Thursday, May 31, 2007

Do Not Make the Americans Uncomfortable

I try to stay optimistic, really I do. But sometimes ...

From Georgetown University's paper, The Hoya:
Kambiz Fattahi (GRD ’08) was sitting in the first row of the commencement audience on the afternoon of May 18 holding a box of cookies for his graduating friend.

But he never got to see her walk across the stage. And he never got to hand her the cookies.

According to Fattahi, about five minutes after historian Bernard Bailyn, the keynote speaker at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ commencement in McDonough Gymnasium, concluded his speech lauding the American traditions of freedom and justice, two Department of Public Safety officers removed Fattahi from the ceremony. Fattahi, who was born in Iran, said that when he asked for a reason, the officers told him that his Middle Eastern appearance was making others at the ceremony uncomfortable and that they had received complaints about his presence.

“They said, ‘You are making some people nervous. We received some complaints,’” he said. “Truthfully, I just didn’t expect it.” DPS Removes Student from Graduation Ceremony

Took the guy out. Held him for a half an hour. Called Arlington to confirm his address. Went through his stuff.
“They kept saying things like, ‘Don’t put your hand in your pocket,’” Fattahi recalled. “They treated me like a suspect. … It was as if they thought they caught a fugitive.”

DPS does not allow its officers to speak to the media.

Yes, I can imagine why.
DPS Director Darryl Harrison arrived in the hallway after the officers verified Fattahi’s identity, but Fattahi said the police chief did not intervene when the two officers searched Fattahi’s bag. He added that they subsequently refused to return his business card, with one claiming that he had a friend in the BBC who he wanted to contact concerning Fattahi.

So this Iranian guy completely missed his friend's graduation.

Look, sometimes something makes you uncomfortable. Somebody might be different from you. Maybe they're from a different country. Maybe they're dressed funny, they have long hair, crooked teeth, acne, whatever. Maybe they're gay.

It's not a crime to make people uncomfortable. Sometimes it's a public service. People need to be uncomfortable sometimes. It's good for 'em.
Fattahi said he holds Harrison responsible for the incident because the guards were allowed to proceed under Harrison's supervision. Harrison declined to comment on his or the officers’ participation in the incident.

Having been detained for about half an hour, Fattahi said he returned to the ceremony after his friend was called to walk across the stage. He said that the guards followed him back to his seat and remained there to watch him.

Ironic that this happened just after the speaker was talking about American liberty and justice.

This guy's an American citizen. I thought maybe he was real scary looking or something, but I found his picture, which is above. I don't see what's so outstandingly terrifying about him. Do you think people actually complained, because a guy from Iran was in the audience?

Link to the BBC account of this incident (written by Fattahi) here: Does US insecurity put liberty at risk?

Oh, Great

I have nothing to add.
MOSCOW (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin issued an acerbic warning Friday to the United States, saying the recent test of a new Russian missile was a direct response to US actions and condemning "imperialism" in world affairs.

"Our American partners have quit the ABM Treaty," Putin told reporters after meeting his Greek counterpart, referring to the landmark 1972 US-Soviet treaty limiting the missile defenses of the Cold War superpower foes.

"We warned them then that we would come out with a response to maintain the strategic balance in the world. Yesterday we conducted a test of a new strategic ballistic missile with multiple warheads, and of a new cruise missile, and will continue to improve our resources."

The United States informed Russia in 2001 that it was exercising its option to withdraw unilaterally from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) pact. It has since stepped up controversial plans, fiercely opposed by Russia, to deploy a missile defence shield in eastern Europe. Putin issues sharp warning to US, vows to counter 'imperialism'

Pilot Test Briefing Scheduled

The members of the citizens advisory committee that evaluated the new sex-ed curriculum received an email yesterday, inviting us to meet for an "an information briefing by school system staff on the superintendent’s recommendations to the Board of Education regarding the revised health education curriculum on family life and human sexuality."

In January, the superintendent's office recommended the new curriculum to the school board. This is a kind of bureaucratic formality that means everybody's gone through it, it's ready to try, and if any school board members wanted to shoot it down, that was their chance. The board unanimously agreed to go forward.

That meant that they would start pilot-testing in six schools: three middle schools and three high schools. Some rules were written up about how that would happen -- announcements to the school community, meetings with parents, some deadlines.

In March, the classes were tested. They implemented the classes as they were outlined, and then collected some kinds of data -- what questions were asked in class, how'd it go, things like that.

After that, the school district went back to their burrow and chewed on the data (sorry, I keep picturing that gopher that you get when you hit a dead-end at MCPS). We hear rumors about how it went, but they have the data, so we don't know what they're looking at. We hear that the "scripting" aspect was not well received, that students had questions that teachers were not allowed to answer. We hope that that information did get back to the school district. Other than that, there did not seem to be anything upsetting or controversial.

There have still been no reports of any students turning gay as a result of the pilot-testing.

Look, what can there be, after two months? My guess: there are some things that will need to be tuned up, and the school district has to decide whether they are willing to ride through the Wall of Fiery Death to make the improvements. Their lawyers will have scrutinized the change suggestions; in my experience lawyers advise you to hold your cards close to your chest and don't do anything. The higher-ups at MCPS will have tested the political waters and realized that they have the public's support, and the school board's support, for making improvements. They will also be aware that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have threatened to sue; some people will advise them to give in to the threat in order to minimize publicity and legal expenses, others will note that there is no basis for a lawsuit, CRC will lose, so MCPS might as well do what's right. We can't guess which way they'll go.

From the start, there has been a push from the citizens committee, the public, and members of the school board to include statements by leading medical and mental-health organizations into the curriculum. These statements come from documents which should be made available to teachers so they can answer students' questions in a forthright and well-informed way.

The question will be whether the Superintendent's office will propose adding those statements, and/or the documents they came from, to the curriculum materials.

Why wouldn't they? There is only one reason, and that is fear of the CRC. Those guys have said they're going to sue anyway, but the school district might just worry that they will inflame them even more by giving mainstream medical and scientific judgments to teachers. (The materials will not affect the outcome of any judgment -- how can a judge find it unconstitutional to teach the American Medical Association's, the American Psychological Association's, and the American Academy of Pediatrics' official opinions on health matters?)

Why should they give teachers this information? There are two main reasons. First, teachers and students alike are frustrated by the fact that no questions-and-answers are allowed in these classes. A kid raises his hand and says, "Is homosexuality a disease?" and the teacher is supposed to tell them to go ask a health professional, which is of course a way of saying that yes, it is a disease -- why else would you ask a doctor about it? If she had the information, she could easily answer this simple question without making a big deal out of it.

Second, it's the right thing to do educationally and morally. Students in these classes deserve to know that the medical and mental-health professionals do not consider it a disease or disorder, that experts agree that gay people can live perfectly happy and normal lives, that doctors and scientists who study the topic agree that gays and lesbians can be perfectly good parents. For one thing, some students in these classes are gay; they're looking ahead to their lives, and it's not too much to give them a clear and honest idea what to expect. For another thing, this is knowledge that even the straight students can carry forward to help them interpret the world around them, to understand the public debate, to know better how to react to their gay friends and neighbors throughout their lives.

There is another aspect to this scenario that people are watching out for: the political aspect. This is a situation where the Superintendent's office recommends to the Board of Education, who vote on it. It could be embarrassing, for instance, if the Superintendent caved in to the CRC and the school board didn't. That is, there is a possibility that the proposal does not include the AMA, APA, and AAP materials, and that the school board will vote to add them. This will not reflect well on the Superintendent, who is known to be, shall we say, a political creature. The recently-restructured school board wants to establish that it has the fortitude and independence to insist on things, but at the same time they want to establish a good working relationship with the Superintendent, and may choose to avoid embarrassing him in this situation. So it is also possible that the Superintendent's office fails to include the medical professionals' statements and the school board fails to ask for them.

I'm not political enough to know which way anybody's going to go on this, I don't know (or care, really) who's taking whose side on what, or how this fits with the other controversies the school district has to struggle with. It is clear though that there is a right thing to do -- include the materials that were strongly recommended by the citizens advisory committee, and there is a wrong thing to do -- give in to the CRC's threats.

We will find out next Wednesday how the testing went, and how the district intends to handle the situation.

The world is watching.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bible Class? I Guess Not

Religion is right in the middle of our controversy over health education in Mongtomery County, Maryland. Specifically, a small number of participants in a couple of religions have insisted that the public schools' secular teachings violate their religious beliefs. It may be that religion is serving as a cover for generic bigotry, or it may be true that these opinions are actually demanded by certain religions, I don't know. But the fact is, religion is being used to justify the anti-gay sentiments expressed by those who oppose the improvements to the health curriculum.

When I think about this, it seems to me that it should be possible to discuss religious topics in the classroom; in fact, it seems impossible to discuss something like history without bringing religion into it. I would strongly disapprove of substituting religion for science, say, in a biology class, or in sex-ed, for that matter, but I wouldn't think that means you have to ban the subject altogether. Like, if you had a class on the Bible, and you called it "The Bible 101" or something, that wouldn't bother me. There's lots of good stuff in that book, and in fact I'd enjoy a good Bible 101 class.

But of course it doesn't come out that way in real life. It's not like you'll get a discussion of the Bible as a historic reference, or study the evolving function of deity in the Old and New Testament, or learn about the history of the Hebrew people at the bridge between antiquity and modernity, or whatever.

No, what you end up with is: Sunday School. Preaching, praying, proselytizing.

So I am reluctantly changing my mind. I don't think it's possible to have a dispassionate public-school class on the Bible. I just don't think people can pull it off.

Out in Odessa, Texas, they recently started having a Bible class in the public schools. There's a lawsuit now. We'll see how it goes.

A teacher wrote a letter to the editor of the Odessa American which is very poignant and, I think, persuasive. It's a little long, but, you'll see, it's worth the time to follow her exposition:
I am writing as a parent, as a member of the Jewish community in the Permian Basin and, despite concerns about my job, as a teacher in this school district.

I have been respectful and professional in expressing my thoughts about selecting a Bible course in ECISD.

I reviewed the Bible curricula under consideration last spring, and then I spoke at the public forum.

Other members of our Jewish community reviewed the curricula and wrote letters to the school board, as well. And yet, when it came time for a final board decision, Randy Rives said publicly that he hadn’t heard from anyone in the Jewish community.

And most recently, I read in the Odessa American Butch Foreman’s disrespectful response to concerns about the Bible class: “If they don’t have children in the class, they can kiss my butt. They’re looking to impose their beliefs and their views on everybody, and we don’t put up with that crap out here.”

Enough is enough. These repeated public insults of my religion and our legitimate questions about the Bible curriculum are perfect examples of the very concerns I have about a biased presentation of the Bible in our schools.

After all, as some of us pointed out in our presentations to the board last spring, there is more than one version of the Bible. There’s even more than one Christian version.

Furthermore, there have been and are currently Jewish students in Odessa and Midland who are reduced to tears or fighting to defend themselves because of religious harassment.

No, they’re not in the Bible class right now. But does that make their experience any less real?

And make no mistake; just because it’s an elective doesn’t mean it won’t affect my child or others. If we offered an elective promoting white supremacy, it would certainly have an effect on all students, whether they took the class or not.

This is why I object to a Bible class in public school that suggests the supremacy of one religion over another.

You might think one religion IS better than another, but public school is not the place to teach this.

Unfortunately, the Bible curriculum currently being offered does do this. It is not just a class about the history of the Bible, or the history of the Bible in literature. I have read some of the curriculum, and I invite everyone to do the same.

While the writers claim it is not biased, it may be hard to recognize the bias if you have been raised in the particular tradition it teaches.

But the two students in the course who were quoted in the newspaper recently said it clearly. Although one person claimed the curriculum is unbiased, she went on to say, “However, I can see people being upset with it being “only Christian-based.” And another man, in claiming that our ancestors came to American to have Christian religious freedom, seems to have missed two points. First, his ancestors might have been seeking freedom to worship a Christian faith; mine were seeking freedom to follow their own Jewish faith. Second, it is important to remember that our country’s founders wanted to escape the religious tyranny of their country’s government. They set up some safeguards, including the First Amendment, to prevent such tyranny from happening all over again.

Harassment of Jewish children is a fact in our school system. In this atmosphere of religious intolerance, there is no such thing as a “harmless” Bible class that promotes only one Christian perspective.

This atmosphere of religious intolerance is both fostered and legitimized by Foreman’s remarks. My experience as a parent, a Jew, and a teacher in this district is not “crap.” My daughter’s tears are not “crap.” My effort to educate Odessa about the experiences of our children is not “imposing my view on you.”

I am not the only teacher or community member who objects to this particular Bible course. But few will speak out for fear of retribution.

Our founding fathers most likely argued about how to form this new country, but I don’t think fear and intimidation is what any of them had in mind for religious freedom. How long are we going to let this continue?

Yes, we can study aspects of Bible in public school; but this course currently being taught is not the way to do it. There are other options to consider.

I ask this community and the school board to consider carefully what values you want to teach the children in our community and the best way to guide them. Every action you take — or don’t take — teaches something, even if only by example.

If, as I strongly believe, the Christian majority in our community believes in religious tolerance, I urge people to speak up and speak out against the current Bible curriculum and Foreman’s intolerant remarks.

Lisa Roth
One religion shouldn’t eclipse others

Again, I gotta say, I'm glad we live where we do.

Regression Toward the Mean as an Ideal

Dana Milbank has been on a roll lately. His page A-2 narratives about the goings-on inside Washington are readable and informative and a lot of fun. But I have to say, this morning's column about Al Gore and how smart he is gave me the creeps.

It's as if we live in a big Bud-Light commercial, where guys are doofuses and women are cute, and the smart kid is just there to play pranks on.

It starts out OK:
A capacity crowd of 1,500 people jammed into Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University last night for Al Gore's speech and book-signing. But the numbers don't matter: Even if Gore were speaking before a sellout crowd at Verizon Center, he would still be the smartest guy in the room. Is It Wise to Be So Smart?

But -- was that the point? I wasn't there, but I don't think Gore was actually talking about how smart he is, was he? He has a movie out, and a new book, and I would imagine he was talking about the topics that those are about.

I'll skip down a little bit.
"It's the biggest problem he's got," said [audience member] Schwartz, from Germantown. "People don't want somebody who makes them feel stupid."

Imagine the Iowa hog farmer cracking open "Assault on Reason," and meeting Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Lippmann, Johannes Gutenberg, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson and Marshall McLuhan -- all before finishing the introduction.

"The new technology called 'Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging,' or FMRI, has revolutionized the ability of neuroscientists to look inside the operations of a living human brain and observe which regions of the brain are being used at which times and in response to which stimuli," Gore writes.

Still with him? Try this: "The architectural breakthrough associated with massive parallelism was to break up the power of the CPU and distribute it throughout the memory field to lots of smaller separate 'microprocessors' -- each one co-located with the portion of the memory field it was responsible for processing."

Is this so hard? Tell me, do readers of this blog find those statements intimidating?

Has life actually become a Bud Light commercial?

Look, I'm glad there's a guy out there who's keeping track of science and technology, and finding a way to make the new neuroscience fit in with traditional philosophy. And listen, I know lots of people in Iowa, hard-working, honest, and intelligent people, but how in the world can it be better to have leaders who write books for Iowa hog farmers?

This anti-intellectual trend has been building in the US for decades, and the result is the presidency of George W. Bush, a guy who does speak directly to the Iowa hog farmer. At the same time, we look at the surveys and wonder, how did America end up last in the civilized world in mathematics and science?

Maybe somebody ought to do an fMRI of a couple of people's heads to see what parts have gone dim: the smart parts.

The crowd loved it. But would the "average American," the one who, Gore said in disbelief, "now watches 4 1/2 hours of television per day?" (He felt compelled to add that "some of us are not watching it nearly that much.")

"I want the smartest guy around to be president," said Schwartz, in the "Worst President Ever" T-shirt. But, he added, "how do you convince people it's okay to feel inferior to their leaders?"

Just wow.

I'll state a personal preference here. I am not intimidated by leaders who are smarter than me, and would never interpret it to mean that I'm "inferior" to them. I want foreign-policy guys who know more about foreign policy than I do; I want the Attorney General to know more about the law than I do; I want a Secretary of Homeland Security who knows something about security, a FEMA director who knows about emergencies; I want the FDA to know about food and drugs, and I want the President to know more about domestic and foreign policy than I do -- he should also be more articulate, better looking, and funnier than me. Why would anybody feel "inferior" about having great leaders?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What Does This Tell You?

I don't know about you, but I haven't had a real good feeling about the FDA lately. They just told us that pigs and chicken that have been eating that poisoned feed from China are OK for us. They approve medicine and techniques that kill you, and ban others for "moral" reasons.

See what you think about this one.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. But Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone tested its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive test, too.

The Agriculture Department regulates the test and argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry. US on Mad Cow: Don't Test All Cattle

False positive? What about a ... real positive?

The meat industry? What about ... us?

Look, this isn't the government saying that testing is unnecessary. This is the government telling this company not to test.

PTA vs. CRC: The Letters

If you follow our story, you know that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum used the PTA directories from the pilot-test schools to send letters and postcards to families whose children might be in the test of the new sex-education curriculum. They also used that PTA information to call homes and play a recorded scare-message, all of this trying to get people to keep their kids out of the pilot test.

In 2005, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs officially reprimanded the CRC for using the directory information and ordered them not to do it again: the resolution document can be found HERE. Of course the CRC, whose mission is more important than a bunch of rules, ignored the PTA's request. I did not make some PTA people happy with my earlier comments on this topic, but let's say the PTA's response amounted to a big sigh and roll of the eyes.

Thousands of families give their personal information to their school's PTA and let them publish it for the local community. These directories are really handy, but they depend on a level of trust. Businesses can't be mining them for addresses to mail junk to, for instance. The PTA puts a statement on every directory to that effect, and it seems that just about everybody figures out how to respect that ... everybody but the CRC.

Today the PTA released an exchange of letters between them and the CRC's President and lawyer, John Garza.

First, the PTA writes to the CRC:
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

That seems pretty clear. A short apology would have been a good response, don't you think?

Instead, the PTA received a lesson in passive aggression:
P.O. Box 183 Damascus, Maryland 20872

May 3, 2007

Jane De Winter
Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher-Associations
2096 Gaither Road
Suite 204
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Dear Ms. De Winter:

On behalf of Citizens for Responsible Curriculum I respond to your letter of March 6, 2007. In order for us to determine whether we should comply with your demand, kindly forward to me a list of all the specific reasons you assert to limit our free speech rights. Kindly identify exactly what it is about our communication that you find offensive, exactly why our right of free speech should be limited, and exactly how parents of Montgomery County High Schools have been harmed by our mailing. Once we are receipt of this detailed information we can properly access whether we should acquiesce to your demand.

We very much want to please the PTSA and have friendly relations with all the parents of Montgomery County High Schools. To further this goal, I ask that you kindly allow one or more representatives from CRC to come meet with as many parents as possible or members of the PTSA to work out any differences that we have and to see how we can work together in the future.

Because we believe the tolerance of other's view point is an important attribute to cultivate, we would like to learn more about your position and invite you to learn more about our position as well.

I look forward to hearing from you, you are free to contact me on my cell phone, 301-706-5557 to schedule a meeting.

If we can be of any service to you or the PTSA please let us know, we would like to help in any way possible.

Very truly yours,

John R.Garza

cc: Board of directors -Citizens for Responsible Curriculum

So Garza pretends that the PTA is trying to "limit our free speech rights;" he couches this in a bunch of friendly-sounding verbiage, and tries to flip it around to arrange a big meeting between the CRC and parents. Oh, and preaches about tolerance while he's at it.

You tell me -- is it possible that he doesn't understand what the issue is?

That's always the question with these guys: do they not understand, or do they distort things intentionally? I swear, sometimes I can't tell. I'm not being ironic, I really can't tell.

This week, the PTA responded to the CRC:
John Garza, President
Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum
P.O. Box 183
Damascus, MD 20872

May 25, 2007

Dear Mr. Garza:

Thank you for your May 3, 2007, letter responding to MCCPTA’s request that you stop misusing PTA/PTSA directories. I have shared this letter with our membership.

Contrary to your assertion, MCCPTA has no interest in limiting your free speech rights. Our interest is protecting the integrity of the information that is collected solely for PTA approved purposes.

Specifically, as you are no doubt aware, "Directories and the information contained in them are the property of the PTA, Inc. The directory is provided to you for use only in connection with PTA-sponsored activities and PTA-approved purposes. The directory and the information in it may not be used for any solicitations, advertising, mass mailings, or any other purposes unrelated to the mission, objects and policies of the PTA or by any other organization other than the PTA."

