Tuesday, March 31, 2009

That Article About Condoms in Africa

I wanted to blog about this editorial in The Post over the weekend, but ended up getting caught up in other things. There was an interesting opinion piece about the use of condoms to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa. This anthropologist says that condoms are not the right solution to that particular problem, and here he explains his reasoning. You may find this interesting.

The editorial is too long to reproduce in full here, so I'll pick and choose.
When Pope Benedict XVI commented this month that condom distribution isn't helping, and may be worsening, the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, he set off a firestorm of protest. Most non-Catholic commentary has been highly critical of the pope. A cartoon in the Philadelphia Inquirer, reprinted in The Post, showed the pope somewhat ghoulishly praising a throng of sick and dying Africans: "Blessed are the sick, for they have not used condoms."

Yet, in truth, current empirical evidence supports him.

We liberals who work in the fields of global HIV/AIDS and family planning take terrible professional risks if we side with the pope on a divisive topic such as this. The condom has become a symbol of freedom and -- along with contraception -- female emancipation, so those who question condom orthodoxy are accused of being against these causes. My comments are only about the question of condoms working to stem the spread of AIDS in Africa's generalized epidemics -- nowhere else. The Pope May Be Right

The anthropologist, Edward C. Green, cites a couple of studies that showed that promotion of condom use did not reduce the rate of transmission of AIDS in Africa, then says:
Let me quickly add that condom promotion has worked in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, where most HIV is transmitted through commercial sex and where it has been possible to enforce a 100 percent condom use policy in brothels (but not outside of them). In theory, condom promotions ought to work everywhere. And intuitively, some condom use ought to be better than no use. But that's not what the research in Africa shows.

Why not?

One reason is "risk compensation." That is, when people think they're made safe by using condoms at least some of the time, they actually engage in riskier sex.

Another factor is that people seldom use condoms in steady relationships because doing so would imply a lack of trust. (And if condom use rates go up, it's possible we are seeing an increase of casual or commercial sex.) However, it's those ongoing relationships that drive Africa's worst epidemics. In these, most HIV infections are found in general populations, not in high-risk groups such as sex workers, gay men or persons who inject drugs. And in significant proportions of African populations, people have two or more regular sex partners who overlap in time. In Botswana, which has one of the world's highest HIV rates, 43 percent of men and 17 percent of women surveyed had two or more regular sex partners in the previous year.

These ongoing multiple concurrent sex partnerships resemble a giant, invisible web of relationships through which HIV/AIDS spreads. A study in Malawi showed that even though the average number of sexual partners was only slightly over two, fully two-thirds of this population was interconnected through such networks of overlapping, ongoing relationships.

So what has worked in Africa? Strategies that break up these multiple and concurrent sexual networks -- or, in plain language, faithful mutual monogamy or at least reduction in numbers of partners, especially concurrent ones. "Closed" or faithful polygamy can work as well.

One interesting phenomenon here is that people use condoms when they think they are at risk. So, for one thing, if you have a regular partner and you pull out a condom they may see it as a sign that you don't trust that they are faithful to you, or you may be afraid they will think that. For another thing, as he notes here, men are most likely to use a condom with a prostitute, and so statistics showing an increase in condom use may actually not be so very heartening, it might mean more "commercial" sex, he calls it, sex with prostitutes. And given that condoms break and that people in some countries are not trained in their correct use, more sex with prostitutes is likely to result in greater spread of disease. Using a condom may make a man feel safer, so he engages in riskier behavior.

If you've been reading the blog for a while you might know that I am interested in using social networks to understand the propagation of STDs, especially HIV. For instance, I talked about it HERE. We have people who talk about risky behaviors -- the classic example is anal intercourse -- as if the behavior itself puts you at higher risk for getting AIDS, but in fact the risk is zero if your partner is not infected. With HIV especially, any sexual interaction with an infected person carries a risk, it hardly matters what you do, it matters a lot who you do it with.

Faithful mutual monogamy is an excellent deterrent to STD propagation. If everyone only had sex with one person, all sexually transmitted diseases would simply die out. (At least the ones that are transmitted exclusively through sex would; diseases such as herpes simplex and HPV that can be communicated through incidental contact would be reduced in prevalance but would survive.) The social network in the perfect faithful monogamy model is a set of discrete dyads, or social units of two persons, disconnected from other dyads, and there is simply no way for a disease to spread through a population in that configuration.

Social network research since the seventies has shown "the strength of weak ties," the importance of casual social relationships for propagating information (including infectious diseases) through a population; more recently, "small worlds" have been a focus of social network research, again showing that random connections can bring distant groups of people closer to one another. In the current example, a random connection can cause wider, faster spread of an infectious disease.

There was an interesting study a few years back, you can read a summary and see the graph HERE. It is the social network of sexual relations at a high school, they made a map of every student who had sex with another student. You see there is a big cluster of students who mostly had two partners, some had as many as four, it looks like -- I see one guy who had sex with nine different girls and one girl who had six guys -- and partners had partners, connecting a large part of the school community. But in this same graph there were sixty three closed dyads, couples who only had sex with one another, and there were twelve boys who had sex with two girls who only had sex with them, plus nine girls who only had sex with two boys who only had sex with them. These disconnected little clusters of two and three are at no risk of infection, assuming there were not links out of the school community. Anyone in the big cluster is at risk, once an infection is introduced to the group everyone can end up with it, depending on how the relationships are arranged in time. This anthropologist is saying that there are communities in Africa that look like the big cluster, and somehow that needs to be modified into discrete groups, like those 63 dyads.

The reason HIV spreads in Africa and other places is that people do not practice faithful monogamy. And you know what they say, when you have sex with someone you are having sex with everyone they had sex with. The more densely connected the network of sex partners and partners of partners, the more likely a disease can spread through that entire network.

The mention of faithful polygamy is interesting, too. It's not much of a recommendation in our society, but there may be African communities where polygamy is practiced. The point is that the local network of sex partners should be isolated, so infection does not flow in and out of the immediate group. If you have five wives, and you only have sex with them, and they only have sex with you, the "faithful monogamy" conclusion still applies. And yes, ladies, the same is true if you have five husbands. As long as all individuals are free of infection there is no risk. The problem there of course is that as the numbers of ...spouses? ... increases, the probability that any one of them will be unfaithful increases, as well, meaning the probability of bringing an infection into the marriage is increased. And then instead of infecting one other person, all partners can end up infected. So the probability of infidelity increases and its impact also increases.

None of this has anything to do with sexual orientation, by the way. AIDS spreads as easily through heterosexual populations as homosexual ones. Monogamous, married gay couples where neither person is infected have nothing to worry about. Well, they still have to figure out who's going to get the remote.

Oddly, I met the anthropologist who wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago. He is a friend of one of the guys in the band I play in, and he and his wife came to our gig out in Germantown. The seemed like good people, we talked about microtones in Persian music.

A little more...
Don't misunderstand me; I am not anti-condom. All people should have full access to condoms, and condoms should always be a backup strategy for those who will not or cannot remain in a mutually faithful relationship. This was a key point in a 2004 "consensus statement" published and endorsed by some 150 global AIDS experts, including representatives the United Nations, World Health Organization and World Bank. These experts also affirmed that for sexually active adults, the first priority should be to promote mutual fidelity. Moreover, liberals and conservatives agree that condoms cannot address challenges that remain critical in Africa such as cross-generational sex, gender inequality and an end to domestic violence, rape and sexual coercion.

The AIDS epidemic is changing in the US. What started as a scourge of gay men and hypodermic needle users has evolved into an epidemic among heterosexuals, especially among the black community. You may have seen the recent news that three percent of the residents of Washington DC now have HIV. In the 40-49 age group, 7.2 percent of people are HIV-positive. 6.5 percent of black men in DC have it. The AIDS epidemic now in our local urban center is worse than it is in West Africa.

If everybody used a condom every time they had sex, the epidemic would shrink to nearly nothing. But that isn't going to happen, people especially tend not to use a condom with a regular partner, and that regular partner just might have another regular partner. If everybody was faithful to one partner, even without condoms the epidemic would shrink to nearly nothing. This anthropologist is saying that's what has to happen in Africa. How do you get that to happen? He doesn't explain that part of it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Sophistication of Rush Limbaugh

I won't have much time for blogging today. My wife has broken her arm, and we will be interacting with the health system. In the meantime, here's a little tidbit from Republican leader Rush Limbaugh for you to contemplate.
I heard some top of the hour news and it made me feel uncomfortable. It's about the flooding in Fargo, North Dakota brought on by the melting snowpack and the icepack. (reading from news item) "As the Red River threatens to overflow, they're filling in the dikes." Isn't there a more appropriate word? Do we have to say, I mean, we don't have any dikes here. The 'dykes' are over there...They're filling in the dikes. Couldn't we change that to 'they're filling in the contingencies' or something?...We really need to change that word. Limbaugh Uses Fargo Floods to Express Anti-Gay Disgust

If you feel the need to hear this for yourself, click HERE.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Shower-Nuts Abandon English Language, Promote Gambling

How far they've fallen! While researching some numbers to respond to a comment -- I wonder how many times the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever have called me a liar! -- I wanted to find the big "Victory" page where they announced that they had collected enough signatures to force a referendum to re-legalize discrimination last year. Remember? It had pictures of them smiling and holding up happy signs at the Board of Elections office. That was before more than half the signatures were thrown out because of all the forgeries and irregularities on their petitions. I wanted to see if they reported the total number of signatures they had submitted. I wanted to get my facts right.

So I went to their web site, http://notmyshower.net/. This is the URL they used in all their publicity through the campaign.

Oh my.

Flying under the radar, the shower-nuts, also known as Citizens for Responsible Government, have deserted our dear English language. It appears they are speaking Dutch now. They say things like:
Jezelf inschrijven als nieuw lid bij Party Casino kan winstgevend zijn. Gebruik de PartyCasino Bonus Code en je zal een ongeloofelijke Welkomst Bonus krijgen die je ergens anders niet tegen zal komen.

Do you think all Republicans are secretly learning a new language, are they planning on making Americans speak Dutch, if they can ever win an election again? Is this the "new world order" they're always talking about? Am I the last one to figure it out?

And you should see what they're promoting. It appears to be a game called Party Casino that you can download ... I think that's what this says:
Download de software en voer de Party Casino Bonus Code BNL200 in om een 100% bonus te ontvangen bij je eerste storting tot op $200 in cash.

I don't speak this language, but I think I can guess what "$200 in cash" means. I'll even take a stab at "download de software."

I am reading about Party Casino. I see that it is "regulated and licensed by the Government of Gibraltar, which is a member of the EU." That doesn't sound shady at all, does it? The government of Gibraltar makes laws to be enforced on one rock. The shower-nuts' game has "video pokers, Blackjack variations, Caribbean Stud, Pai Gow, 3-card poker and some of the best slots games on the net." A guy won a million dollars playing it.

This is shocking. Having failed to successfully promote discrimination in our county when more than half the signatures they submitted were rejected, the shower-nuts are trying to make a buck on casino games. Somebody send them a couple of dollars, will you? This is too sad.

(Some readers might have been around when the CRW told the school board that the school district was allowing "the gay-straight club at Walter Johnson High School to use the school's Internet web address to meet sexy, single gay men for dating, romance, and more." Refresh your memory HERE. It's something about "glass houses.")

Shower-Nuts Win One in New Hampshire

New Hampshire legislators voted this week on a bill to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Republicans framed the bill in terms of men going into ladies' locker-rooms, and that was enough to beat it. From the Concord Monitor:
House lawmakers yesterday rejected a bill that would extend protection to transgender individuals under the state's anti-discrimination and hate-crimes laws. The bill failed by a 15-vote margin, largely along party lines.

Opponents dubbed the measure the "bathroom bill"; they painted a picture of men and women walking into bathrooms and saunas as they pleased.

"I don't want a man coming, sitting next to me in the sauna. Do you?" said Rep. Nancy Elliott, a Merrimack Republican. "How many male prisoners would suddenly become a female to get into the girls' prison?" Transgender rights defeated: It sought protections in workplace, rentals

This is a new twist, prisoners claiming to be female so they can get into the women's prison. Like, first of all, we are so concerned about women prisoners. And, sure, like some perverted guy is going to put on a dress and makeup so he can take the abuse that women prisoners get.

I lived in New Hampshire for a summer, back in the day. I loved it. Took my family back up there a few years back to retrace my steps, see if my old friends were still there (they weren't). People up there have a way, two guys can stand together leaning on a fence for hours without saying a word. They don't blab a lot, they don't waste their breath, they are down to earth and straightforward. Look, their license plates say "Live free or die," they're not messing around!

Now I am wondering why the New Hampshire legislature has enough shower-nuts to beat a law like this.

Turns out there are stupid people everywhere.
Sponsoring Rep. Ed Butler called it something else: "a simple little nondiscrimination bill." He told stories of New Hampshire residents losing their jobs after they go public as identifying with the other gender.

"They're asking for our help and the basic protections this bill will provide," said Butler, a Hart's Location Democrat.

The bill would have banned landlords, employers and others from discriminating against individuals who are born into one sex but identify as the other, some of whom undergo sex-change operations. Such individuals could take discrimination complaints to the state Human Rights Commission, which now handles complaints on discrimination based on sex, race and religion among other factors.

The bill fell by a 15-vote margin of 172-157, with five Republicans joining Democrats on the pro side and 19 Democrats joining Republicans to vote against it. House Majority Leader Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat, made the final plea for the bill; Minority Leader Sherm Packard, a Londonderry Republican, made the final case against it.

In New Hampshire it sounds like the shower-nuts were able to frame the issue totally in their terms. I guess our little corner of the world, Montgomery County, Maryland, might have been the first place they tried this distortion of the issue, and it seemed to be working except for all the forgeries and irregularities on their petitions. Though the bill was about discrimination on the basis of gender identity, I myself heard them standing outside the Giant saying, "Would you like to sign a petition to keep men out of women's bathrooms?" Our law, like the one in New Hampshire, had nothing to do with bathrooms, but if they can scare people then it doesn't matter if it makes sense or not.
Supporters described themselves as shocked and taken aback by the opposition campaign to the bill. Rep. Lucy Weber said she was mystified when she got an e-mail about the "bathroom bill," an e-mail that urged her not to back a bill to protect sexual predators.

"I was horrified to find out that this e-mail was about our bill. I just can't believe it," said Weber, a Walpole Democrat.

She said that opponents' claims about the bill were "just not true" and that the bill would give no protection to criminals.

See, this is the thing. This Democrat is standing there, jaw dropping, saying it's "just not true," but it doesn't matter if it's true or not. Our side can't win by making a reasonable argument, this isn't about reason.

Transgender nondiscrimination is a test-tube case for understanding how to move voters. The Republicans have found that there are enough people who will vote without thinking, they call them their "base" and they are learning to manipulate those voters. Our side can't be "horrified" when we find out that people are walking in their sleep, we have to know people are walking in their sleep. Even in New Hampshire, people are willing to believe that legislators would pass a law to allow men to use the ladies room. And of course they're against that.

