Monday, December 31, 2007

Checking in Briefly on the Eve of the New Year

I'm here in Iowa, we're staying with my wife's family. It has been a hard week, but they are such a close family you can see they're going to get through it. I have the feeling that tonight will be a pretty quiet new year's eve.

I woke up this morning in the middle of a strange dream. There was a lady in a house, but the house was kind of demolished. There was no power in the house, chunks of concrete scattered everywhere, as if the building were caving in slowly, like it had been abandoned but she didn't know it yet and still lived there. She was angry at me, yelling at me, because there was something in her house that I was trying to find. There was a hole, I think it may have been filled with water, a wet hole with harmonicas in it, and I was feeling around in there trying to find a good chromatic harmonica. I'd fish one out of there and hold it to my mouth and play a little bit of My Cherie Amour on it, and the lady'd be yelling at me, and it was never the right one, the song was never quite right. A chromatic harmonica, in case you don't know, has a button that you work with your finger, and it raises the pitch of the note one half step; a B becomes a C, for instance, and an F becomes F-sharp when you work that little button. So you can play in any key -- you can play anything once you figure out how to work it. (Most harmonicas are diatonic, and you are limited to playing songs that are strictly within one key, with no notes outside that major scale, there's no button.) The buttons on them kept slipping out from under my finger, and I was having trouble finding one that really played the song correctly, and all that time that lady was yelling at me because I was disturbing her and her house was a wreck, and also because the harmonicas never worked right. It was an interesting way to wake up.

Today there are a lot of phone calls to the house and people stopping by, but basically everybody is resting and catching up. Several people here have colds or sinus infections, and it's near zero degrees outside, probably below zero with wind chill, so we're staying in. I went out for a walk at one point, but my face was exposed and by the time I got back to the house there was no sensation at all in my cheeks.

Right now I am doing something fun, I'm reading through the blog, looking to put together a list of "best" blog posts of the year. I hadn't realized how much ground we actually covered this year, there really was a lot of stuff going on. Well, I'm up to September, maybe we'll have something in the morning. I am mostly looking at the ones that had to do with the sex-ed curriculum and related stuff, local stuff; I also am enjoying some of the off-topic ones but probably won't list them as "best" ones.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Candidates on Some Harder Issues

As we swirl down the vortex toward the 2008 Presidential elections, it gets a little hard to tell what the candidates actually believe about the issues. Charlie Savage at the Boston Globe has done a really cool thing here. He asked all the candidates the same set of questions, and reported their answers in a nice readable format. It seems to me there is a question behind most of these questions, which is -- is the President obligated to obey the law?

The questions are:
  • Does the president have inherent powers under the Constitution to conduct surveillance for national security purposes without judicial warrants, regardless of federal statutes?
  • In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites -- a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)
  • Does the Constitution empower the president to disregard a congressional statute limiting the deployment of troops -- either by capping the number of troops that may be deployed to a particular country or by setting minimum home-stays between deployments? In other words, is that level of deployment management beyond the constitutional power of Congress to regulate?
  • Under what circumstances, if any, would you sign a bill into law but also issue a signing statement reserving a constitutional right to bypass the law?
  • Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?
  • Does executive privilege cover testimony or documents about decision-making within the executive branch not involving confidential advice communicated to the president himself?
  • If Congress defines a specific interrogation technique as prohibited under all circumstances, does the president's authority as commander in chief ever permit him to instruct his subordinates to employ that technique despite the statute?
  • Under what circumstances, if any, is the president, when operating overseas as commander-in-chief, free to disregard international human rights treaties that the US Senate has ratified?
    < li>Do you agree or disagree with the statement made by former Attorney General Gonzales in January 2007 that nothing in the Constitution confers an affirmative right to habeas corpus, separate from any statutory habeas rights Congress might grant or take away?
  • Is there any executive power the Bush administration has claimed or exercised that you think is unconstitutional? Anything you think is simply a bad idea?
  • Who are your campaign's advisers for legal issues?
  • Do you think it is important for all would-be presidents to answer questions like these before voters decide which one to entrust with the powers of the presidency? What would you say about any rival candidate who refuses to answer such questions?

[Update: Someone in the comments points out that I forgot to include a link to the survey. You can read it HERE]

Candidates who answered the questions are:
  • Joseph Biden
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Christopher Dodd
  • John Edwards
  • Rudy Giuliani
  • Mike Huckabee
  • John McCain
  • Barack Obama
  • Ron Paul
  • Bill Richardson
  • Mitt Romney
  • Fred Thompson

If all you care about is what church the candidate attends, or how they look on TV with the sound turned down, or whether they are a bitch or somebody said they were educated in a madrassa, then you won't be interested in their answers to these questions. Some of our readers though might be glad to find this resource, to study the differences between the candidates. While a lot of it is predictable, some of their statements are very revealing.

CRW Lies and Ice

I've got something from the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever to mention dismissively, and some pictures from our trip.

Okay, news on the MoCo culture wars. The Citizens for a Responsible, uh, let's see what it says here, okay, Government this time, sent out a notice the other day that they were going to have a meeting to get some momentum going for their referendum petition drive. They're trying to overturn a law that says you can't discriminate against transgender people. Here's some wording from their flyer:
Is this County spinning out of control?

The county has passed a bill seemingly making an individual's day to day sexual orientation a protected class (?!?). If someone chooses to identify themselves as of different genders on different days, our local government, in its infinite wisdom, thinks that is a group that needs special protection in every workplace, in all public areas, like theatres, and, seemingly, even in their choice of which bathroom to use. A "get out of jail free" card for sexual predators who are caught in the wrong public bathroom or public shower.

In brief, the recent legislation adds the category of "transgender" to the list of protected "classes" in Montgomery County's anti-discrimination public facilities ordinance.

Let me say, it wouldn't have been too bad if they'd just stuck with the "In brief" part, not that the word "classes" need quotation marks. Also, the law doesn't say "transgender," it says "gender identity," as far as I know, but they're close enough here that you wouldn't complain about that one sentence.

The words "day to day," italicized in the newsletter, are a total fantasy invented by the CRW. The law doesn't say "day to day," and the whole idea that somebody is going to change their gender identity again and again is ridiculous and stupid. Are they going out and getting signatures on a petition by telling people this? Is that going to be legally acceptable? Can you just say anything? What if you told people you had a petition to put soda in the drinking fountains, when in fact it was a petition to torture and kill all the cute kitties in the county? Would signatures on the petition be binding? As I said before, this petition is going to be a nice list of Stupid People in our county.

The "(?!?)" is a clever piece of irony. You might think they are questioning the wisdom of the new law, but to me the question-exclamation-mark business is a hint that the sentence contains a lie made up to make the law sound worse than it is.

Look at that word "seemingly" in there. "Seemingly, even in their choice of which bathroom to use." Not really, but seemingly. That is good enough for the CRW.

The email went out on the twenty-eighth, apparently inviting people to a meeting on the 29th at the First Baptist Church in Rockville, on Adclare Road, not that they give the date. It just says "tomorrow." This church appears to be over near Woodley Gardens, sort of. Tell me, why would a church allow something like this? Do they think there's something in the Bible saying you should discriminate against transgender people? Do they think Jesus would believe that people change their gender identity "day to day?" Does God tell them that this law will make it legal for creepy men to hang out in the ladies room?

My question: What, exactly, is the religious angle to this?

The flyer has an interesting statement in it:
We need to reach 12,500 (turned in and counted) by February 4th. To date, we have 1000 signatures. There are 20 churches signed up to run referendum drives in January. We need at least 30 more churches to reach or initial goal.

Not long ago, they were saying they needed 25,000 signatures, twice the number they say now. I'm not motivated to go look up the law or anything, so I'm just taking their word for it, but it does not seem like a good sign for them that they have lowered their goal by half. Also, after a month of this, they say they have a thousand signatures. Excuse me for saying so, but ... that's not very many.

I've already said, they can probably get people to sign a petition against perverted men hanging out in the ladies room, or like here, a petition against people deciding from day to day whether they will be male or female. People are more or less uncomfortable with that, and they might sign a petition if they were told that was going to happen, which is apparently the case.

Would people sign a petition to oppose what this new law really says? Would they sign a petition reinstating the right to discriminate against people on the basis of their gender identity? Of course not. Sadly, the CRW feels their lying is justified by the goal, which is to allow discrimination. They'll say anything to get that back.

I don't think anybody from our group went to their meeting. If you heard anything about it, please say something in our comments here, or email us and let us know. If you go to a church where they're pushing this, I'd love to have a look at the kinds of materials they're showing.

In other news, you'll be glad to know our luggage finally arrived today. This is great, using deodorant, brushing my teeth, wearing my own clothes.

Hey, some pictures from our trip.

I woke up in the night in Minneapolis and took a couple of pictures of my kids sleeping. Here's where Northwest put us up after they delayed, delayed, and then canceled our flights -- that's my daughter in the foreground, my son is back farther away, if you can see him:

There were other people sleeping all over the place. There were two teenage girls sleeping back by the wall; their mother sat there awake, watching me suspiciously as I took these pictures. It was about 3:30 in the morning.

When we got to Omaha, a morning fog had just lifted, and the mist had frozen on everything. All the trees were white, not just white on the top like when snow falls, but coated with a white icing. It was about a hundred mile drive to Sioux City, and along the way I asked my brother-in-law to pull over so I could take a picture or two. We stopped at the next turn-off. I got out of the car and just took pictures left, right, front, and back -- everything looked like this, everywhere.

Today we will hold the services for my wife's father. They've been getting photographs and things together for it. People will be talking, and then they just start crying and hugging each other. This is going to be a hard day.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Keep Moving Folks, No Terrorism Here

The Corrente blog is one of my favorites. I read them every day, and highly recommend them. Today they made a point that I have brought up several times here, but I think their approach to it is perfect:
Why is it that when the paramilitary wing of the Christianist movement bombs a clinic or shoots a doctor, it's never covered as an act of terror? Check out this Times story and note the curious lack of agency:
A rash [how spontaneous!] of attacks on abortion and family planning clinics has struck [passive voice!] Albuquerque this month, the first such violence there in nearly a decade.

Two attacks occurred [just happened?] early Tuesday at two buildings belonging to Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, according to Albuquerque police and fire officials. An arson fire [not arsonists?] damaged a surgery center the organization uses for abortions, and the windows of a Planned Parenthood family planning clinic 12 blocks away were [passive voice!] smashed, the officials said.

See, if there's no subject for the sentence, then there are no terrorists, and if there are no terrorists, there can be no terror. Right?
The attacks came just weeks after the Albuquerque clinic run by a nationally known abortion provider, Dr. Curtis Boyd, was destroyed by arsonists [What kind of arsonist?] on Dec. 6.

I mean, sure, forcing women to start using coathangers in back alleys again is a deeply, deeply moral act, so there's absolutely no question that Christianist paramilitaries behind it all are truly heroic figures in the kulturkampf, but can't we get just a smidgeon of balance in the coverage from The World's Greatest Newspaper (not)?

