Friday, November 30, 2007

The Candidates on Sex Ed

Women's E-News has a nice informative article that summarizes the presidential candidates' views on sex education.

They have a nice, brief introduction to the topic and why it's important. Readers of this blog probably don't need that level of introduction, most of us have been paying attention to this subject at least in the last couple of years, especially as it's played out for those of us who live in Montgomery County, Maryland.

So ... click on the link above for more information. I hope they don't mind if I copy and paste their summary of the candidates' positions on this important subject.
  • Joe Biden supports "age-appropriate" and comprehensive sex education but the Delaware senator has also voted to fund abstinence programs.
  • Hillary Clinton has favored abstinence-plus for a decade. In 1996 as first lady she helped launch the teen pregnancy campaign, which has a goal of reducing teen pregnancy by one-third by 2015 through comprehensive education and awareness. Ten years later, as New York senator, she introduced the Prevention First Act, which would have allocated $100 million for family planning services in an effort to curb teen pregnancy.
  • Chris Dodd's Web site says the Connecticut senator is "appalled" by the Bush administration's abstinence-only programs.
  • John Edwards promotes comprehensive sex education according to his Web site. The former North Carolina senator's campaign did not return phone calls.
  • Mike Gravel, former senator from Alaska, said he favored comprehensive sex education in a questionnaire he returned to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group.
  • Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only presidential candidate who is a co-sponsor of the Responsible Education About Life Act that emphasizes comprehensive programs.
  • Illinois Sen. Barack Obama introduced the Communities of Color Teen Pregnancy Prevention Act of 2007 in Illinois. He respects abstinence as a choice but also advocates age-appropriate comprehensive sex education.
  • New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson favors abstinence-plus.

  • Rudi Giuliani, the only Republican candidate still waffling about his pro-choice stance, avoids the topic. He talks about increasing adoptions and decreasing abortions but is mum on sex education. As New York City mayor for eight years, he presided over a major free condom distribution campaign that included public schools. A campaign spokesperson says Giuliani's stance can be compared to what he says about education in general: "The enforcer of standards should . . . be the parent."
  • John McCain promotes abstinence-only programs but the Arizona senator has previously promoted comprehensive sex education.
  • Mitt Romney promoted abstinence education in Massachusetts classrooms as governor of that state from 2003 to 2007. Romney mentioned this in the May South Carolina debates to show his credentials as a "clear and consistent conservative." Alex Burgos, a campaign staffer, said Romney believes schools should "promote abstinence as part of their health curriculum and teach that marriage comes before babies." Romney, however, checked a box saying he supported comprehensive sex education in a 2002 Planned Parenthood candidate survey.
  • Fred Thompson, former Tennessee senator, backs abstinence education.
  • Duncan Hunter, California representative, favors "equal emphasis" on abstinence. He wants to give abstinence the same amount of teaching as the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Mike Huckabee favors abstinence-only and opposes abstinence-plus. In response to a question asking whether his religious beliefs would allow him to support AIDS prevention in Africa that might include contraception, the Arkansas governor compared it with domestic violence and said compromising on either issue is not an option. "We don't say that a little domestic violence is OK, just cut it down a little, just don't hit quite as hard," says the former Arkansas governor. "We say it's wrong."
  • Ron Paul, the Texas representative, favors abstinence-only programs.
  • Tom Tancredo, the Colorado representative, favors abstinence-only programs.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Eighth Grade Classes Have Been Taught At 35 Schools

At the citizens advisory committee meeting last night, Montgomery County Public Schools administrator Betsy Brown reported that the new eighth grade sex-ed classes have been held now at 35 of Montgomery County's 38 middle schools. The district is collecting information now about how it went, but she had some data for the committee.

Ms. Brown said that of the 2,263 students who were eligible for the classes, 2,146 or 95 per cent got parental opt-in and took the classes. 117 students took the alternate units; of those, some parents refused to sign and some kids lost their permission slips, you can't tell from the data.

Last spring's pilot test, she said, had 88 percent opt-in. You remember, that was with the CRC picketing schools, calling homes with automated messages, sending letters and postcards ... For the real classes, three of the 35 schools were below 88 percent by a little bit. She wouldn't say which ones those were, and I can understand that. She gave a hint about one, but it wasn't enough, for me anyway, to guess what schools it was. Had something to do with new health teachers. I wondered if there was an upcounty/downcounty difference -- I don't really know where people live who would opt their kids out of a health class because it taught respect, tolerance, and empathy. The good news is that it doesn't appear there are many people like that in our county.

She talked quite a bit about the parents' information meetings at the schools. Sounds like there was a lot of variation among schools, with parents' attendance ranging from zero to a hundred percent at the different schools. It sounded like high parental attendance at the meetings correlated with high opt-in for the classes; involved and well-informed parents decided to send their kids to the class. That's perfect.

This really shouldn't be news, that the schools held some classes. We have been fighting for three years to see this happen, using facts and reason against some of the most inflammatory and dishonest rhetoric imaginable. A group of extremists tried to take over our school district, and they failed, due to the public and the school district standing up to them. Montgomery County, a prosperous, well-educated, liberal community, should not have to work this hard to teach our children the facts of life, to bring a positive and accurate message of kindness and truth to the classroom.

The alternative would have been to cave in to bigotry, and the county just couldn't do that.

So -- congratulations to Montgomery County Public Schools for hanging in there, and to all the great people who went to public comments before the school board, who served on committees and made phone calls, who signed petitions, who voted for candidates that would do the right thing, and those intrepid souls who commented on our blog, pro and con, so the public could follow the dialogue in real time.

I'm sure the controversy will revive again and again, but for now -- this is a real milestone, and we should be proud to have arrived to this point.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Watch How the CRC Handles This

Lately I've been interested in watching how clusters of beliefs go together, as we've watched the CRC morph from a simple anti-gay group to one that tepidly tried to defend white Christians, to one that recently mobilized the forces to try to keep discrimination against transgender people legal. You're never surprised, but you do wonder sometimes -- what are they thinking?

The CRC and allied groups have made a lot of hay out of the idea that the AIDS epidemic is a result of "homosexual behavior." Because they are <insert_stereotypical_generalization_here>, gays can't control their sexual behavior and so they spread HIV. These groups have numbers, they have pie-charts, they have Surgeons General from the hazy past speaking on this subject.

I am curious to see how they'll address the more recent data, in yesterday's Washington Post:
The first statistics ever amassed on HIV in the District, released today in a sweeping report, reveal "a modern epidemic" remarkable for its size, complexity and reach into all parts of the city.

The numbers most starkly illustrate HIV's impact on the African American community. More than 80 percent of the 3,269 HIV cases identified between 2001 and 2006 were among black men, women and adolescents. Among women who tested positive, a rising percentage of local cases, nine of 10 were African American.

The 120-page report, which includes the city's first AIDS update since 2000, shows how a condition once considered a gay disease has moved into the general population. HIV was spread through heterosexual contact in more than 37 percent of the District's cases detected in that time period, in contrast to the 25 percent of cases attributable to men having sex with men. Study Calls HIV in D.C. A 'Modern Epidemic'

I doubt the CRC and other groups will want to talk out loud about this. And for good reason. There is a certain sensitivity, you might say, about the similarity between the kinds of assertions these nutty groups make about gays, and now transgender people, and the things that were said by ... others, not that many years ago, about black people.

I don't think the CRC wants to get stuck with the racist tag, and really, I don't think they have done anything to deserve it. But it's a nerve that runs near the surface, because the pattern is so similar. So now it will be interesting to see how they interpret these new findings that AIDS is an epidemic among blacks, at least in our area now, more than gays.

Let's see if they start shooting their mouths off about racial minorities like they have about sexual minorities, linking them to people's daughters being raped and young girls being found dead all over the county -- the things they've been saying about transgender people -- and talking about how promiscuous they are, how they don't have any self-control, how they molest children and carry diseases -- the things they've been saying about gay people.

However will they show their concern for those poor African-American victims of AIDS?

Why Does the Government Regulate Marriage?

Lady writing in the New York Times asked a question I've asked here before. I didn't expect anybody to take it seriously, but now that I hear her talk about this, I do wonder, why does the government have anything at all to say about who you can marry?
WHY do people — gay or straight — need the state’s permission to marry? For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity.

For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.

Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.

The American colonies officially required marriages to be registered, but until the mid-19th century, state supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. By the later part of that century, however, the United States began to nullify common-law marriages and exert more control over who was allowed to marry.

By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce.

In the mid-20th century, governments began to get out of the business of deciding which couples were “fit” to marry. Courts invalidated laws against interracial marriage, struck down other barriers and even extended marriage rights to prisoners. Taking Marriage Private (by Stephanie Coontz, professor of history at Evergreen State College and author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.)

Well, that is some interesting stuff. At first, you just ... lived with somebody, that was enough, move in and you're hitched.

And then, you can see that a government would want to regulate procreation and inheritance, this was a way for the guys in power to assert their superiority, that's an old game. But it's not clear why the people would put up with that.
But governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information.

In the 1950s, using the marriage license as a shorthand way to distribute benefits and legal privileges made some sense because almost all adults were married. Cohabitation and single parenthood by choice were very rare.

Today, however, possession of a marriage license tells us little about people’s interpersonal responsibilities. Half of all Americans aged 25 to 29 are unmarried, and many of them already have incurred obligations as partners, parents or both. Almost 40 percent of America’s children are born to unmarried parents. Meanwhile, many legally married people are in remarriages where their obligations are spread among several households.

It's like everything; you get swept into the system, and the system takes over. Marriage has nothing to do with the bureaucracy that manages your insurance policies, your pension, your doctor bills, your mortgage -- a marriage license was a handy way for those institutions to keep track of you and manage your stuff.

So because the bureaucracy needed records, the state needed to be responsible for getting you registered, and if you weren't, you couldn't get your benefits. And then it's just too easy for the state to attach strings to it. You needed a blood test. You had to be a certain age, single, straight. You can't marry without a license because the bureaucracy owns your life, and you can't get a license without meeting some criteria established by somebody with a political agenda.

My thought was that marriage should be registered by religious organizations. You could have the Church of Atheism, the Church of Gay, whatever, if a church would sign your papers you would be married. Of course, you immediately see the problem: could you accept someone else's idea of marriage? What would you do when the polygamists came out of hiding? How about when the ten-year-old down the street is given away in an arranged marriage, as is done in many lands?

That freedom business is a tough one, isn't it? It's fine as long as everybody does the same thing, doesn't always hold up too well when it's put to the test. For some people, the solution to that dilemma is to force everybody to do the same thing. Others see that it's tough, but figure it's worth the price.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Swastikas Versus Peace

This is a kind of ordinary story, some kids in Florida opposed the war, some of the other students used the usual intelligent techniques of name-calling and intimidation to try to stop them, the school administration let it go, etcetera etcetera.

There are a couple of twists though.
COCOA BEACH, Fla. — Students at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High School are waging a war on peace.Recently, sophomore Skylar Stains decided to hold Peace Shirt Thursdays at the school. Skylar and her friend, Lauren Lorraine, started wearing peace shirts and soon recruited more friends to wear them. Now, the “Peace Shirt Coalition” as they call themselves, has close to 30 students from all grades.

“We’ve worn handmade peace shirts every Thursday since the first week of school, without fail,” Skylar said.

But what started out as a light-hearted gesture soon started to be taken out of context.

Students started approaching the group members, yelling obscene things at them, said Lauren.

“People just turned on us like that,” she said. “At least 10 boys stood up and yelled things at me at once, and we couldn’t even walk through the halls without a harsh comment being made.”

The heckling began early in the school year, according to group members. They said they were putting small posters promoting peace on friends’ lockers with their permission.

They thought it was OK, because the cheerleaders and football players had signs on theirs. Eventually, though, group members said they were told by the school’s administration they could no longer hang up the posters.

“People tore them down and drew swastikas and ‘white power’ stuff on them,” Lauren said.

Skylar had similar things written on her posters. Students Wear Confederate Flag Shirts To Oppose Peace-Shirt Group

Will someone please show me the logical taxonomy that places swastikas and "white power" as the counterarguments to peace?

It's funny how this is at once obvious and absurd. Of course swastikas and "white power" slogans are the opposite of what these kids are doing, you can't say you don't see that. It's as simple as left-wing, right-wing. But then again ... how does the desire for peace challenge white supremacists? What's the connection?

I remember once standing -- this was years ago -- outside a restaurant-bar in some college town in North Carolina, where a guy was playing spacey psychedelic melodies on a flute, sitting cross-legged on a sheepskin, wearing harem pants ... you get the picture. I was in a Southern rock band at that time, we were on a break and I was out there with our other guitar player, Dale, who was from Alabama, and was, as usual, drunk. He stood there studying this guy's poster outside the door; the guy wanted to save the whales, heal the ozone layer, he wanted world peace, mmm, legalized marijuana, I think. And Dale stood there, wobbling, reading that poster with one eye shut, and then he looked at me, un-crossed his eyes, and said, in that big Alabama accent, "Well, hey, I'm for all that stuff too."

Because even to rednecky Dale it just made sense. You take care of the place where you live, and you treat people with respect. Good ol' boy that he was, he couldn't find anything to disagree about with that patchouli-smelling, braided-haired, wispy-bearded hippie. See how easy that is?

But there in Florida, these days, you oppose the war, the response is "white power" and swastikas.
“Someone taped an ‘I Love Bush’ sign over my ‘Wage Peace’ sign,” she said. “So I tore it down, threw it away, and the whole commons starting booing. I walk by later and find that someone has completely tore my sign down and placed an ‘I Love America, Because America Loves War’ sign up.”

Let's just say, when I read this I'm glad I live in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Skipping down ...
Soon, a second group started to wear Confederate flag shirts to oppose the peace group, Skylar said. She saw shirts with sayings such as “This is America, get used to it,” and “If peace is the answer; it must be a stupid question.”

“Now there are even ’support our troops’ kids who don’t like us because I guess they think you can’t say peace and support the troops at the same time,” Lauren said.

Skylar later passed out yellow ribbons for her group to wear to show they support the troops as well as peace.

However, Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High sophomores Lydia Pace and Joseph Marianetti said the Confederate shirts they wear express support for the troops in Iraq, and nothing more. Joseph said the shirts have nothing to do with racism.

“Someone took something that stood for peace and twisted it” in regards to the swastikas (drawn by a third group) and the Confederate flag, he said.

Um, yeah. Symbols of peace, sure.

The interesting thing to me is that two contradictory things are obvious. First, it's obvious that supporting the war or opposing it has nothing logically to do with race or attitudes about race, nothing to do with Hitler's Germany, it has nothing to do with the outcome of the Civil War nearly 150 years ago, or the division between the Northern and Southern states in general -- it seems to me that Red and Blue correlate with proximity to the coastline, not North and South. But the second thing is equally obvious, that there is a cluster of beliefs and attitudes that go together, including racism, homophobia, the belief that abortion is murder and the death penalty is a good thing, fear of immigration, support for the war in Iraq.

We all see this. Take your neighbor, the card-carrying CRC member, anti-gay, up in arms over the idea that you won't be able to discriminate against transgender people in our county any more -- go over and ask them what they think about abortion, about the war, about the death penalty, about immigration. You know what they'll say before you even ask.

Maybe somebody here will be able to explain how those things go together.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Faith and Science

This morning is not as cold as it's been but it's chilly and sort of gray out. I got a new jacket last week, and have been a little shy to wear it -- it's fur, and maybe it's too much. But I wore it last night and this morning when I walked the dog, and it's possible I'll get used to it. Back in the day nothing was too much, I guess I'm mellowing with the years.

Or maybe not.

Yesterday my friend and I played music for six hours straight. We ended up doing a bunch of Roy Orbison songs, and today my throat is a little sore. My fingertips are also kind of crunchy, but I have been picking up the guitar every day and playing a little, so there are at least some callouses now. He plays bass and I play guitar, and we stood there in his basement drinking sangria out of a box and playing old songs. It turns out I know a whole lot of Buddy Holly songs. And Merle Haggard, too, but he doesn't like to play that country stuff, we generally stick to old rock and roll, which is centered on the early Sun recordings but includes Elmo James and George Jones, if you know what I mean. I am thinking about getting some software so I can set up a kind of home recording studio; I recently watched a documentary about Les Paul and Mary Ford, and how they recorded everything in their house, and I think that would be fun. I've been writing songs again -- actually, yesterday while my friend was trying to burn me a CD I played some of my old songs, just by myself, and they sounded pretty good. Well, I've got enough going on already without that, but it's fun.

The New York Times had an opinion piece yesterday by a professor at Arizona State University, which I attended for two unimpressive years back in the sixties. This guy, Paul Davies, is a physicist, calls himself these days an "astrobiologist," which sounds cool but ... well, I'm not going to criticize his science, it looks like he's a person who takes a broad view of things, and I'm in favor of that, sometimes researchers narrow their field too much.

The piece is long, and I want to show you but don't want to paste the whole thing in here. Here's the start, which I think catches the gist of his case:
SCIENCE, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term “doubting Thomas” well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.

The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs. The laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws that regulate the world within the atom, the laws of motion — all are expressed as tidy mathematical relationships. But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do? Taking Science on Faith

First of all, he does overstate the case. Nobody thinks science is perfect, it's just the best we've got. As biological agents we are limited in our ability to be objective, we can only sense the world through human senses and interpret what we see from the point of view of human beings. The endeavor to improve measurement and analysis, and to design experiments that test important hypotheses, has been very successful, but it is not perfect. In the long run, all we are doing is making adjustments to the brains that nature gave us, programming the meatware.

