

They figure that it will be a great success if they can undermine the testing process by emptying the classrooms, but I don't think they've thought this one through.

If anyone decides to opt out after reading the CRC's propaganda, it will be the more conservative families. That means it will be the liberal kids taking the courses, filling out the evaluation forms, asking intelligent and thoughtful questions instead of making comments like "My daddy says those people are sick." The feedback will be positive, and the school district will be even more determined than ever to see this implemented.

What is supposed to happen? Assuming they are successful in undermining the testing (and the evidence suggests that they have not been successful), what is the best they could hope for? The school district is supposed to say, "Oh, whaddya know -- People don't want to take this course." No, of course that won't happen. The school board has got a bunch of people on it who were just voted into office by a huge majority, people in Montgomery County made it crystal-clear that they want a progressive school system -- the district knows what the citizens of the county want. And the CRC has been agitating for years; the board is ... bored, I'm sure, with it all now. They won't be impressed.

If students opt out, the school district is going to understand why: it will have been because of the CRC's campaign. Nobody will be able to say it was because of the classes, because ... nobody's taken the classes yet. People can't react to something that hasn't happened yet. Nobody's going to opt out because of a class, but only because of what they heard from the noise-makers of the CRC.

The CRC is trying to disrupt the curriculum development process with no sensible reason. A high rate of students opting out won't affect the chances of the curriculum being implemented, and school officials aren't going to create a new parallel curriculum in response to a malicious-letter campaign. There is no foreseeable benefit to the CRC, no apparent furthering of their goals, as a result of this attempted disruption.

The world sees them stomping their feet, thrashing around, crying and shrieking like a bunch of bad, poopy-pants babies. Sorry, but that's how this is being seen.

Typically about one percent of students opt out of sex ed. By making it a political issue, the CRC is hoping to increase that percentage. Maybe they will. Then they can declare a great victory, as life goes on around them.

Weaselly Politicians Weaseling

You know this Army General, Pace, said the other day that homosexuality is "immoral," which upset some people. Mainly you hate to think that guys are out there risking their lives to follow his orders, and he can't even acknowledge that they are honorable, moral human beings. Anyway, things have been going on locally, and I didn't get that on the blog for discussion, and it passed.

News crews have been asking some prominent politicians if they thought homosexuality was immoral. Fair enough, you're gonna give this officer a hard time, what would you have said?

There are a couple of correct answers to this question. Like, you could say, "Yes, I think it's immoral," and then let people choose whether to support you in that. If you believe it, you shouldn't be afraid to say it, right? Or you might say, "No, I don't think it's immoral." Wow, two possible correct answers to the same question.

CNN has an article giving some politicians' responses to the question.

Here are two guys who got it right:
Sen. John Warner, a conservative Republican from Virginia, said, "I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the chairman's view that homosexuality is immoral."

John Edwards, one of Clinton's rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, said, "I don't share that view," when asked about Pace's comments.

See how easy that is? Warner and Edwards, night and day politically, are clear about where they stand. Warner, especially.

On the other hand ...
[Hillary] Clinton was asked the question by ABC News, in the wake of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace's controversial comment that he believed homosexual acts were immoral.

"Well, I'm going to leave that to others to conclude," she said.

B-R-R-R-R-R-R-A-A-A-A-A-A-P-P-P-P-P ! ! !

Wrong answer.

It's an easy question, Hillary. What do you think? There are two right answers. This wasn't them.

If she wanted to discuss the philosophy of her own personal interpretation of morality, that would have been OK, too, I think. Like, some things really don't need to be evaluated "morally," in fact I find it highly irritating when people evaluate everything in terms of right and wrong. Like, say you hold a door open for a lady, and she gives you a look like you're a sexist pig. (Personally, I don't think sexual orientation has a moral aspect at all: if you asked me, I would say, No, I don't think it's immoral.) But she didn't talk about that. She left the moral question up to "others."

The Newsday blog reports that Barack Obama was asked three times if he thought homosexuality is immoral:
Answer 1: "I think traditionally the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman has restricted his public comments to military matters. That's probably a good tradition to follow."

Answer 2: "I think the question here is whether somebody is willing to sacrifice for their country, should they be able to if they're doing all the things that should be done."

Answer 3: Signed autograph, posed for snapshot, jumped athletically into town car.

Again, Barack, c'mon dude, it's not that hard.

The question is: what do you think? Everybody ought to be able to answer that kind of question. "I've never thought about it" is another answer, now that I ... think about it. Look how many right answers this question has!

Of course the question is a trap. Politicians want to appeal to the vast center of America, that's where the votes are. In reality, a presidential candidate who went out of their way to promote gay rights, or really any other issue that people haven't given much thought to, would end up alienating a lot of voters. There are plenty of people who haven't thought much about homosexuality, and they're not planning to. They don't know nothin' about this gay business, and they don't like it.

Just a reality. It's changing, but that's America today.

On the other hand, these guys forget there are people out here who want to see some honesty. You don't have to give the right right answer, just give a straight answer, say what you actually think. This weasel talk, I don't like that.

[Hat-tip to AmericaBlog for pointing to these quotes.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Anti-Gay Bigotry is Fading Rapidly

Our society has changed very quickly in its attitude toward homosexuality. It seems to me that as gay people have been more open, more visible in politics, in the media, in the arts, straight people have gotten over our initial discomfort and have figured out that there's no big deal there. It's not contagious, it's not diabolical, it's just the way some people are.

Of course there are those who cling to outdated explanations and interpretations of this everyday phenomenon. A handful of those people in Montgomery County have agitated to get the rest of us see it their way, and it hasn't worked very well for them. See, we have neighbors and friends, and we work with folks, and if they're gay that really doesn't bother us.

Republican Senator Alan Simpson has an editorial in this morning's Washington Post that shows you how far we've come.
As a lifelong Republican who served in the Army in Germany, I believe it is critical that we review -- and overturn -- the ban on gay service in the military. I voted for "don't ask, don't tell." But much has changed since 1993.

My thinking shifted when I read that the military was firing translators because they are gay. According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 300 language experts have been fired under "don't ask, don't tell," including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. This when even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently acknowledged the nation's "foreign language deficit" and how much our government needs Farsi and Arabic speakers. Is there a "straight" way to translate Arabic? Is there a "gay" Farsi? My God, we'd better start talking sense before it is too late. We need every able-bodied, smart patriot to help us win this war. Bigotry That Hurts Our Military

And you didn't even notice -- The Post calls it bigotry, just like we do. It isn't a "different viewpoint," it isn't "a religious belief," the more accurate term is bigotry.

I think the example of the translators might have been an eye-opener for a lot of people. Here our spy agencies are intercepting gazillions of messages between potential terrorists, and we don't know what they're saying because we fired all the gay translators. The only word that fits there is "stupid." That's stupid, period.

A little more, I'm not going to reprint the whole thing here:
In today's perilous global security situation, the real question is whether allowing homosexuals to serve openly would enhance or degrade our readiness. The best way to answer this is to reconsider the original points of opposition to open service.

First, America's views on homosexuals serving openly in the military have changed dramatically. The percentage of Americans in favor has grown from 57 percent in 1993 to a whopping 91 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed in a Gallup poll in 2003.

Military attitudes have also shifted. Fully three-quarters of 500 vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan said in a December Zogby poll that they were comfortable interacting with gay people. Also last year, a Zogby poll showed that a majority of service members who knew a gay member in their unit said the person's presence had no negative impact on the unit or personal morale. Senior leaders such as retired Gen. John Shalikashvili and Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman, a former West Point superintendent, are calling for a second look.

The deal is, people have gotten over it.

The whole controversy in Montgomery County is ridiculous, there are a million people humoring a dozen or so nuts who can't accept their neighbors and family members for what they are. It's costing everybody a lot of money, wasting a lot of people's time that could be spent on something constructive.

If the new curriculum needs to be improved, then let's go ahead and improve it -- that's what the pilot testing is for. But what we're seeing is a tiny cell of radicals who want to undermine the testing, disrupt the classes, not make them better. Those people are out of step with our community, and out of step with America. It is time to identify their behavior as bigotry, to call it what it is, and to shut it out. It's untruthful, unkind, and un-American.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Close Call at the CRC Corral

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum started as a web site: It had a message board that became a laughing-stock across the Internet, other sites would go there for humorous material, outrageously ignorant rantings by wild-eyed haters, over-the-top hyperventilations of a grand sort. So they closed off the message board from the public. After, y'know, apologizing to the school board for threats, stuff like that.

By the way, I notice that if you go to now and type the word "gay" into their search engine, it takes you to sites that advertise things like "XXX Sex Match: Men & Women Looking for Hot Sex. Video Chat, Hookups, & Much More," and "Teen (18-19) Boy Videos: The beauty of first love Exclusive hardcore Video..." I hope the CRC is making a little money off that, at least.

Then they had a blog. Sort of. They didn't allow comments, for obvious reasons, and the ... what shall I say? The intellectual level of the posts was somewhat unsatisfying. I mean, we all slip occasionally, but ... I don't know who over there was writing that stuff, but pretty soon people stopped reading it, and it looks like it was July, 2005, when they finally gave up the ghost. Didn't even delete it, just left that rotting hulk there on the Internet.

Then they had an online forum. This was pretty nice, the software behind it was powerful and fast, the interface was pretty, it was well organized. At first people went there to read the articles, mostly posted by "CRCPrecious" (Retta), the usual batch of rightwing nonsense, but usually with an angle that was somewhat relevant to our Montgomery County sex-ed controversy. The point of a forum is that people can discuss, they can post their own comments and go back and forth. There were even a few people who disagreed with the CRC. The administrator immediately found reasons to kick them off, one by one, and pretty soon there was nobody left.

For months, I mean a lot of months, any time I have checked the CRC's forum, I have been absolutely the only person logged in (it shows you in the corner who else is logged into it). Fifty-gazillion people on the Internet, and this site gets zero of them. Still, CRCPrecious continued to post the drivel from AgapePress and the Family Blah Blah organizations.

This week I noticed that somebody had left some comments there. The first in a long, long time. This other user was called uallarenazis. Woops, bad sign. They left a few posts, like, one said "Are you supporting hate crimes?" That was the whole post, a comment on a story where some group was saying that gays are using "their political power to exaggerate the extent of hate crimes committed against homosexuals." Another uallarenazis comment was about the new curriculum. This poor person made the mistake of taking them seriously, and tried to ask them a question. They wrote:
Can't you just take you're child out of the curriculum? When I was in school we had to get a parent to sign a permission slip before sex ed. So if you don't want you're kid in the program, don't sign the slip. Worry about your own kids, not everyone elses. Some people don't want there kids to grow up and be ignorant intolerant idiots like the people who created this board.

You guys are teaching a message of hate. Against homosexuals, liberals, democrats and everyone else who doesnt believe the same things you do. Thats what the nazis did. This is america, people have the right to be gay. Kids have the right and the reponsibility to learn about it young so that they don't grow up to be ignorant.

The worst part is you do it in the name of religion.

Uh, yeah, tough question. Can't you just take your child out of the curriculum?

The answer, actually, is, no they can't take their children out of the curriculum, because hardly any of them have kids in the public schools, and the ones who do wouldn't let their kids take sex-ed anyway.

So this uallarenazis person appears to be a rookie. They ask this question as if they thought the CRC was actually concerned about their own kids. No, it's not about that, it's about our kids, the kids who actually will take health in the MoCo public schools.

Anyway, so what do you supposed the reponse was?


Here's Administrator responding to uallarenazis:
Your registered name uallarenazis is considered in violation of this forums terms of service which you agreed to when registering. Those service terms were:

Access to the CRC FORUM, is granted subject to the provisions of this agreement.

You agree, through your use of the CRC FORUM, that you will not post any material which is false, defamatory, inaccurate, abusive, vulgar, hateful, harassing, obscene, profane, threatening, invasive of a person's privacy ...

Several paragraphs of boilerplate follow. The rules of the forum, they have your IP number, the site will put cookies on your machine...

Then the Beloved Administrator gets to the point:
Consequently, your registration has been voided.

Didn't like the name.