Oh, here's the euphemism du jour:
A study issued last year by the Feminist Majority Foundation, which monitors attacks on abortion clinics, concluded that the most serious anti-abortion violence had declined since 1994, when federal legislation gave greater protection to providers and patients. According to the report, 18 percent of clinics experienced severe violence in 2005, compared with 52 percent in 1994.

Still, the report said, many clinics are still targets of extreme violence.

Oh, OK. "Extreme violence" by Christianist paramilitaries isn't "terror."

Except that by statute, it is.

Hey Bill! Can you take this up with the copy desk? Thanks.

(Source: Christianist bombings and shootings are never, ever "terror")

The propagandists have painted a picture of a "terrorist." He wears a turban, he has a beard ... But in fact, the majority of terrorist attacks in our country, by far, are carried out by what lambert at CorrenteWire is calling Christianists, Christians who believe they are so absolutely right that anyone who feels differently from them, and strangers in the vicinity, deserve to die random violent deaths. I can understand the ordinary person matching-to-stereotypes on something like this, but this blog is pointing out the complicity of the media. Do they not recognize rightwing terrorism as terrorism?

There are two questions here. The first has to do with the public's response to terrorism, which has defined our society for the past six years. We think we are reacting to the actual threat of random deadly force, but here we see there is little public interest in actual terrorism when it fails to meet the advertised stereotype. Maybe it's just too hard to keep track of two slightly different things with the same name, I don't know, I hate to think that people are that dull-witted but I'm too old to be surprised by it. The second thing has to do with the complicity of the press. What do they gain by protecting rightwing terrorists? Why do they do this?

Note to Self: Avoid Northwest

My wife had flown ahead to be with her family in Iowa, and the kids and I were coming out on Friday. She got stranded in Minneapolis, after paying more than a thousand bucks for a same-day ticket, but she finally figured out a way to get out. We had a quick layover scheduled in Minneapolis, less than an hour, so we were glad our flight arrived there a few minutes ahead of time. It's a pretty big airport, and we had to catch a shuttle across to another terminal. We kind of misunderstood how it worked and went back, ran to another point, and got on again. Eventually we ended up at our gate at 4:40 for our 5:10 connection; that's pushing it, but not bad.

It was snowing lightly in Minneapolis when we got off the plane, about twenty Fahrenheit outside. Cloudy, no wind, not too bad for this time of year.

When we got to the gate, the Northwest sign didn't say 5:10 any more, it said 6:30. There was no agent there or anyone, and you could see quite a few people waiting patiently. People are pretty tolerant about that, the airlines just reschedule things and you float with it. As we got closer to 6:30, the sign changed to 6:50, and then when 6:50 came and went it just stayed there, as if we could still leave in the past. The "Departures" monitor in the hallway also said 6:50. They used our gate for a flight to Aberdeen, South Dakota, and then put our Sioux City flight back up on the sign.

I talked with a lady from Sioux City who was a little worried about her family waiting for her. I talked with a young mother and her daughter, who now live in Sioux City. I thought the mother had a New York accent, but she was Russian. Weird, I know a lot of Russians, I never made that mistake before. I talked with a black lady about my age from Puerto Rico, whose English was comparable to my Spanish, so we had a good time laughing at how poorly we communicated. I talked to an older couple who had this little dog with a deformed jaw; and basically no lower jaw, so its tongue hung down to its chest, but it was a happy little mutt, and all the little kids came over to pet it. A little kid reached out to pet it and the dog snapped at his hand; the lady said, "Don't worry, he doesn't have any teeth." I talked to a college girl who was coming from Calgary to visit her boyfriend's family, and who kept text-messaging him while we were talking. I was paranoid that she was saying things like, "Ick, there's this old guy sitting here hitting on me." Of course I wasn't, but you hate to think they're saying that.

My son got a Spin magazine at the Hudson News, and read to me all about this rapper who had recorded a song by a punk band that dresses up like robots. He says they are both extremely famous. We also tried to solve crossword puzzles about Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and Sublime, which is his favorite band. I did pretty well with the Hendrix one.

In other words, you figure out how to pass the time. There was a plane at the gate, but they didn't call us. At one point the kid -- the gate agent looked to be about twenty years old -- looked kind of embarrassed when he told us they were fixing a tray on the plane. He was telling us, "They said it would be about fifteen minutes, five minutes ago." First of all, we're only going on a forty-five minute flight, they aren't serving any food, it wouldn't matter if your tray was busted. Second of all, couldn't they fix that sometime where there wasn't a room full of people waiting? Third -- how long can it take, anyway? You take your vice-grips, you yank it off of there, you get your duct tape and put in a new one, how hard is that?

Finally at about nine they called us to board. By this time we were all pretty good friends. We lined up and took our seats on this little propeller-driven plane, with two rows of seats on the left and one on the right. They made everybody sit in their assigned seats for "load and balance" reasons, even though you could've had a row to yourself somewhere else, whatever, people were okay with that.

Then the pilot said there was a problem with the readout from the cargo door. It was open, but the pilot's instruments said it was closed. Well, you understand how that is, they have to know. He explained it on the PA as if there was an alternative way they could detect it, and said mainly it was a matter of doing the paperwork, and somebody had to come with that. But in the meantime work crews came and they were hammering on the door, and passengers heard them use the f-word a number of times, working out there in the freezing darkness. Passengers were getting silly. I heard a lady calling her family on her cell phone, she told them, "There could be a Mutiny on the Bounty here, people are getting a little upset." She wasn't joking, just telling them. But everybody stayed cheerful, it's just that Northwest was the butt of their humor. Also, I noticed that the language was not as G-rated as it had been when we first got on the plane; these cheerful Midwesterners were hinting to each other that they were reaching their limit.

We were four hours late so far, and people were making pretty funny jokes about Northwest and the way this was all being handled. Then the pilot told us there was frost on the wings. The guy in the seat in front of me, who was going to Iowa to work on the Biden campaign, speculated that the crews would be out with the hair driers in a minute. His prediction was, they would be defrosting with the hair driers and they would chip the paint, so they'd have to send out another crew to re-paint the plane, and then wait for paperwork again.

The guy across from me lives in Sioux City. He said right at the start, there's no way they want to spend the money to fly this plane there, when there's another flight at 9:30. He said that the airline wants to put us on that flight. He kept saying it. At first it sounded like a joke or a conspiracy theory. He said it had happened to him twice already, just like that. He said they're going to waste a bunch of time and then try to book us on that other flight.

Finally they closed the door and made us turn off our cell phones, and they started the propellers. This is about where I like to catch a nap, so I closed my eyes, and we started taxiing. It seemed like a long time. Finally the pilot announced we were second in line for the runway. Then he said, sorry, conditions in Sioux City are bad now, the clouds are too low, we can't land there. We sounded actually sorry, said, I know you're getting frustrated but there's nothing we can do. He told us, don't worry, there's another plane going there in about an hour. He said they had teams of people in the airport right now getting the paperwork in order to transfer us to that flight. It was a bigger plane, and somehow it would be able to land there. He said stand in Line Eight. The guy across from me was laughing, he was turning out to be right about this.

I found out from people who had not closed their eyes that our plane had actually gone around in circles on the tarmac, three times, passing the same landmarks. Two different people told me that.

We got off, and nobody knew what Line Eight was, so everybody stood in line at our gate, to get their papers processed for the other plane. I didn't recognize some people in the line, and the sign said it was for Mason City, so I went up and asked the agent, is this the line to get transferred to the other flight to Sioux City? She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. "Yeah, sure," she said.

The girl from Russia was at the front of the line talking to them, and didn't look too happy. She had her head on the counter. Her daughter was standing there. I got back in line. Then I saw her walking out to the escalator, shaking her head, obviously too unhappy to tell anybody what had happened. She works at Gateway, her husband is a lawyer. Pretty lady, and her daughter looks exactly like her, but six or so.

The gate behind us opened up, and they said they could help us there. I got in line behind a guy holding a baby. He told the lady he'd been lied to. The gate agent, who was wearing ridiculous multi-colored-framed glasses, told him to settle down. He was very calm, he said, "I'm just telling you, we were lied to."

She said, "Sir, step away from the counter. Step back from the counter. Step away from the counter or I'm calling the police. You don't have to be angry."

I was behind him. I said, "There's a whole airplane full of angry people, we're all angry."

The other gate agent came out from behind the desk and touched my arm, and said, "Don't get angry. It won't help to be angry."

I said, "I'm just telling you, he's right, we were lied to."

The gate agents were frantic. This was turning ugly, these nice people from the heartland had been pushed a little too far. People were telling them we were promised another flight, but it didn't show on their computer. Actually, there was no other flight.

When it was my turn, the lady said they might be able to get us on a flight to Sioux City tomorrow and nine o'clock at night. I had already heard them saying this to the guy in front of me, and had had my son check the schedule while my daughter called my wife in Sioux City to see if they could pick us up and they could, and so I suggested they could fly us to Omaha instead, in the morning. This worked, they got me some pieces of paper they called "Itineraries," which are not boarding passes. They said they couldn't print boarding passes, because it was too early or something. Also, they couldn't get us a hotel because the flight was canceled due to weather, and Northwest isn't responsible for weather delays. It doesn't matter that the weather was fine when the flight was scheduled to take off, and even for the next five hours after that until the very instant we reached the runway. She said that if we went to the ticket counter, they would have cots or mats for us.

We were going to do that, but the ticket counter is outside the secure zone, and I realized we might not be able to get back in without boarding passes. So we found another Northwest gate, where a dozen people from another flight were getting hotel rooms, oddly enough, and I discussed it with that gate agent, who not only printed boarding passes for us but gave us a voucher for a discount at a hotel, which the other gate agents should have done. By that time, though, it was nearly midnight, and we had a flight at seven in the morning. So at best we might've gotten three or four hours of comfortable sleep.

I called my wife to tell her the plan. Our flight was not on the computers at the gate yet, or on the monitors in the hallway, but she could see it on the Internet, and told us we would be at Gate F-11. So we had a sandwich at Subway and went to F-11. Some of the seats didn't have arm-rests, and people were crashing where there were three or so of those in a row so you could stretch out. The three of us found places like that and lay down after setting the alarms on our cell phones for six AM.

As I write this, it is morning and we are sitting at F-11 watching the scheduled departure change from 7:00 to 7:07 to 7:21. My wife called earlier and asked, and I told her it looked there was a plane here and we'd be on time, so she's going to wake people up to drive over to Omaha to get us. Our luggage will be in Sioux City, but nobody knows when it will arrive.

This has been handled as inefficiently as you can imagine. We are making a little hop halfway across the US, to visit my wife's family who are gathered there for the passing of her father and there will be a service on Sunday. The weather is decent, the airports have not been crowded, there is no reason this has to be this way, except for the incompetence of Northwest Airlines.

One thing. When we were on the plane, and the pilot announced we would be going back to the gate, the guy who had predicted this said, "Well, they're just saving money, that's business." The way he understood it, the corporate office knew they would save money by not making the extra flight, but the crew wouldn't get paid unless they made an attempt. So they had to put us all on the plane and go out to the runway, and then blame the weather, so the crew would be paid, the flight could be canceled, and Northwest wouldn't be responsible for putting us up in a hotel.

