Monday, April 30, 2007

Four Years Since Victory

Four years ago Our Leader announced our great victory in Iraq.

In the immortal words of Chris Mattews on that day:
What's the importance of the president's amazing display of leadership tonight?
What do you make of the actual visual that people will see on TV and probably, as you know, as well as I, will remember a lot longer than words spoken tonight? And that's the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously. What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a supersonic plane and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin like an actual jet pilot?
Do you think this role, and I want to talk politically [...], the president deserves everything he's doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief? That [...] if you're going to run against him, you'd better be ready to take [that] away from him.
Here's a president who's really nonverbal. He's like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign?

Matthews on another show:
We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like [former President Bill] Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits. We don't want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian Federation President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.

Ah, those were the days, weren't they?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Another Neat Little Story

The theocrats are packing up and shutting down.
FORT LAUDERDALE - The Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, founded more than a decade ago to propagate a largely antiabortion, antigay message, has closed its doors.

The offshoot of Coral Ridge Ministries laid off an undisclosed number of workers Thursday at its headquarters here and at an office in Washington in what was called a "streamlining."

"We're getting back to our core competency, the production of media," said Brian Fisher, executive vice president at Coral Ridge, which was founded by the Rev. D. James Kennedy. "Our heart and soul is the teaching of Dr. Kennedy, and getting it to more people than those who come to church."

Kennedy has been absent from the public view since suffering a heart attack in December. He founded the Center for Reclaiming America in 1996. It has launched e-mail and petition drives for its causes and hosts an annual conference that has attracted conservatives such as Ann Coulter.

Fisher wouldn't say how many people were laid off but said Coral Ridge Ministries, which produces TV and radio programs and publishes books, still has more than 120 employees. Conservative Center Closes Up Shop

A Fact, Not Extremism, He Says

Sometimes I find there is just nothing to say. Go read this article in Utah County, Utah's Daily Herald (this is the county where Provo is):
Utah County Republicans ended their convention on Saturday by debating Satan's influence on illegal immigrants.

The group was unable to take official action because not enough members stuck around long enough to vote, despite the pleadings of party officials. The convention was held at Canyon View Junior High School.

Don Larsen, chairman of legislative District 65 for the Utah County Republican Party, had submitted a resolution warning that Satan's minions want to eliminate national borders and do away with sovereignty.

In a speech at the convention, Larsen told those gathered that illegal immigrants "hate American people" and "are determined to destroy this country, and there is nothing they won't do."

Illegal aliens are in control of the media, and working in tandem with Democrats, are trying to "destroy Christian America" and replace it with "a godless new world order -- and that is not extremism, that is fact," Larsen said.

At the end of his speech, Larsen began to cry, saying illegal immigrants were trying to bring about the destruction of the U.S. "by self invasion."

Republican officials then allowed speakers to defend and refute the resolution. One speaker, who was identified as "Joe," said illegal immigrants were Marxist and under the influence of the devil. Another, who declined to give her name to the Daily Herald, said illegal immigrants should not be allowed because "they are not going to become Republicans and stop flying the flag upside down. ... If they want to be Americans, they should learn to speak English and fly their flag like we do." Convention ends with Satan and immigrants

There's a ton more. Go read it, and think about how nice things are here in our little county.

Coffee Talk

Does it seem like we have the most beautiful Sunday mornings of any place? Summer, winter, spring, fall, we have days like this one, where the sun is clear and warm, the woods are vibrant with vegetation, birds, squirrels, people playing all up and down the streets. I'm in Rockville, and it's just the most comfortable place in the world. Some jazz saxophone is playing on the radio, my cup's about half full, the dog is watching the cat but not chasing her at the moment.

Last night I went out to see one of my favorite local bands. The James Mabry Band played at the Outta The Way Cafe, over in Derwood. I think the only time they play together is at this place, once a month or so. The first time I heard them, I told my wife, "This is what I like about music."

Their repertoire is a pretty straightforward list of blues standards. "Driving Wheel," "Got My Mojo Working," stuff like that. James does Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Matchbox" with a kind of laid-back rocking feel, not like Carl Perkins but not like the original, either. "Crossroads" with a New-Orleans type of syncopation, very nice.

Typically a song starts with Mabry on the guitar. Having been there, I appreciate this. He doesn't tell the other guys what song it is, what key they're in, he doesn't have to get their attention to count it off. He just starts playing. They might come in after twelve bars, or maybe they've done it before and have a way to pick it up. Whatever, there's lots of dynamics, lots of surprises, this is heads-up ball.

The really outstanding thing here is the rhythm section James has put together. The bass player, Jay Turner, is rock-solid, his attack is hard and I have never heard a doubtful note out of him. I'd say he's what holds this whole thing together.

Then, if you're gonna say that, you'd have to say drummer Timm Biery is the force that blows the whole thing apart. I mean that in a good way: he's explosive. This guy is unbelievable, and this little band, playing a neighborhood bar, lets him go to places that drummers don't usually get to go. And I mean go, man. They'll be bopping along on some roadhouse shuffle and all of a sudden you'll hear this swelling underneath, and Biery will fly out of the groove like some insane polyrhythmic ghost that leaves the earth, beats against the ceiling for a while, sticks its head out the window and makes faces at passing traffic, then drops gracefully back, right on the beat. He's riding along back there, tapping on the shells of his drums underhanded (he uses a traditional NARD grip), ringing the bells of the cymbals and damping them, rolling with one beater on the bass drum. This is a level of percussion performance that you just don't see.

Last night I counted through a drum solo, just to see if they were staying with the meter or coming back in on cues, and it turns out that the meter survives intact. But a normal person can't count it, there are layered measures and successions of syncopated misdirections that seem to abandon the underlying count but they never really do: it is technically perfect.

This only works because the bass player is so dependable. I mean, come on, this isn't some timbale player in a salsa orchestra, this is four guys up there. The bass player holds down the fort until the drummer returns.

Last night there were a couple of times that the guitar player, James, was throwing some polyrhythmic licks back at the drummer, and they played some figures together out of time. I haven't heard them try this before, but it was fun. Really, not too many guys are going to try to walk out on the little limbs that Timm goes onto.

James himself, the band leader, is a big affable guy who seems to know everything about music. This isn't just a deal where he's playing all the songs he knows; this is a selection of pieces with a particular place in American musical history, and he bridges styles in a way that makes it palatable to the upcounty crowd, locals and musicians alike. Last night he had four guitars on the stage, which is, to my mind, overkill for a gig like this, but he really is a good, innovative player who surprises me lots of times.

Most of the time their fourth player is Linwood Taylor, a respected blues player with a following of his own. He and James love to get out there on something crazy like "Third Stone From the Sun" or "Hey Joe" -- I think they're both Hendrix nuts, but generally Linwood is an excellent blues guitarist and singer. He wasn't there last night. Last night they had a keyboardist filling in.

Some nights you'll see different guys from the area sit in, maybe a Nighthawk or two, or one of James' students, and that's fun.

See, for me, music shouldn't be something you memorize and reproduce onstage flawlessly every time. Especially blues, but I'd say this about country music, rock, jazz, bluegrass ... live popular music. You want the music to talk to you, you don't want to hear a recitation of phrases but something in the moment. There is a worldwide community of musicians who are "good enough," who can play together -- Bela Fleck is, to my mind, the ultimate exemplar of this, traveling around the planet jamming with people in their local style. Musicianship transcends nationality and genre, these are just players and they know how to play, and it doesn't matter where you're from or what song this is. They know how to listen, and they can anticipate where the music is going.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Great Idea: Jail the Overly Imaginative

I don't know if you have teenagers, but I do. And, look, part of what they're going through at this age is learning to be well-behaved little robots, doing what they're told, thinking what they're supposed to think, standing in line, wearing socks that match and not chewing gum. And guess what -- some of them rebel at that. Exhibit Number One: rock-n-roll.

Exhibit Number Two: Grand Theft Auto.

OK, you see what I'm saying.

In Illinois, this English teacher gave the class an assignment to "write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing." So this 18-year-old named Allen wrote:
Blood, sex and booze. Drugs, drugs, drugs are fun. Stab, stab, stab, stab, stab, s...t...a...b...puke. So I had this dream last night where I went into a building, pulled out two P90s and started shooting everyone, then had sex with the dead bodies. Well, not really, but it would be funny if I did.

and more stuff like that.

Just about guaranteed to upset grownups.


So here's how CNN puts it:
CARY, Illinois (AP) -- A high school senior was arrested after writing that "it would be funny" to dream about opening fire in a building and having sex with the dead victims, authorities said.

Another passage in the essay advised his teacher at Cary-Grove High School: "don't be surprised on inspiring the first CG shooting," according to a criminal complaint filed this week.

Allen Lee, 18, faces two disorderly conduct charges over the creative-writing assignment, which he was given on Monday in English class at the northern Illinois school. Student arrested for essay's imaginary violence


When I was about eighteen I guess, I was taking German in college. I didn't do too well with memorizing all the grammatical rules and everything, but I had somehow learned to speak the language. So one time we had a test. I couldn't remember, y'know, the genitive form of some pronouns and stuff, so after I messed up the front of the test I turned it over and wrote a story in German. Just to show I could, really. But ... it wasn't as bizarre as this kid's, but let's say I had a morbid an active imagination at that age.

A few days later the professor asked me to come to his office, and we had a talk. He didn't have me arrested, I mean, c'mon, this was the Nixon years, people still had some shred of sanity. But he did want to make sure I had accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my Saviour.

I hadn't, but he seemed satisfied that I wasn't a mother-stabber or a father-raper, and that was that. Just a few uncomfortable minutes with a boring professor.

Another thing, my kid was given an assignment something like this at an MCPS high school. I should mention, blushing, that he is a very talented writer, and enjoys writing poetry and other things. But, uh, let's say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Some of the stuff he writes is a little over the edge. Well, whatever, that seems normal to me, all you're doing is writing some words, right? So he lets his imagination wander out into the hinterlands, it's OK, he's a great kid with lots of friends. A little lazy, kind of stubborn, but everybody sees he's a cool kid.

He turned in this poem, and that was that. Well, he wasn't exactly on his English teacher's good side, but ... another family tradition.

A couple of weeks later, he got called out of class by security. They walked him down the hall to a special room and locked him in it while a uniformed guard waited outside. They called his mom, who had to come to the school and get him. Sign some papers. Talk with a counselor.

This incident more or less ruined writing for him for a long time.

And the point was?

If they were concerned about his mental health or the chance he would commit an act of violence, they wouldn't have waited two weeks.

The point was, of course, that some administrators had had some meeting where they presented "warning signs" of something-or-other and a checklist for teachers to complete whenever they observed one of those warning signs. And some steps for administration to follow when a teacher submitted a checklist.

I'm sure they were very proud of themselves, when they sat down afterwards and saw that all the checkboxes had been checked, and they saw how safe everybody was.

Unfortunately, they took one half-disenchanted, somewhat rebellious kid and drove him even farther away. Instead of showing him in a positive way how an adult behaves, instead of talking to him about what he'd written and how it could be interpreted by others, instead of encouraging him to channel his creativity into something everyone could appreciate, they taught him that he's frightening and bizarre.

This kid in Illinois:
The teenager's father, Albert Lee, has defended his son as a straight-A student who was just following instructions and contends the school overreacted. But he has also said he understands that the situation arose in the week after a Virginia Tech student gunned down 32 people before committing suicide.

Defense attorney Dane Loizzo said Allen Lee has never been disciplined in school and signed Marine enlistment papers last week.

A conviction could bring up to 30 days in jail and a maximum $1,500 fine.

Hey, but who cares? We live in a terrifying world. You can't be scared enough these days. And anyway, at least all the checkboxes got checked.

Deputy Secretary of State to Spend More Time With His Family

You've been seeing the news about Jeane Palfrey, the "DC Madam," right? She's the one who was going to sell her little black book to pay for legal expenses. For thirteen years she has run a "high-end adult fantasy firm" in the city, running it like a legitimate business, which she considered it to be. She paid taxes, kept good books, maintained all the paperwork any other business would have.

There are said to be tens of thousands of names in that little black book. She has forty-six pounds of "detailed and itemized phone records." Some people in town are ... uncomfortable about this.

This ABC News story quotes her as saying:
"I'm sure as heck not going to be going to federal prison for one day, let alone, four to eight years, because I'm shy about bringing in the deputy secretary of whatever," Palfrey told ABC News. Senior Official Linked to Escort Service Resigns

And ... there goes the Deputy Secretary of State, Randall L. Tobias. Reported directly to Condoleezza.

Deputy Secretary of State Randall L. Tobias submitted his resignation Friday, one day after confirming to ABC News that he had been a customer of a Washington, D.C. escort service whose owner has been charged by federal prosecutors with running a prostitution operation.

Tobias, 65, director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), had previously served as the ambassador for the President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief.

This madam depicts the fight as David versus Goliath, the IRS against a little local businessperson. Seems they came in one day last October and seized all her assets, all her bank accounts and everything, even though she had retired from the business in August.

This story says:
As the Bush administration's so-called "AIDS czar," Tobias was criticized for emphasizing faithfulness and abstinence over condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS.

You see what this is, right?

This is one of those guys who said condoms don't work. He was the Bush administration's guy in charge of AIDS policy.

When he was appointed Global AIDS Coordinator in 2003, Doug Ireland wrote in LA Weekly:
"To administer the $15-billion plan, Bush cynically named someone who has no experience with AIDS and none with diseases in developing countries: Randall L. Tobias, the former chairman of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. Tobias was chosen to ensure that U.S. moneys are given to those who purchase AIDS-fighting meds at top dollar from Big Pharma, instead of giving them to countries so they can themselves buy generic AIDS drugs at the lowest possible prices — meaning the money won’t go nearly as far as it could."

Under different circumstances, I would say this abstinence-promoting family-values guy's sudden resignation was "ironic." This administration, though, seems to have a way of finding the very worst person for every job -- can all this have happened by accident? The logical next step for this guy is the Medal of Freedom.
On Thursday, Tobias told ABC News he had several times called the "Pamela Martin and Associates" escort service "to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage." Tobias, who is married, said there had been "no sex," and that recently he had been using another service "with Central Americans" to provide massages.

How stupid do these people think we are?

Here you got your big-time pro-abstinence guy going out with call girls, and saying he never ... oh, never mind.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Senators Sign Letter

I usually don't get into political material here, but this is, I think, very unusual. The Washington establishment is having a hard time realizing that things have changed, but I think the occasional reminder may turn them around.

Last week, you remember, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a comment that the war in Iraq has been lost. Whatever you think about maintaining morale, you have to see that we don't even know who we're fighting against, things are not getting better, it's a civil war, and victory is simply undefined over there. So, whether you agree with him or not, it seems to me that it was a a point of view that is not completely out to lunch.

Yesterday David Broder wrote a column, published in the Washington Post, that suggested Reid had gone over the edge, that he was not a good leader for the Democrats in the Senate, and they should replace him as their majority leader.

Today the Post has a letter signed by every single member of the entire Senate Democratic caucus:
Friday, April 27, 2007; A22

We, the members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, contest the attack on Sen. Harry Reid's leadership by David S. Broder in his April 26 column, "The Democrats' Gonzales."

In contrast to Mr. Broder's insinuations, we believe Mr. Reid is an extraordinary leader who has effectively guided the new Democratic majority through these first few months with skill and aplomb.

The Democratic caucus is diverse, and Mr. Reid has worked tirelessly to make sure that the views of each member are heard and represented. No one ideology dominates the caucus, so that a consensus can be reached and unity achieved. It is hard to imagine a better model for leadership.

Because Mr. Reid has the support of members of the caucus, is a good listener and has an amazing ability to synthesize views and bring people together, the Senate has accomplished a great deal during his time as majority leader. Armed with his years of service in the Senate and with a mastery of procedure, Mr. Reid has led the chamber with a slim majority and a minority that is, at times, determined to stop legislation with which it disagrees.

In the first 100 days alone, we made great strides under his leadership on long-neglected legislation concerning stem cell research, the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations and the minimum wage, to name three. In addition, under Mr. Reid's leadership, we have fulfilled our obligation, left uncompleted by last year's Republican-led Senate, to fund the federal government. He has accomplished all of this in the face of stiff opposition and with a commitment to giving ideas full opportunity for debate.

Finally, in this age of scripted politicians speaking only to their base or claiming that they "don't recall" anything, the fact that Mr. Reid speaks his mind should be applauded, not derided. His brand of straight talk is honest, comes from the heart and speaks directly to the people.


This letter was signed by Sen. Reid's 50 colleagues in the caucus.

Sen. Reid's Fine Leadership


This might be a good time to update and comment on where we're at with the sex-ed controversy. First, some background information for those who haven't been following the story.

The Montgomery County, Maryland, Public School district developed some new classes for 8th and 10th grade Health. There are two new classes in 8th grade on sexual orientation, well, mainly they're about bullying and harassment, and two new classes in 10th grade that discuss sexual orientation a little more, plus a 10th grade class in condom use: five 45-minute classes in all. The sexual orientation classes in both grades focus on respect, empathy, and tolerance. Sexual orientation is presented in terms of the way a person feels emotionally, romantically, and sexually, and there is no discussion of any sexual behaviors. The condom class has a video where they put a condom on a wooden peg.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum formed in 2004 to recall the county school board after they had unanimously voted to adopt a new sex-ed curriculum, and we formed the same week to support the board's decision. To shorten the story considerably, the CRC complained and threw tantrums and eventually, in May of 2005, they were able to get a judge to issue a 10-day temporary restraining order based on some background materials for the classes that mentioned religion. That restraining ordermeant that classes could not be tested, and forced the school district to negotiate with the CRC, with the result being that the district threw out that curriculum and started developing a new one.

As would be expected, the "new new" curriculum was, shall we say, less conservative than the "old new" one. Though it comprised fewer changes to the existing curriculum, it did contain some materials that encouraged students to think about what it might be like to be a gay or transgender student, as part of the focus on empathy. The CRC and their allies say this is a step backward, and have tried their hardest to interrupt development and implementation of the new classes.

The school district has moved forward admirably in the face of the background noise generated by the CRC, who believe that talking objectively about sexual orientation is a violation of their religious beliefs, and that the classes will lead students to become gay. The curriculum was developed by a team of pediatricians who ensured that it was scientifically and medically accurate, then reviewed by a team of lawyers to make sure there was no legal vulnerability. The district then submitted the new class materials to review and evaluation by a citizens advisory committee, who proposed many changes. Most of these were accepted by district staff and included in the final materials. In March of this year -- last month, the new classes were pilot-tested in six schools without incident, other than CRC disruptions. There were no reports of students becoming gay after the classes; most comments suggested the classes were a little bit boring.

The CRC has two more cards to play out before this is finished. First, they have petitioned the state school board to hold a hearing and overturn the county's decision to implement the new courses. Note that the materials were accepted unanimously by the county school board and did not receive any objections from families or students when they were tested.

It is not clear when or if the state board will actually hold a hearing, or what it will be if they do hold it. The CRC is hoping for a show trial with dozens of witnesses and depositions, but the board could just review written materials and issue a decision. Or, according to an article in The Examiner (which we have not found to be a reliable source), the school board could decide not to decide, postpone any hearing until after the classes are fully implemented, and let the matter drop in that way.

If the CRC loses at the state school board level, they still have one more card to play. Their president and attorney, John Garza, has said that they will sue again in federal court on constitutional grounds. They want to argue that it is their religious right to prevent other people's children from learning about homosexuality. Note that parents actually have to ask the school, in writing, to allow their child to attend these classes; otherwise the student will work on an independent study project in the library. Nobody is forced or required to attend. Regardless, these guys think the classes violate their constitutional right to practice their religion, and want to take that to court.

