Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year-End Zune Catastrophe

I didn't really know what a "Zune" was until a couple of weeks ago, when one of my kids got one for a birthday present. Well, I'm an old guy, why would I know what a Zune is? In my mind, knowing what a Zune is is about the same as quoting Snoop Dogg songs in conversations. Uh, wait, do you call those "songs?" What is the word for them? Well, never mind. Turns out a Zune is like an iPod, except where Apple makes iPod, Microsoft makes Zune. And I do know what an iPod is, I don't have one but I am a hep cat who knows what they are.

It may be that Zunes are wonderful, but my initial impression was ... negative. First of all, Microsoft is evil. We have several computers in the house with Windows 2000 on them, they work fine, software runs on them, they serve us well, but Microsoft put something into the Zune software that tells it not to work on Windows 2000. I know that the guts of Win2k are the same as XP, and the Zune software will work with XP -- this is something they did intentionally. And of course you know why. They did it because they want to sell operating systems. It's not that XP and Vista are better than Windows 2000, they're just different, at least from the consumer's point of view, but Microsoft wants to sell you a new one for the simple reason that they want the money. I guarantee they could have made this thing compatible with Windows 2000. So the kid has music on the family computer, but can't listen to it on the Zune.

Oh, and it's also incompatible with the Macbook, which both of my kids have. Most software comes out in both versions, Mac and Windows, but not this. Microsoft is thinking about its own profits, they don't want to make a product that will run on the competition's machines. You might think that's good business, I think it's petty and insulting. This kind of thing pushes me closer to Linux.

Today the news came out that every Zune in the world crashed. No, really. They froze up and all you can do is let the battery run down. The latest word is that maybe it was only the 2006 Zunes, but still. Turns out there was a bug in the code having to do with leap years, which 2008 is (or was, depending on when you read this), and it didn't know what to do with the 366th day of the year. The experts are saying that tomorrow they ought to work again, but you have to re-synch blah blah blah.

Okay, everybody have a happy new year celebration. I have the feeling 2009 is going to bring good things.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Surprise: Abstinence Pledges Do Not Result in Abstinence

From this morning's Post:
Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge," but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

"Taking a pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior," said Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. "But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking." Premarital Abstinence Pledges Ineffective, Study Finds

Okay, I'll admit, there's something going on here that I don't get. I think a lot of people like me were kind of surprised to see the reaction that Sarah Palin's pregnant teenage daughter got. Conservatives, the religious right, the puritans -- they loved it. They were overjoyed that that child had gotten knocked up, and I don't get that.

So here we learn that abstinence pledges don't ... I was going to say "don't work," but I might be missing something. Maybe they do work. Maybe it is a smashing success when teenagers have unprotected sex and make wonderful babies. Maybe that's the point. Some of us on the liberal side think that a person should reach a certain stage of maturity before they become a parent, maybe it's a good idea to marry first. Weird thought, I know.

Does anybody really think that you can get teenagers to put off having sex by getting them to promise not to do it?
The study is the latest in a series that have raised questions about programs that focus on encouraging abstinence until marriage, including those that specifically ask students to publicly declare their intention to remain virgins. The new analysis, however, goes beyond earlier analyses by focusing on teens who had similar values about sex and other issues before they took a virginity pledge.

"Previous studies would compare a mixture of apples and oranges," Rosenbaum said. "I tried to pull out the apples and compare only the apples to other apples."

The findings are reigniting the debate about the effectiveness of abstinence-focused sexual education just as Congress and the new Obama administration are about to reconsider the more than $176 million in annual funding for such programs.

"This study again raises the issue of why the federal government is continuing to invest in abstinence-only programs," said Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "What have we gained if we only encourage young people to delay sex until they are older, but then when they do become sexually active -- and most do well before marriage -- they don't protect themselves or their partners?"

James Wagoner of the advocacy group Advocates for Youth agreed: "The Democratic Congress needs to get its head out of the sand and get real about sex education in America."

I'll bet he didn't really say "head out of the sand." The fact that our federal government puts money into these programs is just insane. Teenagers -- more than ever now, with the Internet streaming sexual fantasies at them -- need to get accurate information about sex.

This is one thing that I really hope turns sharply around after January 20th.
Proponents of such programs, however, dismissed the study as flawed and argued that programs that focus on abstinence go much further than simply asking youths to make a one-time promise to remain virgins.

"It is remarkable that an author who employs rigorous research methodology would then compromise those standards by making wild, ideologically tainted and inaccurate analysis regarding the content of abstinence education programs," said Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association.

Woo hoo, them's some strong words, lady! "Wild, ideologically tainted and inaccurate--" oh, never mind.
Rosenbaum analyzed data collected by the federal government's National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which gathered detailed information from a representative sample of about 11,000 students in grades seven through 12 in 1995, 1996 and 2001.

Although researchers have analyzed data from that survey before to examine abstinence education programs, the new study is the first to use a more stringent method to account for other factors that could influence the teens' behavior, such as their attitudes about sex before they took the pledge.

Rosenbaum focused on about 3,400 students who had not had sex or taken a virginity pledge in 1995. She compared 289 students who were 17 years old on average in 1996, when they took a virginity pledge, with 645 who did not take a pledge but were otherwise similar. She based that judgment on about 100 variables, including their attitudes and their parents' attitudes about sex and their perception of their friends' attitudes about sex and birth control.

"This study came about because somebody who decides to take a virginity pledge tends to be different from the average American teenager. The pledgers tend to be more religious. They tend to be more conservative. They tend to be less positive about sex. There are some striking differences," Rosenbaum said. "So comparing pledgers to all non-pledgers doesn't make a lot of sense."

What would you do if you were fifteen or sixteen years old and they came around trying to get you to sign some kind of thing like this? Yes, I would say the pledgers are different from other kids.
By 2001, Rosenbaum found, 82 percent of those who had taken a pledge had retracted their promises, and there was no significant difference in the proportion of students in both groups who had engaged in any type of sexual activity, including giving or receiving oral sex, vaginal intercourse, the age at which they first had sex, or their number of sexual partners. More than half of both groups had engaged in various types of sexual activity, had an average of about three sexual partners and had had sex for the first time by age 21 even if they were unmarried.

"It seems that pledgers aren't really internalizing the pledge," Rosenbaum said. "Participating in a program doesn't appear to be motivating them to change their behavior. It seems like abstinence has to come from an individual conviction rather than participating in a program."

Our county's schools are well on the way toward a comprehensive sex-ed curriculum. Students learn a lot in middle and high school about sex and the risks involved. But it's all such a political game.

I remember when the MCPS citizens advisory committee, which I am a member of, was discussing a new curriculum. Somebody said, shouldn't there be something in here about what to do if you get pregnant? Really, there are three choices: abort, put the baby up for adoption, or raise the child. I think that just about sums it up, three choices, with legal systems to support them and the support of society. You could feel a chill in the room as we discussed this, knowing full well our county's schools would never be allowed to address such an obvious topic.

And here's something else you might discuss among yourselves, another politically charged topic. Do you think our county's sex-ed classes teach about the clitoris? It appears on some illustrations of the female reproductive system, I know, but do you think any teacher tells students what the clitoris is for? And why do you think that is?

As long as we're on the topic, look at this. Another article in The Post this morning talks about the clitoris and won't even say the word. Speaking of a little Kurdish girl named Sheelan, they say "part of Sheelan's genitals." Maybe somebody can tell me, what's the big secret? It's an anatomical structure, a body part with a proper medical name, how is it that one of the nation's leading newspapers can't even say the word? This whole article is about the way the clitoris is treated in Kurdish society, and they cannot bring themselves to tell the reader what it is they're talking about. In Kurdistan they cut it off, in America we just pretend it doesn't exist.

Okay, back to the related subject of abstinence pledges.
While there was no difference in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases in the two groups, the percentage of students who reported condom use was about 10 points lower for those who had taken the pledge, and they were about 6 percentage points less likely to use any form of contraception. For example, about 24 percent of those who had taken a pledge said they always used a condom, compared with about 34 percent of those who had not.

Rosenbaum attributed the difference to what youths learn about condoms in abstinence-focused programs.

"There's been a lot of work that has found that teenagers who take part in abstinence-only education have more negative views about condoms," she said. "They tend not to give accurate information about condoms and birth control."

But Huber disputed that charge.

"Abstinence education programs provide accurate information on the level of protection offered through the typical use of condoms and contraception," she said. "Students understand that while condoms may reduce the risk of infection and/or pregnancy, they do not remove the risk."

It is time for the government to stop supporting these stupid abstinence programs. I know there are people who think it's important to preserve ignorance but if there is any lesson we have learned over the last eight years it is this: don't let those people make decisions that affect the rest of us. They may be nice folks, their intentions might be good, but we don't want them running things. Let's use our educational system to educate.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Republican Shocked

No comment is necessary here.
WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Republican National Committee said Saturday he was "shocked and appalled" that one of his potential successors had sent committee members a CD this Christmas featuring a 2007 parody song called "Barack the Magic Negro."

In spite of RNC Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan's sharply negative reaction, former Tennessee GOP leader Chip Saltsman said that party leaders should stand up to criticism over distributing a CD with the song. He earlier defended the tune as one of several "lighthearted political parodies" that have aired on Rush Limbaugh's radio show. GOP chairman 'shocked' that Obama parody sent out

I really do think that the ability to identify irony is what distinguishes the left and right in our country. This article has the term "conservative comedian" in it. Can you imagine what that is?

Rather Suing

I didn't realize any of this was going on, did you? News and analysis from the UK:
As George W Bush prepares to leave the White House, at least one unpleasant episode from his unpopular presidency is threatening to follow him into retirement.

A $70m lawsuit filed by Dan Rather, the veteran former newsreader for CBS Evening News, against his old network is reopening the debate over alleged favourable treatment that Bush received when he served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war. Bush had hoped that this controversy had been dealt with once and for all during the 2004 election.