Your organization's use of PTA student directories is clearly contrary to our expressly stated purpose and expectations. My communication to you was to cease and desist from using that information. Such a use violates the express permission for which people provided this information.

MCCPTA routinely denies requests from dozens of other organizations for our directory information out of respect for the commitment that we have made to individuals who have released this information to us. There are proper channels of communication open to your organization, like all other organizations, that would not require you to violate our directory
disclaimer. You have willfully decided to violate our disclaimer, even after your organization was informed that its use of PTA directories is improper.

Our membership has directed us, through the resolution previously provided to you, to zealously guard directory information. We find your total disregard for our clearly articulated disclaimer to be very disrespectful of MCCPTA and local PTAs.


Jane de Winter

If the PTA had any teeth, there'd be a lawyer talking to Mr. Garza. There would be papers filed. A precedent would be set, and quick. The county PTA should have the state PTA backing them up, and the national PTA should be backing up the state. But when they say they have been directed to "zealously guard directory information," they mean they will send a letter that they know will be ignored.

Gallup -- This is Good News?

Fascinating results in the new Gallup poll. Well, fascinating questions, anyway. You look at how they frame these items, and see how in the world they came out with such a rosy conclusion.

Their summary is, people are more approving of homosexuality than ever before. OK, good. Glad to hear it.
PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, conducted each May, finds current public tolerance for gay rights at the high-water mark of attitudes recorded over the past three decades. There is still considerable public opposition to complete equality for gays, particularly with respect to marriage. However, after several years of lower support for gay rights, support is now springing back to the relatively high levels seen in 2003, just before the Supreme Court's June 26, 2003, decision striking down a Texas sodomy law. (According to Gallup trends, that ruling appeared to produce a backlash of public opposition to gay rights.) Tolerance for Gay Rights at High Ebb

Does that seem weird to you to say "high ebb?" Wouldn't you say "high tide?" Well, what do I know, I grew up in the desert.

Uh, but I lived on the coast for ten years. No, we didn't say "high ebb." We said "high tide."

This Gallup site gives a lot of results from different questions. Like 59 percent of Americans think that "homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal."

Excuse me, but that doesn't sound like something to get excited about. Think it should be legal? You mean nearly half of Americans think the government should step in and arrest people for sharing their lives with someone they love? Sorry, I see the numbers are higher than they used to be, but ... that's sickening.

Oh, and you love this question: Do you feel that homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle? Are you kidding me? They asked people that? Fifty-seven percent said yes, but what did they mean by that? That it's acceptable? That it's an alternative? That it's a lifestyle?

Who writes these questions?

The poll shows support for marriage equality increasing, naturally.

Forty-nine percent of people said homosexual relations are not morally acceptable; forty-seven said that they were.

Now, I'm thinking about that one. I'm guessing that people who are asked that question apply it to themselves: would it be moral for me to have homosexual relations? And the answer, for straight people, would likely be no. Because it would mean, I guess, depending what a "relation" is, having sex or dating somebody who is not especially attractive to you. And why would you be doing that? Would it be because you have absolutely no standards in your sex life? Would there be a moral issue there? Why, yes, I think there is a possibility of that.

What if Gallup asked questions like these:
  • Do you think it's any of your business if two people you don't know fall in love?
  • Do you believe the government needs to regulate people's dating behavior?
  • Do you think it is important for people to pick a mate that the public agrees is appropriate?

See, if they asked those questions, the American people I love wouldn't look like such flaming idiots.

<walks_off_muttering>lifestyle ... moral ... alternative ...</walks_off_muttering>

Monday, May 28, 2007

Gore and American Values

In keeping with a Memorial Day theme, we are reflecting on the values that guide our country's military presence in the world. A piece extracted from Al Gore's The Assault on Reason and reprinted in The Guardian starts like this:
The pursuit of "dominance" in foreign policy led the Bush administration to ignore the UN, to do serious damage to our most important alliances, to violate international law, and to cultivate the hatred and contempt of many in the rest of the world. The seductive appeal of exercising unconstrained unilateral power led this president to interpret his powers under the constitution in a way that brought to life the worst nightmare of the founders. Any policy based on domination of the rest of the world not only creates enemies for the US and recruits for al-Qaida, but also undermines the international cooperation that is essential to defeating terrorists who wish to harm and intimidate America. Instead of "dominance", we should be seeking pre-eminence in a world where nations respect us and seek to follow our leadership and adopt our values. A drive for global domination has put us in greater danger

Again, there's so much to say.

Cheney and American Values

I won't comment. From our nation's spokesman and second in command, Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking this past week to the graduating class of West Point:
As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for. Capture one of these killers, and he’ll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away.

There's just so much to say...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

This Advice-Giver Might Need Some Advice

One of the most basic things I believe is that people shouldn't have to be like me. Most of the time, I wouldn't even want people to be like me, I wouldn't wish this on anyone. What I want is for people to have the freedom to be whatever it is they want to be.

So for instance the other day I found myself discussing conversion therapy with a reporter, and heard myself saying that I sympathize with guys who are torn between their religion and their feelings: gay evangelicals and Mormons, for instance. And I said I can imagine the situation where the rational choice for them is to suppress their feelings, to pretend they're something they're not, because their religion means so much to them.

I hate the fact that that's true, but really, it's not for me to decide what's right for that person. In a perfect world, religion brings out what is beautiful in a person and gives them strength to express their spiritual gifts. In the real world ... that doesn't always happen, you might say. I remember talking with a top researcher on sexual orientation from the University of Utah at a psychology convention, and she said some Mormon guys come to her and tell her that "being gay isn't a possibility" for a Mormon. They've grown up their whole lives in that community, and they can't leave it, those are the people they love, and who love them. So what do you do? You pretend. You lie. You live without love. I'm sorry that happens, but for some people the cost of coming out is just too great. It isn't for me to decide, they have to weigh the alternatives.

In that light, I'm reading these sad stories about Laura Schlessinger. Doctor Laura.

I don't like Doctor Laura. I think she's petty, hateful, mean-spirited. Her advice to people only makes things worse. She dresses up in social desirability and parades around in it, saying stuff that can't be true but some people wish it was.

You might remember a few years ago when her nude pictures appeared on the Internet. Like others in her position, she was full of excuses. She was young, she didn't know what she was doing, the guy shouldn't have shown anyone those private pictures, etcetera etcetera. It seems reasonable to her: she got to play and make her own mistakes, then made a career out of condemning other people who do that.

Doctor Laura has lots of ideas about how to raise kids, she's one of the original "family values" spokesmen. She preaches that women should be subservient to their husbands and that kids need lots of discipline.

Her kid is now in the Army.

And look, I said the other day, "don't think it can't happen to you."

Looks like Doctor Laura's going to take a few days off.

From the Salt Lake City Tribune:
The soldier son of talk radio relationship counselor Laura Schlessinger is under investigation for a graphic personal Web page that one Army official has called "repulsive."

The MySpace page, publicly available until Friday when it disappeared from the Internet, included cartoon depictions of rape, murder, torture and child molestation; photographs of soldiers with guns in their mouths; a photograph of a bound and blindfolded detainee captioned "My Sweet Little Habib"; accounts of illicit drug use; and a blog entry headlined by a series of obscenities and racial epithets.

The site is credited to and includes many photographs of Deryk Schlessinger, the 21-year-old son of the talk radio personality known simply as Dr. Laura. Broadcast locally on 570 KNRS, "Family Values Talk Radio," the former family counselor spends three hours daily taking calls and offering advice on morals, ethics and values. She broadcast a show from Fort Douglas, in Salt Lake City, last week. Dr. Laura son linked to lurid Web page

I know what you're thinking: at least he's not gay.
"Yes . . . F---ING Yes!!!" said one blog entry on the Schlessinger site. "I LOVE MY JOB, it takes everything reckless and deviant and heathenistic and just overall bad about me and hyper focuses these traits into my job of running around this horrid place doing nasty things to people that deserve it . . . and some that don't."

Deryk Schlessinger joined the Army in 2004, telling a crowd of Santa Barbara, Calif., Army reservists gathered for an appearance by his mother that he resented the way Americans criticize the war without recognizing soldiers' sacrifices.

"Real people were fighting, and I wanted to be part of that," the younger Schlessinger said, according to The Associated Press.

If you're raising kids, brace yourself. There will be times they'll disappoint you, they'll do the stupidest things, you'll find yourself trying to help them out of ridiculous situations.

But I don't think your kids will be monsters. I hope this is right: I don't think your kids will go out and represent the United States of America as a depraved nation. This isn't a guy with an overactive imagination, this is a guy who has right and wrong totally turned around, as a philosophy, as a way of life. Your kids won't be like this.

This is about how to raise kids -- this whole web site is about how to raise kids. Some people take the authoritarian path, they teach their kids that obedience is the highest duty, that they must do as their told. In sex ed, that means you tell them not to have sex, and that's it. You tell them gay is bad, and that's it. If they have sex anyway, or if they're gay anyway, they're simply bad people. There was nothing you could've done. They wouldn't listen.

There are others who think you show respect to your kids. You prepare them for life, you don't hide it from them. You talk to them, and you listen to them, it goes both ways.

Well, I don't like to tell anybody how to raise their kids. I'm just saying, y'know?

Friday, May 25, 2007

XGW Clears Something Up

Ex-Gay Watch has done a real service by following up on a potentially important story.

Francis Collins is a geneticist who led the Human Genome Project -- one of the most spectacular scientific accomplishments of our lifetime. He is also an evangelical Christian with a book out called The Language of God, where he tries to reconcile his flavor of Christianity with science. Whether he's successful at that, I don't know.

He also lives in Montgomery County.

In case you don't follow this story, there is a small but noisy organization called NARTH -- the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality -- that works on the premise that psychotherapy can change a person's sexual orientation. At least, they assert you can make gay people straight, I don't think they've tried to go the other way with it. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the organization, which I won't go into, but let's say the word "nut" is useful in discussing them.

Dean Byrd is a leading NARTH shrink who has commented on the MoCo sex-ed curriculum, among other things. The CRC and PFOX love this guy, because it says "PhD" after his name and he will say things to support their bigotry. He writes a column at the NARTH web site, including a recent article with the headline: "'Homosexuality Is Not Hardwired,' Concludes Dr. Francis S. Collins, Head Of The Human Genome Project." The article has a couple of quotes from Collins mixed in with a bunch of anti-gay junk, to make it look like Collins believes that sexual orientation is not genetic -- in NARTH's view of the world, this would support their view that sexual orientation can be changed.

Well, David Roberts at Ex-Gay Watch got to wondering about this, and contacted Collins to ask him what he really thinks.

Here's what Collins told them:
It troubles me greatly to learn that anything I have written would cause anguish for you or others who are seeking answers to the basis of homosexuality. The words quoted by NARTH all come from the Appendix to my book “The Language of God” (pp. 260-263), but have been juxtaposed in a way that suggests a somewhat different conclusion that I intended. I would urge anyone who is concerned about the meaning to refer back to the original text.

The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality — the observation that an identical twin of a male homosexual has approximately a 20% likelihood of also being gay points to this conclusion, since that is 10 times the population incidence. But the fact that the answer is not 100% also suggests that other factors besides DNA must be involved. That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable.

Your note indicated that your real interest is in the truth. And this is about all that we really know. No one has yet identified an actual gene that contributes to the hereditary component (the reports about a gene on the X chromosome from the 1990s have not held up), but it is likely that such genes will be found in the next few years.

It is false to dichotomize behavior as being either genetic or chosen. Genes work by interacting with the environment; it may be the influence of the mother's hormones and other factors in the womb, or any of a number of things after birth. Why can you have identical twins, where one is right-handed and the other is left-handed? It doesn't mean you choose which hand to use, it just means there's more to it than just genes, which are the same between identical twins.

On the other hand, as Collins notes, if one identical twin is gay then the chance that the other one is gay is about ten times what you'd expect by chance. So there is clearly a genetic component to it.

But you know what? It doesn't matter. We can respect people without having a full scientific explanation of why they feel the way they do.

Thanks to Ex-Gay Watch for clearing this up.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Felony Hate Crime: Not So Simple

This post got a little longer than I'd expected, sorry. It's just, sometimes these things are fascinating, trying to peer through the fog of media ambiguity and spin to figure out what really happened. I found things by dribs and drabs, and I'm afraid that's how this post will be "organized."

The story is going around the Internet about two girls in Crystal Lake, Illinois who were arrested for hate crimes and other things after they handed out what the media called "anti-gay fliers." I haven't said anything about it, because the stories are so vague that ... well, no good can come out of talking about this. If the fliers said "Homosexuality is a sin," then that wouldn't be a hate-crime. If they said "Kill all the fags," then ... I suppose that would be. Since we don't know what they said, we can't judge.
WOODSTOCK – A judge Tuesday ordered that one of two teens charged with a hate crime for distributing fliers that contained hateful messages toward gays at a Crystal Lake high school remain in custody at a juvenile detention center until her trial.

“I’m very nervous about your daughter being home without supervision,” Judge Michael Chmiel told the girl’s mother.

The 16-year-old girl has had about 12 other run-ins with police over recent years, Chmiel said.

“I know several of those, or quite a few of them were from this summer,” the girl’s mother said in court. “We’ve had rough spots – lots of them.” Student still in custody on hate-crime charges

I'm sympathetic with the mother here because -- tell you what, don't think it can't happen to you.

This girl has had, they say, now, thirteen "run-ins with police." I'd say this puts her in the tail of the bell curve, even without this national news. Kid's having trouble.
Attorneys also said the girl had been suspended from school as a result of the incident and could face expulsion.

McHenry County Court Services, which completed an evaluation on the girl’s home, reported that the girl’s bedroom contained inappropriate posters and writings on the wall.

Oh man, I hope they never come to my house...

There's another girl, it sounds like she was not quite the instigator, but who knows?

Part of the question is -- what did these fliers actually say???

I've looked at a lot of news stories about this now. Here's a clue:
The girls were arrested this month after they allegedly were caught distributing the fliers in Crystal Lake South High School’s parking lot. The fliers depicted a male student kissing another boy, along with hateful statements about gays.

Students told the Northwest Herald that the girls produced the fliers to get revenge on a friend after their relationship soured.

The alleged victim of the hate crime also is the neighbor to one of the girls charged, according to court testimony.

So it appears a girl made a flier of her ex-boyfriend, maybe Photoshopped something so he was kissing another boy -- maybe it was a real picture, I wouldn't know. Kids these days, y'know? She was putting this flier all around the school.

The comments on this online news story are interesting. There are the usual, mostly defending the girls. The last comment at this time is from a person who knows the boy. She meanders a bit, here are a few quotes from her comment:
... I know the victim in this case and the parents have contacted a law professional about taking this to a civil court, but the advice of the lawyer is to wait until the state prosecutes their case. The victim is exactly that "a victim" and the law should represent the victim in this case due to the FACT that these girls were caught red handed putting these fliers on every car in the parking lot of CL South High. (Isn’t this why we pay taxes) When noticed, these fliers were removed by the school officials then a short time later the girls came back and continued to post the fliers again. When approached, they both took off running away from school officials and the schools liaison police officer. This is why the police were now brought into the picture...

...This is a “Hate Crime” and like many of these comments stated ... ”what if this was happening to you” or “you are the parent of the victim”? What would YOU do? How would you feel then? Would you still want to just give these girls a slap on the wrist and be done with this... ..meanwhile they are planning the their next step to do something even worse since they got away with this stunt. Also, this is not the first incident that these girls have done to this victim and his family. How much more needs to continue before the law does step in. Will someone have to get hurt physically or even killed because these types of incidents keep going on? These girls have HURT the whole family with their words and actions against this victim and they must be stopped and held responsible for their actions. (Yes, I have seen the fliers!)

Oh, hang on, here's a little more in the Chicago Tribune:
The fliers had a photograph of two males kissing and included "words of an inflammatory nature," said Police Chief Dave Linder. One male in the photo was identified, Linder said.

The girls were charged with a hate crime because the fliers "were not written for informational purposes but rather were to incite a breach of peace or cause injury to the person or persons the message was directed against," said Thomas Carroll, McHenry County first assistant state's attorney. Teens face hate-crime charge for anti-gay flier

Ah, and here's another story about how upset the other students are that the girls were arrested. It has another tidbit:
Investigators and school officials would not specify the flier’s contents or whether the students remained in school this week. But classmates said the flier showed a picture of two boys kissing along with the words, “God hates fags.”Hate-crime charges upset classmates

Hey, you might find this interesting, especially if you follow American Idol. A guy who was a finalist on that show a few years ago, Jim Verraros -- do you remember him? -- I don't -- grew up in Crystal Lake, the town where this happened. A web site called "Boy Culture" (look, I don't make this stuff up, I'm just following the links) purports to have an email from Verraros, which is worth quoting. Oh, I should mention that Verraros seems to be best known as the first openly gay American Idol contestant.

He emailed this other guy (I'm editing some of the chaff out of it):
My name is Jim Verraros, and unfortunately I am from Crystal Lake,Illinois. I refuse to use the term, "hometown," as I am sickened and embarrassed at the turn of events that happened on Wednesday, May 16th 2007 at my former High School, Crystal Lake South High School, which I graduated from in 2001.

Two girls were arrested on Hate Crime Charges. Both just 16 years old. As I begin to write this, I am infuriated by this detailed account ( of an attack on a fellow male student. Whether he is gay or not, this is a serious issue that has not been taken lightly, thank God.

This is not the first time Crystal Lake, Illinois has been associated with homophobia. How long will it take the people, especially the PARENTS of these misguided children, to see that they're actually raising HOMOPHOBIC, IGNORANT kids? The problem lies at home, people. No matter what way you slice it.

When I was 17 years old, attending the very same school these girls were arrested from, my brake lines were cut on my 89' Buick Century. I was a decent student, had friends, and was heavily involved in extra curricular activities. I just happened to be a 17-year old boy too afraid to come out to my fellow peers in high school. And the article below proves why.

So, good for you, Crystal Lake. For continuing to prove time and time again, that you breed hatred. You breed ignorance, and most of all you're breeding an entirely new generation of people that will do nothing but continue the hate crime acts. Boy Culture

They cut his brake lines. That's no prank, that's attempted murder.

Kind of supporting that account, we see HERE where a 19-year-old from Crystal Lake is busted at the university in Madison, Wisconsin, for ripping down a gay poster and writing on the wall, "“I hate f-cking f-ggots! Die.” Well, that's how the Badger Herald abbreviated it.

So it sounds like Crystal Lake is a town in need of an attitude adjustment.

Like, listen to this, from Wikipedia:
Controversy erupted in the community in February 2006, when it was announced that the Gay Games, which were scheduled to begin July 15, 2006 in Chicago were seeking to hold the rowing events on Crystal Lake. The lake is uniquely suitable to hold such events because of its considerable length and width, and shape. However, Crystal Lake, situated in strongly conservative McHenry County, is home to many conservative Christians, who were opposed to the events on moral grounds. On March 2, 2006, the Crystal Lake Park District voted to reject the Gay Games' application to use the lake for their rowing events, after a tense meeting where over one hundred residents spoke before the board, the majority in opposition. The vote was 2-2, as Crystal Lake Park District President Jerry Sullivan was absent. The deadlocked issue was considered dead. The Gay Games indicated they may seek legal action against the city and the Park District, citing a recently passed Illinois law which prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation.

However, the very next day, March 3, 2006, the president of the Crystal Lake Park District, Jerry Sullivan, who had been on vacation in Mexico, returned and set aside the previous night's vote, and set a new meeting for March 7, 2006. The meeting was held in a local banquet hall in anticipation of great attendance, but the hall proved too small as many people were turned away and cars had to be assigned to an overflow parking lot. The result of the single-issue, four hour meeting was a 3 to 2 vote allowing the use of the lake for the Gay Games. Several weeks later, in April, the Crystal Lake city council approved the event by a vote of 6 to 1, as mayor Aaron Shepley sharply reined in any discussions of morality. The next week, the Lakewood board of village trustees also approved the event, allowing the Gay Games to take place as originally planned. The community remained divided over the event. The rowing competition took place as scheduled on July 16, with no altercations between the estimated 650 spectators and 15 protestors. Organizers of the games said they considered the protests to be a non-event and that the Crystal Lake crowd was one of the largest at any July 16 event.Crystal Lake, IL

You will be interested to know that the gay sites I see that comment on this mostly seem to agree that calling somebody a name shouldn't be a hate crime. For instance, Gay City News and Gay News Blog play it down, Queerty calls it an "anti-gay prank."