Man, that was close. If somebody else had been reading the forum, it was possible that they may have had a discussion of the issues.

Thank Administrator for preventing that!

Evangelicals Reject Dobson's Fake Morality

Kids, you may not remember, but there was a time when torture was something Americans accused other people of. It wasn't something we did, it was something we fought against, and we considered it a matter of right and wrong: a moral issue.

From the Washington Post this morning:
The National Association of Evangelicals has endorsed an anti-torture statement saying the United States has crossed "boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible" in its treatment of detainees and war prisoners in the fight against terror.

Human rights violations committed in the name of preventing terrorist attacks have made the country look hypocritical to the Muslim world, the document states. Christians have an obligation rooted in Scripture to help Americans "regain our moral clarity."

"Our military and intelligence forces have worked diligently to prevent further attacks. But such efforts must not include measures that violate our own core values," the document says. "The United States historically has been a leader in supporting international human rights efforts, but our moral vision has blurred since 9-11." Evangelicals Condemn Torture

It is unbelievable that we live in a time in America when this is a step in the right direction -- a vote against torture?

And what about the idea that we would take care of the earth, so that it can continue to support us? --From Sunday's Post:
Rebuffing Christian radio commentator James C. Dobson, the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals reaffirmed its position that environmental protection, which it calls "creation care," is an important moral issue.

Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, and two dozen other conservative Christian leaders, including Gary L. Bauer, Tony Perkins and Paul M. Weyrich, sent the board a letter this month denouncing the association's vice president, the Rev. Richard Cizik, for urging attention to global warming.

The letter argued that evangelicals are divided on whether climate change is a real problem, and it said that "Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time," such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Evangelical Body Stays Course on Warming

Abortion and same-sex marriage -- what a weird thing. I find it hard to imagine a sincere person who's sense of right and wrong is focused so intently on two things that are ... none of his business. The morality of abortion is not a clear case and certainly not a biblical one; and on the subject of marriage equality, Dobson and Co. take the position that seems, from any other point of view, to be the immoral one, opposing monogamous commitment and the formation of loving families for gay Americans.

It is definitely interesting that the evangelical organization has rejected Dobson's narrow moralistic focus. Today's Post article made a point of noting that:
The NAE says it represents 45,000 evangelical churches. However, it does not include some of the best-known conservative Christian bodies, including the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family.

Well, the SBC is pretty big, and FoF, you know, has long tentacles of influence.

It appears we are seeing an erosion, if not collapse, of the monolith of the religious right. Enough Christians seem to have opened their eyes to the fact that Jesus said nothing about abortion or homosexuality, and that morality involves a lot more than just interfering in other people's personal lives. There are some serious moral problems in our world today, and the NAE has just voted to contend with them. Good for them.

Pretty soon Dobson and little clusters of nuts like the CRC will be entirely isolated, babbling their incoherent goo-goo stuff about gays and abortions all alone, without even TV reporter-zombies pointing their cameras at them, as America wakes up to the realization that there are real problems that need our attention. This week's decisions by the NAE have been a lovely step in the right direction.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Churchill Students Solve Backpack-Flyer Problem

I'm a little behind in reading the news, so I nearly missed this one in the Churchill High School Observer.
During homeroom, Feb. 1 a letter was distributed from Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) about their organization’s message and mission. As a result of these letters, the Gay Straight Alliance formed a protest to show their disapproval of the letters.

PFOX is an organization that supports families with ex-homosexual members and supports rehabilitation therapies which they say can help members to regain their heterosexuality.

According to the letter passed out to students, “PFOX seeks to eliminate prejudice and discrimination against former homosexuals” and “conducts community-building activities that support the individual’s right to all information and self-determination.”

The flyer included PFOX’s message, what the organization could provide for students and a disclaimer from MCPS.

“We believe children have a right to all information about sexuality,” PFOX Executive Director Regina Griggs said. “None of the resources come from any religious association. We deal with scientific facts.” PFOX letter stirs student emotions

OK, you know that PFOX is doing this, using the schools to try to lure gay teens to contact them. But we don't usually hear it from the students' point of view.

By the way, does it seem to anybody else that school newspapers are like a gazillion times better now than they used to be? Is it just the computer technology, or are kids smarter than we were?

Never mind, we know it's not that...

A little more.
The flyer and PFOX’s message prompted protest from some members of the CHS community.

“I thought the PFOX letter was very well written and put up a great façade,” GSA president, senior Chloe Richard said. “Most students didn’t understand why [we] were protesting the letter because it was so well written. It was a good fake out, and it really masked the reality of the organization very well.”

PFOX was able to distribute these letters due to a 4th District Court ruling granting non-profit organizations the right to distribute letters in school. It was ruled that since the letter did not make any religious references, it was suitable to be given out to students.

Nice classy move, Chloe. PFOX was able to write the message in such a way that nearly zero accurate information was communicated. This kid appreciated that fact, very good.

Skipping down a little ways:
In response to the flyers, the GSA organized a protest, allowing students the option of discarding their letters in recycling bins around school and student distributed trash bags labeled “PFOX.” The protest, which was officially held after homeroom Feb. 1 in the Bulldog lobby, was viewed as a success by many.

“They got their message across but did not disturb class time at all,” GSA sponsor Arthur Bescher said. “The aim was for students around the school to understand that the PFOX group and its ideas are viewed as dangerous and harmful, and I know that students all across the building heard that message.”

The administration was also supportive in helping the protest run smoothly and effectively. Trash cans were placed in the center of the lobby, and security guards and administrators stood by protestors to ensure safety.

“[The protest] was wonderfully planned out, wonderfully executed, and wonderfully received, with great respect from the administration, especially Dr. Benz,” Richard said. “Having her be there by the trash cans with us was incredible, and a great symbol of the support we had from the school. The protest couldn’t have gone any better.”

Yes, the courts can only go so far in helping groups like PFOX spread their propaganda. The students know what it is, they don't need no stinkin' judge to tell them what to do.

Special receptacles for PFOX flyers, that is beautiful. I wish I had a picture of that one.

Two Factors, Not One

Poor me, I never even heard of this book, Unhooked, I am so out of it. But Google News this morning has 130 stories linked, people arguing about whether what this lady says is true or not, and of course, if it is true, is this the end of the world?

Here's a typical article, an AP story carried in this morning's Baltimore Sun:
During a class discussion on adolescence, a high school teacher recently asked her students whether they go on dates. We don't "date," the 12th-graders reported. We "hook up."

If you're in your 40s, "hooking up" might mean catching a friend downtown for lunch. But to people in their teens or 20s, the phrase often means a casual sexual encounter - anything from kissing onward - with no strings attached.

Now a new book on this not-so-new subject is drawing fire in some quarters for its conclusion: That hookups can be damaging to young women, denying their emotional needs, putting them at risk of depression and even sexually transmitted disease, and making them ill-equipped for real relationships later on.

For that, Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Unhooked and a writer for The Washington Post, has been criticized as a throwback to an earlier, restrictive moral climate, an anti-feminist and a tut-tutting mother telling girls not to give the milk away when nobody's bought the cow.

The author "imagines the female body as a thing that can be tarnished by too much use," wrote reviewer Kathy Dobie in Stepp's own paper, and suggested that Stepp was, in one part, trying to "instill sexual shame." For Meghan O'Rourke, literary editor at, Stepp is "buying into alarmism about women," and making sex "a bigger, scarier, and more dangerous thing than it already is." The fight over casual sex

I'm going to sidestep the argument about the empowerment of women and whether it's old-fashioned to make boys wait. It's interesting, but I want to tie this to a discussion we're having in Montgomery County.

I usually think of the Sexual Revolution as something that started in the 1960s, with Kinsey and birth control pills, and ended in the 1980s with first herpes, then AIDS -- diseases with no cure. Playboy glamorized the so-called revolution, but nobody I knew actually ever went to a party like what you saw there, with women running around naked and people having sex endlessly and indiscriminately, all of them groovy and far out.

It seemed to me the Sexual Revolution was something that may have happened to other people, and maybe it didn't actually happen at all, at least the way it was in the movies and magazines.

But there was something, a shift of a greater magnitude, that those magazines and movies may have symbolized. If you're my age, you remember that moms didn't work when we were kids. Now they do. You will also remember that people used to get married before they moved in together. Cohabitation, once a crime, is now a norm.

Things have definitely changed, the balance of power has shifted, at least, and norms have definitely changed in our lifetime. I'm afraid "dating" as a formal convention started going out of style in my generation, and if these books (there's this one, and some others) are correct, it is now mostly a thing of the past. That whole knock-don't-honk, go-in-and-meet-the-parents, the-boy-pays-for-everything business seems to have passed under the bridge.

This book seems to be talking more about people in their twenties, and it is not clear what happens in high school. Seems to me there's a lot of "chilling," which is not "hooking up" but more like "hanging out." But then I'm a geezer, it's not like I'd actually know what teenagers do these days.

OK, here's why I wanted to write about this.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum keep wanting to talk about the dangers of being gay, the health risks. We can see web sites like this one that says:
...unprotected (without a condom) anal sex (intercourse) is considered to be very risky behavior.

This is in response to a question about HIV.

I want to point out one thing here, an assumption in this statement, and in lots of other statements like it.

The assumption is that the reader does not know if the person they are having sex with is infected or not.

Because, listen, if you have anal sex with someone who does not have HIV/AIDS, you're not going to get it. Zero transmission rate there. It doesn't matter if you're straight or gay, if your partner doesn't have an infection there is no risk of transmission.

So the assumption here is that the person asking the question is talking about having sex, essentially, with strangers.

And that's a stupid thing to do. A risky thing.

Apparently, according to this book and some other research, college-age people these days are having sex, what they call hooking up, on a casual basis. That is a situation that presents risk. If you don't really know the person you are having sex with, or if they are also having casual sex with other people, then there is risk, condom or not.

That category of behavior needs to be spelled out.

People like the CRC's Ruth Jacobs who constantly tell us that anal sex is risky are assuming that people -- and especially gay people -- are constantly having anal sex with strangers.

The fact is: promiscuity is a risk factor. Hooking up is a bad idea.

The other fact is: anal intercourse appears to be somewhat more risky than vaginal sex, because of certain differences in the tissues of those orifices. Nobody really knows, there's no good research (because it would be unethical to ask someone to repeatedly have anal sex with an infected person for a research experiment), but it seems very likely that it is easier to catch an infection from your partner that way.

Those who argue that anal sex is horribly dangerous are confusing two things: the slightly higher vulnerability of the rectum to infection, and the stereotype of gay promiscuity. A faithful, monogamous couple, where both people know they are HIV-negative, is at zero risk of infection if they practice anal intercourse, whether they are the same or opposite sex.

I am going to try to portray this the way I think about it, in a two-by-two table. We have two factors: whether the partner is infected, and, let's say, vaginal versus anal intercourse. I will agree that risk is higher for anal intercourse.
                   Risk of Transmission of Infection

Vaginal Anal
Intercourse Intercourse

Infected partner High Risk Higher risk

Non-infected No risk No risk

Does it seem reasonable to single out anal intercourse as the risk factor here?

Let's not confuse these two things: promiscuity and ... point of entry.

The problem is having sex with a person who carries an infection.

The CRC has their own reasons for talking about anal sex all the time, which have nothing to do with actual risk.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sunday Rumination: Compartmentality

It's been a cold month or so. We forget that the early part of the winter was like Florida. Remember? Just February, it got cold. And today, it's warm, nice, sunny. The last snow-ploughed heaps of snow were washed away by yesterday's rain. This morning, this is the good time. Sun shining, snow's gone, WPFW on the radio: a classical guitarist, the dog has been out, coffee is cooking, kids are asleep -- what can you say? This is good.

I was trying to explain to my daughter last night, but it really is kind of hard. Can you imagine? Me, skinny, with a beard, standing up in a honky-tonk along I-5 somewhere, or in North Carolina, or Alaska, Tacoma, Tucson, Colorado, Nebraska, singing Willie and Waylon and Billy Joe and Hank (senior more than junior) and struttin' my stuff and scaring those other guitar players ... Can you imagine me reading poetry at Linnea's, leading poetry workshops in the schools ... How about me, in a suit, giving a keynote address in China, or Copenhagen, or Spain? Or speaking to an audience of government survey methodologists about changes in technology and how they affect the survey process?