Eight weeks before the 2004 presidential poll, Rather broadcast a story based on newly discovered documents which appeared to show that Bush, whose service in the Texas Air National Guard ensured that he did not have to fight in Vietnam, had barely turned up even for basic duty. After an outcry from the White House and conservative bloggers who claimed that the report had been based on falsified documents, CBS retracted the story, saying that the documents' authenticity could not be verified. Rather, who had been with CBS for decades and was one of the most familiar faces in American journalism, was fired by the network the day after the 2004 election. CBS newsman's $70m lawsuit likely to deal Bush legacy a new blow

Let's not forget how absolutely the media were in the pockets of the Republicans in those years. The newspapers -- from the New York Times and Washington Post on down -- spewed nothing but propaganda, basically reprinting White House press releases verbatim, weapons of mass destruction, Iraq able to attack us in forty five minutes, Kerry a fake, Bush a war hero. Dan Rather had documents proving that President Bush had gone AWOL from his military duty, but CBS, as a propaganda outlet, did not want him to broadcast it. He did anyway, and they fired him after twenty years with the network.

And we bought it. Who reading this protested the firing of Dan Rather? Did you send a letter to the editor? Complain to a friend over coffee? No, we accepted these things because there were so many of them, every day something different, by the end of 2004 people were just worn out by it all.

You couldn't complain about our sainted President. The United States of America was experiencing an intellectual blackout. It would have been unpatriotic to question whether Our President served honorably.
He claims breach of contract against CBS. He has already spent $2m on his case, which is likely to go to court early next year. Rather contends not only that his report was true - "What the documents stated has never been denied, by the president or anyone around him," he says - but that CBS succumbed to political pressure from conservatives to get the report discredited and to have him fired. He also claims that a panel set up by CBS to investigate the story was packed with conservatives in an effort to placate the White House. Part of the reason for that, he suggests, was that Viacom, a sister company of CBS, knew that it would have important broadcasting regulatory issues to deal with during Bush's second term.

Among those CBS considered for the panel to investigate Rather's report were far-right broadcasters Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

Oh, that would have been quite the panel, wouldn't it? Things are a little better now, you saw the poll that said seventy five percent of Americans are glad Bush is leaving, a couple of years ago you couldn't say anything negative about the guy. Those were dark times, and some people got thrown to the wolves, Dan Rather being one.

Skipping a little...
Rather's lawsuit makes other serious allegations about CBS succumbing to political pressure in an attempt to suppress important news stories. In particular, he says that his bosses at CBS tried to stop him reporting evidence of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. According to Rather's lawsuit, "for weeks they refused to grant permission to air the story" and "continued to raise the goalposts, insisting on additional substantiation". Rather also claims that General Richard Meyers, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military official in the US, called him at home and asked him not to broadcast the story, saying that it would "endanger national security".

I have often said here that when the history books get written, this era will be noted for the influence of the media. George Bush is just a pitiful little frat-boy, in over his head, he's done everything wrong and the people should have understood from Day One. But the corporate media played along to keep the citizens ignorant.

There is a sense where you see the junk on TV and think, well, I guess that's what the people want. You are assuming a free market when the developers of a product simply provide what the consumers will pay for. This wasn't that.
"CBS broke with long-standing tradition at CBS News and elsewhere of standing up to political pressure," says Rather. "And, there's no joy in saying it, they caved ... in an effort to placate their regulators in Washington."

You don't like to think of America as a dictatorship, but you can see how easily it can happen. It's up to us, the people, to protect our own freedom, through constant vigilance. If we can't stop the authoritarians at the federal/corporate level, at least we can fight them in our own neighborhoods.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

UN Vote on the Right to Food

From the United Nations:
By a vote of 180 in favour to 1 against (United States) and no abstentions, the Committee also approved a resolution on the right to food, by which the Assembly would “consider it intolerable” that more than 6 million children still died every year from hunger-related illness before their fifth birthday, and that the number of undernourished people had grown to about 923 million worldwide, at the same time that the planet could produce enough food to feed 12 billion people, or twice the world’s present population. (See Annex III.)

By the terms of the text, the Assembly would express concern that, in many countries, girls were twice as likely as boys to die from malnutrition and childhood diseases and that twice as many women as men were estimated to suffer from malnutrition. Accordingly, it would have the Assembly encourage all States to take action to address gender inequality and discrimination against women, including through measures to ensure that women had equal access to resources, including income, land and water, so as to enable them to feed themselves and their families. By further terms of the draft, the Assembly would urge Member States to promote and protect the rights of indigenous people, who have expressed in different forums their deep concerns over the obstacles and challenges faced in the full enjoyment of the right to food.

After the vote, the representative of the United States said he was unable to support the text because he believed the attainment of the right to adequate food was a goal that should be realized progressively. In his view, the draft contained inaccurate textual descriptions of underlying rights.

How the countries voted:
In favor: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Against: United States.

Hold on, all this will change.

Merry Christmas To All

Christmas is probably the least "Christian" holiday of the year. Jesus almost certainly was not born in the winter, and there is nothing anywhere in scripture about reindeer, white-bearded fat guys in sleighs, wreaths, elves, evergreens, holly, mistletoe, lights, caroling ... none of it. It is an amalgam of ancient winter-solstice customs overlaid with the story of the birth of Christ. I love Christmas and love to see people, Christians and non-Christians alike, celebrating this season.

I imagine a small extended-family tribe in the time of the dawning of human awareness. Every day through the autumn and early winter they witness the weakening of the sun, they see days become shorter and colder, vegetation loses its foliage, animals disappear, hibernating and hiding. If you didn't know what was going on, you'd think the world was coming to an end, running out of energy, you would feel doomed. Ah, but you did know! Some of the tribe's old-timers conveyed hope, telling the young ones, I have seen this before, our friend the sun is weakened now but soon he will be resurrected. It is possible the tribe had some rituals to ensure this, some sacrifices to encourage the gods to bring light and warmth back to the earth, that being the eternal way of magic. The hope would sustain them through the cold period, and soon, a miracle! The sun was born again! The foliage returned. The animals came out of hiding, with young. Evil was defeated and joy was returned to the world.

It is a phenomenon well worthy of celebration, and our celebration of this time of the year, the winter solstice, when the sun is at its weakest, is very primitive and fundamental to all civilizations that emerged in temperate climates. You don't have to be a Christian to celebrate Christmas. Christians have adapted the scenario to their story (or rather, adapted their story from the scenario), and it seems to me that the story of the birth of a man-god out of innocence, his salvation of the world, the eventual sacrifice of his life, and his resurrection make up a very good story, but it is not a story that is owned by any particular group. This story is seen in some form in Hercules, in Samson, it is a ubiquitous story and the sun's weakness at the end of the year is key to it.

Believe it or not, I went to work yesterday. Well, once again my family was scattered all over the country -- we're back together today, but the house was empty yesterday, so I went to work. There were only a very few of us in my office, and I was talking with a lady who immigrated here from Russia. She told me she had lost a twenty dollar bill. She didn't know what had happened, but she'd been out walking in the wind, and figured it had blown out of her pocket. She showed me how her pocket was designed, and it did seem possible that something could blow out of it.

She told me about when she and her husband first moved here, and they were so poor they didn't have money to take the bus. They lived in Germantown, and they were walking down Georgia Avenue to get to DC. She didn't say how they got there, but I assumed she and her husband had walked 355 to Veirs Mill, which is a lot of miles, never mind getting all the way down to Georgia. She told me how sad she was, walking, her legs were aching tired, she had just moved to this new country and they didn't have any money and life was hard. And then she said, "A twenty dollar bill just fell to us." She fluttered her hand to illustrate, and said it fell from the sky like a leaf falling off a tree. "So today," she said, "Maybe my twenty dollar bill will fall to someone who needs it."

I was looking at the blog statistics the other day. This year so far we have had more than 108,500 unique visitors to this site. Last year we had 80,369, in 2006 we had 54,452, and our first year, 2005, we had 42,252 unique site visitors. That's pretty good for a little group of activists involved in local issues. I'd like to thank each reader and participant in our community for checking in and helping us out, this has really been an amazing experience. Something that I am proud of is that this is the one place where both sides of our county's little culture war talk to one another. Actually, it might be the only place. The discussion gets heated at times but I rarely have to delete a comment; we have an incredible cast of characters here, intelligent, articulate, funny, knowledgeable, it is something else to watch the debates unfold.

This is a time of year when even the most cold-hearted of us feels the generosity in the air, our deepest human instincts draw us together in the spirit of love and desire for peace. I am hoping that our country will be resurrected after its long historical winter, and that peace and prosperity can be returned to the land -- it will take all of us working together to accomplish that. Blessed be all of our readers and all the members of, whatever your religious or philosophical beliefs, I hope you are able to be with family during this season. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Notorious Rick Warren Video Transcribed

I read a lot of stuff today about the new video that Rick Warren issued through Saddleback Church, accusing bloggers of hate speech and so on. Unfortunately I couldn't get the video to work until this evening. I wanted to see for myself what he actually said. How inflammatory was he? Reading bits and pieces, I was ready to say, okay, I'm changing my mind, I am opposed to including this guy in the inauguration.

TTF treasurer Christine transcribed a bunch of the video, and I did more. I skipped a couple of irrelevant parts, in brackets. And listen, I have to run, I have a band rehearsal in a few minutes, so I will probably leave in some mistakes, misspellings, etc. I'll try to fix them later.

See what you think, this is just for the record. The video is HERE. [NOTE: As promised, the transcript was edited a few hours after it was posted, I corrected numerous spelling errors.]
[Introduction ...]

You know, I have traveled around the world a lot and you know I've learned several things about the media in the last few years. One of them is that the media never gets it one hundred percent correct. I've never seen an in-print article that has everything right, there's always something that's wrong -- why? Because we're humans. And so, you know, if you believe everything you read or hear, or see, there's a word for that: foolish. Because the media never gets it always correct. Second thing I've learned is that the media lives for conflict. Conflict is the essence of a good story. Every good movie, every good novel, is built on some kind of tension and conflict. And if you don't have conflict you don't have a story, and what I've learned is that if there's no conflict then somebody's gonna create it. The media loves to create conflict.