It sounds like this girl has problems and the judge is trying to keep her out of more trouble. I don't think anybody wants to see America turn into a place where you get charged with a felony for insulting somebody. If the laws in Illinois were written that way, then maybe there will be a constitutional challenge and something will change. Because I'm no lawyer, but I'm thinking the First Amendment ain't gonna let that happen. But I also have the feeling there is a lot more to this case than just some girls gone wild trying to torture an ex-boyfriend. We don't know what the fliers said, for one thing, and we don't know what else they've been doing to hassle this kid.

It also sounds like Crystal Lake, Illinois is one stinkin' hell-hole of a place to live. They have less than 40,000 people in this little place, but they seem to get in the news a lot, in the worst way. There was another story I didn't link to, where a guy in Crystal Lake went into a market looking for minorities and killed somebody named Naoki Kamijima. Hate crime? Yep.

Here in Montgomery County we have some background noise, but nothing like this -- just be glad you don't live in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

Twenty Years

It's hard to believe, twenty years ago today I was all decked out in a white tux. I had to have some tailoring done to it, because my waist was narrow and my shoulders were broad from days in the gym ... yes, hard to believe. I had a sip of Yukon Jack with the best man before the service, out back, waiting. My bride was beautiful, I gulped when I saw her walking down the aisle with her father; her uncle performed the service in the old chapel and at the end threw his hands up and shouted "Blessed be!"

My musician friends hung out around the bar, her nurse friends danced all night. A bunch of people came to the reception from the Renaissance Fair, in their costumes. Family all over the place: I danced with her mom. My old buddy from the sixties came, he's a twelve-stepper now. A teenager got drunk and caused some consternation, which was ... dealt with, you might say, by his parents, poor kid.

A guy who followed the band I was in did the cooking. We had a ton of tri-tip, which is traditional in that part of the country (San Luis Obispo, California), and after everybody ate there was one little slice left -- we had bought the exact perfect amount. My brother-in-law and I sat in with the band, he played lead guitar on Johnny B. Goode, scared to death. We had just about the same number of party-crashers as no-shows.

Now the kids are big -- the youngest is six foot, can you believe that? All we've gone through -- graduate school, different jobs, traveling, scouts and baseball and PTA and teachers' conferences, working things out -- it's just hard to believe. It's been an adventure, and a blessing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Hollow Eulogy for Jerry Falwell

I didn't say anything when Jerry Falwell died. There was a time to let his family grieve, to let his victims reflect on their pain, and that was a time to be quiet, it seemed to me.

The Wall of Separation is a blog put up by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It's a thoughtful site, not the place for ranting and hasty judgments, a site that reports on and analyzes a powerful and dangerous trend in our contemporary American society. So it was interesting yesterday to see how they reacted when the White House sent a guy to Falwell's funeral to say what a "friend of the administration" Falwell had been:
The Rev. Jerry Falwell’s funeral was yesterday and, predictably, President George W. Bush sent a representative. Tim Goeglein, White House liaison to religious groups, stepped into the pulpit of Thomas Road Baptist Church and praised Falwell as a visionary.

As the Associated Press reported, “The White House sent Tim Goeglein, its liaison to religious groups. He called Falwell a ‘great friend of the administration’ and told mourners that Falwell had trained young people now serving in the Bush administration – ‘so a man of great vision has seen a vision fulfilled.’”

A man of “great vision”? What vision might that be? Falwell’s vision was one of an officially “Christian America” – Christian by his narrow definition of that faith, of course. His “vision” would have excluded not only Americans who happened to be Jews, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists and other non-Christians but also millions of Americans whose Christian faith is less rigid.

Is Falwell’s great “vision” his legacy of ugly gay bashing and his crude personal attacks on anyone who dared to stand up to his narrow-mindedness? Perhaps the “vision” the White House celebrates is Falwell’s constant attacks on the great constitutional principle of church-state separation (which he repeatedly said was a lie and a myth) or his often-stated desire to tear down the public schools.

But maybe the “vision” Goeglein celebrates is the one Falwell outlined two days after Sept. 1, 2001. With the wounds of that horrific attack still fresh, Falwell went on national television to blame the mass killings of nearly 3,000 people not on the evil terrorists who executed it but on Americans who disagree with him on political issues.

It’s worth recalling exactly what he said: “The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this. And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gys and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”

The misery that this one man generated in the world is immeasurable. He was no friend of America. Our elected government has no business sending somebody to his funeral, saying what a wonderful "friend" he was.

No News

From a recent New York Times article on gays in the British military -- this paragraph sums it up:
Since the British military began allowing homosexuals to serve in the armed forces in 2000, none of its fears — about harassment, discord, blackmail, bullying or an erosion of unit cohesion or military effectiveness — have come to pass, according to the Ministry of Defense, current and former members of the services and academics specializing in the military. The biggest news about the policy, they say, is that there is no news. It has for the most part become a nonissue. Gay Britons Serve in Military With Little Fuss, as Predicted Discord Does Not Occur

Gore on God in Government

Thanks to Blog From the Capital for catching this one.

Al Gore was on Larry King yesterday, promoting his new book, The Assault on Reason (BTW, I love that title -- it perfectly explains the situation that caused TeachTheFacts to come into existence). The discussion came around to the candidacy of Mitt Romney, and Larry King got Gore onto the subject of religion.

This strikes me as a very credible way to look at it:
KING: Is Mormonism a fair issue or not a fair issue?

GORE: I do not -- I don't think it's a fair issue. I really don't. I would like to think we are past that. People say, well, this is a special case. I don't think it's a special case. I think that he's entitled to his own beliefs. And incidentally, Larry, in "The Assault on Reason" there is a very long hard-hitting section on this that goes back to our founding fathers, goes back to the debates that we had more than 200 years ago about why religion should be kept out of the way in which our decisions are made.

Except to the extent that individuals, of course, who are motivated by their religious faith, as I am, as so many people are, are going to make that a part of their decisions. But here's the critical distinction. When America was founded, they -- our founders said, OK look, we are not going to pretend that whoever is elected to office has been ordained by the almighty to be the decision maker. The person who is elected is elected by us, the people of this country. And the divine right of kings was rejected by the founders of the United States.

And what replaced that, the divine right of individuals in this sense, we believe that we are all created equal. And that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. So the relationship that our founders believed was appropriate for -- between America and God was their belief that every individual has certain rights and has dignity because that person is a child of God.

Now, for those who don't believe in God, I'm not proselytizing. I'm just telling you what I believe and what our founders believed. But what -- but this has been twisted around in recent times by some people who want to convey the impression that God belongs, if not to a particular political party, that God has a particular political ideology and that those who disagree with a right-wing approach to this or that are against God.

That is an anti-American view. That is completely contrary to the spirit of America. It is an American heresy and people in both parties ought to reject that and fight against it. CNN LARRY KING LIVE

I'm glad to know America still has somebody who can be this cool, clear, and articulate. This is exactly the right way to think about the interrelationship of religion and political leadership.

Results Should Be Reported Soon

Pilot testing of the new sex-ed classes was conducted in six schools in March. As far as we heard, the testing was more or less uneventful, despite the CRC's best efforts to disrupt it. So far there are still no reports of any students becoming gay as a result of exposure to the material. About the worst anybody reported was that the classes were boring.

They were boring because the teacher's role is strictly scripted (say "strictly scripted" real fast ten times). Teachers were not allowed to answer students' questions, even.

You can see why the district wanted to prevent teachers' ad-libbing. For one thing, sexual orientation is not something most teachers have been trained in; they probably don't know much about it. So if they start answering questions off the top of their heads, it's not guaranteed that what comes out of their mouths will be absolutely accurate.

That's one reason.

Of course the real reason is that there is so much focus on these little classes that the district can't afford for anything to go wrong. Imagine if a teacher said something like "There's nothing wrong with being gay" to a classroom of 10th-graders that included a CRC kid. The Right Blogosphere would explode with complaints, papers would be filed, the schools would be accused of promoting something-or-other, and this thing would drag on forever. The school district is afraid of a lawsuit, and that makes sense, because the CRC has said they will sue. A gang of lawyers has gone over the classroom materials again and again to make sure there's nothing sketchy in them, but MCPS can't take a chance on some teacher saying something that the anti-education groups can use in court.

It's easy to relieve this situation without jeopardizing the schools' position at all. The citizens advisory committee had strongly recommended the addition to the curricula (both 8th and 10th grades) of some written materials created by the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association. There were informative brochures and journal articles that provided guidance to members of those organizations in understanding sexual orientation and gender identity and dealing with various related issues. These materials spell out exactly what the experts have decided about homosexuality, and explicitly note that they do not consider it a disorder or disease; that they believe gay and lesbian people can live normal, full lives; that gays and lesbians can be perfectly good parents, etc.

These documents should be provided to teachers and handed out in class. It's not to late to add them.

It is not possible that the school district would be legally vulnerable if teachers quoted official documents from these respected organizations.

I don't see how it will be possible for teachers to read these lessons verbatim to classes for the next however-many years. Well, whatever, it isn't my place to tell them how to teach, but I do expect that as they get comfortable with the new material they will be able to relax a little in class and deliver the lessons naturally, at least. And that would be a lot easier if they had some materials to prepare them for the inevitable questions.

There has been some talk among citizens committee members about the possibility of scheduling a meeting to learn the results of the pilot testing. The point of the testing was to find problems with the classes and correct them, and the citizens committee should be made aware of that information. I haven't heard a date for any meeting yet, but I understand discussions are being held, and I'll let you know when a date is set. There will probably also be a report to the Board of Education; if that is presented at their regular meeting you ought to be able to watch it on the web or on TV.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

US Broadcasting Terrorist Messages

Great. Just great. So good to see such a focus on competence.
Al Hurra television, the U.S. government's $63 million-a-year effort at public diplomacy broadcasting in the Middle East, is run by executives and officials who cannot speak Arabic, according to a senior official who oversees the program.

That might explain why critics say the service has recently been caught broadcasting terrorist messages, including an hour-long tirade on the importance of anti-Jewish violence, among other questionable pieces.

Facing tough questions before a congressional panel last week, Broadcasting Board of Governors member Joaquin Blaya admitted none of the senior news managers at the network spoke Arabic when the terrorist messages made it onto the air courtesy of U.S. taxpayer funds. Nor did Blaya himself or any of the other officials at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the network.

"How does it happen that the terrorists take over?" asked Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, D-N.Y., at a hearing last Wednesday of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee he chairs. "Is there no adult supervision?" U.S. Government Gave Airtime to Terrorists, Official Admits

Brilliant idea to give management of the Arabic-language media over to some guys who don't speak Arabic. I'm sure they were sitting in their offices beaming happily at the nicely-produced program, just as proud as could be.
It has never been al Hurra's policy to "provide an open, live microphone to terrorists," Blaya assured lawmakers. "It should not have happened."

Oh, good, it's not their policy -- it's just something they do. We feel so much better.

I wonder why they didn't have anybody who spoke Arabic?

APA Forming Task Force on Sexual Orientation Therapy

I've been a member of the American Psychological Association for more than fifteen years, you'd think I'd have some idea what was going on there, wouldn't you? They are forming a task force, and I am a little curious about what way the wind is blowing.
The American Psychological Association will review the current scientific research on therapeutic response to sexual orientation with an eye toward updating the Association's 1997 policy statement on the topic.

"I am pleased to announce the initiation of this Task Force. Its work will be of significant value as it will help inform all mental health practitioners about appropriate and effective therapeutic responses to sexual orientation. I look forward to the group's report," said APA President Dr. Sharon Stephens Brehm.

Task Force members were selected after an open nominations process. All nominations were reviewed by the APA Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns (CLGBTC) which forwarded the complete list of nominations and a suggested slate of nominees to the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) for review. The CLGBTC and BAPPI recommendations as well as the full list of nominations were then sent to the APA President who made the final appointments to the task force in consultation with the APA Board of Directors. APA To Review Recent Science On Therapeutic Responses To Sexual Orientation

I see two levels of debate here. First, there are those who whisk helpless young gay people off and force them to endure "therapies" that they don't want -- some of the stories are unbelievable, things they try to get these kids to go straight. It doesn't work, and there's really no controversy about it: this is a bad thing to do, and the APA will never approve it.

But there's another level, having to do with the gay person who wishes they were straight and goes to a therapist for help "converting." Here there is controversy. On one hand, some therapists argue that the person should be able to request his (it's always a "he") own therapy goal, and if they want to be straight the therapist should help them attain that. That's pretty easy logic: therapy is a product, and the customer chooses what brand they want.

You can see that there are assumptions in that viewpoint that don't hold up. It is assumed that the therapy-customer is capable of weighing his options rationally, and will choose what is best for himself. You can imagine an alcoholic going to his doctor and saying, "Doc, I've got a problem. After about ten drinks, I pass out. Can you prescribe something to keep me awake, so I can drink more?" Or you can imagine the eighty-pound anorexic going to the doctor, asking for something to suppress her appetite so she won't eat so much.

Hey this is fun. What about the schizophrenic who wants the therapist to help him hide his thoughts from the aliens?

See what I'm talking about? The patient isn't necessarily a rational customer, and their interpretation of their situation may not be the one that leads to a healthy choice.

Everything is not a free market or a democracy. Sometimes somebody knows better than somebody else. This goes for education as well as psychotherapy.

The doctor or therapist learns to "first, do no harm." This task force will have to decide whether to allow the patient-as-customer paradigm to prevail even though there is a huge chance that it does harm, or to promote the therapist-as-expert view, which assumes that the therapist can understand what is in the best interest of the patient, even when the patient can't.

There will be a lot of political pressures leaning on these discussions, both ways -- it would be great to be a fly on the wall at this team's meetings. I don't know what way they will go on this.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Smithsonian Dumbs Down the Science

If you live in Montgomery County, you know people who work for the CIA, the Secret Service, the Smithsonian. You hear stories. I had a friend from the Smithsonian a while back, telling me about his job. Huge amount of responsibility, he was supervising a bunch of people -- and they had him at a GS-9. The whole place had jobs graded way low, because there's never enough money. They're so glad to work there, the museum gets them cheap.

And you know, when people come to town, what do you tell them? Go see the museums. They're free, and they're great. Air and Space, Natural History, Gallery of Art, all of those, go see them.

Yeah, well, it's not what it used to be.
The Smithsonian Institution toned down an exhibit on climate change in the Arctic for fear of angering Congress and the Bush administration, says a former administrator at the museum.

Among other things, the script, or official text, of last year's exhibit was rewritten to minimize and inject more uncertainty into the relationship between global warming and humans, said Robert Sullivan, who was associate director in charge of exhibitions at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Also, officials omitted scientists' interpretation of some research and let visitors draw their own conclusions from the data, he said. In addition, graphs were altered "to show that global warming could go either way," Sullivan said.

"It just became tooth-pulling to get solid science out without toning it down," said Sullivan, who resigned last fall after 16 years at the museum. He said he left after higher-ups tried to reassign him. Smithsonian Accused of Altering Exhibit

Man, I'm sick of this. These guys decided to make global warning a political issue -- see their talking-points memo HERE (scroll to page 137) -- and now the Smithsonian, an institution that we are proud of -- it's more than just a museum, it's our national museum -- is distorting the scientific results, just so some politicians won't cut off their funding.
Smithsonian officials denied that political concerns influenced the exhibit, saying the changes were made for reasons of objectivity. And some scientists who consulted on the project said nothing major was omitted.

Sullivan said that to his knowledge, no one in the Bush administration pressured the Smithsonian, whose $1.1 billion budget is mostly taxpayer-funded.

Rather, he said, Smithsonian leaders acted on their own. "The obsession with getting the next allocation and appropriation was so intense that anything that might upset the Congress or the White House was being looked at very carefully," he said.

White House spokeswoman Kristen Hellmer said Monday: "The White House had no role in this exhibit."

Again, you live in Washington, you know what they're saying. Of course the White House didn't send a guy over to say, this-this-this-and-this gotta go. You've got Congress on the Hill, looking for anything they can do to defend their greedy spending. They found this global-warming cash cow, and they're milking it for all it's worth. You're at the Smithsonian: you know what you have to do.

And the ones that work there now -- same thing: they know what they have to say.

You can see stuff from this exhibit HERE.

Mad MCPS Teacher Calls PFOX

In a fit or boredom I followed a link on the CRC's web site, that said "MC parents and other parents listen to this." The link goes to a web page with a big title, "Stop The Hate Now ... the hate towards the ex-gay community." It appears that this is a site is where PFOX intends to collect angry email and voicemail messages and post them, to prove that the world hates "ex-gays." They actually have two emails linked, and one phone call. The CRC linked directly to the phone call.

If you haven't been following this, let me explain. PFOX is the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, supposedly, though of course that would be PFOX-GAG. For some reason they leave the "And Gays" part out of their acronym. They are a tiny but noisy "organization" (it might be one person) that tries to push the idea that gay people can stop being gay. They claim there are thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of "ex-gays" out there, but they never produce one that isn't on the payroll or somehow making a name for themselves through the ministry.

The organization is led by Regina Griggs, who has a gay son ... it's sad. She keeps saying gay people can change, but they don't.

One of the major objectives of PFOX is to get people to pity them. They incessantly claim that everyone is prejudiced against "ex-gays," though most people have never heard the term and couldn't care less. People are offended, though, that these people go around trying to get unashamed gay people to think there's something wrong with them; it just doesn't sit well, somehow. Nobody cares if somebody stops being gay, but people definitely do care when some betterthanyou group goes around telling perfectly happy people that they need to change.

PFOX has lately been sending home fliers in MCPS students' backpacks. We have heard from a number of teachers who are very unhappy with the situation.

When you click on the link, you hear PFOX's voicemail:
Hello, I'm a teacher at a Montgomery County school, and today we were forced by our administration to hand out your fliers about children who need to quit being gay. I want you to know, number one, I find this extremely offensive that any student would be forced to read material alongside their report cards and not get an affirming document from an organization like SMYAL, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, that would promote, that actually did promote tolerance, awareness, and respect for individuals regardless of their orientation or their personal self and their self identity.

I think that you as an organization owe some responsibility to the county, distributing materials to impressionable young people to make sure that both sides of the story are getting out. And I think that if you actually promoted tolerance and awareness in the community of people's different sexual orientations and different sexual identities that you would have partnered with an organization that is willing to partner, like SMYAL, like ** used to be, like Different Avenues. One of the organizations that actually does support and affirm youth even when they become homeless because their parents have refused to support them because their parents quote PFOX things to them, if you could have reached out to one of those organizations and sent out a flier that actually did promote both sides of the issue, and give both sets of resources, then I would have been more willing to pass out your reprehensible materials to youth. Rather than to force them to feel like they are broken or somehow un-whole.

In the meantime, being forced to pass out these one-sided, there's-something-wrong-with-you type message is just so offensive to me and so underhanded that an organization would do that to a bunch of impressionable young people who are trying not to commit suicide over their personal identity. It saddens me, it is sneaky and underhanded that you would put your fliers out in that manner. I hope that you will seriously consider the way *** think and the way you're introducing yourself to an entire community of people who are truly in need before you do this again. I appreciate that your fliers weren't openly hostile and for that I give you credit. But I strongly recommend you to reach out to another organization if you've got some sort of in, before you wallpaper an entire county with this kind of material.

It is offensive and one-sided and totally disrespectful of the sexual identity of about ten percent of the teenagers at every high school in Montgomery County. And for you to send this message out this way and twist the school district's arm into distributing this material is so offensive when you've made no attempt to distribute other kinds of material. It is ridiculous, self-centered, and judgmental, and I hope that you will seriously consider doing this another way the next time report cards come out.

I am raising this complaint to the administration in my building and eventually to the administration of the entire school district, so they invite other organizations like SMYAL to present other sides of this issue. In the meantime, I really would hope you don't do this again. This is totally offensive. LINK HERE

Wow, I would love to hear from this teacher -- it sounds like she was doing this off the top of her head. She obviously has given this some thought, and she was very obviously extremely unhappy with the situation.

It is interesting that PFOX tries to pass this sort of thing off as "hate." What has this teacher said that is remotely hateful? She is angry, oh yeah, no doubt about that, about having to hand out immoral materials to vulnerable students.

Here you've got a teacher who has a sense of right and wrong, and has been forced by the school district to do the wrong thing. PFOX wants you to interpret her distress as hate: shame on them. They have good reasons to confuse people; if you want to see hate, look at PFOX. They are in no position to call names, especially when it's one hard-working schoolteacher, outraged at being used by the county to spread this ugliness.