Logic is one tool for persuasion, but it is not the only tool or the most powerful one, in the short run. In this case, the image of a perverted man waving his festering penis around the ladies room is enough to overrule any logic about the effects of discrimination and the necessity for fairness. It does not matter that the law does nothing to encourage pedophiles and predators, it really doesn't matter at all. Republicans attached that image to the bill and people were willing to oppose it on that basis.

It is reasonable to prevent discrimination against people on the basis of their gender identity. Some women wear pants, some guys carry a handbag, whatever, there are all kinds of people out there and it just. does. not. matter how masculine or feminine somebody is, or if they call themselves a man or a woman. The revolution was fifty years ago, women and men are equal in every way now, it does. not. matter. But in a battle between the amygdala and the frontal cortex, amygdala wins.

Our side has the reasonable argument, but we can't win public opinion with reason alone. The other side found a vivid image that beat us. There are equally vivid images that could be used to support fairness and objectivity, and I hate to tell you but we need to use those images. The law in New Hampshire would support women, for instance, who wear their hair short, or women who wear pants, guys with high voices, men without facial hair, skinny men. It's not just one or two percent of the population that would benefit here, it's good for everyone if gender identity ceases to be grounds for discrimination. But our side thinks being reasonable is enough, like a vote is an algebraic variable that can be calculated from the values of the other variables in an equation, like if you just make sense you'll win public support.

Oh, and this is so cute.
Opponent Rep. Fran Wendelboe offered a tongue-in-cheek amendment, trying to add a clause that would make the third-floor women's restroom in the State House unisex. That bathroom, she said, recently underwent a $72,000 upgrade and is nicer than anything available to men.

Wendelboe, a New Hampton Republican, called the amendment a demonstration of the House's "commitment to putting our money where our mouth is."

Her amendment failed 79-251.

The Republicans in New Hampshire were utterly successful in framing the nondiscrimination bill as "the bathroom bill." Take two topics, discrimination and peeing. Tell me, which one do people think about more? Which one is more personal to them? Which one is easier to think about? By defining the law in terms of peeing, the Republicans were able to make their position popular. In the meantime, real people are discriminated against because they do not meet stereotypical expectations.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Whitman Braces Graciously

Here's the letter that the principal of Walt Whitman High School is sending home with students, regarding the possible protest at their school by the "God Hates Fags" people.
Alan Goodwin
Principal, Whitman High School

Walt Whitman High School
7100 Whittier Blvd.
Bethesda, Maryland 20817

March 24, 2009

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Students:

Towards the end of May 2009, a statue of Walt Whitman will be placed in Moscow, Russia. His statue will be the first statue of an American ever placed on Russian soil. As one of our most recognized poets and voices of the American spirit, it is a refreshing and fitting choice. In his poetry, Whitman celebrates individual spirit, celebrates our nation as the center of democratic values, and celebrates nature. Unfortunately, there is a small group of persons who want to defile his name because Walt Whitman may have been homosexual. I tell you this because on April 24, 2009, there is a possibility that members of this small group may appear near our school to protest that our school is named after Walt Whitman. The protesters are from Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. This group has announced anti-gay demonstrations throughout the nation before but has rarely shown up. The protesters will not be allowed on school grounds, and there will be a police presence to ensure that our school remains safe from such an intrusion and that there is no disruption to school operations. Our school embraces all members of our school community and has no tolerance for those spreading messages of hate. I regret that this protest may upset our students and staff, if it even occurs, but such events are sanctioned by law. Please be assured that we are working with the school system and the Montgomery County Police Department to ensure any potential protest is not disruptive. We will not allow this small group of people to besmirch the namesake of our school or our community. We will have a normal school day and live up to the ideals and the spirit embodied by Walt Whitman.


Alan Goodwin

It seems to me that the principal made this statement as clearly and eloquently as it could be made. He is candid with the students, he seems unafraid of confronting the controversy directly and taking sides, there is a lot of important information here, and it sets a tone that will affect all students' behaviors. This is the way to do it.

Findings Maybe Not As Bad As They Sound

MSNBC has one of those articles that you read through and then you get to the end and realize maybe it didn't say what you thought it said. Check this out:
LONDON - A sixth of British therapists said they had tried to help gay, bisexual and lesbian patients become heterosexual, even though evidence suggests such therapies can be harmful, according to a survey released on Thursday.

Michael King of University College London, who published his findings in the journal BMC Pyschiatry, said the number of therapists who said they had tried to help a person change their sexual orientation was surprising.

"There is very little evidence to show that attempting to treat a person's homosexual feelings is effective and in fact it can actually be harmful," King said in a telephone interview. Such an approach could provoke greater anxiety and confusion.

The survey showed that 17 percent of therapists and psychiatrists working in Britain had sought to help their patients reduce "gay or lesbian feelings" through therapy, the researchers said. Gay ‘cure’ still sought by some therapists

That is some disappointing news. Maybe there was a time when psychotherapists thought they could change someone's sexual orientation, but you'd think those days are long gone. From this article, you would think not.
Treating homosexuality as a mental illness was more common in the United States and Britain during the 1970s and 1980s, when so-called "aversion" therapy was in vogue, he added.

These treatments involved tactics such as pairing homosexual imagery with electric shocks to induce feelings of revulsion, King said.

We have talked to people who have been through that. It's terrible, and it doesn't work. I'm sorry, but there are some things you just won't change. Sexual orientation is one of them.

Ah, but watch this.
King's study showed that some therapists now use more subtle strategies aimed at getting patients to "control" their homosexual feelings, and eventually change their sexual orientation.

King and colleagues asked more than 1,400 therapists if they would try to change a patient's sexual orientation if asked to do so.

Only 4 percent declared that they would. However, in response to further questions, one in six said that they had already tried to help patients control or change their sexual orientation through a range of therapies.

I think this is a misleading headline, the study didn't find that a "gay cure" is "still sought" by therapists, at least not by many. These shrinks didn't say they currently try to change anyone's sexual orientation. The article says that back in the 70s and 80s that kind of therapy was common. Could it be that one sixth of British psychotherapists practiced their craft back in the day when such a treatment was considered workable?

The finding seems to be this: seventeen percent of British shrinks have tried to help someone change their sexual orientation in the past. Four percent would do that now.

Ninety-six percent of British psychiatrists would not try to change someone's sexual orientation.

HPV Vaccine for Boys: Double Standard in Discourse?

Wow, there's a lot of news today. This was on Page One of The Post this morning:
When a vaccine designed to protect girls against a sexually transmitted virus arrived three years ago, the debate centered on one question: Would the shots make young girls more likely to have sex?

Now the vaccine's maker is trying to get approval to sell the vaccine for boys, and the debate is focusing on something else entirely: Is it worth the money, and is it safe and effective enough?

"We are still more worried about the promiscuity of girls than the promiscuity of boys," said Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women's studies and medical history at Wellesley College. "There's still that double standard." A Vaccine Debate Once Focused on Sex Shifts as Boys Join the Target Market

All right, hold it right there.

I appreciate that The Post wants to expose a gender bias in public discourse. In a way this is a progressive story, we should recognize that there is a big difference between discussing chastity and discussing safety.

But did "the debate center on one question?"

We followed "the debate" here on this blog, and ... it wasn't a debate, any more than there is "a debate" over the theory of evolution. Who in their right mind would put their daughter at risk of catching an incurable and possibly deadly disease, out of the belief that protecting her would make her more likely to have sex? Okay, it's a trick question, I snuck the phrase "in their right mind" into it, no fair.

Some of the men at Concerned Women for America say they would do that, but you wonder.

Skipping down, some background:
Gardasil protects against the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV causes genital warts and, in women, can lead to cervical cancer -- a disease that strikes about 10,000 American women a year and kills about 3,700.

For males, the vaccine is aimed at protecting against genital warts and less common malignancies that HPV can cause, such as penile and anal cancer, as well as cancer of the mouth and throat. The virus causes at least 250,000 new cases of genital warts and an estimated 7,500 cancers in males each year, causing perhaps about 1,000 deaths. Vaccinating boys and men would also help prevent the spread of the virus to their sexual partners.

"By vaccinating men as well as women, you reduce the amount of virus that is out there that can be transmitted back and forth," said Richard M. Haupt, who leads the HPV vaccine program at Merck & Co., which makes Gardasil. "Hopefully there will be a benefit not only to men themselves, but to their partners and future partners."

When this vaccine came out, the Family Blah Blah groups came out against it because it would inevitably cause young women to have sex, which they wouldn't ordinarily do, of course. The absence of both facts and logic to support the assertion didn't slow them down any, but it did turn out in the long run to be an embarrassment, it appeared to me, similar to the time they came out against SpongeBob SquarePants. It was just too dumb to think we would sacrifice our daughters to enforce a standard of chastity.

Here's what the Family Research Council was saying in 2005 -- from New Scientist:
In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus. Will cancer vaccine get to all women?

You notice the British spellings in that article. You know what they think of us over there, don't you?

And here's what the same group saying in The Post this morning:
Groups that initially were critical when Gardasil was introduced for girls say they now want to make sure the decision is left up to parents.

"We do not oppose the development or distribution of the vaccine," said Peter S. Sprigg of the Family Research Council. "The only concern we have is about proposals to make vaccination mandatory for school attendance. It's a parental rights issue."

You know, I don't remember Peter Sprigg ever having a middle initial before, do you?

Now they're just concerned about "parental rights," just like the CRW was suddenly concerned about racism when the school district had a video that showed a girl going to an abortion clinic.

Again, I think the Washington Post is trying to do the right thing with this morning's article, they are highlighting the difference in the way we talk about boys and girls. You can find an example of that double standard anywhere you look, but this one was especially vivid because the Family Blah Blah groups were actually saying that a girl's chastity is more important than her life.

Vermont Governor Says He Will Veto Marriage Equality Bill

What is Vermont doing with a Republican governor, anyway?
There could be a major roadblock for the gay marriage bill in Montpelier. Gov. Jim Douglas said he will veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

The governor told reporters he doesn't typically announce his intentions like this so far ahead of time, but said he thinks it's the only way to stop speculation about what his move may be, to refocus lawmakers' attention on the state budget.

"I'm announcing I will veto this legislation when it reaches my desk," Douglas said.

Explaining same-sex marriage is a deeply personal issue that crosses political lines, Vermont's Republican governor said he will not sign a bill into law allowing gays and lesbians to marry.

"I believe marriage has always been and ought to remain the union of a man and a woman," Douglas said. "I believe the civil unions law has offered equal rights and benefits under state law to same-sex couples and that should suffice."

"I see this as the civil rights movement of our generation. And I don't want to leave Governor Douglas behind," said Beth Robinson, of the Vt. Freedom to Marry Task Force.

Democratic leaders called the governor's announcement an insult to the political process.

"We haven't even passed the bill. We shouldn't even talk about whether we will override it yet," said Rep. Shap Smith, D-Vt. House Speaker. Douglas to Veto Gay Marriage Bill

You remember we talked about this a couple of days ago, the bill passed in the Vermont Senate by a 26-4 vote, which ought to be good enough to override a veto if it comes to that.
The move puts the pressure squarely on the House. It can override a governor's veto with a two-thirds majority. Speaker Smith says he works closely with Progressives and Republicans, but since gay marriage is such a personal decision, not all about political parties, he's not sure he has the votes. House Judiciary chairman Bill Lippert-- himself openly gay-- held back tears over his frustration.

"This touches the hearts of your neighbors and friends. It touches my heart. I am deeply disappointed the governor has interfered with this process at this time," said Lippert, D-Hinesburg. "But as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, we will continue this work and we will move forward."

Governor Douglas said he thinks Democratic leaders would not have advanced the bill if they did not have enough votes to override a veto, but because the issue is so personal and divisive legislative leaders say there's no guarantee. But of course Douglas acknowledged he will have no choice but to accept same-sex marriages if the house can get the numbers.

The way it might go is ... the governor can prove his Republican allegiance by vetoing this bill, perpetuating the government's right to choose who someone can marry. Then the state legislature will vote again and bury his veto. The people of Vermont will be free to marry the person they love, and further they will have seen their governor for what he is. I do not expect his party to win again in the next gubernatorial election.

Like the story says, the pressure is on the House. Let's watch this one. I think the good guys might win in the long run up there.

Poverty in Gay and Lesbian Households

A few years ago the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever had a "town hall" meeting that we refer to as the Hatefest. They lined up a series of fairly well-known anti-gay speakers, and some of us attended and recorded the event. I think I speak for the rest when I say we all felt like we needed a bath afterwards. It was the ugliest event I have ever attended. CRW leaders even had to apologize in the press afterwards, the hatred was tangible, the mood of the meeting was frightening.

One speaker was Montgomery County resident Peter Sprigg, who is Vice President for Policy at the Family Research Council. He talked about the "myths about homosexuality," the point of his talk was that hateful stereotypes of gay people are in fact accurate. You can read a transcript of his talk HERE.

One thing he said was:
Uh the next myth is that homosexuals are seriously disadvantaged by discrimination in our society. If this were true it would support the notion that homosexuals are in need of special protections under the law. However, by two of the most common measures of social disadvantage, education and income, it is not true. The research shows that homosexuals actually have significantly higher levels of educational attainment than the general public while their findings on homosexual incomes are at worst mixed. Here’s uh an a study from the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management which said QUOTE In contrast to studies of anti-discrimination laws for women and ethnic minorities, we have produced no evidence that employment protections for sexual orientation directly increase average earnings for members of same-sex households. END QUOTE

A study published last week was reported in the Minnesota Independent:
A study released on Friday (PDF) by the Williams Institute at the UCLA College of Law found that gay and lesbian couples face higher rates of poverty than heterosexual married couples.

“The myth of gay and lesbian affluence is just that – a myth,” said the study’s authors. “Lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are as likely to be poor as are heterosexuals, while gay and lesbian couple households, after adjusting for the factors that help explain poverty, are more likely to be poor than married heterosexual couple households.”

Children living in a same-sex household had poverty rates that were twice as high as those of married couples. One in five children in same-sex families was poor compared to one in ten for married families.

The poverty rate for lesbian families is 9.4 percent compared to 6.7 percent for those in married families.

Twenty-four percent of lesbians and bisexual women faced poverty compared to 19 percent of women nationally.

Gay and bisexual men had poverty rates of 15 percent compared to 13 percent of all men. Study: Same-sex couples face higher poverty rates

Some findings from the study document itself:
  • After adjusting for a range of family characteristics that help explain poverty, gay and lesbian couple families are significantly more likely to be poor than are heterosexual married couple families.
  • Notably, lesbian couples and their families are much more likely to be poor than heterosexual couples and their families.
  • Children in gay and lesbian couple households have poverty rates twice those of children in heterosexual married couple households.
  • Within the LGB population, several groups are much more likely to be poor than others. African American people in same-sex couples and same-sex couples who live in rural areas are much more likely to be poor than white or urban same-sex couples.
  • While a small percentage of all families receive government cash supports intended for poor and low-income families, we find that gay and lesbian individuals and couples are more likely to receive these supports than are heterosexuals.