The problem with that is that it's creating a more and more polarized nation, and that polarization is causing people to be ruder and ruder and more and more inflamed, and I blame that on two groups. One is all the talk radio and other programs where the goal is simply to get people to yell at each other. And the other is bloggers who really need to get a life. A lot of people think that because they can sit in the quietness of their own home and hide behind the screen they can hurl all kinds of bombs at people, and get away with it. Well, no, they're just being rude.

Now what I thought I'd do in this weeks News and Views, to the members of Saddleback Church, is to talk to you about some of the questions that came in this week. And of course the first one that came up is Rick, what do you really believe about gay marriage? Cause it's been all over the map. Well, let me just lay it out for you our members, cause you know, my views have not changed in thirty years, you've heard me talk about this over and over and over.

I have been accused of equating gay partnerships with incest and pedophilia. Now of course as members of Saddleback Church you know I believe no such thing, I never have. You've never once heard me in 30 years heard me talk that way about that. Now while you know I believe the Bible teaches that God created sex exclusively for marriage between a man and a woman, that means I don't believe in premarital sex, I don't believe in adultery, I believe that man, God created sex exclusively to be a marriage connection between a man and a woman. But I've in no way ever taught that homosexuality is the same thing as a forced relationship between an adult and a child or you know between siblings, things like that. I've just never taught that in 30 years. However I understand how some people think that because of a recent BeliefNet interview. In that interview I was trying to point out that uh I don't just, I'm not opposed to gays having their partnerships, I'm opposed to gays using the term marriage for their relationships and I'm opposed to any redefinition of the definition of marriage. The marriage, the definition of marriage that has been universally accepted since the beginning of man. The definition of marriage that every religion, whether it's Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or Jew or Christian has said it's between a man and a woman.

Now in that interview I named several other relationships, in fact I've done it several times, I've named other relationships such as living together, uh or a man with multiple wives or brother sister relationship or adults with children or common law partnerships or all kinds of other relationships. I don't think any of them should be called marriage. Now I was not saying that those relationships were the same thing because I happen to not believe that and I've never taught it. I was just pointing out that I believe the definition of marriage should only be included one definition, a man and a woman for life. It's not an anti-gay view. In fact it's the view of the vast majority of the world and the vast majority of religions.

Now gay partnerships are typically between consenting adults. And while I believe that the gay view of sexuality is contrary to God's word, I do believe that God gives us a free choice, and he gives us a choice to obey his word or to disobey it. And you know what, God has given me that choice. He's given me the free will that I can choose to follow Him and His ways and His rules and His precepts or I can, I'm free to not follow them. And because of that, I believe I must give everybody else that same freedom of choice. And I am opposed to forcing people to act the way I believe that I ought to act. That's not what's its about, it's what I believe God wants me to act and it's the way I believe God wants other people to act, but God has given me the choice, and there's been times that I didn't act the way God wanted me to act. Now I believe God says I must love everybody.

You've heard me say that 1,000 times, I have to love everybody, regardless of the choice they make. In fact I am never, ever free to hate any person. In fact the Bible says love your neighbor, love your enemies, love everyone over and over and over, it's all about love. So we love everybody. Those who disagree with us, those who hate us, those who despise us, those who attack us. You know what? We love 'em. Not only God but America gives us this great freedom to make choices, and so I simply believe that while we're all free to make choices, I think gays should use another term for their consenting adult relationships and partnerships. I oppose the redefinition of the meaning of marriage. I hope that's clear.

[civil rights: no American should ever be discriminated against because of their beliefs... no church should ever be discriminated against, either ... ]

Now some people believe today that if you disagree with them, then that's hate speech, if you disagree with them you either hate 'em or you're afraid of 'em. I am neither afraid of gays, nor do I hate gays, in fact I love them. But I do disagree with some of their beliefs, and I have that constitutional right just as I would fight for their constitutional right, too. Free speech is for everybody. Now let me say that I favor anybody being able to make anybody else the beneficiary of their health or life insurance coverage. I don't see a problem with that, I mean, I think if I'm willing to pay for it, I should be able to put my mother, my father, my friend, a relative, or a total stranger on my coverage. I don't see a problem with that. If I'm willing to pay for it I should be able to put anyone on my coverage.

I also believe that nobody should ever be turned away from seeing a friend in the hospital. But I want to make a point here. Visiting rights in a hospital are a non-issue in California. I mean since 1999 California has had the strongest domestic partnership law in America. I think that's true. That grants gay couple visiting rights and all other rights, too, and you know, I probably have visited more people in the hospital than most, having been a pastor for thirty years, and I have never in my lifetime ever seen one person turned away from visiting somebody else, a friend visiting a friend. So I don't understand that one.

What I really want to talk about in this issue to you, our members, is this issue of how we must champion civility even when people are mean-spirited to us. Even when they're hateful to us, even when they disagree, but not just disagree, they slander us, they lie about us. One of my three life goals is to restore civility to civilization. You've heard me talk about this many times. Our nation is becoming more and more rude. And so as Christians, we have to stand up for two things, the good news and the common good. I'm for both of these -- I'm for the good news, I believe Jesus Christ is the answer to every one of human beings' deepest needs. I make no apology for that. He's changed my life and millions and literally billions of other people. That's the good news.

But I also believe in the common good, and I believe in America that we have democracy. I oppose theocracy, and I think that faith works best when we are in a free market society, and may the best ideas win. Today our nation is being destroyed by the demonization of differences. Just because somebody is different doesn't mean they're a demon. And as I said, I think one of the groups to blame for this most is the fact that the media often fans controversy and conflict to create a story. And we've started yelling at each other so much, nobody listens to each other any more. I disagree with a lot of people, but I don't have a right to turn them into a caricature of what they are. You know, during the political campaigns of 2008, I knew almost every one of the candidates, there were a couple that I didn't know personally. And you know what, it struck me that on both sides, both the Democrats and the Republicans sides, that the way they were being caricatured in the media and by people on either extreme were in no way representative of how those people really were. Whether it was Hillary Clinton, or whether it was Sarah Palin, neither of those women were exactly the way the caricaturization of them were. They just were not accurate. Or whether it was Barack Obama or John McCain, friends of mine, both of them, I grieved at the fact that people did not listen to the truth, they listened to characterizations.

[why did I accept Obama's invitation ... I don't agree with everything he espouses ... or McCain ...]

But the media is totally missing the story here, the story of the president-elect's selection of me. You know, the fact that an evangelical pastor believes in keeping the historic definition of marriage, that's not news. I mean, that's been not-news for hundreds of years. It's a non-story, nothing new. And the fact that the gay community would disagree with me, that's not news either. What's the real story?

The story is that a couple of different American leaders have chosen to model civility for the rest of the nation, and that Barack Obama and Rick Warren have decided to try to create a new politic that says we can disagree without being disagreeable. We can walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye. We can have unity in our nation without uniformity. And we can have collaboration for the best of America.

Let me give you the history behind this decision. Three years ago I took a big risk for civility's sake by inviting Barack Obama to Saddleback to speak at our AIDS conference. Now I didn't invite him because of his views on abortion or his views on anything else, I invited him because he cares about helping people with HIV-AIDS. And he was willing to take a public AIDS test. As you know, I invited him to take one in public with me in front of all the national media, to show that it's no big deal, that everybody needs to be tested for AIDS, just to know your status. Studies show that when people know their status they actually tend to live safer lives. Now when that happened, I was criticized incessantly from the right, in fact it's never stopped. And they've just criticized me and criticized me for inviting, as if having him here said that I agreed with everything he agrees with. And one person said, he had Barack Obama preach in his pulpit. Well, no I didn't, first we never had a pulpit on stage, second it wasn't a worship service, wasn't a church service, it was a conference where we had invited world authorities on AIDS and doctors and specialists on the disease from around the world. But that is still going on, in fact one conservative writer who hates me for agreeing to pray for the invocation wrote me just recently, he said, you know, Rick, if you pray at the inauguration you are sticking a fork in the head of every aborted baby. No, come on, I'm doing this because I love America and it's a historic opportunity and it's an honor to be part of any inauguration of any president, and I love our country.

Now the president-elect has taken a big risk for civility's sake by inviting me to pray at his inauguration, knowing that he'd take flak from people who would disagree with me. But you know what, we're both willing to be criticized in order to try to bring America into a new day of civil discourse, and to create a new model that says you don't have to agree only with your side on everything. You reach out in the middle and try to figure out to have a way that we can make America a better place without having to agree on everything. You see, that's the story that the media is missing, it's the story of risk-taking. Not that people on both sides of the opposite poles are angry at me, or are angry at president-elect Obama, that we're friends and we admire each other even though we disagree on some things. It's the missing element of civility.

Another question that you wrote me this week, that I want to respond to in this Saddleback News and Views is you say, Rick, what about these hateful attacks? You know, when you refuse to side with either extreme, you're gonna get attacked. And the only way to not be attacked is to do nothing and say nothing and be nothing. And a lot of you have written to me this week and said, Rick, how you gonna respond to all these false accusations and attacks, outright lies and hateful slander, and really a lot of hate speech. It's what I would call "Christ-o-phobia," people who are afraid of any Christian. Well, you know how I'm gonna respond, you already know the answer. Cause we're gonna respond the same way that we have responded to every single unfair attack over thirty years. We have no intention of changing. And that is, we return good for evil. We return love for hate. We overcome evil with good. And how will we respond to these people who attack me or Saddleback, or anybody else? We will love and we will love and we will love and we will pray and we will care. And you know we're going to keep on assisting the poor, keep on caring for the sick, and keep on educating the next generation, we're going to do the peace plan, promote reconciliation, to equip [unclear] leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, and educate the next generation. We're not going to allow people to distract us from the main thing, we keep the main thing the main thing. And that is, God has never made a person he didn't love, God has never made a person Jesus didn't die for. God has never made a person that God doesn't want to know him in a personal way. And God has never made a person that he doesn't want him serving Christ and serving the Lord by meeting the needs, the practical needs of those around us.

Now I know this has been a long News and Views, so let me wrap this up by first sayinig a couple of things. I want you to know how proud I am of you. There is no church like Saddleback anywhere else in America. No church has sent more people overseas to help the poor and the sick, ever, in the history of America, than Saddleback Church. We sent over 8,000 of our members overseas in the peace plan, to 68 countries, in just the last four years.