We are confident that the school district's legal team has studied the class content closely, and there is no constitutional violation here. In several cases, we have thought that the school district was unnecessarily cautious in what they chose to include. Some important materials have been omitted out of fear, we'd have to surmise, that they would create an opening for a legal attack. Overcautious or just cautious, they are being very careful about what is included.

Let's just put it clearly: science is not a religion. The schools are permitted to teach state-of-the-art scientific knowledge in the classroom without fear that they are violating somebody's First Amendment rights. The CRC has tried to argue that this is "secular humanism," which they say is a religion, but ... first of all, it isn't secular humanism -- it's secular, but it isn't humanism, and second, secular humanism isn't a religion. So that's easy.

The current situation is that we are waiting to see what the state school board decides. The state superintendent already sided with MCPS in allowing the pilot testing to go forward, and we do not expect the state Board of Education to take the extraordinary measure of overruling the county, which would amount to a statement that they think one of the highest-rated school districts in the country is incompetent to develop its own class materials.

The question is whether the CRC can find funding to mount one last legal assault in the courtroom. The way things have been going nationally and locally, there is little public support for their nutty ravings, actually, they have close to zero support in our county. If they can get one of the Family Blah Blah groups to back them, or get some of Falwell's lawyers to come up here like they did last time, perhaps they can get this into court. They won't win if the case is tried on its merits, but they may find another technicality to use to get their way over the will of the people -- you can't rule it out.

And so now we wait. Now and then there is a flurry of documents, letters to the editor, or whatever, but at this point the public is comfortable with the classes, and the school district is planning to move forward.

This blog has been the focus of a lot of the discussion on this topic, and will continue to be. There are lots of developments parallel to ours at the national level, for instance the ruling about late-term abortion, the report on the failure of abstinence-only education, revelations about how the religious right has infiltrated the federal government, etc. The culture wars are in a new phase, as the people realize where this was all headed and try to pull the country out of a moral nose-dive. So we'll keep talking about all these things, plus of course you'll want to know what I'm listening to on the radio on Sunday morning, right? Anyway, I might not stay so close to the immediate topic while we wait.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

America Lightens Up A Little

Our mission here at Teach the Facts is to promote a comprehensive, accurate, and fair sex-ed curriculum in the public schools of Montgomery County, Maryland. Really, we formed to counter the attempted takeover of the school district by a small group of fanatics who wanted to recall the entire school board over, basically, nothing. These extremists were saying all kinds of nutty things because the school district was going to introduce some material into the classroom about sexual orientation, and they were organizing for a major attack on our community.

They needed to be neutralized. We did that, with the support of the people of our little suburban county.

Well, it's not over yet, but after two and a half years of this the school board is intact and the new curriculum is moving ahead under full sail.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have tried to tag us as a gay rights group, because one of the things we expect is fair and objective treatment of sexual orientation in the school health classes. One of their legal documents even referred to us as a "sexual advocacy" group, which, hey baby, whaddya say? OK, it's silly. Most of our members are ordinary people who were alarmed by the dangerous kind of corrupt, hypocritical foolishness going on in the Bush administration and in the Red parts of America and didn't want to see it here in our Blue county.

So, OK, now we're a gay rights group. Whatever, I'm OK with that.

In that light, it is rather pleasurable to see a news story like this one in the Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- After more than a decade of government inaction, gay-rights proponents in Congress have gotten several major bills moving through the Democratic-controlled chambers, a development that could result in the greatest expansion of federal protections for gays and lesbians in US history.

This week, a key House committee is set to approve a measure that would in some cases make hate crimes based on a victim's sexual orientation a federal offense, as are crimes committed on the basis of the race or religion of the victim.

Also, a bipartisan group of House members introduced a bill yesterday that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Both pieces of legislation are on track for congressional approval in the coming months.

If Congress passes the bills, gay-rights advocates say, it reflects a dramatic change in the national political landscape. In the dozen years Republicans controlled Congress, GOP lawmakers paid little attention to the gay-rights agenda and kept some gay-friendly legislation from even being considered.

"For millions of Americans, it's a very important affirmation of their lives, and we're not talking about [just] symbolism here," said Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat who is openly gay. "We are talking about real problems that exist in people's lives." Gay-rights proposals gain in Congress

I know the Family Blah Blah groups are going ape ... uh, crazy over this turn of events. Their love-donations depend on people fearing The Attack of the Gay People a-a-a-r-r-g-g-g-h-h-h-h!!! But as America gets to know its gay neighbors, that gets harder and harder to pull off.

More fun news:
The congressional move to expand gay rights is particularly striking given recent history: Besides halting nearly all gay-rights bills while they were in power, the GOP has tried in recent years to get a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

A similar dynamic has played out in the states.

Between 2004 and 2006, voters in 22 states banned gay marriage. But this year, the momentum has shifted : New Hampshire is ready to pass a civil unions bill, and states, including New York and Connecticut, are considering whether to join Massachusetts and draft bills to legally recognize gay marriage.

"The shift has just been seismic in the last year," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group. Of the federal legislation, he added, "It's incredibly important for our community, and it's a profound advance in terms of civil rights legislation."

I think people just got tired of trying to be hard-shelled, tired of being afraid of everybody who's different from them. I mean, sheesh, you can't be like that all the time.

There's some stuff here about the resistance to these changes, then the story continues:
[Frank] pointed out that, despite the GOP's efforts to portray Democratic lawmakers as pushing a "radical gay agenda," Democrats cruised to victory in last fall's congressional elections.

"We have had an affirmation in the last election that the American people support fairness," he said.

Both gay-rights measures enjoy bipartisan support.

Representative Deborah Pryce -- an Ohio Republican who is co sponsoring the workplace protection bill prohibiting the firing or demotion of employees because of their sexual orientation -- said the measure simply ensures that gays, lesbians, and transgendered people are treated the same as everyone else.

"It is by no means revolutionary in its philosophy," Pryce said. "This is the American way."

A Republican said that, and I totally agree with it. The American Way is to live and let live. It's good to see people starting to lighten up a little bit.

Oh, Really?

The first lady, interviewed by Anne Curry on the Today Show, talking about the war in Iraq:
NBC: Do you know the American people are suffering?

Laura Bush: Oh, I know that very much. And believe me, no one suffers more than their president and I do when we watch this.

CRC Tries to Respond to Fishback

On March 29, David Fishback, writing on PFLAG letterhead, sent a letter to the Maryland State Board of Education, CC'ing relevant attorneys and officials. The entire package was seventeen pages long, and I won't copy the whole thing. Here are some pertinent quotes:
Here, MCPS has chosen to discuss sexual orientation in 8th and 10th Grade Health Education classes. The curriculum revisions are important for the well-being of students and reflect the viewpoints of every mainstream medical and mental health professional association. It is certainly proper for any school system to base its health curriculum on information from, and conclusions of, mainstream medical and mental health professional associations. Indeed, MCPS relied upon experts presented by the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in developing and reviewing its curriculum standards.

The letter then quotes passages from policy statements by the AAP, as well as the American Psychological Association.

Fishback continues:
Finally, we note that while a principal gravaman of petitioners' appeal is their assertion that the so-called "ex-gay" viewpoint -- that homosexuality is a disorder that can and should be cured -- should be included in the health curriculum. This approach is directly contrary to the official position of the American Medical Association, which "opposes the use of 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy that is based on the a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation ... The AMA recognizes the dangers of the "ex-gay" approach. MCPS should not be forced to include in its health curriculum a "perspective" that has been rejected by the AMA.

The letter includes some attachments of documents from the AMA, and AAP, and the APA, backing up these statements.

This morning I was trolling around the Internet and discovered that the CRC's attorney has sent a letter to the state board, attempting to refute Fishback's letter.

John Garza's letter starts out with the usual pleasantries, and then gets down to the business of trying to make the other letter look bad:
Mr. Fishback’s letter, while purporting to provide helpful, additional “perspective” in this matter, actually distorts the issues and incorrectly states many important facts.

Mr. Fishback, as he has done in the past with respect to the discarded Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum, continues to provide twisted interpretations of information, misrepresents the facts of organizations and paints a selective picture of what he considers the truth.

I gotta say, I'm just glad I'm not sitting in Annapolis, getting these letters in the mail, one after the other.

Garza's letter is five pages long, and I'm not going to copy the whole thing here. Let me take a few passages.
  • Mr. Fishback’s “viewpoints” are not “mainstream”. They are at best controversial. Non-heterosexuality is a controversial topic; there is much scientific evidence to support other viewpoints, and Mr. Fishback ignores it.
  • Selective viewpoints relied upon by Mr. Fishback come from only a small group of professional members of the Gay and lesbian Committee within the American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics. Mr.Fishback fails to reveal that there are a large number of professionals within these same organizations that share another viewpoint based on scientific research on the topic of non-heterosexual individuals. For instance, a large number of these members share the views of The National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH) ( and the American College of Pediatricians. (, both of which are respected organizations. In this highly controversial issue, there is more than one scientific viewpoint. There is no scientific research that exclusively supports one view over another.
  • Mr. Fishback asserts that all information for the curriculum comes from mainstream medical and mental health professionals when in fact the curriculum contains information from a non-medical gay advocacy group, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). GLSEN is the same organization that provided a workshop for children in Massachusetts on actual techniques of gay sex. This organization is not main-stream.
  • The new curriculum reflects the sole viewpoint of a non-medical individual who was the only author of one section used in this 10th grade curriculum. The author’s statement that sexual orientation is “innate” is refuted by all medical, psychological and psychiatric associations, U S. Supreme Court, Director of the Human Genome Project at NIH and by the mere existence of former homosexuals. This author’s views are not main-stream.

OK. Bullet Number One, nothing to address here, mere assertions that "I'm right and he's wrong." Well, it should be noted that there is no scientific evidence supporting the CRC's viewpoint, and no scientific controversy, just a conflict between religious teachings and scientific facts.

Bullet Number Two: "small group of professional members..." The two groups that Garza cites, NARTH and ACP, are tiny groups with very lax admission standards, formed to politicize the issue of homosexuality. (The URL he gives,, is actually that of the American Center for Physics. You'll do better if you click HERE.) Members of those groups do not conduct and publish scientific research in this field. The AMA, both APA's (Psychiatric and Psychological), and the AAP are real mainstream organizations.

Further, the statements quoted are policies of the entire organization, not some small subgroup.

Bullet Number Three: information from GLSEN. Mr. Garza must realize that scientific researchers often rely on survey data from independent survey organizations, such as Gallup, Pew, smaller polling organizations, and groups like GLSEN.

I must also point out that the pairing of GLSEN with an incident in Massachusetts is misleading. Mr. Garza knows the facts in this matter, but can't pass up a chance to smear an organization whose efforts are aimed at eliminating discrimination and prejudice.

Bullet Number Four: the "non-medical individual." What can I say? Unbelievable. A chapter is used in tenth grade, taken from a textbook published by Holt Rhinehart and Winston, one of the largest and most reputable textbook publishers in the country. The author of the chapter is a woman from the Los Angeles school district with a PhD in education. It is incredible to think that the CRC would try to challenge a curriculum on the basis of the author of a textbook chapter! Especially when this person is perfectly well qualified to produce this work.

By the way, Mark Grayson, the Executive Editor over Secondary Health and Science at Holt, has volunteered to stand up for the textbook chapter and its author. Holt doesn't take these allegations lightly.

Further, there is no refutation of the statement that sexual orientation is innate. No one has refuted it. The Human Genome Project may sound very authoritative, but that mapping of the components of human DNA has nothing at all to do with innateness of anything, or say anything about sexual orientation. A former director of the Project, now known for his speeches trying to reconcile religion with science, is quoted in an article on the NARTH web site, where he does acknowledge that there is an apparent genetic predisposition for homosexuality; he has not conducted research on the topic, however. Further, the "mere existence of former homosexuals" is still a matter of doubt.

Garza then writes:
Mr. Fishback misrepresents a Clinical report written by a few pediatricians from the American Academy of Pediatrics as representing the exclusive views of the entire American Academy of Pediatrics. However on the front page of this report, a statement reads, “The guidance in this report does not indicate an exclusive course of treatment or serve as a standard of medical care. Variations, taking into account individual circumstances, may be appropriate.”

In fact, the statement, which you can read HERE, is a policy of the American Association of Pediatrics, published in their official journal, Pediatrics.

The quote that Garza has selected, from a footnote, is not relevant to his assertions at all: of course variations are appropriate. The paper does state, on its front page, not in a footnote: Not all pediatricians may feel able to provide the type of care described in this report. Any pediatrician who is unable to care for and counsel nonheterosexual youth should refer these patients to an appropriate colleague. The report is well worth reading, and seriously undermines the CRC's position, no matter how much cherry-picking they do.

Garza further writes:
Mr. Fishback mischaracterizes the American Medical Association statement on reparative therapy by suggesting the AMA completely condemns this treatment. Actually, the AMA statement only discourages reparative therapy for people experiencing same-sex attraction if treatment is coupled with an assertion that the person’s sexual orientation must be changed. The AMA statement does not address voluntary treatment of individuals wishing to change their unwanted sexual orientation.

The AMA's statement, which Fishback submitted to the school board, says the organization opposes the use of "reparative" or "conversion" therapy that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or is based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her sexual orientation.

Can you imagine somebody wanting to change their sexual orientation? Would you ask for that? No, neither would I, and there's a reason for that. I don't think there's anything wrong with my sexual orientation. I cannot imagine a person going in for therapy to change their sexual orientation without the a priori assumption that everybody should be heterosexual. It wouldn't make sense. This whole argument is based on assumptions that are nonsense. By this reasoning the AMA would only approve changing your sexual orientation for purely cosmetic reasons, like you'd get liposuction or a nose job -- "I'd be so much more attractive if I were straight." No, people don't want it for that reason, sorry, they want to change because they think there's something wrong with them.

There's a little bit more, criticizing Fishback's choice of words etc., but you get the gist. The letter winds down with personal criticism of David Fishback and complaints about the "old new" curriculum, which was thrown out in a legal settlement in 2005.

The hard part for me is imagining this from the state school board's perspective. You get these letters from one side and the other. These messages are not dropping into a vacuum, everybody has some knowledge and some opinion on these topics. On the other hand, most people have not studied these issues in any amount of detail -- who, outside of the handful of people involved in these controversies, has ever even heard of an "ex-gay" before?

Groups like CRC try to capitalize on the fact that most people don't know about these things. You hear the phrase "ex-gay," and you might be tempted to think that there are actually "ex-gay" people walking around, you wouldn't think to guess that this is a hoax dreamed up by some conservative organizations to support their anti-gay mission. You hear about a group like NARTH, with its impressive name with the word "research" in it, and you might think it's a for-real organization, not a handful of weirdos trying to make a living convincing gay people they can become straight. Or the American College of Pediatricians -- that sounds impressive, you can't tell by the name that it is purely a political organization dedicated to the promotion of conservative policies.

These school board members have seen a lot of stuff come through their boardroom. But I can't imagine what it's like getting these letters without knowing about all the twists and turns this controversy has taken, the lies and the misconstruals, the threats and insinuations. It's gotta be hard, figuring this out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sleepless Nights in Arkansas

Check out this story, carried here in the UK's Metro news site:
A father in Arkansas is looking for $20,000 in compensation for his teenage sons, after they found a book in a public library called The Whole Lesbian Sex Book.

According to Earl Adams, his sons – aged 14 and 16 – were 'greatly disturbed' by Felice Newman's classic lesbian sex manual, described by its publishers as 'the most comprehensive sex guide available for lesbians.'

And now he is demanding $10,000 from the city of Bentonville for each boy. The volume has already been withdrawn from the library shelves, and the director of the library has resigned – although she is adamant she left for personal reasons, not in response to the complaints. Man seeks compensation for lesbian trauma

If you follow the link, you will notice that there are several categories of topics at this British news site:
  • Home
  • News
  • Sports
  • MetroLife
  • Fame
  • Weird
  • Pictures
  • etc.

You will also notice that this one is put in the section titled "Weird." Other stories in this category are
  • 'Captain America' arrested over pants-burrito
  • Pregnant cow in £17,000 rampage
  • Drunk man rides horse into bank
  • Old guy wins bet by not dying
  • Camel sex destroying enormous fence
  • etc.

They may have the correct perspective on this mad dad in Arkansas.

More from the story:
Adams said that the book is 'patently offensive and lacks any artistic, literary or scientific value.'

Listen, can you imagine if books were removed from libraries on those grounds? Like, if libraries only stocked good books? One of my favorite authors is Nicholson Baker. His books are jam-packed with "artistic, literary, and scientific value." His ear for language reminds me of Wallace Stevens', his fascination with time rivals Faulkners', and his knack for disorienting, gut-twisting subject matter is uniquely his own. I am pretty sure, however, that this Bright Fellow in Arkansas would see Baker differently. So -- whose vote counts?

I say I should be the one who decides. Stalemate.
The publishers note that the critically-praised book covers 'G-spot stimulation, oral sex, vaginal fisting, dildos for fun and fashion, dynamics of butch/femme sex, anal sex, the pleasures of lube and latex, where to cop the best cybersex, and leather, piercings, tattoos, high heels, and other fetishes.'

Hey, isn't this what the CRC's Ruth Jacobs' said to the Montgomery County school board at public comments? Except they they took out the part about "swirlies."
According to Adams, his teenage boys' discovery of the book was the cause of 'many sleepless nights in our house.'

Somebody stop me, please. The humor is too close to the surface here. These teenage boys discover all this wild lesbian sex stuff and now ... they don't sleep?

You wonder -- what are they doing?

Somebody stop me.
The city's attorney, Camille Thompson, was sceptical that Adams legal complaint had any merit: 'There is not a valid legal concern here. In fact, (the request for money) made me question his motivation.'

Adams says the boys found the book while trying to locate books on military academies. That'll be that crazy Dewey Decimal Classification at fault, then.

The book was recommended by Library Journal as being suitable 'for all public libraries.' And you can also find The Whole Lesbian Sex Book on the internet, if you'd like to judge just how disturbing it must have been for teenage boys to find.

Well, naturally, I as a concerned reader would like judge just how disturbing it must have been for them. It turns out this news story even links to the book: HERE.

Ah, well, it's not all on the Internet, but a lot of it is. Whatever, you can get the idea. This is a book about sex, for lesbians. A how-to book, like The Joy of Sex or one of those, of which there are a bunch, but not mostly for lesbians.

You wonder then, are these teenage boys lying awake at night ... thinking about this ... because the book is about sex, or because it's about lesbians? How much does this guy sue the library for if his kids are lying awake thinking about a book of straight sex? What if they ever came across a Playboy magazine at the library, for instance -- how much would that be worth?

A library is a place that provides access to information. If you think about it, most of the books in a library don't appeal to most people: nobody goes shelf by shelf, reading every book there, you go to the topic you want and find a book that interests you, and read that, ignoring all the thousands of other books on the shelves.

Some people are interested in sex techniques, for legitimate reasons. Maybe they are in a relationship and hope to improve their ability to satisfy their partner in bed, y'know, that seems legitimate. And maybe they are a lesbian. This book is a straight-talking, no-holds-barred book about sexual things you can do as a lesbian or as a single woman, for that matter. In fact, here's something funny: I expect some men might learn a little something here about what women enjoy sexually.

I worry about people who think the whole world needs to be kept at a level that is acceptable for children. There are actually adults out here, and some have need for advice about personal things, including sex, that are not part of a child's life.

I doubt that teenage boys need to know how to please lesbians in bed, but ... do you really think they came across this while looking for something about military academies? I mean, come on.

And how did this happen? Did these boys check this book out and bring it home? Did they run home and tell their dad all the wonderful things they had read about? Did this come out after he questioned them about their insomnia? I have trouble picturing this, somehow.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Great Letter in the Post

The other day we looked at the new government report showing that abstinence-only sex-ed doesn't work. The Washington Post had a pretty good story, I thought; I didn't write too much about it, and didn't mention the way the story was covered. A day or two later they had an editorial reinforcing the study's findings. It didn't seem to add anything to the debate, so I didn't mention the editorial here.