To you I'm known for the "sex ed thing." But more people know me for something that gets called "swarm intelligence." (Google "Kennedy" and "swarm" to see what that's about.) Well, because that's the title of my book, I guess. Want to hear about that? That's your cue to choose whether to keep reading or hit the back-arrow. I got a full pot of coffee, I can go on for a long, long time.

I'm a social psychologist, really, and I am impressed that people, starting in ignorance, can figure out what's going on. Talking to each other, people can determine what are the important aspects of a situation, they can figure out which of those aspects deserve their attention -- the fact is, people working together can accomplish amazing things. Science is the big one, the way we've made sense of the world, but other things are incredible, too: movies, art, literature, architecture -- music -- government, culture, Cheetohs. It seems we are a Big Step beyond the next monkey down.

Sometime ten years or so ago I put some of these thoughts into a computer program. I showed that if you wrote a program that had a population of individuals start from random guesses and just talk to each other, learning from each other and teaching each other at the same time, all blind to any details of the problem solution, all equal and all absolutely unintelligent on their own, you could solve the hardest problems known to mathematics and engineering.

We call it a swarm, because if you look at two dimensions of it on a computer monitor the guesses start out dispersed and end up clustered in one part of the screen, usually the part where the answer is. On a dynamical Cartesian graph, they look like a swarm of mosquitoes or gnats. The little guys start out all over the place, and after a few iterations of the program they have converged in groups around the optimal solutions. When a problem has two or more solutions, they will cluster around the various ones, but usually the best solutions will attract individuals until the lesser solutions are left abandoned.

At the heart of it is the idea of cooperation, or collaboration. Yes, every one wants to be the best, but the thing is, the population members -- we call them "particles" because recursively updated vectors can be conceptualized as moving points -- are completely unintelligent by themselves. All their power comes from the ability to learn from each other, and to share their insights.

There is a kind of theory of the evolution of ideas called memetics. Memes are like genes, they are like an idea that passes through a society, from one person to another, mutating slightly as each person interprets it a little differently, and as each person blends the idea with the ideas he already held. Richard Dawkins, who invented the term, is an evolutionary theorist, rather controversial right now because of his criticisms of religion, but whatever, it has been obvious to anthropologists and other observers of the human lifestyle that culture evolves, ideas evolve -- Dawkins did us a service by showing that the well-developed theory of Darwinian adaptation was useful for describing this other kind of evolution.

My swarm theory turns memetics on its side. You can't really talk about the evolution of ideas, because ideas don't exist by themselves. You have to have a mind to have an idea. And minds change over time.

The evolution of ideas is really -- c'mon, you know this is right -- the evolution of a pattern of changes in people who have ideas. Ideas wouldn't evolve if there weren't people thinking about them and talking about them. So swarm intelligence models people, abstracted as simplified computational entities, and has them interact in a simple way to solve hard problems.

There's a lot to consider there, and I have spent the past ten-years-plus writing computer programs and publishing books, chapters, and papers trying to understand what goes into it. For instance, the communication structure -- the social network. It matters, it really matters, how you connect the population, how ideas spread through the group. It isn't good to have the communication network too dense, or eveyone gravitates toward the first good idea anybody thinks of, and it's not good to have it too sparse, or new ideas never propagate out to the group. "Overflying" -- it is important that when somebody influences you, you go beyond that, you look at what they suggested and more. Who influences you? It is a big question, whether you are influenced by the most knowledgeable person you know, or by some kind of average of all the people you know. There is a big difference there, not that one's better than the other necessarily, but it affects the kind of communication structure that best supports problem solving.

It turns out that cooperation is not just a pleasant way to act, it's actually a very constructive thing when it comes to finding solutions to hard problems. If people can talk, if they can influence one another, if everyone is agreeable to make adjustments when they learn something new, the group can make progress toward a goal, even if it's a difficult goal. Sometimes you move away from the target, for instance the group may be attracted to a local optimum, but eventually, if the system parameters are good, somebody will stumble across the best solution or region of the problem space, and then the rest will follow.

I normally live my life as if this, the swarm business, and the sex-ed thing were separate. Never mind music, poetry, philosophy, my job, my family. I compartmentalize my life, just like you probably do. And I definitely don't want the CRC to start having opinions about whether to use the FIPS or canonical interaction strategies, and whether Shi and Eberhart's inertia weight is more "Christian" than Clerc's constriction coefficient, which affects the whole right-hand side of the velocity formula. But sometimes you realize, it all works together. Those ideas apply here, and the challenges that we face in trying to overcome bigotry and nuttiness here apply there.

The idea of a local optimum is a good one. Sometimes a problem has more than one solution. Sometimes, but not very often, all of the solutions are equally good. Sometimes there are a number of pretty good solutions, but one that is better than the rest. You want to find that one. In our situation, you can see that it's a pretty good personal solution to write off gay people altogether, call them sick and reject them, and then you don't have to deal with your own feelings, and you don't have to think about it. Since most people are straight, that solution pretty much works, most of the time; you just have to surround yourself with people who are adopting the same solution as you. Of course, gay people have forced the issue. They have made a decision to come out in public and say "I do exist." So now the decision to ignore them is challenged, it's not such a good solution any more, because they won't passively agree to being ignored and rejected.

So what do you do? One subpopulation of straight people says, OK, they're right, I don't really feel like they do, I don't get the gay thing, but so what? They seem like decent people, I don't know what they see in that, but whatever, it doesn't hurt me any. And then you're done. Another subpopulation says, that's wrong, it's evil, it's sinful, they must be rejected, they must be ignored, they must be stopped. In my other world, these are just local optima, they are two solutions to a cognitive problem. One, I'd have to say, is better than the other, because it's simpler to accept things you can't change and people create less of a disturbance when they are not being discriminated against, and really, a bunch of gay people aren't going to hurt anything. I mean, really, they are not going to destroy your marriage, unless you yourself are ... never mind.

I should point out that, in this cooperation thing, competition is really hiding in there. It matters that you are the best, in my programs. I wrote a program once where a person could be part of the swarm, and I tried it, and I found out that I really really wanted to beat those other guys, even though they weren't real. There's an inequality in the formula, a less-than condition, and you want that condition to evaluate as true, you want to find a better solution than you or anybody else has found so far.

I am ridiculously optimistic. I don't know why, but I keep thinking that people will do the right thing. It might be slow, but I figure people want to live sensible lives, people don't want to hurt somebody for no reason, people want to be able to trust each other. This sexual orientation thing is mainly something a lot of people haven't thought much about. Now that the CRC has forced the issue, you just about have to choose whether you want to be on the denial side or the magnanimous side; do you really think it's just the way some people are, or do you believe it's a plot -- an "agenda" -- to take over the world? People have to think about it, and given that none of us ever really learned anything about sexual orientation, we have to rely on our playground knowledge, and it will take a while to turn that corner. But for some crazy reason, I think people can do it.

Anyway, I will continue to compartmentalize my lives. This TTF part of me is definitely an important part, and a part I didn't know I had. I had never been anything like an "activist" before, and really, nobody who knows me, in all these years, has ever called me a "liberal." And here I am, a liberal activist, what a trip. It does seem that I'm just a little bit Irish, a little bit of a bulldog, I inherited a stubborn streak from my old man, and I think you can tell, I'm not going to let go of the CRC's throat till the blood's drained out of it. But, as I sit here sipping coffee on this beautiful spring -- is this it? Is this spring, or is there more snow coming? -- morning, I am thinking, even though my life is carved up into pieces, the pieces really do fit together, in a weird way.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I Am Younger Than Mick Jagger

At the end of the CRC's meeting the other night, Chris and I were standing near the exit waiting for Dana, when this old guy came up to us. By old, I mean he was older than me. Ancient. He said he was 63, the same age as Mick Jagger.

He just started talking, I don't know why. He started telling us how at least in California, when he was there, a gay person (he didn't say gay person, he said "one of them") could do anything to you, and you couldn't do anything to them. They could hit you or anything, and nobody would do a thing to them. But if you hit them, the cops would come after you.

"If he hit you, that would still be assault," I said. "It wouldn't be a hate crime, but it would be a crime."

He looked toward where I was standing as if he had detected a sound coming from that direction.

He took a thoughtful, reminiscent breath and told us about a time in 1964, when he was at Fort Ord, in California, and a guy came up to him in an alley and said "Hey, you wanna have some fun?"

"Not with you I don't," this guy said. "Well, he came up to me and he put his hands right on my ... privates. So you know what I did?"

"Uh, you decked him?" I guessed.

"Yeah, I turned around and Boom! Down he went. Just like that. Boom!" He seemed to love making the boom sound. "Down he went."

"Okay," I said, because basically I would say that if a guy puts his hands on you uninvited in an alley, if you're a woman a shot of Mace in the eyes or a hard, fast knee to the crotch is appropriate, if you're a guy I'd say a solid right to the jaw might give you some room. Especially, this guy was pretty big, six-foot-plus.

Chris said, "So, in your sixty three years, this has happened to you one time?" He nodded. She said, "You ought to be glad."

Flipping a thumb toward her, I said, "Hey, it happens to them all the time. Guys are always grabbing women."

"Yeah, well, I turned around and Boom!" the guy said.

Don't tell me Mick Jagger is this old, OK?

He continued. "Then I took his wallet and threw it in a dumpster, threw his credit cards and everything in a dumpster, so it'd look like a robbery, then they couldn't say I hit him because of ... you know."

I said, "You took his wallet?"


"To make it look like a robbery?"

"Yeah, cuz you can't hit those guys in California, at least you couldn't back then, I don't know about now. They can hit you, you can't hit them or they'll come after you."

"Did you realize that you really did rob him?" I asked. "You took his wallet."

Again, that look: had there been a sound?

Something attracted his attention from the corridor outside the door and he turned and continued out the exit. We didn't talk to very many people at the CRC's meeting. A few, not a lot, at least I didn't.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Torturing the Data

What they do... I can't help it. I've been listening to the recordings from the CRC's meeting, transcribing interesting sections. And here's the erudite Doctor Ruth, talking about whether there's a gay gene or not (as if that mattered a bit):
If you have an identical twin, and one twin is gay, if you're just born that way, the other twin ought to be gay, right? So even [unintelligible] gay papers, it's still fifty percent. But if you go to a twin registry, in Australia, it's eighty percent, so if one twin is gay, the other eighty percent are heterosexual.

OK, this is really strange. If she said what I think she said, she's saying that when a twin is gay in this Australian registry, eighty percent of the time the other twin is straight. Is that what you heard?

I have to assume this is limited to identical twins.

Now, Peter Sprigg was sitting at the table, and I have heard him say that two percent of the population is gay. So we'll say that's what "they" believe.

So listen, if there is no gay gene, then two percent of twins of a twin who is gay should be gay, too. Not twenty percent, two percent.

By Ruth Jacobs' own numbers, having a gay twin makes you ten times more likely to be gay yourself. That is a huge effect, statistically. If she's right.

This lady has a doctorate, she should know better. There may be many factors influencing sexual orientation reported in a dataset, including measurement biases, genetic interactions ... science would be simple if you rejected every hypothesis that had less than a hundred percent support.

As I was writing this, I decided to find the paper she's taking about. Surprisingly, it's online. I say surprisingly, because the APA doesn't usually let you put their published papers on the Internet, but these guys did. If you're interested, you can look HERE for the pdf.

I'm not going to go through the paper ... well, I will quote the line relevant to what she's talking about: "Men's same-sex concordance rate for MZ twins was significantly greater than that for same-sex DZ twins by a directional test, both for the strict criterion (Fisher's exact = .04) and the lenient criterion ( < .001)." [MZ=monozygotic or identical twins; DZ=dizygotic or fraternal twins] (Fisher's exact test is similar to a chi-square test for 2x2 contingency tables, but it gives only a p-value, no statistic to interpret.)