While the rest of us might see a pattern of discrimination, you can see that the haters should be able to spin this the other way, portraying gays and especially lesbians as a bunch of underachieving welfare-handout-grabbing losers. Whatever, the "myth" debunked by Peter Sprigg appears not so debunked.

From the Independent again:
“The social and policy context of LGB life provides many reasons to think that LGB people are at least as likely — and perhaps more likely — to experience poverty as are heterosexual people: vulnerability to employment discrimination, lack of access to marriage, higher rates of being uninsured, less family support, or family conflict over coming out,” the study concluded. “All of those situations could increase the likelihood of poverty among LGB people.”

We'll watch and see how the Family Blah Blah groups depict this study, if they mention it at all.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Equality Wins in Gainesville

Voters in Gainesville, Florida, yesterday defeated a referendum similar to the one that Montgomery County almost faced last year, an attempt to relegalize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Gainesville referendum was even worse than ours (or as the Citizens for Responsible Whatever would say, "even better") as it took away rights for gay as well as transgender people and made it illegal in the future for the city to protect rights for groups not protected by state law.

The good guys won. The bad guys lost.
Gainesville, Fla. — Voters in Gainesville, Fla., went to the polls yesterday and decided to keep a city law banning discrimination among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered residents would remain on the books.

After all the votes were tallied 58 percent of the voters in Gainesville voted to keep an anti-discrimination law geared at preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The vote marked the end of a hard fought campaign on both sides of the issue.

The debate began last year when the city commission voted to revise Gainesville’s anti-discrimination law to include transgendered residents. Those who are transgendered are born one sex, but for one reason or another identify with the opposite sex.

While the impact of the law protected individuals from employment and housing discrimination, it also gave the green light for the city’s approximately 100 transgendered residents to use a restroom of their choosing; a move the inflamed residents.

Critics of the ordinance claimed it created a dangerous precedent because its language was vague and open to interpretation.

“This clause opens a dangerous legal loophole,” said Mark Minck, Chairman Citizens for Good Public Policy, in a comment posted to the organization’s Web site. “Because of the ordinance’s vague wording, any man can legally gain access to facilities normally reserved for women and girls simply by indicating, verbally or non-verbally, that he inwardly feels female at the moment. This is the unfortunate, unintended consequence of this poorly drafted ordinance.” Florida Voters Keep Gay Rights Law

These are almost exactly the same words out local Maryland shower-nuts used. Wouldn't you like to get your hands on the playbook they all read from? Down in Gainesville they even used the "predators and pedophiles in the women's showers" tactic, just like our nuts.
The inclusion of transgendered residents into the ordinance threatened Gainesville’s entire nondiscrimination policy in regards to sexual orientation and gay rights activists charged the motivation behind the assault had nothing to do with restrooms.

“This is about attacking the gay, lesbian, bisexual community and repealing protections that are in place,” Joe Saunders, a spokesman for Equality is Gainesville’s Business, told The Associated Press.

Earlier this year a friend traveling through Florida called on his cell phone to say, "You might be interested in this. Did you know that down here they have a new law that anybody can use whatever bathroom they want?" Somehow, in a drive through town, listening to the radio, he had absorbed the propaganda point as absolute fact, and was passing it on. As as matter of fact, I was interested in this, and we had a bit of a conversation about it.

But that's how it works. They don't fight with facts and logic, they plant the seed of a scary idea and let you believe it is absolute truth, then build a promotion based on frightening images. Even in our county, where gender identity discrimination has been outlawed for months now, the shower-nuts still argue that the law will result in men going into ladies restrooms and locker-rooms, as the Gainesville nut in this news story says, "simply by indicating, verbally or non-verbally, that he inwardly feels female at the moment." It hasn't happened, but they keep repeating the point -- why? Not because there is a fact behind it, or any logic, but because it is scary. It would be scary if perverted men hung around in ladies rooms, and the more they can focus your mind on that scary image the more likely it is that you will vote to keep discrimination legal.

Well, congratulations to the people of Gainesville for doing the right thing. I know it can get a little rednecky down there, this wasn't a done deal by any means. A special round of applause should go out to the group Equality is Gainesviille's Business, who led the campaign to beat the referendum. We know from our own experience that this is dirty hard work, but they dug in and won an important fight.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Vermont Senate Votes for Marriage Equality

From CNN:
The Vermont Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to legalize same-sex marriage, potentially setting the stage for a high-profile legislative showdown and breaking a new political barrier in the state that made history in 2000 by becoming the first to approve civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

If the bill becomes law, Vermont will become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without being forced to do so by the courts.

The bill, which passed the 30-member chamber by a 26-4 margin, moves to the Vermont House, where it is also expected to be approved. Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, however, has said he doesn't support the bill. Vermont Senate votes to legalize same-sex marriage

The governor might decide to veto this bill, and according to this story it is not clear whether the state legislature would have enough votes to override it.

News Is Looking Good

So far the new guy is doing pretty good on the things that I care about. I'm not predicting the economy, but there are encouraging signs, well they're working on it and I have no reason to think they'll fail to at least make it not as bad. How's that for unfettered optimism?

This morning's Post had several stories that brightened my day. One was about the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Environmental Protection Agency's new leadership, in a step toward confronting global warming, submitted a finding that will force the White House to decide whether to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the nearly 40-year-old Clean Air Act.

Under that law, EPA's conclusion -- that such emissions are pollutants that endanger the public's health and welfare -- could trigger a broad regulatory process affecting much of the U.S. economy as well as the nation's future environmental trajectory. The agency's finding, which was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget without fanfare on Friday, also reversed one of the Bush administration's landmark decisions on climate change, and it indicated anew that President Obama's appointees will push to address the issue of warming despite the potential political costs. EPA Presses Obama To Regulate Warming Under Clean Air Act

The Bush administration actually had people at EPA re-write the scientists' reports to remove evidence of global warming. I can't believe that a scientific topic like that became political, but it did. It seems like a simple principle: let's take care of our planet. But taking care of the planet would be expensive for business, and so the politicians who represent corporate excess tried to deny that a problem existed.

Now all that is turning around.

Here's another one:
A federal judge ordered the Food and Drug Administration yesterday to reconsider its 2006 decision to deny girls younger than 18 access to the morning-after pill Plan B without a prescription.

U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman in New York instructed the agency to make Plan B available to 17-year-olds within 30 days and to review whether to make the emergency contraceptive available to all ages without a doctor's order.

In his 52-page decision, Korman repeatedly criticized the FDA's handling of the issue, agreeing with allegations in a lawsuit that the decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and influenced by "political and ideological" considerations imposed by the Bush administration. FDA Ordered to Rethink Age Restriction for Plan B

It's one thing to oppose abortion, the religious radicals argue that it is equivalent to murder and it is a major theme, one of the major themes, of the Republican base. But Plan B is not abortion, it's just the same stuff in regular birth control pills, but stronger. It does not interrupt a pregnancy and is not murder by any definition.

If you are one of those people who thinks that teenagers should not be having babies then you should applaud this decision. Though the ruling applies to seventeen-year-olds, it is significant that the judge wants them to consider making Plan B available to all ages without a prescription. That would mean that a girl who needs it can get it.

Hey, here's another one -- all of these are from this morning's paper:
Ten months after R. Gil Kerlikowske became Seattle's police chief, two of his officers arrived at the home of JoAnna McKee, where she ran a co-op giving medical marijuana to patients and teaching them to grow their own. Neighbors, the police told her, had been complaining. Soon, a "cease and desist" order was tacked to her door.

But instead of shutting down the Green Cross Patient Co-Op, Kerlikowske's director of police-community partnerships made a suggestion: Move it from her West Seattle house to a commercial area. She found a nearby storefront, and under Washington state's medical marijuana law, people could once again bring doctors' orders to get relief from pain. "The police could have come in here like gangbusters," McKee said. "But they didn't. It was a case of let's see whether we can work this out so everybody could get what they want."

That episode the summer of 2001 typifies the approach to illegal drugs that Kerlikowske, nominated by President Obama to lead the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, has displayed during nearly nine years as Seattle's top law enforcement officer. In a city with greater tolerance for drugs than much of the United States, he has seldom bucked the prevailing local sentiment. Seldom, though, has he been out front. Community Policing Defines Nominee to Lead Drug Office

This is just a human-interest story about Obama's new drug czar. It appears to be possible that he has a somewhat objective view of drugs. Uh, for a cop. We already heard the new Attorney General say that the federal government would not get involved in medical marijuana cases. The so-called "war on drugs" is one of the biggest embarrassments of US policy over the past decades. It is ineffective, makes criminals out of innocent people, it's expensive, and it creates enemies around the world. It looks like we are seeing a reversal of a lot of standing policies and procedures, moving in the right direction.

Before you get through the first section of the paper, though, you will see this one, a beautiful headline that sort of summarizes the kinds of obstacles the new President will be facing. This is about the President's ambitious plan to save the economy:
Some Experts Say Rescue Program Might Not Work

Is that great or what? I don't usually use this kind of language, but let me say: Holy moly! "Some experts" think the plan "might not work!" Now there's news for you.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Rumination: Planning for Hateful Visitors

It is a gorgeous day out there, clear sunshine streaming down, the springtime blossoms are making their annual reappearance, the sparrows are chirping, shadows of bare branches are crisp across the greening grass. WPFW is playing some pensive, timeless improvised guitar piece, it's a perfect Sunday morning.

Next month our county might get a visit from the world's ugliest Christians. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas, goes around protesting events, especially events where people are grieving or things that people care about. That actress that died this week, they're planning to picket her funeral because she supported research for AIDS. The church's web site is called "God Hates Fags," and they make horrible ugliness out of anything beautiful.

They're planning to come here in April because we have a school named after Walt Whitman, who may have been gay. That's it, that's the whole thing, Walt Whitman wrote poems where he seemed to appreciate affection between men, and we have schools named after famous American writers and poets, including him. When I was a kid, they told us that Walt Whitman was the greatest American poet, I don't know if they still say that but he certainly changed the sound and the sentiment of poetry for modern times. I used to be involved in the poetry scene in the Central Coast of California, I published a couple of things, led some workshops, gave some readings, hung around with other poets. I like poetry, in fact I like Walt Whitman's poetry, if I had to say, I'd say his poetry and Jack Kerouac's prose have probably affected my writing style here on the blog more than anything. Well, maybe Merle Haggard's songwriting, too, I don't know. I like to start from a position like Whitman's, that life is good, life is charged with joyful energy, that sexuality and love are good things that bless our lives, and I like to string words together in a certain way that I would say is influenced by writers like Walt Whitman.

What would Walt Whitman do if he was faced with sourpuss puritans like our county's Citizens for a Responsible Whatever, who just live to spoil other people's parties? Would he see the beauty in their fear of life and love? I would imagine that their opposition to the wild energy of vitality would cause a charged-up spirit like Whitman to oppose them. I don't think he would much like people spoiling his party or anybody else's. He may include contradictions within himself, but here's the question, would he embrace forces that seek to destroy himself? I think Walt Whitman would fight for the right to love life.

Then you've got the "God Hates Fags" people. When our local nuts say they "Love the sinner, hate the sin," we know they're lying. You don't love somebody and then mock their deepest feelings of love for another person. They say that to disguise the disgust they feel, the hatred they feel toward gay people. The "God Hates Fags" group doesn't bother to do that. They are not only disgusted by gay people, they believe that God himself is disgusted by them.

In a way this is easier to understand, a group who says exactly what they mean. When they say "God Hates Fags" the reasonable person recognizes that this is impossible, first of all it's wrong to use an insulting term like "fag," and even if someone does it's stupid to hate gay people, and finally it is the most profound insult to our intelligence to suppose that the God who created all this universe would turn around and hate his own creatures because of who they love. Someone who carries a sign that says "God Hates Fags" believes so differently from me that it is inconceivable, it is impossible for me to put myself into a space where I can understand what motivates them. I don't like some people, but I consider that to be a function of my own self-interest, my personal life trajectory, I have grown up seeing the world from one perspective, I am one point moving through space and time, and my observations are biased by my mortality, singleness, my separateness. God though does not suffer that limitation, and I would be shocked if he did not love everyone, being able to see everyone's actions from their own point of view.

We have nuts in our county, people who think everybody should act and feel like they do, people whose thinking is stuck in a rut of habit that they will never escape from, and sometimes they cause problems, for instance when they threaten our school district, knowing that nobody in the administration will stand up to them. But the "God Hates Fags" people are beyond being nuts. Our nuts are parochial and silly, rationalizing their narrow-mindedness in ways that are transparent and easy to joke about. The "God Hates Fags" people are not silly. They are simply ugly.

Somebody brought up the question, "Who pays for all of this?" The "God Hates Fags" people travel all over the country to carry their signs and upset people -- who pays for their airplane tickets? Their hotel rooms? How do they get from the airport to our school that is named after a possibly-gay poet? I believe their group is approximately ten family members, somebody is pouring money into their endeavor, they cover a lot of ground in a week. The frightening thing is to think that they have supporters!

The question is, what should we do when these horrible people come to our county? It seems to me there is a continuum of possible responses, ranging from "Do nothing" to "Go down there with baseball bats and drive them out of Dodge." As you can probably imagine, I do not advocate a position at either end of the spectrum.

In between, there are shades of possibilities. For one: a bunch of people could show up at the "God Hates Fags" protest, and stand there silently while the Westboro Baptist Church group marches. Just stand there and watch. No, don't laugh, I know people who want to do that. It might make them feel morally superior or something, providing a crowd to make the "God Hates Fags" people look effective on television. The strength of this approach is exemplified by the impressive success of John Kerry's response to the Swift Boat attacks in the 2004 elections. A group ran a campaign that said George Bush was a war hero and John Kerry was a coward, and Kerry stood there and let them say it, and then lost the election. For some reason, this passive approach appeals to a certain brand of liberal, they think it is enough to show up for a fight, and that it would be too much to throw a punch. Okay, you see how I feel about that.

Closer to the other end of the spectrum, our side could show up with rotten vegetables and pelt the "God Hates Fags" group as they march, we could shout angry slogans at them and try to disrupt their demonstration, short of committing acts of violence -- no baseball bats, soft vegetation only. No hitting, only shoving. This approach won't accomplish anything for our side, either, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it would make the papers and give the "God Hates Fags" people more publicity than they deserve. Another thing, it would energize these crazy Baptists, they would intensify their commitment to their "cause," knowing that they are being persecuted for it -- these kinds of people love to be persecuted, they live for it. It would look bad on TV, the rowdy mob would get all the attention and the horrible "God Hates Fags" people would avoid the criticism they deserve. Our position is based on kindness and reason, and it would be poorly represented by a threatening mob. I would never support disruption or physical attacks of any kind. Yelling and throwing stuff does not represent our viewpoint well at all.