A guy wrote to the Post this morning to point out a distortion in the editorial, and actually, it was a distortion of our views -- I can't think of anybody else they'd mean by this. He makes a really good point.

Here's the letter:
Your sensible April 18 editorial "Let's Talk About Sex" included a pointless reference:

"Maybe this report will be a bridge between the two extremes of the sex-education debate: the unrealistic no-sex-until-you're-married-crowd and the untenable it's-okay-as-long-as-you-use-contraception gang."

Many groups fall into the former camp, but I am unaware of any in the latter. Certainly many people, and maybe even groups, believe that sex between unmarried consenting adults is "okay," but I have never seen or heard of any organization whose stand is that sex involving unmarried teens or pre-teens is "okay."

The editorial's incorrect characterization did a disservice to readers and misrepresented the views of those who advocate contraceptive-condom education in sex education curricula. Unless you have a specific group in mind, it's neither good journalism nor good public discourse to invent an extremist position just to be "balanced."


Silver Spring Wrong Approaches to Sex Ed

Man, that's good; thanks, Jeffrey.

The fact is, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum in particular have made it clear that they believe schools should teach that sex is something that married people do. Most people want their kids to wait, but almost nobody does wait till they're actually married -- as I recall, about one or two percent of the population are still virgins when they marry. I would say that most people -- definitely most people in our group -- believe that it is important to persuade teens to wait until they're mature enough for sex, without necessarily defining the criterion as the ceremony of marriage.

So the Post was correct in that there are two points of view. They did correctly characterize the first group, who think it's worthwhile to invest energy in trying to persuade students to wait until they're married to have sex.

The second group must be us, we're the "other side" in this debate. And none of us think that "it's-okay-as-long-as-you-use-contraception." I have never heard a private comment to this effect by any parent in our group, and it is certainly not our public position.

Activist parents like those in a group like Teach the Facts probably tend to have stronger views than the majority of people -- there is no evidence that any of us hold "extreme" views about sexual choices, we just hold our views strongly. The TTF parents that I've talked to seem generally to be of the sort that give their kids all the information as soon as they ask for it, which is not an extreme view, and it is usually part of a general attitude of respect and caring for our children as human beings that most TTF parents strongly believe is a positive family value.

It's not like we've choreographed this or anything, but it seems like families that associate themselves with our side of the issue tend to see sex as a part of nature and an expression of love, with the understanding that sexual feelings can be manipulated and exploited; the conclusion is that teenagers should be given all the facts, so they know the dangers -- not only the dangers of pregnancy and infection, but risks to their reputation, to their feelings, to the way they see themselves. The original "old new" curriculum, adopted in 2004 and thrown out in 2005, addressed these issues very clearly; the "new new" curriculum is very much reduced in scope, and doesn't get into these issues one way or the other.

As I think about it, there are lots of interesting questions about how "our side" and "the other side" interpret and judge sexual beliefs, behaviors and attitudes. I expect we'll be talking about some of those questions here as we move forward in time. It's more than a "culture war" of our time, there are questions since the dawn of time about the proper relationship between our socialized selves and our natural selves.

I don't really need to add anything to this letter. I think he totally nailed it with that last part, about inventing a position just to be balanced. There is no "it's-okay-as-long-as-you-use-contraception gang." The Post just made that up.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunshine and Gypsies

Yesterday we went to an event at a church in Rockville. The flyer had been titled: "First Annual Baltimore Washington Herdeljezi (Roma/Gypsy) Festival." It was going to have dance classes, art and crafts, music, food, and it sounded like fun.

See, way back in another life I played in a band in the Seattle-Tacoma area that became the house band, I guess you'd say, for the area's Gypsy population. They have their own festivals and holidays, their own language, their own music -- the Gypsies have set up an alternative society interwoven with ours but transcending national borders. Gypsies aren't from any place like the rest of us are, there are Gypsies everywhere. Most of them can't read, they usually don't go to school, but they learn the local language and customs well enough to blend in and make a living.

Every couple of weeks we'd play at one of their events. They would rent the finest hotel ballroom in the area and fill the parking lot with Cadillacs. Beautiful women in flowing evening dresses, handsome men in the best suits, they would dance and sing along with the music, drink a little, eat a lot, and usually leave the room absolutely trashed. Our tambourine disappeared at the first gig we played for them, and there was a little problem about getting paid, but after that first gig we worked it out and played a lot of really fascinating and cool parties for them, all up and down the West Coast.

My family has heard me talk about this for years, and I thought it would be fun if they could get a chance to see what this Gypsy thing was really about. I'd never heard of this particular festival, Herdeljezi, but we had played for some different ones, and it would be no surprise if they had different names for it -- for instance, Gypsies have two names, a Gypsy name that you never hear unless you're one of them, and another name that they use when they deal with members of the host society. Plus they pick up words wherever they go, so I wouldn't be surprised if one group had a different name for a holiday from another.

A couple of years ago I talked with someone at a flea market in Silver Spring who admitted being "half Gypsy" and said they lived nearby. I've seen their signs, and know there is a local population of them.

So we went to this church yesterday afternoon. I didn't see any Cadillacs in the parking lot, but, well, it was -- as you know -- the most beautiful day we've had in a long time, sunny and warm, clear skies. So who's complaining? As we got out of the car we heard some music, pretty loud, and there were a couple of young hipsters lounging around in the grass out front, just being cool in public.

We managed to talk our way past the admission charge and went into the room where the band was playing. There were actually quite a few people there, I'd say more than fifty, mostly women, it seemed to me, though I may have a kind of perceptual selectivity that oversamples particular features of the environment. The band sounded sort of like a klezmer band, amplified pretty loud, playing fast, improvising in strange minor keys and modes typical of the Mediterranean. Women on the dance-floor were swirling, undulating, scarves and skirts a'flying, all smiles, all fun and happiness.

We looked over the booths, which were mostly musical instruments, CDs, and "Gypsy" clothes. I thought it was possible that the girl behind the booth with the "Honorary Rom" t-shirts might have been a Gypsy, but ... I didn't see anybody else. The rest of them looked like Presbyterians to me (that's what kind of church it was). I mean, nice-looking Presbyterians, no offense, but they were at most pretend Gypsies.

When one of my kids was very young, we took them to a birthday party where the parents had hired a clown to entertain the kids. And one of the kids shouted out, "Are you a real clown, or are you a pretend clown?" I still think this was the most intelligent question in the world. Well, you could say that Ronald MacDonald is a pretend clown, but, no, even crass commercial clowns trying to sell you trans-fats are real clowns.

The distinction is meaningless for clowns, of course. Anybody at all can dress up as a clown and be a clown. There are lots of things like that, roles that we play, social identities that we take on, and they are as real as any other, just because we say they are.

On the other hand, a girl in a flowing gauze skirt, twirling and smiling and rocking on the dance-floor to exotic music, is not a real Gypsy, not that I'm knocking it. Real Gypsies know the language, they know their culture, they have norms and rules and they adhere to them. It's a serious thing, being a Gypsy. There have been people who claimed to be accepted by the Gypsies, and I have met some of them and seen them with the others, and I have never seen a case where it was really true that they had become one of the community. Even in marriage, there is a border, a frontier, that you can't cross.

I'm sure there are romantic stories with plots that spin around the Gypsy orphan raised by outsiders, who has "Gypsy blood" and a strange wanderlust and blah blah blah. I doubt that happens. I imagine if you raise a Gypsy kid in a non-Gypsy society they end up just like the other kids. So to say they're "real Gypsies" is not to say that there is something genetic or physiological about them that sets them apart from other people -- I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem that way to me.

In this way, culture, even Gypsy culture, is sort of like religion, in fact in a lot of places they are really the same thing. If you raise a Moslem orphan in a Christian home, he will be Christian like any other kid in the home, there won't be strange longings for Allah. And vice versa.

An orphaned and adopted person who has been raised in a different religion from that of their parents -- do we say "He's raised Moslem, but he's really a Christian?" No, I don't think so.

On the other hand, there are traits you're born with, both unique personality traits and traits general to your ancestry. The shape of your eyes and of your teeth, the shade of your skin, the color and texture of your hair, all the features of your face and your build are innate. Not just your inherited characteristics, but other things: your artistic or musical talent, your sense of humor, your interest in and aptitude for sports -- a gazillion things. These things aren't necessarily genetic in the strict sense, that is, I doubt they will ever find a gene that makes you funny or popular, but that doesn't mean anybody can be that way, it's simply innate in some people.

We actually had fun at the Gypsy festival. Everybody seemed happy with their pretend-freedom, pretending they could travel away at any moment to a new, more exciting place, where they could have adventures and be a new, exciting person. Dancing to the strange music, swirling their colorful skirts, it was good.

Remember when we met that guy at the CRC meeting who told us he had once beaten up a gay man and then took his wallet to make it look like a robbery? Oddly, in his mind he thought he was pretending to rob the man, but in fact it was a real robbery. After all these years, after telling that story a thousand times, that had never occurred to him, and it didn't occur to him after I pointed it out, either.

Sometimes when you're pretending, like when you pretend to be a clown, or a robber, you really are that thing. But some Gypsies are real Gypsies, and some are not.

This can be a hard distinction to make, and most of the time it doesn't matter. These days, I'd say, it matters more and more, when people claim to be one thing and they're not, and it matters -- say people die, or lose their savings, or get sick because somebody who said they could do a job really couldn't, or somebody who pretended they were a leader couldn't actually lead when the time came. The ability to pretend gives us a lot of fun, it lets us try things, it gives us a kind of power to try on different roles, so we can do things we can't do in our boring old regular lives.

But there is a time at the end of the day when the wise person knows the difference.

Friday, April 20, 2007

PTA Responds to CRC

You will remember that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, in their last gasp effort to interrupt the pilot testing of the new Montgomery County Public Schools sex education curriculum, sent letters and postcards and also robo-called homes of families with children in the test schools, trying to convince people to keep their kids out of the test classes. They got the names, addresses, and phone numbers from PTA directories.

When the CRC pulled something similar a year or two ago, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs passed a resolution demanding that they stop. The resolution had no effect on the group, who feel that their mission is too important to be bound by common decency.

We have just learned that the PTA sent an official letter to the CRC this week. Here is the text of it:
April 16, 2007

John Garza, President
Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum
P.O. Box 183
Damascus, MD 20872

Dear Mr. Garza:

The Montgomery County Council of PTAs is aware that your organization has misused the property of several PTAs in the county. Specifically we are referring to your organizations’ use of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Westland, Sherwood, Julius West, Watkins Mill, and Beall PTAS/PTA directories.

Washington Post reporter, Daniel DeVise, informed us that Ms Michelle Turner stated on the record that the CRC used the directories because it had no other way to reach parents.

Many of these PTSAs have written directly to your organization and other PTSAs wrote to you in 2005 to protest your use of their directories then. MCCPTA wrote to you in 2006 to inform you that your use was improper. You are well aware that these directories are the property of their respective PTSAs and that your use of them constitutes misuse as defined within their disclaimer which appears in their directory.

Please cease and desist immediately and destroy all information obtained from these directories.

Jane de Winter

The CRC has made a database of information from these directories, and I'd be pretty sure they aren't going to delete it just because the PTA asked them to.

America and Iraq

The other night, Jon Stewart had Ali A. Allawi, a former Iraqi government official with a book out titled The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace, on the Daily Show. One exchange toward the end of the interview stuck with me, both for the way Stewart handled this difficult subject and for the obviously heartfelt answer he received:
Jon Stewart: I don't even know it it's appropriate to broach it, but we, in this country, we've just had a very tragic situation occur at one of our universities. And it really has taken the country aback, and there's a real grieving process that we're going through. And going through it, mourning by learning about the victims, and learning about it and showing our support. You know, I hesitate to say – how does your country handle what is that type of carnage on a daily basis? Is there a way to grieve, is there a numbness that sets in?

Ali A. Allawi: Well, I think the scale of violence in Iraq is really inconceivable in your terms. We have, on a daily basis, what you had the other day at Virginia Tech – I mean, massacres of that scale. Practically on a daily basis. And it's very hard to grieve ... the scale of violence and its continuity is such it really numbs you.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nudity There and Here

I've been trying to learn a few words of Flemish, which is a form of Dutch -- I think it's nice to be able to say "please," "hello" and "good-bye," and "thank you" in the language of a country you visit -- so maybe my radar is just tuned to this frequency. Today Dara Colwell, a writer at AlterNet, has a little piece called "Why Are Americans Afraid of Being Naked?" She compared us to the Dutch, and I think the article is kind of fun. Check this out:
When Catholic protesters recently shut down a New York exhibit displaying a naked, life-sized Jesus sculpted from chocolate, the outcry wasn't totally unexpected. Labeled offensive by critics, the artwork touched an angry nerve by pushing religion and nudity -- two substances that historically don't mix -- into the limelight. While the media was quick to exploit the story, it also expressed surprising modesty when it came to the naked Christ, avoiding the full frontal and opting for photos of the Lord's backside.

But in Europe, and particularly the Netherlands, where bakeries display anatomically-correct marzipan nudes in their front windows right next to chocolate bunnies and chicks, such furor over confectionary draws a complete blank. On this side of the Atlantic, when it comes to nudity, Europeans happily assert they've got absolutely nothing to hide.

"The Netherlands is a liberal country where public nakedness is allowed, and that's the way it should be -- that's why there's a law for it," says Ragna Verwer of the Dutch Naturist Federation (NFN), a 70,000-member-strong organization established to expand naturist activities.

According to Verwer, 1.9 million Dutch regularly get nude, going to nude beaches or stripping down in their own gardens, though she estimates the numbers are much higher as NFN doesn't include sauna-goers in its research. "Naked recreation is well accepted here. But we have to take care that things stay this way, which is why we often discuss these matters with local city councils and recreation areas to create more places."

Legally, in Netherlands people are allowed to be naked anywhere except public roads or when they annoy others, a law in play since 1986. It is not uncommon to find nude swimming sessions at public swimming pools, nude or topless beaches...Why Are Americans Afraid of Being Naked?

Our family went to Denmark a few years ago, and you should have seen my kids' expressions the first time somebody at the beach stripped down to change into their bathing suit. Hilarious. Some family comes up, plops down a towel a few feet away from you, and then they just ... take ... their ... clothes ... off. Somehow we survived it, and in fact after the first surprise there wasn't much said about it.

I read a theory years ago about why humans don't have an annual breeding cycle like many other animals. This guy thought it was because of clothes, like, we control presentation and access to our sexuality through the use of clothing. Thus, we can breed year-round. I can see that. Generally, clothes operate in the modest direction, right? They cover up stuff. But, once you've established a sort of norm or standard, you can see plenty of times that clothing operates in the immodest direction -- what we'd call sexy clothes. Certain styles seem to elicit thoughts of, uh, reproductive behavior, typically by giving a glimpse of some skin that would only be concealed in the first place out of modesty. And of course norms of modesty vary from one society to another, and from time to time within a society. Are we a strange species, or what?

Anybody who has ever been to a nude beach knows that the excitement wears off very quickly. What you'd die for a glimpse of is constantly displayed; the game is off. It's almost disappointing, but it turns out nudity is, as the Dutch seem to have discovered, no big deal.
"Nudity is definitely not shocking or even arousing," says Mandy Servais, a customer at Amsterdam's Sauna Deco, in a robe wrapped loosely around her body, which for all intents and purposes, was naked, as Dutch saunas are visited in the buff. Says Servais, who has frequented saunas since she was a teen, "I think as a society we're very simple and take a practical approach to sex and nudity. We think that everything that exists is normal so there's no need to make a fuss. We're not really occupied with what others think."

Verwer mirrors Servais' response. "I think the Dutch believe let everyone have their dignity and do what they enjoy most. This isn't just how we think about naked recreation, the same goes for gays --everyone's accepted," she says.

For the life of me, I can't figure out what's wrong with that way of looking at things. I'm not here to tell anybody else they need to be this easy-going, but ... I don't see any sense in judging everybody all the time for everything they do.

Americans are not the biggest prudes on the planet -- I think the winner of that award will probably come from the Middle East somewhere -- but we are the biggest prudes of the Western World.
While the Dutch seem to accept that underneath their clothing everyone's naked, the same laissez-faire attitude doesn't apply in the States, where the public has been schooled in the cultural ideology that "nude is naughty," and nudity is regarded as sexual.

Perhaps much of this attitude can be chalked down to America's cultural forefathers, the Puritans, whose deeply religious moral zeal made them fear nudity so much they refused to bathe, ensuring a future of national prudishness.

This might appear a huge contradiction given the American media's rampant appetite for sex, but how else to explain the fury over Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" and the network's rush to cleanup before facing clampdowns and stiff fines? Or PBS's need to position the disclaimer "For mature audiences only" when broadcasting footage of Michelangelo's David.

I generally think of human irrationality as a fun thing. We contradict ourselves, very well then, we contradict ourselves, we are large, we contain multitudes.

I only feel sorry for anybody who expects to make sense of it.

Ah, this is the real problem: naked old people:
A further inconsistency when it comes to nudity is what Americans regard as risqué: barely clad Victoria Secret models strutting their way across television or nude grandmothers? As Dove soap found out this March, it's the latter. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates America's broadcast media, banned a series of prime-time ads depicting six middle-aged women posing nude for Dove Proage products, claiming it was inappropriate, though the ads ran successfully in Europe and Canada.

Ironically, Dove's parent company is the Anglo-Dutch giant Unilever. While a number of pro-family and women's groups complained the ad contributed to the further commercial sexualization of women -- an ongoing and valid debate -- clearly, older nudity is threatening because our culture rarely separates nakedness from sex, which is something the elder crowd, at least until Viagra, wasn't supposed to be having.

My head is spinning.
On a similar note, in 2004 Wal-Mart, never one to balk at profits, refused to sell Jon Stewart's book "America," which featured doctored nude photos of Supreme Court judges. Old, saggy bodies were simply too offensive compared to, say, the number of slasher films Wal-Mart also carries.

Yes, well, moralistic hypocrisy has been a theme here for the past couple of years. I guess we are not surprised.

And look, here's the point:
Another, perhaps sobering, reality: America has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the industrialized world, according to the American Association of Pediatrics, and a rate that exceeds the Dutch by nine-fold. A healthy attitude to nudity as well as sex, something the Dutch are regaled for, might have a positive impact as more exposure typically leads to greater information.

Basically our debate over sex education in Montgomery County has given people a choice between Prudish and Extremely Prudish. I sometimes hear people argue for a "sex-friendly" attitude in education, but that's not on the table here. The basic message in our county is abstinence, health teachers give students lots of reasons not to have sex, and I don't think there's anything anywhere that tells them why anybody would want to ... do that.

The Puritan explanation is probably as good as any. It seems like a long time ago that those stuffy folks stepped onto the dry land of our continent, but their ways didn't die out. The result is this sex-obsessed self-contradicting prudishly-fetishistic society that's half-afraid to tell teenagers anything, terrified that if you let the sex-cat out of the bag it's going to run around scratching everybody. Meanwhile, in other places in the world, kitty sits in somebody's lap and purrs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Considering the Endgame

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum's President, John Garza, said something interesting on TV a couple of weeks ago. He said:
We just want factually correct information given to the students and also just stay away from the religious implications of homosexuality. If they could do those two things we would probably back away and not be opposed any more.

They must know they can't win this. They've got no community support, the school district has totally sewn up any legal openings, the curriculum was developed by a team of doctors who made sure everything was medically accurate ... there's no way to stop implementation of this curriculum.