It just struck me as strange that this all makes sense to a guy, because it's "business." Is this what business has become, and we're supposed to put up with it?

[Update] I'm now in Sioux City. There was fog this morning, and it froze on the trees, and the whole hundred mile drive from Omaha was amazingly beautiful. I took some pictures, hopefully I'll show a couple of them to you later.

Friday, December 28, 2007

CRC Files Papers

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and two other groups filed a brief in court this week, trying to convince the court to overturn the Maryland State Board of Education's decision to let the new Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum proceed. The groups want the state board to review everything the county does, when it is challenged, while the state takes a cautious view about stepping on the county's authority. The CRC wants the court to force the state to review all the details they whined complained about, to micromanage the county's decision to implement the new curriculum, because ... the CRC doesn't like the classes.

I'm not one to understand subtleties of law, you might say -- generally when I've dealt with the law, the law won -- but there is one quote from the motion that I think they intend as a sort of summary of their argument:
If the State Board cannot adequately review the decisions of its local boards, who can?

It's an interesting question. The county board and superintendent initiate a project, the district works on it for several years, experts are called in, a gaggle of lawyers, a bevy of doctors, professional educators and administrators, a citizens committee reviews the new material, the board reviews it, the superintendent's office reviews it, the county board votes on it ... and then the state board, who had nothing to do with the whole thing, is supposed to review it all over again, because a small gang of cranks complains that the classes were too fair to gay people.

No, I have a better answer to the question, who can review the decisions of the local boards?

The answer is: the voters.

By the way, I should note that this is the conservative opinion that I am expressing. The CRC wants the larger bureaucracy to overrule the local community, I'm saying we can handle it ourselves. It's like states' rights, moved down a notch.

Montgomery County got this curriculum because Montgomery County citizens want this kind of curriculum. The CRC and other groups did all they could to stir up opposition, there just wasn't any. They could've run a school board candidate that would have fought against the curriculum -- in fact, even though they are registered with the IRS as a nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, they went to the local newspaper and told them what candidates they supported in the last elections. And they all lost. Badly. The candidates that the voters picked were the ones who had gone on record as supporting these classes.

The CRC can appeal to the courts to force the state board to micromanage the county's work, it's their right, and the taxpayers will pay the bill for defending the county school district's right to serve the community. But there's nothing really wrong with this curriculum -- nothing "arbitrary, unreasonable, or illegal," as the legal wording goes -- the county school district approved it, the state superintendent said it was okay, the state school board said it was okay, the public is fine with it.

There will be a hearing next month, as I understand it, and a judge will rule on this. I never can tell what lawyers and judges are going to say or do, so I'm not making any predictions. Montgomery County has some of the highest-rated schools in the country, and not by accident, but because the organization is supremely capable of doing good work.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Light Blogging

If you've read recent blog posts, you see that there's a lot of stuff going on in my life that needs attention. For the next couple of weeks I will be traveling, seeing family, dealing with things, here and there, and I don't expect to keep a regular schedule at the blog here.

It should be a quiet time of the year anyway, so hopefully we don't miss anything important.

Brits Lightening Up: Good

It is heartening to see reason returning to the British people as they recover from the Bush-Blair era, I can only hope it returns to Americans soon, too.

From The Guardian:
Gordon Brown's hopes of securing a parliamentary majority for his plans to extend the time terrorist suspects can be detained without charge have been dealt a severe blow by a survey of Commons opinion showing only a third of MPs back tougher laws.

The survey also reveals the appetite for further anti-terror legislation among Brown's own MPs is faltering, with 48% of Labour MPs agreeing there has been too much anti-terror legislation.

The findings indicate Brown may have badly misread the mood of parliament by tabling plans to extend the period of detention in terrorist cases to 42 days, subject to stronger judicial and parliamentary oversight.

The survey, likely to ring alarm bells in the government whip's office, finds only 36% of Labour MPs support extending detention beyond the current 28-day limit. The findings were revealed after the director of public prosecutions yesterday launched a fresh attack on the plans. Sir Ken Macdonald said the evidence had shown that the existing 28-day limit was working well and he accused ministers of legislating on the basis of "hypotheticals".

"I think the basic point is whether you want to legislate on the basis of hypotheticals or whether you want to legislate on the basis of the evidence that we have acquired through practice," he said. Only third of MPs back tougher anti-terror law

In the US, a politician who supported due process and habeas corpus would still be seen as soft on terrorism. Why would want to give rights to the people who intend to commit acts of terror against Americans? Well, the reason is that we do have a system of justice, and part of what it does is determine if an accused person really is guilty of the crime they are charged with. You lock them up without charges, without a trial, and you have undermined everything our civilized society stands for. Maybe they are guilty -- in that case, evidence will be presented, arguments will be made, and they will be punished.

You might have noticed, almost nobody that has been charged in the US with crimes related to terrorism since 9/11 has been convicted. I take it back. There have been numerous convictions of rightwing terrorists, but the media are careful not to muddy the waters by actually using the word to describe them -- they are usually "abortion clinic bombers" or something.

Security expert Bruce Schneier had a really excellent article, which you can read HERE, about what he calls "The War on the Unexpected," the tendency to look suspiciously at anything out of the ordinary. His analysis is right on the target, even if the article is not that recent. It is crazy, just insane, when people are expected to freak out over a backpack or briefcase left on a train, or somebody doing something out of the ordinary. The amplification of fear in our society is outrageous, and people should refuse to play along with it.

It would appear that this process can only lead inevitably to pure, invariant conformity. Remember the young lady from MIT who showed up at the airport to pick up her friend, wearing a little piece of electronic art with LEDs that blinked and stuff? They arrested her, charged her with crimes, for cryin' out loud. You can say, well, she should've known better, but I disagree, she shouldn't have had to know better. She wasn't hurting anybody, and it never occurred to her that anybody would be afraid of her. But they were, they were terrified, and they blamed her for doing something unexpected that made them think frightening thoughts.

I've talked about this before, but it's an important fact: an excellent system of justice is going to let a bad guy get away now and then. It's the trade-off that allows liberty for the rest of us. You have to give people their rights, even if they are terrible horrible people, you have to give them a fair chance to defend themselves. The generous attitude is to say that mistakes can be made, for instance with the MIT student or the guy they executed for turnstile-jumping in London, and the less-nice interpretation is that tyranny needs to be held in check -- sometimes it's not a mistake, it's an attempt to stifle legitimate dissent.

So it's good to see the Brits waking up from the nightmare.
The survey also reveals that two-thirds (65%) of MPs think there has already been too much legislation in this area and 62% disagree with the use of the phrase "war on terror".

To which I say: good. There's no "war on terror" and there never was, it's an impossibility. Terrorists capitalize on surprise, that's how it works, you cannot have a government that prevents all surprises. Maybe you can, but who'd want to live like that? A guy's carrying a bouquet behind his back, coming home after work -- it could be a bomb! Report him!

One of the great disappointments of our time has been the ease with which Americans gave up their heard-earned freedom. It didn't take anything, really, just constant reminders about how frightening life can be, and Americans willingly gave up everything our great country stood for. It's looking like people in the UK are beginning to realize what has happened/ How soon will it be before Americans see the awful tragedy of our time in perspective?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Let There Be Peace on Earth

Yesterday I was teasing my kids, I said, "So, how do you want to handle Christmas this year? Do you guys just want to come into my room and start jumping on the bed at five in the morning, going 'We wanna open presents! We wanna open presents!' like you usually do?" Some years we have opened one present on Christmas Eve, and then the rest on Christmas day; also, part of the question was, you guys are essentially grown up now, maybe we could wait till a little later in the morning this year ...

In hindsight, I think I should've said "seven o'clock" instead of five. They might not have been able to stay awake that long.

At five this morning I had two young adults literally jumping on my bed like it was a trampoline, begging to open their presents.

I overheard some kids talking yesterday, and the conversation was familiar: "Whatcha gettin'?" You were always told that it's not the receiving but the giving that should be the spirit of Christmas, but hearing this conversation I had to stop and think about that. For you and me, grown-ups, that's true, but we don't need to be told -- for us, it's fun to pick out gifts for children, their anticipation is fun for us. For the little ones, for kids, it really is the receiving that's fun, seeing what gifts Santa brings you. Nobody really expects little kids to give as much as they get, and nobody really minds if they're excited by the prospect of getting a whole lot of new stuff, any more than we really keep score of whether they've been good all year. For us the fun is in giving to them, and seeing how excited they are, and creating a happy fantasy world for them with reindeer and elves and tales of the faraway North Pole. It's a time we indulge them, just once, and it's fun for us as givers and for them as getters. At Christmas we adults can remember being little, the excitement of waiting for Santa, how hard it was to fall asleep, listening for those reindeer.

The spirit of Christmas is one of hope and innocence that anyone can be part of. I asked out loud a few years ago whether there would still be Christmas cards with the embarrassing slogan, "Peace on earth, goodwill to men," such an un-American thing to say! And you know what -- there still are. At Christmastime we look upon the innocence of a newborn baby, the innocence of childhood, the hope and possibilities of a new life, and we block out the cruelty of adults, we pretend it doesn't exist for one day, if we can. You don't have to subscribe to any particular religious dogma to wish for peace on earth or that the world could be refreshed with the innocence of a child. Traditions have been retrofitted to a Christian mythology, but Christmas is a secular holiday, anybody can be part of it. Call it something different: Yule works.

It happens that the innocence of children and peace on earth are themes of a holiday that coincides with the winter solstice, when the sun has reached its darkest point and is certainly going to gain in strength again; warmth will return to the world, if we just hold on and wait. As such, Christmas is a profound holiday, one whose significance transcends levels of understanding. It represents, among other things, the rebirth of innocence, the wish for worldwide harmony, the celebration of man's humble place in (and dependence on) nature and the cycle of the seasons.

This year, my wife is far away; her father, our children's grandfather, died yesterday. My children themselves are not children any more, but young adults. They want to hang with their friends these days, yes, sometimes more than family, we understand how that is, they are making the transition to adulthood, toward a time when they might start their own families. A death in the family -- that is painful at any time, but especially now, when families are huddling together praying for the light to come back into the world, and one candle has gone dark. A death brings the family closer together, those whose miss him the most can share their grief and console one another.

These are dark times for our country, when greed and fear have been allowed to make our decisions for us. Here at the solstice it is good to know that the darkness can only push so far, that the sun always comes back again. When we say "Peace on earth" we should pause and ask ourselves whether we really mean it, and if we do mean it, what would that look like, and how do we get there from here? This is a good time to make a plan, to start on a path. And then, each day through the new year we should follow up on it, measure our progress, refine our planning, take another step. You don't have to subscribe to any particular dogma to see peace for all as a worthwhile goal, and to figure out how to work toward it.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Times That Make a Family Strong

Most Sunday mornings you hear from me, what music I'm listening to, the weather, my latest obsession or bright idea. This morning I couldn't blog, I was too busy; it's afternoon now and I have a few minutes but this will be brief. Let me tell you what's up.