Somewhere in the middle is an approach that I prefer. Our side should show up, definitely. Those who wish to should have signs with messages on them that show support for our gay friends and neighbors and opposition to the hateful Baptists who are picketing our school. And when the haters march by, we should boo. TV cameras have microphones on them, it won't sound like a crowd that has gathered because they agree that "God Hates Fags," it will sound like a crowd that opposes that sentiment. The "God Hates Fags" people will feel unwelcome but they will not get to call themselves martyrs. Nobody needs to shake a fist or use any bad language, there doesn't need to be any implication of violence, but I believe it is appropriate for our side to express ourselves clearly. At some of the "God Hates Fags" demonstrations, people hold up big flags to obscure the view of the hateful group. Big rainbow flags would be appropriate here, don't you think? Anybody have an idea about how to make some big flags, cheap?

There should be no question in anyone's mind about who's a good guy and who's a bad guy when these ugly people come to our county. Anyone on our side who threatens violence or expresses anger should be immediately removed from the scene. If the demonstrators say something, we should not engage them in dialogues -- you're not going to change these people's minds about anything. Booing will drown out anything they try to say and when people see it on TV they will understand that the crowd that has gathered is one that opposes the "God Hates Fags" perspective. We should be calm, and we should be very clear about what we stand for. These Baptists plan to picket one school for about forty minutes, then they'll be gone. It's not a big deal, everybody knows they're creeps, but if they come to our county with the message that "God Hates Fags" we need to make it perfectly clear that they are not welcome.

The most likely thing to happen is that the group won't come here. They seem to miss a lot of the dates on their calendar. I don't know the lay of the land at Whitman, but there might not be any place they can demonstrate near the school, and they won't be allowed on campus, I'm sure. If they don't come, then good, we can all get some work done that day.

If they do come, we can make the best of it. Their demonstration could seed discussions about sin and love, about morality and divine will and the gifts of love that nature gives us. There's a lot to talk about there, this could be an opportunity for people to contemplate their beliefs and settle their minds about a few things.

Well, here I am sitting at the kitchen table, it's past noon and I haven't had a shower yet. I've gone through a whole pot of coffee, had a great breakfast of eggs and corned beef hash, while I was banging on the laptop. It looks like the Peruvians are gathering at the school across the street for soccer and barbecue and folk dancing. WPFW has moved on, no more guitar music, and I have some errands to get done. We'll watch how events evolve, we'll do what we have to do, we are participants in this life, not observers.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How the Double Standard Works Against Guys

Here's some research that begins to illuminate a fascinating issue that our society will eventually have to deal with head-on. From Canada's National Post:
Women have long complained that men enjoy a double standard when it comes to sexual behaviour, but a new Canadian study reveals a shift which actually puts more sexual limitations on men, while lifting those on women.

That men are traditionally high-fived for wantonness while women are often pegged as sluttish has been an age-old watercooler discussion, a point of contention among those seeking to level what they consider an unfair playing field.

But the reality, according to the study, is that men are not totally unconstrained. Instead, they are more limited by what is considered taboo in the bedroom; hit by a new double standard that expects men to be highly sexual, and yet expects them to be less experimental - while the opposite is true for women. The new sexual double standard

Every college campus has a Women's Studies department, women have tons of books on how to explore their sexuality, magazine articles about how to experience more sexual enjoyment and how to be a more satisfying partner. Guys have porn, woo-hoo. For men the goal of sex is to score, with no extra points for style, technique, or results. Is there a Men's Studies department anywhere? Maybe there is, I'm just asking.
The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, found that society accords men less "sexual latitude" than women, deeming it abnormal for a man to be disinterested in sex, to engage in homosexual fantasy, and to engage in submissive sexual acts.

"The double standard used to give men more sexual freedom than women, but these findings indicate that the dynamic is changing" said Alex McKay, research coordinator for the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. "Men are forced to abide by a certain gender role, while women are today more free to be themselves. In this sense, the standard actually works against the man."

In our local controversies over sexual orientation and gender identity, this double standard is revealed in the fixation that certain groups of nutty people have with men who violate commonplace social expectations. You won't hear the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever complaining about lesbians, or about people raised as girls who take on a male gender identity in adulthood. It's all about gay men and transgender people who have transitioned from male to female. The pressure is on guys to be regular straight guys.

(I did think there is an ironic anomaly in this particular article saying that "women are often pegged" ... oh, never mind...)

Do you ever watch Craig Ferguson, that Scottish talk-show host who's on late-late? The guy is great, he's funny and I am blown away by how fast he is at improvising really funny stuff. Like once I was watching, and some beautiful glamorous actress was on, and she said "I do a lot of international traveling." And Ferguson said, "Do you? I eat at International House of Pancakes a lot. I love their Rooty Tooty Fresh 'n' Fruity," totally diverting her intended self-serving conversational trajectory. I wish I could think of things like that.

He does something that I think is really funny and good, which is that he makes jokes sometimes that imply he might be gay, and the joke is that you can't tell, maybe he really would like to get trapped in an elevator with Brad Pitt. Well, I understand he recently married a woman, but ... a number of ministers and Republican politicians have recently proven that that doesn't mean anything. Anyway, I take it as a healthy thing, he doesn't need to convince you that he's a straight guy, he is what he is and it's your choice to like him or not. In my mind that contrasts favorably with the Larry the Cable Guy kind of man, where every joke is about how straight he is, on some level.

Guys, this is a trap. Women are learning to enjoy sex and all we're doing is keeping score. You're going to wonder why there are articles like THIS out there, why some women are losing interest in men as romantic partners.
The researchers say the findings "underscore the conflictive nature of the sexual double standard when applied to men ... It demands that they evidence greater interest in sexual matters, yet also requires that this interest be channelled into modes of expression that are ‘socially appropriate.'"

One reason for why a greater number of "non-normative" behaviours are considered acceptable for women is that women are allowed to take on both dominant and subordinate sexual roles; men are not given that same exploratory space.

"Men have a clear idea of what's acceptable," said Sue McGarvie, sex therapist and radio personality. "They're more concerned about maintaining their macho persona. It's as if they think they need to have sex standing up with their boots on in order to show their manliness."

As women's tastes get more refined and their standards go up, old-fashioned Neanderthal men become less appealing to them. This creates a niche for men who are, shall we say, "liberated." If women are learning to explore and enjoy the many dimensions of their sexuality, why would they want to spend their evenings with a one-dimensional lover? Guys are going to have to change.
The study, by Todd Morrison, a psychology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, calls for a deeper look into the impact of these new dynamics on men.

"Greater research attention should be given to the burden that some men may experience as a function of exposure to a sexual double standard that demands they evidence an interest in sexuality and should lead and control sexual interactions," the study said.

That a greater number of sexual behaviours are considered normal, and desirable, for women exemplifies the trend that more once-taboo sexual behaviours are making their way out of what the study refers to as the "outer limits" and into what it calls the "charmed category."

For example, society now appears to accept the idea that married men and women masturbate, something that just over a decade ago was a "major area of contest," the study said.

But, while the study in a sense debunks the notion that men have the upper hand in the sexual arena, so too does it reveal that certain aspects of the traditional double standard are still at play.

When it comes to the traditional notion that it is more acceptable for men to watch pornography or be sexually active, for example, the study shows that women deem men's sexual prowess as more acceptable than their own, embracing their role as the gender of lesser promiscuity.

"Women, in certain ways, were shown to accept the longstanding double standard," said Mr. McKay.

This is very complicated and intriguing stuff. Our society underwent a revolution fifty years or so ago, and we have come a long way but we are still in transition. Women work with men, women vote, alimony can go either way, companies offer maternity leave, we worry about glass ceilings ... a lot has changed. And a lot has stayed the same. Now it's time for the other shoe to drop, a men's revolution, to adapt to this new order of things. I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gay West Point Graduates Come Out Organized

From the Detroit Free Press.

Thirty-eight graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., came out of the closet Monday with an offer to help their alma mater educate future Army leaders on the need to accept and honor the sacrifices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender troops.

The group, Knights Out, wants to serve as a connection between gay troops and Army administrators, particularly at West Point, to provide an open forum for communication between gay West Point graduates and their fellow alumni and to serve in an advisory role for West Point leaders if the “don’t ask, don’t tell” laws are repealed by Congress. The group believes a repeal is both “imminent and inevitable.”

“We’re publicly announcing our sexuality, our orientation,” said 1st Lt. Dan Choi, a National Guardsman with the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, based in Manhattan. “It’s just one part of who we are in saying that we are standing to be counted.”

In forming Knights Out, its 38 members are following the example of similar support and education groups formed by graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy, known respectively as USNA Out and Blue Alliance. Most if not all of these groups’ members also belong to the Service Academy Gay and Lesbian Alumni social network, a group that Knights Out claims includes some active-duty commanders serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. West Point grads declare gay pride

Meanwhile, the US military has lost 11,694 individuals to "Don't Ask Don't Tell." I think that's one more thing that's going to be changing under the new guy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dictionaries Updated: Marriage

So, what you gonna do? A certain kind of person likes to say that gay people want to "change the definition of marriage" to include same-sex couples. It's a specious argument -- a language is a living, organic entity that is constantly changing -- when was the last time you used the word "whom" in a conversation? Words change their meanings all the time. And besides, a society's definition of marriage is completely dependent on the norms of that society. But still, a certain kind of authoritarian person likes to point to the dictionary to prove that marriage means only blah-blah-blah.

Mirriam Webster's online Dictionary has updated their definition:
Pronunciation: \?mer-ij, ?ma-rij\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English mariage, from Anglo-French, from marier to marry
Date: 14th century

1 a (1): the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2): the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage b: the mutual relation of married persons : wedlock c: the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage

2: an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected ; especially : the wedding ceremony and attendant festivities or formalities

3: an intimate or close union

And I see that Dictionary.com has updated their definition as well. Well, they have ten different subdefinitions -- here's Number Four:
4. a relationship in which two people have pledged themselves to each other in the manner of a husband and wife, without legal sanction: trial marriage; homosexual marriage.

Things are changing, gay people are marrying, that's all there is to it. It's in the dictionary.

AIG Mess Explained

Those millions of tax dollars in bonuses that AIG is going to give out have done something remarkable, something we haven't seen since the first days after 9/11: they have unified the American people. Democrats, Republicans, atheists and Bible-thumpers, young and old, black and white -- everybody is outraged.

Some of this financial stuff gets so complicated an ordinary person can't understand what has happened or what should be done about it. So thanks to The Business Insider for pointing us toward a congressman's comprehensible explanation. Congressman Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from New York, spoke at this morning's hearings on AIG. Here are a few gems from his presentation.
  • "Most members of Congress didn't know what CDS is. I want to make sure I understand it," Ackerman said. "Two guys on a life raft. A storm blows up. There are sharks in the water and waves 10 feet high. First guy says, I'm scared, so the second guy sells him a policy. You're selling something with nothing to back you up, no money in wallet, if everything goes right, you're collecting a premium."
  • "It's like snake oil salesman, and they don't even have the oil in the jar".
  • "There's a great company called I can't believe it's not butter. This is insurance without being insurance, but if they called it "I can't believe it's not insurance" maybe nobody would buy it. How is this suddenly an industry?...How did we allow this to happen? You're playing "I can't believe we're not regulators." And we're playing "we can't believe we're not oversight."

Congressman Says AIG Sold Snake Oil Without Even Having The Oil

Ah, now I understand it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

You Have Got to See This

AmericaBlog linked to this, and it is unbelievable. Look what these dolphins have learned to do.

There are two things here. First, it is incredible that any dolphin is able to create the bubble-rings that you see in this video, it seems impossible to blow bubbles that cohere and don't float away. But the second thing is more impressive to me, the fact that they are able to learn the technique from one another.

And tell me, are they having fun, or what?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hate Group Coming to MoCo

It looks like Montgomery County is going to get a visit next month by Reverend Fred Phelps and his "God Hates Fags" group from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Here's what they say on the "Schedule" page of their web site, God Hates Fags Schedule:
2:00 PM - 2:40 PM
Bethesda, MD

Walt Whitman High School - Dead Fag ALERT! 7100 Whittier Boulevard We are going to picket this High School. Did you know they named a High School after this filthy fag? He was a HUGE supporter of the wounded soldiers. That is he would "visit" them and then take sexual advantage of them. Yes, that's the fags' idea of support and "love". He bragged about it in his writings. And everyone turned a blind eye because he was spending hours and hours "grooming" his victims while he changed bed pans and such. Being the lazy, self-righteous slugs that they were/are, they could care less what he did to the victims so long as THEY did not have to put in the hours. You see that is what Maryland believes is a righteous person. That certainly explains A LOT about Maryland, and specifically explains why God hates them so much. Romans 10:3 For they being ignorant of God?s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. AMEN!

Note, first of all, that nobody knows if Walt Whitman was gay or bisexual or straight or what. There is certainly a lot of sexuality in his poetry, and he does get excited about a worker's rippling muscles or whatever, but his message was about exulting in the energy of life -- his writing is overrun with feeling, with emotion of all kinds, and there is simply no evidence that the guy ever had any kind of romantic affair or sexual encounter with another man. So if this is supposed to be about homosexuality there would have been a lot of better people to pick.

Many of the schools in our county are named after famous poets and writers, and as Walt Whitman is often considered one of our greatest, most original American poets there is in fact a school named after him. And that's all it takes for one of the most loathsome groups of "people" in America to bring their ugly message to our neighborhood.

It sounds like a counter-demonstration is being planned at the school. I emailed the kid who's trying to organize it and said "Count us in."

There might be a little irony in the fact that a leader of one of America's largest neo-Nazi groups, Bill White, is a former Whitman High School student.

Phelps and his group do not represent any kind of movement, as far as I can tell, even the most anti-gay fanatics consider the Westboro Baptist Church to be extreme -- Jerry Falwell called Fred Phelps "a first-class nut," if that tells you anything. All they do is create a commotion, attract attention, and upset people. The list of events they have protested is long and bizarre, including the funerals of soldiers killed in war and individuals killed in fires and accidents, theaters that show live plays, churches they don't agree with, they're against almost everything that the rest of us find meaningful. It is a strange phenomenon, a hate group with no following but with shocking slogans and symbols that generate press coverage and draw crowds wherever they go.

It's funny, but there's really nothing to say about this. Stupid people will come here and say stupid things. We'll have to protest their presence in our county, of course. Sounds like they plan to be at Whitman for less than an hour, then they're gone. Later in the day they will appear in Baltimore at the courthouse and at Roland Park Country School -- reading their rambling schedule entry, I can't figure out what it is that God hates at that particular school. I have heard they are planning events in DC and Northern Virginia, but don't see any of that on their schedule on the Internet.