So it would not be unreasonable for them to begin thinking about how they can end this, and it appears from his comments that they have given it some thought. Because, the truth is, their persistence is wasting their own time as much as it wastes everybody else's.

Garza specifies two conditions that the CRC wants to see met, so they can "back away" from their opposition. Looking at the new curricula, it is possible to conclude that these conditions have been met.

The first thing is "factually correct information." I don't think they have ever pointed to any information in the curriculum that is factually incorrect. What they really mean is that they want different information. There are two main kinds of information they want. The number one thing has to do with anal sex and condoms, that's where they usually steer this kind of comment. So let's look at their complaint about that.

One of the new classes is a lesson in how to use a condom. The video that accompanies it says things like, "Condoms reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of unwanted pregnancy or contracting sexually transmitted infections and disease, whenever there is oral, anal, or vaginal contact." Now, when the CRC says they want "factually correct information," what they usually mean is that they want the schools to add some statements about the dangers of anal sex.

There are two statements they specifically ask for. One is what they call "the Surgeon General's statement," though they typically forget to mention that the statement was made by a Surgeon General nearly twenty years ago, and that he was not even in office any more when he made the statement. The other thing is one quote out of an NIH report on the effectiveness of condoms for preventing STDs. The report shows that condoms are very effective in preventing a wide variety of kinds of infections, but there is one statement that notes that HIV is most frequently spread through anal sex, and that's what the CRC wants in the curriculum.

There is a similarity between these two statements, and that is that there is nothing to back them up. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop was writing informally during the height of the AIDS epidemic, and he was perfectly right to warn gay people not to have anal sex. But the fact is, anal sex itself is not the culprit. Lots of people have anal sex -- about forty percent of American adults have done it, according to the CDC -- and most never got infected with anything. It's not a fact that anal sex itself is dangerous -- it was timely advice in its day, and gay men should still be aware of the risks of having anal sex with a partner whose HIV status is uncertain, but there is no fact about anal sex here.

The other statement, from the NIH report, well, that one's just weird. Out of the whole report, they pick out one sentence. Look, HERE is the 49-page report. On page 13, in the "Background" part of the HIV section, the report says, "HIV/AIDS can be sexually transmitted by anal, penile-vaginal, and oral intercourse. The highest rate of transmission is through anal exposure." There is no citation for this statement, and it is not a conclusion of the workshop. This is just a statement made in introducing the topic of condoms and HIV/AIDS.

This might be a fact, I don't know. Since gay men seem to make up about half of new HIV diagnoses, I'm pretty sure male-to-male anal sex is an important vector of transmission for the virus. But it is common for someone not to know exactly when the virus was contracted, and what they were doing at the time. So there's no study that says how many people caught the disease through what exact behavior, and the "fact" is not really known.

If the schools are going to teach about the risks of anal sex, this would not be appropriate in the condom-usage class, but would go in the sexually-transmitted-infection section, which is not currently under consideration. This is probably the most important fact of all here -- these statements don't fit where the CRC wants them to fit. Dr. Jacobs' recent comment on CW-TV reveals that they are starting to realize this, too. She said, "You must immediately improve your infectious disease section of the curriculum. The school has not done this so the school is presenting homosexuality but they haven't updated their infectious disease prevention curriculum to match it." If this information is to be added, yes, this is how it should be done -- it does not belong in the new sections, it should be in the STD unit.

When the CRC says that the curriculum has incorrect facts, they usually mean that they want these two not-necessarily-factual statements added to the class materials.

Sometimes the CRC puts this in terms of "the health risks of homosexual behaviors," but that term is needlessly vague. For one thing, due to the equality of the number of available orifices and erogenous zones for gay and straight people, there is no such thing as a uniquely homosexual sexual behavior. There is a health risk in having sex with someone who is infected with an STD, and that includes having sex with someone you don't know very well. There is a special risk for gay men, because HIV spread through their community first in the US and Europe. But within a monogamous, faithful relationship, there's no more risk for gay people than for straight ones.

There is one other statement that the CRC argues is not factual in the curriculum, and that is the part about innateness. The Holt textbook section used in the first day's class in tenth grade says:
Sexual orientation and gender identity are deeply personal, innate, and complex parts of one's personality that define how people see themselves as individuals and in romantic relationships.

On January 9th, when the school board was preparing to vote whether to adopt the new curriculum, a representative of the Superintendent's office, which managed the development of the curriculum, asked to add the word "innate" and its definition to the eighth grade class, too, in order to make the two sections consistent. There was not much discussion, but some, and the board accepted this little change.

There really isn't any question of innateness. People are what they are, for reasons they have no control over. Whether sexual orientation is strictly genetic, or influenced by the developmental effects of hormones in the womb and after birth, it is agreed by all serious observers, including social conservatives, that sexual orientation is innate. Some try to argue that there is a distinction between sexual attraction, which is innate, and self-identification, which is a personal or social aspect of sexual identity, but most people don't recognize such a distinction, and simply self-identify as what they are.

It is impossible for science to prove that sexual orientation is innate, but it is every person's experience that they sense the attractiveness of some individuals and not of others. This attraction is not determined by the individual, but comes to them: the differential attraction is innate. It would be silly to limit the universe of facts to those that have been proven by science. For instance, the fact that Einstein taught at Princeton has never been scientifically proven, yet it is an indisputable fact. I don't need scientific proof that my boots are brown. The fact is, sexual orientation is innate, and everybody knows it.

The second thing he says they want is for the curriculum to "just stay away from the religious implications of homosexuality." This is a strange request. Partly because of sensitivity raised by the previous lawsuit, the school district was ridiculously careful not to mention anything at all about religion in these classes. There just isn't anything.

So why would they say this? In the CRC's complaint to the state, they tried to argue that "secular humanism" is a religion, that the schools are teaching religion in the classroom.

If they really wanted to try to prove this point, the CRC would first of all have to be able to prove that the classes really were examples of secular humanism. Secular, yes, of course, but the class content does not conform with the definition of humanism.

The fact remains, even if they could prove that these classes did comprise an expression of secular humanism (which would be nearly impossible), the courts have not agreed that secular humanism is a religion. You can follow the legal argument at Wikipedia, and read about the 1994 ruling where the court said "We reject this claim because neither the Supreme Court, nor this circuit, has ever held that evolutionism or secular humanism are 'religions' for Establishment Clause purposes." (Scroll down to "Legal Mentions (United States)".) In fact, the cited case, Peloza v. Capistrano School District, is quite relevant to our debate; a teacher claimed he should be exempt from teaching about evolution, since that amounted to teaching a religion. He lost.

As I understand the CRC's view here, the problem is that they feel their children should not be exposed to secular viewpoints in the public schools, when these conflict with their religious beliefs. I think you can see the problem with that. Secularism is the absence of religion, by definition. In America, it is the common currency of the exchange of ideas among people of different religions. Pork is still a food, whether your religion allows you to eat it or not, and there is a range of sexual orientations, regardless of your church's interpretation of them. Civilized people can discuss secular phenomena without reference to their religious perspective.

The school district has gone to enormous expense and trouble to take out everything with even the most remote religious implication. But they can't take out the science and medicine -- those are secular, nonreligious, and if the facts as they are understood by science conflict with somebody's religious belief then it has to be up to that person to find the workaround. The whole society is not going to accommodate one group's religious prohibition, especially when most of the population feels that that prohibition amounts to bigotry. Nothing forces any child to take these classes, in fact parents have to petition the school for permission. No one is forced to be exposed to something they can't accept.

In sum, the CRC might congratulate themselves at this point. They held the school district's feet to the fire, made them concentrate on details that might have otherwise gone unexamined. The new curricula attain a standard of scientific credibility that is extraordinary for public middle and high school classes -- every word of every class has been scrutinized and forced to pass a most rigorous inspection. The CRC might have wanted more, just as we want more, but they cannot point to any incorrect fact in the classes. Further, the CRC has forced MCPS to excise any implication, any hint of religious language from the classes. At one point, the citizens advisory committee wanted to discuss adding a sentence noting that some religions disapprove of homosexuality while some don't, and MCPS staff made it clear that sort of wording wouldn't be allowed. Even that. The CRC can pore over the materials all they want, but there is nothing anywhere that is vaguely religious in nature.

It would not be a bad idea for them to claim victory, and it would not be an embarrassment. Everyone was surprised that an uprising like theirs would gain any traction at all in a liberal stronghold like Montgomery County, but they had as many as two hundred people attend one of their meetings, in their heyday two years ago, back when there was a "mandate" and Bush's popularity was still in the fifty-percent range nationally.

I don't expect them to quit, even though it seems clear to me that the criteria spelled out by John Garza have been met. He told the interviewer at CW-TV that they plan to fight the curriculum at a hearing with the state school board, and then they plan to take it to federal court. But I think, from this other comment, that he might realize that they cannot stop these classes now. The community does not support them, and the school district has been very careful in preparing a fact-filled, religion-free curriculum that will probably be supported by the state and has no openings for an attack on Constitutional grounds.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


When you're walking down a crowded city sidewalk, thinking about your daily stuff, the last thing on your mind is that any person walking past, any stranger, could end your life. But they could. They could shoot you, stab you, throw acid on you, punch you, trip you -- the fact is, the list of terrible things that someone could do to you is endless, and there's nothing you can do to protect yourself from every possible threat. Chaos is just a blink away.

People know this, and yet we walk in public without dread.

Occasionally -- not very often, but sometimes -- somebody makes a decision to violate our trust. It happens just often enough to keep us aware of the possibility, but not often enough to turn us against one another.

In Blacksburg yesterday, somebody tore a hole in the web of trust. We don't really know what caused this, or what motivated anybody, but the unthinkable happened, the thing we know is possible, and innocent people were murdered.

It could happen anywhere, at any time. But it doesn't. Yesterday's incident dominates today's news because it is so extraordinary. Think about how many guns are out there in America, how many angry people, how many people who have been mistreated or feel they have been mistreated, and yet, this sort of thing almost never happens. Even the dispossessed help maintain the pliant fabric that is woven of our lives.

The rest of us will never know what made one person do such a horrible thing. Some may try to empathize with him, to see his point, and some may simply choose to blame him for the violation. I think that will be an expression of your personality; neither approach is wrong, necessarily. We all are going to try to reconcile this with what we know from our own lives.

Over the coming days we will come to know the victims and their families, and we will see some funerals, mothers crying, fathers biting their lip, people wiping their eyes. We will hear the question "Why?" a lot of times, and those who attempt to answer it will only look like fools. Brace yourself.

As we look at the large-font headlines and the news reporters standing out in the wind searching for something to say, I just want to point out the contrast between this event and our ordinary lives, which are peaceful. I want to acknowledge, in my awkward way, the web of trust that includes us all, and which enables us to find love in the world and to live to our potential. It is our duty and pleasure to take good care of one another. We should be thankful every day for that respectful interdependence that binds us together and makes happiness, if not certain, at least possible.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Reason for Optimism

Kids are getting smarter than us, you know.

We were talking the other day about how times have changed, how teenagers today just don't see what's the big deal, why they're supposed to fear gay people. Of course there have always been differences in the generations, not just that, but lots of things.

I just came across some data from the Pew Research Center that tell a story.

They say:
There is a clear generational divide on the issue of evolution: Nearly two-thirds (63%)of Gen Nexters believe humans and other living things evolved over time, while only 33% say all living creatures have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Gen Xers share a similar perspective, though they are slightly more open to the idea of creationism. Here the generational divide is among those under age 40 and those over age 40, with Baby Boomers and Seniors closely divided over how the world came to be. 63% - Gen Nexters Embrace Evolution

Talking more about "Generation Next," if, I guess, that's what we call "the generation that came of age in the shadow of Sept. 11" (Pew's way of putting it), we also see that 58 percent of the 18-25-year-olds believe "Homosexuality should be accepted," compared to 50 percent of the 26+ geezers, and that only 32 percent of young people think "Homosexuality should be discouraged," compared to 39 percent of the toothless 26-plus population.

More to think about:
In their political outlook, they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality. They are also much more likely to identify with the Democratic Party than was the preceding generation of young people, which could reshape politics in the years ahead. Yet the evidence is mixed as to whether the current generation of young Americans will be any more engaged in the nation's civic life than were young people in the past, potentially blunting their political impact.

These data are consistent with my observations of the world around me, how about you?

When people are put in a situation where they have to choose between facts and faith, in the long run facts will win out. Faith can be adapted, has to be adapted, to new realities, as the horizons of knowledge continue to expand. This doesn't seem to portend any kind of spiritual vacuum or moral deterioration, there's no sign of that, but as the human race moves forward our attitudes will require frequent, if not constant, adjustments. And that's happening.

Unplanned Maintenance

Last night our whole site went bye-bye for about a half hour. Man, it looked bad. If you tried to look at anything here you just got a "404 Not Found" screen.

I tried to log into the server, to see what shape our HTML files were in. The file manager said "File not found."

This looked bad. I was thinking about how long it's been since I backed everything up. (Actually, it's not too bad, since all the blog stuff is archived at Blogger, as well as on our server.)

I emailed the support guys. I think they're in Latvia, if there still is a Latvia. Maybe Ukraine, or Estonia, now that I think about it -- they have a New Jersey mailing address, but I am pretty sure they are not in New Jersey. Anyway, they have neat names like Sergey and Sasha and Alexander, and they write with a certain accent. I didn't hear back from them.

Finally the site came back up. I emailed them again and told them it was OK. Then I heard from them, they said my support ticket will expire in 72 hours unless I have another problem.

I wrote them back and said, "So what happened, anyway?"

Alexander wrote me back: "Dear Jim, don't worry, the unplanned maintenance took place."

I love that.

It was nothing, just a little routine unplanned maintenance. Try that on your boss one of these times.

Oh well, everything looks good today, I guess that unplanned maintenance was successful.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sunday's Inner Loop

This post will be a little bit long, but you might find something of interest in it if you've been following the Montgomery County sex-ed discussion.

A show called "The Inner Loop" on CW-TV (Channel 23 on Comcast) did a half-hour show this morning (Sunday) about the new sex-ed curriculum. They interviewed me and John Garza of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, plus they had quotes from Betsy Brown from the school district and bunch of people who supported the CRC. The studio had actually sent their camera crew to the CRC's "big" meeting a month or two ago, to film interviews with some of their leaders and parents who support them. They did not ask for more than one member of our group, and didn't interview any parents who support the new classes.

They did try to get a parent who supported the curriculum, well, they didn't try, really, but they asked us to. Obviously, most county parents do approve of it, but also, most people who support the curriculum are not upset or motivated enough to go on TV and talk about it. They just know the school district does a good job, and they're comfortable with what they've heard about this.

I found a lady, a mom with a kid in eighth grade. The day I talked to her, she said her kid had just had the first day of the sex-ed class. She was very curious about it and had quizzed the kid afterwards, and they said it was no big deal. "So I guess the controversial stuff is in the second day," she said. "Call me tomorrow."

The next day I called her. She said, "Well, I guess the controversial stuff is in tenth grade." She also decided not to bother to take time off from work to go into DC and be interviewed on TV. That's how it happens. Those who know what's in these classes can't really get worked up about it.

I left work at lunchtime, took the Red Line over to Farragut North. The TV studios are in the Woodies building, on the sixth floor. This place is nothing fancy. John Garza and I arrived at about the same time, and we, plus some other guy whose kids go to a pilot-test school, sat around plates of wraps and salad in the green room with a couple of CW-TV employees. The other guy seems OK to me, we chatted about some different things, Bush, the Vietnam war. He's not a wild-eyed radical, just a guy who seems to believe what the CRC has told him -- he attended their meeting at Rio a while back, and believes, for instance, that the curriculum fails to present facts about the risks of gay sex.

After a while they called Garza into the studio and interviewed him, while we waited. Then they called me in and we did our interview. I blogged a little bit about the experience HERE. Whatever, TV is a bizarre medium. No matter how intense your viewpoint, or how extensive your knowledge, they boil it down to some small number of seconds or minutes, and that's what the public sees. Some people are good at working in this art-form, I'm not. I'm willing to learn, but at this point I hate it and am not very good at it.

I did my interview, got my backpack, and left. Walked back to the Metro and got back to work; it wasn't even a long lunch. Nobody noticed I'd left the building; it didn't change my day in any noticeable way, it was just something you did, like going to another meeting. I did not feel good about the interview. I felt that the interviewer had a preconceived story-line, which she wanted to try to fit my narrative into, and that it didn't fit. It was clear she didn't know very much about our situation, which would've been OK except I felt that she interrupted me (you'll see in the transcript) and tried to guide me in a direction that really didn't make sense.

The show started with a series of short clips of people talking, all of them were people from the CRC's meeting except for Betsy Brown from MCPS, who was not identified on the show.

So here's how it kicked off:
Lillie Hamer: Hi and welcome to The Inner Loop. I'm Lillie Hamer and today we are in the studios at Tribune News Bureau in Northwest Washington DC. In January 2007 Montgomery County schools were approved to begin a revised sexual education curriculum but a group of parents who opposed the curriculum back in 2004 recently said they still don't want their kids to participate in the health class. We recently sat down with a few of the parents and a Montgomery County official to talk about the curriculum. This is what they had to say.

Unidentified woman who is Betsy Brown of MCPS: They are simply stating that there are sexual orientations that are called bisexual, homosexual, and heterosexual.

Unidentified man in Nike baseball cap: I really don't believe 8th graders need to know these type things and if they do, if it's a concern, I believe that the parents should play the major role in teaching their children about these things more so than the school imposing it on everyone.

Still unidentified Betsy Brown, MCPS: The focus really is tolerance, empathy, and respect for all individuals regardless of sexual orientation.

Unidentified woman who is Michelle Turner, CRC spokesperson: At the 8th grade level and 10th grade level they are now telling students that sexual orientation, homosexuality, transgender are innate, that you are born with these orientations and to date there is no scientific research that supports that.

Still unidentified Betsy Brown, MCPS: We're acknowledging they exist and then they're taught within the context of empathy, respect, and tolerance period.

Unidentified woman in black turtleneck: One of my chief concerns is I want to be the one to tell my own daughter about these kinds of things. I don't want someone else teaching her from their worldview. I have my own worldview.

Still unidentified Betsy Brown, MCPS: I think it's really important for people to understand that in the four lessons on human sexuality there's no mention of sexual behavior at all. We're talking sexual orientation, we're talking about sexual identity.

Unidentified woman who is Ruth Jacobs, CRC representative on the citizens advisory committee: This curriculum is clearly not including the risk of the homosexual lifestyle or of homosexual behavior. [clip edit] You must immediately improve your infectious disease section of the curriculum. The school has not done this so the school is presenting homosexuality but they haven't updated their infectious disease prevention curriculum to match it.

So you see ...

This was a half-hour show, and we won't try to post the whole transcript here. I'm just going to give Garza's part, and mine, with the usual sarcastic, uh, I mean insightful comments thrown in for behind-the-scenes color.

Here's John Garza, lawyer and now-President of the CRC:
LH: Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum is a group of parents in Montgomery County who believe that children's rights are being infringed because of the new curriculum. They oppose the discussion of homosexuality and want the school board to offer alternative classes. John Garza is the president of CRC and is here today to discuss the matter. John, thank you very much for joining us.

JG: Thank you very much for having me.

[Note: so far everything he has said is completely accurate and truthful.]
LH: So this is obviously an enormously hot topic in Montgomery County. What is your primary, and what is the CRC's primary objection to the curriculum?

JG: Our primary objections are threefold, one that the school board didn't follow their own procedures, number two that there is factually inaccurate information in the curriculum, and number three the curriculum tramples on our religious rights to exercise our own religious beliefs.

LH: Let's take the first one. Saying that they didn't follow their own agenda here in implementing, or attempting to implement this curriculum. What do you mean by that, exactly?