I think he's wrong to contrast scientific belief with faith. True, they're different things, but not that different; scientific knowledge is based on carefully developed evidence, but every skeptic realizes that a leap of faith is required in order to believe that the empirical world exists at all. Without that grain of faith you'd be schizophrenic, living in your own self-absorbed universe, solipsistically doubting the existence of everything; I don't think any serious thinker would say that you could have science without faith.

It seems to me that the difference between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge has to do with intention, as contrasted with causation. The scientist finds that things are the way they are because something caused them to be that way. The religious believer finds that things are the way they are because somebody made them that way.

What would be the difference between a world that someone made intentionally and the exact same world without intention? I'm asking if an atheist and a believer walk around participating in the world, what will they see that's different?

The only difference will be the way they feel about it. Say, I have a drawing on my refrigerator that my daughter made for me when she was four. I look at that drawing with a certain feeling that you, coming into my kitchen, would not have, because I know her and I know she made the drawing for me. The religious believer feels like that in the world, has a sentimental connection to existence, a feeling that the world was intentionally made just the way it is, with love.

There would not have to be any difference in what the believer and the skeptic predict will happen next, no difference in understanding how the world works, so the pragmatist sees the distinction between faith and no-faith as meaningless, having no cash value. But there's the rub: meaning. If the world is made by an intentional being, then meaning is actually a property of the world itself. If that is the case, then the human intellect is an instrument for revealing meaning. The alternative is that meaning is something socially constructed by humans with brains, transparently experienced as a quality of the world, as part of the package we call "the human condition." I am talking about the difference between discovery and invention.

So maybe faith is the unskeptical acceptance of meaning as a quality of the world, intentionally put there by a divine creator. Wouldn't it be nice to walk around in a world brimming with true meaning, made with love? I can't really see anything to object to there, and I also don't see why that feeling would be incompatible with any aspect of science. Well, I don't personally choose to feel that way, but I'm saying it's fine if other people feel that way.

The problems begin when I insist that my daughter's drawing is better than some other kid's drawing, when I confuse my feeling of special significance with objective knowledge. Of course I feel that way, the drawing means something special to me, but the drawing on your refrigerator has special significance to you, and you might think your kid's drawing is better than my kid's. Because our own kids' drawings are special to us, we may reify our feelings and think they are objectively special, especially if we believe that meaning is a true quality of the world that is revealed to our minds, and that's a problem. Someone coming into my kitchen would sadly fail to see what I see in that drawing, which could be as bad as being blind as far as I'm concerned.

Similarly, if I believe with all my heart that my God created the world and gave it meaning, and you believe otherwise, we will each think of the other as deluded. And that is not a good basis for a friendship.

There's really nothing wrong with believing that God set up the big bang and the process of evolution, carefully designing the cosmological constants so that the universe would remain stable through human lifetimes and so on -- that's all fine, it doesn't change a thing. You can't prove that there is intention behind the world, or that there isn't, so you choose whatever makes you feel better. Either view may be correct, and either may be illusion -- you'll never prove it either way.

I am ignoring the ones who say that the world was literally made in seven days, 6,000 years ago or whatever they believe. They are free to believe that, but they are simply wrong. There is no point in arguing with authoritarians.

There have been religions that stopped just before the point we've come to, where the seeker learns to sense the presence of the divine in every moment, and discounts other thoughts as vanity and illusion borne necessarily by mortal nature. Unfortunately most people are not content with that. People want some intervention in their lives, they want a personal contact with the spirit world, they want an explanation for why things are the way they are and somebody to hold accountable for it all, they want to know that the world was made for their own happiness. Next thing you know, you've got competing deities, and worse, you've got explanations that conflict with empirical evidence, challenging good-hearted faith.

I don't usually talk here about my own beliefs, but I will say I personally am most comfortable with a flavor of panpsychism that keeps bringing me back to the teachings of Lao Tsu. My intuitions on this topic are pretty well described in THIS paper, if you're interested. I don't think consciousness could possibly be created in a brain, I think the brain exploits the subjective quality of the world by making it reflexive and giving it content; what's different about us is not that we're conscious, but that we're conscious of things. Intention, I'm afraid, presumes embodiment, and so I don't see that anything is gained by believing that a disembodied will lies behind the machinations of the universe; but that doesn't mean the universe is barren or uncaring. That's just what I think, I don't expect anyone else to walk down that road with me.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ike Signs, The Post Suckers for the Re-Framing

I saw a blogger yesterday who linked to the Washington Post, noting that they had said that places with nondiscrimination laws like our new one had experienced no problems with men lurking in ladies rooms. And, yes, it's true that's in there, about three-quarters of the way down. That fact was certainly not featured in their telling of the story.

Oddly, The Post is the only real paper -- I am not including the Family Blah Blah newsletters -- that has opted to go along with the red-herring message of the pro-discrimination groups.

In case you haven't been following: Montgomery County just passed a law prohibiting discrimination against people on the basis of gender identity, and the Nutty Ones have been attempting to re-frame the message, to re-write the narrative so it's not about discrimination, it's about men going into ladies restrooms and shower-rooms, exposing themselves or looking at ladies and girls. No real news organization has adopted that absurd frame except The Post. Yesterday was the second story that played along with it.

We saw where PFOX's webmaster wrote the County Countil to tell them that "Hopefully, it will be one of your daughters who gets raped first!" The frame they are trying to impose here insists that failing to discriminate against transgender people will inevitably result in the rape of someone's daughters. Q: Are there any steps missing from that logic? A: Yes.

Even better, that local leader of the Republican Party, shouting at the Council meeting: "Wait until little girls start showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature."

Daughers raped, little girls dead, because the phrase "gender identity" was added to the existing law against discrimination.

Nobody buys it.

Except The Post. Here's how yesterday's story started out:
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) signed off yesterday on legislation to protect transgender individuals from discrimination, over the objections of religious and community groups that say the measure would give male cross-dressers access to women's restrooms and locker rooms.

Opponents said they plan to gather signatures for a referendum to overturn the protections, and they have enlisted a California lawyer to consider filing a lawsuit.

"Leggett has broken the biological barriers that separate male and female facilities," said Michelle Turner, spokeswoman for a coalition of opponents who have created a Web site,, for their campaign. Leggett Signs Bill For Protection of Transgender People

The newspaper brings the bathroom frame right into the first sentence of the story. They call a leader of the MoCo anti-gay groups for a quote -- and then they publicize this weird web site, which is really just a page on the CRC's domain, it looks like.

Of the eighteen paragraphs of this story, fifteen talked about the opposition to the law or the "bathroom issue." The law protects a vulnerable subpopulation of our community, but The Post mostly ignores that, and treats it as if it were a law allowing men to go into women's showers.

I have said before, the story here, in the long run, will be about the campaign by these extremists to get the media to go along with their entirely artificial framing of this new law. The law is about discrimination against transgender people, the radical groups say it's about the innocence of women and girls. The law itself is boring bureaucracy, a modification of existing law to cover a group that most people are unaware of; the new frame is vivid, shocking, frightening, and irrelevant.

OK, here's your question: what sells more papers in the long run, thrills or accuracy? Most news organizations are betting on accuracy, in this one.

The media have been under suspicion throughout the Bush years, and need to make a display of getting their facts straight. The public remembers the WMD stories, the active role that the press played in promoting an unjustified war. We might expect a smaller paper to do this -- I would not be surprised if The Examiner ran with the CRC's framing of this story (and they didn't, in fact look HERE at how The Examiner summarized The Post's story) -- but we expect to open The Post in the morning and get some facts.

In a related story...
LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Jennifer Granholm has issued an order that bars discrimination against state workers based on their "gender identity or expression," which protects the rights of those who behave, dress or identify as members of the opposite sex.

The order, which Granholm signed Wednesday, adds gender identity to a list of other prohibited grounds for discrimination that includes religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, height, weight, marital status, politics, disability or genetic information.

"State employment practices and procedures that encourage nondiscriminatory and equal employment practices provide desirable models for the private sector and local governments," says the resolution. Mich. Governor Guards Transgender Rights

The Maryland legislature failed to pass such a bill this year when they had the chance, so now the county has had to do it, in the face of threats and irrationality.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


They said it was going to rain today, but here at my dining-room table I can barely see what's on the computer monitor with this sunbeam glaring over my shoulder. Now and then a cloud passes in front of the sun, but at least at this noontime hour there doesn't appear to be any rain coming. At our house, the leaves have mostly fallen now; I noticed the mulberry tree let loose this week, I guess I have a little more raking to do, around the side. Now and then a maple leaf floats by the window; ours are yellow, but the tree next door is one of those outrageous red ones, leaves of the two trees mix as they descend past the bay window. When a car passes on the street the layer of yellow and orange leaves in the street jumps up and follows it like a multicolored river; when another comes from the other direction the river reverses itself without any sense of contradiction, following a different way.

My wife has been busy in the kitchen since before I got up this morning. She's going to use pineapple juice instead of orange juice in the cranberry-pomegranate sauce, what do you think? I think it will be good. She stood at the counter for hours last night picking the seeds out of the pomegranates. Pies are in the oven, turkey's loaded up, ready to slide in when the pies come out.

Of all the wise things, the brave strangers who traveled to this land in search of freedom and opportunity remembered to set aside a day just for giving thanks, even though things were hard for them four hundred years ago. Thanksgiving is in some ways the holiday that Hallowe'en could have been, a day for remembering, a harvest festival that celebrates the fecundity of the earth, the indefatigable kindness of people, the passing of another year from light into the inevitable darkness of winter, and the just-as-inevitable return of life and sunlight, once the forces of darkness have been defeated in heaven.

I hope all of our readers get to spend this day in homes as warm and good-smelling as mine, with people who love you. Today we'll forget our differences and share the lucky fact that we are blessed to exist on this earth, to breathe the air and feel the vibrancy of life within our bodies, animating us and driving us irresistibly to share our love with others, today we give thanks for all that came before and the infinitely fertile potential of the future.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On-Line Reading, Normal Compared to Conservative

You've got to find this interesting.

Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It's an amazing experiment. Almost everyone, when they first hear the idea, expect that people will write stupid stuff on purpose and vandalize the texts, but it doesn't work that way. Instead, people who read an entry and spot a mistake tend to fix it. So the chapters get better and better. Oh, there are legendary exceptions, of course, but in general Wikipedia has gotten a lot bigger than Encyclopedia Britannica, and where it might take ten years to fix an error in Britannica, Wikipedia can do it in a couple of seconds.

From Boing Boing (motto: "A Directory of Wonderful Things"), we learn the Top Ten most viewed pages on Wikipedia:
1. Main Page [30,090,900]
2. Wiki [904,800]
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [413,400]
4. Naruto [401,400]
5. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock [396,000]
6. United States [330,000]
7. Wikipedia [329,400]
8. Deaths in 2007 [321,300]
9. Heroes (TV series) [307,500]
10. Transformers (film) [303,600]

Well, I can't say I've looked up, uh, any of those things, I think the terms I search for are probably in the Bottom Ten. But there's not a lot of surprises there, new and popular stuff, leaning toward the geeky end.

Conservapedia has a similar format, it's a wiki. It was invented because some people thought Wikipedia had a liberal bias. I am biting my tongue here, of course. Conservapedia describes the world from the "conservative" point of view. Woops, the tip of my tongue just fell on the floor, better find somebody to sew it back on.

Since we saw what interests the Internet world in general, leftward-leaning as they may be, of course it's interesting to see what people look for on the conservative alternative wiki. Probably stuff about smaller government, liberty, some economic policies, accountability, entrepreneurship, maybe ... guns?

Here are the Top Ten search items for Conservapedia:
1. Main Page [1,906,729]
2. Homosexuality [1,572,713]
3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis [517,086]
4. Homosexuality and Promiscuity [420,687]
5. Gay Bowel Syndrome [389,052]
6. Homosexuality and Parasites [388,123]
7. Homosexuality and Domestic Violence [365,888]
8. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea [331,553]
9. Homosexuality and Mental Health [291,179]
10. Homosexuality and Syphilis [265,322]

What would Barry Goldwater think, to see what conservatism has become?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

They Get Creepier and Creepier

Here's something somebody found ...
Office of Curriculum and Instructional Programs
Rockville, Maryland

November 19, 2007


To: High School Principals

From: Erick J. Lang, Associate Superintendent

Subject: IMPORTANT: Health Education Alert

The purpose of this memorandum is to bring to your attention recent incidents within our high schools related to implementation of the health education curriculum. It appears that individuals in the community are attempting to heighten anxiety among parents regarding the health curriculum and others are attempting to entrap high school staff members.

In at least one high school, students report receiving mailed postcards addressed to parents of Grade 10 students and signed by "Concerned Parents." The postcards warn that the "Montgomery County Board of Education does not want you to know ...
  • "The details of the curriculum for 10th Grade health, family life, and human development class.
  • "That you must choose to 'opt-in' your child or the school must provide an alternative program.
  • "The details of the alternative curriculum."

The postcard gives the date of the school's scheduled parent information meeting on health education and encourages parents to attend or to contact the school and ask to see all the choices available.

In a second incident, a health teacher reports receiving an e-mail message from an individual claiming to be a student in the teacher's class. The message requests specific information about birth control and sex education. A search of school records revealed that a student by the name given is not enrolled in the teacher's class and does not attend the school.

High school resource teachers who supervise health education have been advised to inform their teachers that it is very important not to dispense advice or answer explicit questions regarding curricular content via e-mail on these topics. They were reminded that parents have the opportunity to come to a parent meeting to review materials and ask questions. Additionally, students have the opportunity to ask questions during class where the identity of the student can be confirmed, parent permission is on file, and the answers can be provided within the approved Montgomery County Public Schools curriculum...

Then there's some contact information for the principals, in case they have questions or something else happens. The memo is approved by Frieda K. Lacey, Deputy Superintendent of Schools.

The groups who are trying to sabotage public education in Montgomery County don't seem to have any concept of "over the line." They will say anything, do anything, to disrupt the process and stop these classes from being taught.

The sad thing is, if they were really concerned about the classes' effect on their kids, the few who actually have kids in the public schools could simply not-sign the permission slip. There's nothing to it.

Sometimes you really don't know where they'll stop, or if.

Remembering the Dead

November 20th is designated the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Nobody is treated worse than those who dare to violate gender stereotypes. If you doubt it, go over to the Remembering Our Dead web site. Click on some links, there's just a sentence or two about each person. It's not much. Take a few seconds to think about what hate can do to real, living persons.


[h/t Box Turtle Bulletin]

Young Love, Old Love

We talk here all the time about young people and sex. But older people have their issues, too.

Recently I was talking with a European friend, a lady of approximately my age; her kids are grown up, she and her husband are starting to think about retirement. She made a comment about a man we both know, and I playfully asked her if she was thinking of having an affair with him. She looked at me for a minute, not because she didn't know the answer, but because she wasn't sure how much to tell me.

"Sure," she finally said, matter-of-factly.

"What if your husband found out?" I asked.

She sort of smiled. "He won't find out." I believe she has thought this through, there was a kind of deliberate confidence in her voice.

"Well," I said, "What if he was having an affair? How would you like that?"

Again, she paused, not because she didn't know the answer, but because she wasn't sure how much to confide in me. She said, "If we were young, I'd kill him. But now," she shrugged and smiled conspiratorially, "Life's short, he should have fun."

I understand that this is not a common American attitude, at least out loud. We expect abstinence in youth and fidelity throughout adulthood till death. But it seems that the white-knuckle "traditional marriage" is not especially traditional, except maybe in the United States since the Industrial Revolution. Most cultures find a way to allow some romantic excitement in mature life, even if it calls for a wink and looking the other way.

It's not always a joke, not always fun and games, dirty old men and nasty grannies. Sometimes, especially in extreme old age, there is a poignance to love that cannot exist in less vulnerable individuals.

You may have seen this eye-opening article in the New York Times this week about Sandra Day O'Connor and her husband.
SO this, in the end, is what love is.

Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s husband, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, has a romance with another woman, and the former justice is thrilled — even visits with the new couple while they hold hands on the porch swing — because it is a relief to see her husband of 55 years so content.

What culture tells us about love is generally young love. Songs and movies and literature show us the rapture and the betrayal, the breathlessness and the tears. The O’Connors’ story, reported by the couple’s son in an interview with a television station in Arizona, where Mr. O’Connor lives in an assisted-living center, opened a window onto what might be called, for comparison’s sake, old love.

Of course, it illuminated the relationships that often develop among Alzheimer’s patients — new attachments, some call them — and how the desire for intimacy persists even when dementia steals so much else. But in the description of Justice O’Connor’s reaction, the story revealed a poignancy and a richness to love in the later years, providing a rare model at a time when people are living longer, and loving longer.

“This is right up there in terms of the cutting-edge ethical and cultural issues of late life love,” said Thomas R. Cole, director of the McGovern Center for Health, Humanities and the Human Spirit at the University of Texas, and author of a cultural history of aging. “We need moral exemplars, not to slavishly imitate, but to help us identify ways of being in love when you’re older.” Love in the Time of Dementia

The image of that is overpowering, isn't it? Her love for him is so strong that it makes her happy to see him with another woman. On the face of it, it's paradoxical, but beneath the surface I think anyone who had a heart could see that this is really true love, grown beyond selfishness.
That is beginning to change, Dr. Cole said, as life expectancy increases, and a generation more sexually liberated begins to age. Nursing homes are being forced to confront an increase in sexual activity.

And despite the stereotypes, researchers who study emotions across the life span say old love is in many ways more satisfying than young love — even as it is also more complex, as the O’Connors’ example shows.

“There’s a difference between love as it is presented in movies and music as this jazzy sexy thing that involves bikini underwear and what love actually turns out to be,” said the psychologist Mary Pipher, whose book “Another Country” looked at the emotional life of the elderly. “The really interesting script isn’t that people like to have sex. The really interesting script is what people are willing to put up with.”