[ ... more about Saddleback ... baptize more ... most generous ... bring a friend to Christmas services ... will release new network to help you grow spiritually, using high-tech etc. ... new magazine ... ]

This is not what I thought I was going to hear, after reading the summaries by progressive bloggers. I am curious to hear how the TTF community feels about the controversy and Rick Warren's statements, transcribed here.

Saddleback Takes Down Their Anti-Gay Statement

I am fascinated by the Rick Warren controversy. President-elect Barack Obama invited a preacher to say a prayer at his inauguration, a very conservative evangelical preacher. This preacher, like most evangelical preachers, does not accept homosexuality and does not believe gay people should be allowed to marry. He seems to support the legal rights that can be granted by a civil union but defines marriage in a narrow way that does not include same-sex couples and other variations on the theme. To him, marriage is one thing, it's one man and one woman. I am pretty sure that Rick Warren and I would disagree on every topic under the sun, but I am not going to judge whether he is a hater or not. Really, I don't know, I never heard of him before last week and neither did you, we just don't know anything about him. He is a powerful American, a preacher with a huge church, this reminds me of when presidents used to have Billy Graham say prayers at public ceremonies. I'll bet you'd find out ole Billy didn't care much for gay people either.

We are just emerging from eight years of polarization, with the Republican administration doing all it could to drive wedges between groups of Americans. The new president wants to close the gap, he wants to bring people together, and he has invited this preacher as a gesture toward that. At the same time, several states just passed anti-gay referendums of one sort or another, and Rick Warren was part of the effort in California. So while the new president is promising to implement policies that make life better for LGBT people, he is inviting an anti-gay leader to speak at his inauguration. Obviously, a lot of gay people and people who care about the issues are offended, and it's not hard to see why.

This is a classic framing problem, how you react depends on what viewpoint you decide to adopt in defining it. You can look at this in light of lesbian and gay issues, or you can look at it in terms of polarization in our nation. The Rick Warren benediction is a perfect microcosm, here we see why there is a problem and why it is hard to solve it. If we are going to bridge the gap, then people with different beliefs will have to show respect for one another. Rick Warren has shown a disgraceful lack of respect for LGBT people, yet to unite Americans one side or the other is going to have to extend an open hand. You can see the Obama's invitation to Rick Warren to say a prayer as surrender and failure to uphold his stated principles, or you can see it as magnanimity that will lead toward healing. It's both, and it's neither.

I don't care if you agree with me or not but I will say what I think so we can talk about it. I think if we resolve the polarization, the other issues will resolve themselves. I think we need to make an effort to reach out to the other side, to win them over with warmth -- you are not going to beat the puritans in an argument, because they aren't using facts and reasoning, they rely on authority, faith, intuition. I think Obama did the right thing, of course I can't stand people like Rick Warren but there are a lot of Americans like him, and if we are going to unify we need to behave respectfully toward those people, just by definition. It's just a prayer, this preacher is not going to be on a panel that sets policy. Obama's policies will be progressive and good, he's just invited a conservative preacher to come to the inauguration and ask God to bless the country.

Something interesting happened.

Warren's Saddleback Church had a web site that said:
Because membership in a church is an outgrowth of accepting the Lordship and leadership of Jesus in one's own life, someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted at [sic] a member at Saddleback Church. That does not mean they cannot attend church -- we hope they do! God's Word has the power to change our lives.

It's sad to think of a gigantic church full of people believing that Jesus would not save the soul of a gay person, but there you are. You know it's out there, they just said it out loud.

Thanks to AmericaBlog for noting that Saddleback Church has deleted this anti-gay wording suddenly. It's just gone. Disappeared yesterday, apparently, or the day before.

AmericaBlog's John Aravosis comments this way:
So does Rick Warren now welcome gays, all gays, as members of his church? Or is he simply embarrassed of his views - embarrassed of God's views, per Warren's own admission? And if Warren is embarrassed of God's views, then what is he doing as a public spokesman on religion?

Look, this is like if in the sixties a restaurant owner took the "whites only" signs down. It appears that Saddleback Church has re-thought its policy and dropped the rule that gay people can't be members. And what's wrong with that? Why is Aravosis still complaining? Of course, you know as well as I do that the Saddleback guys don't like gay people, but who cares? I'm sure there was a lot of pressure with the controversy and everything, and that statement was a little bit blunt, it was the 2008 version of the "whites only" sign. And they took it down.

If under Obama we can establish a dialogue between left and right, between gays and Christians, if Americans can start talking to one another, I think you'll find that a lot of our other problems will go away. For our side to be adamant about this is exactly like George Bush refusing to negotiate with some "Axis of Evil" country, it's exactly the same thing. No, you're not going to agree with somebody like Rick Warren, but nothing can get better if we can't show some respect for one another. Saddleback took down their anti-gay statement, and that's progress. Our side needs to show a little love, too.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Court Opinion Issued

Back in September, the Maryland Court of Appeals decided to block a referendum promoted by the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever, to relegalize discrimination on the basis of gender identity. At the time, all they did was issue a statement saying who won. You didn't know how the court voted, what their reasoning was, or anything.

This week they issued their opinion document, fifty-three pages of hard reading explaining why they decided the way they did. It was a four to three decision, so the document includes the minority's dissenting opinion. You can read it HERE.

There were a few issues. For one, a lower court had determined that the referendum should go forward because complaints were filed too late, and it was not clear at all how the deadline was determined. There was another issue altogether, having to do with the number of petition signatures -- the county Board of Elections told the bad guys they needed so-many signatures, but they had figured wrong. So it looked like they got the number they were told to get, but when you did the math you saw they needed more than that. They needed five percent of registered voters in the county to sign their petitions, and they didn't have it, but they had the number they thought they were supposed to have, after the board had validated signatures. Finally, there was an issue about the signatures themselves. If you are registered to vote as Dudley Dooright, RCMP, you can't sign the petition as "Dud D." Well, you can, but it won't count, the law says you have to use the name you used when you registered to vote. Actually, if your name ends with RCMP you might not qualify as a resident of Montgomery County, Maryland.

First of all, the court blew off the argument about not meeting the deadline. This gets too complicated, you have ten days to file a complaint but nobody was sure when the ten days started. The first judge ruled that the complaint came too late, but the appeals court decided the complaint was filed in time. I'll tell you, this goes on for page after page, it wasn't easy for these judges to figure it out and I won't explain to you the subtleties of a "determination" and how you know when a person is aggrieved, who gets to have judicial review and who gets declaratory relief. Hey! Open those eyes. In the end, the appeals court decided the good guys' complain was filed in time, that's all that matters. Once they've determined that, then they could look at the content of the complaint, and that's where it gets interesting.

There was a tough question involved in this case. The Board of Elections told the CRW the wrong number, but nobody realized that until the case had already gone to court. The board only included "active" voters in their numbers when they meant "registered," but in fact there are a lot of voters who are inactive for various reasons, but are still registered. So the question is, what number is five percent of registered voters? And the board gave them the wrong number. So the CRW got the number of signatures they were told to get, but they didn't get five percent of registered voters. Our side, the good guys, said the referendum should be thrown out because it didn't meet the standard encoded in the law, and the bad guys said it met the standard they were given by the county government.

This is where I'm glad I'm not a judge.

The legal question had to do with adding this point to the complaint after the deadline had passed. And man, there is a lot of precedent here, they cite a lot of cases where courts have considered these kinds of things. It looks like the big case they go back to was from 1903, it has to do with adding "theories" or reasons to your complaint after the complaint has been filed. It comes down to this: "The statement of the cause of action was different, but the cause of action itself was identical." They decided, on the basis of previous decisions, that amending the complaint was okay.

Having decided that, the question of the number of signatures required became quite a bit easier. The law is clear, you need five percent of the number of registered voters. Based on the case of Maryland Green Party v. Maryland Board of Elections, the court says:
To the extent that this statute, however, permits the maintenance of two lists to determine an individual’s registration status in order to exclude “inactive” voters from the list of registered voters, it is unconstitutional for the reasons stated in our decision in Green Party. We emphasize that there is no room, after our decision in Green Party, for the maintenance of an “inactive” list to define registration status, because both “active” and “inactive” voters are registered voters. The Legislature has “no authority to decree that an ‘inactive’ voter is not a ‘registered voter’ with all the rights of a registered voter.

Here's the money quote:
In the present case Montgomery County’s 52,269 “inactive” voters were excluded from the total number of registered voters, thus greatly diminishing the number of voters necessary to achieve the requisite 5% of registered voters. Had the County Board used all 552,281 registered voters, which includes both “active” and “inactive” voters, as opposed to only the 500,012 “active” voters, it would have determined that 27,615 petition signatures, not 25,001, were needed to achieve the 5% benchmark. Even were we to agree with the Circuit Court that only 26,813 signatures are valid, which we do not, the petition would fail to meet the requisite 27,615 signatures necessary to meet the 5% requirement.

Our county's Board of Elections is a sorry lot. You wouldn't think it would be so hard, especially in this day of computers and databases, to say how many voters you've got. But they couldn't do it, they couldn't put in a simple query to the database that says "Give me the number of registered voters."

Next the court goes through a lot of discussion about the words "shall" and "requirement," and what those mean, how they have interpreted them in the past, and whether somebody signing a petition needs to give their exact name as they have it in their voter registration. The lower court had said it didn't matter if you left out a middle initial, or if a Charles signed as Chuck, even though the law is very specific in saying they have to match up. This made a gigantic difference in the number of valid signatures -- the lower court threw out a few, but kept thousands of contested signatures, saying that the intent of the law was to validate the names, and that could be done even if they didn't match up exactly. Like I say, I'm just glad I'm not a judge.

The important point is here:
Finding none of the County Board’s arguments persuasive, we decline the invitation to reverse our past holding that a signer is required to comply with the signature requirements govern petitions for referendum. Such a holding is in accord with our view that signature requirements "provide additional means by which fraudulent or otherwise improper signatures upon a referendum petition may be detected" ...