What we have to do is just show up, outnumber them, boo them, and let them leave. There is no need for violence or flagrant hostility, these are just some nuts making a scene. Our side needs to be overwhelmingly larger for the news cameras, our voices need to be overwhelmingly more sensible, our tempers need to be calm and this group will leave without having done anything more than disgust people.

Steve Martin to the Rescue

We have seen in our own county how a small group of radicals can hold the school district hostage. Out in Oregon this happened, but luckily there is a way to carry on even over the objections of the whiners critics.
Steve Martin has offered to pay for an off-campus production of his play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," which the school board banned from La Grande High School because parents objected to what they called adult content.

The actor, comedian, art collector and banjo picker says in a letter to the community that he wants to keep the play, conducted in other high schools without controversy, "from acquiring a reputation it does not deserve."

The 1993 play imagines a meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein in a Paris bar as they are on the verge of great achievements in painting and physics.

It is aimed at explaining "the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science," as the letter (HERE) published Friday in The La Grande Observer put it.

Last month a parent objected to the production planned by teacher Kevin Cahill and gave school officials a petition signed by 137 people. The school board halted rehearsals. Steve Martin to pay for banned La Grande High School play [Links edited for clarity]

The Student Democrats in La Grande raised some money to move the play to the local college, and Steve Martin will contribute.

His letter to the newspaper makes for some good reading. Here it is in its entirety:
To the citizens of La Grande:

It has come to my attention that there is a controversy regarding my play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” which was to be produced at your local high school.

First let me compliment Mr. Kevin Cahill, the teacher who selected the play, on his excellent taste! The play has been performed, without incident, all over the world by professional and amateur companies, including many high schools.

Because I don’t know the standards of your community or the life experience of your students, it is impossible for me to address whether my play is appropriate to be performed on campus, although in the limited web exchanges I have read, the students, and the eloquent Mr. Cahill, seem to understand the play and can discern that the questionable behavior sometimes evident in the play is not endorsed.

I have heard that some in your community have characterized the play as “people drinking in bars, and treating women as sex objects.” With apologies to William Shakespeare, this is like calling Hamlet a play about a castle. This play is set in an actual bar in Paris that was frequented by Picasso, a historical site that still exists today.

Focusing on Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and Picasso’s master painting, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” the play attempts to explain, in a light-hearted way, the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science. Pablo Picasso, as a historical figure, does not come gift-wrapped for the sensitive. He lived as he painted, fully sexual and fully daring, and in the play he is chastised by a sage bartendress for his cavalier behavior toward women.

Because of the controversy, I recently reread the play, and, frankly, I could understand how some parents might object to certain lines if they were to be delivered by a 16- or 17-year-old. Yet I do believe that the spirit of the play and its endorsement of the arts and sciences are appropriate for young eyes and minds.

So while the question of whether students should perform the play at their high school remains something to be determined by the community, I firmly believe that seeing the play will bring no harm to them and might well uplift them — and acting in the play, if they are permitted by their parents, would also bring them no harm, and may help them to understand the potency, power and beauty of the arts and sciences.

I suspect that the signers of the petition against the production read excerpts only, and were not shown the more delicate and inspirational parts of the script.

To prevent the play from acquiring a reputation it does not deserve, I would like to offer this proposal: I will finance a non-profit, off-high school campus production (low-budget, I hope!), supervised and/or directed by Mr. Cahill and cast at his discretion, so that individuals, outside the jurisdiction of the school board but within the guarantees of freedom of expression provided by the Constitution of the United States, can determine whether they will or will not see the play, even if they are under 18.

I predict that the experience will not be damaging, but meaningful.

Steve Martin wrote the play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.’’ He is an actor and comedian. Of arts and sciences

I thought that was a perfect response. He doesn't want to tell the people of La Grande what to do, if their school board is afraid of the local nuts, well, the people get what they asked for. At the same time, he doesn't want his play to get a reputation for being pornographic or objectionable. It is good enough to be produced everywhere else, including in high schools, and he will invest a little to make sure it gets produced in La Grande, too.

I wrote a couple of years ago about a television show that received eleven thousand complaints. Only two of the people who complained had actually seen the show. In fact, the show was a rerun, and in its first viewing the FCC received zero complaints about it -- none. Some nutty group had emailed all their members to complain, and that was what happened. The network was fined more than three million dollars as a result.

Same thing here. Steve Martin's play has shown all over the place, but some nutty citizen got a bug up their butt and ran around with petitions, and the school board showed no spine. According to the script, the kids should have been out of luck, play canceled, that's it. But first student volunteers started raising money to solve the problem, and now the author of the play is going to help out, too, and I expect the production will have a much larger audience than it would have. So there.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Morning Rumination: On Finding Money, and Music, and Owls

There have been several kinds of stories of a similar type this week, I guess you could call them "something for nothing" stories. These have always caught my attention -- well in some ways I think the "American dream" is to get out of the rat race, to make enough money to stop working. And the fact is, you won't make that much money working. You might become an NBA player or a rock star or win the lottery, I guess, there are ways to break out of the cycle. Your chances are slim but people don't give up hope.

I saw a news story once years ago where an armored car's door swung open and big bags of money fell into the street. People on the scene reported seeing a rusty old car stop, a couple of scraggly-looking guys got out and threw the bags into their back seat, and they drove away "laughing wildly."

Basically that story brought a smile to my face. I'm sorry the bank lost that money, I'm sorry if an armored-car driver lost his job for not closing the door, I'm sort of half-sorry the guys who found the money didn't do "the right thing" and turn it in. On the other hand, I thought it was kind of neat that some guys who might have needed the dough ended up with it. It's a kind of moral dilemma, I guess, you're glad to see the little guy get lucky but you know they shouldn't keep that money.

But what if there were bags of money thrown out of the window by some drug dealers?

Check out this story from Fox News this week:
ROSEMOUNT, Minn. — A 16-year-old Minnesota boy has given away thousands of dollars to fellow students and a school aide. The bag full of money he found was apparently tossed by a drug dealer.

When asked how he got the $100 bills, the student first said it was his allowance. He later said he found it in a ditch — and led police to a spot by a highway where they also found marijuana and scales.

The boy, described as learning disabled, gave away about $11,000 of the nearly $18,000 in the bag. Law officers collected the money from students and from the school bus aide, who had reported that someone slipped $1,200 into her bag.

The boy is not expected to face charges. A sheriff's deputy says he's "a good kid" who was trying to help people in need. Minnesota Teen Finds Drug Money, Gives Away Thousands

Man, wouldn't it be cool to go to that school?

Do you understand why the police took the money from the students? What do you think is going to happen to it? Let me guess: the police department is going to keep it.

It kind of reminds me of another story this week, about Tenaha, Texas, a little town on the highway where the local cops stop people passing through and ... take their money.
... the police here allegedly have found a way to strip motorists, many of them black, of their property without ever charging them with a crime. Instead they offer out-of-towners a grim choice: Sign over your belongings to the town, or face felony charges of money laundering or other serious crimes.

More than 140 people reluctantly accepted that deal from June 2006 to June 2008, according to court records. Among them were a black grandmother from Akron, Ohio, who surrendered $4,000 in cash after Tenaha police pulled her over, and an interracial couple from Houston, who gave up more than $6,000 after police threatened to seize their children and put them into foster care, the court documents show. Neither the grandmother nor the couple were charged with or convicted of any crime.

Officials in Tenaha, along a heavily traveled state highway connecting Houston with several popular gambling destinations in Louisiana, say they are engaged in a battle against drug trafficking, and they call the search-and-seizure practice a legitimate use of the state's asset-forfeiture law. That law permits local police agencies to keep drug money and other property used in the commission of a crime and add the proceeds to their budgets. Driving through Tenaha, Texas, doesn't pay for some

You hear stories about the federales in Mexico doing that sort of thing, like we're better than that. Want to take bets on whether any of these badge-wearing pirates get jail time?

There is a funny kind of tacit protocol about finding money. Say you're walking down the sidewalk and there is a hundred dollar bill on the ground. Guess what: it's yours. What are you going to do, turn it in to the cops, so somebody can come in and say, hey, I lost a hundred dollars, did you guys find it?

It's different if you see somebody drop the money. It's not yours. In that case, the proper thing to do, and the thing any of us would do, is to pick up the money and give it back to the person, or if they're younger than you, point it out to them and let them pick it up their own damn self.

This guy in Amsterdam, New York, had something funny happen.
Amsterdam resident John Garcia went to a local grocery store to deposit a check and walked away with quite a surprise; a $7,800,000,000 surprise, to be exact.

Garcia recalled the moment for NEWS10.

"She said ‘You're John Garcia?' I said, ‘Yeah,' When she handed me the receipt for my deposit, I could understand why she didn't think I was who I was. I was a billionaire. The richest man in Amsterdam," he joked.

Garcia was a billionaire for exactly one hour and 22 minutes after a clerk at the First Niagara bank inside the Price Chopper on Route 30 in Amsterdam made an error, entering Garcia's account number in the spot where the amount should have gone. Amsterdam man receives $7 billion surprise

The opposite of this happened to my father once. The bank accidentally put an extra couple of zeroes on a number, and all of a sudden he was millions of dollars in debt. Really, you want it to go the other way, right?

The best line in this story came from this lucky guy's wife.
Garcia ran home to tell his wife.

"She said, you're not a billionaire, you're a custodian, you clean toilets," he said.

You married people reading this will recognize that kind of constructive comment.

You have probably seen the video of Jon Stewart taking down that "financial expert." There was something in there that I thought was central to his point, though he never really elaborated it:
... Selling this idea that you don’t have to do anything. Any time you sell people the idea that, sit back and you’ll get 10 to 20 percent on your money, don’t you always know that that’s going to be a lie? When are we going to realize in this country that our wealth is work. That we’re workers and by selling this idea that of, “Hey man, I’ll teach you how to be rich.”... Transcript here

Money is a clever invention. It allows members of a society to specialize, by converting their time and energy into a universal medium that can be exchanged for the equivalent amount of someone else's time and energy. The butcher doesn't make bread, the baker doesn't cut meat, but by converting their skilled time into a common medium they can both have bread and meat at dinnertime. It's brilliant, really.

But there's that American dream, money for nothing, busting out of the rat race. The Great Gatsby did it. Elvis did it. You don't want to drag your aching body to work every morning to do some boring thing that some guy who's stupider than you tells you to do. You want to make a big amount of money right now and go play. Ah, there's the rub. What do you do when you've got enough money? Perchance the American dream has not been thought all the way through. Seems like people who have enough money spend all their energy and time trying to get even more money.

I see this morning's Washington Post has one of these "something for nothing" stories at the top of the first page today:
Insurance giant American International Group will award hundreds of millions of dollars in employee bonuses and retention pay despite a confrontation Wednesday between the chief executive and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.

But the company agreed to revise some executive payments after what AIG's leader, Edward M. Liddy, called a "difficult" conversation.

The bonuses and other payments have been exasperating government officials, who have committed $170 billion to keep the company afloat -- far more than has been offered to any other financial firm. Bailout King AIG Still to Pay Millions In Bonuses

This one, it seems to me, falls under the rule for when you see somebody drop their money. The taxpayers are giving this country a hundred seventy billion dollars -- man, I'd like to have just one little billion dollars, that would be cool! The company could limp by with a hundred sixty nine billion, couldn't they? And the company is turning around and giving that money to the very guys who drove it into the ground in the first place, as a kind of prize.

This is news because it breaks the rule. They know who dropped that money but they're going to put it in their pocket anyway. They didn't work for it, it's a "bonus." It is my impression that these managers already have pretty good salaries to start with, for driving their company into the ground.

The sad thing is that, as Jon Stewart pointed out, money is built on the value of work. Real people create products and provide services that have value, and then companies organize to support the workers in their tasks, and then the organization becomes absorbed in maintaining itself, and all the cost of the product or service goes toward "administration," activities that provide no explicit value to the consumer but help the organization sustain itself. Pretty soon you've got a house of cards, people paying each other to pay each other money, and it is not that surprising that the whole thing collapses. And guess who the house of cards falls on - the working stiff. These companies are laying off the working people who make their products and provide their services, and giving free money to the guys at the top whose bad decisions caused the failure in the first place.

There is a kind of political model that has worked in the past, and it will be interesting to see if it works this time. There is a kind of alliance between the big-money capitalists at the top of the food chain and the blue-collar worker at the bottom of it. Somehow the big-bucks guys have persuaded the little guys that what the country needs is more money in the hands of the wealthy, and less for the worker.

Here's an example. I don't know how you measure this, but a lot of writers have noted that Obama's stimulus bill includes the biggest tax cuts in history. But it's the working-person's taxes who are being cut, the big-bucks executives are going to have to pay more of their share. You would think, in a rational world, that the working class folks who benefit from this would appreciate it, but no, they're complaining like crazy, they're calling it "socialism" and every other thing. This is why it is in the interest of the very wealthy to keep the working class uneducated and ignorant, this is why you have groups such as we have seen in our county working tirelessly to undermine public education. Hate to say it, emperor, no clothes.

Little thing at The Examiner blog that supports this idea.
Today's losers losing their homes are Republican districts. At least according to the Center for Responsible Lending, who has just issued a new report that shows nine of the top ten districts with the most foreclures are Republican and most likely to receive the bulk of any homeowner bailout, and thus, at least according to one On Air editor of a major cable network, fit the definition of "losers". Those districts are ...Santelli's losers: republicans

and he lists off the districts. Follow the link to see it, the people who voted for the party that wants the wealthy to get wealthier are losing their homes.

He goes on...
In other words, "Since the Rick Santelli's of the world have been complaining about how the people who would be helped by this bill are so 'irresponsible' and are really just a bunch of 'losers.' .... Rick Santelli's 'losers' may turn out to be the people who are supposedly his ideological fellow travelers."

Another media, multi-conglomerate inspired populist uprising to get the populace to rise up against their own interests.

Isn't that what I just said?

I just took the dog for a walk. It's chilly and drizzly out there, but you can hear spring in the air. We walked alongside the woods around Rock Creek, and the thickets and trees and full of little singing birds, sparrows and cardinals and woodpeckers. Speaking of which, this week The Post had a story about a great horned owl up in Maine that was attacking skiers. I don't see it online, but in the print version they showed a picture of a barn owl. I mean, duh, no horns! Somebody wrote in to correct them, but I can't find that online and it's not exactly important anyway, is it. It is maybe interesting to you that a snowy owl has been spotted in Washington DC this week. The Post, which shows the right owl this time, says no one has seen one of these here since 1994. In fact. this is cool, Joe at Americablog got his neighbor to take a picture of it. We have heard owls hooting in the woods here in Rockville, and sometimes you see them flying at night. There are a lot of little ones, but those big ones, which I assume are great horned owls, come out of the night without a sound, you see it and it's gone before you're actually aware of it. Gigantic wings, perfectly silent.