“Young love is about wanting to be happy,” she said. “Old love is about wanting someone else to be happy.”

This NYT article is mainly about Alzheimer's patients, but it seems to me the deeper topic is love itself, the true nature of the happiness that can be found with another person.

We don't talk much about love and sex among older adults, but here comes the baby boom. You thought the Sixties were something -- wait till the Boomers are all in their sixties! And their seventies. And their eighties, sonny, you just wait. It's not a pretty thought, no, this isn't what you see in the movies, but older folks are going to to live and love with all their might, whatever that takes. They say love conquers all, it seems to me that love will conquer time, even.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Test for the Media

Sunday mornings I usually waste a bunch of time talking about whatever thing is on my mind that week, some music I like or something that happened to me. But this week I am thinking we have something serious to talk about. (Though I must say, Aaron Neville's soulful "I Shall Be Released" on Sunday morning WPFW, rising above the homely white noise of crackling bacon, is just ... perfect.)

I know that people in the media read this blog, and I want them to think carefully about the moment in Montgomery County history that we are coming to.

Let the record show that at this time, November 18th, 2007, it is obvious to observers that a strategy to deceive is in place and is being perpetrated; anyone who falls for it is either hopelessly ignorant, or is a willing accomplice. It will not be possible in the future to declare that you didn't see it coming: everybody sees it coming.

We are seeing a nefarious and blatant attempt by a tiny minority of people to change the subject on an important issue. Their change of subject will be sensationalistic, it will be simple, it will appeal to consumers of the news media at a base level, but it is a lie.

We need to see our media rise to the situation. We need the press to inform the public as this situation unfolds, not to propagate lies but to report them in their full context.

A new bill is being adopted in Montgomery County, which bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity. It simply adds another term to the existing law. You may or may not believe in the usefulness of laws about discrimination, and you may or may not agree that transgender people need protection; those are debates the public can and should engage in, and are not the topic at the moment.

Nobody in their right mind believes that this bill is about men lurking in ladies rooms.

We are seeing an energetic attempt to re-frame the law, to make people believe that the bill legalizes perverted men lurking in ladies room. We have seen one of the leaders of the local Republican Party saying that this bill will result in "little girls ... showing up dead all over the county." We have seen the CRC claiming that women will be unsafe in public showers because of perverted exhibitionists and voyeurs and transgender individuals in transition, with male genitals, exposing themselves in ladies rooms and peeking at undressed ladies and girls.

This re-framing project is a pure work of fiction, a complete change of subject from the actual bill it is intended to oppose. These groups want to retain the right to discriminate, but they know they can't just say that straight out. So they have latched on to a frightening image and are trying desperately to convince the public that this image will become reality if discrimination against transgender people is prohibited.

To pull this off, the groups that are undertaking this project need the complicity of the press. The law says you can't discriminate in certain situations, but the CRC and their colleagues need somebody to publish the fiction that the law is about the violation of privacy in ladies rooms.

In our several years of fighting this fight in Montgomery County, we have met a couple of biased reporters. None that are working this beat now, but it is not unheard of. There are a couple of media outlets in the Washington area with an agenda, I'm not worried about that, somebody'll read that junk, watch that, listen to that, whatever, it's a business. I'm talking about the objective media, the sources that the public depends on for information so we can make decisions in our lives and understand what's going on in the world around us.

It makes an easy headline, angry people with inflammatory phrases on signs make a quick and easily understood photograph. The interview with the outraged parent -- easy, stick a microphone in front of them and they'll give you some attention-grabbing video, red-faced and indignant, speaking in short, easily edited slogans. I can understand, as the crew hops in and out of the van, going from scene to scene, why they like this sort of story. Perverted men in the ladies rooms! Live at eleven. It is tempting.

There is a certain dangerous philosophy of journalism that says reporters should just repeat what happens without interpretation, as if there was no sensible narrative to tie the facts together. So if ten people have a demonstration, a newspaper should report that, and maybe interview a few of them, and report some quotes. But when the people demonstrating are lying, when they are the tiniest bizarre minority of the community, when they are simply making up a story to scare people, journalists have a higher calling -- their higher calling is to inform the public. They aren't there to take dictation, and when somebody lies it is okay -- it is the journalists' responsibility -- to interject a paragraph that states the facts of a situation.

The pro-discrimination groups seem to be lining up along two lines of attack. We saw a letter the other day from a group out in California calling itself "Advocates for Faith and Freedom," threatening to sue the county if this law goes into effect. I'm no lawyer, but I'm not seeing a big opening there. There are lots of places with the same kind of law, and I don't know who will have standing to sue if nothing happens, no men lurk in the women's showers, which is what will happen. But whatever, it's back to the old CRC strategy of suing, "merit or no merit," it will force the county to spend money and it will attract attention.

The second line of attack is an attempted referendum. This is where it gets more interesting, and where the media come into play. Most people in Montgomery County believe in being fair and kind, and are opposed to discrimination. We elected the current County Council members by wide margins, and we elected a progressive County Executive who has taken an active position in supporting LGBT rights; there's no doubt what kind of county this is, what kind of people live here.

On the other hand, nobody in any county wants perverted men lurking around ladies rooms.

You can bet that the pro-discrimination groups are getting petitions written up, and you can bet how they're phrasing this. We haven't seen the petitions, but ... here's a clue. If you go to the web site for the Citizens for Responsible Curriculum (just use if you don't have the URL), you'll see a big red box that says:
*Action Alert -- Legalized Indecent Exposure *
Gender Identity Bill 23-07
Click here for full information

The bill 23-07 is about discrimination against people on the basis of gender identity. The CRC is trying to change the subject to something scary. "Legalized indecent exposure." Anybody who falls for that is a fool.

This is a test for our area's journalists. I understand that if the petitions get so-many signatures, or if a court date is actually reached, the media need to carry the story, but they will need to be extremely careful how they report it.

This bill has nothing at all to do with men lurking in ladies rooms, nothing to do with indecent exposure -- absolutely nothing to do with little girls being killed. It is about discrimination against a group of people who do not fit traditional gender stereotypes.

As this anti-transgender pogrom unfolds, we the public need the press to be thorough, accurate, perceptive, we need the media to be our ears and eyes and to tell us what we would actually see if we were there at the demonstrations, if they knocked on our door with a petition. Would we see rational people backed with facts? Or would we see people who are terrified and threatened by people who are different from them? Would we see humble soldiers for Christ spreading righteousness, or would we see a gang of bigots? We need the press to tell us, accurately, objectively, and thoroughly, what's going on.

This story has all the qualities that appeal to the worst in journalism; it will be a test, we will see which media outlets are informing the citizenry, and which are willing to inflame them for a buck.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

County Council President Injured

From WTOP:
ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) - Montgomery County Council President Marilyn Praisner is in intensive care after two auto accidents near her Burtonsville home.

County police say Praisner's car was involved in a minor collision with another car at about 9 a.m. Friday on Spencerville Road.

About 15 minutes later, her car crashed on Briggs Chaney Road, clipping clipped a tree and turning on its side.

Police are investigating the cause of the accident.

She's in intensive care at Suburban Hospital, though her injuries aren't considered life-threatening.

Council spokesman Neil Greenberger says the 65-year-old is alert and communicating. Montgomery Council President Seriously Injured in Crash

We sure hope she recovers all right. Another Council member, George Leventhal, was injured when a deer jumped through his windshield on the Beltway on November first.

I'll update this post if new details come in.

Republican Leader Shouts "Heil Hitler" During Council Session

I've been so busy the last few days, I haven't really been following all the news. I didn't get to the County Council meeting the other day, but somebody mentioned something in our comments, and now I see it was in The Gazette.

First, in case you just tuned in, the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously this week to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The nuts really showed their colors on this one, the pro-discrimination groups boiled over with hatred. We've published a couple of their letters, well, we here at TTF have come to sort of expect this, but I think some Council members were surprised to see just how bizarre these people can actually be.

I had missed this part, reported in the Gazette:
The vote took just a few minutes, after an opening statement by Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac, who was filling in for Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park, who was absent Tuesday following a car accident more than a week ago. No additional council comments were made before the vote, and most council members quickly left the room afterwards.

Nevertheless, several members of a packed audience yelled criticisms after council members.

‘‘Heil Hitler!” Adol T. Owen-Williams II, a Montgomery County Republican Central Committee member, shouted immediately after the vote from his third-row seat in the council chamber ‘‘Wait until little girls start showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature.”

Angry shouts from other protesters followed the council out of the room.

As approved, the bill would prohibit discrimination against transgenders in housing, employment, cable television service and taxi service. Council bans transgender bias; opponents plan to lobby for veto

That name, Adol T. Owen-Williams II, might ring a bell. That's the guy that then-Republican Board of Education member Steve Abrams reportedly assaulted last year at the Republican central committee meeting. Abrams switched to calling himself a Democrat after that -- does he still? I don't know, I haven't been keeping track. The Board is nonpartisan anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Think about this. This Republican leader thinks that discrimination against transgender people is necessary to prevent the murders of little girls.

Do you get that?

A person who used to physically be a man and is now a woman goes to a restaurant, they serve her a meal, and next thing you know, a little girl is dead. I personally can't figure out how that happens. A taxi driver gives a transgender person a ride and bam -- another dead little girl. And only the cutest ones, too.

All over the county, too, it doesn't just happen at the spot where the nondiscrimination takes place. It's spooky, I tell you.

When this starts, Nancy Grace is going to move to our county so she can report on this every day. This will be a career-maker for her.

I'll bet this rhetorical approach works for Adol's people, his "base." Because, see, it's as simple as this: Republicans are good people, and unlike Democrats they are opposed to murdering little girls. That's why they want to keep it legal to discriminate against transgender people. It's for the children.

Here's a question for you: was the "Heil Hitler" thing over the top? I think so, for a County Council meeting. I think they should reserve that sort of thing for their GOP Central Committee meetings and other special Party functions. Yes, they have freedom of speech and all, but basically we're a Blue county, most people here don't chant Heil Hitler at our official County meetings and such. The Gazette doesn't say how many people joined in.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Opposition Continues to Express Themselves

Oh, here's a nice one, a letter to Montgomery County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg, sent the day after the Council voted unanimously to adopt the new nondiscrimination wording. Just a little something to contemplate for your Friday.
Dear Ms, Miss, Mrs, or transgendered whatever, Trachtenberg,

Your actions and those of your fellow County Council members indicate that the county name needs to change to MontGomorrah County. Your constituents don't want your sexually deviant bills, so what motivates them?

I would suggest that you are a secret "transgendered person."

In my lifetime society in the United States of America has moved further and further from the high ideals of our Founding Fathers, and closer and closer to the final decadence that brought down the Roman Empire. Led in these days by the deviant whackoes of Southern California and MontGomorrah County.

Robert N. Cadwalader

Is that right? "Whackoes?" I usually write it wackos.

[Note, the guy's phone number was on his email, I deleted it out of a sad sense of pity for him. I can't explain it.]

Re-reading this ... has existed now for almost exactly three years, within a couple of weeks of that. We didn't start out as crusaders for liberal sex ed or any kind of special political agenda. We started out as a small group of parents concerned that our county was going to be taken over by people who were incapable of reasoning, people with no appreciation for facts, for science, for the power of objectivity, reasoning, compassion.

The school district had proposed a perfectly reasonable curriculum and then all hell broke loose, as these ... wackos ... ranted about the sodomites, the deviants, the sin in our hearts that needed to be suppressed, the destruction of the family as an institution, the gay agenda.

They were organizing into a legal team, a fund-raising team, a media team, a church outreach team ... officers, agendas, publicity, and they were going to try to recall the entire school board for adopting an innocuous curriculum that addressed the issue of sexual orientation in an objective and low-key way.

I don't think we would have minded if a reasonable person had suggested that this-or-that was too much, or that something-or-other might work better in a later grade, or whatever. But their reflex was to recall the entire board. Their goal was a coup, wholesale takeover of the school district.

This letter represents the kind of talk we heard that day, December 4th, 2004, that motivated us to organize, to start this web site, to hold the forums and work with journalists and address the school board again and again. This isn't a fluke, not just some nutty guy shooting his mouth off. If you don't remain vigilant, these people will take over.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Poo-Poo Joke Goes On and On

These guys are like second-graders with their "butt" and "poo-poo" jokes. Nobody else thinks it's funny, but they just won't stop giggling. Montgomery County wants to stop discrimination. The local buffoons -- actually, one news report has more than half the letters to the County Council coming from outside the county -- want to talk about butts and poo-poo and nasty people in bathrooms.

Warren Throckmorton and several rightwing blogs have a document which appears to have been produced by a group called "Advocates for Faith and Freedom," threatening to sue Montgomery County over the new nondiscrimination bill, which isn't even signed by the County Executive yet.

It starts like this:
Dear Council Members:

Advocates for Faith and Freedom is a non-profit public interest law firm. We seek to resolve disputes through education of public officials of the constitutional rights our clients. When necessary, we proceed to litigation to secure these rights. We have been contacted by Derwood Alliance Church, Women's Christian Temperance Union of Maryland, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, and other interested individuals and organizations. They have sought our assistance concerning Bill No. 23-07.


It is our understanding that the County Council for Montgomery County is presently considering adopting revisions to Chapter 27 of the Montgomery County Code. Bill No. 23-07 will add a definition for "gender identity" as follows:"

then it gives some stuff we've seen before.

I just love it that the Women's Christian Temperance Union is in on this. That is so perfect.

This is a scanned document, you can't copy and paste text from it, and I'm not going to type the whole thing in...

Skipping down to the good part:
Chapter 27 fails to provide a religious exemption in the vast majority of circumstances upon which this ordinance would apply. In addition to the lack of a religious exemption, our clients are concerned with the threat to public safety that will result when persons suffering from gender identity disorder have the legal right to choose the restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that are normally reserved to persons based upon their natural gender. Further, our clients are very concerned that this reckless bill will give sexual predators access to individuals in the most vulnerable of situations.

Well, look, they're just going to keep saying the same old potty stuff they've been saying all along.

The issue is discrimination. The bill prevents discrimination. If you support discrimination, at least come out and say it. It's not about someone seeing a penis in the ladies room, which everybody in their right mind knows isn't going to happen, it's a bill to stop discrimination.

This is a textbook wedge issue, trying to divide people when there is really nothing to disagree about. But nobody wants to have some creep in the ladies room, and so the nuts talk about that, over and over and over again, trying to convince the public that that's what this bill is about. Get over it, it won't happen. Perverts who want to hang around the ladies room can do it now, they're not waiting for a questionable legal loophole requiring them to claim to be "women on the inside".

This bill outlaws discrimination against a vulnerable minority of people. The CRC, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (yay, I'm so glad they're in this!), the FLN, PFOX, and the so-called "Advocates for Faith and Freedom" (with a picture of the Capitol dome on their letterhead) want to be able to discriminate against transgender people. They think they've found something that the television-news zombies will show on TV, so the binary minds of the viewing audience can process one simple bit of information without getting confused, and they're probably right. Butts and poo-poo and bathrooms.

The County Council, elected by the people, adopted this bill unanimously. The County Executive is going to sign it, this is the kind of thing we elected him for. In our county, we really don't want to have discrimination against transgender people. Nobody's taking it back, nobody's having second thoughts about this.

The document ends with this:

Therefore, Advocates for Faith & Freedom is prepared to initiate a lawsuit on behalf of our clients in the event that Montgomery County adopts Bill No. 23-07. Please contact me if you have any questions

The CRC has gone from being self-righteous betterthanyous to buffoons, pure and simple.

Yesterday they were saying they were going to hold a referendum, today they're going to sue. It has become a poo-poo joke that never stops being funny, nothing but bathroom humor to these clowns.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Honorary Sodomite

Okay, the fight over the nondiscrimination bill is finished. Good.

I wanted to show you some more email from PFOX's web guy Gabriel. You remember he had some rude words in his first letter to Council member Duchy Trachtenberg. She responded to him with what looked like a stock "thank you for your interest" reply, which was more than I would have done, but whatever.

So he wrote back:
You are absolutely right in saying that everyone deserves to live with dignity. So what about the dignity of a woman in the privacy of a locker room or rest room? Why are you not on fire about that? Are you one of those lesbian militants who think they have a penis so it matters not who is in the bathroom with them? Your “legislation” is revolting and sets a dangerous precedent. Believe me when I tell you that the American people can only take so much stupidity from legislators and soon we will lose our patience with imbeciles such as yourself and God help you then... though, I am sure He will turn a deaf ear to you as you are doing to Him. This IS radical legislation. Can’t you think for yourselves? If those other alleged “100 U.S. jurisdictions” allegedly “covering 37% of this country’s population” (can anyone say BULLSHIT!), ALL DECIDED TO JUMP OFF A BRIDGE TO THEIR DEATHS, WOULD YOU DO THE SAME? Keep it up. Eventually it is the likes of you who will be on the losing end and the eternal joke will be on you!!

Sincerely Yours,
Gabriel Espinosa
Furryllama Media Productions

This is ... I don't know, I'm laughing but at the same time you just know there are people out there nodding in agreement.

Would you call this a threat? [S]oon we will lose our patience with imbeciles such as yourself and God help you then...

I would.

Especially the though, I am sure He will turn a deaf ear to you as you are doing to Him part.

Then, I don't know what happened, but he wrote again. Now he has some choice words about me, it looks like, for receiving and posting his first letter.

You really are a hypocrite. You leak my first email to the sodomites and yet you neglect to leak my response to your email. It is a sad state of affairs for Montgomery County having you as a legislator. You should resign. By the way, where did you dig up those alleged figures of yours?

>> In fact, over 100 U.S. jurisdictions have already passed similar legislation, covering 37% of this country’s population. This includes 13 states plus the District of Columbia.