You remember when our house flooded back in October. One thing that happened was that the wood floors were ruined. The wood got warped and stained, it was uncomfortable to walk on and it didn't look very nice. It was mostly in the hallway outside the bathroom where the pipe broke, but the water ran into two bedrooms, too, a little bit. The thing is, they can't fix part of the floor or it will look different from the rest, so they have to do all or none. They figured they could sand and varnish, and didn't have to replace the wood, which is good, but it still meant they had to do the whole top level of our house, and the stairs and the living room, which is the level below (I don't really know the terminology for a split-level house, they aren't quite "stories" or "floors").

That meant taking everything -- everything -- out of four bedrooms and the living room, and moving it downstairs to the family room, my office, the dining room and kitchen. Last week we did that. There are mattresses leaning against the stove, stools on top of bedtables on top of bookshelves in the dining room. A big stuffed chair in the middle of the kitchen. Boxes everywhere. There are narrow paths through the lower level of the house so you can get from one room to another.

And we have been living in a hotel for the whole week. It turned out to be a hotel located right in a Verizon dead spot, so none of our cell phones worked. I won't complain about the hotel, since the insurance company paid for it, but it wasn't home, let's say. We moved back today.

Also, my wife's father is in the last stages of lung cancer. We were planning to visit grandparents the week after Christmas, but she got a call this morning saying this might be it, and so she figured out how to get a ticket to Iowa and right now, as I type this, our son is driving her to Dulles. They are a very close family, all calling each other every day, not like my family, who I probably wouldn't recognize if I ran into them unexpectedly (just kidding, I'm pretty sure I would). She is really broken up about this, and I know this will be the worst week in her life because they love and respect their father so much. He was an old-time hard-working man who raised up a good family through good times and hard times, and it's hard for them to see him weak like this now. We were going to go out on the twenty-eighth, but if he passes we will have to figure out how to change the tickets for the rest of us and everything else, boarding the dog, stopping the paper, all of it.

Christmas has always been an important holiday for us. As you can imagine, we aren't the most religious family in the world, but we always got out the advent calendar and went through it with the kids, opening up a new picture every day, and we have a hilarious series of Polaroid pictures of them screaming and twisting around on Santa's lap year after year, that poor old guy at White Flint. They're seventeen and nineteen now, so ... actually I don't think Santa would mind if the nineteen-year-old sat on his lap, but I am not going to encourage her to do that. I remember, it used to amaze me that every present cost twenty dollars, little or big, it was always the same price. Thomas the Tank Engine or something for a bike, it was always twenty dollars. Those days are gone. No, they're not getting the Apple notebook. But there are some really pretty nice things stashed in a secret place that I am not going to mention on the Internet.

I don't know what to do about Christmas. I'd like to wait and celebrate with the whole family, but I also want Christmas day to be special. The kids are upset in a deep way, knowing that their grandfather is leaving us. And of course the house is a disaster, there's no Christmas tree or anything, and I don't think it would be very good to set one up on the new wood floor. At this moment there is absolutely nothing in the living room, not even curtains.

I just thought of something. There's a little Christmas tree about two feet high on a counter in the kitchen, I think I'll put that on a coffee table, that'd be neat, wouldn't it? [Update: see picture at the end of this post. See how nice our floor looks!]

I just read what I've written so far, and it sounds pretty depressing. Sorry about that, we're fine. In a strange way these are the best times, there are lots of hugs and tears and people doing things that are hard, but need to be done. It can only work if we love one another. This blog is usually a place for discussion of sex-ed and things about the culture wars, but occasionally, especially on Sundays, I write something personal. It's just me and the kids here for a few days, it looks like, and I know they'll rise to the occasion. We've got a lot of work to do here, and we will end up having the best Christmas, you just watch.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

New Ethics Guidelines for OB-GYNs

The Committee on Ethics of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has released a new statement to address the problem of doctors who, usually for religious reasons, refuse to perform certain procedures that their patients need. While a lot of this will refer to abortions, there's more to it than that, for instance there have been cases where doctors have refused to prescribe the morning-after pill after a rape, cases where spousal rape was treated as consensual, etc.

The PDF file has some stupid security lock on it that doesn't allow you to cut and paste from it, so I will just type in the abstract for your reading entertainment.
Health care providers occasionally may find that providing indicated, even standard, care would present for them a personal moral problem -- a conflict of conscience -- particularly in the field of reproductive medicine. Although respect for conscience is important, conscientious refusals should be limited if they constitute an imposition of religious or moral beliefs on patients, negatively affect a patient's health, are based on scientific misinformation, or create or reinforce racial or socioeconomic inequalities. Conscientious refusals that conflict with patient well-being should be accommodated only if the primary duty to the patient can be fulfilled. All health care providers must provide accurate and unbiased information so that patients can make informed decisions. Where conscience implores physicians to deviate from standard practices, they must provide potential patients with accurate and prior notice of their personal moral commitments. Physicians and other health care providers have the duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers if they not feel that they can in conscience provide the standard reproductive services that patients request. In resource-poor areas, access to safe and legal reproductive services should be maintained. Providers with moral or religious objections should either practice in proximity to individuals who do not share their views or ensure that referral processes are in place. In an emergency in which referral is not possible or might negatively have an impact on a patient's physical or mental health, providers have an obligation to provide medically indicated and requested care.

The Limits of Conscientious Refusal in Reproductive Medicine

There's a lot of stuff there -- every sentence is loaded with meaning. You might want to go to the original and read the whole thing.

A couple of things jump out at me. One is the obvious observation that doctors who withhold care already think they're doing the "morally right" thing, they believe they know better than the patient. So talking about decisions that "conflict with patient well-being" are not likely to compute for them -- maybe withholding care is good for the patient's spiritual, if not physical, well-being.

I just can't see a holier-than-thou sadist sharing an office with a doc who cares -- "practice in proximity to individuals who do not share their views..." The way this works is that these people are absolutely sure that they're right and everybody else is not only wrong, but spiritually inferior to them. No, they're not going to ask a sin-monger to share an office with them.

I'm guessing this will not likely change the behaviors of any physicians right away, but it will be interesting to see what happens down the road when a couple of them start losing their accreditation, when they get their names in the paper for ethical violations.

I don't know what the ethical statements for other branches of medicine say. Of course these OB-GYNs are in the crossfire of the culture wars, dealing with fertility and pregnancy issues. What are physicians obligated to do if they have a gay or transgender patient, for instance, say a young person with a lot of questions? Should they be required to tell the patient if they have a religious duty to misinform them, and give them the name of another doctor who is more likely to be truthful? I think that would be fair.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Are They Hiding?

The little controversy in our county over a sex-ed curriculum was hardly worth fighting over, on its own. Some kids will take a couple of classes, it's not really the end of the world one way or the other. It really only mattered because it was part of a pattern that reaches all through the fabric of our country. Even the anti-gay venom is just part of a larger pattern. The religious right has moved into government, military, and business to saturate American life with an ideology of irrationality and ugliness -- and when I say "religious right" I don't mean "religious people" or even "religion," I mean people with a political agenda dressed in religious clothing.

In some places these groups have undermined the teaching of science, for instance by substituting religious dogma for the biology of evolution. In other places books are banned, history is revised, you never know what they're going to try -- look at the effort the local groups have put into keeping discrimination against transgender people legal. Who would have seen that coming? They tell us this is justified by their religion -- people with "deep religious beliefs" oppose fair treatment for transgender people. The new Crusades -- who could have imagined that America would be swept up in a Holy War against the Moors in the twenty-first century? Considering just the war against Islam by itself, the billions of dollars that have been spent in attacking Iraq and Afghanistan, the planned unprovoked assault on Iran, the magnitude of it is inconceivably huge.

You might remember earlier in the year, when somebody noticed that Regent University's web site boasted that they had placed 150 of their alumni in the Bush administration. Somehow students from a small, conservative, Christian college were being funneled into powerful positions in the government. As soon as the media noticed Regent's statement, they removed it from their web site, because secrecy is necessary for this to work.

Just how influential are these dangerous groups? Nobody really knows.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge ordered the Secret Service on Monday to disclose records of visits by nine prominent conservative Christian leaders to the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's residence.

The ruling, in response to a legal watchdog group's suit, could shed light on the influence leaders like James Dobson of Focus on the Family have had on President George W. Bush's administration. It may also affect legal efforts to force the release of visiting records of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other similar cases.

"We think that these conservative Christian leaders have had a very big impact," said Executive Director Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed the case.

"The White House doesn't want to talk about how much influence these leaders have, and we want to talk about how much they do have," she said. White House told to detail Christian leader visits

What legitimate reason could there be for keeping this a secret? According to the White House, someone like Dobson is a great guy, right? So why would they hide the fact that he hangs out with them? If he was so great, you'd think they'd want everybody to know they were buddies.

You've got to watch these sneaky guys.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Morning: Not a Pretty Day

Through the year, it seems like Sunday morning has been a time for stepping back, ruminating here on the TTF blog. I put WPFW on the radio, fill a cup, check the paper. Usually I talk about how it is outside, and usually it is outrageously nice. It has made me realize what a beautiful place we live in, every week I go out to the sidewalk for the Sunday paper, and I come in and write on the blog, and I have to say, "Today it is ridiculously gorgeous outside."

This morning I won't be saying that.

I've seen uglier mornings. I've looked out and seen the world choking under a thick blanket of ice; there have been humid, hot days when nobody would want to go out, when you open the door and break out in a sweat, immediately. Surprising how few those days are, but there have been some. Today is just a day you're glad to be inside. Even the dog knows better, he's going to sleep a couple more hours before his bladder demands that he get up and ask me to take him for a walk. It's about forty degrees outside, wet, the sky is gray. It's not cold enough for snow, it's warm enough for rain but not a nice rain, a chilly rain.

We've been busy at my house. You might remember when we flooded, a pipe broke upstairs and flooded the whole house. Well, this week they're going to fix the wood floors, sand and varnish the whole top two stories where all the wood warped. What that means is that we have to get everything off the floor. Everything. It means we have to empty the bedrooms and the living room, take all the furniture and all the stuff in those rooms and move it somewhere else. So downstairs is just rooms jam-full of junk, upstairs is nothing but dust bunnies. The beds are still up, and we left a couple of things, dressers, computers, the TV, to move last. We'll live in a hotel for a week, and then move back in and put everything away again. I expect that my wife will have some thoughts about re-arranging the furniture; the moving-back process will not be trivial.

It seems a little quieter in Montgomery County these days. The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum have lost in the schools, they wanted to promote their bigotry in the classroom and it isn't going to happen. Now they've changed their name and they're trying to get support for a referendum on the gender-identity nondiscrimination issue, and to tell you the truth, I wouldn't presume to guess how that will go. It may be that they can get the newspapers to talk about perverted men in the ladies room, and people will freak out and sign the petition. I have come to the point where nothing surprises me.