Well I've gone through most of a pot of coffee. The house smells like bacon, I hear the eggs sizzling. It's chilly outside but nice and warm here in the house. WPFW has been playing some acoustic blues by John Cephas, who played in the Piedmont style and died this month, it's nice to hear. I jammed with a guy recently who plays in a style similar to this, an older guy who finger-picks the blues, it was a pleasure to hear him. I played bass and he picked my guitar. You hope this kind of traditional music lives forever.

I'm going to shop for some new boots today. These are about shot, I've had them re-soled and heeled a lot of times, and I've stepped in a lot of puddles with them, walked in a lot of mud and snow, and the leather is cracking, I don't think they'll last much longer. So I've got my day cut out for me, shop for boots, change strings on the Stratocaster, maybe look over the bills. After the coffee's completely gone.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Madaleno: Fighting for Transgender Rights Statewide

Last week I updated you on the latest from Annapolis regarding a gender-identity nondiscrimination bill that is working its way through committees. I am no expert on the legislative process, and simply relayed what I had heard.

Today State Senator Rich Madaleno has a nice piece in the Washington Blade, explaining what is going on and why it matters. I'm just going to copy and paste his entire essay here.
Fighting for trans rights in Maryland
Anti-gay forces are hard at work trying to derail a long-delayed bias bill.

Friday, March 13, 2009

THIS YEAR, THE Maryland General Assembly has a real opportunity to do something about the all-too-commonplace discrimination faced by transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in our state. In order to make it happen, however, your help is needed.

House and Senate committees recently heard from people who have experienced blatant discrimination motivated only by their gender identity and expression. A young Baltimorean, Owen Smith, spoke about an employer who harassed him during his transition, forcing him to do menial chores, taunting him about not being “man enough” when he struggled with very heavy objects and prolonging a guaranteed raise. Sandy Rawls, the director of Trans-United, spoke about being edged out of a trucking job when she transitioned. Rawls became unable to make ends meet, found herself on the street due to the inaccessibility of homeless shelters for transgender women and was later assaulted and harassed when she was placed in a transitional home with men.

These stories are not unique. The Washington Area Transgender Needs Assessment survey estimates that 42 percent of transgender people in the D.C. Metro Area are unemployed, 31 percent have incomes of less than $10,000 per year and 19 percent do not have their own living space. These statistics mirror statistics from around the country that have found similar alarming rates of discrimination for transgender persons.

FORTUNATELY, MORE THAN 100 jurisdictions across the country have gender identity anti-discrimination laws, including 13 states and Washington, D.C. In Maryland, Montgomery County last year joined Baltimore City in enacting such a law, and Gov. O’Malley signed an executive order banning such discrimination in state personnel practices. Now, I am sponsoring legislation with my colleague from Prince George’s County, Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, to outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing, employment, credit and public accommodations statewide.

A whopping 80 of our colleagues have added their names as cosponsors of these measures. Equality Maryland is lobbying hard and has organized an impressive gathering of support that includes the Maryland Commission on Human Relations, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, the Maryland Retailers Association and AFSCME. As you can see, the legislation is ripe for passage. So what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, our hearing included an appearance from the same group that pushed, unsuccessfully, to have our gender identity anti-discrimination measure in Montgomery County placed on the ballot for a referendum. The level of vitriol that they displayed toward our community was disturbing at best, with a special focus on portraying transgender people as mentally ill, voyeurs, predators or worse. Even Family Research Council Director Peter Sprigg showed up at last week’s hearing. You may remember Sprigg from his infamous comment that he would “much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States because we believe homosexuality is destructive to society.”

LAWMAKERS ARE UP against a barrage of opposition, but with your help, we can pass these measures and stand up for our community’s rights.

Gov. Martin O’Malley submitted a letter in support of the two bills to the committees where they are under consideration; but greater advocacy is needed from him to guarantee that this long overdue measure moves to the Senate floor. Please call him at 1-800-811-8336 to thank him for his support and ask for his strong and vocal leadership in helping enact gender identity anti-discrimination measures into law in Maryland.

Please also go to the Maryland General Assembly web site and contact your legislators to urge them to support SB566/HB474. For many in our community, it is literally a question of food on the table and a roof over our heads. Call and e-mail today.

Fighting for trans rights in Maryland

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Newsweek Nails Abstinence-Only Education

Nice piece published this week in Newsweek, written by Anna Quinlan.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is a deep schism in this country, a schism between those many Americans who support comprehensive sex education in the schools and an equal number who believe that only abstinence should be taught, between those who want teenagers to be told about masturbation and HIV prevention and the like, and those who believe they mostly need to hear that true love waits.

It is one of those universally acknowledged truths that happen to be utterly false.

The poll results are astonishing. While respondents in some surveys are divided over whether more emphasis should be on contraception or on abstinence, nearly 90 percent of those sampled in several recent polls support the notion of sex ed in schools. I'm not sure that many people would agree about teaching long division.

But none of this is what you would hear if you put your ear to the ground in Washington, D.C. In yet another example of how things can go horribly awry within that zone of magical thinking, Congress has poured $1.5 billion into what is essentially anti-sex ed, abstinence-only programs, despite the following facts:

1: They don't work. A study conducted for the Department of Health and Human Services during the last Bush administration showed that teenagers who took abstinence-only classes were just as likely to have sex as those who didn't.

2: They're actually counterproductive. Other studies have shown that adolescents in abstinence-only programs were less likely to use contraception, perhaps because those programs emphasize only the failure rates of even the best methods.

3: Everyone understands this. A growing number of states are turning down federal funds for abstinence-only education. Yes, that's right: states are being offered money and saying no. (I wanted to write that in capital letters but restrained myself.) Texas leads the nation in spending for abstinence-only programs. It also has one of the highest teen birthrates in the country. Those two sentences together sound like the basis for a logic question on the SAT, but a really easy one. Let’s Talk About Sex -- Congress loves abstinence-only programs so much it has thrown big bucks at them. The public? It's got better ideas.

Oh man, this lady is giving it to them with both barrels.

I like her calling it "anti-sex-ed," that is a good term for it. Nobody wants that junk, but for some reason the government feels like it has to put out money for it. One and a half billion bucks -- that is a lot of money! And for what?
President Obama's budget seems to reflect the sentiment of most Americans, promising to "stress the importance of abstinence while providing medically accurate and age-appropriate information to youth who have already become sexually active." In other words, we can indeed walk and chew gum. But not in abstinence-only education, in which students must be taught little more than that married sex is good and unmarried bad. Homosex? Not even an issue. In the human-sexuality curriculum in Utah, for instance, guidelines say teachers cannot "advocate homosexuality," which if I were a teacher would translate as "leave well enough alone." Or well enough for all but the gay kid in the classroom, who is probably wondering how he's going to handle the waiting-for-marriage part, since Utah won't let him get married. The guidelines also forbid discussing "the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation or erotic behavior." I'm not sure what that means, but I do love that word "intricacies." It sounds as though teachers shouldn't teach the Kama Sutra, or Cirque du Soleil.

Heh, this lady is good.

Cirque du Soleil? Well, I guess so.

There is more to this article, she talks about the idea that there are two equal sides to every story, and the role of lobbyists in all this. You really do wonder why they keep committing billions of dollars to something that doesn't work, and which nobody really wants.

Domestic Anti-American Forces Organizing

The Fox network appears to be organizing a nationwide rebellion against the United States government, to be unveiled tomorrow. Are you going to pay attention? My guess is you have never even heard of this, even though it's being organized right under our noses.

I first saw this in The Examiner and I laughed it off for obvious reasons, but it appears to be dead serious.
The call by some right wing leaders for rebellion and for the military to refuse the commander in chief’s orders is joined by Chuck Norris who claims that thousands of right wing cell groups have organized and are ready for a second American Revolution. During an appearance on the Glen Beck radio show he promised that if things get any worse from his point of view he may “run for president of Texas.” The martial artist/actor/activist claims that Texas was never formally a part of the United States in the first place and that if rebellion is to come through secession Texas would lead the way.

Today in his syndicated column on WorldNetDaily Norris reiterates the point: “That need may be a reality sooner than we think. If not me, someone someday may again be running for president of the Lone Star state, if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state.” Chuck Norris claims thousands of right wing cell groups exist and will rebel against U.S. government

Both my parents came from Texas, and we grew up hearing that thing about Texas not really being a state. Well, Texas is a state of mind, at least, and if you ever go there you'll see they're just a little different down there. Lovable, generally, but different.

But that's not what he's talking about. He's not saying there are thousands of right wing cell groups in Texas, he means all over the country.

He is saying these rightwing groups are planning to overthrow the United States of America, and he's all for it.
Today in his syndicated column on WorldNetDaily Norris reiterates the point: “That need may be a reality sooner than we think. If not me, someone someday may again be running for president of the Lone Star state, if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state.”

He continues; calling on a second American Revolution; “…we've bastardized the First Amendment, reinterpreted America's religious history and secularized our society until we ooze skepticism and circumvent religion on every level of public and private life.

How much more will Americans take? When will enough be enough? And, when that time comes, will our leaders finally listen or will history need to record a second American Revolution? We the people have the authority according to America's Declaration of Independence, which states: That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”

Norris claims that; “Thousands of cell groups will be united around the country in solidarity over the concerns for our nation.” The right wing cells will meet during a live telecast, "We Surround Them," on Friday March 13 at 5 p.m.

I know, I know, it's Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird. Chuck Norris puts the "laughter" in "manslaughter." Chuck Norris is a real-life cartoon character.

Glenn Beck is a Fox ... I don't know what you call them ... guy on TV. He's not a reporter, journalist, commentator, he's not even a pundit, he's just a loudmouth guy. It looks like this "We Surround Them" thing is going to be centered around him, and is going to be unveiled on Fox tomorrow at 5 PM. See their web page HERE, with their Nine Principles and their Twelve Values and their Olde-Looking Snake Logo.

I have always thought it was interesting to compare George Bush's reaction to 9/11 and Bill Clinton's reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing. Clinton could have frozen up with fear and announced that right wing militias have declared war on "our way of life," and he would have been right. We could have freaked out about every shaved head, the government could have revoked our rights, we could have gone into an intellectual lockdown over the danger of terrorist violence, like we did after 9/11. Instead, they caught the bad guys and locked them up, healed the injured, buried the dead, consoled the mourners. And, I assume, assigned some extra FBI agents to watch the rightwing militia movement.

In fact, the United States is regularly attacked by terrorists, but the media and the government report it almost as a slightly more annoying form of vandalism. For some reason that has always puzzled me, terrorism was redefined during the Bush years, and rightwing violence was excluded. Well, we're going to pay the price for that now.

Listen, did you read in your morning paper about the terrorist who was killed in Maine with all the stuff to make a "dirty bomb," a bomb that would spread deadly radioactive material over a wide area? You probably didn't. Read about it on the Internet HERE, and explain to me why in the post-9/11 era this kind of terrorism gets a ho-hum from the media.

If I'm reading this correctly, it appears that Fox TV is sponsoring a rightwing rebellion against the United States government, to be rolled out on TV tomorrow evening. In our area, it looks like about forty people are signed up to meet in the Batskellar in Columbia (this might be in Ellicott City -- the location is kept secret). There are meetings all over the country, radio stations participating.

I guess we should have known that with a black President with ambitious plans to pull the country back to its feet, there would be a strong resistance movement to push us back into the dark ages.

America locked down and secured itself against terrorism originating in the Arab world. Now it appears we will be faced with real domestic terror, a major insurgency sponsored by a major television network. You will want to keep an eye on this.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

They Hope You're Stupid Enough To Fall For This

My inbox was filled this morning with forwarded copies of the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever's latest blast, trying to get their people to oppose the state gender-identity discrimination bill. This email just goes on and on ...

Here's a good one.
Damages can be up to $400,000 plus punitive damages for employers, and operators of public accommodations (restrooms) can be heavily fined. Thus restroom operators will be reluctant to challenge men entering females restrooms, as in the in Glen Burnie assault.

They hope you're stupid enough to fall for this.

We are talking here about a bill to give fair treatment to people regardless of their gender identity, whether their gender is ambiguous or obvious, whether it is what you expect or it surprises you, whatever, you won't be able to discriminate against them just because of their gender identity.

Even if you have a dissenting view of laws protecting transgender individuals, you will have to agree that the story the CRW is trying to connect to the issue is completely irrelevant. Let me follow that link from their newsletter and show you the ABC News story they want you to think about, the "Glen Burnie assault:"
A 36-year-old man is behind bars after police say he slid into a bathroom stall in a Glen Burnie fast-food restaurant and started strangling a teenage girl. The girl managed to fight the suspect off.

Anne Arundel County police say Keith Darell Jones went into the women's bathroom in a Wendy's in the 1200 block of Crain Highway and slid under a partition in a stall occupied by a 17-year-old girl. The man choked the girl, but she fought him and he ran out of the restaurant and across Crain Highway.

Officers used police dogs and found the man hiding under a large pile of dirt and plants in the back yard of a home in the 1100 block of Somerset Drive.

Jones is charged with first- and second- degree assault and a fourth-degree sex offense. Man Attacks Girl in Bathroom Stall

Here you have the story about a crazed pervert who attacks a young girl and starts strangling her. He catches her by sliding under the door of a stall in a ladies room.

Do you see anything in this story to indicate the monster was dressed as a woman, or was in any way unusual in his gender identity? No, I don't either. Do you see where he uses some nondiscrimination law to justify his crime? No, you don't see that. Do you see where the proprietor of the establishment where this happened was "reluctant to challenge [this man] entering females restrooms," as the CRW suggests? No, you don't see that. And the new law will also not make a proprietor reluctant to keep men out of the ladies room, they can kick them out whenever they want. The Maryland Retailers Association worked out language in the bill to make sure businesses are given all the latitude they need to keep their customers safe.

A sicko pervert assaulted a girl, it has nothing at all to do with the law under consideration.

The Citizens for a Responsible Whatever think that you are so stupid that you can't see that there is no connection between the proposed bill and this assault in Glen Burnie. They think that by mentioning the assault while they're talking about the bill, you are so stupid you will believe that the bill will somehow result in perverts attacking innocent girls.

No, perverts will assault girls at some steady rate, no matter whether transgender people are treated fairly or not. It's something that happens, perverts assault girls, if we're lucky -- as in this case --the cops catch them and lock them up. I wish these things didn't happen, but they do. And it has nothing at all to do with the proposed nondiscrimination bill.

The proof of that can be seen here in Montgomery County, where we have had such a law since September, and women and children have been just as safe as they ever were. I know the CRW wishes there would be some assaults, and we halfway expect for them to arrange another hoax like the Rio incident. But the fact is, no one has been inconvenienced by transgender people abusing their new rights in our county. They simply have the weight of the law behind them when they are wronged.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Led Zep in Wheaton?