JG: Well the Maryland law provides a whole lot of things that have to be done in order to pass a curriculum. For example, the citizen advisory committee has to represent the broad spectrum of the county. This citizens advisory committee represents groups like, uh, Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights League, and a lot of, uh, gay organizations. We don't believe that that is a representation of the county. In fact they seem to be related to the abortion and the gay industry, rather than a broad section of the county.

OK, time to interrupt.

I don't understand why the anchor would let him continue after these statements. The citizens committee had representatives from the CRC itself, plus PFOX -- in fact, the school district let Peter Sprigg, monkey-monk at the Family Research Council, e.g., a nationally known, professional anti-gay spokesman, represent PFOX on the committee. Yes, NARAL had a member, but I don't think Planned Parenthood had one. Here are the groups that were represented, just so you know:
  • Montgomery County Council of PTAs
  • NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland
  • Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
  • Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX)
  • Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, and
  • Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Councils

The news anchor should have known this, and should have stopped Garza mid-lie.

At least she should have stopped him when he claimed that "a lot of gay organizations" were represented on the committee.

There were no "gay organizations" on the committee, unless you count PFLAG, which is an advocacy group for families of gay people. Which, even if you counted them, isn't "a lot." It was one nice lady named Emily.

As far as I know, there was one openly gay guy, and he's Director of the AIDS research division at NIH, no slouch or propagandist, fully qualified to discuss these topics.

The statement that the committee members were "related to the abortion and the gay industry" should have been the end of the interview, if you ask me, or at least the opportunity for a hard question. Like: "What is the gay industry?"
LH: Now, what I want to do right now is make this very lay. That, there, you know, we could talk about the technicalities of this issue, and look at the components of their objectives and the CRC's objectives, but at the end of the day, what are you concerned about with implementing this kind of curriculum?

JG: Our two biggest concerns are that this curriculum teaches that homosexual conduct is perfectly safe and a reasonable thing to do, in fact a very appropriate thing to do, when many of our students go to church on Sunday where they're taught exactly the opposite. This is a violation of the Free Exercise clause of the Constitution. The government should not be teaching something that directly opposes what a church is teaching on Sunday.

And I'm no lawyer, but I have had this explained to me a couple of times, and ... he's wrong here. The classroom is not a public forum, the school has the right to teach what it considers appropriate, nobody is forced to attend.

Also, saying that the curriculum teaches that "homosexual conduct is perfectly safe and a reasonable thing to do" is a lie. Number one, "homosexual conduct" is not mentioned anywhere in any of the curricula, and number two, nothing is said anywhere at all about safety or reasonableness. He reads this between the lines, which is his own problem. None of it exists in reality.

You wonder why the anchor let him go on without challenging these falsehoods. Surely she had read the curriculum documents, or someone had briefed her on them, don't you figure?
LH: Now, would you disagree that homosexuality is a very integral part of our society, and if you would not disagree, then what would your proposition be, to, uh, in some way express and share information with children, or would you prefer an environment where this was handled strictly in the home?

JG: Well, we would prefer that it was handled in the home, but recognizing that homosexual activity is, uh, around, uh, that we would be acquiesced to some teaching in that area. We don't like the teaching that homosexual conduct is exactly equal to heterosexual conduct, uh, and that's where we come into the factual inaccuracies. We presented facts and medical reports from government agencies and universities, showing that those who participate in homosexual conduct tend to have much higher health risks than those who participate in heterosexual activities.

Hmmm, y'know, they say this all the time. I was on the citizens advisory committee, and I only missed one meeting. I don't believe that anything was introduced by anyone that showed "much higher health risks for those who participate in homosexual activities." There may have been something about HIV rates among men who have sex with men, but, well women have certain health risks, too, like osteoporosis and lupus and breast cancer, and certain things are more prevalent among blacks, or Hispanics, or men. I don't believe you can find reference to "much higher health risks for those who participate in homosexual activities" in any material recommended by anyone at any citizens committee meeting.

Besides, again, nothing was said in any class about "homosexual activities;" the curriculum is simply not about that.
LH: And have you found that in that information and in conveying that, in Montgomery County School board, for instance, or those who are officiating over this process, that that is incorporated, that information is incorporated into the curriculum?

JG: Uh, no, in fact the opposite has occurred. For example, we've given them statistics from the United States Census Bureau, and they rejected those statistics in favor of using statistics from the Gay Lesbian Education Network, uh, uh, "glisten" [GLSEN: note that the "S" stands for "straight," which he forgot to include in the name] is what the place is called. Um, we've given them information from the US Surgeon General about the safety of condoms as it relates to anal sex. Rejected that, and preferred to use gay-affirming information from gay groups.

[Note: that question, ladies and gentlemen, is what is called a "softball."]

I'm not going to go back over the irrelevant statistics they tried to introduce, but I will note that the "US Surgeon General" comment is ... nearly twenty years old. The current Surgeon General didn't say anything like this, nor have any, actually, while they were in office. The CRC almost always tries to confuse this issue, implying that a current Surgeon General has expressed this opinion.

And the fact is, nothing at all was included in any class about "the safety of condoms as it relates to anal sex," including anything by "gay-affirming groups."
LH: Well, you know, I think that certainly when we listen to the information on all sides of the situation, that one of the things is going to factual at the end of the day, that everyone is going to have to find a way to communicate about this issue in a way that is going to be effective and advantageous to the kids. So what's your, what's your plan? What would you like to genuinely see happen?

JG: Well, we would like to see the factual inaccuracies stripped out of the curriculum and also, um, a neutral position with regard to the, um, the goodness of homosexual conduct. Rather than presenting uh, these vignettes about Portia, the boy who wants to become a girl, and what he goes through to become a girl, and how wonderful this trans- transformation is, we would rather be more uh, clinical, teach the facts, and leave alone the moral consequences as to whether or not right or wrong, okay or not okay.

Oh, they hate that Portia vignette! Hate it hate it. But I do thank him for the "Teach the Facts" plug.
LH: What's the next step for your organization?

JG: What we've done is we have filed an appeal to the Maryland state board of education, we've asked them to set this in for a hearing so that we can take it before them, and let them make a decision to overrule the Montgomery County school board.

LH: And if that does not happen, then what would be the next step?

JG: The next step would be to take these constitutional issues to a federal court, like we did the last time, and we think that ultimately, if we can't prevail at the state board level, a federal judge will look at this again and see that, uh, you can't teach kids, uh, things that just trample all over the religious, basically most of the largest religions in the country would teach against, directly against what the school board is teaching.

Except, of course, that this time there is nothing about any religion at all anywhere in the classes, in the background materials, nothing was said about any religion in any meeting by anyone. MCPS lawyers have gone through this thing with a fine-toothed comb. No lawsuit will succeed.

But he can dream.
LH: A final thought from you. You're sitting down with your children, ten years from now, and they're being introduced to some sort of curriculum in Montgomery County. What is your thought going to be, as a parent, if you know that this is what they're being taught?

JG: Well, it's unlikely to happen because I'll probably pull my kids out of the school system and so that I can protect them. But if it did happen, I would hope that they would listen to their father, uh, as someone who's more trusted than the schools.

Hate to say it again, but this interviewer should have stopped him right here.

She should have said, "Mr. Garza, are you saying that your children attend Montgomery County Public Schools?"

Because they don't. He can't "pull them out," because they'll never go in the first place.

He's pulled this several times recently. One of these days an alert interviewer is going to ask him about it. Well, maybe not.
LH: And you're not saying that you don't believe that this should be a part of the system, at all, that's not what I'm hearing today.

JG: No no no, we are in favor of sex education, that's, we think that's important for our children. Especially some children who don't have parents like, like, uh, some of us. But we want accurate information, for example the school board is teaching that homosexually [sic] is innate and cannot be changed, a child should label himself, and that label should stick for the rest of their lives. We think that's totally wrong, and we have the evidence to back ourselves up.

What? Is he saying that some people in the CRC don't have parents? What are they, like, Adam and Eve, or what?

Of could he mean that some people don't have "parents like some of us"? Like, wonderful parents who know everything, like the parents in the CRC. I wonder...

Oh, and again, I will point out that the "labeling" thing is another lie. The classes do not teach anyone to label themselves.
LH: Thank you very much for joining us today, and sharing the information with us. And I'm sure we'll hear much more about this issue in the days to come.

JG: I think you will, thank you.

LH: If you'd like to get more information on the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum or support their initiative, you can visit their web site at ... [shown on screen]. Thank you. We'll talk with a group of parents -- residents who want Montgomery County to continue the sex ed curriculum. We'll be right back.

OK, the next part was me. I have to admit, I hate to see myself on TV. Well, the camera must lie, I can't really look that ... do I?

In my mind, I still look like this:

That really is me ... a couple of years ago. Look at that hair. Look at that stomach. If you see this show you'll probably notice that I don't look anything like this on TV. It's the TV's fault.

So we go into my part:
LH: And welcome back. A number of parents were alarmed by the actions taken by the CRC to stop the progress of the sex-ed program so they formed Teach The Facts in 2004 after the CRC petitioned for a recall of the entire school board. Jim Kennedy, the President of Teach The Facts is here today to talk further about the curriculum and why he strongly believes uh and approves of it. Mr. Kennedy, thank you very much for joining us today.

JK: My pleasure. I'm glad to be here.

LH: So Teach The Facts was formed after the CRC came out in opposition to the curriculum being implemented. What is your thought behind the delay on implementing the curriculum right now that's proposed?

JK: Let's start at the start.


JK: Teach The Facts formed in about December of 2004 after a meeting of a group that had a website called "" They had an organizing meeting, which was announced on a high school, you know, Internet email group. I was interested to see what this was about and I went to that meeting, as did several other parents who didn't agree with what was going on. We went to this...this was right after the school board had unanimously adopted a new curriculum in 2004. In November, which was also right after the Presidential elections you'll remember. So there was a kind of what they called "the mandate" at that time. There was a kind of a strong, uh the religious right was feeling very strong at that time. So I went to this meeting and they were, there were maybe 75 people there and they were splitting up into groups: the legal team, the fundraising team, the publicity team. They were ready to hit the ground running to fight the school board over this new curriculum, which I had read. I couldn't really see anything to object to and it was quite conservative...

LH: So tell me about the curriculum through your eyes.

JK: Well that curriculum has been thrown out.

LH: Right

JK: We've got a new curriculum so I can tell you about the new curriculum.


JK: I was also on the citizens advisory committee that evaluated this and reviewed it and had actually quite a lot of input into it. The classes we're talking about -- it's five 45-minute classes, two in 8th grade that are called something like "Respect for Differences in Sexuality" and are mostly about bullying and harassment. The theme is empathy, tolerance, and respect, for 8th graders. In 10th grade, we're talking about three classes that are new. One is a condom class that's basically instruction in how to use a condom with a short video that goes with it. And the other two classes are a continuation on the "Respect for Differences" theme that started in 8th grade, only in the 10th grade, they get into a little bit more detail. They learn some terms about sexual orientation and gender identity and things like that.

LH: Now, in sitting down and talking with a member of the CRC just shortly, a short time ago, um the position obviously very far from the position of your organization, but the one thing that you do seem to have in common is that you do want something that's put into place that's going to be informative, accurate, advantageous for children. So is there a middle ground?

JK: There is definitely a middle ground. Let me say that my position is not that this or this is the best sex education curriculum. My position is that there are parents who are more conservative, there are parents who are more liberal, and they need to talk together in the community and determine what our community values can accept. We all want to have information given to our children. We all want to have our values respected.

The problem that we've got here is that we have a group that insists on all or nothing. They don't want to approve the curriculum. They want to interrupt it. They want to throw it out. An example – this week, the last couple of weeks, we've been having pilot testing. The Montgomery County Public Schools has been pilot testing the new classes in six schools, three middle schools, three high schools. The CRC has held a meeting with press there to encourage parents to opt out of the test. They sent letters, they took the PTA's directories and sent letters to homes of families at the pilot test schools asking them to opt their children out of these classes. They set up a program to phone people and play a recording asking them to opt out. They don't want...

LH: [Interrupts] Well, what I don't want to do Jim, I don't want to get into the the the banter between the two organizations.

JK: But the...

LH: And that's not to dispel the position but it is to say that at the end of the day, there is an objective for the curriculum to be put into place.

JK: Yes there is.

I was quite offended and flustered by her comment and by the fact that she had interrupted me in the middle of an explanation, but we plunged on ahead to a topic that she apparently thought was better than the one I was talking about.
LH: And we're at an....we're we're not not coming to the middle. There's no middle ground seemingly.

JK: There's plenty of middle ground and there's been plenty of community input into this. What I'm saying is that this is not...

LH: [Interrupts again] Do you think kids are being hurt?

[Crosstalk] As a result of not having it?

JK: Being hurt? By the delay? Certainly.

Does anybody know what's going on here? Why does she ask me questions if she won't let me answer them? This was very confusing. And you're sitting there with cameras rolling, trying to figure out what in the world is going on.

At this point it seemed she wanted to get back on more familiar ground, back closer to the cliches she expected. OK, I'll go there with her.
LH: How?

JK: Let's say there are two kinds of kids in a class. There are kids who are learning... they are discovering that they have feelings that they don't understand that are different from the other kids, the gay students and the transgender students in the classes. And the chances are there's at least one kid like that in each class, at least on average. Then there are the other kids who may feel that this is something funny, or this is something dirty, or gross, or disgusting. And they need to get a little bit of education about this too.

LH: So your overview of this then may very well be that because parents can't find middle ground, the kids are the ones that suffer.

JK: Certainly. The kids need this information and if anyone wants to look at the content of the curriculum, it's online. It's easy to find. Our website has it, the CRC's website has it, the school district has it. And you can see what the content of this is and it's not going to offend anyone.

LH: Jim, thank you very much. I wish we had more time to talk. I'm sure we're going to hear a lot more about this.

JK: Oh yeah

LH: In the future. Thank you so much.

JK: Thank you

LH: If you would like to learn more about Teach The Facts or support the initiative, please visit the website

TV is a strange bird. Until you've gone through something like this you can't appreciate the great disconnect between what happens and what you see happening on TV.

All in all, this show was just like every other news talk show. They had six people to speak against the curriculum, and two to support it -- me and Betsy from the school district. Everybody landed a punch or two, everybody missed with a couple.

The dad came on after me. We're not going to transcribe his part. He did admit that he hadn't seen the curriculum and had only heard what was in it. Probably got one of those letters, those phone calls from the CRC.

I have found myself doing some pretty strange things in my life, things I never imagined doing. Some of them have been fun, some have been a lot of unrewarding work. I guess the best you can do is to try to learn something from everything you do.

The producer mentioned that they put this show online somewhere, but so far I can't find it. I'll link it if I figure that out.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Abstinence and Abstinence-Only Education

I hate this. I've been working all day on this stupid post, trying to say something about this study of abstinence-only education and how it doesn't produce abstinence. I start and then get stuck and then come back to it, and it's getting nowhere. There's a point I wanted to make but I think I'll can it for now.

This morning the local paper, the Washington Post, has the story on page A2:
A long-awaited national study has concluded that abstinence-only sex education, a cornerstone of the Bush administration's social agenda, does not keep teenagers from having sex. Neither does it increase or decrease the likelihood that if they do have sex, they will use a condom.

Authorized by Congress in 1997, the study followed 2000 children from elementary or middle school into high school. The children lived in four communities -- two urban, two rural. All of the children received the family life services available in their community, in addition, slightly more than half of them also received abstinence-only education.

By the end of the study, when the average child was just shy of 17, half of both groups had remained abstinent. The sexually active teenagers had sex the first time at about age 15. Less than a quarter of them, in both groups, reported using a condom every time they had sex. More than a third of both groups had two or more partners. Study Casts Doubt on Abstinence-Only Programs

To really achieve abstinence, you need to realize that teenagers are autonomous, decision-making human beings. You can't consider them as authoritarian robots, responding obediently to sound-bite commands. You need to make a persuasive case and give them facts, give them reasons to abstain from sex. They should know what it is and how it works, what's good and what's bad about it, and what the consequences are. Really, one of the best examples of this, I thought, was the MCPS curriculum that was adopted in 2004 and then thrown out the next year after the lawsuit.

The problem is that it's too hard to fit all that on a six-second sound-bite. No politician will take on the golden glow of betterthanyou moralism with a concept as complicated as teaching teenagers to make responsible, well-informed decisions. For them it's better to say the word "abstinence" on-camera, bask in its aura, and get on to the next thing.

Well, that's great for getting votes, or getting donations for your organization. As this carefully-conducted study has shown, the problem is, abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinence.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Equipoise ... Not

I wanted to point out something that somebody mentioned recently. The Maryland State Superintendent of Schools decided not to stop last month's pilot testing of the new sex-ed curriculum in Montgomery County. In her opinion, Dr. Grasmick wrote:
It is my view that the Appellants arguments are equally matched by the local board’s response. In my view, the likelihood of success on the merits, at best, rests in equipoise.

Later in her opinion, she wrote:
In my view, the Appellants’ arguments on the merits are equally matched by the local board’s response to those arguments.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have tried to talk about this as if the superintendent considered their arguments to be as good as the school district's. So, if they can just have a big "trial," they can really make their point ... and win.

But look. The superintendent wrote about three things in this document, which is linked HERE, if you want to follow along.

The first analysis had to do with "Likelihood of success on the merits." In this section, she looked at the legal arguments, and decided that the CRC's arguments "at best" equalled the county's. This was the equipoised part.

Round one: tie.

The next section was about the "Balance of harm." This section considered questions like, does opting-out of the test classes mean students miss the whole health section, is opting-out traumatic, should the schools be teaching more about anal sex (which the CRC is asking for), does opting-out label a person as homophobic, etc.

Her answer sides with the school district on balance of harm:
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.

After she had ticked through each of the complaints and dismissed them, she concluded the curriculum seems to have been developed competently, and it is does not appear that anyone will be harmed if the school district goes ahead and tries it out in the classroom test.

Round two: MCPS.

The third section had to do with "Public interest." She didn't bother wasting any time with this one:
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... 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 is clearly on MCPS's side as far as the public interest goes -- these classes should be taught, because they serve the public interest in reducing bullying and harassment.

Round three: MCPS.

The CRC can claim the decision was close, and they can sit on the edge of their chairs waiting for the state school board to tell the county that they are incompetent to develop their own classes, but ... I wouldn't hold my breath. The superintendent's opinion strongly favored the school district on two items, and tied on one -- the legal topic, which she as an educator is not expected to be expert in. And even there, that "at best" is significant; she judges that the CRC has "at best" an even chance of winning on the legal arguments.

We saw the CRC's lawyer asking for money at their recent meeting, so they can make this hearing into a spectacle. But they have no case, really, and their only hope is to try to bluff the school district or wear them down with threats of dragging the legal pettiness out over a long time.

The question, it seems to me, is whether they can persuade the big deep-pockets Family Blah Blah organizations to put up a bunch of cash, to bet on something that won't win if it gets an open hearing. I wouldn't second-guess these guys, but it seems to me, that's the question. If it goes forward as a routine matter, they don't have a chance. If they actually have a hearing in front of the school board or a judge, they'll be laughed out of the room -- MCPS was too careful this time, there isn't any opening. If they make a big show out of it, as they are threatening to do, it will end up embarrassing them and the entire religious right (think Dover) and will cost a lot of money. Their only hope is the small chance they can get the school district to back out before it comes to a public hearing. Can they get backing for that kind of crazy plan? Just depends on how desperate the guys with the money are.

Vonnegut Gone, Lives On

Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. The New York Times has the obit HERE.

In the self-seriousness of our time, Vonnegut made us laugh at ourselves and at each other equally. With his unblinking sense of irony -- a friend in my doorway just referred to him as "profoundly sardonic," which I think is perfect -- Vonnegut was the natural heir to the dark, penetrating, humoristic literary tradition that was handed down from Jonathan Swift, through Mark Twain.