In other words, Dr. Jacobs' description of the data last night was the exact opposite of what the researchers themselves concluded: with identical twins, it was significantly more likely that the second twin was gay if the first one was, compared to fraternal twins. (I am leaving out the whole discussion about this particular researcher, whose work is considered "controversial" from any perspective. This is just a comment on how the data were reported to the assembled group last night.)

The CRC wants to argue against "innateness" by arguing against genetics, as if they were the same. Do they think they can convince reasonable people of their point of view, when they do this to the facts?

Matthew and Ruth, Mostly Matthew

So, listen, my friend called me yesterday. He was going to go see the Who at the Verizon Center with somebody, and they backed out. So he had an extra ticket for tonight. Good seats, he said.

And what did I say?

No man, I gotta go to this meeting about the sex-ed thing.

Yes, it's true, I turned down good seats at a Who concert to listen to a series of evil people saying horrible things. The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum held a meeting at the Marriott conference center at Rio, in Gaithersburg, and some of us went.

I hope the papers in the morning have details of John Garza's legal plans. Well, it was late, they might have missed their deadline, maybe next day. He wants to spend a lot of money, depose a bunch of people, bring in experts from Harvard. But he doesn't have any money. Or enough lawyers. Anyway, a lot of journalists were there, and TV crews, I imagine somebody will have it.

The more interesting thing was my friend Matthew. When Matthew showed up at this thing, I told him he was "inappropriately cheerful." He said, "I'm always cheerful."

And actually, I can't think of a time when he wasn't making a joke or laughing about something. He is always cheerful.

But then, I've been to several of these CRC things, and he hasn't.

I'm not going to go through the whole nightmare meeting, just want to focus on one thing, to show you how this works.

One of the speakers was Ruth Jacobs. Ruth is an infectious disease specialist, a doctor, the CRC's rep on the citizens committee, and she l-o-o-v-v-e-s to talk about anal sex and AIDS. We've known her for years, and she just doesn't let up. She tells the school board, the PTA, she'll talk to anybody about anal sex and all the germs it spreads. Especially gay anal sex.

She gave the same talk she gave at Magruder a couple of weeks ago. She had the same unreadable slides, lots of white text on a white background, five or six different fonts on a screen, colors clashing.

I'm going to quote a couple of passages from her talk, to set a context for what followed.

She showed the Holt text, and said, "These lessons were written by a woman, as best I can tell, who had twenty years of special education teaching experience to qualify her for the tenth grade lesson..."

Later she showed a slide and said:
"The condom use lesson was taken from several FDA web sites, and this FDA web site was utilized by Montgomery County Public Schools. Right smack dab in the middle, what does it say? "Are condoms strong enough for anal intercourse?" Mmmm. The Surgeon General, this was Everett Koop, 1988, has said, "Condoms provide some protection but anal intercourse is simply too dangerous to practice." Why? It might be more likely to break, then the tears and bleeding allow disease to pass more easily."

A little later, we were back to this ...
"OK, as I've said, the lessons were written, the tenth grade lesson, Judy Chiasson, she's an employee, she's [unclear] Project 10, which is a gay advocacy group, she's not a health care professional, she's not a health care educator. Their mission is to ensure a safe, supportive, and welcoming campus, free from discrimination and harassment for sexual minority youth. I make a point -- we agree with this, we want everybody to be safe from discrimination, but their mission does not include protection against health risks of sexual activity and importantly, when you opt out, you have a new discrimination ... set ... you know? So, my concern is, let's have no discrimination for anyone in the school. Not ... just ... for ..."

And she tailed off.

I'm not going through all the speakers, just getting to one part that nailed it for me.

The evening ended with a Q&A session, and people in the audience -- there were between fifty and seventy-five people there, some were us, a lot were journalists, and about ten people left in the middle -- were outraged and shocked etcetera to learn about the gay agenda in our schools and so on.

And wouldn't you know, Matthew held up his hand. Immediately, Theresa from CRC went over to John Garza, who was managing the microphone, and they whispered back and forth, and Garza worked the other side of the room with the microphone.

Eventually he used up that side, and let a couple of people on our side talk. Soon he was standing right in front of us, but with his back to Matthew. Matthew kept his hand up, patiently.

It got ridiculous, Garza couldn't turn to his side because it would make it impossible to pretend not to notice Matthew.

Garza stood right in front of him, holding the microphone, wouldn't look at him, wouldn't pass it to him. He tried to wrap up the Q&A, and started walking away. Finally, somebody said something.

Garza looked around as if he were surprised. He hesitated, and Matthew just started talking. He said "I have a question, please."

Somebody said, "C'mon, John, don't be a coward, let Matthew speak."

Matthew said, "You stood right here for three minutes and you didn't acknowledge me."

Finally they decided to take one more question, and Garza passed the mike to Matthew. Matthew said, "Thank you, I want to ask a couple of questions here that it's important for us to hear some real answers to. Doctor Jacobs, you know full well that the Surgeon General never made that statement. And you know full well that the FDA web site that says that the statement was made is not proper. It was actually the Sugeon General's Understanding AIDS brochure that was sent to all Americans. And that statement about anal sex is not included in that brochure and you know that, so I'm not real sure why you continue to promote that statement.

"The other thing you also know full well is Project 10, that group in California that you so like to disparage, is an official organization of the Los Angeles school board, it's not a private organization. It is a function of the school board and it's important for people to know that.

"You also know that sixty five percent of all AIDS patients in Maryland are heterosexuals, but the vast majority of your time spent on the committee was talking about HIV and homosexuals. And I don't understand the disconnect there.

"And you also note there are whole sections on the health curriculum that talk about HIV and AIDS but yet every time we had a discussion about homosexuality you wanted to bring in HIV and AIDS, if for no other reason that I could tell, to try to teach people that HIV and gays are together and all gays are going to come up with HIV.

"And finally I thought it was interesting in one of the videos that you brought up had an African American man talk about Martin Luther King's civil rights movement. I doubt most people in here know that the man who organized the march on Washington for Reverend King was a gay black man."

Yes, I was proud of my friend. And did I mention, he is Director of the Office of Program Operations and Scientific Information in the Division of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome at the National Institutes of Health? And that he's eternally cheerful? Ah, yes, maybe I did mention that.

So how do you think Ruth Jacobs responded?

"You've been listening to Matthew Murguia, a member of the committee, who was a member for nine months before he did inform us that he was gay. And I don't believe ... [inaudible, somebody is saying "Oh my God, what does that have to do with it?"] ... full disclosure you can go to the FDA web site, the petition is on it, and on the petition is the access for the web site."

Matthew said, "If anyone wants the citation I have it right here for you so you can look it up yourself."

[Note: the FDA web site is HERE. See if you can find the Surgeon General's quote in the document they link to.]

Ruth kept going: "The citation is there, it is an up-to-date web site, it's in the middle of the web site. Mister Murguia when he was defending this said, y'know, smoking is a Surgeon General's statement and I really don't think that that has ever helped Americans."

Matthew hollered out, "Context Ruth, put it in context."

Ruth said, "Whatever it is necessary for him to say to match his gay agenda, he will say. And I have been very careful to stick to the CDC, the FDA, because I've known that there would be concerns."

And that wrapped up the Q&A section.

And that, in a nutshell, was our night at the CRC's meeting. On the way home I sang along with "Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer" at the top of my lungs, and my wife called me on my cell phone from Iowa, and it was great -- great -- to hear from her, even though her dad is pretty sick. And I was really glad to get home to those problematic, confused, self-conscious and perfectly terrific teenagers of mine. Dirty dishes and all.

Oh, and when I got home, I watched the news, and they interviewed Matthew, and in his ridiculously cheerful way he told them just what he thought about it all. And it was good.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Calm After a (Brief) Storm

In the aftermath of the state's decision yesterday not to support CRC's request to interrupt the pilot testing of the new curriculum, The Post actually had two articles this morning: the story and the story behind the story. We gave you the main story already.

The other article appeared in the "Extra" section of the paper, and was mainly about how surprised the CRC was that pilot testing had already started. I'm sure they had big plans to disrupt it if they could, and instead they ended up with three sad-sacks standing in the freezing wind holding signs that didn't have anything to do with anything, and nobody paying any attention to them until the school staff shooed them away.

I'll tell you a secret: they were surprised by yesterday's decision by the state, too.

It's interesting, but I often learn about things from reporters. Something happens, and they call me to ask for my reaction. That's cool, it's a tradition that's as old as the hills, but you don't always notice that the information is going both ways, especially because everybody doesn't have a blog. This creates a bit of a dilemma sometimes. Like, a while back a reporter called me early in the afternoon and told me something that he was clearly the first to know, and he wanted my reaction to this new event. So I talked with him, he took some notes, we hung up.

Now, here I am, also in possession of this new knowledge -- since he had to tell me to get my reaction -- and knowing that my readers would like to hear it, and expect to hear it here first. Actually, quite a few news stories have appeared on this blog long before the commercial media picked them up.

But if I post this new information, not only will I scoop the guy who told me, but all the other reporters in town will see it, and the reporter who called me will lose his exclusive story.

So ... what do you do?

Or yesterday -- there was a very strange couple of minutes in my life. Out of the blue I got a call from a reporter who had just found out that the state had decided to grant the CRC's request for a stay, and he wanted to know what I thought about it.

Yes, he said "grant the stay."

I didn't really know what to say. I had expected a decision on Friday, not Wednesday, and it had never seriously crossed my mind that the state Superintendent of schools would agree to the bundle of lies, misdirections, and bigotry that the CRC had submitted to her. I kind of stammered, stalling, and asked the reporter how they knew this.

The reporter said that Michelle Turner, once-president-now-"spokesperson" for the CRC had told him. We discussed it for a minute, and the reporter said he would check again to make sure he had it right.

As soon as I hung up, my phone rang again. Another reporter. Wanted my reaction to the news that the request for a stay had been refused. Are you sure? Yes, she had talked with school officials and had it on good word that this was correct. And what was my reaction?

So I had to give her my reaction to a situation that could have been a victory or a defeat for our side, depending on which caller was correct. I felt kind of stupid, trying to talk about something and not knowing what it was I was talking about. I'm sure I sounded like a complete idiot.

While I was on the phone with her, my phone rang and went to voicemail. The message was the first guy: Michelle Turner had it wrong. She said "granted," she should have said "refused." Small difference, I guess.

I don't know, it's nothing, just a strange intense moment in an otherwise ordinary day. Well, I gave a talk at a conference in the morning on computer security, and my wife flew to Sioux City to see her parents in the evening, so it wasn't an entirely ordinary day. But this couple of minutes were unusually crazy.

The Post Extra article tells about how the CRC had planned a meeting for tonight, thinking that testing was going to begin next week. Not much point to that, now, is there?

(By the way, that wasn't the reporter I was just talking about, in case you wanted to try to guess. I haven't given you any clues.)

Also, the article -- headlined Field Tests of Sex-Education Curriculum Catch Foes Unawares -- said the CRC was in the process of mailing "informational letters" to parents at the test schools. We've seen some of those letters, and, well, I guess you'd call it "information" in the formal Shannon-Weaver sense, but most of us would call it ... oh, never mind.

The CRC's strategy now, their only hope, is to talk people into opting their kids out of the tests. Yesterday's Post said that four students at Argyle had forgotten to bring in their permission slips, this morning's Baltimore Sun said "Three students did not participate in the classes -- one opted out and two forgot permission slips," quoting MCPS' Brian Edwards. So, it's hard to tell, but it sounds like at most one family opted their kid out of the class. Pretty typical.

And remember, these families got letters last week from the CRC, trying to get them to protest by holding their kids out of the classes. Maybe one sucker, that's it. Or maybe that person had their own reasons for keeping a kid out of the class, and nothing to do with rightwing radicals telling lies.

What would it mean, if they were successful in reducing the numbers of students in the classes? The letters they send are full of misinformation. So -- what can you conclude if parents keep their children out of the classes, based on misrepresentations? Let's say a bunch of parents do it -- is that evidence that the curriculum has a problem? Does that mean an anti-gay alternative class needs to be developed? Or does it just mean that people tend to believe what they're told, and gave the benefit of the doubt to the group that sent them the scary letter?