Sincerely Yours,
Gabriel Espinosa
Furryllama Media Productions

That last part was a quote from her email to him.

As for the easy question, "where did you dig up those alleged figures of yours?" She might have "dug them up" on a link that we have had posted here all week: the Task Force web site.

I guess he's saying she should resign because she didn't leak enough of his email to the sodomites? Is that, like, in her contract or something?

First off, Duchy didn't leak anything to me. These are public documents, anybody can get them. Second, we did have his other emails, I just didn't bother to blog them -- the air was foul enough already. Anyway, he'll feel better now that I am posting them.

But the refreshing thing is being called a "sodomite."

The first time I heard that word actually used, not as a joke or making fun of some uneducated hillbilly, was at the first organizing meeting of the Recall Group, soon to be known as Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. Another favorite word there was "deviants."

I've got to say, it looks to me like according to the dictionary the term sodomites is technically reserved for gay men, so I have to humbly decline the nomination, but I would gladly accept the title of Honorary Sodomite. I actually like the sound of that better than "straight ally," at least at the moment. It sounds like more fun.

With my best prom-queen wave, I blow a kiss and say "Thank you, Gabriel!"

Basically, it goes like this: whatever Gabriel Espinosa is, I want to be the opposite.

Maryanne Arnow Full Text

We posted pieces out of testimony and a letter by Maryanne Arnow recently, just a few paragraphs. You might find it meaningful to take a longer look, to let Maryanne tell you about her experience.

This is long, but it is a unique chance to look inside the head of somebody who is different from you, or maybe .. not different from you.

After her testimony to the County Council, Maryanne sent them a follow-up letter.
November 8th, 2007
Germantown, MD 20874

Dear Council members,

My name is Maryanne Arnow, and i am writing to you at this time to show my support for the passage of the bill 23-07.

I gave personal testimony before the council on this issue back on October 1st. I must sincerely thank you all for the time you gave me, and for the forum provided which allows me to express my views and experiences. Since then, it has come to my understanding that there has been considerable opposition to this issue, and that the council has come under a good deal of fire - both locally and nationally for any continued support of this bill. I am writing this letter to all of you in the hopes that I may garner your undivided support in passing this issue, and making additional non-discrimination protections a reality in the county in which i live and call my home.

This is an issue which deeply and personally affects me directly in every aspect of my life. As an openly transgender female that is fully living and working in the public eye as such, this issue is one of such critical importance to me that it is difficult to put into words that suffice.

I am not a gay male, nor any other sort of male in womens' clothes seeking any sort of sexual gratification via use of public facilities as such. I never was and never will be. I'm not a drag queen or female impersonator and was neither of those things for a single day in my life. I am not a sexual predator of any kind whatsoever, nor pose any threat to the safety or sanctity of public facilities for any other women or their children, as was recently implied in articles published nationally which claim that such legislation would open the door to fear of anyone that expresses his or herself outside of considered "normal" gender roles.

This is, at least for me, an utter fallacy, and hypothetical situation based on lack of real facts. This must be exposed as such for effective and intelligent decisions to be made as regards this legislation. This issue carries real consequences which directly affect my life, should no further protections be made available to me as a fellow resident of this state and county.

In the course of my normal daily life, i regularly have to use public facilities such as toilets and locker rooms. I am an active person and use my community pool, gym, and locker room facilities as i wish and need to, and fairly often. As a legitimately transgendered woman, considered very well-adjusted, and following a "clinically correct" and clinically guided course of transition, I would never even consider the possibility of placing myself or others in any situation where any kind of inappropriate exposure would, or could, ever possibly occur.

When using public facilities, all of which always have closed stalls and/or private changing areas which also lock or have full curtains, it would never cross my mind to be less than dignified or reckless, much less openly invite or consider any sort of exposure which might place my life and the sensilbilites of others in danger or question whatsoever. I am there to do one thing and one thing only. Use the facilities as every other woman does, in as normal, relaxed, and inconspicous a manner as possible, and leave.

Should i have to be forced to consider endangering my own self by using male locker and restroom facilities when i live as 'normal' a life as possible, as any other woman in this country does ? That is unreasonable at best, and puts me personally at severe and very real risk for hate crimes such as assault or rape, conflicts, humiliation, and further ridicule, as well as completely compromising any validity that I've gained by openly and successfully living as an intelligent, well-adjusted, and professional woman in public society for several years now.

I have every right and legitimate reason to use the same facilities as every other woman does. I do so in a discreet and quiet manner without exception, and present a threat to no one, in any way, shape, or form whatsoever.

Because some in opposition wish to state hypotheticals as evidence, and judge other's experiences which they cannot possibly validate from any form of direct personal experience, i am forced to write this letter to you. I must strongly enjoin you to please not bend or break under the pressure. Please do not invalidate my struggle to simply exist as a fellow resident, and enjoy the same rights and comforts that every other citizen in this entire country should be entitled to enjoy without question, fear of reprisal or hatred, discrimination, or humiliation.

In my life, gender identity and sexuality are distinctly different facets of my life as a human being. Supporters agree with the right of any individual to express gender and/or sexuality in any way that an individual sees fit for themselves, as long as it does not involve being a harmful, or detrimental person to themselves or society at large. Opponents continue to claim that sexuality and gender identity are individual and "life"style" "choices", that there is no difference between the two, and may sometimes be based on certain "moral" and "ethical" precepts, possibly originating from certain "religious" viewpoints. If one wishes to be a good person of true conscience, then taking the ultimate risk to live true to onself is not a "choice" at all, per se.

I've read by opponents that anything that falls outside of the range of "normal" and human heterosexuality is aberrrant, abhorrent, abominable, and should be admonished and discouraged at all cost if possible, as to not endanger any percieved view of what "normal" society should be like for all peoples.

Often this continued lack of personal awareness may also unfortunately take the forms of fear, hatred, violence, discrimination, bigotry, humiliation, ridicule, gossip, and frankly, outright distortion and continued misperception - from a total lack of personal or clinical experience whatsoever than what has been taught or learned as the "only" "correct" way to live this life as a human being.

How any such qualities can be equated with morality, ethics, fairness, unconditional love, understanding, or forgiveness, is beyond my ability to comprehend. I strongly disagree with such views. If any person of color, race, religion, sex, or differing gender expression, is deprived of any single human comfort or right as a result of another's view, this then inherently deprives all people of the gift of freewill, which as i understand is one of the cornerstones of many spiritual teachings, and part of the basis of the relationship between God and Mankind as a whole.

Angry, often violent, and pervasive judgementalism, which flies in the very face of all such "spiritual" teachings of fairness, freewill, forgiveness and understanding, and the very basis of an equal and free democratic society for all peoples, must not continue to stand as acceptable behaviors by any standard of true kindness or decency that i am aware of.

Separation of church and state was a founding principle of this country for good reason. The Founders and Framers had already once experienced the "fairness" of a state ruled by the church, and rejected and opposed it with their own lives to make this nation possible.

I must openly oppose such unfairness, ignorance, and hatefully misguided hypocrisy. Change must occur through intelligent and non-violent dialogue. I must excercise the expression of my own God-given freewill, and with the help of any person that also has a willingness and any ability to help enact any form of positive change and expanded awareness for others.

Please do not bend under pressure of any that wish to make such decisions without having ever met or talked with someone like myself that can lend true validity of actual personal experience, as opposed to percieved experience of others that cannot and will not see any view but that which encourages the continued deprivation of equal rights for anyone, for any reason whatsoever.

I will do my best to give personal experiences as valid referential material, so that others may have a better understanding of the issue from the people like myself, that are affected most by this issue. I struggle daily with continued misperceptions and stereotypical views which plague me and hurt me deeply, every day of my life in open society.

Between the ages of 4 and 5, i became acutely aware of an overwhelming and soul-searing level of real and very conscious mental and emotional anguish due to apparent lack of percieved congruence between my physical self and my mental and emotional self. This would be considered as years before any such "lifestyle choice" or "sexuality" could possibly apply. I had no sisters and was not encouraged in this nor was i ever forced to do anything which would have placed this compulsion so deep within me.

I do not personally believe that this is a mistake or an aberration of nature. I do not believe that God makes mistakes and that this was, at least for me, one of the great blessings of my life, even for all of the pain and hardship involved in dealing with such an issue for all of my life. I was given this unique perspective and the innate ability to deeply understand both sexes, although one - actually being female - is and always was much more naturally predominant for me. I now think of this as one of the potentially great gifts in my life, as i am now able to express my real internal nature as much more female in "gender identity", than i was ever any sort of "real" male at all, in so many ways.

As an adult, i was finally overwhelmed with the weight of what i had carried for so long that it literally broke me down. As a result, I had to decide to risk giving up my marriage, my home, my entire family on both sides of my marriage, professional standing, and almost any social capital that i had gained thus far as a male person. I was entirely willing to give up any sense of "male privilege" in this society altogether. I was never truly happy in my entire life in the male gender. As an open, loving, highly intelligent, and expressive child i suffered severe physical, mental, and emotional abuse for many years growing up, for simply being "different", and never able to fit into any "typical" "male" mold whatsoever.

I essentially learned to repress truthfulness in every form of my natural self-expression, never rewarded for real honesty with nothing but fear and ridicule, harm and humiliation. Every day of my life i consciously and methodically hid all of my natural self-expressions so that no one would ever detect i was actually a girl always, somewhere deep inside where they could never really see me. I managed to become a more functional "male" persona by my twenties, but still deeply struggled my whole life thus far, and barely ever felt a true sense of happiness within or about myself.

Why would i now, give up everything in my life ? My marriage of more than 10 years to my best friend and soulmate - a home and profession which i deeply love. Why would i consciously re-invite all of the ridicule and scorn of my childhood again as an adult - and all for nothing more than "sexual kicks" of some kind ? I think not. People ask me why i would want to be something i am not, nor was really meant to be. I am not being someone that i am not. I simply stopped editing everything i do and say, and finally for once, am being true to my self, everyone else in my life, and my own conscience of self.

I am the same person i always was, except now more openly visible and completely vulnerable to the entire world, than ever before in this life except as a very young child. Once again, targeted for constant misunderstanding, and probably more "at-risk" than all of the other groups of opposition put together. I must take my life in my hands every time i step foot out of my own front door, for the reality that people hate, ridicule, talk and gossip about, and denigrate me in every way possible - and for no other good reason than being "different". I am now openly straightforward, and truer in total self-expression than i have ever been before. This simply should no longer stand as any form of acceptable ethical or "moral" behavioral standard, no matter what belief system, science, theology, or philosophy it may be rooted in.

Your continued support for this issue is greatly appreciated. Thank you once again for your time and most gracious consideration. If you have supported such legislation which encourages tolerance, and extends equal rights protections to all citizens, i deeply thank you and tell that this is more sincerely appreciated than you might possibly know. If you have not supported such legislations, I can only ask and encourage you to please take the time to objectively study the issue from all sides.

Most Sincerely and Respectfully Yours,

I am,

Maryanne A. Arnow

There's a lot to read there, a lot to think about. I'm not going to try to add anything.

Nondiscrimination Bill Passes Unanimously

The word is just in: the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to adopt the new bill barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

I want to point out what hasn't been said loudly enough, that we can attribute the success of this bill to our great friend Dr. Dana Beyer, whose unstoppable cheerfulness, sincerity, intelligence, and personal warmth made it simply impossible for any Council member to believe a word of the ugliness that was spewed before them. As far as I'm concerned, this is Dana's day.

Congratulations to the Council for holding tightly to the principles that got them elected in the first place. We are lucky to live in a place like this, where our leaders look to their hearts and good sense, and are not distracted by potty talk from the fringes.

Gender Identity Is In the Headlines

Today the Montgomery County Council will vote on a bill outlawing discrimination based on gender identity. All the news reports seem to indicate that it will pass.

Even though the rightwing noise machine was turned up full volume, with newsletters coming from everywhere urging the betterthanyous to email and phone the Council, rumors from inside the County building indicate that at least some of the Council members are receiving predominantly strongly supportive emails and phone calls. We have been asking our readers to contact the Council, knowing it's hard to get people motivated to do something supportive -- and apparently people have been making those calls and sending those emails. I have a couple of quotes I'm dying to share with you, but I'm going to let the vote happen, let the CRC try to get their inevitable tantrum on television, and then we'll settle back to more interesting and fun things. (Hint: I think somebody from PFOX called me a "sodomite.")

It is interesting to see how the topic of gender identity has come front-and-center over the past months, as the radicals realize they can't win the fight over sexual orientation; the culture has shifted, that's all there is to it, but they can still exhale their poisonous stinking breath over the world of people who fail to conform to standard gender stereotypes. Time magazine has a nice article online right now about gender identity and some of the issues, especially regarding young people. They jump into it with a shocker:
It's a parent's nightmare dilemma: experts say there's a fifty-fifty chance your child will attempt suicide before age 20. Should you opt for an experimental medical treatment that might prevent it? Parents of children whom experts call gender variant are faced with just that question. If a child doesn't identify with his or her biological sex, the onset of puberty, says Laura Amato, a youth-suicide counselor who runs an online transgender support group, can make that child feel like "part of a real-life horror story ... because the wrong parts are changing."

No reliable data exist on how many U.S. children are gender variant, although the National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that as many as 3 million American adults are. But studies suggest that gender-variant adolescents are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other teens. Now, increasingly, hormone treatments that delay physical maturity are being seen as a lifesaving alternative for gender-variant kids, but the remedy is also generating medical and ethical questions about interfering with the natural development process. The treatment--a series of injections to interrupt the brain cascade that launches puberty by regulating gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)--has not yet been submitted for FDA approval for gender-variant children. But it is available from international physicians and some U.S. doctors prescribing off-label. In February the first U.S. clinic for gender-variant children opened at Children's Hospital Boston. Throughout the process of delaying puberty with hormone blockers, the clinic offers regular checkups with a gender specialist. Families that have opted for the shots are grateful. "We don't know what's going to happen next," admits an East Coast lawyer whose 13-year-old--born a girl and living as a boy--has been on blockers for three years under the care of a private doctor. "But we know that he's happy." The Gender Conundrum

I can't understand why the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and other groups are so upset about this. In the MoCo sex-ed curriculum there is a vignette about a student with male physical apparatus and a female mind: Portia. Oh, the CRC hates that vignette! It just drives them up the wall. It's like they think the boy should live his whole life a big fake because ... because what? Because CRC officers can't understand why anybody would be different from them? Because they understand God's true plan, and he didn't intend for people with penises to be women? Because all of us should be happy to do whatever a social norm expects us to do?

I'm skipping a few paragraphs -- you'll need to follow the link and read the story yourself.
[Dr. Norman] Spack subjects his patients to a lengthy evaluation process before recommending hormone therapy. Kids undergo a battery of interview-based psychological tests to see if they meet the medically established criteria for gender-identity disorder. The clothing they wear, the way they style their hair and the type of toys they play with are assessed. Family members, teachers and primary-care doctors are consulted. After weighing all the evidence, an interdisciplinary team of doctors and psychologists determines the severity of the gender variation and whether to recommend the child for hormone blockers. But the final decision rests with the parents. To help inform families confronted with such choices in the future, the Boston team plans to begin clinical trials that will gauge the long-term effects of blocking the maturation hormones. "We don't claim to have all the answers," says Spack. "But right now, people are suffering because of those who won't ask the questions." There are many mysteries about the transgendered. This could clear up one of them.

It fascinates me that the "problem" for transgender people is actually a social one. It is a disjunction between how they feel and how other people see them. People think they're talking to a boy, they respond with boy-things for you, they expect boy-like answers from you, but inside you are something incredibly different from that. As far as I can tell, there's nothing especially stressful in feeling like one gender or the other, except in interacting with other people. And it's impossible to imagine what that's like for somebody, like imagining what the color red looks like to them, you can never know. They can tell you, but they can't know what it's like not to feel that way. It's just experience, subjective feeling, purely private and impossible to communicate. I wonder what Wittgenstein would say about this? I think it would have stumped him.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The County Council Votes Tomorrow

As we have discussed this gender identity nondiscrimination bill and the shenanigans that have surrounded it, one question comes up that has not been well answered. Some people ask the question, Do transgender people in Montgomery County actually suffer discrimination? I guess it's a fair enough question -- it doesn't seem to me to be something there is any doubt about, but somebody might legitimately ask.

Yesterday's Post had a little article on page C-5 that featured a picture of a local woman who has had troubles with discrimination. The caption on the photo said:
Maryanne Arnow of Germantown, a transgender woman, says she's had a hard time finding restaurant work since she started her transition four years ago. Transgender Bill May Be Close to Passing

The article itself is okay, it does look like the bill will pass, despite the clamor of the noise machine. But that caption hardly does justice to the dilemma of Maryanne Arnow, who, it sounds like, is finding it hard to find a job, which is an experience any of us might know.

Ms. Arnow spoke to the County Council a couple of weeks ago, and I was there. I think her statement carries enough information to paint a picture of what the actual issue is here. It's a little long to reproduce here, but let me show you some of it:
... I am a native resident of the State of Maryland, and have lived in Montgomery County for the last 37 years. I consider this State and this County to be my home, and I deeply love my home. I have been working as a professional Chef for more than 15 years. I have had considerable formal and professional training. By my peers, and all of my clients that have ever known me, I am considered to possess much skill, creativity, and genuine passion for my work.

Since beginning change of gender identity almost 4 years ago, things have been much more challenging in the professional world. Even with considerable background, skills, expertise, and superior qualifications, I’ve had a great deal more difficulty in finding work, obtaining new clientele, and staying connected with foodservice industry segments which were previously open to me without question or problem.

I have found it difficult to obtain work in more than a dozen different establishments, some located right here in Montgomery County, that I have applied for various positions within the just the last 2 to 3 years.