A few weeks ago, my daughter became interested in his novels; we went to Barnes and Noble and picked out a handful. There was something really comforting in seeing the next generation sprawled on the couch, going through Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five, at a time in our history when you might think, reading the papers, that irony had disappeared entirely from the face of the earth.

I'm just glad there was a Kurt Vonnegut.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Does the PTA Have Any Teeth?

Two years ago, when the school district was about to pilot-test the "old new" curriculum, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum got PTA directories from the pilot schools and sent lying letters to families there, warning them about the terrible horrible classes that their kids were going to be exposed to.

The PTSA at Tilden Middle School was the first to respond, passing a resolution that, after a bunch of whereases, said:
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the Tilden Middle School PTSA objects in the strongest terms to the misuse of the directory by the CRC, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the PTSA demands that the CRC respond promptly and completely to the questions raised by its President about the source and intended use of the directory information, specifically identifying any instances in which this information may have already been sold or otherwise made available to another individual or entity, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the PTSA demands the CRC agree in writing to cease using the information obtained from the directory, and to return to the PTSA all copies of the directory information now in the possession of CRC, in whatever form the information may exist, or certify in writing that this information has been destroyed.

Yeah, well, that didn't exactly elicit an immediate reaction from the CRC.

The CRC's secretary responded to an article in the Gazette about the situation by sending a letter to the editor that said, in part:
... I would like to correct some of the misinformation about what CRC did in mailing letters to parents at the 6 pilot schools. Our primary objective was to inform parents about the content of the pilot since the parent meetings and the permission forms failed in that regard.

Parents in each of those schools offered us their directories in order to communicate with all the affected parents, and even assisted with the mailings. There has been a 10 to 1 ratio of letters thanking us for our actions. We feel that we needed to do what the schools would not do: honestly communicate to the parents what was in the pilot program, and that is what was sent out – salient parts of the curriculum itself.

We make no apologies, and defend our actions as the right thing to do in light of the Judge’s clear ruling on the pilot.

(Remember that a judge issued a temporary restraining order right before the pilot testing was to begin.) In other words, the CRC felt they had the right to break the PTA's rules.

Then in December of that year, the Montgomery Council of PTA Delegates passed a resolution, that -- after the whereases -- said:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the MCCPTA Delegate Assembly strongly believes that the CRC should respond promptly and completely to all questions and concerns raised by local PTA units about the sources and intended uses of their student directory information, specifically identifying any instances in which this information may have already been sold or otherwise made available to another individual or entity, and

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the MCCPTA Delegate Assembly strongly believes that the CRC should agree in writing to cease using information obtained from PTA student directories, and to return to the affected PTAs all copies of their directory information now in the possession of CRC, in whatever form the information may exist, or certifying in writing that this information has been destroyed, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the MCCPTA Delegate strongly believes that the CRC should concede in writing that its use of student directory information was inappropriate and agree that it will refrain from any future use of PTA student directory information.

But the CRC ignored the resolution, the PTA ignored their ignoring, and that was that.

Fast-forward to 2007. New curriculum, new pilot test, new directories, same old CRC. They took directories again from the six pilot-test schools and this time used them for letters and postcards, plus they used the phone numbers to set up a robo-calling system to call people at home and play a recorded message.

The PTA's response this time? Well, we heard some rumors that some PTA folks were unhappy about it. That's it. There was no attempt to stop them, and as far as I know there was no official response. Seems you can wear these people down.

What this means is that anybody can use the PTA directories for anything. Salesmen can use them to identify prospective customers, any political party or candidate can use them to target families for specially tailored messages ... anybody.

Seems to me two things can happen. One, the PTA can make an actual legal case out of this, filing papers and going to court -- I'm no lawyer, but I think there must be some recourse. Or two, people will just stop allowing the PTA to publish their names in the directories.

Well, I guess, three, they could pass another resolution with some whereases and some resolveds, whoopee, that really works.

I know our house always had a well-worn book next to the phone, we were always looking for numbers for kids and parents for this or that, rides and things; the PTA directories are very useful. If the PTA doesn't defend themselves, those directories will go the way of ... hitchhiking, say, which also depended on people trusting one another, and used to be common and is now extinct. People aren't going to put their address and phone number in the PTA directory any more than they'd let some guy standing alongside the road get into their car.

Sounds expensive, I know, but if the PTA is going to do anything more than organize cookie sales they're going to have to stand up for themselves. Hey, I got nothing against cookie sales.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Schools Playing Catch-Up

This morning's Washington Post had a feature article on a sex-ed teacher in MCPS who has seen it all.

Here's how it starts:
Susan Soule was a sex education teacher for decades before she ever had a student identify herself as gay in front of the class.

It was in the late 1990s, and by then the subject that Soule began teaching in 1973 as little more than a guarded anatomy lesson had been buffeted by the emergence of AIDS, test tube fertilization, the gay pride movement and other earthquakes of the sexuality landscape. A few days into a class discussion that Soule had led countless times before, a sophomore at Montgomery Blair High School raised her hand and matter-of-factly declared that she was a lesbian.

For a breakthrough, Soule recalled, it proved an unremarkable moment.

"She was very comfortable saying it," Soule, 55, said. "The other students were like, 'Oh? Really?' And then we moved on. It was very simple." Teacher Takes a Long View of Sex-Ed: Montgomery Pilot Program Part of Movement Toward Greater Openness

One of the odd things about all this "controversy" over teaching about sexual orientation in the schools is that it's water under the bridge. The world has changed already. It's done.

When I was in high school, we didn't know about any gay students. Now you know they were there, but at the time they kept quiet about it. In those days, homosexuality was something involving strange people, somewhere else. It wasn't about somebody you actually knew, and it couldn't possibly be somebody right in your class.

I don't know why it was like that, it just was.

But today in high school, some kids are gay, and some aren't. There are still all the usual subgroups of angst-hounded adolescents, and nowadays some of them are gay or lesbian. Whatever happened, happened; the whole concept of being gay came out of the closet.
It has become far more common for students to assert their homosexuality from their school desks, said Soule, who now teaches the same subject at Wheaton's John F. Kennedy High School. Last week, as Montgomery County schools prepared to wrap up pilot testing on a curriculum that would open the way for deeper discussions of sexual and gender identity, Soule noted that it is not the first time official lessons are playing catch-up with the students.

"One thing that has always been true is that the kids are much more at ease with all of this than the grown-ups are," said Soule, whose 18-week Comprehensive Health class includes units on mental health, violence, addiction and infectious disease. "Nobody blinks an eye."

Kids grow up together, they change over time, but they accept each other as they are. My kids have had a number of friends over the years who turned out to be gay; some of them it was like, <rolls_eyes> duh, and some caught them by surprise. In any case, never was it any big deal, as far as I know nobody ever broke off a friendship over it.

But about this teacher ...
She lives in Gaithersburg and said she doesn't find much difference between upcounty and downcounty attitudes toward sex education. "In my experience, the vast majority of parents support it," she said. The health class is mandated by the state for all 10th-graders, but parents can request that their children not be exposed to any part of the curriculum.

According to Soule, fewer than 1 percent of parents countywide exercise that option. The material on homosexuality and condom use now being tested required, for the pilot phase, additional consent from parents. School administrators said about 91 percent got their parent's consent to participate.

Under current guidelines, teachers can talk about homosexuality only in direct response to a student's question. The pilot curriculum includes it as part of the standard lesson. "Before, students had to ask," Soule said. "Some classes got it; some didn't."

Look, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum want to stop something that can't be stopped. They want to turn back time, and it doesn't go that way.

The school district has humored them, it seems to me, more than they should have. Well, it was an innocent mistake, they assumed these were decent, reasonable people -- after all, they always said they were. The first new curriculum, which we call sometimes the "Fishback curriculum," bent over backwards to include conservative views. That citizens advisory committee was loaded up with people representing conservative groups. In fact, the CRC was started by members of the citizens advisory committee that David Fishback chaired. An assumption within that group was that you could negotiate with those people, you could reach a compromise that made everyone happy, and it was a good, idealistic thing to try.

But the fact is, the betterthanyou members never wanted to find a common ground, they wouldn't negotiate, they didn't think they had to. They were so sure they were absolutely morally superior to everybody else that they didn't have to consider other points of view.

Sadly for them, the rest of the county has refused to play along. One wild scheme after another has failed -- from trying to recall the school board to having to apologize to the board for threats on their web site, to stamped, self-addressed anti-curriculum letters that people changed and sent to the school district with messages favoring the changes, to the famous town-hall meeting where the CRC had to apologize for their bigoted speakers, to reprimands over misuse of the PTA directories, to ... [tons of stuff skipped here] ... the latest grand attempt to undermine the pilot testing, the CRC has failed at everything. They got one 10-day restraining order two years ago, that's it, that's their success.

They tried everything to stop it, but the world has moved on.

Monday, April 09, 2007

CRC Pouting: Opt-Out Opinions Not Part of Test Data

OMG, this one is unbelievable!

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum tried their very hardest to undermine the pilot testing of the new sex-ed curriculum. They sent out letters, emails, they robo-called people at home, well, unless this is your first visit to this site you know what they've been doing to persuade people to keep their kids out of the testing.

The whole point of the pilot-testing, of course, was to find out if and how the classes could be improved. By attempting to disrupt the testing, the CRC made it very clear that they have no interest in improving the curriculum, they just want to stop it. We always knew that, but this situation made it crystal-clear to everybody.

If they wanted to make the courses more conservative, that is, if they wanted to participate democratically in the development process, the smart thing for them would have been to send the conservative families' kids to the classes and let them ask hard questions, or express their parents' anti-gay opinions, in the classroom. Those questions and comments would then have been recorded in the test data, sent to the central office for analysis, and in the long run they would have had some legitimate input into the system.

Instead, they did everything they could to sabotage the test.

Somebody just pointed me to this morning's Washington Times article, and I cannot believe what I'm seeing.
Montgomery County public-school officials are asking students and teachers to review a new sex-education curriculum, irking some parents who want to include their feedback.

The lessons, which include discussions on homosexuality and condom use, were taught in six schools last month, and officials intend to introduce them countywide this fall.

Parents who oppose the curriculum are angry that their responses will not be included in the review, which will be presented to the county school board.

"I find this to be very one-sided," said Michelle Turner, spokeswoman for Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, which opposes the new lessons. "It would be nice if they could contact the parents who opted their kids out and get feedback from them." Sex-ed classes under review

Whoa, I need to stop, my sides are hurting.

The CRC's campaign to undermine this testing was, in my memory, their biggest effort ever. They got the TV channels involved, they got the American Family Association involved, they worked long and hard to make a database of names and addresses and phone numbers out of the PTA directories, they spent money on postage and automated phone-calling technology, they put the pedal to the metal this time.

This is almost sad, it's so funny.

Implied Lasciviousness

Kind of an interesting little letter in The Post this morning, commenting on the editorial last week that supported MCPS's implementation of the new sex-ed curricula:
Regarding "Teaching Tolerance; Montgomery is a pioneer with a new sex education course" [editorial, April 2]: Contrary to what Montgomery County suggests, it is not necessary to teach details of any particular lifestyle to teach tolerance.

I grew up in the 1950s. My understanding of sexual practices might have been lacking in detail, but I was taught to respect all people and to tolerate however they wanted to live, as long as it did not harm me. I was required to act a certain way, not to think a certain way.

Today's agenda, promoting acceptance of all life choices as morally equal, confuses acceptance with tolerance. Although rapidly changing, our history as a nation places restrictions on what we do, not what we think.

Justifying graphic sex education as necessary for promoting tolerance is a fallacious argument.



There is a message here that I would like to comment on, which is the message of the threat of anomie.

We have heard the CRC complain that curriculum supporters accept "all life choices as morally equal," as this writer says, and I understand that to mean that people like those in the CRC are terrified of a world without clear-cut rules handed down by some authority to dictate their life's choices for them with a minimum of thinking required.

I didn't mean for that to sound that way. Well, maybe I did.

Look, we're talking about sexual orientation here. One guy falls in love with a girl, another guy falls in love with a guy. The fact is, there is no need, in this situation, for any moral judgment at all. They're in love, yay! What could be wrong with that?

This doesn't mean that any of us believe that "all life choices as morally equal." There are lots of things that are morally wrong in the world: greed, hate, unjustified warfare, destroying the environment, torture, I can think of lots of situations where a moral judgment is absolutely appropriate. These things are not just "bad ideas," they're wrong. No, there's plenty of morality on our side of this issue, that's not in question, it just happens to be a morality that makes sense, which is confusing to some people. Turns out an intelligent human being is able to make moral distinctions without being told what to think.

I'm going to keep this short, but wanted to point out two curveballs in this letter. First of all, this writer mentions "it is not necessary to teach details of any particular lifestyle," leaving you to fill the void by assuming that some details of some lifestyles are being taught. They're not. Some terms are defined, some concepts are discussed, respect is encouraged. The CRC is really pushing to include stuff about anal sex, but the school district does not agree to go there, and we don't think they should, either.

The other curveball is in the last sentence. It's almost the same thing, where she talks about "graphic sex education." What does she think is in these classes, anyway? There's nothing graphic at all, in the sense we usually mean it. For instance, there is nothing at all -- not a mention, not a hint -- of any sexual behaviors practiced by gays and lesbians. Not a word.

Sadly, the typical bleary-eyed Post reader, scanning this letter over a cup of coffee, might come away with the idea that the new curriculum is salacious. It's not.

On Pork and Gays and Religious Rights

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum like to complain that their religious rights are violated by the new sex-ed curriculum, which discusses homosexuality without mentioning its sinfulness.

For instance, here's a chunk from the CRC's appeal to the state board of education to stop the new classes:
In this case the Appellants seek to protect their legitimate, albeit unpopular, religious belief that views the homosexual sex acts as sinful from being refuted to their children in classes teaching the Additional Lessons. This view rests on a long standing religious tradition, and counts as its adherents many hundreds of thousands of followers in many Evangelical and some other Protestant Christian denominations, Mormons Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox Jews and others.

Also, they say ...
The Additional Lessons violate the Establishment Clause because the government is directly involved in preferring one set of religious beliefs over another.

A couple of days ago we quoted the CRC's John Garza, talking on a TV show, saying:
If you do that [teach tolerance] you’re going to step on the toes of many religious folks who are taught on Sunday that homosexual conduct is a sin so you run right into that major problem.

Well, there is a lot of talk -- lot of talk -- about religion in the CRC's appeal to the state. In fact, I think it is mostly about religion.

This morning somebody wrote something in our comments section that I wanted to bring to the front, because they make such a good point.

See, the CRC says that because their religion teaches that homosexuality is a sin, the school district is violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution -- known to us ordinary folks as the "separation of church and state" -- by teaching about gay people without noting the, uh, negative stereotype.

You know, these Christians make all the noise, but they aren't the only religion that has prohibitions on things. So "MCPS Mom" wrote this morning:
Every time an MCPS cafeteria serves pork, it steps "on the toes of many religious folks [Muslims, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, etc.] who are taught" that pigs are unclean and eating pork is an abomination. Similarly, every dress code that allows females to attend school with uncovered heads or wearing miniskirts or shorts steps "on the toes of many [Muslim] religious folks" who are taught that the Qur'an orders Muslims to dress "modestly." Every cheeseburger served steps "on the toes of many [Jewish] religious folks" who are taught to keep Kosher.

If these or countless other conditions at school are so divergent from your religious views that you cannot tolerate them, you are free to enroll your students in religious schools that provides lessons and meals you can tolerate or to home school them.

The good news about health classes on human sexuality at MCPS is that you don't have to withdraw from MCPS and enroll in a religious school to avoid them. You can simply withhold parental permission for your student to attend these classes if you object to them for any reason.

This is an excellent point.

The school serves pork in the cafeteria. The observant Jew or Muslim simply doesn't take a helping. They don't go to court to take pork off the menu, they don't walk around outside the school with signs, they don't robo-call families at home to tell them to boycott the cafeteria. If they eat at the cafeteria, they take a different kind of food.

It's exactly the same.

No religious group has the right to force everybody else to follow their particular restrictions or habits. It's as simple as that. If you have a proscription you obey, then it's up to you to figure out how to do that. It seems to me that the schools will accommodate you as well as they can -- I remember sitting in a school board meeting when some Muslim students complained about final exams being given during their holy week. The school board asked a lot of questions, and it looked like they would do what they could to correct the situation, so that people would be able to practice their religion without coming into conflict with the school schedule. It's not a requirement, the school district doesn't have to do that, but it's a nice thing to do, and they would prefer to respect people's practices if they can. I think that's how it usually is.

And anyway, look. In the long run, it doesn't matter if the classes are right or wrong, moral or immoral, because, as MCPS Mom says here, if you don't want your kid to take the course they don't have to. You don't even have to say why you're not letting them take it. A parent simply doesn't sign the request form, and the kid is excused. It's that easy.

Your kid will only take the class if you, the parent, send a special note to the school, asking for permission for your child to attend the classes. If your religion doesn't accept the content of the classes, just don't ask for permission for your child to attend. How can anybody complain about that?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Final Tally: Parents Supported Pilot Testing

The anti-Montgomery County group, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, sent letters and postcards to the families at the pilot-test schools for the new sex-ed classes, trying to get them to opt their kids out of the testing. The American Family Association sent out a special newsletter, saying the same thing. The CRC even robo-called families, playing a recorded message, urging them to keep their kids out of the pilot tests. Oh, and they held a "big" meeting, with TV camera crews and everything there, to promote this important message.

This morning, the Washington Post has the data on how many kids opted out of the classes.

Opt In Opt Out No
School Permission
Argyle Middle 60 0 3
West Middle 54 10 2
Westland Middle 105 2 9
B-CC High 187 3 0
Sherwood High 267 10 16
Watkins Mill HS 148 12 13

SOURCE: Montgomery County Public Schools

Here are percents to one decimal point, which makes it a little clearer than the paper has it: 91.1 percent of students took the class; 4.1 percent opted out; 4.8 percent forgot to bring in their permission slips.

This is a big deal. The CRC mounted their most intensive media campaign ever, an all-out assault on the public, trying everything they could to get people to go along with them. And guess what: people didn't fall for it.

In November, the people of Montgomery County spoke at the ballot box, sweeping in new progressive school board candidates and other progressive officials, from County Executive on down. This past month, they spoke again: there is no question, people support these changes. They want their kids to learn these things, and they trust MCPS to do a good job teaching them.

Representing on the Tube

Man, I'll tell you, this was one time I was glad to be out of town. Channel Seven called and wanted somebody to go on TV to discuss the new curriculum with somebody from the CRC. Since I was out in Hawaii, I had an excuse -- I hate these things. I don't like to watch TV, and I don't like being on it. Christine Grewell was brave enough to volunteer for this one, and she did great. Not that it's her first time. She was on CNN, PBS, she was on Laura Ingraham's show, she was on NPR, she's been on a number of shows and has been interviewed by the various media, representing our point of view. Probably more than me, actually. She's definitely better at it than I am.

Here's a transcript of the show, which was broadcast this morning. I'm going to throw in my inappropriate and sarcastic comments, as usual.
Kathleen Matthews: ...From the WJLA Broadcast Center in Arlington, Virginia, I’m Kathleen Matthews in for Leon Harris. Teaching children about sex has always been a controversial topic and especially sensitive these days in Montgomery County where for the past three years, parents and educators have battled over adding lessons on homosexuality to the curriculum. Now after a slew of lawsuits, committee meetings, and Board of Education hearings, students this month have finally started that new sex-ed curriculum. But the opposition hasn’t backed down. You can expect to see more lawsuits and challenges as they proceed. The question here is should middle school students be learning about homosexuality in school or is Montgomery County pushing the limits on a taboo topic that perhaps should be taught at home? Joining us today are two parents on both sides of this issues: Christine Grewell of Teach The Facts, she’s in favor of the program and John Garza’s an attorney for the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and he’s opposed. John, tell us first of all your investment in this topic.