Well, some things surprise me. I am pleasantly surprised to see how people here are, as far as quietly getting the picture. Like, there are a few people in the CRC, maybe three of them, who do everything. And there are a few of us, probably a half dozen, who stay on this issue every day. They have another dozen, maybe not that many, who will show up for meetings, carry a sign, bring a petition to church, whatever, and we have a couple dozen people who will go in front of the school board, write a letter to the editor, speak up at a meeting at their school, take pictures at a protest.

When it's like that, you don't know how everybody else feels. The great majority of MoCo folk have not spoken up on this issue, and that's mainly because they don't care, I imagine they figure it'll all work out in the end. That's the way I always felt, you trust in people, you know things can get a little crazy but people will eventually come through for you and do the decent thing.

We have some neighbors who signed the CRC's petition to keep discrimination legal. We aren't friends, let's say, but I never realized how different we were until I saw their name on the petition. Here's the kind of neighbors they are. They have two dogs that used to bark, they would just sit out in the yard and bark because they wanted to go in, and the people ignored them. Once, years ago, the dogs were barking at night, say 10:30, and my kids needed to go to sleep and they couldn't because of the barking dogs, and I went there and asked them if they could bring the dogs in or quiet them up somehow. And here's what they said: "It's legal for the dogs to bark until eleven o'clock."

I have talked about something like this before. I once got a notice from the city because my grass had grown too tall. I forget, we'd been on a trip or something, whatever, it was getting kind of scraggly. Of course I cut it, and it was a little embarrassing to have to be told to. As I was mowing, I was thinking, I don't cut my grass because there's a law that says how tall it can be. I cut my grass because I want my yard to look nice. I don't want to be the family on our block with the raggedy yard. I like to be proud of my house. Yes, one time I needed to be prompted; the point was, that isn't why you're a good citizen, fear of punishment isn't what makes us get along and take on our responsibilities. Punishment enforces a standard, but most of us don't think about it -- like, did you ever not kill somebody because you were afraid of the death penalty?

The same thing, you don't bring in the dog because the law says it can't bark after eleven o'clock, you bring it in because it bothers the neighbors. That seems to me like common sense, common courtesy, as my mom used to say.

But some people don't feel that way. Some people think it is their right to get away with every rude thing they can do, as long as there isn't a law against it. We have seen Congressmen and political insiders admit to doing all kinds of terrible things, and their defense is, I didn't break the law. Whatever, dude, you did the wrong thing, there doesn't need to be a law for every little screwed-up thing you can do. Why would anybody accept the excuse, I didn't break the law? Who cares? You lied to people, you made secret deals that made the world a worse place, who cares if you broke the law or not?

These neighbors signed the CR-Whatever's petition to keep discrimination against transgender people legal. Like it's going to be a big inconvenience to them if somebody doesn't fit neatly into a stereotypical gender role.

The CRC put up this petition with some statement about perverted men going into the ladies room, and these people signed it. I imagine they believed that the law would somehow make it legal for ... y'know, what they say ... for guys to go into the ladies room and expose themselves to the ladies. And since it would be legal, naturally, guys would do that. According to the CRC, all a guy has to do is tell the cops he feels like a woman inside, and he can wave his penis at the ladies in the ladies room all he wants. Like, their new web site has a quote at the top, where a woman is saying, From what I'm reading, the person with gender identity confusion is being protected by what she or he FEELS he or she is. So, if I'm in a bathroom all by myself late at night, and a man walks in, I am supposed to be okay with this?

Apparently my neighbors read something like that, and to them it feels like that could really happen. You can almost picture it, can't you, a pretty young woman, late at night, in a toilet stall somewhere -- it's sort of dark, and quiet, I think there is a blinking sign across the street that says "Bates Motel" with a couple of letters burned out -- and a guy comes in. He's got a five o'clock shadow and a tooth missing, he's drunk, he is chuckling under his breath, like "Haw haw haw." His eyes dart around the ladies room furtively, looking to see who's there. He sees a pair of shapely young ankles under the door, in fashionable shoes. He unzips his pants, pulls his festering penis out, waves it around muttering "Haw haw haw" under his breath, preparing for when the innocent victim steps out of the stall. She is paralyzed with fear... All he has to do is claim to feel like a woman inside, and it's all okay. Sign right here.

The good news is, there aren't very many people who live here who are stupid enough to go along with this sort of thing. The CRC has a bunch of links on their new web site from Family Blah Blah groups, talking about how you can use your church to do political things. I'm sure they are going to churches, telling people that perverted men will started exposing themselves in ladies rooms unless good Christians sign the petition. And, since it will be church and people expect to be told the truth at church and people try to do good things right after a sermon, they will find someone to sign it. Churchgoers will gasp at the prospect of perverted men in the ladies room, and of course they're against that, and they'll sign the nice lady's petition.

Most people won't. Most people are decent and thoughtful, and before they sign something they will want to read a little bit about it. Because it might sound a little weird to them that the county would pass a law that said it was okay for perverted guys to expose their festering penises to pretty and innocent young women in fashionable shoes in the ladies room, and they might want to check into exactly how this terrible mistake was made.

I am so glad I thought of the word "festering." It makes it bettter, don't you think?

The thing is, the nuts are saying that this is what the bill is about, and if you went to look it up on the Internet it is possible that all you'd find is their crazy interpretation. The rightwing sites pick this stuff up and repeat it, and I'll bet Google would take you to a bunch of sites that talk about perverted men in the ladies room, without mentioning that it is not nice to discriminate against someone who is already having a difficult time with their life, because they were dealt a hand that is relatively hard to play. That means somebody has to point out the obvious. Somebody has to remind people what the law is actually about.

Sometimes it's embarrassing to have to talk about the obvious, and to argue with people who just want to change the subject. We look at ourselves sometimes, and wonder how did this happen? We'd like to just listen to some good music, get the floors fixed, take care of things from day to day. But somebody has to do this. Somebody has to make sense when there are people out there signing petitions to stop the sky from falling.

WPFW is playing a beautiful jazz piano piece now, and my cup is nearly empty. A minute ago there was thunder, which is strange for December, and hard rain, but now the rain is back to a drizzle. I think I'll fill up my cup and see what's in the news, while everybody's still sleeping.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

States Turn Down Free Abstinence Money

Well, this is about as direct a statement as you'll see in the morning paper. From the Washington Post:
The number of states refusing federal money for "abstinence-only" sex education programs jumped sharply in the past year as evidence mounted that the approach is ineffective.

At least 14 states have either notified the federal government that they will no longer be requesting the funds or are not expected to apply, forgoing more than $15 million of the $50 million available, officials said. Virginia was the most recent state to opt out. Abstinence Programs Are Facing Rejection

It's significant when people won't take free money.
Two other states -- Ohio and Washington -- have applied but stipulated they would use the money for comprehensive sex education, effectively making themselves ineligible, federal officials said. While Maryland and the District are planning to continue applying for the money, other states are considering withdrawing as well.

Until this year, only four states had passed up the funding.

"We're concerned about this," said Stan Koutstaal of the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the program. "My greatest concern about states dropping out is that these are valuable services and programs. It's the youths in these states who are missing out."

This is kind of interesting. I was looking around the Internet to find out who this guy is -- turns out he comes from a "faith-based program" in St. Louis, whatever. But I found this report put out by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Here's a paragraph from the "Summary of Major Findings" section:
Findings indicate that youth who were assigned to the Title V abstinence education “program group” were no more likely than youth who were assigned to the “services as usual” control group to have abstained from sex. Those who reported having sex had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same mean age. Contrary to concerns raised by critics of abstinence education, program group youth were no more likely to have engaged in unprotected sex than control group youth.

I should mention that this study used self-report data only; the "concerns raised by critics," as I recall, were elicited by some lab tests that were conducted on respondents, which revealed a level of sexually-transmitted infection that was not reported in the questionnaire. So this "result" is not quite what they make it.

The good news is, abstinence education does not seem to have any effect.

Back to The Post.
The number of states spurning the money has grown even as Congress considers boosting overall funding for abstinence-only education to $204 million, with most of it going directly to community organizations.

The trend has triggered intense lobbying of state legislators and governors around the country. Supporters of the programs are scrambling to reverse the decisions, while opponents are pressuring more states to join the trend.

"This wave of states rejecting the money is a bellwether," said William Smith of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a Washington-based advocacy and education group that opposes abstinence-only programs. "It's a canary in the coal mine of what's to come."

"We hope that it sends a message to the politicians in Washington that this program needs to change, and states need to be able to craft a program that is the best fit for their young people and that is not a dictated by Washington ideologues," Smith said.

There's more. Follow the link if you're interested.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Royal College Expresses Our Opinion, Clear and Concise

The British Royal College of Psychiatrists has written a "Submission to the Church of England's Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality," on the topic of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people. I'm not sure what that is, exactly, it appears to be a way the scientific community can keep the church informed, I guess. You will find it interesting to see what shrinks across the pond have to say on this matter.

I'll extract the key points here -- it should be clear where I've edited.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists holds the view that LGB people should be regarded as valued members of society who have exactly similar rights and responsibilities as all other citizens. This includes equal access to health care, the rights and responsibilities involved in a civil partnership, the rights and responsibilities involved in procreating and bringing up children, freedom to practice a religion as a lay person or religious leader, freedom from harassment or discrimination in any sphere and a right to protection from therapies that are potentially damaging, particularly those that purport to change sexual orientation.

We shall address a number of issues that arise from our expertise in this area with the aim of informing the debate within the Church of England about homosexual people. These concern the history of the relationship between psychiatry and LGB people, determinants of sexual orientation, the mental health and well being of LGB people, their access to psychotherapy and the kinds of psychotherapy that can be harmful.

1. The history of psychiatry with LGB people.

Opposition to homosexuality in Europe reached a peak in the nineteenth century. What had earlier been regarded as a vice, evolved into a perversion or psychological illness. Official sanction of homosexuality both as illness and (for men) a crime led to discrimination, inhumane treatments and shame, guilt and fear for gay men and lesbians (1). However, things began to change for the better some 30 years ago when in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association concluded there was no scientific evidence that homosexuality was a disorder and removed it from its diagnostic glossary of mental disorders. The International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organisation followed suit in 1992. This unfortunate history demonstrates how marginalisation of a group of people who have a particular personality feature (in this case homosexuality) can lead to harmful medical practice and a basis for discrimination in society. Submission to the Church of England's Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality

That is about as concise a summary as you could imagine, the whole history of a subject in one short paragraph. Hey, do you suppose TV shrinks in the UK speak the queen's snooty English with a German accent? I can't imagine that. Tell me, old boy, vot are you-ah feelinks about you-ah mothah?
2. The origins of homosexuality

Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person's fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation (2). It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors (3) and the early uterine environment (4). Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice, though sexual behaviour clearly is. Thus LGB people have exactly the same rights and responsibilities concerning the expression of their sexuality as heterosexual people. However, until the beginning of more liberal social attitudes to homosexuality in the past two decades, prejudice and discrimination against homosexuality induced considerable embarrassment and shame in many LGB people and did little to encourage them to lead sex lives that are respectful of themselves and others. We return to the stability of LGB partnerships below.