How long do you think good teachers are going to allow themselves to be used this way? They're already overworked and underpaid, and now they have to pass out propaganda that undermines their most vulnerable students. How long can they be expected to keep doing this?

If the teacher who made this call happens to see this, how about sending us a note at ? We'd definitely like to follow your story and see what kind of progress you're making.

Is This Satire, Or For Real?

Sam Brownback is a Republican Senator from Kansas, very conservative. He cites Jesse Helms as his hero and role model. Favors teaching intelligent design and opposes marriage equality. You know the rest.

His followers have a blog site, called Blogs4Brownback. OK, lots of politicians have blogs supporting them. As you would expect, this is mostly more-or-less over-the-top ranting, we've seen it before, our county's CRC would be comfortable there. We will have some anynomous comments on this post about what a great American Sam Brownback is.

So now we have to figure out something. Like, when Conservapedia came out, and you looked at it, and you had to decide -- are these guys for real? An encyclopedia of alternate reality? And after a couple of months you knew, well, yes, apparently they actually are for real.

Blogs4Brownback has a post from the other day that challenges Copernicus. It goes on and on, I'll paste some of it here, you help me figure out if this is a hoax, or for real:
What's even worse than the debate raging in American schools about the teaching of the soulless doctrine of evolution, is the non-debate over an issue that rational Americans have foolishly conceded to the secular among us: the issue of Heliocentrism, or the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Now, it has to be granted that there may be some mathematical evidence going either way; mathematically speaking, Copernicus may be on ground nearly as firm as that of Tycho Brahe. Right-thinking people know the correct doctrine, however:
Heliocentrism is the view that the sun is at the center of the universe. It was proposed by some ancient Greeks,[1] and became the dominant view in the 1700s and 1800s. It was abandoned in the 20th century.

Since the advent of relativity theory in the early 1900s, the laws of physics have been written in covariant equations, meaning that they are equally valid in any frame. Heliocentric and geocentric theories are both used today, depending on which allows more convenient calculations

It seems clear that it may occasionally be convenient to assume that the calculations of Copernicus and Kepler were mathematically sound. However, for both moral and theological reasons, we should always bear in mind that the Earth does not move. If it moved, we would feel it moving. That’s called empiricism, the experience of the senses. Don't take my word for it, or the evidence of your own senses, Copernicans. There's also the Word of the Lord:
"He has fixed the earth firm, immovable." (1 Chronicles 16:30)
"Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm ..." (Psalm 93:1)
"Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken." (Psalm 104:5)
"... who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast ..." (Isaiah 45:18)
"The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose." (Ecclesiastes 1:5)
"Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” (Joshua 10, 12-13)

Moreover, as Answers in Genesis points out,
... [S]omething well known to high-school physics students, but apparently not to bibliosceptics—that it’s valid to describe motion from any reference frame, although an inertial one usually makes the mathematics simpler.3 But there are many times when the Earth is a convenient reference frame; i.e. at some point we all use the geocentric model in one sense. For instance, a planetarium is a geocentric model. Calculation of rising, transiting, and setting of various celestial objects is calculated geocentrically. There are numerous other examples. Since modern astronomers often use an Earth-centred reference frame, it’s unfair and anti-scientific to criticise the Bible for doing the same.

OK, you get the picture.

This writer does not want his kids learning heliocentrism in school -- he says:
... I think this doctrine encourages atheism, Darwinism, and anti-Americanism. I don't want my tax dollars going to finance this kind of false science. It's complete rot, and I hope that those of us who come to realize this can ultimately prevail against its propogation amongst OUR children with the money from OUR salaries.

What are you going to do when some group forms in our county to oppose the atheistic teaching of heliocentricity? Oh, the TV cameras will love them. They'll get a seat on the committees, they'll send their fliers home with the kids, they'll come into the classrooms -- because it wouldn't be fair to exclude one point of view, would it?

OK, I toss it to you. Do you think this is a hoax perpetrated from inside the radical right Blogs4Brownback, or are these guys for real? I think it's for real.

Friday, May 18, 2007

News From Canada

From the Globe and Mail:
The teenage pregnancy rate in Canada has hit an all-time low and the teen abortion rate has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade, according to a new report.

The number of unwanted pregnancies among adolescents and young adults has fallen principally because they are using birth control, said Alex McKay, research co-ordinator at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, and author of the study.

"It's due to greater contraceptive use, not teens having less sex," he said. Teen pregnancies drop to a new low, abortions continue decline

In case you were wondering.

A little elaboration down in the story:
While the pregnancy rate is falling, sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are soaring among young people, and that points to poor sex education, Linda Capperauld, executive director of the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, said in an interview.

"We continue to focus on unintended pregnancy, but we're neglecting to give young people the tools to ensure their long-term sexual health," she said.

Ms. Capperauld said that oral contraceptives (commonly referred to as the Pill) remain the birth control of choice among teenage girls and that they and their partners are neglecting to use condoms to protect themselves from infections.

You can see why it is important to have good sex education. The pill keeps you from getting pregnant, but the condom also blocks microbes. We're on track to do the right thing in our county.

Nobody Listens to the Nuts

I haven't said much about it here, but the big Famiy Blah Blah groups have really been fighting the new hate-crimes bill, which will include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. They keep trying to say it will create thought crimes, but ... there are just so many things wrong with that. For one, you didn't hear them complaining when religion was protected, did you? For another thing, the law doesn't say anything about speech. You can say what you want: bigots are not required to suppress their utterances.

Well, you know, it's another wedge issue that the nuts can use to drive Americans apart. I'm sure we don't need to call up the CRC to see how they feel about it, by and large the line is drawn in the sand, and extremists like CRC know where to stand.

Not everybody is falling for it this time. Here's what Gallup reported this week:
PRINCETON, NJ -- A substantial majority of the American public favors the expansion of federal hate crime legislation to include crimes against people based on their gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed such legislation, which is now being considered by the Senate. Republicans, conservatives, and religious Americans are slightly less likely than others to favor the expansion of hate crime legislation, but a majority of those in each of these conservative and religious groups favors the proposed legislation. Public Favors Expansion of Hate Crime Law to Include Sexual Orientation

These numbers are surprising, even to me. Well, I guess I would admit that a certain part of me has become a little ... cynical ... over the past few years.

In general, 78 percent of the American public likes the idea of hate-crime laws, 18 percent oppose them.

And look at this (note: I am re-formatting the tables for display on the blog):
There is a proposal to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim's gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Would you favor or oppose expanding the federal hate crime laws in this way?

2007 May 10-13
Favor 68%
Oppose 27%
No opinion 5%

Listen, that's not close. The big Christianist organizations can cry and scream all they want, but people think this is a good idea, overwhelmingly.

Ah, but you're thinking it's probably one of those red-state / blue-state things. I'll bet you find the Republicans, the evangelicals, oppose these things, and the liberals on the coasts like it.

Favor 68
Oppose 27

Favor 60
Oppose 34

Favor 69
Oppose 27

Favor 75
Oppose 21

Favor 57
Oppose 37

Favor 74
Oppose 22

Favor 82
Oppose 15

Protestant and other non-catholic Christians
Favor 65
Oppose 30

Favor 72
Oppose 23

Other religion
Favor 74
Oppose 23

No religious identity
Favor 74
Oppose 25

Attend church weekly
Favor 64
Oppose 30

Attend church almost every week/monthly
Favor 67
Oppose 29

Attend church seldom, never
Favor 73
Oppose 23

They couldn't find any way to slice the pie that showed any group where the majority did not feel these things should be added to the hate-crimes law.

This is an extraordinary result. For years the extremists have used these kinds of issues to cultivate their "base." They could count on a certain knee-jerk reaction that resulted in votes at election time. In this case, the Dobsons, the Tony Perkinses, got out there and talked this up, ooh, the gay agenda is trying to take over the world -- and this time nobody bought it.

It's time for Americans to go toward the light. The divisiveness worked for certain political interests for a number of years. But my American people are not hateful. Everybody knows what it's like to be on the losing end of a no-win situation -- I mean, c'mon, you don't need to have the blues explained to you, do you? -- and we don't have any desire to put somebody else in that situation.

This is a good sign, a real good sign.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Shining a Light on the Denialists

One of the coolest new blogs out there is denialism blog. There is a certain kind of alternative to thinking that we have to deal with, the CRC's answer to reason, which is not unique to the CRC, but is demonstrated in many, uh, "conservative" groups. The denialism blog addresses this alt.cognition directly.

Today's post is titled: "Who are the denialists? (Part II)."

I'm going to let them do all the work -- here's that post in its entirety:
What kind of family value is lying? That's the foremost question in my mind when I consider the family values organizations that use false research, lies and denialism to justify their agenda of disparaging contraception, sex education, homosexuality, and exaggerating the dangers of abortion.

In light of Falwell's death, I thought it would be appropriate to advance the discussion of the use of denialist techniques to reinforce bigotry and an anti-feminist agenda in the name of family values.

I think a good starting point for the discussion of what a family values denialist looks like is Paul Cameron and his organization the Family Research Institute which has stooped as low as using memoirs of Nazi Rudolf Hoss to justify their theory of gay "recruitment". Paul Cameron can only be described as a disgraced psychologist, the American Psychological Association has even taken the trouble to cancel his membership for violations of their code of ethics and the American Sociological Association followed suit. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently detailed his psuedoscientific crusade against gays. Cameron is a quack, who lies, cheats and misrepresents the science of others to try to prove that homosexuals have higher fatality rates and are more likely to abuse children in an attempt to scientifically justify homophobia. One of his only redeeming values is that he has no idea when he's being made fun of, so every time the Daily Show needs to make someone look like an ass on gay issues they just call him up and he willingly embarrasses himself on national television. Here at scienceblogs, Ed Brayton has chronicled several instances of Cameron's bigotry masquerading as science. Off the scienceblogs, the best resource is by far Box Turtle Bulletin which provides this list of people who promote Cameron's bogus research and lies. Not surprisingly, those that use Cameron's obviously bogus research are other denialist "family" organizations.

Take for example the The American Family Association's repeated use of Cameron's debunked research suggesting that homosexuals are child-molesting gay recruiters. Besides promoting anti-evolution denialism, and homophobia (too many instances to catalog), they also promote the debunked breast cancer/abortion link, fake breast cancer organizations (can you even believe it?), and other cranks who promote the abortion/cancer link. Quite simply, every single page you find on their website promotes lies about sexuality, contraception, abortion, stem cells, and women's health. It's simply stunning, that people who supposedly promote families are so willing to lie and deceive to acheive their goals.

But wait, there's more.

No discussion of fake family organizations would be incomplete without a discussion of The Family Research Council, James Dobson's "family" lobbying organization who recently misrepresented the science on emergency contraception as part of their continuing campaign against reproductive choices from abortion to contraception and promotion of abstinence education despite proof it doesn't work. I'm sad to say that Charmaigne Yoest, their director of communications, has a position at my very own university.

In this category I also include the fake feminist organizations such as the Independent Women's Forum and Concerned Women for America, who also routinely lie about sexuality, contraception, sex ed, etc., to advance a religious/political agenda under a pretense of representing women or feminism.


Family Research Institute - Paul Cameron's denialist organization.

The American Family Association - A clearinghouse for lies about anything south of the belt buckle.

The Family Research Council - the most mainstream organization for liars about sexuality, sex education, contraception, etc.

Independent Women's Forum

Concerned Women for America

[Link: Who are the denialists? (Part II)]

I'd bookmark the denialist blog and check it every day or two, if I were you.

Gender Identity in Newsweek

Newsweek has a really good article this week, looking at gender identity and people whose gender does not match their physical bodies: transgender people. This situation is not very common, but it's not so rare that you will never encounter it.

The new MCPS curriculum has some small amount of discussion of the topic, and the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum go positively rabid about it -- it is inconceivable to them that anyone would ever have any real reason to want to change their public identity from male to female or vice versa. They like to talk about sex reassignment surgery as "mutilation," and treat the dilemma of transgender people as if it were some kind of fashion decision, like getting a tattoo or something.

Anyway, Newsweek starts with an anecdote that I'll skip over.
To most of us, gender comes as naturally as breathing. We have no quarrel with the "M" or the "F" on our birth certificates. And, crash diets aside, we've made peace with how we want the world to see us—pants or skirt, boa or blazer, spiky heels or sneakers. But to those who consider themselves transgender, there's a disconnect between the sex they were assigned at birth and the way they see or express themselves. Though their numbers are relatively few—the most generous estimate from the National Center for Transgender Equality is between 750,000 and 3 million Americans (fewer than 1 percent)—many of them are taking their intimate struggles public for the first time. In April, L.A. Times sportswriter Mike Penner announced in his column that when he returned from vacation, he would do so as a woman, Christine Daniels. Nine states plus Washington, D.C., have enacted antidiscrimination laws that protect transgender people—and an additional three states have legislation pending, according to the Human Rights Campaign. And this month the U.S. House of Representatives passed a hate-crimes prevention bill that included "gender identity." Today's transgender Americans go far beyond the old stereotypes (think "Rocky Horror Picture Show"). They are soccer moms, ministers, teachers, politicians, even young children. Their push for tolerance and acceptance is reshaping businesses, sports, schools and families. It's also raising new questions about just what makes us male or female. (Rethinking) Gender

OK, I like the philosophical and scientific questions -- what makes us male or female kinds of questions. Obviously there is some plumbing involved, but man, there's a lot more than that. I remember in grade school learning that boys carry their books under their arms, and girls hold them against their chest with both arms. If you were a boy and you held your books like a girl there'd be hell to pay. You know what I'm talking about. Growing up is largely an education in how your sex is supposed to behave. The entire world of pronouns is dichotomized, so you have to refer to someone as "he" or "she," there's no finagle-factor in the language for the ambiguous or confusing cases.

But the scientific stuff, the philosophical stuff, when you get down to it, that's not what this is about. When you get down to it, there's a person, and they feel a certain way. Why do they feel that way? I don't know, ask a scientist, ask a philosopher, all you can say is that they do feel that they are not what they appear to be. Most of us, not a problem. But some people have the persistent, lifetime feeling that a terrible mistake is being made.
What is gender anyway? It is certainly more than the physical details of what's between our legs. History and science suggest that gender is more subtle and more complicated than anatomy. (It's separate from sexual orientation, too, which determines which sex we're attracted to.) Gender helps us organize the world into two boxes, his and hers, and gives us a way of quickly sizing up every person we see on the street. "Gender is a way of making the world secure," says feminist scholar Judith Butler, a rhetoric professor at University of California, Berkeley. Though some scholars like Butler consider gender largely a social construct, others increasingly see it as a complex interplay of biology, genes, hormones and culture.

Luckily, we are concerned here with a couple of classes that will be taught in 8th and 10th grades. We won't have to sort all of this out, though these are terrific questions.

What we want to do in middle school and high school is to show that there are transgender people, and though they may be statistically rare they are just people. The Portia vignette -- the one thing the CRC hates more than anything in the new curriculum -- successfully brings to life a transgender character so students can empathize with her for a minute. That's really all the school needs to do, let students imagine what this is like. For most students this will be a kind of curiosity or novelty, but some will recognize themselves in the vignette; just think what that would be like, to discover that you were not entirely alone with your secret. I don't see the downside of that.

Well, this article is quite long and very readable. There are a number of complicated issues -- qualifications for Olympic athletes, for instance, reconciliation with religion, hiring-and-firing decisions, other things. I won't quote any more -- I recommend you click on the link and read this whole article.

Those Naked Dutch, Again

When I was in Belgium, and I was talking to a Dutch lady. Remember a while back I posted something about how there was no law against public nudity in the Netherlands. Well, I asked this lady about that, just to make sure.
Me: So, I read that in Holland there's no law against going naked in public, is that right?
Her: [laughing] Oh, no, people don't go naked in public there!
Me: But they could if they wanted to, right?
Her: They don't. I've never seen anybody walking around naked.
Me: But there's no law against it, is there?
Her: Why would there be a law against that?

I would be interested to know how people would answer her question. We assume that we need to make it illegal to do something that doesn't hurt anybody, and that nobody would do anyway. There's no debate about it here in the land of the free, we just know that it has to be against the law. Why do we do that? Can you answer that question without using the word "Puritan?"

Big Preacher Says Women Are Getting Too Educated

... Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson says families need to be concerned that in America, 60% of college students are female. He predicts that in a few years, men will be increasingly underrepresented among "the intelligentsia" and will gradually cede leadership in many areas to women.

Patterson laments that most of the women ascending to these new roles will maintain a major focus on a career, not on the family and on children. SBC leader: Family suffers when women choose career over children

I've got nothing against women staying home with the kids, and nothing against them going to work. It's none of my business. You want to work: work. Want to stay home: stay home. Do whatever you have to do.

But this guy's concern is a little different from that. He's really complaining about two other things. He's concerned about women taking over "the intelligentsia" (whatever that is in America) and men losing their place as leaders.

So, is the problem that women are getting more intellectual, or that men are getting less so? I can understand if he's concerned about men becoming a bunch of slackers, but, look, I don't enjoy being in the presence of stupid people, male or female -- I really hope he isn't trying to discourage women from being smart.

And who cares if men "cede leadership" to women? I'm trying to figure out why that would matter. How about the best, most qualified people be the leaders?
Patterson warned the more than 3,000 people attending World Congress of Families IV that the traditional family unit is now under attack worldwide. He said this assault was initially focused in Western Europe and North America, but has now spread to other societies that seemed immune to family disintegration.

A biblical model of the family is key to restoring social order in the world, stated the Southern Baptist leader. Although innocents continue to be executed in the womb by their mothers and divorce is "eviscerating family life on every hand," said Patterson, there is still hope for the world.

The "biblical model of the family" -- that's got to be a joke. In the Bible you've got people having sex with their siblings and their parents, you've got guys killing their kids and the kids killing each other, you've got extramarital affairs and huge polygamous harems with wives and concubines and who-knows-what. I mean, wow, has this guy ever opened the Bible and looked in it? He's the president of a major seminary, for crying out loud.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Abstinence-Only Federal Constraint to Go Away

Somebody forwarded me this article from the Congressional Quarterly's website CQ Today.

It will be nice to see this particular political atrocity wither away quietly.
Democrats plan to let a federal abstinence-education program die quietly next month, demonstrating that pursuit of their legislative agenda can sometimes be passive.

The authorization for Title V abstinence-education grants expires at the end of June, and those on both sides of the sex-education debate agree that the $50 million-a-year mandatory-spending program — which draws an additional $37.5 million match from the states — stands little chance of winning an extension from a Democratic-controlled Congress.

Democrats generally favor a broader approach to sex education, but the issue is a tricky one politically. So Democrats are not calling attention to the impending demise of the abstinence-only approach, which was established under the 1996 welfare overhaul (PL 104-193) and is now operating under a six-month extension (PL 109-432) — or to the possibility that a $110 million discretionary-spending abstinence program funded through the Department of Health and Human Services may be zeroed out for fiscal 2008. End of the Line Is Near for Federal Funding of Abstinence-Only Sex Education

It's a "tricky one politically" because it is so easy to make it sound bad. After years of dealing with the CRC, I can just hear them saying "Liberals want to encourage children to have promiscuous sex and get abortions."

This soundbite problem is at the core of a lot of the crazy things that have happened in recent years. You take something sensible on one hand, and take its soundbite refutation on the other, and because people are too busy to pay attention the soundbite ends up having some effect. They don't think about what's going on, they just hear some agreeable words and go with the flow.

In Montgomery County, we've heard people say things like "The new curriculum encourages children to engage in promiscuous sex," or "The classes force children as young as twelve to declare their sexual orientation publicly." It's not hard to follow a couple of links, for instance at the top left corner of our Resources page here, and see that the new curriculum does no such thing. But people don't usually bother to do that. Either they accept what they're being told -- which most people in our county don't -- or they write groups like the CRC off as extremists. (This latter option is especially easy when the soundbites are ridiculous.)

I am curious to see what the next stage will be. Not-paying-attention has been very costly for America. We have lost our prestige in the world. We have spent billions of dollars wastefully instead of improving our lives. Well, I'm not going to list all the steps backwards we have taken. But I am curious to see if people will start thinking critically, or if they will just hook up with a different set of soundbites now. OK, I admit it, I'm old and cynical, I know what the answer to that question is.