I don't see how it could work. Say half the kids opted out. What would the school district do? Nothing different, as far as I can see. You might say they should prepare an alternative class, rather than send kids to the library with a notebook, but really -- the absences would be interpreted as a reaction to the letters. You can't expect that many kids to opt out every year, because there won't be lying letters every year. So it doesn't even mean that. It would just mean less data from the pilot test.

It's a sorry situation. I don't know if the meeting they were going to have tonight is cancelled, or if they will still get a room in Gaithersburg or Germantown or wherever it was to mope about this latest loss and figure out ways to blame everybody else. I don't know if they will still send out their letters, even though it's too late to undermine the testing.

Montgomery County parents, on their own, are fine with this curriculum. Yesterday's Post article quoted MCPS' Brian Edwards as saying that hardly any parents attended any of the schools' informational meetings.

The fact is, Montgomery County has one of the best school districts in the country, and parents trust them.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Washington Post: Good Overview of What Has Happened

Daniel De Vise has a good story in tomorrow morning's Washington Post about the ruling.
Maryland Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick yesterday denied a request from three citizen groups to halt field tests of new sex-education lessons about sexual orientation in six Montgomery County schools and said she was convinced of "the value of going forward" with the pilot program.

With Grasmick's endorsement, there is nothing to stop the field tests from proceeding. Opponents of the new curriculum, approved in January by the county Board of Education, say they look forward to the decision of the Maryland State Board of Education on whether the curriculum should be overturned. Sex-Ed Pilot Is Endorsed By Grasmick

That's supposed to happen in July. There will be a whole lot of thumb-twiddling between now and then.
Montgomery school officials launched field tests this week of new lessons that, for the first time, have health teachers introduce the concept of sexual orientation in the eighth and 10th grades. Parents must give written permission for their children to attend the sessions.

That the field tests are happening -- the first began Tuesday at Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring -- represents a symbolic victory for the county school board. An earlier version of the curriculum, approved by the school board, was halted by a federal judge in spring 2005, days before field tests were to begin.

And remember, the CRC was so happy that they would get a new curriculum. For some reason, they thought the new one would be more conservative, more anti-gay, than the other one.

But it turns out, they hate the new one even more than they hated the last one.
Critics of the 2005 curriculum oppose the rewritten lessons, too. In a petition filed last month with the state Department of Education, the groups allege the lessons compromise and injure the "sincere religious moral beliefs regarding homosexual conduct" held by some Montgomery families, whose faith dictates that homosexuality is a sin.

The Montgomery school board countered that the critics "simply disagree with the curriculum and want it rewritten to include their views on sexual orientation."

Yes, the MCPS lawyers pretty much disregarded the noise and got right to the point in their response.

I'll skip a little. Look, walk out to the driveway, pick up the paper, flip to the second section, and read it yourself if you want to know what I'm leaving out. Go to 7/11 and give the guy a half a buck, whatever.
Brian Edwards, spokesman for the county school system, said it was "clear from reviewing her ruling that she believes these lessons are valuable and ought to be tested in the classroom."

He said the pilot program has yielded early evidence that the new lessons are acceptable to most parents. A series of informational meetings drew no more than 12 parents at any school, he said.

Michelle Turner, spokeswoman for lead opposition group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, was pleased that Grasmick found merit in each side's argument.

"For Grasmick to say that we are equally matched -- it's a coin toss at this point," she said.

OK, I'll accept that: it's a coin toss.

You called tails.

Heads win.

The Superintendent's Order

A couple of people sent me copies of the state Superintendent's order, explaining why she decided not to stop the pilot testing. I have put a copy HERE. Enjoy. [Update: this and other curriculum documents can be found HERE]

Look, let me apologize up front, I don't know this legal stuff, so anything I say about this can be wrong. I have been wrong before about it, so really, don't trust me as a legal expert. I stay out of court as much as I can, as a rule of thumb.

It seems to me that this was very carefully worded. The bottom line is that the two sides are just about equal, and tie goes to the school district:
In my view, the Appellants’ arguments on the merits are equally matched by the local board’s response to those arguments. Therefore, harm and the public interest are the deciding factors in whether to grant or deny the request for stay. I have concluded that, because participation in these classes is entirely voluntary, the harm to those students that the Appellants want to protect is virtually non-existent.

That's the bottom line. A lot of stuff happens in the lines above that, though. And as you'll see ... there's no tie.

It starts with a section called "Order," where State Superintendent Grasmick explains what her role and responsibilities are, and notes that four factors decide whether she will grant a stay:
  • the likelihood of success on the merits;
  • the likelihood of irreparable harm to the plaintiff if the stay is denied
  • the likelihood of harm to the defendant if the stay is granted;and
  • the public interest.

Then, a little background, some paragraphs about the curriculum, supplied by the county -- one-paragraph summaries of the three sets of classes.

Then, the "Legal Analysis." She starts with "Likelihood of success on the merits," and calls it a tie. Or, as I usually say to my buddies, the "likelihood of success on the merits, at best, rests in equipoise."

Then she considers the "balance of harm." There's some good stuff in this section -- she is definitely soft-pedaling her opinion here, maybe even being nice. Will the field testing cause irreparable harm to students? First point:
The Appellants assert that field testing the two 90 minute lessons in the 8th and 10th grades in the selected schools will cause “real harm to students” ... I point out, however, that only those students with written parental permission can attend the classes. Therefore, by not submitting the written permission, parents with objection to the content of the lesson can protect their children from harm.

That one was easy.

Then she catches them distorting the truth about the "opt-out."
Appellants contend, however, that their children will be “constrained to the library for six weeks of independent study ...[d]uring that six weeks period, they have no teacher, no class, and are fully isolated... ["] The local board has clarified that such is not the case.

(I am editing out the legal stuff. Oh, also, I put some quotation marks in brackets that seemed like they belonged there.)

OK, they accept the school district's explanation about that, that makes sense.

Then, a quick zinger -- remember, it was going to be terrible for these poor kids to be seen by their peers going to the library when everybody else was learning about sex:
Second, I do not view opting in/opting out as a “traumatic” matter. I view this more like choosing or not choosing to take a two-lesson mini-course in a controversial subject. Some students and parents will decide to do so; some will not.

That's easy, too -- trauma, no.

Then Dr. Grasmick addresses this issue:
The Appellants assert that the field test will inflict a constitutional injury on the students which “all courts irreparable harm.”

She reviews in a few sentences the 2005 ruling (she says 2004), and concludes:
There have been significant changes in the curriculum since then. It is my view that the merits of the First Amendment arguments here are balanced equally on each side. I do not have a degree of certainty that constitutional injury causing irreparable harm is present here.

Yeah, actually it's a whole new curriculum.

But this next part is what I loved the most, my very favorite part, where she quotes Judge Williams from last year's lawsuit:
The Appellants also argue that “[c]hildren’s lives are at stake here” because students will not be taught the dangers of anal intercourse... The local board responds that such information is contained in other parts of the health curriculum... Appellants disagree... On this issue of harm I am guided by the words of the federal court in its decision in 2004:
“Moreover, the harm that Plaintiffs posit is highly speculative and attenuated. It would require more than a few logical leaps for this Court to find that MPCS students presented with the Revised Curriculum would suddenly choose to engage in promiscuous, unprotected, homosexual sex— adhering to the Revised Curriculum’s message of gay tolerance but somehow overlooking the even more forceful message of safe sex within the confines of a monogamous relationship. This is not the type of “actual and imminent” harm sufficient to demonstrate irreparable injury for the purposes of a temporary restraining order.”

Yes, in other words, this was bull-oney then and it's even more bull-oney now that they changed it. Those "more than a few logical leaps" the CRC wanted the reader to take are just a little too acrobatic.

Then she addresses the whining complaint that the curriculum will label bigots like the CRC as "homophobic." She notes that the school district "adamantly disagrees," and notes that the county asserts that:
.. the two lessons are designed to promote tolerance and respect for everyone, and that “The Revised Lessons expressly instruct that ‘just as stereotyping others based on sexuality is not acceptable behavior, stereotyping others based on personal beliefs is also not acceptable’.”

The Superintendent's response to this is perfect:
That issue is just one of the types of issues that field testing can address. Indeed, that is one purpose of a field test – to identify problems and to decide how to fix them. While I fully understand that the Appellants believe strongly that certain students will be harmed, I cannot conclude that they will be irreparably harmed by this field test in which they may decline to attend the 90 minutes of lessons at the 8th grade level and the 125 minutes of lessons at the 10th grade level.

Yes, exactly, you think there's a problem? Let's test it.

Then, bless her heart, she makes an argument that I have made many times, though she is much more eloquent than me:
I have balanced the possible harm to students against the harm to the local board if this field test were stayed and have concluded that staying this field test would be detrimental to the students, teachers and parents of the Montgomery County Public School System. The lessons at issue here have been under development since May of 2005. Four medical consultants worked with the MCPS staff in developing the lessons. A 15 member Community Advisory Committee reviewed the lessons and provided feedback. They met nine times, for many hours, to review and revise the lessons... It is important for all of them to know whether a sufficient number of parents will provide permission for student participation; whether the lessons actually work in the classroom; whether the lessons are balanced and fair; how students react to the content of the lessons; and, ultimately, based on the field test results, whether to move forward toward full implementation.

These classes aren't just something the school district pulled out of a bag. A lot of good people worked hard on this. It doesn't add up, when you learn that these good people -- doctors, educators, citizens -- have conspired to insert covert politically correct code talk between the lines of the curriculum. And so she's saying, let's give it a try.

Here's the part the CRC likes, I'll betcha:
In the meantime, this appeal can move forward for a State Board decision on the merits prior to the start of the new school year. To that end, I encourage the State Board to expedite this matter, if necessary, to assure that a final decision is rendered no later than the July 2007 Board meeting

I don't know how these things work, but the Superintendent is saying the school board will still look it over and decide.

On the issue of Public Interest, the state Superintendent went one-eighty from the CRC. She doesn't join them in their pro-bullying position:
One of serious problems in our schools today is bullying and harassment. Indeed, in 2005 the General Assembly directed school systems to report all incidents of harassment against students based on race, native origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or disability. Md. Educ. Code Ann § 7-424. The lessons at issue here address harassment problems as they relate to sexual orientation and gender identity. They emphasize tolerance and acceptance. They address ways to deal with bullying and harassment and how to prevent it. I believe it is in the public interest to field test those lessons to determine whether to move forward with full implementation of a curriculum designed, in part, to reduce bullying and harassment.

She thinks that sounds good. So do I.

Then she gets to the Bottom Line, quoted above, and ends with this:
The Appellants argue that the content of the lessons is inherently harmful because it violates their First Amendment rights. I have read the lessons, and I am not convinced of the certainty of such violations. I am convinced, however, of the value of going forward with the field test. The educational community in Montgomery County has invested hundreds of hours in developing the lessons and needs to know whether or not they work in the classroom. A field test in three middle schools and three high schools appears to me to be a reasonable way to find out. Finally, I believe it is in the public interest to field test these lessons because they focus, in part, on the significant problems of bullying and harassment.

Therefore, for these reasons and for the reasons stated herein, the Request for Stay is Denied.

So what does the CRC have? Equipoise. When I read this, and I see Dr. Grasmick say that the one side balances out the other, I'm hearing that schoolteacher at the end of recess who says, "Ooh, you were all so good and special, I just don't know who is the winner! But I have to pick one, so, OK, Joey, it's you." --After Joey just won every race.

In fact, she didn't see the CRC's point on anything.

Now, I understand the CRC has hope. It Just Might Turn Out that the board shares the CRC's revulsion for gay people, wants children to learn more about anal sex, and feels that tolerance, respect, and empathy are immoral. It Just Might Be that they'll feel a sense of kinship with the fine characters of the CRC and the other groups, and will see the importance of their struggle to ensure that differences of sexual orientation and gender identity are treated with contempt.

I guess we'll find out in July.

Breaking News: Stay Denied

I just learned that the state superintendent of schools has just decided NOT to stop pilot testing of the new sex-ed curricula. This has been confirmed with both the county and state boards.