Neat. It's as if they've been prying through the filing cabinets of talking points memos in the TeachTheFacts International Library.

I like this next one, with its backhand swipe at the Family Blah Blah groups way over here in the USA:
3. Psychological and social well being of LGB people

There is now a large body of research evidence that indicates that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is compatible with normal mental health and social adjustment. However, the experiences of discrimination in society and possible rejection by friends, families and others, such as employers, means that some LGB people experience a greater than expected prevalence of mental health and substance misuse problems (5, 6). Although there have been claims by conservative political groups in the USA that this higher prevalence of mental health difficulties is confirmation that homosexuality is itself a mental disorder, there is no evidence whatever to substantiate such a claim (7).

The next section is a little longish, so I'm going to pick and choose. You can go check if you think I'm not being fair.
4. Stability of gay and lesbian relationships

There appears to be considerable variability in the quality and durability of same-sex, cohabiting relationships (8, 9). A large part of the instability in gay and lesbian partnerships arises from lack of support within society, the church or the family for such relationships...

There is already good evidence that marriage confers health benefits on heterosexual men and women (10, 11) and similar benefits could accrue from same-sex civil unions. Legal and social recognition of same-sex relationships is likely to reduce discrimination, increase the stability of same sex relationships and lead to better physical and mental health for gay and lesbian people. It is difficult to understand opposition to civil partnerships for a group of socially marginalised people who cannot marry and who as a consequence may experience more unstable partnerships. It cannot offer a threat to the stability of heterosexual marriage...

It is so nice to hear them say this so clearly and neatly. Whoever wrote this gave it a lot of thought and chose their words well.

Doesn't it just make sense to encourage (never mind allow) gay people to form long-term relationships? It just seems so obvious, everybody's life is better when they can settle down with someone they love, the point is not whether the other person is the same or opposite sex from them. Like, for them to just say: It cannot offer a threat to the stability of heterosexual marriage. That's as direct as you can make it. Sorry, Chicken Little, it is simply impossible that gay marriages threaten straight ones.

The CRC started out trying to get conversion therapy or reparative therapy into the sex-ed curriculum, and they kind of gave up on it. They still talk about "ex-gays" as if that was something real, but I think they figured out that reparative therapy was not going to be mentioned.

The British Psychiatric guys have a longish section on this topic:
5. Psychotherapy and reparative therapy for LGB people

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy recently commissioned a systematic review of the world's literature on LGB people's experiences with psychotherapy (13). This evidence shows that LGB people are open to seeking help for mental health problems. However, they may be misunderstood by therapists who regard their homosexuality as the root cause of any presenting problem such as depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, therapists who behave in this way are likely to cause considerable distress. A small minority of therapists will even go so far as to attempt to change their client's sexual orientation (14). This can be deeply damaging. Although there is now a number of therapists and organisation in the USA and in the UK that claim that therapy can help homosexuals to become heterosexual, there is no evidence that such change is possible. The best evidence for efficacy of any treatment comes from randomised clinical trials and no such trial has been carried out in this field. There are however at least two studies that have followed up LGB people who have undergone therapy with the aim of becoming heterosexual. Neither attempted to assess the patients before receiving therapy and both relied on the subjective accounts of people, who were asked to volunteer by the therapy organisations themselves (15) or who were recruited via the Internet (16). The first study claimed that change was possible for a small minority (13%) of LGB people, most of whom could be regarded as bisexual at the outset of therapy (15). The second showed little effect as well as considerable harm (16). Meanwhile, we know from historical evidence that treatments to change sexual orientation that were common in the 1960s and 1970s were very damaging to those patients who underwent them and affected no change in their sexual orientation (1, 17, 18).

Everybody knows these guys are right on the money. I'm glad they took the initiative to file this report with the church, and to spell this out so clearly and neatly.

Their conclusions are good, to:

In conclusion the evidence would suggest that there is no scientific or rational reason for treating LGB people any differently to their heterosexual counterparts. People are happiest and are likely to reach their potential when they are able to integrate the various aspects of the self as fully as possible (19). Socially inclusive, non-judgemental attitudes to LGB people who attend places of worship or who are religious leaders themselves will have positive consequences for LGB people as well as for the wider society in which they live.

Except for the fact that they spell some things funny, the Royal College of Psychiatrists seems to be in perfect agreement with It seems so easy: treat people like people.

Because they put footnotes in their text and I left them in when I copied-and-pasted, and because some of these references are important, I'll include their reference section, too:
(1) King M, Bartlett A. British psychiatry and homosexuality. Br J Psychiatry 1999 August;175:106-13.

(2) Bell AP, Weinberg MS. Homosexualities : a study of diversity among men and women. New York: Simon and Schuster; 1978.

(3) Mustanski BS, DuPree MG, Nievergelt CM, Bocklandt S, Schork NJ, Hamer DH. A genomewide scan of male sexual orientation. Human Genetics 2005 March 17;116(4):272-8.

(4) Blanchard R, Cantor JM, Bogaert AF, Breedlove SM, Ellis L. Interaction of fraternal birth order and handedness in the development of male homosexuality. Hormones and Behavior 2006 March;49(3):405-14.

(5) King M, McKeown E, Warner J et al. Mental health and quality of life of gay men and lesbians in England and Wales: controlled, cross-sectional study. Br J Psychiatry 2003 December;183:552-8.

(6) Gilman SE, Cochran SD, Mays VM, Hughes M, Ostrow D, Kessler RC. Risk of psychiatric disorders among individuals reporting same-sex sexual partners in the National Comorbidity Survey. Am J Public Health 2001 June;91(6):933-9.

(7) Bailey JM. Homosexuality and mental illness. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1999 October;56(10):883-4.

(8) Mays VM, Cochran SD. Mental health correlates of perceived discrimination among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. Am J Public Health 2001 November;91(11):1869-76.

(9) McWhirter DP, Mattison AM. Male couples. In: Cabaj R, Stein TS, editors. Textbook of Homosexuality and Mental Health.Washington: American Psychiatric Press; 1996.

(10) Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Newton TL. Marriage and health: his and hers. Psychol Bull 2001 July;127(4):472-503.

(11) Johnson NJ, Backlund E, Sorlie PD, Loveless CA. Marital status and mortality: the national longitudinal mortality study. Ann Epidemiol 2000 May;10(4):224-38.

(12) King M, Bartlett A. What same sex civil partnerships may mean for health. J Epidemiol Community Health 2006 March 1;60(3):188-91.

(13) King M, Semlyen J, Killaspy H, Nazareth I, Osborn DP. A systematic review of research on counselling and psychotherapy for lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender people. Lutterworth: BACP; 2007.

(14) Bartlett A, King M, Phillips P. Straight talking: an investigation of the attitudes and practice of psychoanalysts and psychotherapists in relation to gays and lesbians. Br J Psychiatry 2001 December;179:545-9.

(15) Spitzer RL. Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation? 200 participants reporting a change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation. Arch Sex Behav 2003 October;32(5):403-17.

(16) Shidlo A, Schroeder M. Changing sexual orientation: A consumers' report. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 2002;33:249-59.

(17) King M, Smith G, Bartlett A. Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s--an oral history: the experience of professionals. BMJ 2004 February 21;328(7437):429.

(18) Smith G, Bartlett A, King M. Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s--an oral history: the experience of patients. BMJ 2004 February 21;328(7437):427.

(19) Haldeman DC. Gay Rights, Patient Rights: The Implications of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy. Professional Psychology - Research & Practice 2002;33(3):260-4.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

CR-Whatever Compiling List Gullible People

I am just looking at this flyer put out by the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever, shaking my head. They are trying to get signatures for a referendum to repeal the new bill that makes it illegal to discriminate against people because of their gender identity.

If you're like me, you will be wondering why it is that they want to keep discrimination legal.

Here's their explanation -- this sentence is bolded and underlined in the flyer:
The County has with its collective official pen just erased biological distinctions between a man and a woman.

Let's say evolution has been working on the planet for three and a half billion years. That's a rough estimate, but it gives you the idea. Sexual reproduction first appeared a little more than a billion years ago, male and female organisms. Homo sapiens -- "biological men and women" -- have been around for about 200,000 years, as far as anybody can tell.

Now erased.

The Montgomery County Council is made up of a generally progressive group of elected officials, put into office by the citizens of the county to represent them. The Council felt unanimously that it would be worthwhile to prevent discrimination against people who don't fit standard stereotypes of gender expression. There aren't very many transgender people out there, maybe a thousand in the whole county, but they do get treated badly, and there are other degrees of gender identity nonconformity that are targeted for discrimination -- effeminate men, masculine women, and even extremely macho men and extremely feminine women. Whatever, gender identity is not going to be a dimension that you can use for deciding whether to hire somebody, pick them up in your taxi, serve them in your restaurant, etc.

That doesn't seem like a big deal to me, does it to you? The law already existed, protecting people on the basis of their skin color, their ethnic background, their religion, their sex, and other things, the county just added something to it.

To the CR-whatever, this amounts to "erasing biological distinctions between a man and a woman."

Listen, most of us are unambiguously male or female. We feel like what we look like. The County Council didn't erase that or change it in any way.

Some people don't fit the standard pattern. Some people really do feel, persistently over decades of living, that their mind and their body are mismatched. The County Council didn't cause this to happen, it has always happened. It's not a big deal, except to the person who feels that way, and they have to choose whether to live as others expect them to, or to live as they feel. What do you think is the right choice there? That's an easy one, I think everybody understands that it is not an evil thing, it's a good thing to be true to your heart, to express yourself as you really are, if it doesn't hurt anything or anybody. I think everybody understands that living a lie is not morally superior or good for you.

Look around, see the effect of this law: nothing. Nobody erased any distinction. There are still men and women, and this law doesn't change them or redefine them or anything else. There were already, and still are, people who blur the boundary or cross over it, and this law doesn't redefine them or anything else. It just says that in some cases you can't discriminate against them.

They say they need 25,000 valid signatures to get this on the ballot. If they do that, it will mean that 25,000 people who live here believe that the Montgomery County Council has the power to "erase biological distinctions between men and women," and has done that.

They are looking for 25,000 people who will believe anything.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters

I've almost finished reading Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, by Alvin McEwen. The subtitle is Exposing the Lies of the Anti-Gay Industry. This book is an eye-opener.

Here in our little county a couple of years ago we had a flare-up of ugliness that called itself the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum. I'm afraid I went into this a little innocent, I didn't realize how organized and crazy these people are, I thought it was just some ignorant people, and didn't realize the extent of the machinery that's in place to keep them ignorant and make them think they're right. But man, these people really seriously believe that everybody else's private life is their business. And as McEwen shows, it is, literally, a "business" -- an industry.

Can somebody tell me, why is there an "anti-gay industry" in the first place? What is it about gay people, of all the things in the world, that ties these people up in knots? I've heard the Family Blah Blah stuff, the destruction-of-the-institution-of-marriage, breakdown-of-morals, criminalizing-Christianity -- I mean, really. They can't believe that. What in the world drives these people?