One of the biggest steps backwards was the federal government's restriction that it would only fund abstinence-only sex ed. There were a bunch of rules about what you couldn't include if you wanted federal support. These rules weren't what the majority of Americans wanted, most people want a nice, comprehensive, straight-ahead curriculum so young people know what sex is about, including how to protect themselves from disease when they become sexually active.

It wasn't what people wanted, but it makes an easy soundbite. Everybody wants teenagers to wait, nobody wants to see young people behaving irresponsibly. So there's no resistance when somebody argues that teens should be abstinent, I mean, what's to argue with, huh? But ... when you take the next step, and act like teens will be abstinent, and therefore don't need to know anything about sex, you have committed a terrible mistake.

Easy soundbite, bad policy. We're not sorry to see this one go away.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

CRC: Up Is Down

In a recent TV interview, Citizen for a Responsible Curriculum president John Garza made a statement that piqued our curiosity. He said:
Well, we did a study at Watkins Mill after the first pilot and we sent out a questionnaire to all the parents there. We got back about 100 responses. About 60 of the parents whose kids took the pilot program responded and about 30 of the kids who didn't take the pilot program. And believe it or not, our, our, we'd be happy to share this with you, we found that the kids who did not take the pilot program were better educated about sex than the ones who did.

We did wonder what that was about.

Now the CRC has posted the results of that "study."

Mmm, you won't really be surprised.

They sent a questionnaire to students at Watkins Mill High School, one of the 10th-grade pilot schools, using addresses taken from the PTA student directories, and got back 61 responses. 32 were from students who had taken the classes, and 29 from students who had not.

Uh, this is not a hundred, like he said on TV. OK, faulty memory, happens to all of us.

But wait. According to school data, 12 students opted out at Watkins Mill, and 13 forgot to return permission slips. That's only 25. And yet, CRC is reporting data from 29 students who did not attend the classes -- a spectacular 116 percent response rate!

And only 32 of the 123 students who did take the classes returned the questionnaires. We would call that "sampling bias." Whatever, let's keep going.

Oddly, the CRC's report starts with Question 6. They say that before Question 6 they explained the term "reliable protection" as meaning highly effective protection - it does not mean absolute 100% protection, nor does it mean a reduction in risk where there is still the danger of a substantial risk of infection.

OK, so then ... man, this is a hoot.
Question 6. “When put on correctly and used consistently, do condoms provide reliable protection in preventing infection from most STDs?” The correct answer is “NO”.
PILOT GROUP: 84% answered “YES”, 16% answered “NO”.
Non-Pilot Students: 55% answered “YES”, 31% answered “NO”, and 14% answered “Unknown”. .

Uh, so the correct answer, to the CRC is "No." In this they oppose every government agency and medical organization, they refute all the published data that do show that condoms do provide reliable protection in preventing infection from most STDs.

By turning the correct answer into the incorrect one, they can show that, as Mr. Garza said, "the kids who did not take the pilot program were better educated about sex than the ones who did."

Let us be clear about this. Granted, given the response rate these data have no credibility anyway, but ... the fact is, the students who took the classes, according to this report, were more accurate by nearly thirty percent, than those who didn't take them.

Question 7 When asked: “When put on correctly and used consistently, do condoms provide reliable protection in preventing infection from “HIV” (the AIDSs virus)?” The correct answer is NO. (See discussion below)
PILOT GROUP: 72% answered “YES”, 25% answered “No”, and 3% said “Unknown”.
Non-Pilot Students: 62% answered “YES”, 21% answered “No”, and 17% said “Unknown”.

Now I'm going to do something nasty. I am going to go to a piece of literature that the CRC loves, that they have fought to have quoted in the curriculum. This is a report from an NIH Consensus Conference on the effectiveness of condoms for preventing STDs. The report says:
The published data documenting effectiveness of the male condom were strongest for HIV. The Panel concluded that, based on a meta-analysis of published studies “always” users of the male condom significantly reduced the risk of HIV infection in men and women.

Is that unclear?

This is unbelievable. By saying that up is down, they can draw the conclusions that they want.

And the good news is, students who took the classes were ten percent more likely to know this fact. The other good news is, even 62 percent of those who didn't take the classes knew this fact.

The humorous news is, the CRC says up is down. By defining the consensus of the scientific and medical establishments as "false," they are able to align themselves with "truth," under their new definition.

Does anybody buy this? Apparently they mailed these results to a lot of homes, I can't tell who received it. What do you think when something like this comes in the mail?

Next, a tricky one:
Question 8. “When put on correctly and used consistently, do condoms provide reliable protection in preventing infection from HPV?” The correct answer is “NO”.
PILOT GROUP: 44% answered “YES”, ” 28% answered “NO”, and 28% answered “Unknown”.
Non-Pilot Students: 38% answered “YES”, 21% answered “NO” and 3% answered “Unknown”. .

This one is tricky because the correct answer is "Unknown." HPV only requires skin-to-skin contact, you can catch it from shaking hands with somebody, and well over half of Americans have contacted this virus at some time in their lives. The condom probably does protect against genital transmission, but it is hard to demonstrate using the usual research techniques because it spreads so many ways; generally it is not useful to think of HPV as a sexually transmitted infection.

More good news: the correct answer is "Unknown," and kids who took the classes got it right 25 percent more than kids who didn't.

These results are very impressive. Somebody needs to teach the CRC how to make up numbers that support their position.

That's all the give for "survey" results. The letter goes on for six pages of incoherent distortions of data and scary descriptions of sexually transmitted diseases, which you've heard before and I'm not going to repeat any more.

I have to say, fresh back from my trip to Europe, with a new perspective, a fresh point of view, and jet lag, that these guys -- the CRC -- never cease to amaze me.

Can you believe that this person, John Garza, who is a lawyer and should know that the truth will eventually come out, would sit in front of a TV camera and tell this to the world?
... we found that the kids who did not take the pilot program were better educated about sex than the ones who did.

This isn't even sleight of hand, they don't try to make you think they're making sense -- they simply turn the truth around backwards and then try to tell you that the results of their "survey" mean what they want them to mean.

It may be that they really did get a 116 percent response rate for non-attenders and a 26 percent rate from students who took the class. Uh, no, that can't be. Well, let's say, it could be that they didn't make up these numbers totally out of their heads, but maybe some pranksters sent in some questionnaires, and these data roughly correspond with reality.

If that's true, then we can say happily that the curriculum worked -- the students who took the pilot test classes got the correct answers, by what appear to be significant amounts, more frequently on all three of these questions.

On the other hand, the indication is that they made up these data, just looking at the response rates. In which case, we have to ask, why didn't they make up data that really supported their point of view, instead of relying on an inversion of reality to make their case?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Moederdag

Here's a painting I saw in a shop window here in Brugge:

It (kind of) says: "Mother's Day Mama."

Happy Mother's Day to all the mamas in the TeachTheFacts world. We wouldn't be here without you.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Schlafly: You Can't Rape the Married

Remember when the Gazette reported that the CRC's then-president, Michelle Turner, was in St. Louis giving a presentation at the Eagle Forum? That group's founder, leader, and face to the world, Phyllis Schlafly, was in the news this week. See what you think:
At one point, Schlafly also contended that married women cannot be sexually assaulted by their husbands.

"By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape," she said.

It was not a popular proclamation. But it was nothing out of the ordinary for the St. Louis homemaker who portrays her political stance as "pro-family" and has made a career of denigrating women who aspire to go beyond that role. Schlafly cranks up agitation at Bates

This is a perfect alliance: Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum and the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. Just who Montgomery County needs to tell us how to educate our kids about sex.

Truth and Hate

When I was going through customs in Brussels the other day, a guy in the other line had on this t-shirt:

The small print says:
"Have I now become your enemy by telling the truth?" Galatians 4:16

It seems to me that truth and hate are really two things that don't have anything to do with one another, and it makes me wonder what kind of person takes pride in conflating the two. It appears that the message is supposed to be that people who oppose hatefulness are anti-Christian in some extreme way, that they must hate Christianity. Maybe I'm naive, but I've got nothing against Christianity or Christian people -- I was raised in a Protestant family. I'm against hate, I'm for truth -- what's that make me?

Just think about that message for a minute: Truth is hate for those who hate the truth.

I looked at the web site that sells this shirt. They had another one:
Homosexuality is sin!
Islam is a lie!
Abortion is murder!
Some issues are just black and white!

I'm just shaking my head here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Kansas Undoing Sex-Ed Damage

Our nuts in Montgomery County threatened to take over the school board and failed a couple of years ago. The ones in Kansas actually got into office and embarrassed the state until the next election, when the people put some more reasonable candidates into office.

Now their new school board is going through, trying to un-do the damage.
TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) -- The Kansas Board of Education on Tuesday repealed sex education policies enacted last year, the latest move by the moderate majority to undo efforts by conservatives when they dominated the board.

One rescinded policy recommended that schools stress abstinence until marriage, while the other urged school districts to get parental permission before students could attend human sexuality classes.

On a 6-3 vote, the board replaced the policies with one that recommends "abstinence plus" sex education programs and leaves it up to the state's 296 school districts to decide whether to get parental permission.

The "abstinence plus" program stresses abstinence before marriage, while also urging schools to give students information about birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

"It's a matter of emphasis," said chairman Bill Wagnon.

Wagnon said the goal was "to describe the curriculum standards in terms of 'it's more than just simply an encouragement of abstinence,' but we want a balance and comprehensive educational program about sex." Kansas Board of Ed. repeals conservative sex ed policies

I think our new MoCo curriculum would be described as "abstinence plus." It encourages abstinence and also teaches what to do when you finally decide not to abstain, which may be years after high school but at least students will know some things when they get there. Also, our opt-in requirement is similar to the one that Kansas is throwing out. In our county, parents have to ask the school to let their child take the sex-ed classes; in Kansas, it's now up to the schools to decide how to handle that.
But conservative member Kathy Martin said most parents want the standards enacted last year.

"Abstinence until marriage is the best message we can give our children," Martin said.

She said the old standards "emphasized self-control over birth control," and the new standards "fail to give a true picture."

Yay! A new slogan -- "self control over birth control."

If only it worked.
It was the second major change for the 6-4 moderate bloc since taking control in January. Wagnon said the final major change could come Wednesday if the board hires a new education commissioner to replace Bob Corkins, hired by conservatives in 2005. His hiring touched off criticism because he had no experience as a school administrator, and he resigned in November after the new board was elected.

In February, the board repealed science standards backed by social conservatives and switched to ones that treat evolution as well-supported by research. The standards, which take effect next school year, are used to develop tests to measure how well students learn science.

The old standards, endorsed by supporters of "intelligent design," questioned the theory of evolution.

Yes, they had a real mess on their hands. The people of Kansas let this slip out of control before they realized what was going on.

Look, slogans like "self control over birth control" make great talking points. You can't be against self control, right?

That kind of sloganeering works, it seems to me, under two circumstances. One, it works when people aren't paying attention. Two, it works with stupid people. And by that, I don't mean people with a low I.Q., I mean people who believe what they're told without thinking about it. Sorry, but if you're paying attention, and you're thinking criticially and skeptically about what's going on, a sound-bite like "self control over birth control" will send up a red flag. You will stop and think about how well self-control works in real life -- what does a real, sweaty, amped-up teenager do in the back seat when the time comes to choose whether to go for it or stop? Self-control? Sometimes, yes, but those are some powerful emotions, and sometimes the little devil on your shoulder wins. Then what? If your schools taught abstinence-only, then you've got a couple of teenagers who know what they've heard on the playground, or what they got in "The Talk," and you've got teen pregnancy and STDs out of control.

All civilized people believe in personal restraint, in personal accountability, in self-control. There's no argument there, we're all against crime, we all love the children, there are some things you won't find opposition to. But we know that there is crime, we know that some people do abuse the children, and we know that teenagers sometimes fail when it comes to exercising self-control. It's one thing to encourage self-control, it's another to act like it's always going to happen.

Good for Kansas for getting back on their feet. Let's be thankful we didn't let it get that far in Montgomery County.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Flemish Blogger, Weird

Hey, I've gotta tell you guys, I'm in Brugge, Belgium right now, and all the Blogger controls are in Flemish. Like, I have the choice, for each blog post, of "Bewerken" or "Weergeven" -- what's a guy to do? Somehow Blogger can see where I am, and adjusts. Google does the same thing, but I think I know how to get back to the American Google... at least I figured it out once in the past, when I was in England.

Luckily Flemish, which is really Dutch, is about halfway between English and German, which I studied when I was young. So I think I know what these things mean sometimes, at least.

New Study: Condoms and Promiscuity

Here's an encouraging story, from the New York Times:
A new study has found that adolescents who use condoms the first time they have intercourse do not go on to have more sexual partners than others, and that they have lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases than those who do not use condoms the first time.

Beginning in 1994, the researchers studied a sample of 4,018 teenagers, all of whom completed three interviews about their sexual behavior over a period of six to eight years. All had had sexual intercourse by the second year of the study. Participants were tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea in 2001 or 2002.

Almost 62 percent of the teenagers used a condom the first time they had sex. Despite concerns that encouraging condom use leads to promiscuity, those who used condoms and those who did not had an average of five partners. But those who used a condom at their sexual debut were only half as likely to have a sexually transmitted disease seven years later. Adolescence: No Link to Promiscuity Found in Youths Using Condoms

Does anybody have an idea why condoms would be linked to promiscuity? Only the abstract of the study is available so far, and they don't say what motivated them.

Are there people who say that if you teach students about condoms you are promoting promiscuity? I can't remember if I've heard that one, it all runs together in a blur.

This story has two findings. Naturally, using a condom is not associated with promiscuity. The second thing, teens who use a condom had half the STDs of those who didn't.

Another reason to be glad Montgomery County is going ahead with this important new class.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Slow Blogging This Week

Just to let you know, I'm about to head off to Dulles to catch a flight across the Atlantic. The hotel I'll be in says they have wireless Internet access "for a small charge," so we'll see how much contact I have with the Internet.

At any rate, I probably won't be blogging much for about the next week.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Nails It

Red State Rabble have been doing their homework. This morning's post is a thoughtful, informative, insightful analysis of what can happen if we are not vigilant.

The New Iconoclasts

Read it.

Megan's Law Might Not Work

This story is an example of the kind of dilemma that lies at the heart of a lot of social decisions we have to make, including how to approach a topic like sex education. The question is this: how do you distinguish between choices that give measurable good results and choices that seem, by instantaneous "common sense," like they should give good results, but don't?

So, say, you want teens to abstain from having sex for as long as they can, and you have access to their little brains through the schools. "Common sense" of a certain type says you directly order them not to have sex. This is a straight-line solution, what you are saying should lead directly to the goal you wish for. In fact, from a certain folk-psychological perspective it would seem wrong not to tell teens to abstain from sex.

On the other hand, a bunch of research shows that teens who are told not to have sex, e.g., those who have had abstinence-only sex-ed, even when they pledged to remain virgins, are no less likely than other teens to have sex.

We witness a sort of moral outrage when educators want to talk about things that do not seem to directly advance toward the intended goal. For instance, some think it is better to give teens information so they can make smart choices -- hoping that the smart choice will be abstinence. And, of course, those educators know that half of teens have had sex by the time they leave high school, and so it is a good idea to teach them how to make that choice, the one we hope they won't take, as safe as possible.

More complicated, less direct, better.

This article isn't about sex ed. This one is about Megan's Law, a law that requires law enforcement to identify sex offenders to the media, including the Internet. The idea is that if you know where the perverts are, you can protect your children from them, and in some cases people have used this information to drive people out of their neighborhoods.

This is a direct, "common sense" approach: identify the bad guys so they can't do bad stuff to children.

Turns out, it might not really do anything to protect actual children.
New Jersey's pioneering Megan's Law, which costs millions of dollars to alert citizens when sex offenders move nearby, may not make children safer, new research suggests.

A federally funded study under way in Trenton is trying to determine whether Megan's Law is worth the cost of its "enormously expensive" monitoring and enforcement requirements, said Phillip Witt, a consultant on the study.

A declining trend of sex attacks on children began before the law took effect and has continued, raising the suggestion that New Jersey's Megan's Law - one of the first laws of its kind in the nation - may not have influenced the trend, researchers say.

"We don't know whether Megan's Law really works," said Witt, who helped create the risk-assessment system used by New Jersey's courts to classify sex offenders.

"Just a few studies have looked at whether community notification laws are effective," he said. "I believe they have very little effect." N.J. study scrutinizes Megan's Law effect

There is, I hate to say it, a certain ... reaction ... to anything having to do with children. Everybody agrees that everything possible should be done to protect children from harm of any sort. The problem is that the reaction is a little bit easy to manipulate, and decisions that may possibly, according to "common sense" result in harm to any child get rejected outright before they are seriously considered.

Put it this way: can you imagine what politician wants to come out against Megan's Law?

See what I mean?
The $38,252 study by the state Department of Corrections appears to be one of the nation's first attempts to analyze whether Megan's Laws make children safer from sex criminals. The study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, the Justice Department's research branch, is expected to be finished early next year.

One phase has ended. It charted sex offenses against children in the decade before 1994 and in the decade after. Researchers said they were surprised to find that a steady decline in sex crimes across New Jersey had begun in 1991 - three years before Megan's Law.

Sex offenses against children have also declined since Megan's Law was enacted, but there has been no way to know whether that's because of the law.

"Sex-offender rates are down, and we can't attribute it to Megan's Law," said Kristen Zgoba, a Corrections Department researcher leading the study. "Is it worth the amount of money and manpower we're pouring into it?"

Nationally, sex offenses against children fell 49 percent between 1990 and 2004, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. Meanwhile, the broad category of violent crime in the United States also plunged, according to government figures.

Wow. Fell 49 percent. That means the rates are about half what they were in 1990. That is significant.
"Something obviously changed that needs to be explained," said Lisa Jones of the Crimes Against Children Research Center.

Any number of factors could have led to the declines, Jones said. She cited economic prosperity during the 1990s; increased numbers of police, social workers and offenders in jail; and widespread introduction of antidepressant drugs in the late 1980s.

The decline in sex offenses has led some researchers to question whether Megan's Law has had any impact, and whether its enormous cost can be justified.

There's more here, you might want to look at the arguments for and against.

My position here is just that these kinds of decisions need to be made dispassionately and objectively, as hard as that may be. It's good that they're looking at the data, it's good that the molestation rates have dropped so much. But it's an emotional issue that no politician will want to be in the middle of. You can say, "The law is ineffective, let's get rid of it," but somebody running against you is going to say, "My opponent wants to change the law to hide the identities of sexual predators, so that they can more easily prey on our innocent children."

Unfortunately, that kind of thinking has such intense emotional appeal -- it can be processed instantly, with an obvious conclusion as long as you don't think too much about it -- that it is hard to frame a persuasive argument to defeat it. That isn't the way to govern a country, that's all I'm saying.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sunday Morning Rumination: About Blogs

The mainstream media lately have been trying to tell the public what blogging is, and trying to fit it into some philosophical scheme or worldview that also includes themselves. They cannot succeed at that, and it only makes them look dumb, but ... go for it, man.

It's like this. When we were in Andalucía, we ate tapas. Tapas can be anything, fish, vegetables, something hot, cold, spicy, mild. It was explained to us in Málaga that tapas are not a kind of food, they are a way of eating. "Eating standing up" was about the best anybody could do, as far as defining the word. You go to el centro and eat little snacks standing at a bar talking with your friends, then after a while you go to the next little bar and eat standing up and talk with some different friends. You don't eat much, you socialize, you're standing up.

That's how you have to look at blogging. It isn't a way of writing, it isn't a point of view -- really, look, blogging just means that there is a way for anybody in the world to publish anything they want to, for free or cheap, and at the same time the whole world can read it. It can be crap, it can be genius, that's not the point, it's just a way to do something.

Do you remember the ditto machine? My mother used to write up the PTA newsletters and copy them in this purple gel. All the writing was purple. You could get the same page to a few dozen people that way. It was like Gutenberg on a reduced scale.

And remember, for centuries the real power of the church was that monks could write, they spent entire lives making copies of Bibles; that was pure power.

There's something really cool about information, something that changed with the invention of the printing press, though the law has never quite caught up with it. You can have a copy of information without taking anything away from the original. With things, you take it and the other person doesn't have it any more. Information, you can take it and then there are two of them.

This changes the whole concept of property, of ownership. Of course there's the mess over mp3's and downloaded movies and stuff, but really it's a fundamental principle of civilized life, the multiplicity of identical items of information, things that don't just look the same, they are the same.