I have been told repeatedly by managers, and principals of companies that were obviously in position to hire at times I have been applied, that I had a great resume, and very good qualifications. I have always been pleasant, very professional, well-spoken and well-mannered, and very comfortable with myself.

All that being said as of this time, I’ve been unable to obtain employment from a single one of them that I had spoken with previously. Some wouldn’t take or return my calls or be available upon choosing to follow up. I’ve been told positions were filled, yet told by other staffers that positions were available, and yet I have not been called. I have been turned down by several potential personal Chef clients as well, upon learning that I have changed my gender identity. This is very painful and difficult, especially in light of my talents and my great desire to share those talents with others...

She is somewhat modest about her accomplishments here. Ms. Arnow doesn't just cook, she calls herself a "hardcore classically-trained Professional Chef;" she received a degree with honors from a top-dollar culinary school, even after she had already been considered as a skilled professional chef by the clients she worked for, as well as fellow professionals.

This is a person that any restaurant should be eager to hire. When she was a he, no problem, work was plentiful. The only thing that changed was her expression of gender identity.

Ms. Arnow wrote a follow-up letter to the Council, which has a lot of thoughts that can help understand her life situation. For instance, the CRC types would like to paint transgender people as some kind of moral degenerates. Here's what Ms. Arnow says about herself:
I am not a gay male, nor any other sort of male in womens' clothes seeking any sort of sexual gratification via use of public facilities as such. I never was and never will be. I'm not a drag queen or female impersonator and was neither of those things for a single day in my life. I am not a sexual predator of any kind whatsoever, nor pose any threat to the safety or sanctity of public facilities for any other women or their children, as was recently implied in articles published nationally which claim that such legislation would open the door to fear of anyone that expresses his or herself outside of considered "normal" gender roles.

The CRC and their partners in this would like you to think of people like Maryanne Arnow as drooling perverts, just dying to get into the ladies room so they can leer at the peeing ladies. That picture is so far off the mark it is ridiculous, except for the fact that some people take it seriously.

I'll quote a few more words from her letter to the County Council.
Between the ages of 4 and 5, i became acutely aware of an overwhelming and soul-searing level of real and very conscious mental and emotional anguish due to apparent lack of percieved congruence between my physical self and my mental and emotional self. This would be considered as years before any such "lifestyle choice" or "sexuality" could possibly apply. I had no sisters and was not encouraged in this nor was i ever forced to do anything which would have placed this compulsion so deep within me.

I do not personally believe that this is a mistake or an aberration of nature. I do not believe that God makes mistakes and that this was, at least for me, one of the great blessings of my life, even for all of the pain and hardship involved in dealing with such an issue for all of my life. I was given this unique perspective and the innate ability to deeply understand both sexes, although one - actually being female - is and always was much more naturally predominant for me. I now think of this as one of the potentially great gifts in my life, as i am now able to express my real internal nature as much more female in "gender identity", than i was ever any sort of "real" male at all, in so many ways.

As an adult, i was finally overwhelmed with the weight of what i had carried for so long that it literally broke me down. As a result, I had to decide to risk giving up my marriage, my home, my entire family on both sides of my marriage, professional standing, and almost any social capital that i had gained thus far as a male person. I was entirely willing to give up any sense of "male privilege" in this society altogether. I was never truly happy in my entire life in the male gender. As an open, loving, highly intelligent, and expressive child i suffered severe physical, mental, and emotional abuse for many years growing up, for simply being "different", and never able to fit into any "typical" "male" mold whatsoever.

I essentially learned to repress truthfulness in every form of my natural self-expression, never rewarded for real honesty with nothing but fear and ridicule, harm and humiliation. Every day of my life i consciously and methodically hid all of my natural self-expressions so that no one would ever detect i was actually a girl always, somewhere deep inside where they could never really see me. I managed to become a more functional "male" persona by my twenties, but still deeply struggled my whole life thus far, and barely ever felt a true sense of happiness within or about myself.

It is not obvious to me why the CRC, the Family Leader Network, PFOX, and the Family Blah Blah groups find it so important to discriminate against a person like this. It is a confusing and painful situation, no doubt -- can you imagine being four or five years old and trying to figure out what is wrong with this picture? But why would they lobby so hard, write so many emails, walk around with signs, to preserve the right to discriminate against someone in that situation?

We get asked sometimes by reporters, students, interviewers of various sorts, to comment on the motives of the pro-discrimination groups, and it's a question you just have to laugh at, you can't answer it. I really -- really -- don't know what would make somebody take a Saturday away from their family to stand out by the street holding a sign to protect their right to discriminate against a group of people who have never hurt them, a group of people who have done nothing beyond being dealt an unusual assignment in this world by God and nature. Tomorrow the County Council will vote. We elected them to stand up for good principles, let's hope they are able to do that in the face of the crazy wind that blows through our neighborhoods.

One more time, Maryanne Arnow's comment to the Council:
I do not personally believe that this is a mistake or an aberration of nature. I do not believe that God makes mistakes and that this was, at least for me, one of the great blessings of my life, even for all of the pain and hardship involved in dealing with such an issue for all of my life.

I want to see the noise-makers refute that.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Salience, and Sheep

The thermometer on the front porch said it was forty one degrees when I walked the dog this morning, but it felt colder than that to me. There was no frost, but ... maybe it's because there's a little bit of a breeze, which always makes it feel chillier. I raked last weekend, so of course, this week all the leaves relaxed their hugs on their favorite fair-weather branches, and descended to their favorite yard: mine. You know where I grew up there was nothing like this, the stickers don't fall off a cactus in the fall, and it doesn't change color. We had two seasons in Phoenix, hot and not-as-hot. Occasionally you'd see a thin layer of ice on the irrigation, not often. When people say they "love the seasons," I assume they grew up Out East here. I like it, but it doesn't stir the life-force in me or anything.

So when I got up this morning of course the first thing I did, after walking the dog, turning on the coffee-maker, and dialing in WPFW, was to fire up the computer and see what's on the blogs. And the first thing I looked at linked to this story:
WASHINGTON - A top intelligence official says it is time people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, a deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguards people's private communications and financial information.

Kerr's comments come as Congress is taking a second look at the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act. Definition changing for people's privacy

It's probably not a big story, I haven't gotten to the newspaper yet, but I'm guessing The Post doesn't have it. It's not really a big story because everybody already knows about this.

The government wants to manage your privacy.

Does that sound okay to you?

The theory is that if the government knew everything that was going on, they could prevent terrorism. If they knew what everybody was doing, what everybody was talking about, then all they'd have to do is, when two guys are saying they're going to hijack a plane and bomb some buildings or whatever, they'd go to their houses and arrest them or at least put them under surveillance. That sounds fine, catching terrorists, I'm against terrorists and so are you.

I am going to talk about salience.

Imagine the government got its way and the omnipresent recording devices picked up two guys planning to rob a bank. Just two ordinary nonterrorist bad guys who know where a bunch of money is and want to take it for themselves. You'd want the government to interrupt that, wouldn't you? How could they not? Or if somebody was planning a murder -- the government couldn't just sit back and let somebody kill somebody, just because it wasn't officially terrorism, could they?

Of course not.

Imagine a married guy went to a motel room with a prostitute. Make it better, imagine a preacher went to a motel room with a gay prostitute, and they snorted meth and had wild gay monkey sex. How could the government ignore that? They should at least contact the preacher's wife -- it'd be a crime not to try to save their marriage.

You can see that, having opened the door for catching terrorists, you've opened the door for everything else, too.

But you won't hear this guy sitting in front of a Congressional committee remarking that they'd better mind their p's and q's, because the government would have to tell their spouses if they had a romantic dinner with that cute intern.

The word salience is a good one. Here's a nice online dictionary definition:
adj 1: having a quality that thrusts itself into attention; "an
outstanding fact of our time is that nations poisoned
by anti semitism proved less fortunate in regard to
their own freedom"; "a new theory is the most
prominent feature of the book"; "salient traits"; "a
spectacular rise in prices"; "a striking thing about
Picadilly Circus is the statue of Eros in the center";
"a striking resemblance between parent and child"
[syn: outstanding, prominent, spectacular, striking]
2: (of angles) pointing outward at an angle of less than 180
degrees [ant: re-entrant]
3: (heraldry) represented as leaping (rampant but leaning
forward) [syn: salient]
n : (military) the part of the line of battle that projects
closest to the enemy

Having a quality that thrusts itself into attention. You gotta admit, that is an interesting word.

Look how it works here. The government guys come in and say, "Terrorists are everywhere, and we have to protect ourselves from them. Because we don't know who the terrorists are, we have to keep track of everyone." By itself, that almost makes sense. Well, the first sentence is bull-oney, but it is widely believed, and politicians have defined their own norms and behaviors in such a way that they are forced to pretend it is true. But if terrorists are everywhere, you have to watch out for them.

So the stern, white-haired men of Capitol Hill listen to the testimony, nodding gravely, and they vote and next thing you know the government is collecting all our personal information and videotaping us wherever we go.

This happens because of the salience of terrorism. Terrorism has a way of "thrusting itself into attention," and it is possible to have an entire conversation on the topic without noting any of the less salient facts about it. Like, you won't hear it mentioned that the vast majority of terrorist incidents in the US are the acts of rightwing extremists. You won't hear anybody mention the fact that there actually isn't very much terrorism here, unless it's somebody trying to claim credit for eliminating it -- the actual probability of any American being the victim of a terrorist attack is incredibly small, even given that there was a relatively large number of victims in two attacks in 2001.

Because terrorism is so ugly, so violent, so unpredictable, people think about it more than it deserves: it is salient, it thrusts itself on your attention. People think it makes sense to go to extreme lengths to protect ourselves from terrorism. Never mind that lots of things are more deadly: cancer, heart disease, car accidents -- think about this, more Americans have been killed in the Iraq war than were killed in 9/11. We aren't obsessed with terrorism because of its expected utility (say, the probability of an event times the cost if it occurs), we are obsessed with it because of its salience.

So these lawmakers pass laws handing our privacy over to the government because they're thinking about terrorism. Nobody sits in front of the committee and reminds them that people do other things that might not be on everybody's list of recommended practices. People cuss, they spit on the sidewalk, they turn and watch a pretty woman walk by ... Do we want the government to manage that information, too? It wouldn't be hard to mail you a ticket when you spit on the sidewalk, I'm sure that technology exists. What if the pretty woman stops and looks back, and a conversation is struck up between two married strangers? And what if this emotionally-charged couple strolls arm in arm through the shadowy canyons of a big city, sharing their most intimate feelings? Does the government need to do something about that?

The chances that an illicit romance catches fire are immensely greater than the threat that any two people who meet on the street are planning a terrorist attack. Yet one gives up their privacy the same as the other. And it seems impossible to me that the government could really permit adultery that it knows about. After all, marriage is our greatest institution, it would be criminal to let one crumble when you could prevent it.

But illicit romance will not be the topic of discussions in Congress about privacy. They won't talk about people buying contraband on the street, the people who roll through stop signs at a quiet intersection, teenagers who have fuzzy dice on their mirrors, but all those things will be sacrificed when the government manages our privacy. We act like it's just our phone calls and email, but, listen, terrorists already don't use phones and email to plot their stuff. Dime-bag drug dealers know better than that, you can be sure international terrorists do, too. I read once that some of the 9/11 terrorists used to sit out in their car, parked on the street, and talk a lot. That's where you'd catch them. You have to be able to listen to private conversations, and observe people's movements when they think they're alone.

There are little things we do during the day that break some rule or another. I don't know how you live without doing that. And a government that knows all will know about those things. But because they are not salient as the decisions are being made, because the Congressmen only talk about terrorism, they can accidentally give away the whole Bill of Rights.

It is a most interesting fact about a democracy like ours that sometimes bad guys get away. It's part of how the system works. Fascinating, but that's just how it has to be. You might think somebody broke a law, but you have to go into a courtroom and prove it to a bunch of ordinary Joe Schmoes, and if they don't buy it the bad guy goes free. Even if the government knows for sure he did it, sometimes he's going to escape without being accountable. That's the paradox of freedom. The law, from Day One, tells not only what the citizens can't do, but what the government can't do to the citizens. It definitely means that some criminals get away with it, but it also reduces the number of good people who are convicted falsely, and it guarantees us all freedom from government intrusion into our private lives.

By making terrorism salient and ignoring the real but less salient day-to-day implications of these new privacy laws, Congress and the President are making irrational decisions that we will regret for decades.

But of course that's not what I'm thinking about this beautiful morning. I'm thinking about our poor County Council downtown, considering this gender identity nondiscrimination law, which they'll vote on Tuesday.

My own opinion on the law first, just to get past that. I understand the arguments of those who think that particular groups of citiens should somehow earn the respect of their community, so that discrimination against them goes away on its own without government attention. Man, I wish that would happen. I think there can be some unintended backlash from nondiscrimination laws that is not nice, and not necessarily immediate, some long-term effects. And I can even understand the queasiness and worry that some people have about people who change their gender; but again, I think that's because it doesn't happen very often, and people just don't have experience with it. My own opinion, after about a million years of living on the surface of this planet, is that some people really do need to have somebody watch out for them, people really do need to be required to treat them fairly, even if they don't want to. And that includes transgender people, who are mistreated probably more than anybody.

Having said that, the most important thing is that the community makes decisions like this intelligently. There are going to be many points of view in our county, people who do and don't have an opinion about nondiscrimination laws, people who have positive, negative, and neutral opinions about ambiguous gender identities, and these people need to talk among themselves and decide whether they think it is worthwhile to pass a new law that prevents discrimination against people who have nonstandard gender identities.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have decided this will be their new issue, and they have applied their usual approach to it.

They know that most people in our county don't mind if "gender identity" is added to the list of things that you can't discriminate against, most of us feel it's okay to give persecuted people a fair break. But most of us also don't want to have men going into the ladies room, leering at urinating women.

So the CRC changed the subject, and pretended that this law is about that.

You see them out there marching with their signs -- none of the signs address the topic of discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The signs are about the "danger" of men going into the ladies room, as if the only reason guys don't go into ladies rooms now is that there isn't a law against discriminating against transgender people.

Discrimination against transgender people isn't salient. It's hard to picture it, because there aren't very many of them it's hard to imagine that it happens very much, it just doesn't thrust itself into attention. But the image of perverted guys peeking at innocent ladies in the shower does thrust itself into attention. We've seen a gazillion movies with perverted guys sneaking up on women. We go to a lot of trouble to keep the sexes separate when we use the toilet, and a guy in the ladies room would violate a boatload of social norms. The image is salient, and one thing psychologists can tell you is that people overestimate the probabilities of salient events and their consequences.

The law that is proposed adds a new category of people to the list that already exists, and in reality, there will be almost no effect. The current list says you can't discriminate on the basis of age, race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, handicap, national origin, or marital status. So they add "gender identity." Who's going to notice? Maybe it will help a couple of people, but basically this kind of law gets passed every day. It's straightforward humdrum legal stuff, lots of communities have included this wording and nothing happened except that some people were able to insist on getting served at a restaurant or being hired on the basis of their qualifications for the job.

That humdrum stuff will never be salient to anybody. But perverted men lurking in the ladies room, hey, people will pay good money to see a movie about that.

There is a problem with relying on salience. Salient things "thrust themselves" on your attention, which is the opposite of you directing your attention toward important things. It means your attention is being controlled by some external event. You look at the world around you, there are a million things there. Somebody points out something to you, you look at it, you are focused on one thing out of a million. I say "Look at that cat," and you think about the cat. You don't think about the tree, you don't philosophize about my motives, you look at the cat and think about it. Maybe the cat is the most interesting or important thing in the environment at that moment, and maybe it's not. Maybe I am saying "Look at that cat" so I can pick your pocket. Maybe while you're looking at the cat you miss the beautiful and unusual blue hue of the autumn morning sky. When you focus on one thing you miss the rest of it.

When you let other people control your attention you are helpless. To think intelligently you have to look outside the frame of reference, on your own incentive, or you are a sheep to be herded by whoever holds the staff that you yourself have given them. If you just think about the things you're told to think about, you are nothing, really, in the existentialist sense. You are simply a malleable object that can used by someone else to advance a goal you yourself may be unaware of.

I have built a research paradigm on the importance of people sharing information and information-processing techniques, working together to expand their knowledge and solve problems. We are not islands, but you don't just turn your mind over to somebody else. If somebody says, "This law is about men going into ladies rooms," you might want to take that possibility into account. You should consider whether that will actually happen, whether men really will go into ladies rooms. If you're interested, you might look at the law, but you don't even have to do that. Just use your head. Are guys going to go into the ladies room? Of course not. You don't just accept it because somebody said it.

Some people are able to put things in perspective, and some, it seems, are not. Some people seem to "think" by finding out what their authorities, or their friends, or whatever, think and then thinking that. No rational person, looking that this bill in our county, would think, on their own, about men lurking in the ladies room. Well, you might ask, how does this bill affect that, but nobody would think this bill would actually cause men to hang around the ladies room. Somebody at the CRC realized this could be a salient ploy to support discrimination against transgender people, given that there really is no rational excuse for it, and so they pretended that this was going to happen, that the bill was about men going into ladies rooms, and once they said that, their whole community jumped in, sheeplike, acting as if it were really a serious concern that men would lurk in ladies rooms. All they needed was the salient image, and there they went, baa-ing their ridiculous assertion over and over again.

By changing the subject, the CRC was able to create the impression that there is a controversy about being fair to people. This morning's Washington Post has several articles about the situation. There was a big email campaign, ads on the rightwing radio shows, I understand the County Council got a lot of email from people, almost all of it about men lurking in ladies rooms, a little bit about the actual topic of the bill, which is gender identity nondiscrimination.