I think a hint toward answering this question comes from a quote in Holy Bullies from anti-gay fake-researcher Paul Cameron, a guy who is really at the center of the anti-gay industry. Cameron told Rolling Stone magazine:
If you isolate sexuality as something solely for one's own personal amusement, and all you want is the most satisfying orgasm you can get -- and that is what homosexuality seems to be -- then homosexuality seems too powerful to resist. The evidence is that men do a better job on men, and women on women if all you are looking for is an orgasm.

I have the feeling that you won't find a lot of actually-straight guys who think that orgasms with other men are "too powerful to resist." Some people though have to fight against the irresistible appeal of this must-be-better-than-anything sex, because ... well, I don't know why. If you're going to like it that much, why don't you ... I just don't get it. I mean, you don't have to think of sex as something for your "own personal amusement" to appreciate a mind-blowing orgasm, do you? It looks like there are some really twisted psychodynamic forces at work there.

In Holy Bullies, McEwen patiently lays out the characters, the fake-research they cite, the kinds of lies and rhetorical devices they use to convince people that there is a real conspiracy they call the "homosexual agenda," which is a plot to destroy civilization as we know it. I think this agenda is supposed to start with gay people recruiting children, and somehow results in everybody abandoning their families, maybe because of the irresistible pleasure of same-sex orgasms, I don't know, they're never very clear about how that works, but the next thing you know, Western civilization has collapsed. McEwen has done a ton of reading, and I'm glad he has spent the energy to put together a resource like this, so we don't have to dig through it all ourselves, barf-bag in hand.

In the past three years of working with the school district and the county, we've seen a lot of this anti-gay talk, from "love the sinner, hate the sin," to fake statistics and quotes taken out of context from the forgotten past, to petitions based on false pretenses, to messages twisted and distorted beyond the point of recognition ... We've seen real tears over supposed lost souls, lectures on the danger of ingesting feces, and an impassioned crusade to prevent unisex bathrooms in the public schools. We have been told that tolerance leads inevitably to AIDS, and have been warned about a lurid "lifestyle" that has actual gay people scratching their heads and wondering why they were left out of it.

And that's just Montgomery County.

Holy Bullies recounts the origins of the hateful movement that lies behind groups like the Citizens for a Responsible <insert_target_here>, going back to the original sources of some of the statements that get morphed and exaggerated over time. Sometimes it'll go like this: one twisted guy publishes some amateurishly-assembled numbers in a pay-to-publish journal; someone else cites the numbers as "research" and draws some wild conclusion from them; and then the others cite the conclusion as fact based on scientific evidence. Spurious allegations propagate through the rightwing media, retractions never do.

I was especially enjoying a section in Chapter Seven called "job discrimination and the anti-gay industry." If you've been following the local plot, you know that the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are now starting to call themselves the Citizens for a Responsible Government, since it turned out their interest was not actually a curriculum, but just anything against sexual minorities at all. The latest outrage for them is a new county law that prevents discrimination in jobs, among other things, against transgender people. So I'm reading this book and I am seeing the same names and the exact same arguments here that the CR-whatever is making. They want a referendum -- it turns out these groups always want a referendum. They can't live with the American system of government, where we elect representatives and let them and the judiciary work out what the laws will be and how they will be interpreted and enforced. No, a referendum is the best thing for these guys, because you can whip the populace up with falsehoods in a way that would never work with professional lawmakers. You can tell the public that a law is about, say, perverted men exposing themselves in women's locker rooms, and of course people will be upset when they hear that, and they'll sign a petition or vote to repeal the bill. A real elected policy-maker will have read the actual bill, will probably talk to some lawyers about what it means, and has skills and abilities that make them especially qualified for those kinds of decisions. So when you wave a red herring at them, they see it for what it is. The system works, which is why these groups have to try to go outside it.

I bought the book from, but you can get it from a lot of places linked from McEwen's website, called not surprisingly,

I should mention proudly that Alvin has been a member of our Yahoo group for two years, and has been a frequent and articulate commenter on this blog. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the dark world of gay-haters, and is often able to tie together things in a way that makes sense out of apparent random statements by raving lunatics.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Metamorphosis of the CR-Whatever

I have been out of the country. I was a good trip, but it lasted too long, it was definitely time to be back. Actually, after I was way past ready to come back, the day I was to return from Portugal there was fog all over the Iberian Peninsula, and my flight couldn't get out of Porto or into Madrid, so I missed a connection and had to stay a night in Madrid. Though I wanted to get home, I did take advantage of the situation by taking the Metro into el centro, and was blown away by the majesty of Madrid. There were a million people in the street -- really, I counted -- and they were beautiful and happy, families and lovers and shoppers and partyers of all sorts, enjoying the Christmas season together in the streets. The architecture there is incredible, the people are great, I had to speak Spanish all the time but that was good practice at least, my Spanish is definitely better than my Portuguese.

While I was out, I see there was a new newsletter by the Citizens for a Responsible ... hey wait a minute.

The old familiar Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, you know, the anti-gay group that tried so hard to recall the Montgomery County school board and then, failing at that, fought to remove anything objective, fair or kind about gay people from the health curriculum, also failing at that, seems to be in the midst of a metamorphosis of sorts. Having been so successful at bringing bigotry against sexual minorities to the school district, they apparently are now going to work their magic on the community at large.

The header on this latest newsletter, from the same people, now says Citizens for a Responsible Government, instead of "Curriculum."

They have a new cause, and it doesn't have anything to do with a curriculum, so I guess this makes sense. Did you know, Montgomery County just made it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their gender identity? Like, you can't not-hire somebody because they are too masculine or too feminine for your tastes, or their masculinity or femininity is not what you'd expect, if they're qualified for the job. Just like you couldn't not-hire a qualified person because they were a Christian. Same law, they added a term: "gender identity."

You might not think that kind of law is necessary. You might think people should conform more, you might find it unsettling that some people want to change their sexual identity from female to male or vice versa. You might think it's dumb to have laws against discrimination at all, that a society ought to be able to work those things out on their own. I know what I think, but those are fair questions for debate.

The CR-whatever does not seem to oppose discrimination laws in general, they have never made a stink about it before, and this law has existed forever. I think they must agree that it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, national origin, the usual list of things, at least they've never complained about it. But they specifically do think it is worth fighting for the right to discriminate against transgender people.

The group is planning a referendum. And this is great, I can hardly wait to see how this turns out.

There is an explanation in this newsletter:
We have started a new group, Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government to run the referendum. Dr. Ruth Jacobs has offered to head this new group. MCRG has the proper legal incorporation to run the petition drive. So this will be our last update from the CRC email address on the gender identity bill.

Now, I work on a citizens committee for the school district with Dr. Jacobs, and I don't want to say anything personal about her. But I think she will be the perfect spokesperson for their position. At least as far as our side goes.

Here she is articulating the then-CRC's position in front of the County Council last October.
I believe there should be tolerance for everyone. I also think you should not tie the hands of physicians, counselors, pastors and bishops who may not, who may think this may not be the best choice for an individual.

I left out my best paragraph, I'll try to email it to you, but there's, you're standing behind this bill in one side on the psychiatric issue. You're saying I will support gender identity for someone who wants to change their gender identity. You are forgetting that there are other people who have stepped out of that, they're ex-transgenders, they're people who decided that's not the best for them. There are risks, sixty percent of the black transgenders in one study were HIV positive. Twenty-four percent had used crack cocaine, 13 percent methamphetamines, four percent heroin.

I hate to even try to comment on this. It is not clear why she thinks the bill is saying she will "support gender identity for someone who wants to change their gender identity..." You don't "support" gender identity or not-support it. It's like supporting air. And as for "ex-transgenders," I think this is something we can find the statistics for. Someone who decides to change their physical sex must pass through a lot of tests and counseling before a doctor will do the job, I don't think there are very many people who get through all of that and then, later, change their mind. And anyway, this law doesn't have anything to do with that, or even with a person's decision about how to express their gender. It's about discrimination -- maybe they'll change their mind later, it doesn't matter, you can't discriminate against them now.

It's not a bill about whether it is a good idea or a bad idea to go ahead and live the way you feel, it's a bill for the rest of us, it says that if somebody has decided to do that, to be true to their real feelings, we can't discriminate against them. We elected this Council, they represent us in the law-making process, they voted unanimously to adopt this.

And these statistics ... I'm not going to chase down the source of these numbers -- is she saying that being transgender causes people to catch HIV, to use crack and meth and heroin? Scuse me, I don't see how that works.

We carried this talk of hers before, but now that she's the leader of the CR-whatever-now group, let me mention something else she said to the Council:
As a member of the committee at the schools, I received threatening emails when I slipped and failed to use the proper pronoun. It was not my intention to offend anyone, I think however as a physician there is a certain amount of honesty. Gender identity disorder is a disorder, it is in the American Psychiatric Association as a mental illness...

(I left that last stuff in there so you could see I wasn't quoting out of context, I got her whole statement on this topic.) This is really interesting. She is talking about the MCPS citizens advisory committee that we are both on. Last year in a meeting, she referred to a transgender woman as "he," intentionally, it appeared (CRC officers often make a point of doing this, for instance in discussing the "Portia" vignette). I was sitting right next to her. Everyone was shocked at her disrespect, she was referring to someone we all know, someone who often came to observe those very meetings, but who I don't believe was in the room at that time.

It's easy to make that mistake. I've done it, it's kind of embarrassing, but the language forces you to choose a pronoun and sometimes in the heat of discussion you forget and choose wrong. I imagine this is one of the facts of life when you change your gender presentation, that people sometimes use the wrong pronoun. I'm no expert on these things, and certainly no expert on etiquette, but I'd think it would be okay if you made a mistake and just corrected yourself or apologized or something. Accidents happen. This was not an accident, and there was no apology, at the time or later.

I sent Dr. Jacobs an email, and I know of at least one other person who did, too. I know my email was not threatening, and the other person I talked to said she simply pointed out that when someone changes from being a man to a woman, you use the feminine pronoun.

I brought this up at our last citizens committee meeting. I said that Dr. Jacobs had told the County Council that she had received threatening emails, and that since just about the only people who had heard her comment had been committee members, it was a good chance that a committee member had sent the threatening email. I said I don't want committee members to send threatening emails to one another, and suggested that we find out who sent it, and take care of it within the committee, rather than having people go to the County Council to talk about our business.

Dr. Jacobs was there, sitting across the table from me. She said she would talk with me personally, or with the committee chair, but she did not want to discuss it in the citizen advisory committee meeting. She said she had talked with the chairperson when this happened, but the chairperson didn't remember the incident.

I have a theory about this "threatening email," which I will not state because I am on a committee with Dr. Jacobs and want to maintain a good working relationship with her -- so far this year the committee has voted unanimously on everything, which is nice. I will only imply my theory with scare quotes.

So, here is the leader of the new group that's going to bring discrimination against transgender people back to Montgomery County: Dr. Ruth Jacobs.