You've got a tribe, and you can have a lodge meeting where the chief sits at the front facing the rest of the tribe, they call for silence, and he speaks, they listen. One speaker, many listeners. When do you suppose the first amphitheater was invented? One-to-many communication, maybe thousands at a time receiving the same message. There is a need for it, the social hierarchy requires the message of the king to be delivered to the masses, and not necessarily the other way around.

When people go into the amphitheater, they know if they're audience or performer. You sit where you belong. The headliner might sit in the audience for the opener, whatever, you know where to be. With the invention of the press, the extent to which a person could amplify their voice became, essentially, infinite. You could print your pamphlet and distribute it, and if somebody in another town wanted to, they could make a copy and distribute that. Those who could say something well, who were appreciated for their writing, were able to get the word out. Eventually, of course, control of publishing became a political issue, and the concept evolved: there is freedom of the press for those who have got one.

Now, with the Internets (did he really say that again?), anybody can go to the library and sit at the computer and log into a printing press of infinite size. You don't have to pass the in-group test to get access to a gigantic audience. You don't need the approval of some no-fun censorship committee, some silverbacks with their own investments to protect. You log on, you say something, and everybody can see it if they want to.

Of course, this means there are gazillions and gazillions of web sites out there, blogs where people write stuff -- look at MySpace, FaceBook, the news this week is that the "social network" sites have even overtaken porn as the highest-traffic sites on the Internet. And who reads that stuff? Mostly, nobody. Somebody's MySpace gets read by their friends, or people who have friended them for whatever reason. There's usually not much there in the way of content, people aren't there to say something, just to be together.

Who would've guessed that the power of computers would come in hooking them together? Remember the "personal computer" in the 1980s? I remember reading about that and thinking, why would anybody want one of those? Then I got a Commodore 64, and programmed the statistical analysis for my Masters thesis on it, and I thought it was pretty cool, but not something that would change my life, really.

Then we started finding out about Usenet, ftp, telnet, dot-profiles, and we would sit fascinated in the dark, staring at that monochrome screen, amber letters on a black background. Just seeing what other people had posted on the network.

Then Mosaic came, and the worldwide web. Just suddenly, in the middle of the nineties, there was a whole graphical, click-and-go-there network of sites, and a whole new way of thinking. Netscape came up, and Microsoft was caught totally unprepared. They'd been developing the "personal computer" for one person to use by themselves, and didn't have any idea how to capitalize on this new connectedness business. Of course, they figured it out.

There is a saying in the Internet community that "The net sees censorship as damage and routs around it." If anybody wants to control the information that goes on the network, the creator of that information will just find a different way to get it out there. So in some way the Internet is going to reflect the true feelings of the people. It cannot be regulated by some elite class of people, it will -- after the rush wears off -- stabilize into something that is natural for people, it will become whatever they want it to be.

The Montgomery County sex-ed adventure started on the Internet, really. Parents at Albert Einstein High School received a message on their Yahoo news group, announcing a meeting of "concerned parents" to discuss a new sex-ed curriculum that had just been adopted, to fight it. As I recall, the message linked to a web site,, which was the center online for a group of radicals who wanted to take over the county's school board and replace them with, uh, conservatives. There was some discussion on the Einstein news group, and some other parents suggested starting another web site, and two and a half years later you're looking at it. founding members didn't know each other in the physical world at first, we met on the Internet. (Actually, when I think about it, there are still some active members who I've never seen.)

So this electronic medium, this wide-open printing press for the people, allowed the radicals to puff up their presence, and it allowed us to organize to fight them. Most of their meetings, and most of ours, have been conducted through email and bulletin boards, web sites and newsletters.

It used to be, you had to prove yourself socially, you had to be initiated, to get an audience. There was a printing-press, or an amphitheater, and somebody owned it, and you had to work through them to get a chance to use it: they were in a position to regulate access to the public. That's all gone now. Anybody -- even you -- can create a Blogger account, make up a name, and start posting stuff. Maybe somebody'll read it, probably not. But maybe they will. And again, maybe you won't want them to. Like, I have a blog where I keep scientific notes. A couple of people have found it, but I don't publicize it, and I actually wouldn't want people to read the meanderings of my mind as I work on philosophical and scientific problems. I just want it there, to go back to.

I have an online friend who is a wild rightwing nuke-the-ragheads kind of guy from Texas, who has a nuke-the-ragheads blog that I never read, but he just started another one, where he posts, mostly, music videos. Stevie Ray Vaughan, old Beach Boys, who knows, stuff he likes. Willie and Merle. I'll bet he doesn't get much in the way of hits per day, but I don't think that's what it's about. He doesn't usually even write anything there, just posts a link to a video. They're usually good ones; we disagree on politics, and actually we disagree about whether SRV was better than Hendrix, but we do agree that those were some really good Strat players. Willie and Merle, there's no disagreement.

Mainstream press reporters come to work in the morning, get an assignment from their editor, and go out to write something for a paycheck. The company is a hierarchy, and somewhere at the top of that hierarchy there are some guys with connections to other industries, and political connections. It doesn't mean a reporter can't write an honest story, no, the media will only have an audience if people think they can believe them. But if the guy wants to keep his job, he knows what he's got to come up with. And at the end of the day, you can't trust what you read in the papers, never mind the stuff on TV.

A blog, on the other hand, can be anything. There are vain blogs that want the highest amount of traffic they can get, and they might be able to figure out how to give the public what it wants in order to attain that. And if that's what people want, that's what there will be. Because the readership is dispersed, too -- somebody like me, sitting at the kitchen table, clicks on whatever link catches their eye at the moment.

Do you remember when you switched to Google? I used to use altavista, then somebody mentioned that Google was better, and I tried it, and now I don't even know if altavista still exists. What about Wikipedia? Where'd that come from? Do you use to check rumors? I do. The rule of thumb is, better services will become more popular. But "better" is defined in the moment, we don't make checklists and evaluate web sites, we bookmark a site that has been useful to us and go back to it if we want more of the same, later.

Most bloggers don't want to make the A-list, they just write for themselves and their friends. Some, I'm sorry to say, have become too big for their britches, but again, the net will rout around them. Not to get into the power laws of social networks or anything, but there will always be a few big sites and a lot of little ones, that's just how it goes.

The Internet, then, becomes a pure implementation of ideas that have been around for more than a hundred years. What I am writing in this boring post is a direct reflection of writings by people like Charles Peirce and William James, at the turn of the twentieth century: the American pragmatists. The truth of an utterance is its cash value, its usefulness.

What has changed is that there is now no gatekeeper to control the flow of information, to make sure that truth is measured as the cash value of an utterance to him. Now, you and I decide what sites we will bookmark, what blogs we will read, and it doesn't matter what some rich guy says. I doubt you will see a reporter in the mainstream press explain that to you quite in those terms.

And so we have, again, a day of record-setting beauty in Montgomery County, Maryland. Yesterday I offered to lend my car to a neighbor who wanted to take his wife to church. It's heartbreaking, she's becoming senile, after more than sixty years of marriage. She forgets who he is sometimes, but she still likes to go to church, and he'd like to take her, but their car broke down. He's got my keys, but it doesn't look like he was able to get her out this morning; the car's still out there, by the curb. It looks like the Peruvians have their Sunday soccer games going on over at the school yard, I see the cars turning in. Some jazz lady on WPFW is singing "I Can't Stop Loving You," which started as a country and Western song and ended up as a jazz standard; she's got a big band behind her. I like Don Gibson better, thank you.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

About Academic Bias Against Evangelicals

I saw this in this morning's Post, and had an immediate reaction to it.
Frank G. Kauffman was teaching a course in social work at Missouri State University in 2005 when he gave an assignment that sparked a lawsuit and nearly destroyed his academic career.

He asked his students to write letters urging state legislators to support adoptions by same-sex couples. Emily Brooker, then a junior majoring in social work, objected that the assignment violated her Christian beliefs. When she refused to sign her letter, she was hauled before a faculty panel on a charge of discriminating against gays.

The case has fueled accusations by conservative groups that secular university faculties are dominated by liberals who treat conservative students, particularly evangelical Christians, with intellectual condescension or worse. Is There Disdain For Evangelicals In the Classroom?

First ... this was a course in Social Work; as far as I can tell the letters were not going to be mailed to legislators; and the professor rescinded the assignment after several students complained. This woman, Emily Brooker, got a mediocre grade in the class and was called to an academic hearing on matters including tardiness and academic problems, and sued, claiming she was being punished for not cooperating on the letter assignment. The university quickly settled. Oh, also, the professor's career was not endangered; a subsequent review of the department found problems, but not with him.

But, besides that...

The National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics states:
Social workers should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, or mental or physical disability.

Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, or mental or physical disability.

You may or may not agree that that's a reasonable policy, but it is their policy, and if you're going into that field you will live by it. The professor had argued that her beliefs made her unsuited for a career in social work.

Anyway, The Post skips over the details, instead drawing on its talking-point potential.
"On many campuses, if you're an evangelical Christian, you're going to have to go through classes in which you're told that much of what you believe religiously is not just wrong, but worthy of mockery," said David French, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, which sued Missouri State on Brooker's behalf.

Such accusations have been leveled for years at the Ivy League and other elite private universities. But they are gaining new attention from politicians and educators because of the Brooker case, which took place at a public school in the Bible Belt, and because of two recent, nationwide surveys of professors' views on religion.

You can read the rest of the article for the surveys and discussion. Yes, professors don't like evangelicals. Or Mormons.

I read this with interest, imagining what it would be like to be teaching students in psychology or the social sciences, and have an evangelical student in a class or seminar, say a CRC member. I could just picture it, and I can see what the problem is.

The problem is a simple one: they already know what they believe. What's the use of telling somebody something when they already know the answers?

The question gets raised as if there is simply a bias against evangelicals, but there's more to it than that, and I think it is important for the universities to figure this out before higher education goes down the toilet. A professor has a responsibility to maintain some standards. The standards for social work, in the salient example, are clearly spelled out in the ethical code. This student was majoring in social work, heading toward a career in the field, and it was pretty clear to faculty (not just this one guy) she would not be able to follow the ethical standard required by the profession.

This isn't grade school, or high school, it isn't MCPS. This is a university, granting degrees that certify people as being qualified to go into a professional field or continue into graduate study. A person who strongly adheres to a belief that some people in the community do not deserve equal treatment will not be qualified to be a social worker. You don't have to agree with it, that's just how the people in the field have defined the profession.

They try to make it sound like garden-variety discrimination, but it's not. Can you imagine having somebody like this in your Biology class, trying to teach them about evolution? They already know what they believe, they're not going to get it from some professor, and the really rude ones feel it's their job to save those around them, by stating the truth as they believe it to be. I'd object to that in my class. If you can't accept the premises of evolution, then just don't take Biology. That's easy. It wouldn't mean the professor was prejudiced against the religion, it just means somebody like that will not succeed in learning the required materials. And if the university is forced to pass them through the system anyway, a college degree will be meaningless.

Friday, May 04, 2007

NewsTalk Transcript: Second Part

The first part of the transcript of NewsTalk got them up to the commercial break. Now they take some calls. The first caller made it onto the half-hour segment that was shown after the original. but most of this only appeared on the live version of the show.

As before, BD=Bruce DePuyt, the show's host; DF=David Fishback, TTF member and former chair of the citizens advisory committee that evaluated the 2004 curriculum; JG=John Garza, president of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum who oppose the curriculum.

Ebony calls in, from Virginia:
BD: To the phones we go. Line 1 first. Ebony in Vienna, Hi. Welcome to Newstalk. Go ahead.

Ebony: Hi! Thanks for taking my call.

BD: Indeed.

Ebony: I just have actually two points or comments and that is firstly, I'd like to applaud the efforts of Mr. Fishback and his trying to get this program underway because I believe it is so important. And it's incumbent upon our schools to, to, to not forget what is most important and that is the education of children in the public schools. Now whether or not we believe that homosexuality is right or wrong, that's just a small part of it. There are more things about sexuality other than preference and it's important that we talk about these things and open the door to tolerance.


Ebony: And the other thing is, is that don't forget there are a lot of gay teens who are in these public schools who need a way to talk or express themselves who might not have any other way to do so. And I mean you might be saving lives by doing that. And I can attest to that because I went to a school where we had a person that came in, you signed up, and you were able to go to a sex ed sort of a class and there is where we were able to talk about issues, it was private and it really, it allowed me...

BD: All right

Ebony: actually come out and it was a very positive thing so...

Along through here, you can see that DePuyt is trying to find a good place to switch back to the live guests. He finally just interrupts her.
BD: Let me pick up on that. And thanks for your candor and for raising a bit of your own personal experience. John, given what we know about suicide in gay teenagers, is it possible that to the extent that there are clearly a wide spectrum of views and that reasonable people will disagree and that everybody's viewpoint is kind of, you know, valid at some lever or another, that given the feelings of isolation, alienation, depression that gay teenagers have, that really it might be almost lifesaving to err on the side of - to use your word from before - acceptance? Tell kids that, you know, maybe you have different sexual feelings than your peers but don't kill yourself over it. Things will, you know, life will go on and just kind of hang tough. I mean these curriculum issues might actually be lifesaving if you think of it in the caller's context.

JG: Yeah. I believe that all people are created in God's image and that we should love and appreciate everyone no matter what their orientation is. But trying to answer that question, I have polled myself personally about 700 or 800 students both in MCPS today and those who recently graduated and I asked this question. "Who is more likely to suffer uh discrimination, persecution, uh hurtfulness at the Montgomery County public schools, a Christian who want to read their Bible or a gay or lesbian student?" And almost overwhelmingly everyone said uh "the Christian who want to read their Bible. That person is going to get just abused in our schools. Gays are not abused in Montgomery County schools." That's what 800 students have told me.

DF: OK, I'd just like to respond to that.

BD: [unintelligible]

DF: Number one, if there is religious discrimination then that should be dealt with. That's not an excuse to have discrimination against gay people. But let me give you one example about my own son who is now 28 years old and doing wonderfully. He came out to us half way through college. It was a very, very difficult process for him to. Once he did, it was like a weight was lifted from him and for the first time in his life, even though he had been very accomplished all through school, he was really truly happy. He told us that if when he was in middle school in the health ed classes, someone had just said, "You know what? People who are gay, they're not sick," it would have lifted a cloud that would have changed his life enormously for the better. And I think of how much agony he went through when - having everything going for him - you know, two loving parents, and so accomplished, what must happen with a child who doesn't have those supports who has this feeling that "there's something wrong with me."

Listen, where do you suppose John Garza found time to find out what eight hundred students think? The only way I can picture that is if he got access to some church group. That is not what you'd call a representative sample, plus the characteristics of the question setting strongly influence the kind of answers you'll get. People know what they're supposed to say.

I see people every day on the Metro reading their Bibles, and I have never once seen anyone complain or even make a disapproving facial expression. This self-pitying stuff is ridiculous, and the rest of us should never play along with it.

David Fishback does something interesting here, which is that he personalizes the issue. It's one thing to get paranoid about The Gay Agenda, this great conspiracy to impose an evil regime on the world. It's a whole different thing when you're talking about somebody's kid, a real person who has had to deal with real feelings. A real person in agony (which, by the way, is a good biblical word that should carry lots of implications for the Christians listening).
BD: Two voices from the debate over human sexuality in the schools. Talking with David Fishback and John Garza. We'll take a break and then we'll come back with more Newstalk....

...Let me reintroduce our guests. David Fishback is with a group called John Garza is with a group called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. These two groups have been going at it, hammer and tongs, pretty much civil here on the show and we appreciate a good discussion here on the program but the debate as you know in Montgomery County has been pretty intense and it continues to this day.

We're going to go to the phones, in fact let's pick up on Line Two. Remind me John to ask you about the appeal that your group still has pending - we to get to that. But Stephanie in Gaithersburg, Line Two. You've been holding. Thanks for you patience and go ahead please with your point or your question.

So now we have another caller, this one is Stephanie.
Stephanie: Thank you very much for talking my call. First of all I want to commend Mr. Fishback. I know he's put in untold hours of work on this for our community. I really appreciate it. I think that Montgomery County should be proud that we are about to embark on an enlightened sex education for our children and I think we should be proud to be in the forefront of that.

Mr. Garza, a few minutes ago I thought I heard you say something like everyone should be accepted for who they are and I think you even used the word "love" and I think that's a worth thing to be teaching our children. It goes way beyond your narrow definition of "tolerance" that you read from the dictionary. Also, I want to say that I personally know several gay teens who are routinely harassed in their schools. One boy I know who has the worthy goal of trying to be the first child in his family to go to college, but his education is continually interrupted, he's afraid to go to school often, and doesn't get much help from the school. I think that you're saying that, you know, gay kids are very well received in Montgomery County Public Schools is simply not true.

Ooh, well, that was a pretty dumb thing for him to have said: "Gays are not abused in Montgomery County schools."

She calls him out on that. But the host gets the last laugh.
BD: Stephanie, thank you. Mr. Garza, did you want to respond?

JG: Ah yeah. I mean regarding the, I think she mentioned she didn't like the dictionary definition of tolerance. You know, we believe that if a child gossips or lies or does something like that, we don't want the, we don't want to use the definition of tolerance that the County has because that means we have to accept them. So we like the dictionary definition because it says that, you know, you might put up with that but you're going to disagree with it in a respectful fashion so that would be my position. Now if she knows a gay child that's being abused in the schools, I'm just terrified to hear that because I know that anyone listening on both sides would be very much against that. That child needs to be taken care of. Someone needs to get involved and straighten that out right away. My point was that if you look at the statistics, gays in the United States make more money, they live in nicer houses, they go to better restaurants, they take better vacations, they... If you measure success by money and homes and cars and things, they're sort of at the top of the heap.

BD: Well, you know I couldn't help but notice that on your jacket lapel it says, "Ex-gay is OK." Given the lifestyle indicators if you will that you just quoted, perhaps the ex-gays have made a mistake and should retreat.


They're not laughing with you, John.

It will get a little contentious through here now.
JG: Well, I think though that a lot of what happens with the gay lifestyle also causes a lot of depression and health problems. Gay men in particular shorten their lifespan by 8-10 years, there's much higher rampancy of drug use, STDs, things like that, in the gay community. So you may have a more successful lifestyle but you may have a less healthy lifestyle so it goes both ways.

DF: The definition of a successful life is being happy, having people who love you who you love, and to the extent that, and historically, I know certainly in the past this has been true, that there are higher rates of depression and suicide among gay people. It's because they weren't accepted by society, because they had to hide, because they could not be who they are. What we, what all parents want for their children, and we're talking about our children here, is that they live happy lives with people who love them and people they can love. Now if Mr. Garza finds it distasteful that some people who happen to be born homosexual would live such lives and not be hypocrites, and not hide, that's Mr. Garza's prerogative. But that viewpoint, that approach should not be imposed upon our public schools by the kinds of lawsuits they're bringing.

I'm glad he made this point. Again, the conspiracy theories about The Homosexual Agenda only work if there's no face, you can't be afraid of real gay people, because they're just people.

Garza doesn't like this now:
JG: That's not my view.

DF: Good.

JG: I wish you wouldn't misstate my view. You might want to ask me my view and not tell it.

DF: You're here to explain why I'm misstating it.

JG: I'd be happy to tell you my view if you'd ask me.

DF: Good, good.

JG: My view is not that I want to tell someone how to live. Absolutely not. I just don't want them to tell me how to live.

BD: How would anything in the curriculum do that?

JG: Well..

BD: Either the proposed the curriculum today.

JG: As I mentioned, if you actually read the curriculum, a child who goes to any mainstream church and is taught that homosexual conduct, not the person. All people are equal. All people are equal. Ideas are not equal. Now Montgomery County teaches the opposite. All ideas are equal and some people like me are not as equal as others like Mr. Fishback.

BD: When you say "telling me how to...." Just now you used the phrase "telling me how to live."

JG: Right.

BD: How are we telling our children in the curriculum how to live?

JG: We take a definition of tolerance that's never existed before and we tell them that this is that tolerance is. I suggest that we use the dictionary definition that's been around for hundreds of years, that says that you can disagree respectfully with someone's conduct and not be chastised. For exa....There's things in this curriculum...

At this point, Garza has a problem. He doesn't really have anything to say, there's no defense here. Because the curriculum does not say anything about "homosexual conduct," or say that he or anybody else is "not as equal as others."

He wants to say that the curriculum tells people how to live, but he knows that he himself has brought the curriculum materials with him, and it would be just terrible if either David Fishback or the host said, "Please, show us where it says that."
BD: Does the curriculum, does the curriculum endorse going after people who've made critical comments about gays?

JG: Yes, it does. It even gives you a form to fill out to file a complaint against the child who might make a critical comment.