Rock-n-roll went from being a localized fad in the middle Fifties to a multi-gazillion-dollar industry by the late Sixties. I'd say The Beatles changed everything, the enormity of their success popped up dollar signs behind the eyes of suit-wearing types who realized you could sell records and fill arenas with this noise they called "product." Call me a snob, but I think the music that happened in-between, after the fire ignited in Memphis or Lubbock or Chester, Pennsylvania, or St. Louis, Missouri, or Chicago or wherever it ignited, and before it became a big business, was the best. Some kids could save up their cash and go into a recording studio and record a hit record, they could play into a tape recorder in their own garage and be rock stars overnight, and then nobodies again in a week. The music was raw and real, it reflected what was going on in the neighborhood and not in some corporate boardroom.

So there is something really kind of cool about this morning's Washington Post article about Led Zeppelin playing at the youth club in Wheaton in 1969. Led Zep, Wheaton? The whole idea is just cool. Some people swear they were there but there isn't a ticket stub, a photograph, a news story, a t-shirt, nothing to back it up. Did it happen?
Some stories sound preposterous, if delightfully so -- like the one about the night Led Zeppelin played the Wheaton Youth Center.

Robert Plant doing a whole lotta lovin' on Georgia Avenue? Jimmy Page climbing a stairway to suburbia?

No ticket stubs, posters, pictures or news clippings of the gig are known to exist. Yet some people passionately insist they saw the performance. Zeppelin-in-Wheaton is Washington's own rock-and-roll Loch Ness Monster. Could it possibly be real?

Yes. No way. Depends whom you ask.

To appreciate the monumental improbability, you had to be there Saturday afternoon, amid the motley crowd of graying Zeppelinheads -- with their T-shirts, ticket stubs and precious original LPs -- gathered for an earnest experiment in the nature of truth, myth, memory and dreams.

It was a reunion -- a reunion of people who attended an event that may not have occurred.

Apparent eyewitness testimony was recorded for posterity. Skeptics were listened to. In the absence of physical evidence, any totemic link to the fabled show was deemed potentially worthy. Then veteran local musicians took the stage and everybody totally rocked out. Heavy, Wheaton: A Faithful Few Insist They Saw Led Zeppelin Play a Local Gig in 1969, but the Details Are Hazy

I can't imagine why anybody's recollection of a 1969 Led Zeppelin concert would be hazy, can you?

When I was in high school in Phoenix, I saw Alice Cooper play the opening of the new art museum. The crowd was me, my brother, and another guy. So I know these things happen.

I've only lived in Montgomery County for fifteen years, I'm still new here, but it does seem to me that people joke about Wheaton a little bit. I love it there, I love to park in the big parking lot and wander through the shops that surround it, it's like traveling around the world in one city block. I'm guessing it was different in 1969, at least the ethnic ambience has certainly changed, but I am also guessing that Wheaton has never been quite the cosmopolitan fashion center like some of our suburban communities. Just guessing, maybe Wheaton has always been a little funky. In a good way.

A couple of interesting tidbits here. Like this:
"I just remember it was noisy and I didn't understand what it was all about," said Marc Elrich, the Montgomery County Council member who played guitar and sang in a band called Franklin Park Zoo.

Did you know that Marc Elrich was a rocker? I don't find any mention of that band on the Internet, even the Great Google never heard of them. If you remember Franklin Park Zoo, tell us about them in the comments, let's get the dirt on Elrich!

Actually, it's funny, I played a gig in Germantown Saturday night, and there was a guy there from a band that's played around here for a million years, who asked me, out of the blue, if I knew Marc Elrich. Maybe this is why, maybe they'd played together or something.

Funny thing, they figure fifty or sixty people attended the 1969 concert, but more than a hundred showed up for the reunion.

Well, I just thought this story was kind of fun, imagining big old Led Zeppelin between arena shows, stopping into the youth center in Wheaton to play for a handful of locals.

I'll bet it happened.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sunday: Rocking, Rolling, and Hyper-Sexualization Everywhere You Look

Hey, wasn't it just this week that we had a blizzard, everything was buried in snow, schools were closed? I've got an eighteen-year-old living at home, told him to shovel, ended up getting a warning from the city that they'd fine us a hundred bucks if we didn't clear the sidewalks. I hung the warning on the kid's door so he'd see it when he woke up in the morning afternoon. Luckily it warmed up the day they were going to come back and check, and the ice melted. I don't know, what you gonna do? Well, it's like summer out there now, amazing how it changes.

Our band played last night out in Germantown. This is fun. I'm about a gazillion years old, you know, my hair's gray, what's left of it. I played music for a living for a long time, but I haven't really played gigs since I guess 1994, until a couple of weeks ago. My friend who plays bass saw a TV show a year or so ago about rockabilly music, and he said, "Why don't we start a rockabilly band?" I'd kind of like to see the show, it must have been pretty good. I said, "Well I probably know three or four hundred rockabilly songs." So we started playing in his basement, Blue Suede Shoes, Bebop-a-Lula, Peggy Sue, stuff like that. Then we found a drummer who lives in the house right behind the bass player, so now there're three of us. We are called The Colliders and we play old songs from the earliest days of rock-n-roll, mostly rockabilly but a little country and a little blues. I mean, Hank Williams and Elmore James are rockabilly, right? We played last night and people enjoyed us, people danced all night long and they booked us back. But I'm getting a little old for moving that equipment, I'll tell you! Well hey, playing music will keep you young.

There is some craziness going on at the school district, which we've been documenting here. The Citizens for Responsible Whatever complained about a video the schools were planning to use. The citizens advisory committee evaluated the video and liked it a lot, but the CRW decided to be offended by it, they sent some letters to the school district and sure enough the district decided to ban the materials. The CRW didn't like it because abortion was considered an option -- the word was never used, but you knew the girl in the movie was considering it -- and also because it showed the scene where she got knocked up. The CRW likes to say it's "soft porn," because the boy takes his shirt off and they breathe heavily.

Also, the actors in the video are black. That's what ultimately killed it. If black teenagers have sex it's a "racial stereotype." If white teens have sex that's just how kids are, y'know. The inherent racism in the decision to ban this video is mind-boggling.

The citizens committee voted seven to three to adopt the video. Two of the three votes against it were by members who were on the committee because of a settlement agreement, they represent conservative groups that won a temporary restraining order against the school district several years ago, and the district promised they could be on the committee if they'd drop it.

I'm on the committee and we work together pretty well most of the time, but let me show you this. Peter Sprigg is the representive for PFOX-GAG, a group that thinks gay people should stop being gay. The "X" stands for "ex-gay," their group thinks if you are gay you have a choice to become "ex-gay," and you should take that choice. Anyway, he thought this video was offensive and voted against it. To put it in perspective, here is a link to Peter Sprigg's review of West Side Story from The Examiner: HERE. This is not some avant garde new hippie version of the musical with nudity and cuss words, this Washington's National Theatre production, directed by the 90-year-old guy who wrote the original book that the musical was based on. Okay, so West Side Story is "hyper-sexualized," and this video for health class is pornographic. As the kids used to say, "Wouldn't wanna be ya."

Here the school district is exactly modeling the very worst of adult human behavior. You try to do something right, you get bullied, you give in. The administration is modeling cowardice, and you know teachers get the message that they should change whatever they're doing if anyone criticizes them, and it gets to the kids.

Here's Montgomery County's lesson in bullying: if a bully tries to beat you up, lie down on the ground and cry.

They had forever to look at that video, they studied it, it went through their whole process. If they were doing their job the people in the office discussed the steamy sex scene, the possibility of racial stereotyping, the question of abortion. They checked it out as professional educators and decided it was fine. Showing it to the citizens advisory is one of the last steps in the process, and the committee liked it, too.

Then the Citizens for Responsible Whatever write in, hint at lawsuits, and the school administrators change their minds.

Hey, there were a couple of news stories this week that sort of fit a theme. You have the CRW calling a health-class video "porn," you have Peter Sprigg telling the world that West Side Story is hyper-sexualized, and HERE you have people complaining because there's a picture of a pretty woman in a bathing suit on an airplane. Southwest painted a big picture of Bar Rafaeli, an Israeli supermodel, on the side of a Boeing 737.
A slew of passengers, many on Southwest's corporate blog are complaining about the paint job, equating the image to "soft porn." They want it taken down.

I think the guy at this travel site who wrote this has the right idea.
Have you ever seen soft porn? It doesn't look like this. Women less adorned are all around us, from billboards in New York City to The Sears Catalogue to, oh, I don't know, THE BEACH.

Southwest is just having a little bit of fun turning heads in the direction of their aircraft, but if you can't stand the sight of a pretty Israeli woman, cover your eyes or stop flying for the next couple of months until they repaint her. The promotion only lasts a few more weeks.

Oh, and this one -- the hyper-sexualized issue of Quilter's Home. From The Post:
The issue is wrapped in a prim plastic sleeve, but the lurid electric blue display copy still leaps from the page:





As in, "Shocking Quilts: We Show You the Controversial Patchwork." Advertised right on the cover of Quilter's Home.

(The magazine's other cover lines: "5 Popular Appliqué Glues Put to the Test," "Read This Before Buying That Longarm.")

Mark Lipinski, the editor of Quilter's Home, knew that the January/February issue might be perceived as scandalous.

This is why he took precautions -- $2,500 worth of precautions, which is what it cost to wrap each of some 45,000 copies in plastic before distributing them to newsstands and craft stores across the country. Doing his best to protect the unwary public from the adults-only images inside (but you buy it for the articles).

The precautions were fruitless.

Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts, the sewing and scrapbooking mega-chain with several locations in the Washington area, opted not to carry the sordid edition -- a little "too hot" for Jo-Ann is what Lipinski says his distributor told him. Phone calls to Darrell Webb, chief executive of Jo-Ann, and Lisa Greb, public relations director, were not returned. "Good grief! What year is this???" writes a poster identified as "Sara Volk" in response to the news on Lipinski's blog. "Since when did JoAnn Fabrics become the arbiter of MY morals? I'll go to church for that . . . and when I want styrofoam chickens I'll go to JoAnn's." Uncovered! The Unseemly Side of Quilts

No joke, the quilting magazine is "too hot" to put in their stores. I saw one of the controversial quilts -- somebody quilted a pattern made up of blue shapes that represented Viagra pills. Shocking!

Wouldn't wanna be ya.

Oh, one more, just because I liked the headline. From Australia: Clothed Tourist at Nudist Swingers Party Sparks 'Mini-Riot'.

Is this a great world, or what?

Friday, March 06, 2009

MCPS Overrules Citizens Committee: Video With Black Actors Banned

In February the Montgomery County Public Schools' Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development reviewed a video called "The Choices We Make," which showed a vignette about a teen couple who have sex and then deal with the girl's resulting pregnancy. Committee members were very impressed with the video and voted 7-3 to adopt it, with votes opposed coming from the two members representing court-appointed conservative groups and one other committee member. This week MCPS received complaints from one of those groups, the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), and overruled the committee's recommendation, announcing that they would not allow teachers to use the video.

The characters in the video were normal, intelligent teenagers who chose to have sex and then had to consider the consequences of that. The video was banned by MCPS because the actors are black.

An email to the committee -- which I am a member of -- from Betsy Brown, who is Director of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, said in part:
... As you may recall, the committee reviewed a DVD, The Choices We Make, for Grade 10 family life and human development. The vote to support its use was For (7), Opposed (3), and Abstain (0), and comments reflected mixed opinions, including concerns about racial stereotypes. In light of these concerns, staff reviewed the DVD again and ascertained the issue of racial stereotyping is significant. As a result, MCPS has decided not to go forward with the use of this DVD.

It is important for you to know the district has been engaged in an extensive initiative for at least two years to ensure that student achievement cannot be predicted by race. Staff members have dedicated much time and effort to learn about and discuss race in our schools and offices. We have confronted potential biases in ourselves and each other and we have challenged assumptions we may make intentionally or unintentionally, including our expectations about academic potential and lifestyle. Staff agreed the DVD counters this initiative.

Two members of the committee are there because the district is required by law to have them. One represents the CRC and the other represents Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays And Gays (PFOX-GAG). They are on the committee as part of a 2005 settlement agreement that was negotiated when CRC sued MCPS and won a temporary restraining order. These two members vote consistently against curriculum materials giving instruction on condoms, sexual orientation, gender identity ... that's why they're there, to represent the extreme conservative viewpoint. They are not representative of our community's values and when they try to push their rightwing agenda they are always outvoted by the rest of the committee. It turns out though that while following the MCPS curriculum development process does not work for them, threatening the school district is very effective.

The two of them voted against the video, plus one other committee member, who as I recall did not make a comment on the video but only voted against it. The committee engaged in a long and thought-provoking discussion of many aspects of the video -- the minutes of the meeting use forty-two bullet points to summarize the discussion (of which four have a racial aspect). This kind of vote is not unusual and the discussion certainly did not provide grounds for MCPS to say "In light of these concerns, staff reviewed the DVD again." Yes, there was a lot to talk about and the group wanted to be careful in its decision-making, but committee members were enthusiastically, overwhelmingly supportive of the video.

The vote was not unusually close and though there was more discussion than usual, almost all members except for the CRC and PFOX members thought it was an exceptionally good resource. MCPS didn't overrule the committee because of the discussion or because there was a close vote. MCPS banned the DVD because they got some letters that subtly threatened to create bad publicity for the district and hinted at suing again.

The district says that the video counters their initiative to close the racial gap in student achievement, but it does not say what this video has to do with that. I would think it would be encouraging to black students to see that they are portrayed in classroom materials as normal teens. A video of a white teen doing something would never be considered stereotyping, but if a black teen is shown, everything they do is presumed to reflect on their racial group. Such an attitude cannot be good for minority students, and MCPS is not doing them any favors with this kind of decision.

The assumption is that white kids can be ordinary teenagers and black teenagers are either stereotypical or exceptions to the stereotype. This is simply a racist trap.

The video follows a teenage couple who have sex when the girl's mother is out of the house working a double shift. The girl, Maria, gets pregnant and they have to decide what to do. It is an excellent story for stimulating discussion, it depicts realistic teenagers in a realistic situation, reacting realistically. Several members of the citizens advisory committee have expressed the opinion that this is the best material we have ever reviewed.

MCPS and Dr. Weast received a letter from the CRC alleging that "All the black students in the video are portrayed as ignorant, ill informed, and ill educated. Black students are depicted using incorrect grammar and spelling. This is pure racial stereotyping." The letter also says the video "could be characterized as soft porn." If you are curious you can review the video at this link:


As for ill-educated and ignorant characters, when the boyfriend, Tramell, goes to Maria's house he stops to read a teacher's note on the refrigerator door that says, "Student shows great potential; has a strong grasp of subject; works with great enthusiasm; student's work is outstanding; Maria is an insightful student -- she is going places." And as far as the video being "soft porn," there is a sex scene where we see Maria's bra strap for half a second and Tramell's bare chest and back for several seconds. There is also some heavy breathing and whispered love-talk. This scene could easily be shown on prime-time network television.