Because we hold that Jane Doe’s judicial review action was not time-barred, that "inactive" voters should have been included in the total number of registered voters and finally that the 10,876 challenged signatures were invalid as a matter of law, the reversal of summary judgment entered on behalf of the County Board and entry of summary judgment on behalf of Jane Doe was mandated by this Court on September 9, 2008.

So, not only was the complaint filed on time, not only did the CRW not meet the five percent -- they didn't meet it by a lot, they didn't even meet the easier number that the Board of Elections gave them. This court threw out another ten thousand signatures, which sinks that ship entirely.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama Defends Choice of Warren for Prayer

Barack Obama has come under fire for selecting Saddleback Church megapreacher Rick Warren to deliver the benediction at the Presidential inauguration. Warren supported Proposition 8, the anti-marriage referendum in California, and, not surprisingly for an evangelistic minister, holds lots of conservative views.

Obama held a press conference where he defended his choice and clarified his views on LGBT issues. Here's CNN:
President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday defended his pick of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration next month as one of "a wide range of viewpoints that are presented."

"And that's how it should be, because that's what America is about," Obama said responding to a question at a news conference about his and Warren's differences on social issues. "That's part of the magic of this country is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated."

Liberal groups and gay rights proponents had criticized the president-elect on Wednesday for choosing Warren, who opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

Those socially conservative stances put him at odds with many in Obama's Democratic Party, especially the party's most liberal wing.

"[It's] shrewd politics, but if anyone is under any illusion that Obama is interested in advancing gay equality, they should probably sober up now," Andrew Sullivan wrote on the Atlantic Web site Wednesday. Obama: Choice of Warren reflects diversity of ideas

Not just Sullivan, check out Box Turtle Bulletin, AmericaBlog, Pam's House Blend ... everybody is beating up on Obama for this.
Obama in the news conference also defended his record on equality for gays.

"I think that it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans," he said. "It is something that I have been consistent on, and I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency."

People for the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert told CNN she is "deeply disappointed" with the choice of Warren and said the powerful platform at the inauguration should instead have been given to someone who has "consistent mainstream American values." ...

"There is no substantive difference between Rick Warren and James Dobson," Kolbert said. "The only difference is tone. His tone is moderate, but his ideas are radical."

Dobson, a social conservative leader, is founder and chairman of Focus on the Family.

Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for Obama, defended the choice of Warren, saying, "This is going to be the most inclusive, open, accessible inauguration in American history."

Okay, people, here's a challenge for you. For the last eight years, gays have been forced to the outside, their wishes trampled while evangelicals got all the attention. Now, is the idea to do the same thing back to them? Evangelicals make up more than a quarter of the population of the United States -- can Barack Obama lead a country that includes them as legitimate citizens? Or do we offer participation in public life only to those citizens whose ideas are agreeable to us?
"The president-elect certainly disagrees with him on [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] issues," Douglass said. "But it has always been his goal to find common ground with people with whom you may disagree on some issues."

Douglass also noted that Obama and Warren agree on several issues, including advocating on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged and people who suffer from HIV/AIDS.

Obama pointed out that Warren had invited him to speak at his Saddleback Church two years ago even though Warren knew that he had views "that were entirely contrary to his."

"We're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere when we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans."

I think there is one question here, and our side needs to think it through. We need to decide if we intend to support the recent tradition of divisiveness, only now with our side "in" and the other side demoted to second-class citizenship, or if we can encourage Americans to join together with respect that transcends ideological differences. If you're like me, you are not going to agree with a lot of conservatives' beliefs and actions, and we have to decide how to deal with them. I definitely don't want people like Rick Warren put into policy-making positions because they are not qualified, they do not possess facts or critical thinking abilities necessary to run a country -- we've had eight years to learn that lesson -- but do progressives want to cut salt-of-the-earth Christians out of public life entirely? I think we have to un-learn some bad habits, we have to undermine the us-versus-them frame if we want change that lasts.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You Cannot Make This Up

From an interview with Martha Raddatz on ABC News:
BUSH: Clearly, one of the most important parts of my job because of 9/11 was to defend the security of the American people. There have been no attacks since I have been president, since 9/11. One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take ...

RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

BUSH: Yeah, that's right. So what?

Winter Storm Coming

Yesterday I made the mistake of wearing my winter coat to work. When I walked home from the Metro at night it was still close to seventy degrees out there, and I was sweating. This morning was more comfortable, cool but not very cold, but I see in The Post there's a chance we'll have a pretty bad ice storm in our part of the county tonight, and maybe snow.

Here's how they're putting it at Weather Underground when I put in my zip code:
A mixture of rain...freezing rain and sleet. Little or no sleet accumulation. Ice accumulation less than a tenth of an inch. Lows in the lower 30s. East winds 5 to 10 mph. Chance of precipitation near 100 percent.

Okay, well it sounds like a good night for a fire, a night to stay home. I'm reading that new biography of John Lennon, maybe I'll get through a few more pages of that. I'm okay with snow, but there's nothing picturesque or charming about sleet and freezing rain, if you ask me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Remembering May Be Obsolete

We've talked about this before. see what you think. A kid uses his or her cell phone in school to get answers to a test question, we think they're cheating. But in real life, if someone knows how to use technology to get information we think they're smart. Do we really need to fill our heads with a bunch of facts, when they're easily available by consulting the Great Google?
For generations of pupils, learning key historical dates, places, and names off by heart has been the bastion of academic success.

But for today's youngsters, tedious rote learning is pointless because such basic facts are only a mouse click away via Google, Wikipedia and online libraries, according to writer and businessman Don Tapscott.

Tapscott, author of the best-selling book Wikinomics and a champion of the "net generation", suggests a better approach would be to teach children to think creatively so they could learn to interpret and apply the knowledge available online.

The Canadian business executive said: "Teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge; the internet is.

"Kids should learn about history to understand the world and why things are the way they are. But they don't need to know all the dates.

"It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings, without having to memorise that it was in 1066. They can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google." Learning by heart is 'pointless for Google generation'

This is provocative. Plato had Socrates complaining that writing was ruining memory, and he had a point, but look what's happening now! In Plato's day, a limited amount of information was written down, books were hard to come by, but at least you didn't have to memorize all those myths. Socrates was concerned that a dangerous kind of cognitive laziness was settling in, as people depended on writing to store knowledge, as a substitute for verbal speech and memory. But with the Internet we now have the opportunity to spend our lives in a cognitive coma, you don't have to know anything at all, except how Google works. And Wikipedia.
Tapscott dismissed the idea that his approach is anti-learning, instead arguing that the ability to learn new things is more important than ever "in a world where you have to process new information at lightning speed".

And he believes that the old-fashioned model of education still prevalent in today's schools, involving remembering facts 'off pat', was designed for the industrial age.

He said: "This might have been good for the mass production economy, but it doesn't deliver for the challenges of the digital economy, or for the 'net gen' mind.

"Children are going to have to reinvent their knowledge base multiple times. So for them memorising facts and figures is a waste of time."

I'm sure there is a reasonable argument against this. For one thing, there does seem to be a danger of cognitive atrophy, if people ever had to live without computers it is not clear that they would be able to re-adapt to simpler ways, relying on memory and books with paper pages. But who thinks computers are going to go away? Our kids are growing up in a different world from what we knew, in so many ways.

A Last Chance to Invert Reality

They don't give up, they don't quit. Look at this:
After spending eight years at the helm of one of the most ideologically driven administrations in American history, George W. Bush is ending his presidency in characteristically aggressive fashion, with a swath of controversial measures designed to reward supporters and enrage opponents.

By the time he vacates the White House, he will have issued a record number of so-called 'midnight regulations' - so called because of the stealthy way they appear on the rule books - to undermine the administration of Barack Obama, many of which could take years to undo.

Dozens of new rules have already been introduced which critics say will diminish worker safety, pollute the environment, promote gun use and curtail abortion rights. Many rules promote the interests of large industries, such as coal mining or energy, which have energetically supported Bush during his two terms as president. More are expected this week. Bush sneaks through host of laws to undermine Obama

We can't get rid of this guy soon enough. Did you see where he gave a Presidential Citizens Medal to Watergate felon Chuck Colson? It's as if for eight years America has turned everything around, bad things have been re-labeled as good, good as bad. I can imagine people disagreeing on things, I just can't imagine someone holding opinions and promoting programs that are so clearly negative. The devastation this administration has caused in Iraq, the torture, the domestic spying, the denigration of science, the destruction of the environment, the collapse of the economy ... the greedy and self-serving decisions have been made support the cause of badness only, there is no good in any of it.

So now he's got a couple of weeks to really tear things up, to invert right and wrong and make it hard to turn them back how they should be.
Bush can pass the rules because of a loophole in US law allowing him to put last-minute regulations into the Code of Federal Regulations, rules that have the same force as law. He can carry out many of his political aims without needing to force new laws through Congress. Outgoing presidents often use the loophole in their last weeks in office, but Bush has done this far more than Bill Clinton or his father, George Bush sr. He is on track to issue more 'midnight regulations' than any other previous president.

Many of these are radical and appear to pay off big business allies of the Republican party. One rule will make it easier for coal companies to dump debris from strip mining into valleys and streams. The process is part of an environmentally damaging technique known as 'mountain-top removal mining'. It involves literally removing the top of a mountain to excavate a coal seam and pouring the debris into a valley, which is then filled up with rock. The new rule will make that dumping easier.

Another midnight regulation will allow power companies to build coal-fired power stations nearer to national parks. Yet another regulation will allow coal-fired stations to increase their emissions without installing new anti-pollution equipment.

It's insane, how could anyone support these things? If it makes the world dirtier or makes people sicker, if it causes pain and tragedy he's going to do it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Trees and Cars

We bought a Christmas tree last night. It was cold, probably above freezing but there was a terrible stiff breeze. We walked around and looked at the different trees, trying to imagine them in our living room. There were two guys working the lot, a black guy who spoke Spanish and a big gringo. Plus a lady at the cash register. They had a pretty good stream of cars.