DF: Excuse me. That's part of already established rules in the County against discrimination against people.

JG: Well, I know.

Woops. Turns out the school district has rules about harassment and bullying. Well, actually, the state has laws about that. And there are formal ways to report incidents. Garza's a lawyer, he shouldn't really be opposed to someone obeying the law.
DF: Do you have a problem with the anti-discrimination rules that the County has with respect to not discriminating against people who happen to be gay?

JG: Yeah. I mean if you take this curriculum. If I were to read the Bible in my church on Sunday I could be charged with sexual harassment if there happened to be a student there who heard me saying these things. They have a form for the student to fill out to file a charge against another student. That is forcing their lifestyle on the other students. We want everyone to have a equal education, an equal lifestyle. We don't want to tell you how to live but don't tell us how to live.

DF: Mr. Garza. You haven't explained how this tells you how to live, particularly since no child can take this curriculum unless their parents affirmatively choose to have them take it.

JG: Now this curriculum tells the student that hears someone laugh at a gay joke, for example, to file a complaint against that student under the non-discrimination thing.

Oddly, this seems to really bother him, that there is a formal, legal way to file a harassment complaint.

OK, it's going to take a weird turn here...
BD: So you think gay jokes are good and fine?

JG: No, I think they're terrible. OK. I'm a minority person myself.

BD: It sounds like you're trying to have it both ways a little bit.

JG: No, what I'm saying is, is that this is a program that encourages filing complaints against other students...

DF: It encourages...

JG: ...for very minor infractions.

DF: Excuse me. It encourages people to follow the rules we have in our schools to prevent discrimination. Anything that would encourage people not to remain quiet when people are harassed, when people are slandered, when hurtful things are done to people, is a good thing.

JG: Let me, let me, can I ask you a question Mr. Fishback?

DF: Sure. Absolutely.

JG: If I were to read Leviticus 18, Chapter 21 would you consider that a sexual, a a harassment?

DF: What do you mean, "read it?"

JG: Well,

DF: ...stand up in the middle of English class and decide do you want me to read that now? Or do you mean read that in the cafeteria?


JG: No, read that in the cafeteria.

DF: If someone want to read Leviticus in the cafeteria on their own time during lunch, that is perfectly fine. If they want to go on and read the part of Leviticus that says that parents have the right to execute their disobedient children, they have a right to do that too, which is also in the same part of Leviticus.

JG: Well, it's not actually in that part.

DF: Well, actually it is. I've read it.

JG: I've read it too, many more times than you.

DF: You don't know that.

JG: Let me ask you this then. If I were to mention to a student that my church believes that homosexuality is a sin, would that be sexual harassment?

DF: No! Just as if a child were to respond, "Well, the church I go to or the synagogue I go to teaches that homosexuality is just another way to be," and that's fine. That also would not be a religious attack on them.

JG: Now the definition of harassment is "any kind of repeated attention that is not wanted." So to me that's pretty open that someone can file charges against another child.

DF: Well what... Please give an example. What kind of thing would be unwanted attention?

BD: We've got 30 seconds left.

JG: You know, that's a good question. You know, you need to tell. You wrote the curriculum.

DF: I didn't write it.

BD: We're down to 20 seconds.

DF: I didn't write the discrimination rules. The discrimination rules speak about constant harassment of people and harassment, you know what? Potter Stewart was right; you know it when you see it.

JG: It says any kind of...

Now, it appears that the CRC has a bigger problem than the new curriculum. You have seen how the Family Blah Blah groups are freaking out over the new federal hate-crimes law. It appears that John Garza would like to smear the local school district with that, too. But it doesn't make any sense. Every school district in the country has some kind of rules about bullying and harassment. The state has laws about it. The state Superintendent of Schools said she believes there is a real problem with bullying and harassment, which was a big reason she ruled against the CRC in allowing the pilot testing to go forward.

So this is a bigger can of worms than these five new classes. They tell students how to follow the law, and the CRC objects to that. Really, it becomes clear in this discussion, they object to the law itself. No sense trying to fight that at this level.
BD: John in the 20 seconds we have left just tell me right quick what's coming in terms of appeal? Do you guys continue to appeal?

JG: Yeah we're appealing this to the State Board of Education. We're waiting for them to make a decision on that, and then we'll see what happens next.

BD: And we hope you'll both come back. We didn't even get to abstinence, which has kind of taken it on the chin. The condom demonstration, that's a subject for another day.

JG: Well you'll have to have us back.

BD: I will do it


BD: ....frank civilized conversation. Thanks to both of you for your time.

JG: I'm glad to be here with my friend, David.

BD: Great having you both. We'll pause here....

A lot came out in these discussions, on both sides. I appreciate David Fishback's ability to focus and stay on track, and his ability to respond rationally and calmly to some of the unexpected things that came out of John Garza's mouth.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Watergate Figure Weighs In

It seems funny to see Chuck Colson, who us old-timers remember from the days of Watergate, pontificating huffily about our Montgomery County sex-ed situation. You know, he's got this prison ministry thing going these days. So he writes for The Christian Post.

A recent column has a warning at the top:
Note: Today’s commentary may not be suitable for young children. Please use parental discretion.

I don't know about you, but I kind of expected something a little ... racy ... after that.

But no, he's just taking dictation from the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum.
They are called “Personal Statements on Being Different.” One of them, from “Esperanza,” reads: “I’ve known for a long time that I am a lesbian.” As a little girl hearing fairy tales about a princess, Esperanza says she knew that, when she grew up, “I would marry the beautiful princess, not the prince.”

Another story involves “Portia,” a boy who grew up feeling like a girl. He changed his name and told his high school principal that he was a transgender. The understanding principal gave him an ID card with his new name on it. Now, “Portia” writes, “I speak about transgender concerns at school” and help other transgender youths get through “the challenges they face.”

These stories are part of the new Montgomery County, Maryland, health classes on homosexuality. They are an illustration of how gay activists are attempting to use public schools to spread pro-gay propaganda—and silence opposition. Normalizing Homosexuality: Coming to a School Near You

Um, yeah.

I'm reading this along with you, and I'm wondering -- is he going to tell us what gay activists are using the schools to spread their propaganda? I am wondering if it's somebody I know. And I really wonder how they have managed to keep their identity secret for so long. Those are some very clever gay activists.

We know that the CRC hates hates hates these vignettes. Oh, it's terrible to have middle and high school students spend a minute of their energetic young lives thinking about what it must be like to be gay or transgender.

It might impair their ability to hate in later life.
These so-called “personal statements”—all supportive of homosexuality and other disorders—are just the beginning. Students are also told that homosexuality is “innate” and permanent—despite much evidence to the contrary. They are taught that the homosexual lifestyle is not only to be tolerated, but also celebrated. Students are told about “transgendered persons” and so-called sex-reassignment surgery. But they are not informed that reputable medical organizations regard transgendered persons as mentally ill and the operation useless.

Some of the lessons are downright dangerous. For example, kids are encouraged to identify their sexual orientation early. But doing so is linked to increased rates of suicide among adolescents, according to some psychologists.

OK, I'm looking at the by-line here. It says "By Chuck Colson." I'm looking for the part that says who really wrote it, the "As told to" part. He's just taking the CRC's talking points, and not even changing a word of them.

You don't think he came up with that lie about "identifying their sexual orientation early" on his own, do you?
Worst of all, there is no mention whatsoever of the many health hazards associated with the gay lifestyle. A Montgomery County parent group, called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, includes an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Ruth Jacobs. Dr. Jacobs put forward a petition signed by 270 doctors asking Montgomery County to warn kids of the health dangers related to homosexuality. Montgomery County ignored it.

This is what we end up with when we have a “health” curriculum developed, not by medical experts, but with the help of determined homosexual activists.

All right -- this time I'll bet he'll tell us who these homosexual activists are.

Though this is a little funny, because ... the curriculum was, in fact, developed by medical experts. A team of pediatricians. He must have missed that part of the CRC's memo. Or maybe, as usual, they forgot to include that trivial fact.
Sadly, these programs offer nothing to teens desperate for help in overcoming homosexual feelings. They don’t learn how successful reparative therapy is, and where they can find it. They are simply told to “celebrate” their homosexuality. Teens with same-sex desires are condemned to a life of confusion, misery, disease, and early death.

Amazing. Reparative therapy. Sorry, Chuck. Not guh happen. Doesn't work. Doctors don't like it. Science against it.

Oh, and I guess this is the gay life: confusion, misery, disease, and early death. That's all there is to it, once you figure out you're gay.

Man. That sounds bad. I guess gay people probably never smile during their short lives (I'm totally avoiding that whole Cameron thing).
A majority of Americans believe that homosexual behavior is immoral, which is why activist gays are targeting our kids with their propaganda, hoping to change them.

We need to make sure that we have accurate, factual information to counteract what is being taught in the schools—and in films, and on television, and on college campuses. And we ought to share this with our kids and grandkids and offer classes at our churches. If you visit our “BreakPoint” website, you will find excellent resources, including books by Harvard psychologist Dr. Joseph Nicolosi.

We need to make sure our children hear some real-life “personal statements” about homosexuality: by those who overcame same-sex attraction, left the gay lifestyle, and entered a joyful—and healthy—new life.

Well, Chuck, just as soon as you find somebody like that, send 'em on over.

Listen, we've heard all of this before. I can't even take it seriously any more. I think the radical religious right market is kind of saturated at the moment. This guy is either preaching to the choir or it's falling on deaf ears. Everybody has already heard it all, and these days more people are falling off the bandwagon than climbing aboard.

I think it would be neat if somebody like this, or the CRC or somebody, told us who these gay activists are that are controlling our school system. Listen, if you're out there, Gay Activist, send us an email or something, OK? We're dying to find out who's really behind all this. We won't tell.

NewsTalk Transcript: First Part

We have a lot of the NewsTalk show from the other day transcribed. The show was an hour long, so I'll split up the text into several posts. Expect my usual sarcasm commentary to break it up a little bit. Thanks to Christine for working so hard on this.

BD=Bruce DePuyt, the show's host; DF=David Fishback, TTF member and former chair of the citizens advisory committee that evaluated the 2004 curriculum; JG=John Garza, president of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum who oppose the curriculum.
BD: For year now parents and activists urging tolerance of different lifestyles have been battling parents and activists seeking a more traditional curriculum in a fight that's gone from the local level to federal court and back again. Now students at some schools are part of a pilot curriculum. Teachers are tightly constrained in what they can say. They say they are essentially reading to the class with little discussion or interaction possible.

We're going to get a couple of perspectives in this discussion now. David Fishback joining us. He's with a group called Welcome David, it's good to see you. Also with us is John Garza. He's with a group called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. Welcome John, it's good to see you. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

Let's talk about where we are. I know we'll end up kind of going back in time a little bit, inevitably and that's great. But let's talk about where we are in terms of this pilot curriculum. That's what I understand it to be and by all means correct me if I'm wrong. How satisfied are you with the thing that's begun to roll out in thee Montgomery schools, David?

DF: The process is going along very well. And it's a very, very good start. The piloting went along without any incident. The vast, vast majority of parents chose to have their children take the pilot. Now the Superintendent and his staff are looking over the feedback from the program from the teachers, and the families, to see where some fine-tuning could be done.

They're also going to be, I believe, examining some recommendations from the Citizens Advisory Committee, which were not included in the first go around, but which members of the Board of Education at its January meeting made it very clear they want seriously considered -- principally some very, very basic statements from the mainstream medical and mental health organizations about, well principally for example, the fact that all those groups have concluded that homosexuality is not a disease, not a disorder, and it's not something people choose.

If you know David, you know that this topic will come up eventually: the bullet points. He strongly believes that these statements by the medical and mental health organizations should be included. Later in the interview you'll see some reasons why.
BD: How content are you with the curriculum? I mean to the extent that there's been a long fight, people really skirmishing about what we should teach the kids to what extent. Are you largely satisfied or do you still have issues with what it is that's contained, at a meat and potatoes level, with the curriculum?

DF: With respect to the section on human sexuality -- and that is different from the condom demonstration video. It's very important to understand the distinction between the two parts …

BD: Right.

DF:... of what is going on. With respect to the information on Human Sexuality, I am satisfied with everything that is in it. There are some things that need to be added, particularly since the school system has chosen, at this stage at least, to have it very, very tightly scripted in which teachers can't answer questions. For example, right now if a child asks, "Well, if somebody is gay does that mean they're sick?" Even though the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, all those groups say, "No, homosexuality is not a disease," the teacher can't answer that question. But hopefully that omission will be corrected as they review the piloting and put it in final form.

Man, that was good. This is the strong case for why the bullet points need to be included. There is simply a gap in the information that is presented without them.

Now we'll hear from the CRC's John Garza:
BD: John Garza, to what extent are your concerns about the nuts and bolts of the curriculum similar to concerns your group and others like it have had all along?

JG: Well, we've maintained the same objections all along. Some of those objections were removed when we filed a lawsuit two and a half years ago, and a lot of the overt religious discrimination was removed from the curriculum. There's a what I would call covert religious discrimination in this particular curriculum that's at the county level now. We have a lot of other problems with the curriculum, for example the definitions that are in the curriculum are somewhat amusing to use a fair word. They don't meet scientific, the scientific definition that we would find in a textbook at a university for example. There's a lot of other problems with the curriculum. It promotes homosexual conduct. There's just a number of things that we think should be stripped out of the curriculum and changed. Mr. Fishback mentioned the mainstream medical societies. I, I brought with me here the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association and in that book if your turn to the page I've marked, it says that gender, transgenderism is a mental disorder. This curriculum encourages it, in fact, promotes it, that a boy in 8th grade or 10th grade for example who may feel that he is a girl should go through this transformation process of becoming a girl. That would be, all you have to do is open this book I brought here from American Psychiatric Association and you'd see that they'd diagnose that.

Wow, there's a lot here. Covert religious discrimination, that's a good one. He knows there's no overt religious discrimination, so he complains about what's ... not there. What's between the lines. I'm no lawyer, but I doubt you can sue over covert discrimination.

Fishback had been jotting things down while Garza spoke.
DF: Can I respond to this?

BD: Absolutely, in just one moment. I want to pick up on something he said though. How specifically does the curriculum promote homosexuality? I mean are you suggesting that it's telling straight kids, "Hey listen. Give up that crazy straight lifestyle. Gay is much better." Are they really promoting in that sense?

JG: Ah no, but if you were to turn to, for example the, this -- I brought the curriculum with me as well -- the Voices and Personal Statements on Being Different, Esperanza and Michael and Tyrone, they all promote the gay lifestyle and the problem that we have...

BD: Are you saying - I don't mean to interrupt but just to get a discussion going - are they saying they're happy with who they are or are they saying, "We're in this really cool club. Come join us," promoting in other words?

JG: I think it does both of those, it does both of those things in a subjective way. So we would prefer a sterile, clinical examination of these things. Now one of the things...

BD: Staying with that topic, what should gay kids be quoted in the curriculum as saying?

JG: Well I don't think you need to quote gay kids in the curriculum at all.

BD: What should the voice be? What should the tone be? What should the statements be?

JG: Well I think we should have a academic discussion of homosexuality. This is not an academic discussion.

We know the CRC hates those vignettes, just hates them. Because what they do is to present gay and transgender teens as people, with feelings. When you read those vignettes you see high school life from their point of view, and that is something the CRC's position can't withstand. Their approach is to demonize gay people, and if students start thinking of them as human beings the strategy will crumble.
BD: David?

DF: I'd like to respond to a few things on that. Number one: The curriculum which Mr. Garza's group was able to derail with a last minute lawsuit -- in which it misrepresented what was in the curriculum, but given the short time, the Board did not have adequate time to respond -- did precisely what Mr. Garza just said, "a sterile" description. The only thing said about homosexuality in the original curriculum was that the mainstream medical groups all say that it is not a mental disorder, most experts say it's not a choice, that children that are raised by gay parents do not have any predisposition to being gay, there are gay families in our community. That is all it said about homosexuality. The only. And that was very clinical, there was nothing more said than that.

The only thing said about religion in the original curriculum was that different religions have different views about sexual behaviors and that there are even differences in viewpoint among people of the same religions. The only...what Mr. Garza's group did last time was take teacher resources, which were explicitly -- as to which teachers were explicitly told, "Don't discuss these in class." And those resources provided some background information on the idea that different religions have different viewpoints about homosexuality.

He's right about this. The "old new" curriculum gave a quite clinical accounting of the various aspects of sexual orientation. Looking back, the CRC has said they liked the "old new" curriculum better than the "new new" one. Well, they didn't really say it that way. They said the "new new" curriculum is worse than the first one.

The host was interested in the religion aspect.
BD: The judge really went after that part, by the way.

DF: He did, and if that had been in the curriculum I would have struck it down. But it wasn't in the curriculum.

BD: So why have it anywhere?

DF: Well, the point is that, the reason that was in there is that at that time, several years ago, the sense of the school staff was that teachers may not realize that there are, that many different religions have different views about homosexuality. That is not the case now, particularly, for example, the disputes within the Episcopalian Church and Bishop Robinson. It's very clear there are different religious viewpoints about that. You wouldn't need those resources. In any event, on this go round, there is no mention of religion whatsoever in the resources or in the curriculum itself.

With respect to the idea that this is somehow a covert attack on religion, what Mr. Garza is essentially saying is that if you say anything about homosexuality which does not comport with their view that it is sinful and that it is wrong and that it is somehow an illness, that that will attack certain people's religious beliefs. I have two responses to that: Number one, if a family does not wish their children to have that as part of their curriculum, they do not have to give permission to take it. No child can take this curriculum unless their parents give them permission to do so. Number two, the logic of Mr. Garza's position would be that if any religion has opposition to anything said in any part of the curriculum, then that curriculum can't be taught. On that basis, in Dover, Pennsylvania, for example, where they had the big creationism argument, they shouldn't teach evolution because some people's religion might run counter to it.

Several other things that are very important on this: The idea that the curriculum promotes a gay lifestyle. The curriculum on sexual orientation talks about feelings that people who happen to be gay have. It doesn't promote a lifestyle.

This seems like a very reasonable accounting of that difficult topic. Why did the background materials talk about religion? Because some people don't know that religions differ in their views on homosexuality. I'm glad he explained that.

Back to the "promoting a lifestyle" idea.
BD: But he says he has examples, though.

DF: Well, but if you go to the curriculum, which is on the school board's website, you will see discussions about kids feeling about how they feel, not what they do sexually because there's nothing in the curriculum about behaviors, but rather how they feel internally. Most people are heterosexual and have certain feelings. Some people aren't heterosexual and have certain feelings. And keeping, creating the situation where people can really talk about that openly will eliminate discrimination and will also create a situation where children who happen to be gay do not feel they are somehow beyond the pale.

BD: The phone line's open for your questions and comments here on Newstalk. We would love to know what you think about that it is that the public schools should teach when it comes to human sexuality particularly homosexuality. We may get to the condom demonstrations. We won't do a condom demonstration but whether or not there should be one in the schools. Abstinence-only, that's going to come up across our radar as well and we would love to hear from you. Afternoon viewers join us at 703-387-1020. We'll work in as many of your questions and comments as we absolutely can.

DF: Can I respond to the transgender? There's one more...

BD: In a moment, yes, absolutely. We're setting aside a long time for this discussion today. We will get to the transgender issue. Mr. Garza, to what Mr. Fishback just said about teaching in a broad sense that homosexuality is not a disorder, which I think the American Psychological Association decided 35 years ago, that there are gay families in our community, tolerance of those who might have a different sexual thing than the mainstream population. Are these fundamentally off the track from your perspective?

Fishback wants to go back to that transgender thing, the DSM comment. But now it's Garza's turn.
JG: No, I would agree with everything you just said. I would prefer to talk about the curriculum.

BD: Go for it.

JG: Mr. Fishback likes to talk about the American Psychiatric Society. I mean that's the only professional organization's been censured by Congress unanimously by not only the House, but the Senate when they came out with their pro-pedophile thing.

Well, I understand that we can all get our words tangled up. But ... there is no American Psychiatric Society, that I've ever heard of.

He is referring to an incident in 1999 when an American Psychological Association journal published an uncontroversial meta-analysis that concluded that people who were molested as children generally turn out okay. Congressman Tom DeLay, who I believe is currently not in prison, started a big deal in Congress, pretending that the APA was endorsing pedophiles. Doctor Laura was involved, too, and the Family Research Council played a big role in it. A resolution was passed through Congress, but by that time the wording had been greatly softened, and it was not a "censure."
BD: I need to get to a break in about a minute.