Throughout the sixteen-minute video both characters speak perfectly standard white-American English, they rarely even drop a terminal g, with the following exceptions. At one point Maria says, "But I ain't never heard nothin' like that before." One time Tramell says "I knew dat," rather than the more Caucasian-sounding "that," and he says "ax" instead of "ask" two times, but not always. Tramell's mother uses a double negative in one sentence. These nuances seem realistic and bring the characters to life. Black students in our county's schools will be relieved to see characters like themselves for once -- or they would have been relieved, if the school district had not backed down under unjustified attacks by the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever.

Neither teen seems to have a father, and in one scene Tramell wears a hoodie, these features may be the "racial stereotyping" that the CRC and MCPS object to. They seem to live in a city, which is perhaps also stereotypical. In one part of the video we watch Maria write in her notebook. The entries are spelled perfectly; in fact all the spelling in the video is perfect, as is all the grammar except for the few colloquial usages noted above.

"The Choices We Make" was written by Tiara Bennett, who was a student at Clara Barton High School in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, when she wrote this script. She says, "I just wanted to switch things up because I do not believe people should be put into categories according to their gender…I’m excited to have this story contribute to the conversation on teen pregnancy and fatherhood in my community."

Little did she realize that realistic depictions of her racial community would be banned by a suburban Maryland school district, that the movie she wrote could not be shown in MCPS classrooms because the characters are black.

Our group, TeachTheFacts.org, formed in December, 2004, to support the school district in implementing a sensible curriculum in the face of reactionary attacks by the CRC and similar rightwing groups, and we felt that, though the gains were very modest, the new curriculum was an encouraging improvement over the previous one. It is heartbreaking to see that MCPS still runs scared from threats by the same tiny handful of extremists.

Sometimes you have to stand up for something that is good, even when there is some controversy. Our county's school administrators didn't even try to resist, they received a couple of letters and said, we can't show this video, it's got black people in it.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

State Transgender Nondiscrimination Bill Working Through Committees

The state of Maryland is inching toward implementation of a statewide gender-identity nondiscrimination law. House bill 474 has 68 co-sponsors and needs 71 votes to pass. Senate bill 566 has 14 co-sponsors and will need 24 votes.

Yesterday the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee listened to testimony on the bill. I wasn't there but received a report on the hearing. The Citizens for Responsible Whatever were out in full force. Ruth Jacobs carried a bouquet of roses for the poor women and children who will suffer if discrimination against transgender individuals is prohibited. I am told that Peter Sprigg testified that discrimination is a good thing, except for racial discrimination. Someone testified that they saw a man in a ladies room in Tyson's Corner once in 2001 and have been afraid to go into a public restroom ever since. I don't think there was any explanation about how that relates to gender identity discrimination.

Oh, hey, I want to look into this. Last year a man in a dress went into the ladies shower-room at the Rio Sport and Health Club in Gaithersburg. A Citizens for Responsible Government officer happened to be there and called the news media. Channel Seven responded. The shower-nuts are now saying that the gym lost eighty customers over this incident. That sounds like a lot to me. Why would somebody quit the gym over that? Would it be because they're afraid it will happen again? A guy in a dress ran in the front door, ran into the ladies locker-room, turned around and left again -- and eighty people quit. I don't get that. How would eighty people even know it happened?

Fourteen people presented personal experiences of discrimination to the committee.

A couple of interesting things. The Maryland Retailers Association had worked with legislators to craft wording regarding restrooms and shower-rooms, and now is willing to support the bill. The wording gives proprietors the right to control access to their public restrooms. They can refuse to let anyone they find unacceptable use the restroom but if they deny access they may have to give a good reason in a hearing. They are also required to make a reasonable effort to provide accommodations that ensure the privacy of transgender individuals. A curtain might do it.

Also, Governor Martin O'Malley has submitted a letter supporting the bill and is expected to campaign in support of it if majorities are in question.

The bill is working its way through committees now, and will probably be out of committee by the thirteenth. It will go for a vote on the floor sometime in the next four weeks, the date is not set yet and is susceptible to the usual dynamics of scheduling.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Adults Justify Nice-Teen Crime

I saw this story a couple of days ago, and it's been kind of bugging me ever since. Seems some Miss Something, Miss Connecticut Outstanding Teen (volunteer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving BTW, of course), had a party when her parents were out of the house and some teenagers got drunk at it. Here's how the AP story starts:
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The reigning Miss Connecticut Outstanding Teen held a party that mushroomed out of control and resulted in two dozen people being charged with underage drinking, police said Wednesday.

Rachael Ramonas, 17, lists among her accomplishments a benefit she organized for families of victims of a fatal car crash in which the teen behind the wheel had a history of drunken driving.

It's not clear whether Ramonas, who competed in the Miss America Outstanding Teen pageant in August in Florida, was among those charged. Police are not releasing the teens' names because they are juveniles.

Officers responding to an anonymous call about underage drinking Saturday night found beer and rum. They also found items commonly used for the drinking game called beer pong, which involves tossing a ping pong ball into cups of beer.

Ramonas' parents were out of the state when police arrived, said Wolcott police Capt. Domenic Angiolillo. They returned the next day, he said. Cops bust bash hosted by Conn. teen pageant winner

This might be a "Dog Bites Man" story, a headline that says "Teens Drink Beer." Oh-oh, it reminds me of a joke. A farmer is driving down the road and he passes the hardware store, which has a sign out front that says, "Cast Iron Sinks." The farmer says, "Why, everybody knows that." Okay, sorry. But there you go, JimK knows a clean joke. Of course, watch the farmers start writing nasty things in the blog comments.. Hey, how about this: A gay guy is driving down the road ... oh, never mind... When I heard it, it was a farmer.

Anyway, some things are kind of obvious. Somewhere some teenager's parents are going to go somewhere and a party will ensue, with beer. Even some beribboned glamourpuss teen princess can find herself hostessing a party she didn't really envision ahead of time, with sinfulness ensuing, such as beer pong.

That in itself is not really a story, it seems to me. The story is down in the story.

Here's the cop who busted them:
"It's not the end of the world. It's not the crime of the century," Angiolillo said. "It was kids being kids. She made a bad judgment call. It's just a shame, that's all. You have to take responsibility for your actions."

Somehow it just strikes me as interesting that these particular criminals are just "kids being kids." Hey, you know, they busted into the drug store and took a couple of boxes of Oxycontin, just kids being kids, y'know... How does somebody draw the line there?

I'm not sure who got this quote, but the Denver News Channel Seven has this related comment from her parents:
"It's just a judgment call, a poor judgment call," Ramonas' mother, Denise Ramonas, said. "This is what happens."

Denise Ramonas said the party is out of character for her daughter, who has done a lot of work promoting awareness of eating disorders and helped raise money for relatives of a fatal crash involving three teens in town a little more than a year ago.

"Rachael, she's a great kid," Denise Ramonas said. "She's smart, intelligent and she's beautiful. She's done a lot of community services, she's great, she's just a great kid."

Police said they found beer and rum at the party. Police: Teen Beauty Queen Hosted Drinking Bash

That's about enough of that. I find it completely intriguing that when this "nice girl" does something bad, the grown-ups -- even the sheriff -- make excuses for her, play it down, aw it's just kids blowing off a little steam, that's all. We can just imagine if the cops had found beer and rum at a hip-hop party, or a gay dance.

There is a fundamental question here, see what you think: Is it possible for good people to do bad things?

That question is at the heart of the "out of character" statement, the "bad judgment" comment. Her behavior was that she held a wild party with underage kids playing beer pong, whatever that is, but her "character" is not really like that, this was just bad judgment. Apparently people with good characters can do anything without blame.

Of course, the opposite question raises itself, too: Can evil people do good things? Imagine someone with a hateful heart, self-centered and cruel, whose self-serving plan is to conceal his evil nature by treating people with the appearance of respect, helping people in need, always making sure he's on the good side when something happens. Pays his bills on time, sends the money back when the IRS overpays him, is polite to people ... but with the evil intention of creating the appearance that he's a good person.

It seems to me that this "good kid made a bad judgment" idea assumes a view that people have an essence that differs from their outward behavior. What do you think? Does Miss Teen Blah Blah deserve a break that some ghetto kid or trailer-park kid would never get, because of her "character?"

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sunday Morning: Ice, Snow, and Good News

Sunday morning here, my neighborhood is buried in ice and snow. It seems to have stopped falling but Sue says there will be more tonight. A couple of days ago it might have been sixty degrees out, you didn't need a jacket. This morning I look out the window of my warm house with gentle jazz guitars improvising on the radio, and life doesn't seem so bad.

It has been amazing and wonderful to read the newspaper these days. The front section is just one story after the other about how the new guy is cleaning up, turning things around. The economy, the war, education, the environment, health care, everything. Did you hear him say out loud this week, "The United States does not torture?" A few months ago you couldn't get the President or any of his people to say that, because it wasn't true. The United States tortured people and they were proud of that. That's pitiful.

If you follow this blog you know that lately I have been on a bit of a kick about marijuana laws. I just seems royally dumb to me to arrest people for smoking marijuana. I personally don't like to smoke marijuana, so if you are a policeman please don't come to my house and dump my drawers out. I knew a guy that that happened to once, they kicked in his door and destroyed his house, beat him up, didn't find anything. I knew another guy who had had some bad guys break into his house and tie him up and steal everything he owned. When he called the police they basically ignored that and brought in experts to look at his tomato plants to make sure they weren't, you know, marijuana. It's crazy, marijuana is bad because it's bad. It's illegal because it's against the law, and that's it. When someone is arrested for smoking pot their real crime is ignoring meaningless and arbitrary lines in the sand that have been put down by white men in suits for the purpose of penalizing failure to respect authority sufficiently. There's nothing more to it.

Especially, think about people who are sick, cancer patients mostly, who use marijuana to beat the pain, to make their lives livable. The federal government has been arresting those people for the crime of failure to respect authority sufficiently. But now the new Attorney General is going to stop that:
Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference Wednesday that the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana clubs that are established legally under state law. His declaration is a fulfillment of a campaign promise by President Barack Obama, and marks a major shift from the previous administration.

After the inauguration, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continued to carry out such raids, despite Obama's promise. Holder was asked if those raids represented American policy going forward.

"No," he said. "What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. What he said during the campaign is now American policy." Holder Vows To End Raids On Medical Marijuana Clubs

See what I'm talkin bout? I love reading the newspaper these days.

I also take some gloating pleasure when I see survey results like these: Porn in the USA: Conservatives are biggest consumers. Turns out the Very Moral state of Utah leads the nation in paying for Internet porn. Whatever, I hope they enjoy themselves, I just wish they didn't try to get everybody else to obey some moral standard that they themselves can't stick to.

In other news, the conservatives had a big convention this week, CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. You gotta watch some of this stuff. It's cool to watch Rush Limbaugh and Joe the Plumber rise to the top. I'm sure they can lead their political movement to great success. Look out, liberals! [Note: links updated]

Speaking of which, I see in the news that Joe the Plumber came to DC this week for a book signing. The Post covered it:
About 11 people wandered into the rows of seats set up hopefully in the basement of a downtown Border's bookstore to hear Joe speak. Joe addressed them from behind a lectern and with a microphone, but that seemed unnecessarily formal. Joe the Author, Plumbing New Lows in Interest

Well, that's the liberal Washington Post, you know, probably distorting the numbers. There might have been fifteen people there, maybe even twenty, browsing in the bookshelves but listening.

In our county, the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever are outraged and indignant about a video used in the schools that shows some teenagers dealing with the consequences of having sex. Well, the girl considers having an abortion, you know they have to throw a fit about that. Let me point out something obvious here. Abortions are legal, it's better if you can avoid the circumstance altogether but there is a time and place for it. About half of American teenagers have sex before they graduate from high school, and a nontrivial proportion of them get pregnant. It is the responsibility of the schools to tell them what their options are, and one of the options, whether you like it or not, is abortion.

But the worst thing is -- the characters in the video are black. And you know what that means. It means that everything they do is stereotypical. If they use slang, if they watch a game on TV, if they dance, if they eat, or heaven forbid if they drop a terminal "g," they are being portrayed as stereotypes, according to the CRW, who are very outraged by the racism of it all. Because, to the CRW, the stereotypical black teenagers in this video are "ignorant, ill informed, and ill educated" -- exactly the stereotype, right? You know, the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever just care about racial equality, that's why they want the schools to pull this video. They do not, repeat do not, hold racist attitudes themselves.

If you read their letters and if you have been following our little controversies over the past four or five years, you will recognize that both the letters sent to the school district subtly reminded the district of past lawsuits, with the implicit hint being that there could be more. The CRW has sued so many times I can't possibly recount them all. The Montgomery County Public Schools go to a lot of trouble to develop new curricula and materials. Not only are a bunch of educators involved, but they bring in citizens to review everything, and further the Board is elected by the citizens, so they are responsive to things that might make them unpopular. The Superintendent is appointed by the Board, and he also has to be to be politically aware. The stuff that happens in classrooms, in other words, is not just the product of a gang of far-left liberal metrosexual educators, there is a lot of opportunity for public input. There is a vast process for implementing materials, and someone who is interested in having their opinion heard has many opportunities to be part of it. You can even go to the school board meeting and sit in front of them and speak for two minutes, anything you want to say. They'll listen to you, I've seen it many times.

But the CRW doesn't want to obey the rules, they have no concept of following the official process. Instead, they make things up, they complain to the media, and they sue. Why don't they follow the process? The answer is really pretty simple, there are two things. The opinions of the CRW are 1.ridiculous and 2.unpopular. When you look at what they're saying, there is simply nothing to it. For instance, in this video, there is no racial stereotyping. The CRW thinks that any video with black people in it is making a statement about black people, that's all, because in their mind every black person is either an instance of a stereotype or an exception. The objection that the video is racist is ridiculous. Further, people in this county simply disagree with the CRW's views. Most of us in the county do want our students to get good comprehensive sex-ed, most of us do not hate gay people, most of us understand abortion to be a difficult choice that a woman makes but a choice nevertheless -- most of us do not believe high-school students are ready to become parents. The CRW can never get their ideas implemented here, because people here consider their dream to be a nightmare. There may be places in the country that would approve, this isn't one of them.

Well, whatever, they live to antagonize, there is just one important thing now, and that is for the school district to show the fortitude not to cave. There will be threats of lawsuits, there will be inflammatory words, and we've been through this again and again. The simple truth is that our community cannot let a tiny minority of radicals impose their values on the rest of us.

Well, I have had nearly a whole pot of coffee. The snow stopped and started again and seems to be slowing down but I think we will get a lot tonight, won't we? Somebody is playing a flamenco guitar on WPFW and the morning paper is sitting there unread. Time to get this day on the road, it looks like.