We own a Suzuki Grand Vitara, it's a kind of smallish SUV. We got it because of its safety record, really, a lot of the cars in this class tend to tip over but this one was nice and stable in the crash tests. I guess it's five years old now, and it's been nothing but trouble. Right now we are driving it around with a blown head gasket, pouring Bar's Leaks into it to delay the inevitable multithousand dollar repair job. Before that it was the timing chains -- it's got two, and if you replace one you should do both, and replace the water pump while you're in there. The car doesn't even have fifty thousand miles on it yet.

The gringo waited on us, of course. This was the most efficient Christmas tree purchase we have ever made, by the way, the kids are pretty much grown up, they live at home but we don't see them much and they weren't with us on this trip. When they were little they used to each pick a "favorite" tree, usually one they felt sorry for, and then demand that we buy that one, though of course there were two of them and neither was sensible by adult terms. So buying the tree was an exercise in diplomacy for us, it was fun and the kids were cute, but you didn't just run out for a tree, you put some time into it.

The gringo was glad to see that we had a rack on the top of the car that he could tie the tree to, and he asked about the car. I told him it was a terrible car and I would never recommend it to anyone. He said he used to have a Ford Taurus, and it was so terrible he got rid of it and swore never to buy an American car again. Now he has a Toyota, and so far it's working out. See, I have a Japanese car and it's no good, but I'd buy a different Japanese car, I don't write off the whole country. This guy won't buy another American car, and he's not the only one, you hear this every day. This gringo went on for a long time about how they take our ideas and make something out of them, we could do it but we don't, they work harder than us and try harder, we have the good ideas but they know what to do with them.

Next thing, while he was wrapping twine around that poor tree out there in the cold, he started in about the economy. The thing seems to be that we're actually in a depression but the big guys are afraid to say so, they'll only call it a recession. It's going get a lot worse, the Christmas-tree gringo said, we haven't really seen anything yet, people are going to start losing their jobs pretty soon.

Then he got to the bail-out of the car companies. He said, do you know how much that's going to cost? The billions they're going to give them now won't even start to touch it.

This is a tough one, isn't it? The Bush administration gave companies a tax break for buying gas-guzzlers, and the price of gas went up through the roof. I remember way back when it went over a dollar a gallon and the gas stations didn't know what to do, they didn't have enough spaces on their signs, they'd put "$.02" for "$1.02." People were burning gas like it was endless, and then the oil companies wanted to break every profit record in recorded history, and the price went up, economists explained it in positive but nonsensical language, and we stood there pouring sixty, seventy dollars of hard-earned cash into the tank, just to get to work.

They did everything wrong, everything evil, now nobody -- including this guy at the Christmas tree lot -- wants their products, and the government has to save them. You feel like saying, let 'em hang, except for all the people who work there, who need the jobs. And speaking of evil, the Republicans in Congress are seeing this as an opportunity to bust the union. Salaries make up about a tenth of car manufacturers' expenses, but this is a chance to win one for management, get people to work cheaper.

Looking back, you can see what they should have done. The car companies should have made cars that people want, low mileage, safe, nice looking cars with parts built to last and, one of my pet peeves, mechanical design that facilitates repairs, like on a computer, where you can reach the parts without taking the whole thing apart. It's a simple thing, really: Detroit should have made good cars.

Because decisions all along were made by people talking about money in terms of billions of dollars, us little "thousands" people don't have much say in it. We buy the cars they sell, we pay the price they ask, we work hard and live as well as we can. They're trying to increase their billions and we're trying to raise a family in safety and comfort -- those are different goals. It can work if they market their products as providing quality to the consumer, and especially if they really do provide quality, but that can be expensive, companies won't do it, sorry to say it but it comes down to greed.

Did you see what they did in England? It's unthinkable here:
Credit card giants have been given two weeks to agree to stop charging exorbitant rates to borrowers or risk losing their operating licences.

Ministers said they were giving Britain's major lenders one last chance to prove they were not profiteering from the downturn. The ultimatum was delivered at a four-hour Whitehall summit called after The Independent disclosed some credit card and store card providers had raised interest rates – in some cases to 30 per cent – even though the cost of borrowing had fallen. Two weeks to cut rates, card issuers told

Can you imagine the Bush administration doing something like that? Huh, it simply wouldn't happen. The companies are making money, and that's a good thing, right? For some reason the British government is responsive to the needs of citizens, and American government responds to the wishes of gigantic corporations. How did we get that way? How do we change? I hope the recent elections will move us in the right direction.

We got the tree home and set it up in its stand. It kept wanting to tilt, but we twisted those screws and now it looks cat-proof. The kids wandered in a little later and helped hang things on the tree, then cell phones started ringing and out they went again, man, isn't it great to be that age? This tree makes the house smell Christmasy and nice, the blinking lights and that glowing angel on top evoke a sweet nostalgia for all Christmases past and a kind of hope for all Christmases to come, knowing that life goes on, the cycle of the year rolling along from antiquity into a future that is sometimes frightening, but we know there will be Christmases, trees, glowing angels in the future.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Crime of Sexting

Kids today live in a world that is totally different from the one their parents grew up in. I remember having a "sex-ed" course in seventh grade, Mr. Holland the shop teacher took the boys and Mrs. Witt the home-ec teacher took the girls, and we learned about the reproductive system for a day. Everything else you learned from your friends. Oh, and McAlpine's drug store had a couple of "photography" magazines on the rack, not that any teenagers including myself ever picked one up and looked at the nude models.

Kids today have the Internet. You can block it, monitor it, censor it, restrict it, but trust me there are times during the day when your kid has access to sexual information and misinformation beyond your wildest imagination. So where we grew up in an information blackout, they are growing up in a state of sexual information overload. Their problem is to figure out what parts of it are correct. If a boy expects his girlfriend, or a girl expects her boyfriend, to look like ... that ... and to do ... those things ... they are going to have to have their standards reset for reality.

On the Internet, not only is everything available, but everything is okay. People do everything without consequences. And lots of it is simply not what real people do.

The Internet isn't the only technological network out there, I think parents are mostly left out of this other one, and that is the world of cellphone text messages. Kids are constantly shooting texts back and forth on their phones, where parents can't see. The major difference between the cell-phone network and the Internet is that cell-phone content is almost entirely user-generated, there aren't "sites" with information, there is only peer-to-peer distributed communication. It is a hidden teenage world with its own written language and its own set of practices and norms. Lots of times there are photographs sent around, and some of those photographs are not exactly something you'd want your mom and dad to see. So are they criminals?

From Salon:
Remember the 15-year-old Ohio girl who faced child pornography charges for distributing naked cellphone photos of herself? There comes news that the charges were dropped, and the case will be dismissed if she completes a diversion program. But, most interesting of all, she revealed a typically teenage oh-by-the-way revelation during the hearing: Three of the male students who received her digital offerings also sent her back X-rated snapshots of themselves; now they might face charges, too.

That's not all in the way of teens being punished for "sexting," as it is now being called. Two teenage girls in Seattle were suspended from their cheerleading team after school officials discovered that they had taken nude cellphone photos of themselves that were circulated among students. One girl sent a topless photo to her then-boyfriend, which was "accidentally" leaked to other students; the other had a female friend take a nude snapshot, which also mysteriously ended up in other students' hands.

Now the girls' parents are suing the school, accusing "administrators of violating the girls' due process rights, needlessly sharing the photos with other school staff members and failing to promptly report the matter to police as possible child pornography," reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The school did not punish the students -- including a reportedly large number of football players -- who were in possession of the photos.

And there's more: Two 14-year-old girls in Livingston County, Mich., recently circulated nude cellphone pictures. In one case, the photo was sent to "as many as 200 people," according to the Detroit News. Nineteen students were suspended and roughly a dozen cellphones were confiscated by police. The other case is still being investigated.

There's a tendency to look at cases like these and dismissively conclude: Oh, well, those girls are damaged. That may be the case, sometimes -- but we certainly don't make the same assumption about a teenage boy who shares nude photos of himself. Not to mention, cases where the photos are discovered by school officials might be relatively uncommon, but I suspect that the practice of "sexting" is anything but.

It's hard to understand being very surprised at a girl taking a sexualized self-portrait, or even that she might want to share it with a boyfriend, or friends. Typically, this is not at all a safe or smart idea -- the Seattle cheerleaders being a case in point -- but we are talking about hormonally driven teenagers, after all. If we are shocked by this behavior, I think we're lying to ourselves about girls' sexuality -- especially those of us who were once teenage girls.

I wrote about this phenomenon a little bit last May, HERE. I couldn't see a way you can really stop this sort of thing in a world where everybody has a camera on their cell phone and teenagers are just like they always were. It is not impossible that a teenager would think of sex during the course of a day, and it is not impossible that a teenager would do something impulsive. And there's the enabling technology, it's all as easy as pointing, shooting, forwarding.

Now we have a tough problem -- as adults, we really don't want nude pictures of our children zipping around the adolescent community at the speed of light. We do not want young people to do this sort of thing. At the same time, you have to ask, is it appropriate to charge these kids with a crime?

You might have heard about the guy in Australia who was charged with possession of child pornography in the form of some drawings of the kids from the Simpsons doing some kinds of sexual things. Cartoons. Nasty cartoons, now the guy's a criminal?

Everyone is opposed to the sexual exploitation of children, but it seems to me the gray areas might overwhelm the black and white. As adolescents grow into adulthood they will express interest in sexuality, they will experiment and there really is no way to stop that, nor would it be desirable to try to completely suppress this aspect of their maturation. Because adults' role in the situation is usually to try to slow things down, kids are likely to conceal their experimentation from them -- the result is that adults, being cut out of the process, have little control over the situation, there may be little family discussion about it. How many parents reading this have talked with their teens about "sexting?" I'm guessing we have an approximation of zero percent there.

It seems to me that the road to follow is the road of complete and accurate knowledge. Sex education needs to be thorough, it needs to be explicit, it needs to explain sexual behaviors and their consequences. We need to get complete and accurate knowledge to our kids to counter the craziness they will inevitably see online. We considered it a great success when we could get permission for teachers to say, in response to a question in class, that homosexuality is not a sickness. In truth, we are vastly underpreparing young people for the expansive world of sexuality that is available to them at the click of a button.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

MCPS to Close for Inauguration

Last week we talked (HERE) about the Montgomery County schools' debate over whether to shut school down for the inauguration. Superintendent Jerry Weast wanted to stay open for this and that reason, and board member Christopher Barclay offered arguments for closing down that day.