Oh, cool, I just followed a link on the newsletter. They have a web site (I am thinking that yellow font on white background might not be the best way to get your message across) with an endorsement from Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, who is also on the citizens advisory committee. Turns out the Family Research Council supports these guys:
“We salute CRG for being willing to speak out on behalf of the people of Montgomery County and our young people who will be affected by this propaganda. We urge our friends to assist CRG in gathering signatures for this referendum.” ”

Peter Sprigg
Family Research Council

That's some big guns there. The Family Research Council, they have lunch at the White House, don't they? formed several years ago to stop these nuts. They had their first organizing meeting on December 4th, 2004, and some of us were there, and we met later that week and started our own web site. They wanted to recall the school board, we supported the board. If there was no CR-whatever, there wouldn't have to be any, and we could go back to being regular people, not activists talking to newspapers and TV cameras and writing on the Internet, but it doesn't look like that will be happening anytime soon.

I think the battle in the school district is just about over. There is one more hearing to get through, as I understand it, in January sometime. Classes have been taught, everything was okay, this can turn out to be wrong but generally I think that the CR...C has just about expended its possibilities there.

So now they want to go after transgender people, not just in the school district but all over the county.

Can you think of anybody else that's going to stand up to these guys and monitor them, report on their lies and their schemes, the publicity stunts, the silly things they do? I can't either. Somebody's got to do it. Looks like it'll still be us.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Guimaraes: Some Pictures

I haven't been blogging much this week, because I've been out of town and have been busy. I thought you might like to see some of the pictures I've been taking here in Portugal. Of course they're small, for the web, but you can get a flavor of where I am.

Here's the view from my hotel room window, looking out over Guimaraes on a sunny day:

There are plazas in different parts of the town, some little streets will all converge at some random point and there are shops and restaurants all around it. This is a small but famous plaza with an ancient church and a monument celebrating a fourteenth-century battle. I took this picture at night, it had been raining and was very quiet out.

This is on the other side of the same plaza (or as the Portuguese say, "praza"), in the morning. This guy was just enjoying the morning air and sunshine. Looks like a tough life.

It is fun to walk the little streets. Some doorways have people in them selling stuff, or sewing, or making things. I saw this guy later, sitting on a stoop selling his vegetables.

Christmas is a Big Thing here. Look how they decorated the big church in the center of town. Magnificent.

This church dates back to 471 A.D. Of course it's been modified many times since then, but this is really considered the heart and birthplace of the country of Portugal, Our Lady of Oliveira Church. This is on the same plaza as the previous pictures -- one interesting thing about this plaza is that it seems there are always beautiful women walking there. You may disagree with me, but I think a pretty woman makes a photograph better.

The castle at Guimaraes is famous, you see the image on everything. My friend Rui and I went up there at night so I could take some pictures. There is no fancy lighting on the castle, as you would expect. It does dominate the landscape during the daytime though, being built up on a hillside.

It has been raining and foggy here quite a lot. This is a typical street. I have gone out walking several times, following the winding streets. Some are too narrow for cars, like a canyon between ancient stone walls connecting one part of the town to another. Streets just wind around, crossing one another at weird angles. For the record, this lady did not give me The Look. In fact, everybody has been very nice to me, hiking around with my ponytail and my cowboy boots, not looking like a local. The young people try their English on me, everyone is very friendly and nice.

The streets here are lit up with various lights, for the Christmas season, called Natal -- they don't call it the "winter holidays" here. Here is a little street with shops and restaurants, at night. There are magical scenes like this everywhere.

I'll be back soon. I am enjoying this break but miss being home, especially knowing you have snow.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tradition and True Belief

This morning I was in downtown Guimaraes, not far from the castle, when church got out. The people came swarming out onto the streets -- old people, mothers with their children, men in black suits, talkative teenagers. They lined up inside the pastelerias, and the men gathered in clumps in the main plaza to talk. Traffic came to a stop as the pedestrians filled the cobblestone streets, with bells ringing wildly in every direction. The random mixture brought people together by surprise, old friends running into one another, and they would stop on the sidewalk to talk or walk together slowly, catching up, comparing notes. In a few minutes the streets were quiet again.

This week I am in the Minho region of Portugal, a region where the church has deep roots. Religion affects everything that happens here, how people dress, how they behave toward their neighbors. Tradition is not something that is discussed and explained and debated, it is simply the fabric upon which these lives are woven. You could have come to Guimaraes (pronounced "geema-rEYEsh," where the "EYE" is pronounced like the English word "eye") a thousand years ago and seen these same people gathering in this same plaza, eating these same pastries, refreshed after a Sunday morning reunion with God. The teenagers would have not been quite so pierced, and there wouldn't have been mobile-phone ads in the windows, but otherwise, the spirit of this community is constant.

As I walked through the crowds, I wouldn't help comparing this religious life with the "deep religious faith" of bigoted people in my home county. In both cases religion is a force that affects how people behave. I'm sure Catholic guilt has kept many a wild-child in line here in the hilly countryside; I know I myself have had the little old ladies in black turn and give me a withering look for deviating from their expectation. Social pressure defines and enforces norms, and the church plays a role in that, here as well as there, recommending temperance and encouraging parishioners to stay on the straight and narrow path of righteousness.

Part of the reason it works here is that everyone participates, everyone here is Catholic, the society is quite homogeneous. The little old ladies can give you "the look" on the street because they assume you are one of them, stepping outside their norms -- they do not suspect you are a foreigner who just doesn't know the local customs.

Part of the reason it doesn't work in America is just the complement of that: we are a culture based on diversity. Each subgroup might have its own norms, the Italians can have theirs and the Nigerians theirs, the Jews and the Poles and the Punjabis each with their way of talking, their expectations about how their people will behave and who they will marry, where they will work and live. And it is even okay for members of one group to look down on members of another, it's not something to encourage, but it is not unthinkable that an ethnic group would think itself superior. Well, actually, they just about all do. Whatever, keep it at home, it is not a topic for public discourse whether Group A is superior to Group B, in America that kind of talk is vulgar.

We do not accept one group, whether it's an ethnic group, a religious group, a fraternity or gang, defining the personal norms for people in another group. And in fact, in America, if your own group has standards you don't agree with, you are free to light out and hang with whoever. That's hard to do, but it happens every day.

The CRC is behaving as if they were those little old ladies in black with the withering glances, as if they had some authority over a person who decides to live in a way they don't understand or approve of. They want to give "the look" to gay people, to transgender people, and ... make them stop. But one, they don't have the right to do that, and two, it won't work. It doesn't work here in the shining valleys of the Minho, and it won't work there in the Chesapeake watershed.

It's interesting to turn it around, it's interesting of them to paint the new nondiscrimination bill as an attack on them. They will be forced to tolerate something they can't understand, and so the problem is that that's an imposition on them to change. I'm sorry, but when some innocent person's life if pure hell because of the way ignorant people treat them, it's not the innocent person's fault. Societies do impose norms on their members, and in America the norm is tolerance. We're all different, and we respect those differences, whether we understand them or not. If you can't handle that, move somewhere where everybody's the same.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

CRC Pushing Referendum

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum now are trying to gear up for a referendum to allow discrimination against transgender people. You wonder what drives them, don't you? Today they sent out a long email trying to get people to sign their petition to overturn bill 23-07.

They are trying to turn this into a bill about bathrooms. It is scary to think of perverted men going into ladies restrooms, so, even though the bill doesn't have anything to do with that, they are going to use that to get signatures on their petition.

Q: How many stupid people are there in Mongtomery County? A: Let me see those petitions and I'll tell you.

Look, either you're on their mailing list or you're not. I seem to be on it under several names, whatever, I have to keep track of their nuttiness, hopefully you don't. Plus people send these things to me, and by the way I thank you for that, don't stop. If you're on their list, you know what they're saying. If you're not on their list, there's probably a reason for that, and I'm not going to copy and paste this whole thing for you.

But I found it intriguing to see the approach they used:

The legislative and executive branches of Montgomery County have failed miserably in their duties to use their power wisely. As you know, Bill 23-07 passed effortlessly. It requires that we citizens accept men dressed as women as normal, even in women’s restrooms, showers, and locker rooms in public accommodations ...

And so on.

You see, they're going to try to upset people about men lurking in ladies rooms, whatever, I don't think people are really that going to sign this, but I am cynical enough to be open to surprise. They need 25,000 valid signatures to put this on the ballot.

Will people sign a petition to keep men out of the ladies room? Probably.

Will people sign a petition to make discrimination against transgender people legal? I doubt it.

Though, of course, that's what the bill is actually about.

Let me go back to that "power to the people" thing. Look, I'm old enough to remember the sixties, I remember "power to the people." Man, this would make some of those old-time guys -- John Lennon made a record called that -- roll over in their graves, to see that their slogan has been appropriated in the name of this kind of ugliness. I suppose a referendum gives power to the people, but still ... are we going to see the CRC amassed in the streets (all six of them), chanting "Hell No, We Won't Go," pumping their fists in the air? Are they going to start burning their bras in protest of bill 23-07? Actually, I think I'd want to see that. I can see them with their yellow signs, singing, "One two three four, what are we fighting for," as they pass anti-transgender fliers out to puzzled-looking people in some public place.

The Fish Cheer. What do you think? Inappropriate for this? It's hard to tell if anything is out of bounds for them.

There is one line in this email that I want to show you. Here's what it's all about, for them:
... Thanks to the passage of bill 23-07, they must absolutely consider transgenders, cross dressers and transvestites as hires if they have the job’s qualifications, even though they may find hiring such a person is contrary to their deeply held religious beliefs.

I'm a little naive here, I was raised Presbyterian, we were kind of low-key, we just sang Bible songs and learned about Jesus and stuff. But will someone please put something in the comments that indicates what religion has the "deeply held belief" that it's necessary to discriminate against transgender people?

Here's their nightmare: a person is qualified for a job, and you can't not-hire them. Woo, that's scary. They'll get a lot of signatures for that one, I'll just betcha.

I'll tell you what, I'll toss them a hanging change-up, right over the plate, and I'll have the catcher tell them it's coming. Here, swing at this one: what religion has the deeply held belief that men have to use a different bathroom from women?

I'm guessing someone will find something in Leviticus about unclean women bathing downstream or something. Go ahead, show it to us. And explain how "deeply held" your belief in that particular rule is.

Well, here we go, they're off. They say they need 25,000 valid signatures. Well, there are nearly a million people in this county, it might happen. I'm too old and cynical to expect people to be reasonable every minute of the day.

Mainly it will depend on the news media. The number of signatures will correlate precisely with the number of times the news shows and newspapers mention men in ladies rooms when they talk about this story, and it will correlate inversely with the number of times the press mentions what the bill is actually about, which is discrimination against transgender people. How will the press handle this? I wouldn't try to predict. So far most of them have been pretty good. And, by the way, it's no good to mention that men won't lurk around ladies rooms -- you're still talking about men in ladies rooms, and that's a red herring. That's like a story saying Trent Lott didn't resign because of ... the stuff that turned out not to be true.

Will the referendum pass?

Not a chance.