And so we move forward with pilot testing.

Big Meeting: Friday, March 9 -- Don't Miss It

This battle over sex education is something bigger than Montgomery County -- in fact, we ought to remember we're the lucky ones. We live in a place where most people are pretty cool about accepting differences between people, our county is more educated than most, more diverse than most -- more progressive than most. We fight this battle knowing that we have the support of our community, at least. We know people here want inclusive, comprehensive sex education for our public school students.

Some places aren't like that. Some places people demand conformity, there's a lot of pressure on you to obey the law of the herd. Shelby Knox came from one of those places: Lubbock, Texas, home of Buddy Holly, immortalized by Mac Davis in the line, "Happiness was Lubbock Texas in my rear view mirror."

Shelby was raised as a conservative Christian Texas girl, and ended up starting a Gay-Straight Alliance at her high school and pushing for comprehensive sex-ed. I won't spoil it for you, let's just say it was an uphill fight, and in the end there's not much you can really do about some things. This is all filmed in a documentary, The Education of Shelby Knox, which played at the Sundance film festival in 2005.

The news is that Shelby herself will be in Ashburn, Virginia, tomorrow, Friday, March 9th. This press release from Mainstream Loudon:
Mainstream Loudoun reported today that youth activist Shelby Knox is coming to Loudoun on Friday, March 9th to participate in a program that will address the need for a responsible, fact-based approach to sex education in our community. The program — “What’s So Scary about Information? An Evening with Shelby Knox” — will start at 7:15 p.m. and will take place in the Building 1 Auditorium on George Washington University’s Ashburn campus. The program is free and open to the public. Sponsors include Mainstream Loudoun, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Loudoun, and St. James United Church of Christ.

The March 9th program will include a screening of a documentary that was made about Shelby’s campaign. This documentary — “The Education of Shelby Knox” — has won numerous awards, including “Best Cinematography” from the Sundance Film Festival in 2005. PBS has also featured the film as part of its Point of View series. After the screening, Shelby Knox and Jennifer Aulwes, State Policy Coordinator for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, will conduct a panel discussion with the audience.

Loudon County isn't that far away from us, geographically or demographically. It's just a quick spin around the Beltway.

But they're starting to worry down there that their sex-ed curriculum could fall to the betterthanyous. As they note in their press release:
Mainstream Loudoun has previously reported concerns about an “abstinence-only” trend in Loudoun County Public Schools. This year alone, three local high schools — Loudoun County, Dominion, and Douglass — have invited comedian and abstinence-only proponent Keith Deltano to conduct assemblies for the entire student body. Mainstream Loudoun members attended two of the assemblies as well as a parent workshop and reported that Mr. Deltano used scare tactics and shock value, withheld and misrepresented medical information, and promoted stereotypes about boys and girls.

“Our children are walking out of these assemblies unprepared and misinformed,” said Ms. Hawes. “There are better ways to teach the benefits of abstinence and better ways to protect our children. We hope that a conversation with Shelby Knox can help point us in the right direction.”

Hey, there's nothing else going on, right?


Post Front Page Today

You probably already know, the Washington Post had a front-page story today about the sex-ed pilot test starting. Hey, I see where they mentioned the huge protest outside the school:
Three CRC leaders with protest signs stood outside Argyle Middle at dismissal yesterday. One sign read, "Health before politics."

Wonder if they'll try that again today?

... Health before politics?

It was the CRC who made this a political issue in the first place, starting when they were

There were several things in this story that should resonate. Like, listen to the kid who actually took the class:
Luke Stocky, 14, found the class relatively dull.

"Our teacher, Mrs. Becker, she read straight from the manual," he said. "It was very strict. Like, you couldn't ask questions."

It's just another health class. Dull.

The "questions" thing, by the way, is something that I hope will be changing in the future. I just explained it to a reporter this way: teachers aren't experts on this sexual orientation stuff, they learned about it the same way we did, on the playground. So if kids start asking them questions, there's no way they'll know the answers off the top of their heads. So you can't really let them ad-lib at this point, when the material is new.

On the other hand, I hate to keep bringing it up, but the citizens advisory committee did recommend a couple of pages of statements by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, that answered a lot of questions, and there were references to web sites that have a lot of relevant and unbiased information. That would be good stuff to have available in the classroom.

Unless you're one of those who thinks the mainstream medical and scientific community is biased. Then we can't help you.

So ... members of the committee, and those of us here at TTF as well, would like to see more authoritative information made available to teachers and students. The CRC opposes that, and I think MCPS is afraid it would be too controversial to include that information. But at least the teachers could answer some of those questions this kid is talking about.

Whatever, we'll keep an eye on the situation and we'll keep pushing to include it. I think the teachers deserve it.

Ooh, another nice quote.
"We're dealing with people in the school system here who want to do things on the sly," said Michelle Turner, vice president of the central opposition group, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC). "We expected an answer or reply from the state board a week and a half ago. We don't understand what the delay is. We haven't received an explanation."

Mmm hmmm, I guess we'll be hearing pretty soon.

As far as working "on the sly" -- they're schools. They don't post notices on the Internet every day about what they're going to teach that day in class. They've got work to do. Sorry if it makes it harder to organize your huge protests, they really weren't thinking of you when they planned these classes.

Why -- here's an intelligent guy saying something perfectly sensible:
"The process is moving forward just as it's supposed to," said Jim Kennedy, co-founder of supporters group "It shouldn't have been such a big fight in the first place."


Another little nugget, near the end:
Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the state board, said no ruling would be made before Friday. John Garza, CRC president, said he had heard members of the state school board were waiting for more information about what would happen to students who choose to opt out of the new lessons, and he took that as a hopeful sign.

See ... this is funny. In their appeal to the state, the CRC wrote this:
Students are forced to sit silently ... or to opt out of class (which under state law is required to be an elective, not mandatory class, thus such an opt out is not realistic and precludes graduation) (See Exhibit V Washington Examiner Article, Dena Levitz) ...

That phrase "precludes graduation" -- that sounds bad. I imagine the state board would want to know what's up with that.

You note that the reference is to an Examiner article. The article was wrong -- it was called Students required to take controversial sex-ed class, and the truth is, students are not required to take controversial sex-ed class. The article said they needed it to graduate, and the newspaper later issued a statement correcting themselves. You can take the alternative and still graduate.

Maybe that's what the state's looking at, assuming that there is any element of truth to what Garza told this reporter.

If the state's concerned about the issue of what lessons students are given when they opt out, well, they give them something. If you want the school district to make a special-and-equal curriculum for the kids whose parents won't sign the permission form ... I don't think so. This article noted that four students out of more than sixty were not allowed to participate in the class, "because they had forgotten to return required permission forms." That can happen, you can't take the class unless your parents agree to it.

Word is that typically about one percent of students opt out of the classes. They don't need a whole separate curriculum, let them sit for a few days in the library working on something else. Despite what the CRC says, it won't hurt them or their reputations to spend a few days in the library.

The state should rule pretty soon, it sounds like. The CRC has already missed their chance to disrupt the pilot testing by filing a suit at the last minute, like they did last year. Of course, they have said they'll sue, and there's no reason to expect them not to.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

CRC Throngs Protest New Sex-Ed Classes

Argyle Middle School began its pilot testing today, and in a show of force the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum protested outside the school buildings.

School officials finally came out and chased CRC President John Garza and two unidentified women away from the school grounds this afternoon, after the school had closed for the day. They carried signs that said "Don't label my child," and "No unisex bathrooms."

The first statement, "Don't label my child," refers to a lie that the CRC often tells. An example is found in this grammatically liberated sentence from the appeal they filed with the state school board: "Also, encouraging children to self label their sexual identity with out parental input or support and then teach them that said identity is innate and lifelong violates sound educational policy."

Of course there is nothing in the curriculum that suggests any child should label him- or herself. But it is true that sometimes when you say something over and over again, people end up believing it. At least there is a chance of confusing people who haven't read the curriculum (it's on the top left side of our Resources page).

The second rallying-cry, "No unisex bathrooms," is even more powerful. A passerby reading the sign might think that someone has proposed unisex bathrooms, and some parents might be upset to think that boys and girls would be using the same facilities.

But what if it meant that a transgender student had a private place to relieve herself, that no one else used? Would that be such a problem?

Or, what about this -- what if it was a transgender student in a story? A fictional character.

In fact, what if this was a fictional character in a story in a textbook which was not going to be used in this school?

That vignette is in a resource in the tenth-grade curriculum; Argyle is a middle school, it goes up through eighth grade.

What kind of person trespasses on school property in single-digit wind-chill to hold up a sign protesting the behavior of a character in a vignette in a textbook that is not going to be used in that school?

(En-you-tee, maybe?)

[Update: I should mention that our own CillyGoose witnessed this event, took a couple of pictures, and introduced herself to the crowd.]

Pilot Testing Started Today: Half Finished at Argyle

The schools were cool about it, they didn't exactly announce their plans ahead of time, but we have just learned that one day of pilot testing has already been completed.

Argyle Middle School, on Bel Pre Road in Silver Spring, had their first day of the new sex-ed class today.

We were told that 66 students in two classes took Day One of the 8th-grade classes on sexual variations, which are really about respect for differences.

Numbers were not yet available on how many of them actually turned gay during the class period.

Look, to my mind this is great ... no, it's not great, it's just fine. This is how the schools do their business. They develop a curriculum, they test it. This shouldn't have been a big deal at all.

Some small number of noisemakers will whine about it, but it's really just another day in school for these kids.

Monday, March 05, 2007

It Will Be Best to Sit Behind the Fan

From this morning's Washington Times:
Maryland school officials say they will respond as early as this week to a request to stop Montgomery County from beginning sex-education classes this month that include lessons on homosexuality and the use of condoms.

"I expect a ruling by the end of [the] week," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Board of Education.
State ruling awaited on sex-ed challenge

According to the schedule released by the school district, pilot testing should start: later than March 30, 2007, but no earlier than three full weeks after parent notification and no earlier than two full weeks after parent meeting.

I don't know exactly (I think I remember Tish pasting the meeting schedule into the comments here, but I can't find it anywhere), but it appears that the school district expected the schools to notify parents between February 5th and 14th. Three weeks after that would be ... about now. The parent meetings should have happened after February 14th. So, again, that means testing could begin next week.

The CRC has said to the papers and to the school board that they will sue again. I don't think anybody thinks there's a chance that the state board will overrule the county on a curriculum that was developed with fastidious attention to process and accuracy, adopted unanimously by the county board. So, as I was quoted on the Blade's blog saying: "It’s two swings at the piñata." If they don't win with the state school board, they can take it to court.

The appeal to the state board was just a dress rehearsal. Now -- well, once the state comes back with their decision -- the CRC can take their whining to a judge. I can just see the exhibits, the curriculum documents with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explainin' what each one was, to be used as evidence against the school district, the arrows pointing right between the lines, with tidy labels (sans-serif, very serious-looking) saying "covert politically correct code talk."

My impression is that the dress rehearsal backfired.

See, last time the CRC, with backing from an out-of-state religious-right law firm, filed their suit just days before the pilot testing was to start, asking for nothing more than a little ol' temporary restraining order. They didn't have to prove much of a case, just show that there might be reason to believe that someone could suffer damages if the testing went forward. The schools barely got to present a case -- the judge had his opinion written before he knew what they were going to say. Really, he literally could not have written that whole thing in the couple of hours between when the school district made its arguments and when he delivered it.

That was clever, a drive-by lawsuit. Once they got the ten-day restraining order, there was no time left in the semester for the testing to happen.

Last time the MCPS attorneys were fishing for an argument. It didn't appear that they knew, for instance, that the religious stuff CRC was talking about was not really in the curriculum. The judge was confused, and the school district lawyers didn't straighten him out, which was their job.

This time: it's different. Unless CRC is going to try a whole different set of arguments, they have given the school district's lawyers a chance to study. They forced them to write up a response to this bogus appeal to the state, which meant they had to look everything up, ask around, reason through the arguments, look for any evidence one way or the other.

Now they know their stuff, and the MCPS legal team shows every sign of bustin' open a big, fat can of smackdown when they get into court this time.