I posted that one because I wanted to see how partisan people would be in the comments and in conversations on the topic. It turned out, for one thing, a lot of people disagreed with me and thought that kids should go to school that day, and also some of the most liberal commenters and acquaintances were opposed to taking a day off for a Democratic President when we didn't for a Republican one.

The fact is, a lot of people are coming to town for this one. No matter what party's ideology you favor, you have to know that this is a Big Deal, lots bigger than Bush's inaugurals. History is being made, if only in terms of race relations in the US, never mind the reversal of public opinion following eight years of Bush leadership. Whether you like it or not, a huge number of people will want to celebrate the change of leadership.

The most important point is that the President represents the entire country, not just those who voted for him. You might think Obama's birth certificate is fake, he's a Muslim terrorist, he's going to take our guns away, he killed Vince Foster, whatever, come January 20th he's going to be your President. The past eight years have seen the Office of the President, who is sworn to execute the law as legislated by the Congress in accordance with the Constitution, reduced to a political operation whose every decision was intended to keep Republicans in office. Luckily for the rest of us, the President and his staff were incompetent in that as in other things. But we came to see it that way, the divisive strategy succeeded, we have come to see ourselves as a divided people.

We need to re-educate ourselves now, to stop seeing the President as a political figure representing his party, and see him as a leader, good or bad, for the entire country. Let the new guy show us what he's made of, maybe he'll do a good job. It was a fair fight and one guy won, one guy lost.

The school board decided against the Superintendent's recommendation:
The Montgomery County school board voted yesterday to declare a holiday on Inauguration Day, the latest in a wave of actions that will close most of the region's public schools Jan. 20.

School systems in Charles, Loudoun, Prince George's, Prince William and St. Mary's counties and elsewhere have altered their calendars since Election Day so that students -- and, in some cases, employees -- can attend the inauguration of the country's first African American president, Barack Obama. Other systems, including those in Fairfax County and the District, had already planned to close.

A few school systems, including those in Anne Arundel and Howard counties, will remain open but are taking care to allow students and staff excused absences.

Montgomery School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast recommended against closure. But more than 5,000 people signed a student petition on the online networking site Facebook in support of an Inauguration Day holiday, and board members were deluged with requests from parents and staff. A resolution from board member Christopher S. Barclay (Silver Spring) passed unanimously.

"It is clear that our community would like to participate in all kinds of ways in this inauguration," Barclay said before the vote. School Board Votes Unanimously To Give Kids Inaugural Holiday

It's not a big deal, but I am personally pleased to see that school board voted in favor of this. There will probably be a lot of kids who don't pay any attention to the inauguration, and I'm sure they do need their school time, and if they had class that day it wouldn't have been any big deal. But I thought it was good to acknowledge the regime change, at least, and if they did want to watch on television or go to DC they should be able to.

Mainly I am interested to see if America can get over the partisanship -- that doesn't mean our leaders compromise on principles, it means that decisions are made with the common good in mind. We have gotten used to wedge issues, things like abortion and marriage equality and climate change, being used to divide us as people for someone's political advantage. I know there will always be some of that, but I prefer to live in a country where we all feel like Americans, created equal and treated with equal fairness. I hope this spirit will guide us, from Inauguration Day forward, maybe that's what the school board was thinking when they voted unanimously to take this day of new beginnings as a holiday from schoolwork.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Black Is The New Green

My kid showed me something today, and I just had to pass it on. Everybody is concerned about energy use, resource depletion, and taking care of the planet, and here is a simple and too-cool way to save energy.

If, like me, Google has become the replacement for your brain -- I don't bother to remember or know things any more, it is too easy to Google for information -- then you can help save a good amount of electricity by switching to Blackle. The idea for this is so obvious and dumb that you'll laugh when you hear it.

Last year a blogger named Mark Ontkush noted that it takes 74 watts to display a white screen and only 59 watts for an all-black one.
Take at look at Google, who gets about 200 million queries a day. Let's assume each query is displayed for about 10 seconds; that means Google is running for about 550,000 hours every day on some desktop. Assuming that users run Google in full screen mode, the shift to a black background [on a CRT monitor! mjo] will save a total of 15 (74-59) watts. That turns into a global savings of 8.3 Megawatt-hours per day, or about 3000 Megawatt-hours a year. Now take into account that about 25 percent of the monitors in the world are CRTs, and at 10 cents a kilowatt-hour, that's $75,000, a goodly amount of energy and dollars for changing a few color codes.

So the not-evil people at Google got the word and created Blackle, which is just Google but with a black background.

I have Google set as my home page on all my computers -- I'm switching to Blackle right now. It's so easy.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Keeping Our Eyes Open

Hey, did you see that snow yesterday? That was fun, I thought, it wasn't much but it was enough to tickle your cheeks and put a thin layer of white on cars, window sills, lawns. Today it's chilly, winter is really here.

Now, a month after the elections, there have been a number of articles looking back at Proposition 8 and other initiatives and how the progressives were beaten by the anti-gay campaigns. Funny how it has gone, at first there was outrage against the Mormon church, which was the major source of funding and support for the repressive movement, but as the dust settles activists are realizing that our side, the progressive side, simply didn't understand what they were getting into. It wasn't only that the Mormons and Catholics put so much into it, the pro-marriage activists failed by underestimating the challenge.

A few months ago I unhappified a few people when I criticized the campaign that was going to fight an anti-transgender referendum here in Montgomery County. The shower-nuts had gotten people to sign petitions to relegalize discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and our side needed to fight back. This was going to require a gigantic education campaign, you would have to teach the public about gender identity and issues involved, it would take not only the conveyance of important facts but a serious attitude adjustment, getting people over the initial gut reaction when you're faced with somebody who is different from you in a way you can't comprehend. The public would have to care enough to vote to support the rights of transgender people, and why would they?

It was going to be a tough fight, and when the group held its first public meeting to announce their strategy and solicit donations, I went to it, and wrote afterwards, "I'm worried." Everybody seemed earnest and committed, but it did not appear to me that they had any idea of the kind of underhanded opposition they would be facing. Those good-hearted people seemed to think that all you had to do was appeal to the higher consciousness of the public and the public would respond to you. They didn't realize that the other side will say anything without regard to truth or accuracy, the other side will do anything no matter how cowardly or gutless, the other side never sleeps, they work surreptitiously and secretly through churches, newsletters, living rooms, talk radio.

Worst of all, to my mind, the people organizing the campaign didn't understand how powerful the other side's symbolism was, the image of a sexual predator, pedophile, or pervert in a dress, lurking in the ladies shower-room, molesting our wives and daughters, protected by the new law. Our side laughed at that image, because in itself it represented everything we disdained. There was nothing in the law that could possibly justify or protect any man going into a ladies room for any sexual reason -- the image was completely irrelevant to the actual issue.

The image had nothing to do with the new law, but it was vivid, emotional, personal. It played on stereotypes of transgender people as "she-males" and worse, weird sexual monsters who will do anything -- anything -- to invert morality and mock ordinary citizens' decent way of life. It invoked protective responses to threats to our families. It unleashed the power of our cultural sexual repression, the fear that lust, once freed, will run wild and destroy us all. The shower-room nightmare was like a scene out of Psycho, alarming and frightening and appealing somehow to a dark side of people that is afraid of unseen and unknown threats. It was nonsense in every way, but man, it was powerful.

"Our" campaign staff wanted to counter that with the slogan "Prohibit discrimination."

There has been a lot of postmortem discussion of Proposition 8 in California, and other anti-gay initiatives that passed in the last election cycle, and one realization is sinking in everywhere. Here's how Rolling Stone has it (note: foul language seems justified here to me):
Prop 8 should have been defeated -- two months before the election, it was down 17 points in the polls -- but the gay-rights groups that tried to stop it ran a lousy campaign. According to veteran political observers, the No on Prop 8 effort was slow to raise money, ran weak and confusing ads, and failed to put together a grass-roots operation to get out the vote.

"This was political malpractice," says a Democratic consultant who operates at the highest level of California politics. "They fucked this up, and it was painful to watch. They shouldn't be allowed to pawn this off on the Mormons or anyone else. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and now hundreds of thousands of gay couples are going to pay the price." Same-Sex Setback: Don't blame Mormons or black voters - the California activists who tried to stop Prop 8 ran a lousy campaign

TeachTheFacts has been fighting for truth, justice, and the American way in Montgomery County for almost exactly four years now. We started out supporting the county school board in getting a decent sex-ed curriculum implemented, and then we supported the County Council in banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Our opponents are a rather lame handful of nuts who usually lose by shooting themselves in the foot. If you want to beat them, all you have to do is put them on television and get them talking. There are a few who can put a sentence together, but after a while you realize that they are trying to justify hatred, and people in our county don't buy into that. The thing is, they are tireless, they never let up, I don't know what motivates them but they keep it up. We have learned a lot dealing with these people, lessons that the progressive community in general hasn't quite grasped yet. The Prop-8 situation is a clear example of that, our side simply underestimated the intensity of the lunacy.
It's ironic that the coalition to define marriage in California as the union between "one man and one woman" was anchored by a church whose founder claimed 33 wives. It's also ironic that the coalition — which framed Prop 8 as a fight to protect California's children — was quietly knit together by the Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, who once excused the molestation of children at the hands of a pedophile priest as mere "horseplay." But once the Mormons joined the effort, they quickly established themselves as "the foundation of the campaign," says Frank Schubert, the consultant who directed Yes on 8. "We could count on their money and their people being there early."

It is absolutely ironic that the Mormons, of all people, would be mounting a campaign to define marriage as heterosexual monogamy -- the word "ironic" is used wrong most of the time, but this is an incredibly perfect example of the concept. And the Catholics, well, that is somewhat less ironic, but they do have a problem with priests who prey when they should be praying, they are not in a position to be invalidating someone's heartfelt love.