I am not so gullible as to think that clear thinking will ever catch on in a big way. I don't expect the world to turn into geniuses all of a sudden, and if they did I'd be left behind. There is some variation in the ability of people to take perspectives, and there is also some ability to learn perspective-taking, to learn how to think outside the given frame. Our culture, I'm afraid, has become very narrow about accepting what we are told, uncritically. I don't know how to reverse this trend, except that one by one people establish a sense of independence, of objectivity, until a critical mass is achieved and we can actually show public appreciation for our independent thinkers. It has to start with you. Take responsibiility for your own beliefs. Disagree with your friends, with your authorities. You don't even have to do it out loud, but stop, think about things a little bit, listen to your own heart and decide how you really feel. Because otherwise this whole thing goes downhill fast.

Well, look, here I've downed a whole pot of coffee, and it's noon already. The dog is sleeping in front of the heating vent, and WPFW has gone on to the next show, which seems to be big-band music that doesn't really do anything for me. Time to start ticking items off the honey-do list.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Modesty Versus Decency: The Post Falls Down

Unbelievably sloppy reporting from the Washington Post yesterday. You know last weekend the CRC held a kind of protest at the Germantown Indoor Swim Center. We had a couple of people who got there when it started and left when it ended. They counted heads, took pictures (which we posted here), and even took notes about what they saw. No press showed up, it was pretty much a non-event, but it's our job to keep an eye on these people.

We counted seventeen people there.

The Post didn't go, but they talked to a lady who said she helped organize the non-event, and published what she said about it.
The County Council's plan to vote Tuesday on legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity has continued to spark protest. Susan Jamison, a parent and lawyer from Poolesville, organized a demonstration at the county pool in Germantown that Jamison said attracted about 40 people. The group passed out hundreds of fliers to warn residents of the consequences of the bill.

Jamison, who has been battling the county's sex education curriculum, is concerned that the legislation will mean that her 10-year-old daughter would be forced to change in a locker room next to a transgender female.

"People don't understand the problem. There will be no decency here," she said. "If you really want separate facilities for transgenders, spend the money to build them, but don't put boys with male genitals in with our naked daughters."

Jamison said she is considering a lawsuit if the council approves the measure because of substantive changes made to the bill after the public hearing. Protest Continues Against Transgender Bias Bill

Listen, they didn't [pass] out hundreds of fliers to warn residents of the consequences of the bill, they handed out misleading fliers intended to alarm people about a nonexistent danger. This is pure biased reporting; out of nearly a million people in this county, seventeen feel strongly that it is important to keep discrimination on the basis of gender identity legal, and The Post quotes them as authorities, warning the reading public about dangerous consequences of a Council vote.

That lady's name might have sounded familiar to you. Susan Jamison was behind the wonderful letter-writing campaign a couple of years ago, where she sent letters to families of MCPS students, so all they'd have to do is check a box and put the card back into the mail, to complain to MCPS about the new curriculum. Naturally, the great majority of the letters that were returned to the school district had the negative message crossed out, replaced by text supporting the curriculum. It was a nice, spontaneous response by the public.

You might also have seen Susan Jamison's name on a notorious Nazi web site, where Nazi leader Bill White wrote about how he was helping her group, Parents Against X-rated [and R-Rated] Books in Montgomery County Public Schools. That disgusting web site recently experienced a well-publicized denial-of-service attack and is currently not in very good shape, so you can't read the stuff at the source, but I found this particular web page on the WayBack Machine, an archive of old web pages.

The Washington Post took this lady's word without checking anything. If you went there and counted heads, they had seventeen people, if you read about it in The Post there were forty, because that's what she told them.

That's a two hundred thirty five percent error. Not what you'd call accurate reporting.

I should mention that one of these reporters attended the most recent CRC public meeting as a participant, talking about his experiences with the school district, and not publishing any article about the meeting.
The office of council member George Leventhal (D-At Large), who chairs the health committee, has received a mixed response from residents in e-mails. Answering Jamison's concerns, Leventhal said in an e-mail that the bill was changed to clarify that "public accommodations must be appropriate for the gender that is 'publicly and exclusively expressed or asserted.'"

Leventhal added that he could not, "absolutely put to rest your concern that girls might find themselves in a locker room or dressing room in the presence of a person who expresses or asserts herself as a woman but who still has male genitals, but based on my own sense of the prevalence of that condition in the population, I think the likelihood of that occurring is remote. For the same reason, I do not think it would be cost-effective to build a third category of restroom, dressing room or locker room facilities."

According to the bill's sponsor, council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large), 13 states and the District have laws that make it illegal to discriminate against transgendered individuals. Trachtenberg said in a news release that the measure continues to have strong support on the council. The county, she said, "has historically taken the lead in protecting its most vulnerable citizens."

The Post has taken the CRC's bogus assertions and treated them seriously, even though nobody else will.

This whole men-in-the-ladies-room idea is so wacky, I can't believe they even have the nerve to stand up and say it, and it is even more unbelievable to see a usually-respectable paper like the Washington Post promote the idea.

Let's talk about the CRC's worst nightmare scenarios. First, think about an actual transgender person, formerly a man now a woman, fully transitioned after surgery and the whole nine yards, going into the ladies room at a public place. This is just a lady using the ladies room, whether you like it or not. Sorry, this happens now, this is how it's supposed to work.

Another scenario. A transgender person who has not had surgery belongs to a gym, and uses the ladies shower room. This is actually probably the one that scares them the most. It seems that it is possible, in that case, that a lady would see a penis. Kids don't go to the gym, so no kids would see a penis, and I really don't think this would happen at, say, a public pool -- the "kid" part is really just saying the sky is falling. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I have to wonder ... what is so dangerous about seeing a penis? I mean, the chances of this happening are one in a gazillion, you've never heard of this happening and neither have I. What's the big problem? The alternative is to have somebody dressed as a woman using the men's room, which sounds pretty dangerous to me.

Last scenario. A perverted heterosexual dude in men's clothing goes into the ladies room leering at the ladies in the stalls, or let's make it better, goes into the ladies shower at the gym and leers at the naked ladies showering. I have an idea: kick him out of there. This bill does not make that legal.

OK, one more. A perverted heterosexual dude dresses up like a woman so he can go into the ladies room and see women peeing.

Do we need to talk about that? At some point, reality needs to raise its ugly head, somebody needs to say, nobody's actually going to do that. And anyway, a guy could do that now, who'd know? But nobody ever does it.

I think only the second scenario has any credibility at all as an issue, a transgender woman with male genitalia in a ladies shower room. It could happen that a lady would see a penis and be shocked. It's a poorly kept secret that lots of us have them, under our clothes ... but somebody might actually be surprised. Now let me point out that a real transgender person would almost certainly be entirely embarrassed to have their male genitals exposed to a roomful of women -- this isn't going to happen in reality. That's a fact that the CRC prefers to ignore.

So let's say, on the one hand, there is a tiny -- I'll bet less than one in a hundred million chance -- that any particular woman showering at a gym is going to unexpectedly see a penis.

On the other hand, people who do not conform to gender stereotypes are discriminated against in employment, they are refused service in restaurants, taxis won't stop for them. Not that they cause any harm, if they were doing something wrong then fine, the same rules apply to them as the rest of us. But as it is, the same rules don't apply, because they get hassled all the time.

To the CRC, the fact that a person is discriminated against as they try to do the things that everybody needs to do is nothing, compared to the severity of the one-in-a-gazillion chance that a lady will see a penis.

This is a trade-off between modesty and decency, where the CRC believes that it is better to treat people indecently, to malign them and discriminate against them, than to offend a hypothetical lady's sense of modesty.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New Effort by the CRC

Interesting, the CRC's newsletter this week is really trying to ratchet up the volume on the gender identity nondiscrimination bill.

I'm not sure what they have against it. They don't seem to mind that you can't fire somebody because of their religion, or that Presbyterians use the same bathrooms as Baptists, but somebody with an unusual personal experience about who they are deserves to be the target of discrimination.

A couple of people have questioned why we would get involved in this issue, the county's consideration of a bill that would protect transgender people from certain kinds of discrimination. After all, we started out as an education advocacy group. Let me explain. started back in late 2004, when the group started to organize and became Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. A tiny handful of people were able to get the attention of the press, especially, in those days, Fox News and the Washington Times, besides local talk radio (Chris Core in particular), and they were able to create the appearance of a controversy in Montgomery County about the sex-ed curriculum. There wasn't one, really, everybody here understood and accepted the classes as they were, except for these few nuts.

This was right after the 2004 elections, and "those people" felt they had a mandate, if you remember. Well, they didn't have any mandate in Montgomery County, but somebody had to stand up and tell them that.

That was us.

Over the years, they tried to stop the sex-ed curriculum and failed at everything they tried except for one drive-by lawsuit, where they were able to get a judge to hastily eyeball their evidence and rule that there might be a reason to think the "old new" curriculum might violate some law. Other than that, every single thing has backfired on them or just plain failed, partly because we were here pointing out the lies and bull-oney. I would say "keeping them honest," except they're beyond that.

Now the same group of weirdos has changed their focus. They have decided it will be the end of the world if Montgomery County stops discriminating against people who have an unusual gender identity, guys who are feminine or women who are masculine, guys who are too masculine or women who are too feminine, or whatever. To back this up, they have made up a story about how not-discriminating will result in perverted men hanging around ladies rooms peeking at women and children on toilets. Lots of places have this kind of law, and that has never happened, but reality has never dampened their spirits. Their story assumes that 1. guys want to see women peeing, 2. your run-of-the-mill bathroom voyeur is smart enough to convince authorities that he is really a woman on the inside 3. women won't peek at guys peeing 4. transgender people should have a third bathroom or else just stop existing, etcetera.

Like a lot of things in our postmodern world, it fits easily on a sign or bumper sticker or sign, but the story is totally disconnected from hard reality.

So here's the latest from the CRC newsletter:
The opposition to Bill 23-07 has risen to a new level. This issue is so important to decency and modesty that Family Leader Network – our partner in the lawsuit against the school board --has decided to place ads on WMAL, with our members help. Family Leader Network feels the media is not doing its job of informing the citizens of the County about this affront to our privacy and safety.

WMAL charges $675 per 30-second spot and remember the vote will take place next Tuesday so you only have a few days to act. In addition, Monday is Veteran’s Day and the Council’s offices will be closed so we really only have 4 days to act.

Here is the ad copy for WMAL:


FLN’s goal is to run 10 ads over this week on the Chris Core Show, Rush Limbaugh Show and Sean Hannity Show, beginning as soon as enough donations are received. Please give as generously as you can through FLN online at

FLN is a national organization, but FLN will use all donations from Maryland, Virginia, and DC coming in this week for the ad buy. Donations to the FLN are not tax deductible.

Theresa Rickman
CRC Secretary

The CRC is not strictly Christian, some of them are Mormon. The Family Leader Network is an LDS group that, in this area, overlaps with CRC.

You can read the new bill HERE.

I've never really understood what motivates these people, but there's something about being fair to people that really irritates them. First, they were upset because the schools were going to teach stuff that the American Medical Association and other scientific and medical groups believe, and now they're upset because maybe you won't be able to discriminate against transgender people in our county any more.

Like, tell me, how many times does this come up? How many transgender people do you encounter in a typical day? How many times have you seen an ambiguous-looking person standing outside the restrooms, looking at the signs, trying to decide which one to go into? How many guys have you ever seen that actually want to go into a ladies room and see women's feet under the stall doors?

There are a few people whose gender identity is outside the mainstream. Maybe you and I don't know why that happens, but it doesn't matter. They're people, and somehow that bothers people like the CRC to no end.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Hopefully, It Will Be One of Your Daughters Who Gets Raped First

I posted some letters to the County Council about the new gender identity nondiscrimination bill. People do get heated. There are lots of these letters, and of course they're public documents, once they've been sent to an elected official.

Listen, if you have an overly-gentle soul, if you can't handle harsh language and ugly thoughts, this is a good time to stop reading. If you're a kid, please stop now, don't read any further. Because some grown-ups have a really warped idea of right and wrong.

I assume that PFOX had something in their newsletter, or maybe on their web site, about this nondiscrimination bill, because their executive director wrote in, and several of their followers. They claim to be Friends of Gays, it's part of their name, but ... no, they are not friends of gay, lesbian, or transgender people.

There was a letter from a lady in Gaithersburg. The CRC can take credit for this one, she parrots their message very accurately.
I am writing to you about the above mentioned bill. It has come to my attention that this bill will allow transgender people to enter the opposite genders bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers. This is absolutely ridiculous!! How can a county pass a bill that will allow men to enter changing areas with little girls and women and women to enter changing areas with males!! This is an absolute way for pedophiles to reach their intended targets in a legal manner! It also is a way for other sexual predators to reach their intended targets in a legal way!!

I am outraged!!! I understand that parts of this bill are intended for non discriminatory housing units. This is fine, however, please read your bill carefully and make sure that you are not the subject of a public disaster. I have lived and worked in Montgomery County for 17 years. I will not be proud to be a resident here if you pass this bill.

I ask that on November 13th you vote NO to this bill.

Thank you,

Debbie Ohly

I'm assuming this is the same Debbie Ohly who provides sexual harassment training and diversity training for Montgomery General Hospital in Olney? I would be curious, you might say, to take one of her classes.

She's outraged because transgender people need to pee sometimes, and the sign on the door says Men or Women. And no matter what they do, somebody's going to think they went into the wrong room. And "this is absolutely ridiculous" ... yes, I'd agree with that, but we may not agree on what the word "this" refers to.

And the pedophiles. We mustn't forget the pedophiles. I'm sure there is a way to work them into this. But why'd she leave out terrorists? What if terrorists in drag went in to the ladies room to peek at naked pedophiles? That will happen, you know, if this bill passes.

One last one.

This one was written by the web developer for Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX).

This is done in about a 40-point font:
Bill 23-07

Allowing men who think they’re women into women’s bathrooms and locker rooms?


Hopefully, it will be one of your daughters who gets raped first!

Sincerely Yours,
Gabriel Espinosa
Furryllama Media Productions

Gabriel Espinosa from PFOX is hoping that Council members' daughters get raped, and supposedly this will be done because somebody couldn't discriminate against a transgender person.

I sort of apologize for the language. We usually steer away from that here, but I think you need to know what's going on. I don't really apologize, because it wasn't me saying it, this was a guy representing the decency that is PFOX.

People, there's one reason I'm posting these. This is the kind of stuff the County Council is getting. From their point of view, this is the way people in Montgomery County feel. How would they know any different? You didn't write or call, did you?

CLICK HERE for their phone numbers. Give them a call. Send them a nice, supportive letter.

Email to the County Council

The Montgomery County Council is supposed to vote on a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity. Basically, it will add the words "gender identity" here and there in the existing law. You already can't discriminate on the basis of race, religion, and a bunch of other things, the bill will add a couple of words to the law we already have.

Most of us will not be affected by this, and it's kind of a hard thing to get excited about. A small number of people feel they are the wrong gender, sometimes they act the way they feel instead of the way they look, and it confuses people. Some people, when they get confused, get angry, like they can't believe anything in the world would be hard to understand, or should be hard to understand.

The County Council has been hearing from those people.

Regina Griggs, the executive director of Parents and Friends and Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), one of the groups that sued the school district, wrote to the County Council:
... many transgenders do not live as the opposite sex on a permanent basis. As an organization which raises funds for the reversal surgery of former transgenders and provides referrals to therapists specializing in gender identity disorders, PFOX can attest that many transgenders prefer to appear as the opposite sex on a part-time or temporary basis; that is, they prefer to dress as a woman or man one day and then their birth gender the next day or the next week. These are known as "weekend transgenders" or "Tuesday transgenders." Our question: Are weekend transgenders covered under the proposed gender identity non-discrimination bill 23-07?

Regina Griggs
Executive Director
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays
Box 561, Fort Belvoir VA 22060

PFOX is concerned about "weekend transgenders," and somehow tries to connect that to "reversal surgery." I don't know a lot about this, but I'm guessing that people who get hormone treatments and surgery don't usually go back to the other sex during the week.

Somebody who feels they are the opposite sex from their body is not playing a game, as PFOX would like you to think (and I'd like to know how many of those "reversal surgeries" PFOX has actually ever paid for). Maybe somebody has to go by the straight rules during the week, like at work, and maybe they get to be who they really are on the weekends -- who of us can't relate to that? You do hate to think that the way you are at work is the real you, don't you? So, I barbecue on the weekend, another guy wears a dress, what's the harm?

Ms. Griggs forwarded a letter from another PFOX ... member ...
... There are serious issues that this Bill raises with respect to the common good and with respect to the idea that 'transgenderism' is a normative social self-identity. Allow me to explain further, in the hope of bringing more information to bear on this very momentous possible change in the laws and life ot the County. Laws against discrimination should only cover that which is immutable and readily observable to the stranger to prevent discrimination by such characteristics as race and ethnic group, for example...

Two things. "Normative social self-identity." You know what that means? I don't either. I'm a social psychologist, it sounds like it's supposed to be one of our words, but it's not. (Oddly, the phrase "Normative social self-identity" gets zero hits on Google.)

I think this person is saying that if you act like it's okay to be transgender, everybody will do it. So -- would you? No, I wouldn't either.

Maybe they're just suggesting that ordinary people can't let transgender people deal with their own feelings, we should force them to dress and look like the rest of us. That does seem like a weak premise in a free society, somehow.

Second thing. Why would this person think discrimination laws should only cover "that which is immutable and readily observable to the stranger?" Like, wha?

It seems they have just invented their own principle of government, and then, having done that, they want us to know that this bill violates it.

I don't think anybody seriously thinks it would be okay to discriminate on the basis of religion, for instance, which is entirely mutable.