John Garza: I have three children and I live in Montgomery County. I have two daughters age 9 and 8 and also a son who’s 6 years old so they’ll be heading into this curriculum in the near future.

Amazing. Garza's kids don't go to public school -- one sentence into the interview, and there he goes. His kids won't be "heading into this curriculum" -- ever.
Christine Grewell: I also have three children, two that have already graduated. They were K through 12 in the county. And I have a 10th grader.

KM: So we got those facts on the table. Tell me, John, what your major objection or major fear about this being taught in school is.

JG: We have two major problems with the new curriculum. The first problem is it teaches facts that are just not correct. And then the other problem that we have is, is that by encouraging homosexuality, it tramples on those who have religious beliefs that are in direct contradiction to that so...

Note: it takes a certain kind of mind to see no inconsistency in the concept of "facts that are just not correct."
KM: Now I want to stop you there because you said “encouraging homosexuality.” Does the curriculum really encourage it?

JG: I think so...I think...

KM: How?

JG: Well if you read the curriculum, for example, the Portia, the boy who wants to become a girl. This part of the curriculum talks about how when he came out as a girl it was very good feelings that he had and how wonderful it was and how everyone rallied around him – or her – to make him feel better and the teachers gave him a unisex bathroom key and it was almost like a great coming of age story for this person. If a, if a child is taught that...

KM: You think that’s promoting it.

JG: We think that’s promoting it, yes.

I will note here that homosexuality is not even mentioned in the Portia vignette. And the teachers let her use the faculty restroom ... wow, that is bad.

The CRC hates that Portia vignette, because it makes a transgender person seem real. It forces the reader to think for a minute about what it's like for someone who is trying to deal with their gender identity, which is different from the other kids'.

And listen, if reading a vignette from a textbook makes a boy want to turn into a girl ... oh, never mind.
CG: Well, my understanding is that about 93% of American parents would like to have sex education taught in the schools and of those about 73% think that homosexuality and sexual orientation should also be taught at the schools. I think it s a good idea to give kids enough information to make well-informed choices about what they’re going to do in their life and I think this curriculum will go a long way to helping the LGBT kids that are students at MCPS that currently are ignored and stigmatized...

Ah, there goes that Teach the Facts lady again, making sense.

But of course we are fascinated to learn more about the CRC view.
KM: John, John, tell me what you think about that because some would add to that argument that you know, they’re surrounded by it in popular culture so they’re going to get the message from someplace if not from school.

JG: Well we’re not opposed to teaching sex education in the school. We’ve never been opposed to it. We just want factually correct information given to the students and also just stay away from the religious implications of homosexuality. If they could do those two things we would probably back away and not be opposed any more.

Yeah, well, good, because neither of those two things are in the curriculum. Facts are well supported, and there is absolutely nothing about religion or contradicting any religion. So back away already.
KM: Do you think there’s a good way to teach about homosexuality in school?

JG: It’s very difficult to teach about homosexuality without stepping on someone’s toes. You have the homosexual community who want to teach tolerance and embracing their lifestyle. If you do that you’re going to step on the toes of many religious folks who are taught on Sunday that homosexual conduct is a sin so you run right into that major problem.

He wishes that was a problem. But it's not. Nothing in the curriculum says anything one way or the other about whether it's a sin to be gay. You can believe that if you want, but you will learn the names of a couple of things in these classes, and you will spend a few minutes in your short life thinking about what it is like to be gay, or transgender, in America today.

By the way, the idea that the "homosexual community" want to "teach tolerance and embracing their lifestyle" -- I am not aware of anyone from the "homosexual community" taking part in this debate at all. Oh, they're watching, but it is a lie to depict this controversy as a conflict between the Christians and the "homosexual community." This is between parents who want the facts stated, objectively and fairly, and parents who want to sweep the whole topic under the table and stigmatize some members of our community.

Or, another way you could look at it is: this is between parents whose kids attend public schools and take the health classes, and parents whose kids don't.
KM: Christine, let me get you to jump in here. Do you agree with this or do you think there’s a danger in not teaching about homosexuality in terms of maybe arming kids with information about safe sex for example?

CG: Oh, I know that there is danger to having kids not get information that’s going to help them make wise decision about their own health and safety.

KM: What are the dangers do you think for kids, for teenager or preteens?

CG: Well for example, one thing that we’re adding to the curriculum this time is a demonstration of the proper use of a condom and I think that that’s a life skill that every student should learn. They may not use it – hopefully they won’t use it before graduation, but it’s something that they’re going to need to learn.

Yikes -- she's making sense again!

Quick -- somebody say something nutty.
KM: What about that John? Do you object to that?

JG: No, I think that we need to teach kids how to use a condom, how to protect themselves. But we want to give them proper factual information, for example, the current, the new curriculum teaches children that anal sex and vaginal sex are equally safe if you use a condom. There is no factual information to back that up. We submitted information from the Surgeon General, from CDC, from NIH, and in fact the condom manufacturers themselves will tell you that there is no proof that using a condom in anal sex is as safe as vaginal. What we want to do is tell the students that there is a big difference. It may not be as safe in the form of anal sex so at least be honest with the students that they’re not the same.

OK, here's a serious question: why do they lie?

There is no place in the curriculum that says that "anal sex and vaginal sex are equally safe if you use a condom." He has totally invented that, and presented it on TV as a fact.

How do they live with themselves?

Tell you the truth, I think Christine set a little trap for him. We should have taken bets ahead of time -- how quickly can she get the CRC guy to start talking about anal sex. They love to talk about anal sex, it's weird. She knew when she said "condom" that he would have to say "anal sex." Hammer to kneecap. Bam-bam-bam, he said it three times in one paragraph.

The fact is, there's no proof that a condom is any less effective for anal sex than for vaginal sex, and it is good, mainstream advice to recommend using one in either case. The government sites recommend it, your doctor recommends it. There's no real controversy there, except that the CRC loves to say the phrase "anal sex," and wants the schools to teach about it.
KM: Let me just talk as we wrap up here about self-image. You’re talking about children that are coming of age, prepubescent kids who are maybe discovering their sexuality and may be confused about who they are and whether they are normal. Does teaching them about homosexuality ease some children through that process do you think? That it is something that some kids will grow up to be?

JG: Well yeah. We know that students about that age, about 25% of them are really not sure what their sexual orientation is but we know that by the time they reach my age, only about 1-3% are actually going to go into the homosexual lifestyle. It’s a’s in a time when we’ve got to be very careful on how we push them in. Now what this program does is it encourages them to self-label what their orientation is in 8th or 10th grade. That’s too young. People shouldn’t be talked into labeling their orientation at that age.

Wow. How do they live with themselves?

Where to start?

First of all, these statistics. By age 18-19, according to this NCHS Survey, 94.4 percent of males reported themselves as heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual. 3.5 percent said "something else," and 2.1 percent didn't answer the question. So, by nineteen ... they know. Other surveys find about half the "unsure" high-school-age adolescents that Garza mentions, and at least twice the number of gays in the adult population.

And that phrase about "how we push them in." Push them into what? Does he think somebody becomes gay because they were "pushed into" it? That's bizarre.

We have talked a lot on this blog about the CRC's charge that the classes encourage students to "self-label." It's simply a lie. There is nothing anywhere in any of these classes that would encourage anybody to label themselves -- in fact, the curriculum goes out of its way to make the point that you can discover your sexual orientation at any time in your life. You might not know in tenth grade, no big deal, you'll figure it out when the time comes. The accusation that anybody would be "talked into labeling their orientation at that age" is simply fiction, and he knows it.
KM: Christine, with the last word on that.

CG: Actually with the curriculum – when you read the curriculum, it says that some students or some people identify at an early age and other do not identify themselves as homosexual until after they’ve been adult for many years. So if you read the curriculum, you’ll find out what it really says and I encourage all parents to do so, to be informed.

KM: I applaud both of you for caring enough about the kids to get involved in this issue. Thanks very much.

Wham! Yes. If you're concerned about this, just ... read ... the ... curriculum. We've got it on the Internet, broken down into easy-to-handle pieces, HERE. The whole thing, including court documents.

This is just more evidence of the CRC's disregard for facts. They will say anything, because they feel they have to win. It doesn't matter what the people of the community believe, or what is really in the curriculum -- none of that matters, the only thing that matters is stopping the school district from teaching this new information.

Congratulations to Christine for representing TTF perfectly well.

Easter in America

Easter morning. The kitty is scaring the birds away from the bird-feeder, the dog is chewing on his toy, WPFW is playing some acoustic jazz, the coffee is made. It's cold outside, as I discovered when I went out to pick up the morning paper. I'm the only one up so far.

Easter is a good day to think about religion in America. This lunar holiday is a perfectly unreasonable blend of Christian and pagan traditions. Unbelievable, in fact, that we can get away with it. You have, on one hand, the New Testament story of the resurrection, occurring, in classical form, when the sun is regaining its strength after the darkness of winter. You have on the other hand, the bunny and the eggs.

Even the word, Easter, is as un-Christian as can be. There have been Easter goddesses since time immemorial. Ostara, Eostre, Astarte, the Old Testament Esther, Ashtoreth, Ishtar ... This is, pointedly, the root of our word "estrogen." It all has to do with fertility and generation. Where solar deities tend to be reborn in the springtime, the goddesses have a habit of giving birth.

And let's not forget, the Last Supper was probably a Passover meal. This date on the Christian calendar corresponds not-coincidentally with the Jewish holiday, in case you didn't think it was eclectic enough already.

The merging of pagan and Christian practices on this special day seems to me to be one of the most fascinating accomplishments of our profoundly irrational culture. Who complains about the Easter Bunny? Who refuses to hide Easter eggs? The practices aren't explained away with Bible stories, they just lie there at the surface, traditions that contradict one another, coexisting without conflict. We are a more interesting people than we give ourselves credit for.

The word "theocracy" doesn't often come up in our debate over sex-ed in Montgomery County, Maryland. More often, words like "morality" and "values" are used, occasionally "bigots" and, OK, I admit it, "nuts" comes up pretty often. But zoom out a little and see what this is. In 2004 the public schools, a secular institution, decided to include some teaching about sexual orientation. And certain panty-puckered religious individuals, notably evangelicals and Mormons but there were a few Catholics, too, decided to express outrage over the school district's failure to pay proper tribute to their taboos.

The fact is, our whole controversy should be seen as an attempted theocratic coup. The people of the county, by and large, have a fair and tolerant opinion of their gay neighbors. We don't call them "deviants," and the only place I've heard gays referred to as "sodomites" was at meetings of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum.

But some people wanted to make it an issue, that God doesn't approve of gay people and the schools shouldn't act like they're okay.

May I point out -- there's no other way to come to the conclusion that homosexuality is immoral. It doesn't meet any of the criteria of immorality. Nobody gets hurt, nobody loses anything, nobody lies, it's just a matter of somebody's love-life being different from somebody else's. There is no ordinary system of morality that would conclude that homosexuality is wrong, the only thing is a myopic reading of certain religious passages, and a certain authoritarian interpretation that says that everything in scripture is a direct command from God.

This Easter weekend there is an interesting project going on, a "blogswarm" called Blog Against Theocracy. Follow that link, and there's a list of participating sites, you can click through and read different bloggers' perpsectives on the theme. At the moment, I count ninety-four blogs linked there. Lots to read there, lots and lots to think about.

Personally, I am thinking that the real threat has passed -- for the moment. The theocrats had their chance. Did you see that there are 150 graduates of Pat Robertson's Regent University working in the Bush administration? That includes Monica Goodling, the lying assistant Attorney General who resigned Friday. Yes, they've had their chance, they got to run things for a while. And somehow the word of Jesus became transformed, through their ministry, into a gospel of greed, corruption, lying, death, hypocrisy. They had their chance, and that's what it turned into, at the national level. And people seem to have mostly figured it out now -- I don't think many of these clowns will be voted into office the next time around.

That doesn't mean we can rest -- this isn't something that will really go away, it is just something that failed this time. Those who believe America should adhere to their narrow religious habits will not be giving up -- there's too much money in it, for one thing. Those of us who support freedom in this country will have to remain vigilant. Well, that's the way it's always been, we might as well get used to it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The HPV Vaccine: A Tough Issue

I had an interesting conversation today with a lady about HPV. It started out when I was sitting in the kitchen, catching up on my blog-reading after a weeklong trip to Hawaii, and listening to WPFW. All of a sudden, out of the blue, the station played this public service announcement, about two minutes long, about how terrible the new human papillomavirus vaccine called Gardasil is, and telling everybody to make sure that Washington DC doesn't pass a new law that would require girls in sixth grade to have the vaccination.

This just totally clashed with the afternoon's "old school" music and took some of the fun out of it, even if it was Sam Cooke singing "Little Red Rooster." (I still like Howlin' Wolf's version of it best.) I had assumed that a vaccination that can prevent most cervical cancer is a good thing. The way the thing was worded, it sounded like you should oppose the vaccine because HPV isn't that bad, it often doesn't have any symptoms at all, and lots of times it goes away on its own. Also, boys should take the vaccine, too, if you're going to make girls take it. Oh, and the vaccine's long-term effects are not known yet.

OK, this is a good one. There are a lot of issues here. I remember a while back in The Post, when Courtland Milloy argued that the idea that DC girls should take the vaccine was based on racist assumptions. I started to blog about his column, and decided against it, mainly because it was a little bit off-topic for this site. I especially have no desire to make racial issues a dominant theme here; there's a time and place for that important topic, but we are somewhat limited in our scope on this site.

Anyway, I called the number in the ad, just to see who and what was behind all this. After some maneuvering, I ended up talking with a live human. I didn't write down the lady's exact wording or anything, but I got the gist of it pretty clearly.

Let me try to list off the issues that were mentioned, between the ad and the conversation:
  • The vaccine was not properly tested
  • The vaccine only attacks four kinds of HPV, and not others (there are more than 50 types)
  • It will only prevent seventy percent of cervical cancer cases
  • Only eight women died (time frame unclear -- last year? ever?) of cervical cancer in DC
  • Follow the Merck money (it is suggested that some politicians may benefit from this policy)
  • It is not clear who's liable if the vaccine has negative effects
  • The government shouldn't tell people what medicine to take
  • You have to have sex to get it

Unfortunately, all these arguments get tangled up together, and the result is an incohesive kind of ranting that is probably not going to convince anybody.

The group that placed the ads is called The Parents and Friends Committee to Stop Medical Experimentation in Washington DC. You can check out their web site HERE, if you'd like. I guess they want to make it sound like the city just wants to use DC children to experiment on. Uh, I think that might be overplaying their hand.

Was the vaccine properly tested? You might remember that the clinical trials were actually stopped in the middle, when it was discovered that this stuff worked so well that the researchers wanted to make sure the placebo subjects were able to get it, too. Since this is a new product, of course nobody does actually know if there will be effects in ten or twenty years. Probably not, since the way it works is pretty well understood. I think the "longterm effects" argument is probably not too strong, and that the stuff is almost surely safe enough to use. From what I can tell, the tests were thorough. They tested it on 20,000 women, and found it very effective. Most of the observed side effects were pain at the injection site, fainting or dizziness when the shot was given, and some recipients got a fever. There were three cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which has been observed with other vaccines as well. Nothing outrageous, nothing unusual, there aren't a bunch of warning labels on the stuff.

True, the vaccine only attacks four kinds of virus: types 16, 18, 6, and 11. The first two of these cause about seventy percent of cervical cancer cases in the world, and the last two cause about ninety percent of genital wart cases. So, in my book, that's worth doing. Well, I don't know if it's worth making it mandatory, but it does sound like a reasonable personal decision to take the vaccine.

It has been estimated that 9,700 women would develop cervical cancer in the United States in 2006, and 3,700 would die, which seems like a lot to me. According to Milloy's article, in the US cervical cancer strikes 8.8 per 100,000 females, with a rate of 13.5 per 100,000 in the District. OK, so DC is well above the average, that's a point in favor of requiring the vaccine.

The anti-vaccine group lady told me about a Dr. Harper who opposes Gardasil. Dr. Diane M. Harper, physician, professor and the director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire, is pretty easy to find on the Internet, she seems to be an outspoken opponent of the implementation of Gardasil. She makes a strong case, but I have to say I was a little discouraged to discover (HERE) that she was on the research team working on the "other" anti-HPV vaccine. Gardasil is produced by Merck, and the other drug, Cervarix, is being developed -- and is not yet approved -- by GlaxoSmithKline. In earlier news stories, even a year ago, Dr. Harper was quite optimistic about the vaccines -- see THIS ONE, for example. But nowadays she's talking like it's unethical to give it to girls to prevent HPV. She, like the Parents, uh, Against Experimentation, seems to have one reason after the other why this is a bad idea.

In case you can't tell, my personal opinion after studying some of this on the Internet is that Dr. Harper has some personal interest in the outcome of this debate. Maybe I'm wrong, but I am not comfortable with her apparent one-eighty on the issue.

I don't know where the lady I talked to got the information that only eight women in Washington, DC, had died of cervical cancer, but ... why would that matter? About 20 million people in the US are infected with HPV, 9,700 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed each year. I have a hard time seeing the downside of reducing those numbers.

The Merck money, that's a tough one. The pharmaceutical industry, known as Big Pharma, is a diabolical beast. Yes, they give us health treatments undreamed-of in the past. But they want their money. Like, the governor of Texas, Republican Rick Perry (who is known for his perfect hair), recently signed an executive order saying that 11 and 12 year old girls must have the new vaccine. An executive order is not a law, but a lot of people think it is. Well, it turns out Merck donated a lot of dough to his campaign, and ... here's how Medical News Today put it:
The Associated Press on Wednesday reported that, according to documents, Perry's Chief of Staff Deidre Delisi and aides discussed Gardasil on Oct. 16, 2006, the same day that Merck's political action committee donated $5,000 to Perry's campaign and $5,000 total to eight Texas lawmakers. The documents also show that Perry aides met with Merck lobbyists beginning in mid-August 2006. Robert Black, a Perry spokesperson, on Wednesday said the timing of the meeting and donations were coincidental, adding that during the October 2006 meeting there was "no discussion of any kind" about mandating Gardasil.

Mmm, coincidental, uh huh.

The new drug costs about three hundred dollar per patient, doled out over three doses. Why is it so expensive? Most people who are watching the situation say it's expensive because Merck lost a $254 million lawsuit last year over Vioxx, after, y'know, a bunch of people had died. So this is tough -- the fact is, you can't trust these guys. The FDA is just as bad, the Bush administration just wants to make sure the corporations make money, and you really can't depend on the FDA to actually regulate anybody. So the public is on its own, we have to balance out whatever facts we can scrape together, to make a reasonable decision. Follow the money: well, as usual, the money stinks. Washington DC politicians may have their own reasons for wanting to boost Gardasil sales in the District; I can't see that that makes it a bad idea, it's just the way it is these days in America.

Liability is a mess, too. Say the vaccine does have a bad effect. Who pays? That question should be answered clearly before any law is passed.

To my mind, the one real issue here has to do with deciding when the government has the responsibility to tell people what medicine they need to take. Some of us old farts remember polio, and all those people you'd see in wheelchairs and on crutches, but kids today don't know what it is. Nor do they know smallpox, tuberculosis, mumps, lots of things. And that's because of mandatory vaccinations. So I think most of us agree it's okay sometimes for the government to tell people to take the medicine.