I imagine something is about to hit a fan pretty soon. Of course nobody knows what the suers are planning, not that it matters. The covert politically correct code talk was all written in invisible ink -- when they get to court, nobody else will be able to see it -- even if they have the super-secret double-covert decoder ring.

Place Your Bets

Which newspaper will be the first to provide free publicity for the CRC's next event?

... Will Need to Get Over Their Issues ...

I wrote something for the blog over the weekend, and decided to sit on it.

I had written about Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a "faggot" at the Conservative Political Action Conference, with most of the Republican presidential hopefuls in the audience. I had seen the video, heard the people cheering, clapping. Saw that the news media chose to ignore the incident, saw that the Republican hopefuls' statements were tepid to weak.

I compared her outburst to Tourette's syndrome, and put it in a context of people who say anything, the more disgusting and inappropriate the better, just because they can. I wrote about Alberto Gonzales saying he'd never fire anybody for political reasons; the Vice President saying that the war in Iraq is a "remarkable achievement;" the administration saying that the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq is "basically a good news story." It's like they'll say anything, and those uncritical people who follow them will believe it, and figure out ways to justify whatever counterfactual thing was said.

I was not seeing this tendency as a good sign for America's future. You might say.

But over the weekend, a kind of dawning may have taken place.

Gay conservative (whatever "conservative" means any more) blogger Andrew Sullivan commented on Friday:
"I was going to talk about John Edwards but these days, you have to go into rehab if you say the word 'faggot,'" - Ann Coulter, cheered to the rafters at CPAC today. No wonder she and Mickey Kaus get along so well.

When you see her in such a context, you realize that she truly represents the heart and soul of contemporary conservative activism, especially among the young. The standing ovation for Romney was nothing like the eruption of enthusiasm that greeted her. One young conservative male told her he was single and asked for her cell-phone number. Other young Republicans were almost overwhelmed in her presence. "When are you going to get your own show?" one asked, tremulously. Then there's her insistence on Christianism as the central message for Republicans: "There are more people voting on Christian moral values than on tax cuts." This from an unmarried woman who wears dresses that are close to bikinis on the morning news. Hey, it's Democrats who are Godless. Coulter In Her Element

Sullivan is in a unique position to comment.

This is what it's all about these days for the GOP, this is what they've got. Ann Coulter.

"Captain Ed" Morrissey at Captain's Quarters normally goose-steps right along with the rest of the radical right, but this time he had this to say:
At some point, Republicans will need to get over their issues with homosexuality. Regardless of whether one believes it to be a choice or a hardwired response, it has little impact on anyone but the gay or lesbian person. We can argue that homosexuality doesn't require legal protection, but not when we have our front-line activists referring to them as "faggots" or worse. That indicates a disturbing level of animosity rather than a true desire to allow people the same rights and protections regardless of their lifestyles.

He updated that post with some explanation, basically trying to draw a distinction between "having the right" to say something, and saying something that is right. And then the hard part: trying to explain to his readers why he has the freedom of speech to criticize somebody like Coulter -- a tough dilemma for those authoritarian sheep, who consider disloyalty a far worse sin than lying (which many do not consider objectionable at all, if it advances the cause). You can feel the pain as he tries to explain why it might be necessary for conservative Tourettes patients like Ann Coulter to take their meds.
Bottom line: Coulter's remark was indefensible. She had the right to say it, but that doesn't make her right for saying it, and she deserves every bit of criticism she's getting.

The Republican Party built up a shaky base, it appears to me, by combining two disparate groups of Americans: rich capitalists and wannabes, and religious fanatics. The good thing about the fanatics, from the GOP's point of view, was that there were a lot of them, and they were ... how shall I say this? ... not very quick. Easy to manipulate. You could tell them you were going to do something, and then never do it, and after awhile they'd forget you'd said it. Just roll your eyes heavenward occasionally and they'll eat out of your hand.

This amalgam of big money and betterthanyou religiosity was good for getting some greedy people elected, but it didn't turn out to be very good for running a country. And now they're not in very good shape. Of course it's not my place to advise them, but ... I'd say they need another plan.

The cynical ones figured out how to exploit the gullible ones by manipulating their fear and anger. They have taught people to hate the Muslims, hate the gays, hate the liberals, to hate X as much as Y, Massachusetts as much as France, and now they have to live with that.

But it seems to me that even the most rabid conservatives, the ones who are somewhat serious about it, are ready to say: At some point, Republicans will need to get over their issues with homosexuality. And that means the smart ones are going to have to pull away from the others. An Ann Coulter has no place in civilized politics. Never mind the rest of them, the Fox guys and the rightwing radio guys. They're good for shepherding the gullible, but it runs out even the most committed conservatives can be embarrassed by the ignorance.

Our problem, here in Montgomery County, is that diverse people are trying to work out a way to educate our children, while a bunch of Tourettes patients sit at the table yelling random obscenities. Is it possible that the conservatives may realize that this is not working for them? I mean, really, is it possible? I think citizens who are more liberal in their views and those who are more conservative can probably find a lot of common ground, we all want to see our children grow up happy and safe and smart; but this twitchy background noise makes it impossible for anybody to talk about it.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Junk Mail from CRC

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have been mailing stuff to the homes of students at the schools where pilot testing of the new sex-ed curriculum will be taking place.

First of all, they sent the wrong letters to people -- the Sherwood High School families got mail addressed to BCC, and BCC families got Sherwood letters. Oh, and some at BCC got Watkins Mills letters.

Second, you might remember that last year the PTA passed a formal resolution against them for using the PTA directories for addresses. Looks like they used them again. It sounds like the PTA won't bother going through the motions of passing a resolution against them again. The CRC are disreputable, lacking conscience, unable to work within the system -- but we knew that already.

I'm not going to post the whole thing, but here's the guts of it:
Here are some specific examples of areas that we find especially disturbing:
  • The curriculum, entitled "Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality," promotes cross-dressers, homosexuals, transgenders, bisexuals, the intersexed, and other non-heterosexuals. It teaches children about "coming out" as gay, "gender identity" for men who think they're women and vice-versa, and "homophobia" as a label for anyone who disagrees.
  • In one lesson, a boy begins to wear dresses to school, calls himself "Portia," and wants to be known as a girl. The principal gives him a key to a private restroom and a new student ID identifying him as a girl. Although transgenderism is considered a gender identity disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, the lesson plan falls to recommend counseling. Instead, it implies that our school should create new unisex bathrooms for cross-dressing students. The lesson also refers to "Portia" as a 'she' when the law and biology classify "her" as a "he." This gender bending forces students to acknowledge 'Portia' as a female when he is not and creates gender confusion for our children,
  • Actively encourages 10th graders to self-identify their sexuality early on, even though their sexual orientation is still in flux at this age and isn't fixed until early adulthood. In fact, delaying self-labeling is beneficial. Studies show teen suicide rates declining precipitously by 20% for each year a young person delays homosexual or bisexual labeling.
  • Normalizes transgender and sex change operations, "While cross-dressers change their clothes, transsexuals sometimes change their body by means of hormone therapy or sexual reassignment surgery to match how they feel." No mention that no major U.S. medical facility will perform sex change operations.
  • Teaches sexual orientation is "innate," period. Even though there is no research to support this. In fact, there is no DNA or other physical medical rest that could be used to determine a person's sexual orientation.
  • Makes students memorize gay bullying statistics provided by a gay advocacy group which conducted an online survey. In fact, after sending a Freedom of Information letter to the Board, CRC found that MC doesn't even collect data on any such harassment
  • Minimizes life threatening risks in its condom video. Over 270 medical doctors in Montgomery County petitioned the Board asking it to include this simple statement of the Surgeon General of the U.S. in the lesson on condom use: "Condoms provide some protection, but anal intercourse is simply too dangerous to practice." The Board refused the petition in its effort not to stigmatize homosexual sex.
  • Teaches children that homosexuality is normal, natural, unchangeable, and morally correct, even thought that viewpoint may be against a student's personally held religious or moral belief. No discussion of or dissent from this view will be allowed. In fact, those not holding that opinion are characterized as "homophobic," "prejudiced." or "uneducated." The lesson gives "laughing at a gay joke" as an example of 'homophobia'
  • Requires reading undocumented "personal" stories which will introduce transgender and bisexual - enclosed. After reading them students will break up into groups and analyze the stories. Students are required to give the stories moral approval under the guise of 'tolerance', and notice no heterosexual, or ex-gay stories are included.

Do I need to go through these?

Same as the last post, if you suspect that any of these statements have any truth to them at all, please click HERE to see the actual curriculum documents.

OK, I know I've gone through this a gazillion times, but in case you're new to the blog, here we go again ... I'll be brief.
  • The curriculum doesn't promote anything.
  • Yes, it will teach about homosexuality and gender identity -- so what?
  • "Homophobia" is clearly defined, and there are statements making it clear that there's nothing wrong with somebody holding an opinion about something.
  • There is nothing wrong with addressing a person the way they wish to be addressed. If they feel like a girl, dress like a girl, act like a girl ... it's simple decency to call them a girl, where's the harm in that? I mean, it doesn't happen very often, it's not that hard to accommodate them. Get over it.
  • Nothing encourages anybody to "self-identify." They used to say that about the last curriculum, too, and it wasn't in that one, either. Pure lies. It just simply is not in there.
  • Nothing "normalizes" anything. The classes will tell students that some people change their bodies. That's a fact.. It does not try to recommend a U.S. medical facility where you can get this done, or discuss whether it's easy or hard to find one.
  • I've never heard that no medical center will do sexual reassignment surgery. You know, you probably can't get a tooth extracted at a major medical center, either. So what? I did find a very helpful page on the web at Children's Hospital, called "If You Are Concerned About Your Child's Gender Behaviors: A Parent guide." They don't rule out sexual reassignment surgery, if it turns out the person needs it. For some reason, the CRC thinks it's wrong to mention gay and transgender people without insulting them.
  • Innateness: see my last several posts. Of course sexual orientation is innate, everybody knows that. Some things don't need to be "proven scientifically." Some people are attracted to the same sex, by nature.
  • MCPS doesn't collect data on bullying because the regulations just changed and the bureaucracy to support the reporting is not in place yet. They know that. What -- are they saying gay kids don't get bullied?
  • The busy doctors at Shady Grove Hospital were tricked into signing a petition without knowing what it was or what it would be used for. CRC shouldn't be bragging about that, they should be ashamed of themselves.
  • The "simple statement of the Surgeon General of the U.S." was made by a retired Surgeon General nearly twenty years ago. It's bad medical advice and it's irrelevant to these lessons -- information on sexually transmitted diseases is found, oddly enough, in the sexually transmitted sections of the health curriculum.
  • "Teaches children that ..." look, I just posted something about this, earlier today. These are lies. Look at the curriculum, this stuff isn't in there.
  • So, you read some vignettes about what it's like to be gay, or transgender, or whatever. What would be the problem with that?
  • No heterosexual or "ex-gay" stories ... because 1.the whole world is a heterosexual story, and 2.nobody could find an "ex-gay" to write one. C'mon, of course there's no "ex-gay" story, how dumb do you think we are?
  • "Required to give moral approval" -- of course students are not required to make a moral judgment at all about any of this. Ridiculous lies.

Look, pilot testing is going to start pretty soon. These guys, as usual, are doing everything they can think of to disrupt it, because ... that's what they do. They couldn't get their stupid ideas into the school curriculum, even when they had people on the citizens advisory committee, and now they're going to try to interfere with lies and bull-oney.

This curriculum was initially written by a team of pediatricians. They picked out the Holt resource (the CRC is sending a page of that with the letter). They liked it because it's accurate. Some people are gay. Check. Some people are transgender. Check. Here's what that's like. Check.

We expect the radicals to turn up the volume as pilot testing approaches. For some reason, this just scares them to death, the idea that Montgomery County students are going to learn some facts about sexual variation.

Note to Journalists

It seems that in the past two years we have seen nearly a hundred percent turnover in newspaper reporters covering the MCPS sex-ed controversy. There are new, mostly young, reporters at nearly all of the papers these days. So I thought it might be useful to put out a message to them.