BD: Pull something right out of the curriculum that promotes...

JG: OK let me show you a few things here, for example, the definition of "tolerance." It says, "the ability to accept others' differences and to accept people for who they are." That is not the definition that you'll find in any dictionary.

BD: So is it the word "accept" that you would object to?

JG: Right, I mean...

BD: So you would prefer no "accept?"

JG: No, I would prefer the definition you find in the dictionary, the one that everybody else uses, except Montgomery County. Also the Los Angeles schools. There are only two schools in the whole country that have a curriculum like this, Los Angeles County and Montgomery County. We like the dictionary definition of "tolerance" which means "putting up with something that you disagree with in a respectful and kind way." That's our definition. That's the definition that's been around for a thousand years since the English language has been in existence. This definition says that you have to accept others that you disagree with. That's an improper definition in our opinion.

Can you imagine any other class in the school day being submitted to this kind of criticism? We object to the way you carry the numbers when you subtract. We don't think it's right to teach Newtonian physics in the quantum age.

Also, there is good reason to question his assertion that LA and MoCo are the only places with classes like this. He needs to define what he means by "like this:" as the Washington Post recently reported, plenty of school districts cover sexual orientation as a topic.
BD: Are we forcing people to accept something that their religion, their teaching, their family history is all contrary to?

DF: What this curriculum does is to simply draw on the wisdom of the mainstream medical associations including the American Medical Association, which, last I heard, has never been censured by Congress and I don't know what Mr. Garza is talking about.


But the point is the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, experts from whom consulted and looked at every single word in this curriculum and approved it, in a health curriculum. And here we're talking about a health curriculum. It is appropriate and indeed necessary to draw on the wisdom of the mainstream medical profession in terms of what we're going to say about important issues including homosexuality.

BD: David Fishback, John Garza, stand by. We'll take a quick break...

We won't transcribe the commercials for you.
... Welcome back to the program. I'm Bruce DePuyt joined at the table today by John Garza. He's with the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. David Fishback with These two groups and others have been involved in a debate of many years standing in Montgomery County that's gone all the way to the federal courts and back and now finally a pilot program, satisfactory to some, not satisfactory to the others, is being rolled out.

We're going to go to the phones in just a minute. Ebony in Vienna, stand by. We'll talk to you first and we'll take all the calls we have time for as we continue here on News Talk. Let me, several strands of the conversation to pick up. Let me seize on one for just a moment: the opt-in/opt-out provision. You talked about it, so we'll give Mr. Garza a chance to weigh in. Do I understand correctly that you cannot get in this curriculum unless a parent takes signature to page and says, "Yes. My Johnny can be in. Go ahead and teach him or her the curriculum." Absent that, nothing happens, right? No one's kid is indoctrinated without an affirmative step by the parent, a parent.

JG: The opt-in provision has been a moving target with us. We've seen the County change the way they handle that from day one. We don't like the opt-in/opt-out concept. We don't like separate education, separate but equal education or whatever you want to call it. We would like to have a curriculum that satisfies David Fishback, Bruce DePuyt, and John Garza and all the other parents in Montgomery County. We think that that can be arranged. We don't think that you have to force one side to get their point across and then shut down the other side.

Sadly, the demands that have been made by the CRC make it impossible to compromise. This is a fine talking point, the we-just-want-to-work-something-out point, but anybody who's been involved in this situation for any time knows it's not true.
BD: Do the numbers so far suggest that the curriculum that they came up with is pretty darn acceptable to the masses because the people opting out are so infinite almost?

JG: Well, we did a study at Watkins Mill after the first pilot and we sent out a questionnaire to all the parents there. We got back about 100 responses. About 60 of the parents whose kids took the pilot program responded and about 30 of the kids who didn't take the pilot program. And believe it or not, our, our, we'd be happy to share this with you, we found that the kids who did not take the pilot program were better educated about sex than the ones who did.

DF: Well it would be interesting to see Mr. Garza's...

JG: We'd be happy to turn that over.

We do look forward to seeing how the CRC defines "better educated about sex."

The point of the question is this: with all the pressure the CRC put on the community, less than five percent of parents decided to opt their children out of the new classes. The CRC's view is not shared by many residents of Montgomery County.

But Fishback still has something on his mind from the beginning of this show, and he's going to get back to it.
DF: I'd love to see it and see what they view as being correctly educated about sex is. The point about the opt-in/opt-out and having separate class is when you have a situation where maybe one or two children in a particular class [whose] parents decide they're not going to take the course, that isn't enough, those simply are not enough numbers to justify running an entire class. Now separate, separate materials, health related, are provided for those children to study. But again, if you follow Mr. Garza's logic, given the numbers how they actually have actually operated in the real world...

BD: And are they 90% or above?

DF: It has been 90% or above in the schools that were went through. I think less than 5% of parents refused permission. Traditionally in the County in our sex ed programs, it's been 1-2% and I suspect that number will probably get back to that as people understand.

But one thing I really would like to follow up on, on this question about transgender, because this is very significant. The DSM does list transgender as a disorder and why do they do that? Because some people, a very, very small percentage, but there are some people who are essentially born in the wrong bodies. And if they are diagnosed as having this disorder, then, and although this is done with very, very rigid safeguards to make sure mistakes aren't made and it isn't done blithely and it's never done blithely, that people, some people, a very small percentage but do go through sex change operations. Yes, that is a disorder and it is a disorder which is curable. CRC talks about it being a disorder and then leaves it hanging, and says, "What do you do about it?" Well, the medical community can do something about it and does.

We'll have more for you shortly, I'm sure.

PFOX Sues Again, This Time in Virginia

PFOX is like the puniest organization in the country. Almost everything the group is associated with is the work of Regina Griggs, though a couple of people lend their names to it, and the Family Blah Blah groups give them a word of support now and then. Their mission is to insist that gay people can change and become straight.

In Montgomery County, this little group sends fliers home in the kids' backpacks, and most of the time the kids just thrown them away. Well, the schools do have to pass them out, since a lawsuit required it. Down in Arlington, they apparently just say no.

Now this, from WTOP news online:
McLEAN, Va. - An organization that provides support for people who renounce their homosexuality is suing a northern Virginia school system for refusing to distribute its fliers to students.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria by Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), accuses Arlington Public Schools of infringing on its First Amendment rights by arbitrarily refusing to allow distribution of PFOX materials. Schools Sued for Refusing to Distribute Ex-Gay Fliers

Well, I'm sure the decision wasn't made "arbitrarily." The PFOX web site, for instance, is not "arbitrarily" blocked by MCPS computer networks. People don't like PFOX because they don't agree with the bigotry. PFOX's anti-gay position is unwelcome in most places.

Is that so hard to understand?
Fairfax County-based PFOX alleges in the lawsuit that other community outreach groups are routinely allowed to distribute material through the school system, but that Arlington school officials repeatedly ignored PFOX's request for similar access.

The two fliers submitted by PFOX for consideration essentially spell out the organization's goals and beliefs and provide contact information for students with questions.

"PFOX believes that no one chooses same-sex feelings or asks for them _ but ex-gays demonstrate that those with unwanted same-sex attractions can seek help and information in overcoming those feelings," one flier states.

That's fine, go ahead and believe that. Believe in flying saucers, too, if you want. Just don't be sending it home with the kids.
PFOX's attorney, Steven Aden with the Center for Law and Religious Freedom, said the school system's refusal to allow PFOX fliers stands in contrast to the schools' relationship with PFLAG, or Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a gay-rights organization that opposes efforts to "convert" homosexuals.

"PFLAG in Arlington seems to have pretty open entree into the school system," Aden said.

The school system has never explained its refusal to distribute PFOX materials, Aden said; he assumes it is because they oppose PFOX's views. Aden said PFOX has faced similar problems in other school districts and is considering its legal options.

PFOX was formed, it appears, to create the appearance of symmetry, with PFLAG on the other side of the looking-glass. PFLAG supports families of gay and lesbian people, helps them get through the surprise and the feelings that go with learning that your family member is gay, lets them express their love for one another even when that is uncomfortable and difficult.

PFOX represents denial. They try to get families to believe that their gay members can become straight, so they won't have to deal with the fact that somebody they love is ... like that.

Empathy and support on one hand, denial on the other -- does that seem symmetrical to you? Do you think the schools should send both messages home with students?

Speaking of PFLAG, there was a strange incident in Montgomery County recently, when the administration at Wootton High School took PFLAG's fliers out of the teachers' homeroom boxes and threw them away.

There are various versions of the story, but apparently the secretary who handled that stuff was out, and nobody knew what to do. I understand that apologies have been offered all around, and the incident has apparently blown over.

But ... you'd think, in a situation like this, where the public is watching, where lawyers are itching to sue, that the administration would know what they're doing, wouldn't you? I can't believe they're going to get away with blaming it on the secretary.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Watch This

I'm racing around doing errands today -- MVA, computer repair, stuff like that, but will take just a second to recommend that you watch this TV show. It's on today and tomorrow, at these times:

Wed, May 2 @ 4:00p, 028 NEWS8
Wed, May 2 @ 8:30p, 028 NEWS8
Wed, May 2 @ 11:00p, 028 NEWS8
Thu, May 3 @ 4:00p, 028 NEWS8
Thu, May 3 @ 11:00p, 028 NEWS8

On Comcast, News8 is, naturally, Channel 28.

The show is called NewsTalk, and the host is Bruce DePuyt. Yesterday he had David Fishback from our group and John Garza from CRC -- both lawyers, both fathers, both highly involved in the controversy -- discussing the new sex-ed curriculum. You will find it interesting and informative. They sit at the newsdesk and discuss with the anchor. It's a half hour show, though I understand the original went on for longer than that.

David Fishback was on-target, Garza seemed kind of dazed, like he's forgotten what the problem is supposed to be. We will have some transcribed sections for you when we get to it, and it would be nice if we could put some of this online.

Fishback was great.

OK, I got plates for one car, now I've got to try to get an emissions test done for the other one ...

A Funny Email

You remember, way back, that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum bought the dot-com version of our domain name and pointed it at their site, so if you typed "" instead of ".org" you'd go to their web page. Just another case of the ends justifying the means, I suppose -- their mission of interrupting the school district's development of a new sex-ed course is so important that it doesn't matter what they have to do to accomplish it.

Anyway, the funny side-effect of that is that sometimes we get email addressed to them.

This one came the other day, I thought you might get a kick out of it:
You people make me and millions around the country sick.

As a gay teacher who works with these students each and every day... you should be ashamed of yourselves. Go home and take a long look in the mirror at yourselves and figure out why you hate yourself so much and why your internal homophobia feeds that hate.

Then signed by this teacher.

After a brief exchange of messages, we got things figured out.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

We Can Laugh - This Time

Out in California they're talking about changing the law a little bit to treat discrimination in the schools on the basis of sexual orientation the same as discrimination on the basis of religion, disability, and things like that. There are also some wording changes in the bill. Here's how it starts:
(1) Existing law states that it is the policy of the state to afford equal rights and opportunities to all persons in the public or private elementary and secondary schools and postsecondary educational institutions of the state regardless of their sex, ethnic group identification, race, national origin, religion, or mental or physical disability and prohibits a person from being subjected to discrimination on those bases and contains various provisions to implement that policy.

Existing law prohibits a teacher from giving instruction, and a school district from sponsoring any activity, that reflects adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin, or ancestry.

Existing law prohibits the State Board of Education and the governing board of a school district from adopting for use in the public schools any instructional materials that reflect adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin, or ancestry.

This bill would revise the list of prohibited bases of discrimination and the kinds of prohibited instruction, activities, and instructional materials and instead, would refer to disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic contained in the definition of hate crimes that is contained in the Penal Code. The bill would define disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation for this purpose. BILL NUMBER: SB 777

OK, you might approve of that and you might not. Personally, I think it's good to add sexual orientation to the list, and I suppose the new terminology is better, probably. To tell you the truth,under normal circumstances I wouldn't give this a thought.

But, you know, there's a discussion to be had there. You could argue that these different groups don't need special treatment, or you could argue about what should and shouldn't be on the list. That's cool, you and I could have a great argument about that. Maybe we'd agree in the end, and maybe we wouldn't.

But here's what a group called Capitol Resource Institute (motto: "Educating, supporting, and defending California families since 1987") says about the bill:
What exactly does this mean for California's school children?

SB 777 will transform our public schools into institutions that disregard all notions of the traditional family unit. It scorns all religious and moral teaching that is contrary to its agenda, regardless of what is taught in the home by the child's parents.

The practical implications of SB 777 could include the following:

Textbooks would have to be rewritten to eliminate references to the traditional family-or at least give equal time and preference to homosexual roommates as is given to a man and woman in a committed marriage relationship. References to "mom and dad" or "husband and wife" could be banned as discriminatory. Brave New California Schools-Legislation Promotes Homosexuality, Bisexuality, and Transsexuality

Now, we can laugh, because this is all the way on the other side of the country from us. But this is exactly the way the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have talked about the new sex-ed classes, making things up, blowing things out of proportion, turning things around, assuming the worst -- no, not really "assuming" it, pretending the worst.

Listen to these guys:
*Gender-neutral bathrooms could be required, to accommodate those students who are confused about their gender identity.

*Cheerleading and sports activities would not be permitted to have gender distinctions.

*Schools could be prohibited from having a "prom king and queen," to avoid showing bias based on gender and sexual orientation. Or, schools could be required to crown a female "king," which is something that nearly happened at Fresno High School when transgender student, Cinthia Covarrubias, born a female, decided she would run for prom "king" instead of queen. The issue became moot when Ms. Covarrubias was not elected by the student body.

*Teachers might be barred from stating their support for traditional marriage. AIDS statistics, including disproportional infection rates in the homosexual community, could be considered taboo.

"Pushing this radical homosexual agenda in California schools will stifle the truth in favor of political correctness and will inevitably conflict with the religious and moral convictions of both students and parents," said Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Institute. "The full ramifications of this sweeping legislation could affect the entire nation as most textbook companies tailor their material to their number one purchaser: California."

And on and on it goes.

Normal people can talk about these things. Two people with differing opinions, differing philosophies about life and how it should be lived, could look at this California bill, and pick out things they liked more or less, and they could express their opinions about aspects of the legislation. In the end, they can vote for candidates who they think will support their conclusions about things like this, or they can even get involved and call their representative in the legislature. Whatever, there are lots of ways to handle this.

So where is the handbook these nuts get this stuff from? How is it that this group in California is exactly like a group in Montgomery County, Maryland, all the way on the other side of the country? Where does somebody learn to "think" this way?

Why We Are Fat, Maybe

I have this theory. Wherever you go in the world, anywhere on the street you can tell who's an American, because they're fat. Sorry, but you go anywhere and the people are slender and fit, except for the tourists from the USA.

That's exhibit one. Exhibit two is what's on their plates. It seems to me that other people eat better than we do. They eat fresh food, cooked lightly, not stuff with three or four layers of packaging but something that was alive yesterday, or this morning. This is true almost everywhere I've been, except here. And listen, it tastes better, too.

So my theory is that if you just ate fresh food -- nothing that comes wrapped in plastic, nothing in a can or a box or frozen -- you'd lose that weight and feel better. Probably make you healthier in other ways, too.

A couple of years ago we went to a small city in Portugal called Braga, which had a new MacDonalds. It was weird, this ugly MacDonalds right in front of an ancient, beautiful Catholic church. And nobody would go there. The professors I talked with said "Some of the young people like it, but it doesn't taste good to me." They were trying to be polite, equating me of course with everything American, but it was very clear they saw this junk-food palace as an intrusion and a danger.

The New York Times Magazine this week had an interesting story along those lines. The question is this: why is it that in our country poor people are fatter than rich ones? You know that's backwards. Poor people are supposed to have a hard time getting enough to eat -- starvation and poverty go together like rock and roll -- but in the US, weight is inversely correlated with income.

Yeah, yeah, I can think of fat rich people, too. But on average...
A few years ago, an obesity researcher at the University of Washington named Adam Drewnowski ventured into the supermarket to solve a mystery. He wanted to figure out why it is that the most reliable predictor of obesity in America today is a person’s wealth. For most of history, after all, the poor have typically suffered from a shortage of calories, not a surfeit. So how is it that today the people with the least amount of money to spend on food are the ones most likely to be overweight?

Drewnowski gave himself a hypothetical dollar to spend, using it to purchase as many calories as he possibly could. He discovered that he could buy the most calories per dollar in the middle aisles of the supermarket, among the towering canyons of processed food and soft drink. (In the typical American supermarket, the fresh foods — dairy, meat, fish and produce — line the perimeter walls, while the imperishable packaged goods dominate the center.) Drewnowski found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips but only 250 calories of carrots. Looking for something to wash down those chips, he discovered that his dollar bought 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice. You Are What You Grow

Well, it's interesting enough to dichotomize between the middle and the sides. The processed stuff and the fresh stuff.

So, that's what I'm saying, you ought to buy your groceries at the ends of the store, not in the middle. That's what I said, wasn't it?
As a rule, processed foods are more “energy dense” than fresh foods: they contain less water and fiber but more added fat and sugar, which makes them both less filling and more fattening. These particular calories also happen to be the least healthful ones in the marketplace, which is why we call the foods that contain them “junk.” Drewnowski concluded that the rules of the food game in America are organized in such a way that if you are eating on a budget, the most rational economic strategy is to eat badly — and get fat.

Hoo boy, economists and their "rational" this and "rational" that. Don't get me started.

Hey, pass the Top Ramen.

But this is where it gets interesting. The fat-foods aren't more expensive because they're harder to produce:
This perverse state of affairs is not, as you might think, the inevitable result of the free market. Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?

For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system — indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system. Among other things, it determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root. Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat — three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.) For the last several decades — indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning — U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.

OK, look, this doesn't have anything to do with sex-ed in MoCo, but ... did you realize how this works?
That’s because the current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both). By comparison, the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. A result of these policy choices is on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a k a liquid corn) declined by 23 percent. The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.

Mmm, Twinkies, that sounds good, doesn't it?

It's crazy to think that our government is causing people to be fat. We tend to think it's just bad choices, bad habits, we ought to just eat better. And of course, we all do have that option. But obviously, if it was just personal choices, people wouldn't be like they are. I mean that in several ways.

My dad used to go into a place and ask, "How much is a dime Coke?" Yeah, that's the sense of humor I inherited. These days, I don't think he could even lift a dime Coke, which costs two and a half dollars. I mean, who ever needed a liter of soda-pop?

Yes, I'm from the other end of the country. Soda-pop. Get over it. (My kids never forgive me for embarrassing them with things like that.)
A public-health researcher from Mars might legitimately wonder why a nation faced with what its surgeon general has called “an epidemic” of obesity would at the same time be in the business of subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup. But such is the perversity of the farm bill: the nation’s agricultural policies operate at cross-purposes with its public-health objectives. And the subsidies are only part of the problem. The farm bill helps determine what sort of food your children will have for lunch in school tomorrow. The school-lunch program began at a time when the public-health problem of America’s children was undernourishment, so feeding surplus agricultural commodities to kids seemed like a win-win strategy. Today the problem is overnutrition, but a school lunch lady trying to prepare healthful fresh food is apt to get dinged by U.S.D.A. inspectors for failing to serve enough calories; if she dishes up a lunch that includes chicken nuggets and Tater Tots, however, the inspector smiles and the reimbursements flow. The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce.

To speak of the farm bill’s influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact — on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities — or to the United States. The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico’s eaters as well as its farmers.) You can’t fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico.

Hey, when he said "a researcher from Mars," did you think he meant the candy-bar company? I did. I once talked with a commodity analyst from Mars, who described the trouble they go to to get the best prices for cocoa. They choose a currency to use, and they have to shop in secret, because if Mars buys chocolate, everybody in the world knows where the best deal is, and then they'll all buy there, and the price will go up... Figure if they save one tenth of one percent buying cocoa, they buy so much it turns into millions of dollars.

We don't usually think about our lives in terms of the government influencing what we buy. You need to eat, you go to the store, you buy what they sell. I was behind a guy in line yesterday at Safeway who had about a hundred little juice containers for his kids. And I was thinking, I bet there's no actual juice in that liquid at all. His poor kids are getting some kind of processed, Nutrasweet-flavored fluid, and that's what their little bones and brains are going to be made out of. How can that be good?

If there was real juice on the shelf, would he have bought it? Probably not, because it would've cost five times as much. But if it was the same price, he would, I'll bet.

There's a bunch more to this article, you might want to follow the link.