And anyway, if you talk to transgender people, you definitely get the idea this is an immutable characteristic. You would not go through this whole transition on a whim, these are people who suffer their whole lives with the profound belief that their mind and body are from Venus and Mars. And it doesn't go away.

She has more:
As well-intentioned as this law may be, it seems strange and wrong to me to legally protect the fact, in this case, that people who can't accept their own sex should have the legal right to demand that others accept them as the sex they are not, and can never truly be, because one's sex truly is inborn! If that is not an indication of a psychological problem, then I don't know what is!

Ah, this argument: I feel fine the way I am, therefore everyone should be like me. Exclamation mark.

You can call it a psychological problem, that constant feeling of wrongness, day after day, year after year. But it is a psychological problem that can often be corrected through hormones and/or surgery, and maybe some pretty clothes.

This writer really has a lot to say. This next one is a terrific argument. Really, this is great. I skip down...
A person experiencing gender identity confusion cannot be fully trusted psychologically because he/she does not trust his/her own self, psychologically. In addition, Gender Identity Disorder is a bona fide psychiatric disorder. Having grown up with a sister who suffered from various degrees of mental illness, and who is now unable to care for herself, I am aware of the difficulties and petty tyrannies imposed by people with emotional/psychiatric problems, and I have extraordinary experience and reason to feel extremely concerned about the proposed legislation.

Perfect logic. Gender Identity Disorder is listed in the DSM. Schizophrenia is listed in the DSM. Therefore transgender people are like schizophrenics. Oh, and also we need to retain the right to discriminate against them.
I submit, therefore, that it is not consistent with the protection of the common good to allow people with certain non-immutable peculiarties, however wonderful the person may be, to be protected legally more than others. While I'm sure this bill is well-meant, I believe it has unusually high potential to cause more problems than it solves.

Emily Volz
Silve Spring, MD

Some people think normality is enforceable. Whatever it is normal people do, you have to do that. Whatever shoes they wear, how they cut their hair, whatever TV shows they watch, you'd better do that, too. You think a guy is a guy, and then it turns out he feels different, he dresses how he feels, and ooh, you've got a problem. And that's just ... too ... much.

Sorry if the world doesn't do what you expect it to, sometimes you gotta ride with it.

By the way, the lady from Silver Spring summarizes the complexities of human sexuality in a letter you can find on the Internet: The only sexual behavior that Jesus permitted is monogamous sex between husband and wife. If any of our Christian readers have the verse and chapter where Jesus said that, could you please post it into the comments? I also enjoyed another online letter she published, where, speaking of the US Constitution, she said "freedom of religion" pretty much referred to Christianity, with the inclusion of Judaism as its legitimate forerunner. I think we're getting the picture of this letter-writer.

There are others, I'm going to post some more later, but this was getting long.

The point is: this is what the County Council is hearing from the public. How are they supposed to know that anybody out here feels any differently?

Tell them what you think. County Council contact information is HERE

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Gay Bomb

This is a story that won't go away. For more than ten years the US military has said they were, no, they weren't, yes they were, no they weren't ... developing a "gay bomb," some kind of aphrodisiac they could use on enemy troops to make them irresistible to each other. Remember who this is -- these aren't guys with a real sophisticated sense of humor, and probably not the best understanding of the dimensions and nuances of human sexuality. Their intentions are also not my favorite; they want to make people romantic and friendly so they can kill them.

Never mind that discovery of a powerful aphrodisiac would create profits for drug companies that would the dwarf the amount of money made from Viagra. Like, there are two problems: he can't, and she doesn't want to. Honey, let me mix you a little drink after dinner.

Whatever it is these clowns have in mind, since we know the physiology of sexual orientation is a mystery, we know that the most they could hope to do is turn up the volume; in other words, whatever this is, it couldn't make enemy soldiers gay, it could only make them ... can I say "horny" here? And then the Pentagon must assume they'll act on their desires.

I'm trying to imagine that, being a soldier, say in a trench with some other guys, and suddenly feeling aroused. Sorry, I don't see it. Maybe after years in prison, I don't know, but I really can't imagine feeling so overcome with undirected passion that I would try to get amorous with some soldier. I think most guys would try to relieve the pressure some other way.

New Scientist had a story on this in 2005, which led to a kind of official hush-up. As they report this week, it does not appear that the project has actually gone away.
Feedback asked what happened to the US air force's Ig Nobel-winning "gay bomb" proposal after it was put forward in 1994 (13 October).

The Pentagon has played down the story ever since New Scientist covered it on 15 January 2005. One spokesman is quoted saying it was "rejected out of hand" and another claimed in 2005 that it was never considered "for further development".

These claims sit awkwardly with the known facts.

In 2000 - six years after the idea was proposed - the document describing the "gay bomb" was included in a CD-ROM produced by the Pentagon's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, which was distributed to military and government agencies to encourage new projects.

In 2001, the proposal was one of a number which the JNLWD put forward for assessment by a scientific panel at the National Academy of Sciences.

No information has been released suggesting that the proposal was taken any further. However, aphrodisiacs would fall under the US military's broad new definition of a "calmative agent", the term it has chosen for "an antipersonnel chemical that leaves the victim awake and mobile but without the will or ability to meet military objectives or carry out criminal activity".

It seems there is considerable classified research in this area.

On a serious note, this does seem to be a legitimate research area, understanding how the sex drive itself works. By keeping their findings secret, the military is robbing science of what might be valuable knowledge. And it goes both ways. Real researchers know a lot about research methods, and have knowledge in their fields, that could help them get better results faster.

Sunday Morning Off Topic

It's strange to think that a hurricane passed by us this week. All we got out of it was a couple of days of clouds, no big deal; I understand they got some real weather over at the beaches. This morning is cloudy still, and cool, but nice. Yesterday I raked the front yard and got a blister, no, I don't know what you call this, it's worse than a blister. Let's just say I wore the skin off my hand between my thumb and index finger. My wife, who is a nurse, had this cool bandage she put on it; I've never seen this before, it's like skin, you don't even know it's there. She had a name for it. It looks like a band-aid, but it's a different kind of plastic or something. Well, I don't actually feel that kind of pain, it doesn't bother me, but it's good to prevent infection in that raw flesh. Cool band-aid.

This has been a week with a lot of music in it. Let me talk about that. Yesterday my family gave me a new CD, the "Complete Clapton" 2-CD set, 36 of Eric Clapton's recordings, so great to hear this stuff. He really has done some great work over the years. I can listen to this over and over again. You know I did steal a few of his licks over the years, just a few.

Earlier in the week I bought a really interesting album. Robert Plant and Allison Krauss did one together. Okay, Robert Plant, former singer for Led Zeppelin, Dionysian occultist, and Allison Krauss, angelic (Appolonian) bluegrass fiddler and singer. I could not imagine how this would work, but it is beautiful. They picked the best material by everybody's favorite songwriters, and recorded it with these sparse arrangements that totally work.

I think of it like this. You don't realize it, but the band on a lot of the old Donovan recordings -- "Sunshine Superman," "Mellow Yellow," stuff like that -- was essentially Led Zeppelin, at least the instrumentalists. Some of those records are, I think, really amazing to listen to. Go back and listen to "First There Is a Mountain." Listen to the percussion, the guitars, the flute. It is raucous and peaceful at the same time, driven with youthful energy and spontaneity, channeled by great chops and great taste.

So if you think of Robert Plant coming from that background, using the studio creatively, hitting a box for rhythm if it sounds better than the drum set, this makes a little more sense than if you think of Led Zep with big fat drums and echoing electric guitars. And Allison Krauss ... I've already used up the word "angelic," there's no better word for her. I think Allison Krauss is what Emmylou Harris pretended to be, and I love Emmylou. Allison Krauss came up by way of the fiddle contests, proving herself as a child and then pushing incessantly upward in the industry, as people heard a sound and stopped and listened and were converted. If you've ever seen her, even on TV, you'll know what it is about her, she just sings from another place. So Plant and Krauss together represent the merging of two worlds, but in such a seamless way that you realize there was no gap between the worlds, really, in the first place.

I think it works because of T-Bone Burnett, who produced the CD and plays guitar on it. This is one guy whose career I would like to have. I had his first album, back in the day. He dropped out of sight for a long time, and now he's back mostly producing recordings by other artists. He plays the guitars on this one, and I have the feeling he has a lot to do with the "sound" of it, which is really what this album is about. It's not really "songs," though of course it is, mainly it's a sound that you can have around you, a personal, airy, earthy, fiery, watery sound that colors your world.

I have been writing songs lately, and playing around with some acoustic instruments. Yes, I am mostly an electric guitar player, I have my old Stratocaster with all the varnish worn off the fretboard, I got a Mesa Boogie amp a couple of years ago, yes, I can turn your eardrums to powder at a hundred yards. But lately I've been playing with some acoustic instruments.

It started when my wife got me a bowed psaltery at the Renaissance Festival. This is like a triangular harp, with the strings attached to pegs along the side, in staggered lengths, so you can take a violin bow and catch the exposed length of each string where it is longer than the preceding one and shorter than the next one. Because it's a harp, when you play one note the others resonate, and it has a lot of bright, sibilant harmonics -- the dog comes in and barks when I play it, if that tells you something. It's hard to play it fast, you would have to use two bows, but it makes a beautiful sound if you play it slowly. The notes are laid out like a piano, white keys on one side and black keys on the other, and it's got a couple of octaves of range, so you can really play almost anything on it.

The bowed psaltery kind of got me thinking, I guess, that plus seeing that bluegrass band at the Birchmere a while back, hearing the pure resonant sounds of strings and wood. This week I also got out my cavaquinho, which a friend in Portugal gave me a couple of years ago. This is a little guitar-like instrument, with four strings, about like a ukulele, in fact, the ukulele was invented after Portuguese sailors visited the Hawaiian islands and the locals saw one of these things. In Portugal I visited a cordophone museum. A cordophone is a stringed instrument where you pluck the strings rather than bowing them. This Portuguese guy had a museum where he displayed all these lutes, mandolins, guitars, and various things in between. One thing he did was to take old paintings, like from the Renaissance, with musical instruments in them, and try to make the instruments, because a lot of those things just don't exist any more. Like just about everybody in o Minho, he also made wine. So anyway, somebody gave me a cavaquinho (which, given that it came from Braga, might also be called a braguinha), which has a bright, hard tone, in a high range.

One other thing. I took a day off from work this week, had to put dollars into an old car to make it easier for a kid to do things I wouldn't approve of, if you know what I mean. Anyway, in the afternoon I did something I should have done years ago. I took an old instrument out from under the bed and brought it to the shop to get fixed.

Probably twenty years ago I gave this old Mexican guy in Fresno a crummy amplifier in exchange for a Weissenborn Hawaiian lap guitar. This is an acoustic lap steel, hollow from end to end. But the top was a little warped under the bridge, and in fact the bridge and pins were in an envelope that was stuffed inside the thing, so I never played it. It was old when I got it, probably going back to the twenties or thirties. I have had this thing in its dilapidated case all these years, never played it, and this week I took it down to Levins to see if they could put it back together.

You should see the guys at the guitar-repair shop when you come in with something like this. Day after day the guy works on badly-made and badly-treated instruments, some bratty kid's electric guitar that he can't play but wants to be cool and blames the instrument if he can't play it like Yngwe. And then somebody comes in and says, "This has been under the bed for twenty-something years..." and everybody comes out of the back of the shop, people passing by come in and have a look at this weird thing. He's going to want to wet the wood and clamp it for a month or so, see if he can get the warp out of it, though it's a lap steel and the action doesn't really matter that much because you don't press down the strings, you play it with a steel bar. He made it sound like it might be forty or fifty dollars. Not a lot of work, but it will take some time to re-shape that wood. It's a kind of thing where he's happy to work on a nice, interesting instrument like that, and I'll be happy to get it back and play it.

I've never played lap steel before, really. I have a couple of electrics, and of course I've tried to do the David Lindley thing with them, but that loses its appeal after a few minutes. I did play pedal steel for a couple of years, and I consider that to be the hardest instrument there is. Every time you step on a pedal or push a knee-lever, the whole tuning of the instrument changes. Plus there are no frets, so there are an infinite number of places you can put the bar that will produce a wrong note, with one tiny little place where it's right. You can't look up, playing steel, you are immersed in it.

I lost my steel when a keyboard player borrowed it and then left town. He wanted to see how it worked, well it is a kind of fascinating set-up. I knew a steel player once who told people he played the ironing board.

As far as I know there is no acoustic pedal steel guitar, only the Hawaiian ones with fixed tuning.

WPFW is unusually good this morning. Maybe the theme is ... screechy violins. Some of this drifts into atonality, most of it experiments with dissonance, at least. I think the violin is the best instrument. It has the most beautiful tone, and the musician has complete control over it, over pitch, loudness, attack, decay, everything.

This morning I asked my daughter if she knew what the difference was between a violin and a fiddle. She guessed it had to do with the bow. In fact, there is no difference between a violin and a fiddle. Physically, they are exactly the same instrument. Or ... the difference is that a violin is respectable. You hear violins at the opera, fiddles at the Opry. Fiddles are for folk music, dance music, real-people music, violins are for people in suits who sit still and very quiet and pretend to understand what it all means. To me, it's like, what's the difference between a wildflower and a weed? Nothing but respectability.

You might not be surprised to know that I see myself on the fiddle/weed side of things.

One more thing that I'm thinking about this morning. Last night I was standing in the kitchen reading the first few pages of Proust's Rememberance of Things Past. I want to understand his concept of "habitude," which I suspect will work into my swarm theory stuff in an important way, there's a term in the formula that's hard to explain, and Proust might have the explanation but that means you have to dive into this huge and complex two-volume novel. Anyway, the TV was on upstairs, and it sounded like an old movie, so I wandered up and watched the last ninety percent of The Misfits, with Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. This movie was unbelievable, there is no way they could make a movie that good any more.

It was the last movie for both the stars, she was in detox during the filming of it and he died a few weeks after. The script was written by Arthur Miller, who was married to Marilyn Monroe at the time but their marriage was breaking up. I think it was his genius that made this thing so great.

This beautiful woman, a stripper, hooks up with these three guys who catch wild mustangs and sell them to glue factories. She doesn't really understand what they're doing at first, and then it dawns on her and she feels sorry for the horses. It seemed to me that the central theme was ... the civilizing influence of women. These guys would do anything for a buck, basically, they didn't care about the horses, but they did find Marilyn Monroe appealing, and so you saw, through the movie, each of the (loser) guys go over to her and offer to free the horses, hoping really for a shot at her. Clark Gable didn't, though, he was a manly man, not apologizing about what he did for a living, not going to be influenced by some blonde. Well, sort of. At the end he ... I won't tell you, but he does end up with the girl, let's say.

So men do what they have to do, and are basically animals with pride, and women with their sensitivity and their irresistible beauty just complicate things, golldang it all. But they know she's right, once she makes them think about it. And, plus, it is Marilyn Monroe, who wouldn't free a horse for a few minutes of sitting next to her? There is also a kind of theme where they're chasing down these horses and lassoing them, where she's breathing heavy through those wonderful parted lips, as if she is getting aroused watching the manly men work their criminal deeds, and you see the influence going both ways, but in entirely different channels. And maybe you didn't notice that we are back to Robert Plant and Allison Krauss again.

There's just so much to think about there. You couldn't have a movie like that now, it's sort of pre-feminist, sub-moral, you can almost smell the sexuality of these people, right and wrong are a matter of practicality in a world of physical action which is -- another theme of the movie -- dissolving around them as other people go to work in offices, which these guys just hate. The worst insult in the movie is when one of them tells the other he ought to go work in an office. You watch this old black and white movie now, and you sympathize with these characters, you know how they feel, they come from another world but not so different. Right and wrong haven't changed, but the way we think about them has.

Well, I guess I just used up the hour we gained last night. I hear movement upstairs, and I know that there are plans to start packing up stuff so they can re-do our floors and ceilings and walls after all that water damage. We have a lot of work to do, life is just brimming with possibilities.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

CRC Holds Huge Protest

This was the dumbest thing, you just don't know why they do it. The CRC held a protest at the Germantown Indoor Swim Center today.

Here's the deal. The Montgomery County Council is going to vote to add the words "gender identity" to the existing nondiscrimination law.

I don't know why some people feel they are the wrong sex, but they do. There's nothing perverted about it, they can tell you, they just feel their body and their mind are opposites. People who feel that way are a tiny percentage of the population, most people don't understand them, they get hassled a lot. Nobody chooses to feel that way, but some people just do, including some really cool people, and we are lucky to know a few of them.

But the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are against it; they believe it is very important to retain the right to discriminate against these people. I don't know what the point is, there's nothing in the Bible about gender identity so they can't claim it's a religious thing. It doesn't hurt anybody, it's nobody's fault, and lots of other places already include it in their nondiscrimination laws.

There would be two reasons someone would oppose a law like this. The first and probably most common thing is ignorance. You think of somebody changing their sex and you think of, you know, David Bowie back in the day, or the Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania, in Rocky Horror, some kind of crazy thing. Because honestly, most people haven't had the chance to meet someone who has actually gone through that. It's more common than you'd think, but not very common. It's something most people don't have to deal with, haven't thought about very much, it just seems weird and I don't blame somebody who has a sort of opinion or attitude based on that. A little education can fix that problem.

The second reason is not so acceptable. The word we use for this is "hate." The CRC doesn't just feel uneasy about somebody like our friend Dana, they actually -- literally -- stood out by the street waving signs and handing out fliers trying to get people to pressure the County Council to make sure it is legal to discriminate against people like her. Why in the world would you want to do that? The people out there were mostly religious people -- how can they reconcile their religious beliefs with this ugliness?