These are some crazy times we live in. America is polarized like never before. Where there used to be a spectrum of conservatives and liberals, with some small number of people at the extremes, the political climate today has people on the far ends yelling at each other across a chasm.

I'm not pointing at any of you locally, but we must understand that the media have had an important role in creating this situation.

A kind of sensible-sounding philosophy of "fair and balanced" reporting evolved into a view of journalism as a kind of uncritical stenography -- taking quotes, writing them down, and reproducing them in the morning paper, basically taking dictation from the newsmakers. The sad effect of this was that the public had no way to distinguish the truth of a story.

We the people can't go to every event and observe it, we rely on you to tell us what has happened. And because you attend these events, you are in a position to evaluate them. At least, when a statement is made by a public figure, you are in the position to report the statement and the facts that it refers to; if these coincide, good, everybody's happy. If it turns out that the statement does not coincide with the truth, then it is not "partisan" to report the two side by side, and let the reader compare and choose how to interpret the statement.

You know where we stand on the sex-ed controversy. We're not asking you to take our side. Oh, we'll say something if you overemphasize the whiners, but that's just because we're in this fight to win it. We don't have to be nice, and in fact -- we don't have to be impartial, as you do.

OK, let me get to the point.

At this moment, the CRC and its little group of allies are churning out the noise. They have filed an appeal with the state, they're bombarding the email lists, they've brought in the American Family Association to get a lot of phone calls made, and now they're sending letters to the families of students at the pilot-test schools, trying to get them to keep their kids out of the testing. Oh, and of course, they are going to sue when the state refuses the stay they requested.

Here's what I ask you to do, journalists. Follow the links at the top of this page to our Resources page. At the top left, you will see the words New Curricula. Click there. A window will open up, containing all the lessons and supporting documents for the new sex education curriculum that is being pilot-tested, probably later this month.

Read it.

(If you'd rather read the whole thing in one big, 9-or-10 megabyte pdf file, you can access the same material at the CRC's web site, too.)

(Actually, I just looked over there -- I'd heard they had it, but I don't see it. It's probably there somewhere, in case you don't trust our copy.)

Then when you're talking to the CRC, and they're saying "the new curriculum tells students that homosexuality is healthy and normal," ask them to show you where it says that.

When they say, "The new curriculum encourages children to declare their sexual orientation at an early age," ask them where it says that.

When they say, "The new curriculum only allows one view of homosexuality, that it is perfectly moral," ask them where it says that.

When they say, "Students will not be allowed to express their views," ask them where it says that.

When they say, "The new curriculum discriminates against people who believe homosexuality is a sin," ask them where it says that.

When they say, "The new curriculum teaches students that anyone who disagrees with the school district is homophobic," ask them where it says that.

In other words, I'm just asking you to be responsible, as reporters, and familiarize yourselves with the actual curriculum. It is irresponsible to print a sentence like, "XXX from the CRC says 'The new curriculum insists that homosexuality is natural and normal,'" without noting that there is no such passage in the curriculum itself. The person's statement might be your news story, but it is responsible journalism to report the facts alongside the quote.

Remember -- your readers, the public, don't have enough hours in the day to look at every document related to every story in the newspaper. You're doing them a service if you report the facts they need to know, in order to understand the statements that are being made.

I'm just asking the journalists of the Washington, DC, area to inform themselves, as the schools approach their pilot tests and this controversy heats up again, and I'm asking you to be responsible in reporting the facts -- what happened, as well as what somebody said happened.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The County Responds to the State

Yesterday MCPS filed a brief in response to the CRC/PFOX/FLN request for a stay of the new curriculum. That sounds boring, I know, but it's actually a pretty good piece of writing that, in my opinion, hits the nail on the head.

To review: on February 7th, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and two other groups filed a complaint with the Maryland state school board, trying to get the state Superintendent to overrule the county's decision to implement a new sex-ed curriculum. The Superintendent, as I understand it, had five days to issue a stay without approval by the state school board, and didn't. But the state board can still stop the curriculum, and they gave the county a deadline to get a response back to them, so they can consider whether the complaint warrants interference by the state in county affairs. I would think that would be pretty serious, in fact ... that would be serious, if the state decided the county was incompetent to do its job.

You can read the appeal document at the CRC's web site, whatever. We broke it down in a post HERE. That post is too long, sometimes we put stuff here, not for the reading enjoyment of it necessarily, but just to get it on the record and out in the open.

So the county had to respond to the complaints in the appeal, and yesterday they did.

[Update: the MCPS legal brief is HERE.]

I was a little surprised at how directly and bluntly MCPS countered the complaint -- the gloves are off. The gist of this response is summarized in this paragraph from Page One:
When stripped of incendiary language and unsupported assertions presented as "fact," it is evident that Appellants simply disagree with the curriculum and want it rewritten to include their views on sexual orientation. They base their objection primarily on religious grounds and on a fundamentally flawed view of the applicable law. Appellants do not raise any valid legal basis for concluding that the Revised Lessons violate either federal or state law.

OK, that's good.

You might remember that the school district's response to last year's CRC/PFOX lawsuit was underwhelming. The district seemed to be taken completely by surprise, and had no comeback for the cleverly obfuscating complaint filed by Liberty Counsel. I talked to people who were in the courtroom, who described a kind of cold wave of realization that swept through observers as they realized that MCPS was actually going to lose, even though there was essentially no substance to the complaint. It simply met no resistance.

So I am glad to see the school district jumping down their throats this time.

This document goes through numerous gripes listed in the CRC appeal, and then reveals what is actually in the curriculum. A lot of the complaints were about "covert politically correct code talk" (the CRC's term), where the suers tried to read between the lines, whining about stuff that literally didn't exist. Some of the complaint was based on word-twisting. Some of it was ... it just didn't matter. Some facts are taught in class -- that's a complaint?

After addressing particular grievances, the school district's brief goes through the legal arguments. It has sections on:
  • First Amendment - Free Speech
  • First Amendment - Free Exercise
  • First Amendment - Establishment Clause
  • Equal Protection
  • Article 36 of the Maryland Bill of Rights, and
  • COMAR,

addressing in turn the Constitutional and regulatory issues implied or expressed by the suers' appeal.

Here's the Conclusion section:
Appellants are not likely to succeed on the merits of their Appeal. The Appellants simply disagree with the contents of the Revised Lessons and want them re-written to include their views on sexual orientation. The fact that Appellants believe that the revised lessons should contain additional information is not a reason to stay field testing of the revised lessons.

It is important to note that CRC and PFOX were actively involved in review of the revised lessons and video as members of the CAC [citizens advisory committee]. Representatives of both groups offered numerous changes to the lessons which were rejected by the CAC as not being appropriate for the curriculum.

The lessons provide definitions and information; they permit discussion; they encourage students to think; and, hopefully, they promote tolerance and respect for individuals regardless of their sexual orientation. There is no reason, factually or legally, to stay these revised lessons.

OK, I'm happy with that. The school district did a great job developing the new curriculum. A team of pediatricians started it off, MCPS staff added their pedagogical touch to it, a gang of lawyers went over it with a fine-tooth comb, a committee of citizens reviewed it and suggested changes, the Superintendent recommended it and the school board accepted it unanimously.

Then the usual whiners did the usual whining.

There is nothing here for the state to overturn.

Donald E. Wildmon Aims National Heat at Local Issue

The American Family Association (F-B-B) has started a big drive to get people to send letters to the Maryland state Board of Education and call them to stop the new Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum.

Wow, this newsletter has a big picture of an American flag, and Donald E. Wildmon's picture. V-e-e-e-r-r-r-r-y-y- impressive.

It starts out like this:
February 27, 2007

Please help us get this information into the hands of as many people as possible by forwarding it to your entire email list of family and friends.

Help Stop New Sex-ed Health Curriculum In Montgomery County

URGENT: Contact Maryland State School Officials Today!

Dear Xxxxx [recipient's first name],

If Maryland state school officials do not quickly issue a "Stay" on Montgomery County's controversial sex ed curriculum, the following schools will go forward with the lessons in March.
Middle Schools: Argyle, Julius West and Westland
High Schools: Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Sherwood and Watkins Mill
The lessons called "Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality" teach 8th and 10th graders that homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and cross-dressing are normal and morally correct lifestyles. No other viewpoint is allowed. Teachers must say that "sexual orientation is innate" without acknowledging that the scientific community has not found a "gay gene." The lessons teach that “gender identity” is simply what a person feels inside rather than one's anatomy. Anyone who has a negative view of these lifestyles is homophobic and prejudice ...

... and so on.

This is, of course, a nearly word-for-word reproduction of boilerplate CRC lies. Do I need to comment on it? Naw. Same old.

Scroll down to the action items:
Take Action

We need your help to flood state school officials with phone calls and emails to urge them to issue a "STAY" on the new MCPS health lessons. Even if you have already sent an email or made a phone call, please do it again.

Call the Maryland Board of Education at xxx-xxx-xxxx or email them at Your message can be as simple as “Please Stop the Montgomery County Board of Education’s New Sex-ed Health Curriculum”.
Email the Maryland State Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick at
Sign the Online Petition by clicking here and encourage your friends and neighbors to sign.

If you think our efforts are worthy, would you please support us with a small gift? Thank you for caring enough to get involved.


Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman
American Family Association
P.S. Please forward this e-mail message to your family and friends!

(I'm not going to publicize their information for them.)

As I understand it, these things really work, these Family Blah Blah groups are good at getting a lot of emails sent. So the state school board and superintendent's office can expect a bunch of letters and phone calls from people who have never seen the curriculum and don't know what's in it, but who are outraged by what they've been told was included.

It's funny that a huge national organization like this would want to interfere in our little ol' county's business, but ... I guess they've got the right.

The people who live here are getting what they want, our county has very carefully developed a curriculum that is informative, fair, and complete, but some outsiders like Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman, American Family Association, just can't stand that.

I can't imagine that the state school board will be moved by this astroturf campaign.

A ... Different ... Letter in the Gazette

This letter was published in The Gazette yesterday, presenting a new reason to oppose the new curriculum:
As a practicing Catholic, I want to point out a less obvious reason for opposing the county school board’s new efforts to teach about homosexuality in its health education curriculum.

Perhaps most people by now have heard how these changes fail to inform students of the increased health risks, how they take the exclusive viewpoint that homosexuality is natural and a norm behavior, and how they classify anyone with any negative view of homosexuality (i.e. traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs) as a homophobe and prejudiced. All true, but there is even more at stake here.

If my traditional moral views are made to look evil in society at large, how will our homosexual brethren ever hear the true word of a loving but almighty God, which says ‘‘repent and be saved”? How will they hear the message that they can be radically wrong about this, but that God still radically loves them and wants nothing more than for them to return to Him?

The school system is really saying that I don’t have the right to view homosexuals in an immoral light. This is not true. I can (and do) fully accept homosexuals and have good will toward them while still believing active homosexuality to be immoral. True tolerance does not mean having to agree, it means accepting and respecting each other even when we don’t agree. True brotherly love means caring as much about another’s salvation as my own.

Susan Jamison, Poolesville
Tolerance means accepting, respecting each other

Remember, one of the documents submitted in support of the CRC's appeal to the state was written by Susan Jamison.

In this letter, after listing the usual lies CRC talking points she poses a real dilemma: being seen as a bigot impairs her ability to proselytize.

I can't think of any way to help her with that. Well, she could try being nice.

I suppose it's my duty to point out the line The school system is really saying that I don’t have the right to view homosexuals in an immoral light, so I can tell you that the school system does nothing of the sort. How could it? Susan Jamison doesn't attend school. And even if she did, MCPS isn't going to say anything one way or the other about the morality of homosexuality. It exists, here's what it is, the test is on Friday.

[Update: I have received email from Susan Jamison stating that she is not a Nazi and does not know neo-Nazi leader Bill White, and that he is not her "benefactor." I was misinformed by his online article about her (HERE) (Google cache HERE if that doesn't load) where he speaks for her organization and says that he will be working with them. I have removed statements indicating that she was associated with him, as requested.]