But the other side of it is the Terry Schiavo situation, where Congress literally passed a bill telling this guy what treatment to get for his wife. It was nobody's business, and no sensible person believes that the government should be making people's personal decisions for them to that degree. Okay, Republicans like it that way, but most of the rest of us agnostics would like the government to stay out of our personal business most of the time. So it's a balancing act. This is where the people need to discuss the issues calmly, carefully, and decide. Should the vaccination be required for girls? What about for boys? The role of government, I think, is the real question, and should be answered carefully. But I see no reason that an answer can't be produced eventually, and people will live with it, either way.

Finally, the lady I talked to said something weird. She said you don't get HPV from somebody breathing on you, you have to have sex to get it. I asked her why that made any difference. She thought it made all the difference. I pointed out that eighty five percent of Americans have had the virus, and she wanted to say Yes, and look what happened to them -- nothing, but I wouldn't let her change the subject.

She claimed not to agree with the religious right. She was well aware of the debate over abstinence, and said -- and I believed her -- that she didn't think it was realistic to expect abstinence. But at the same time, there was a sense that HPV is something you get when you're doing something you shouldn't. The fact that it's sexually transmitted made all the difference. Does it?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Examiner Adds a Detail or Two

I've given The Examiner a hard time in the past for, well, especially for getting a story entirely oppositely wrong, to the point that they had to issue a correction. But this morning's report on the CRC's appeal to the state has a couple of pieces of information that I had not heard before.
Field testing has come and gone for the sex education curriculum that’s sparked so much division in Montgomery County.

And now the decision about whether the teachings will make it to all of the school district’s classrooms lies in the hands of Maryland State Board of Education members.

Curriculum opponents asked the board members a month ago to rule on the teachings — which, most controversially, discuss sexual orientation and teach high schoolers how to put on condoms — after Maryland School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick sided with Montgomery County.

According to board spokesman Bill Reinhard, it’s unclear how long it will take for a decision to come.

“It usually takes a couple of months,” he said of requests for the state board to consider county challenges. “They probably will schedule a hearing.”

Yet the board is not required to hold a formal hearing and legally has no limit on the time it takes to recommend action. State board left to rule on sex ed teachings

Well, isn't that interesting? They'll "probably" schedule a hearing. I guess that means they "probably" won't. The question is just the values of those probabilities. (FYI, I am blogging this from the back row of a session in a conference on computational intelligence. An anthropologist/computer scientist is talking about simulating ancient population patterns at an site in Mexico.)

The CRC's lawyer/president, John Garza, was recently talking about the huge "trial" he wants this to be. He wants to depose dozens of people, including MCPS school board members, citizens advisory committee members, all kinds of people, and make the state school board wade through all of it, to decide whether Montgomery County erred in adopting this new curriculum.

I don't know why the state would take this spurious complain seriously. You read through it, you see what's going on. Are they required to humor every cranky bigot that wants to take up their time?

Apparently not.

There's a little more here, mostly stuff we already knew.
In her written comments about Montgomery County’s sex ed curriculum, Grasmick last month emphasized that blocking educational material is a power she only uses sparingly, and she did not feel it was justified in this case.

“It is my view that the merits of the First Amendment arguments here are balanced equally on each side,” she wrote. “I do not have a degree of certainty that constitutional injury causing irreparable harm is present here.”

Because Grasmick allowed field testing, the material did make its way into all six schools chosen for the testing, Montgomery Public Schools spokesman Brian Edwards confirmed Monday.

He said the curriculum is presently in an “evaluation phase.” “[The Montgomery County Board of Education] is gathering feedback from students and teachers,” Edwards said. “They’ll evaluate the lessons and decide if changes are needed.”

Two years ago, the conservative groups now resisting the lessons successfully sued the school district for viewpoint discrimination.

That "successfully sued" thing: the so-called "conservative groups" (Barry Goldwater is rolling over in his grave) won a ten-day temporary restraining order, based on a judge's opinion that someone's rights might have been deprived if the 2004 curriculum had been implemented. That ruling forced the school district to negotiate with the suers, leading to the situation we're in today -- and at this point I think we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As far as I can tell, nobody really knows what is supposed to happen next. The state school board has CRC's documents and the MCPS response. CRC is talking like they'll make a show trial out of this (uh, if they can find the money for it), and the state is saying ho-hum, I guess maybe we'll look at it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wish You Were Here

Just so you know I'm thinking about you all. Here're a couple of pictures I took today...

Hope the weather's nice back home.

See y'all soon.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Our President on the Immorality of Homosexuality

From a transcript published in The Guardian:
Q: Since General Pace made his comments - they got a lot of attention - about homosexuality, we haven't heard from you on that issue.

Do you, sir, believe that homosexuality is immoral?

BUSH: I - I - I will not be rendering judgment about individual orientation.

I do believe the don't ask/don't tell policy is good policy.

So who, exactly, is it that supposedly feels that homosexuality is immoral? It ain't our side, ain't their side, what's all the fuss about?

Setting the Record Straight

Last week The Post published a letter to the editor that was just exactly, perfectly wrong on several points. Like, the writer said things like, "The recommendations for changes in the curriculum made by the advisory committee to the Board of Education were largely ignored," which is just wrong -- most of the committee's recommendations were adopted -- and "The new curriculum was not written by health-care professionals," which, again, doesn't everybody know this? The curriculum was developed by a team of pediatricians working with MCPS staff. The core of the curriculum was their work. I mean, this was wrong wrong.

This morning the paper had a letter from Carol Plotsky, chair of the citizens advisory committee:
As a pediatrician, I want to correct misinformation in the March 27 letter "Flawed Sex Education," about additions to the health education curriculum being piloted at several Montgomery County schools.

The recommendations of the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Board of Education were not ignored. Eighty-five percent of the recommendations were accepted and incorporated into the final curriculum proposal. The principal proposals not included dealt with inclusion of materials stating that homosexuality is not a disease and other statements from the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association.

The new curriculum was written by the superintendent's office with the direct assistance of pediatricians from Children's Hospital. The Citizens Advisory Committee is composed of representatives of various organizations and at-large representatives, all volunteers. It has 15 members, two of whom are students and 10 of whom are parents of current and former students in the Montgomery schools.

The curriculum is opt-in. For a student to take part, a parent or guardian must sign a consent form. Children whose parents do not choose to do so receive other assignments.

The statement in the curriculum that homosexuality is innate is supported by a citation included in the overall materials. Nothing was included in the curriculum that was not substantiated in the literature.

We will review teachers' comments after the pilot is complete and make modifications to the curriculum as needed.

Chair; Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development
Montgomery County Board of Education

It's sad that you have to do this, you have to keep repeating the facts to compensate for the background noise that tries to wash them away. What does the typical Post reader take away from this? How many people saw the first letter and not the second? How many people see the whole thing and shrug their shoulders, assuming it's another political tug-o-war? You hate to see how hard you have to work just to keep the facts on the table.

Of All the Stupid Things

The "Montgomery County Schools" blog is a mouthpiece for the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. This is the blog that ... oh, never mind. I'm not going to link to them, you're not missing anything.

So get a load of the latest thing the CRC is whining about:
The Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously against directing children to their parents with questions about sex. During the recent hearing about the new sex education curriculum embraced by the BOE, the question of how to deal with student questions was resolved against parents.

Teachers confronted with difficult questions about sex and religion or homosexuality and religion were told to direct students to a "Trusted Adult." The BOE defined "Trusted Adult" as anyone over age 18 whom the child trusts. Members of the parent group, Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC) [...] requested that "Trusted Adult" be defined as parents first and if no parent is available then a close family member or adult over the age of 21.

A CRC spokesman stated that it’s inappropriate to refer students to someone 18 years old to talk about religion, sex or both. The Maryland legislature will not allow a 18-year-old to drink alcohol, but the BOE wants them counseling students as young as 13 about homosexual conduct, religion and sexual variations.

Hey, maybe here's where we can find common ground with CRC. I agree: let's take out the "trusted adult" stuff and give the kids some real information. Let's tell them exactly what the mainstream scientific and medical organizations say.

Ah, there went that common ground. Oh, well.

But there's more:
The CRC requested the BOE and Jerry Weast reconsider the definition of "Trusted Adult" but so far the BOE has stood firm in its faith that local 18 year olds will be perfect sex counselors for our students as long as the child "trusts" the "adult." Stay tuned.

Now there's an issue people will rally behind.

OK, look, it's a cop-out, the schools don't want to deal with a bunch of kids' questions so they tell them to go ask a grown-up. They're embarrassed by that, I'm sure, it's really not a very good solution to the problem, especially compared to the one that the citizens advisory committee recommended.

But trying to pretend that this really means ask an 18-year-old, and that it means kids can't ask their parents ... I'm just glad I don't have to deal with these kind of people every day. Oh wait. I do. This is the CRC.

Let's just say, I'm glad these kinds of people don't have any influence over the decisions that are made in my beautiful county, where good people care about each other and care about being honest with each other.

I can't even think of a name for this rhetorical device. Misconstrual worked for a lot of the things, but this breaks the boundaries of that. I understand how it works, cognitively, you take an atypical category member and treat it as if it were a category exemplar. Like, you say, "she swims like a bird," meaning, of course, a duck or a penguin. But the fact is, people who speak the language don't do that. When we say "a bird" we mean a robin or a sparrow, those are the better exemplars of the category. Ducks and penguins are technically category members, but they are not the examples that the category label calls to mind. And when we say "trusted adult" we mean a parent or teacher, minister or rabbi or knowledgeable member of the community. The CRC saying, "The school board wants kids to ask an eighteen year old, and not their parents," is like saying, "The swimming teacher can teach your child to swim like a bird, not like a fish," meaning a duck, and a jellyfish.

Look, the CRC actually won this one -- the "trusted adult" junk is here only because the school district was afraid to include the doctors' and the scientists' statements, because they didn't want to trigger another tantrum from the CRC. But the CRC can't accept the victory, they have to turn it into defeat for themselves and for the entire concept of human intelligence.

Instead of telling students the answers to their questions, health teachers are supposed to say "Ask a trusted adult." But remember, not every family's home is the happy love-nest that all CRC members live in. "Ask a parent" works for some, but the fact is, most kids do not live in two-parent nuclear-family homes. There's no perfect solution here, every kid is going to have to figure out who in their life is the best person to go to.

And anyway, the idea that any teenager is going to do exactly what the teacher says, is going to take her at her word and seek out the first person they trust who is a minute past the age of seventeen, is ... c'mon, don't make me take this seriously.

Of course, the best solution is to simply answer the kids' questions in health class. Give the teachers the compendium of AMA, APA, AAP statements, and give the students the bullet points.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Bullet Points

The Post editorial this morning made a kind of comment that I usually object to, but I think they had it mostly right.
The conservative citizens group believes that an alternate view of homosexuality as immoral should be presented while more liberal members of the community think the curriculum should offer more to students who might be confused about their sexual identity.

I was recently offended by an interviewer who assumed -- absolutely assumed, and could not get past this -- that this is a contest between more conservative and more liberal members of our community, and all we need to do is reach a compromise.

Because, no, it's not that. That dialogue is occurring, but the CRC is not part of it.

Some people raise their children very cautiously, and are very careful not to expose them to bad influences, to ideas that will send them off in a dangerous direction or bring the risk of some sort of threat. Well, look, we all do that, to some extent. Other parents might prefer the approach that it is best for their children to be exposed to things so they can discuss them, and come to some understanding of the varieties of things in the world, so that the kids will be able to reason and deal with those things when they come up in their own lives. And yes, we all do a little bit of that, too.

My wife and I used to have a thing called, "Don't look, mom!" A kid would be in a tree, say, hanging by one ankle, swinging back and forth and singing. She would immediately picture broken bones and days in the hospital. Well, she's a nurse, she's seen a lot of kids come into the hospital. I would picture a kid learning how to hang by their ankles. Between us, there were some things (motorcycles) that our kids weren't going to have, and some things (fun in trees) that they would get to try. You're always working that out. That is the dialogue between conservative and liberal parents, and it's fine, there is a midpoint that's mostly acceptable to both, and it will vary with the community.

But in our sex-ed development process, it's like there are people negotiating what will and will not be acceptable, and then a group that's going around essentially trying to cut down all trees so that no kids can climb, ever. The CRC is hardly described as a "conservative citizens group," but it's OK in this Post editorial, because they spell it out. The label "conservative" has become status quo for that kind of sphincter-clamping, pseudomoral social attitude, and the fact is, the CRC does want the schools to teach that homosexuality is immoral.

On the other hand, the Post says, "more liberal members of the community" want the curriculum to go further. And again, I think this is an acceptable way to put it. In the dichotomy I set up a second ago, the word "liberal" tends to be used to describe people who are accepting to a wider range of experiences and behaviors. And there are a lot of "liberal" parents -- myself included -- who really do think that the school district should include statements by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, stating that homosexuality is not a disease or a choice, and explaining that gay citizens can lead perfectly fulfilling lives, without pretending to be straight. The statements were approved and recommended by the citizens advisory committee, but the school district backed away from them.

In the citizens advisory committee, that set of statements was introduced in a pdf document we called "the compendium," and the extracted relevant statements were submitted as a page or two of bullet points.

It is great for a community to go back and forth about something like that. The school board is elected to evaluate the balance and determine if our community's standards accept or reject a certain item, and in this case they have the difficult task of evaluating the appropriateness of materials in the presence of high-volume background noise by the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, who threaten to sue, stomp their feet, and every other thing if they don't get their way.

The school district has shown amazing presence of mind so far -- oh, they can be political, but in some ways this is what politics is all about. Do the voters of Montgomery County support these changes? Well, just look at the last election. Progressive board candidates beat more conservative candidates by a typical ratio of two to one. The board doesn't want to precipitate an unnecessary lawsuit, but they have made it clear they are ready for a fight, and that's what we need, a committed board. The voters want that -- that's why we voted for these people.

Now they have some pilot test results, and they'll be going through those. I think they all know that the part of the curriculum that says what to do when there are questions is not ready for prime time. "Go talk to a trusted adult" is not as good as a teacher actually answering a question. And if the teachers had the compendium in front of them, or if students were handed the bullet points, ninety percent of the hard questions would be easy to answer.

So yes, liberal parents in a liberal county want the curriculum to go a little further. What can be wrong, after all, with quoting the experts in science and medicine?

The Post Gets It

The Washington Post this morning made an editorial statement in strong support of MCPS in the development of the new curriculum. It's kind of long, but here is the whole thing:
WHAT SCHOOLS should teach children about sex is always controversial. Small wonder that so many places dodge the issue by teaching nothing or very little. Not so Montgomery County, where school officials bravely broke new ground last month with a pilot program that explores homosexuality and other issues of sexual identity. There is fierce opposition, but school officials are right in their resolve to offer a curriculum that promotes tolerance and acceptance.

The effort to update sex education dates to 2004, when a citizens advisory group deemed Montgomery's sex ed program horribly old-fashioned. Among its recommendations was discussion of sexual orientation and demonstration of the use of a condom. A costly, emotional and at times comical -- yes, we are thinking of the cucumber video -- battle resulted. As The Post's Daniel de Vise reported, a determined group fought the Board of Education at every step. It went to federal court to block a previous version that was in fact problematic.

School officials learned a lesson from that bungled effort. The new curriculum was painstakingly developed, with the help of medical consultants and a 15-member citizens advisory group. The revised lessons have been attacked from both sides. The conservative citizens group believes that an alternate view of homosexuality as immoral should be presented while more liberal members of the community think the curriculum should offer more to students who might be confused about their sexual identity. School is not the place for ideology -- either from the right or the left. Any parent who doesn't want his or her child exposed to the lessons can simply refuse permission, and an alternative lesson is provided. The curriculum is posted online and schools hold special informational meetings for parents.

A challenge to the program is pending before the Maryland State Board of Education. State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick was careful not to prejudge the case, but it was encouraging that she noted the value of teaching tolerance. If there are weaknesses with the new lessons, it is likely that they will be detected in the field tests. There will be a chance to fine-tune any issues before countywide implementation, planned for fall.

Initial reviews from students judged the lessons to be, if anything, a tad boring. As one student said, "nothing new." That may be because the schools stuck to a strict script out of concern about the inevitable court challenge. It may be that today's more worldly eighth- and 10th-graders have already gotten their sexual education from movies and television. Or, as we like to think, maybe it's because this generation of students is already far more tolerant and understanding than any that preceded it.

There's nothing to add to that. There really shouldn't be any controversy about this curriculum, it's accurate, it's fair, and it's the right thing to do. The state has been asked to rule whether Montgomery County is capable of developing its own classes, and it is nice to know that as weighty an opinion as The Post's agrees with MCPS. The fact is, the MoCo community supports its school district, and the state ought to respect that. If there are problems with the classes, they should become obvious in the (well-attended) pilot tests, and they can be fixed.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

It Is Still Sunday Morning -- Here

Another sunny Sunday morning. Another tasty cup of coffee: Kona this time. But sorry, there's no WPFW this morning, no acoustic guitars. Instead, I'm looking out my fourteenth-floor window at bustling South Waikiki. I've got to give a tutorial at a symposium in a couple of hours, and I'm just checking the email and getting a little caffeine in the system before I hike over there.

I figure yesterday was about twenty-one hours, door to door. And did you ever hear of an airline called ATA? Apparently they're owned by Southwest -- I thought I was flying Southwest. So in Oakland, there's a line of probably seventy-five people to check in at the gate. They kept announcing that the flight was "severely oversold," looking for volunteers to take a deal. They said they were oversold by twenty-five people. When I got to the desk, they asked me what kind of seat I wanted. As usual, I said "aisle." So the guy took my ticket and said, "We'll page you twenty minutes before take-off."

This threw me. After confirming the plan with him, I walked away with no ticket, no boarding pass, just this guy's word that he'd page me. Apparently he couldn't be sure of getting me an aisle seat until he saw who else was checking in. I didn't like it.

So I stayed close by. Finally I went back to him and said, "Hey, if I hadn't wanted to sit on the aisle, would you have assigned me a seat?" He looked at me in vague recognition, then said, "Oh, hey, I got you a seat," and handed me my boarding pass.

As we boarded, I heard the flight attendants laughing about how this flight was oversold by fifty people. Funny, that wasn't what they were telling us. Found my seat, and sure enough, I was by the window, jammed in beside two big guys.

This airline doesn't give you anything. Five and a half hours in the air from Oakland to Honolulu, and not a peanut. Oh, they'll sell you a peanut. But, I don't know, maybe I get it from my old man, but I'm cheap that way. I don't want to encourage these guys. I noticed nobody else did, either.

After dark, the side of the plane got really cold, where I was sitting up against it. The flight attendant came by, and I said, "Could you please bring me a blanket?"

"Blankets are nine ninety-five," he said.

I said, "Are you kidding me?" He just kept walking. Seen it before.

Anyway, I won't bore you with the details of the baggage carousel, the shuttle. Apparently the prevailing attitude here in Hawaii is to not be in a hurry, let's say. I got to my room a little after midnight. The streets all around were thronging with people. I ran down to the corner market for some milk and bananas to bring back, having seen that I have a refrigerator and microwave, and not having had more than a couple of peanuts all day on the hop over to Oakland.

The scene on the street was spectacular. Man, they're dressed to the t's, they're out showing off. I love crowds and the noise of partying crowds.

Back in my room, about twelve fifteen in the morning, I heard keys in my lock. I opened the door to a surprised lady, with a guy standing behind her. Confusion ensued, as she tried to figure out what floor she was on. Part of the problem was she didn't what floor they were supposed to be on. They key only has the last two numbers of your room number printed on it, not the first part, which is your floor. The guy just stood there behind her, wondering what she was getting him into. Sorry I missed it. People were banging around the halls all night, singing and shouting in the street, I love it.

Forecasts called for rain every day, but it looks beautiful out there now. Well, I guess there are more clouds than there were when I started this. I think I'll take a slow stroll over to the hotel where the symposium is (I never stay at the conference hotel).

Don't try to pull anything while I'm out of town. I've got eyes in the back of my head, you know.