A total of seventeen people showed up to demonstrate, and there were four police cruisers and a police van there. The CRC had their usual yellow signs, "Health Before Politics," "No Unisex Bathrooms," the same ones they've used before. Plus they wrote a few by hand: "Protect Women and Children," "No Legal Indecency," "Fight Indecency Stop 23-07," "Protect our kids from pedophiles" (sounds like somebody showed up at the wrong demonstration), and a couple of other things. Decency must be their new word, as if decency means being able to discriminate against people, as if it means people who live in their own unique personal hell should continue to do so and not violate any nut's expectations. They stopped cars coming out of the swim center and gave people fliers. The thing went on for two hours, as planned.

They'll tell you, they have like four thousand names on their mailing list. They like to make it sound like that means they have four thousand supporters. Which would be close to half of one percent of the people who live in this county, assuming that all of them live here, which they don't (and, judging by the number of people who forward me CRC newsletter items, I'd say a considerable proportion of the list is people from our side who just want to keep an eye on them). And of those four thousand, they got seventeen to show up. Most of them were the same ones, of course, Michelle, Theresa, both Steinas, Ruth.

These are some hardcore bigots, to get up on a Saturday and go out to wave signs supporting discrimination. We got a few pictures, just to let you see what a big scene it was.

Wow, I'm sorry I missed it.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Get Serious: Make a Call, Send an Email

We are making fun of the CRC here for their stupid sky-is-falling argument about the proposed gender-identity nondiscrimination bill, their terrible fear that men are going to start hanging around ladies rooms if the law says you can't discriminate on the basis of gender identity. The fact is, they like to discriminate against that minority, and they are using the bathroom scenario to get attention. It's so ridiculous it's funny, but I am going to ask you, the reader, to get involved a little bit. We don't do this very often, but the County needs to hear from you.

The Montgomery County Council is going to vote November 13th on a bill that you can read HERE. The bill will make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity in certain situations, and I would prefer if you followed the link and read the thing yourself. Don't trust me to explain it, it's easy reading, go look at it so you know what you're talking about.

Look, the argument that men will go into women's bathrooms doesn't deserve a response. That isn't going to happen. They think of the worst possible thing, and then talk as if it's certain to happen.

Go to the Task Force web site, and look at their report. More than a third of the population of the US lives with explicit transgender nondiscrimination laws. It makes sense, it's the right thing to do.

Montgomery County is not breaking any new ground here, we're doing the right thing, as many, many other communities see it.

So here's what we need to do. We have seen that the CRC is working this through their newsletters, trying to create the appearance of a controversy, and we have seen this before, you can be sure that Fox News, the Washington Post and other media will be covering the pitiful "protest" they are planning to hold.

We need our fair-minded people to contact the County Council and tell them that we support this bill. As I said, read it first, make sure you're cool with it, then email or call the Council.

Contact information is:
Call the Montgomery County Council: 240-777-7900 during work hours

Email to will go to all the Council members

Listen, it's hard to support something. It's always easier to get people to call in about something they're angry about. That's why these nutty rightwing groups are able to have any effect at all -- it's not that many people agree with them, but every time one of them has an issue, they blow it out of proportion and get everybody worked up, and they can make it look like they have big support.

We don't want you to get mad. The County Council is on the right track, they fully intend to pass this bill, but they need to know that the community is behind it. It will just take you a minute to pick up the phone, call the number, tell them you support the Gender Identity Bill, Bill 23-07. If you have a story, tell it to them, tell them why you support the bill.

Remember, we're the good guys. Our county was progressive and intelligent enough to elect good people into office, and they want to do the right thing. But they need to know they have our support. So tell them.

We've done this before, and it is very effective. The people inside the government know that the other side is organized, that they have networks of web sites and email lists that span the country, they're not surprised or impressed if there's a flurry of calls. But we need to register a point, too.

So please call the County Council, send them an email, let's take the moral high road in Montgomery County.

Better Times for the CRC

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are excited again. These are good times for them, they have a mission, a cause, something to get worked up about. Things are looking up.

They want you to know that if Montgomery County forbids discrimination on the basis of gender identity, men are going to start going into the ladies' room and peeking at ladies sitting on toilets. See, all they have to do is say they're transgender, and there's nothing you can do about it. Just say they feel like ladies, what can you do? If this bill passes, the entire moral structure of reality will be inverted, up will be down, bad will be good, and the CRC is going to make sure that doesn't happen.

They have an "alert" on their web site now that says:
is set to pass a LAW which will allow

I think it would be fun to pass a law that says anybody can go into whichever bathroom they want. You'd still put "Men" and "Women" on the doors, but there would be no law to enforce which room you went into.

What do you suppose would happen?

My guess: nothing at all would happen.

The CRC assumes that the only reason men don't go into the ladies room is that it's against the law. Is that bizarre, or what? I don't go into the ladies room because, one, I think people deserve a little privacy, and two, I don't really want to see what's in there. And three, now that I think about it, I would fully expect, even if it wasn't against the law, that some lady's husband or boyfriend would want to adjust my attitude, possibly physically, if I went in peeking at his wife or girlfriend on the toilet.

But wait. There's more:
YES, it’s true. Males who self identify themselves as females will have open access to women’s and girls’ restrooms, locker rooms and showers if the Montgomery County Council doesn’t hear from you BEFORE November. 13th

“That’s nuts,” you say. Not to our Council, which is poised to pass the Nondiscrimination, Gender Identity Bill (Bill 23-07) into law on November 13th. Bill 23-07 describes “gender identity [as meaning] an individual’s actual or perceived gender….”

You can stop this! The vote on this bill is November 13th. Urge the Montgomery County Council to exclude entry into female restrooms, showers and dressing rooms by male transgenders and vice versa. The American Psychiatric Association recognizes Gender Identity Disorder as a mental illness.

The wording is a little different in their email newsletter, where the "That's nuts" line says "Not to our ultraliberal Council..."

That vice versa business. Are they saying that female restrooms, showers and dressing rooms are going to enter male transgenders? That's how I read it. How would that work?

And uh, correct me if I'm wrong, but I would think the problem would be female transgender people using the ladies room. I admit the terminology gets a little confusing, but I think it is appropriate to describe a person by the sex they present themselves as. Used to be a man, now you're a woman, you're female as far as the world is concerned.

And the mental illness thing, that's so dumb. If somebody suffers from Gender Identity Disorder, the therapy, if they qualify for it, may be to surgically change their sex. So what? Then they're cured, they don't have a "mental illness" any more. You know, they're just saying that because it sounds bad, not because it makes any sense.

The latest is that they are organizing a protest for tomorrow at the Germantown Indoor Swim Center, "because women's gym locker rooms should be safe -- no men in the women's dressing rooms and locker rooms!" I expect that certain media representatives will show up, to join in the pretense that there is a great controversy in Montgomery County over the possibility that a transgender person would need to use a public restroom.

A couple more tidbits from the newsletter that aren't on the website:
We need your help. The press is down playing this issue and the time is short. The bill will be voted on the 13th.

We will provide the flyers at the protest. If you can, make a poster and bring it with you. The focus is on not forcing women to share locker and dressing rooms with men. --- There are safety and privacy issues at stake.

If Bill 23-07 is passed by the Montgomery County Council, any male who merely claims he feels female will have full access to the most private female areas in any K-12 school, university, store (including changing rooms), church, synagogue, restaurant, theater, health club, and public swimming pool.

The bill will allow transgenders and cross-dressers open access to public bathrooms, dressing rooms and showers. And it forces girls and women to shut up about it or be subject to charges of harassment.

Whatever happened to common sense? Council member Duchy Trachtenberg calls our criticism “hyperbolic.” But, we won’t be cowed into silence.

Let me explain, in case you haven't been following this story. The County Council is discussing a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against a person because of their gender identity. Transgender people are probably the most-discriminated-against group in the world, nobody understands them, people make fun of them, attack them physically, and really they're just people. They can do as good a job for you as the next person, enjoy a good meal just like you and me. The bill may or may not pass, I think the votes are there but you gotta play the game to see who wins. The CRC thinks they have identified a terrible problem. Of course they were looking for a problem, because they support discrimination against transgender people. And this terrible problem is ridiculous.

Well, they're happy again. They lost the fight over sex-ed, now they have something else to whine complain about. I don't really see what motivates them, but ... as long as they keep doing it, we'll keep making fun of them.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

People Want Schools to Provide Contraceptives

We recently poked around the story about the Maine middle school providing contraceptives at the health center. As usual, there was a little bit of a story and a lot of hype. Middle-school girls can get birth-control pills at other places, too; the school just wanted to make sure they did get them if they needed them. As would be expected, certain knee-jerk nutty types reacted as if the next thing is to disband all families and force all good people to engage in promiscuous sexual behavior.

Looking at it, I didn't see anything really to complain about, except the fact that "middle school" and "birth-control pills" were in the same sentence. Naturally, the CRC types insisted this meant "eleven-year-olds," which sounds much worse than 13-year-olds, who are more likely to be the ones who get the stuff.

At any rate, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll finds that most people aren't bothered by this sort of thing. Here's the Houston Chronicle:
WASHINGTON — People decisively favor letting their public schools provide birth control to students, but they also voice misgivings that divide them along generational, income and racial lines, a poll showed.

Sixty-seven percent support giving contraceptives to students, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. About as many — 62 percent — said they believe providing birth control reduces the number of teenage pregnancies.

"Kids are kids," said Danielle Kessenger, 39, a mother of three young children from Jacksonville, Fla., who supports providing contraceptives to those who request them. "I was a teenager once and parents don't know everything, though we think we do."

Yet most who support schools distributing contraceptives prefer that they go to children whose parents have consented. People are also closely divided over whether sex education and birth control are more effective than stressing morality and abstinence, and whether giving contraceptives to teenagers encourages them to have sexual intercourse. Poll: Most approve of public schools providing contraceptives

Think about this: one person in three disagrees with the statement that "providing birth control reduces the number of teenage pregnancies." Please, explain to me how this statement could be untrue. Even if birth control did encourage teens to have sex, at least they'd be taking birth control pills. This could only be true if birth control pills caused people who don't take them to have more sexual intercourse. Would that happen?

It's stupid. I suppose what these people mean is that birth control pills are not as good as abstinence. So? When it comes to preventing pregnancy, they are very good. It's like saying today isn't cloudy, because some other day was cloudier.

They got a quote from a smart guy who has his cliches well memorized:
"It's not the school's place to be parents," said Robert Shaw, 53, a telecommunications company manager from Duncanville, Texas. "For a school to provide birth control, it's almost like the school saying, 'You should go out and have sex.'"

That's just perfect, the CRC seems to have a Texas branch. The perfect logic: preventing pregnancy is not just like tolerating sexual activity, it is like recommending it, telling teenagers they should go out and have sex.

Some interesting observations and a smarter concerned parent:
The 67 percent in the AP poll who favor providing birth control to students include 37 percent who would limit it to those whose parents have consented, and 30 percent to all who ask.

Minorities, older and lower-earning people were likeliest to prefer requiring parental consent, while those favoring no restriction tended to be younger and from cities or suburbs. People who wanted schools to provide no birth control at all were likelier to be white and higher-income earners.

"Parents should be in on it," said Jennifer Johnson, 29, of Excel, Ala., a homemaker and mother of a school-age child. "Birth control is not saying you can have sex, it's protecting them if they decide to."

Thank you, Jennifer.

The role of parents in all this is pretty tough. The standard line is that it should be up to a parent, but as I noted before, nobody -- zero point zero percent of teenagers -- asks their parents' approval before they have sex. The cliche is that parents should have control, but in reality they just don't. I don't really understand why somebody wants to live in that kind of dream world, I think it just means they don't want their children exposed to different beliefs about these things.
About 1,300 U.S. public schools with adolescent students — less than 2 percent of the total — have health centers staffed by a doctor or nurse practitioner who can write prescriptions, said spokeswoman Divya Mohan of the National Assembly of School-Based Health Care. About one in four of those provide condoms, other contraceptives, prescriptions or referrals, Mohan said.

Less than 1 percent of middle schools and nearly 5 percent of high schools make condoms available for students, said Nancy Brener, a health scientist with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Again showing that the Maine birth-control scandal is really a big bunch of nothing.

Well, there's a little bit more in this story, you might want to go read it.

A Local Shooting

Last night was Halloween. We only had three or four groups of trick-or-treaters, lots fewer than we have seen in the past but it's a trend, last year was pretty quiet too.

Somebody shot the cashier at the neighborhood Safeway early in the evening, that might have had something to do with it, but I don't really think so. Let me talk about that for a minute, even though I'll probably say all the wrong things.

We live on the "right side" of Viers Mill (or "Veirs Mill," interestingly both spellings are correct) in Twinbrook Forest, not Twinbrook. Houses here are taken care of, there aren't many rentals, it's the classic little suburban neighborhood, not ritzy but nice enough. Lots of people in our neighborhood have lived here their whole lives; at the Little League games they talk about who babysat for whose little sister and who dated whose brother in high school, just like a small town. I saw the police gang report last year, and Rockville has a tiny percentage of the number of gang members that places like Germantown or Wheaton have. Almost none. I noticed recently that some cars have been broken into in our neighborhood, I expect they'll catch some kids and that will be that. A couple of years ago there were some teenagers setting cars on fire around here, and they bragged about it on their MySpace and got caught and that stopped. All within the expected range of stuff that happens.

Like a lot of American neighborhoods, Twinbrook Forest has seen a big wave of immigrants come in, lots of Hispanics and lots of Koreans and other Asian groups, too, some Africans. You know me, I like that, it means I get to practice my Spanish and there's good picante food in the neighborhood, plus one of those places where you cook your meat on a grill in the middle of the table, and there's a Vietnamese guy that can fix anything like watches and cell phones. It means you feel a little strange sometimes, like when you go to the neighborhood strip-mall and realize you're the only English-speaking white person there; for some of us who grew up among people like ourselves it can be a bit of a shock, and I know some people who have not adapted well to it, but like I said, I think it's cool. To me it's like traveling without going anywhere.

Something goes with that, though. "Our" Safeway, at Twinbrook mall, has gone downhill, and we stopped going there long ago, unless we really need something quick. The inventory is always all over the floor, it's dirty, they don't hire enough people or keep enough on the schedule so there are always terrible lines, and the people that work there are underpaid, inexperienced, they tend to be both rude and clueless.

You know, as I read those last lines I was thinking, I'll bet some Safeway executive could show you a spreadsheet proving that what I said was not correct, that they care just as much about this Safeway as their other ones. And that's a funny thought, because that same executive would know exactly what I mean if he walked into that store. I'm not talking about numbers on a spreadsheet, I'm talking about people. Employees and customers.

Over towards Aspen Hill is a neighborhood that has not seen this kind of change, and there's a Safeway there on Bauer and Norbeck that's well-lighted, with good music coming out of the ceiling, Bonnie Raitt or Talking Heads or Aaron Neville, the food is on the shelves and not scattered all over the place, the clerks are, well they're just people but they know what they're doing, at least. When the line gets long they call for back-up. It's like night and day. Like, the electricity went out several weeks ago at Twinbrook mall, and the owner never did come out and throw the breaker, so all the signs are dark, the whole mall is dark every night, and nobody does anything about it. Store owners told me they called, but nobody comes out. That wouldn't happen at the "other" Safeway's mall. It's a half mile away I guess, maybe a mile, and this one is just a few hundred yards from our house, but if we're going to be stocking up we make the drive without thinking twice.

So here's what you get. Reported in this morning's Washington Post:
Four young men dressed in red and wearing bandannas over their faces barged into a crowded Rockville supermarket last night and shot a cashier, Montgomery County police said.

The cashier, whom police identified as a 23-year-old man from Silver Spring, was taken to a hospital with injuries that are not considered life-threatening, police said.

The men ran out of the store and were at large last night, Capt. Terry Pierce said.

"They fled on foot with a handgun," he said. "We have done everything we could to locate the suspects."

The victim and the men had argued in the moments before the shooting, Pierce said. At one point, the cashier threw a 24-can case of Coca-Cola toward the men, he added.

"That's when they shot him," Pierce said.

Police were dispatched to the Safeway store at 1902 Veirs Mill Rd. shortly after 6:40 p.m. Pierce said about 30 people were in the store when the shooting occurred.

"Some were hysterical," he said. Cashier Shot After Argument With Four Masked Men

I talked with a guy who talked with somebody who saw it happen. Some black guys in red Halloween costumes came in and got in an argument with the cashier. The cashier, this guy said, started throwing stuff at them and there was yelling, and then one of the guys pulled out a gun and shot him.

I'm not saying that's gospel truth, but that's how the story is going in the neighborhood here. The word "gang" comes up, and there's a chance the cashier knew the guys.

Normally this is the quietest neighborhood you can imagine. I've talked here about the cops hassling people, and a couple of things that have happened, but it's all within the expected range, I mean, c'mon, cops hassle teenagers everywhere. And of course, fuzzy dice are a serious problem in today's society. Around here, our worst problem usually is people crossing the street in the middle of the block, in the dark, and getting run over. It happens pretty often, I think they come from a country where it's okay to do that. And sometimes they have been drinking.

The story here, to me, isn't immigration, it isn't the shifting demographics of the area. Because listen, people move here because it's a nice place to live, they don't come here to run it down, they come here to lift themselves up to a new way of life. Maybe they don't figure out how to do that right away, but that's why they're here. The story is the way the Safeway corporation has let this place go. It's like there are two standards for everything, for cleanliness, for hiring qualifications, for inventory. There's the "suburban" standard and there's the "ghetto" standard, or let us be straightforward and say there are white and "other" Safeway stores. Twinbrook got on the ghetto list for some reason, probably because some monkey-monk came out and saw a lot of brown faces, and the Bauer Safeway is still on the suburban standard. Trust me, nobody's going to get shot at Bauer.