The Mormon Church has become tentatively involved in our county's controversies, as well. Several of the leaders of the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever are Mormon. The Family Leader Network claims on their web site that they are not affiliated with any church, but they are. With Proposition 8 we saw the LDS church emerge as a major political force, exploiting their tax-exempt status to campaign and influence secular politics in a way this country has never seen before. We need to stay on our toes in Montgomery County and keep an eye on these guys.
The No on Prop 8 campaign, meanwhile, was oblivious to the formidable field operation that the other side was mounting. Worse, its executive committee refused to include leaders of top gay and lesbian grass-roots organizations, which deprived them of an army of willing foot soldiers. "We didn't have people going door to door," admits Yvette Martinez, the campaign's political director. The field operation consisted of volunteers phone-banking from 135 call centers across the state, an effort that didn't begin ramping up until mid-October.

"They had no ground game," says a leading Democratic consultant. "They thought they could win this thing by slapping some ads together. It was the height of naiveté."

Naiveté is not our friend. If we are going to fight for reason and fairness then we will need to keep our eyes open, it is frightening sometimes but we need to be aware of the trickery and ugliness that the other side is capable of. It's hard to fight the sound-bite, it's easy to make fun of it but at the end of the day people are too busy to think things all the way through, you tell them that gay people are recruiting our youth and undermining the traditional family and they'll believe you, that's just how people are. Our side needs to put out a strong and concise message that will get through to the public, we can't rely on conscience, we can't expect people to empathize with someone who is very different from them, we can't expect our argument to be accepted simply because it's sensible.

As we saw in the recent elections, the tide in this country has changed, yes some anti-gay bills passed but at least we the people elected reasonable legislators and executives. We are going to see a progressive shift as the citizens learn that we don't have to live in fear of everything that's different from us. But there has never been a time that you could stop paying attention, we have to go into this with our eyes open.

Friday, December 05, 2008

DADT on Shaky Ground

Here's a quick post for a Friday afternoon. We'll see how things shake out in the next administration:
A federal appeals court refused Thursday to reconsider a ruling that raised doubts about the constitutionality of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military, a decision that could give President-elect Barack Obama a chance to act quickly on his promise to repeal the policy.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied the Air Force's request for a rehearing of a May 21 decision reviving a suit by a female officer in Washington state who was discharged because she had a relationship with another woman.

The three-judge panel in that decision said the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 ruling overturning state laws against gay sex established a new level of constitutional protection for gays and lesbians. Under that standard, the appeals court said, the military can't automatically discharge all openly gay soldiers, but must prove in each case that dismissal would promote troop readiness or unit cohesion. Court's ruling stands on 'don't ask' doubts

I think Don't Ask Don't Tell was probably a step in the right direction at the time. The law, introduced in 1993, let gay and lesbian individuals serve in the military as long as they kept their sexual orientation quiet. Before that time, they couldn't serve at all. Over the years, however, mores have changed, people don't care if you're gay any more, and it's time to go ahead and treat people as people. DADT was better than an all-out ban, it is not better than equal treatment. It is time to get rid of it, and it appears that this ruling makes that goal easier to attain.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Real Controversy Over Atheist Signs, Or Manufactured?

You knew this was coming. The Examiner is going to play it up, okay, let's see where it goes:
Hundreds of people have fired off complaints to Metro for running an ad campaign on its buses that questions the belief in God.

The transit system said the controversial ads have solicited just one compliment, while receiving 251 complaints.

“Why believe in a god?” say the American Humanist Association ads that went up on a handful of buses two weeks ago and inside the buses on Monday. “Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

The ads have sparked more ire than usual for Metro, said agency spokeswoman Candace Smith, even though advertising on buses and in stations has long been a legal morass for transit systems nationwide.

“As a public agency, Metro must observe the First Amendment with respect to the acceptance of commercial advertising,” Smith said. “Although we understand that feelings and perceptions will vary among individuals within the community, we cannot reject advertising because an individual, or group, finds it inappropriate or offensive.” Metro fields hundreds of complaints about bus ads

Of course people will disagree with the sentiment on the signs. I see signs on the Metro that I disagree with, for instance I often find myself driving behind a big sign on a bus promoting a talk show host who has been especially hostile to our point of view, but it never occurred to me to write the Metro and complain about it.

Let's find out what people are saying ...
The transit system has lost lawsuits when it refused to run ads. It had to run posters suggesting that President Ronald Reagan led a “jelly bean republic” after losing a court decision in 1984.

Since then, Metro has allowed many campaigns that spark complaints, including recent ads for the “Fallout 3” video game that some deemed too violent. The transit agency’s ads cannot be factually misleading or false, nor can they violate laws or incite violence, Smith said. Profanity is also out. Everything else must be accepted.

For some, though, even the questioning of the existence of a god translates to obscenity. One person wrote to Metro, “That ad is obscene to me!? I wouldn’t want my children reading that.”

Another wrote of plans to complain to the American Civil Liberties Union on grounds that the ads violate a separation of church and state by a publicly funded organization.

I wonder if the Metro got any letters supporting the billboards. We could look at it this way: there are about four and a quarter million people living in the DC area. Two hundred fifty-one have written to complain about these signs.
The local branch of the ACLU said it had not received complaints about the campaign, nor would the free-speech advocates likely take on the case as they have successfully sued to keep such advertising open.

“The principle is as old as the hills,” said Fritz Mulhauser, staff attorney for the ACLU of the National Capital Area. “If Metro opens its space and walls to advertising, it cannot pick and choose.”

It’s not clear how many of those who complained actually ride the Metro system, as all but five complaints arrived via e-mail. One signed an e-mail as a “D.C. resident, Metro rider, and ‘BELIEVER’ in God,” while another writer acknowledged, “I have never had the privilege to actually visit Washington, D.C.”

Some of the letter writers said they learned of the campaign from or AOL and wrote in before the ads appeared on any buses.

I have said before, I can't imagine that God is so weak that questioning Him will hurt Him any. If He created the world and the people in it, he must have known that we would use this intelligence He gave us to wonder what's going on, where we came from, what's meaningful and what's not and why. He must have known that people would question His very existence, don't you think? Or, on the other hand, maybe God didn't create the world, but the hominid species that eventually created language and civilization systematically investigated various hypotheses about the world, its origin and the teleological implications of what they found, and concluded that God was an invention of human society, filling gaps where knowledge was absent. The fact is, you can ask the question either way, and there is no logical reason to choose one approach over the other, is there? There is no evidence one way or the other about the existence of a god -- some thinkers take that, skeptically, to the conclusion that there is no god, others take it the other way, you cannot prove that the particular God they believe in doesn't exist.

Either way, if He exists then doubt is probably insufficient to destroy Him; if He doesn't, then there's nothing to complain about here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Residential Home Planned for LGBT Youth

I ran away from home once when I was a teenager. My parents didn't understand me, etcetera, so I went and lived in my friend Wendell's garage for two weeks. He had a cool room there, with black lights and posters and an old couch that I crashed on. I know his parents knew I was there, and I never told my parents where I was but they must have known. I was in summer school, making up a class I'd gotten a low grade in, and I hitchhiked across town every day for my class. I wouldn't say it was fun, but it was not the worst thing that ever happened to me, I exercised a little independence and everything worked out, I moved home again after a while and I don't remember there being any big conflict or tragedy about it.

I was lucky. Even if they were horrible mean dictators who were ruining my life, my parents more or less understood me and understood my need for some independence. Also, Wendell's place was available, so I had somewhere to go, and Wendell's parents seemed to take it all in stride. I didn't think about it at the time, but I have the feeling they were in touch with my folks while I was there, everybody making sure I was safe.

A lot of kids don't have it so lucky, they have to sleep on the streets or hustle in ways that are not good for them in order to survive. Runaways are exposed to danger, and of course you want to stay out of the system, so there is not much in the way of help from the government or any other agency or organization.

Especially the gay and transgender kids.

Imagine that your parents don't understand you at all, that the kids you went to school with reject you, and their parents won't have you around. Home is unbearable so you light out, you're on the street, subject not only to the things that straight runaways are subjected to -- the challenges of hunger, climate, the law -- but also the violence directed at you by haters and bullies for the fact that you're different, and the danger of predators who can operate outside the blanket of the law. LGBT youth have it a lot tougher than regular straight punks like me at fifteen.

Monday, December 15th, County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg, Equality Maryland, and Hearts & Homes for Youth will sponsor a roundtable discussion at the County Council offices in Rockville to discuss the development of a residential home for LGBT youth. From their flyer:
Equality Maryland and Hearts & Homes For Youth, Inc. are working together to develop Maryland’s first residential home serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.

In 2007, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reported that there were more than 115,000 LGBT youth living on the streets. That number is disproportionately larger than their straight counterparts, and increases daily. Advocates for Youth reports that homeless LGBT youth are more likely to use drugs, participate in sex work, survival crimes and attempt suicide.

When LGBT youth seek assistance they report frequently being faced with intolerant staff and aggressive and sometimes hostile and violent residents. They report being threatened, belittled and abused at shelters and oftentimes opt to live on the streets rather than in places in which the adults responsible for their care ignore or tolerate their victimization. Our organizations’ unified goal is to establish a safe and affirming facility that addresses the unique issues and concerns that face this population.

On Monday, December 15, 2008 at 5:30 pm. Montgomery County Councilmember, Duchy Trachtenberg, along with Equality Maryland and Hearts & Homes for Youth, will host a roundtable for interested allies to establish community support in this venture. We are anxious to move this venture forward and need your help to do so. We hope that you can join us. The roundtable will be held at County Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue Rockville, MD 20850, 5th Floor Conference Room. RSVP to Loretta at (301) 589-8444 ext 202 or

You can see there is a need for this. I hope that interested members of the community will show up and contribute what they can.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Bush on Bush

A little something from ABC News:
In a personal and wide-ranging interview conducted by his sister about his legacy, his faith and the influence of his father, President George W. Bush said he hopes to be remembered as a liberator of the Iraqi people.

"I'd like to be a president [known] as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace," Bush told his sister, Dorothy Bush Koch, in a conversation recorded for the oral-history organization StoryCorps for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Bush on His Legacy: I 'Liberated' Iraqis

I've got nothing to add to that.