Friday, July 31, 2009

No KissCam at Mystics Games

When you go to a game at one of the big arenas, they go around with video cameras and find couples and project their image on the big screens while they kiss. It's one of those inexplicable traditions, like playing Gary Glitter or doing the wave, it's just something people do.

But they don't do that at Mystics games, women's basketball. The Washington Post wondered why.
"Why don't they have a KissCam at Mystics games?" a young friend asked last week, which preceded an awkward pause and an even more awkward answer.

Really, why doesn't the inclusive WNBA franchise in the nation's capital, of all places, send their video cameramen and camerawomen to find unsuspecting couples in the stands during timeouts and capture their mugs for all of Verizon Center's crowd to see? And wait for the couple's reaction, which usually involves a polite, if awkward, peck on the lips.

Just like they do at NBA games and other sporting events in which the participants are men.

"We got a lot of kids here," Sheila Johnson, the Mystics' managing partner, said when asked last week at a game. "We just don't find it appropriate." Mystics Give Big Issue the Kiss-Off

Kids? Appropriate? It's not like they're ... never mind, doing something you can't do in front of kids. It seems like it would be good for kids to see people showing affection for one another with a sweet little lip-to-lip kiss. At least all the other teams think it's harmless.

Ah, here it is.
Understood is that women's professional basketball has two major fan bases: dads and daughters, and lesbians. The KissCam issue, frivolous on its surface, puts the effort to cater to both audiences squarely at odds.

Devon Goldsmith, returning to her seat for last Thursday's game between Washington and Chicago, understands Johnson's rationale -- begrudgingly.

"It's one thing for Daddy and Mommy to be kissing, but Mommy kissing Mommy?" said Goldsmith, a 26-year-old systems analyst from Silver Spring. She also happens to play linebacker for the D.C. Divas semipro women's football team and is openly gay. "I don't think people are ready for it now.

Ooh, that would be shocking and horrible, if two women showed a little tight-lipped affection for each other.

Oddly, here's what it comes down to: the oil companies.
But how long does a league keep some of its most loyal and longtime customers in the closet? How long should any historically persecuted group keep quiet when the Mystics take sponsorship dollars from a company noted for discrimination against gays?

Ranked with 584 other businesses in 2009, Exxon Mobil Corporation was just one of two surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign's corporate quality index to be given a zero rating -- out of 100. (The other was Perot Systems Corp.) When Exxon acquired Mobil a decade ago, it removed explicit protections for employees based on sexual orientation from the company's anti-discrimination policies. Despite shareholder pressure, the company hasn't budged.

On the Jumbotron at Wizards games, couples on their first date sometimes balk at kissing, which generates laughter. Other times couples are ready for the lens -- passionate kissing and theatrical groping, which usually brings the building to a crescendo of hilarity.

Funny, huh, not one same-sex couple has ever been shown on that screen.

"The truth," Mystics rookie Marissa Coleman said, "is that I don't think the things that might happen could be accepted by a lot of people."

Looks to me like the time is right for that big kiss-in. It's time for straight people to get over it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Metro to Red Line Riders: Take the Bus

The Red Line is our special Montgomery County part of the Metro system. Its horseshoe swings down from Gaithersburg, where upcounty commuters come in from Germantown, Damascus, Poolesville, it loops through Rockville, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, taking workers into the city, and on the other end it brings people from Takoma Park, Silver Spring, Wheaton, Glenmont. In the morning the Red Line bring masses of people into DC to work, and in the evening it takes them home again.

Last month there was a terrible crash on the Red Line, and ever since it has been a big mess. I have no idea what Metro thinks they're doing, but there are bizarre delays, offloadings, single-trackings, slowdowns, you sit in tunnels waiting without explanation, trains are pulling up to the end of the platform so people have to run to get on, cars are jam-packed, they actually make announcements telling you to plan for at least thirty more minutes for your daily ride.

But Metro has an idea to help you out. From The Examiner:
Metro is urging Red Line riders who are getting sick of the daily train delays after the June 22 crash to think about taking the bus instead.

The push came Tuesday, more than a month after the crash killed nine and injured more than 70 people. “It’s just a friendly reminder that the bus is still an option,” Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

But the reminder may signal that delays will continue, even after the National Transportation Safety Board wraps up its investigation.

“Whatever the NTSB recommends, we know that we will likely need to replace some standard parts, such as track circuit cable, which takes weeks to manufacture and deliver,” Metro General Manager John Catoe said. “We want to have these parts in stock and available to us.”

However, Taubenkibel said the agency has not ordered any equipment because it doesn’t know what will make the system safer. “We will be stockpiling some equipment,” he said. And that work may lead to more delays. Metro urges harried Red Line riders to take the bus

It's like, gee thanks, you move to a place in the suburbs so you can work in town, you kind of figure you'll have a way to get there.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oh Those Birthers

I'm trying to get this straight. Some people are saying that Barack Obama was born outside the United States and is not eligible to be President. Whatever, I'm not going to go through the details, I am mainly interested in understanding why anybody would want to believe that, given that his papers are in order and there is no evidence whatsoever to support the belief.

Let's say he was born in Kenya, or Indonesia, or his mother was not old enough, or whatever, and see what we'd conclude. First let's say he's not a natural-born American citizen, but thinks he is. Well, none of us remember being born, maybe they always told him he was born in Hawaii, and his paperwork is all in order to support that premise. Okay, so the uproar would be that he has violated a Constitutional technicality, and ... then what? He made a mistake, he was elected by a great majority of voters, and now he should be removed from office? All his decisions voided, all his words expunged from A second election held? Maybe we would have to re-start the war on Iraq, let the economy collapse entirely and get those unemployed torturers back to work. Somehow I don't think that would be quite worth it. I suppose it would go to the legal system for rulings. So far no court has seen anything interesting in the case.

Ratchet it up one notch. Say he is not a natural born citizen, and he knew it but concealed the fact. Again, what are you going to do? Recall him from office? Hold a special election? Does anybody even understand why it matters whether he literally popped out of the womb in Africa and then moved to Hawaii as a newborn, or popped out in Hawaii? Does that distinction really affect anything? If he lied about where he was born then we would have the same legal situation as if he hadn't known, which is that the courts would be asked to rule on the legitimacy of his Presidency. And, again, nobody has made this case strongly enough to get any court's attention. His papers are in order and there is no reason in the world to believe he is lying about where he was born.

I don't know why anybody believes these stories, but I can read this two ways. Either this is the sour grapes bitterness of Republicans who wish their guy had won, and they'll cling to anything to reverse the will of the voters, or people really think a conspiracy is at work. Ratchet up another notch.

I kind of like the idea of a conspiracy. Somebody had a plan to import a mixed-race baby from Africa (rather than arrange for him to be born in the US), raise him up, send him to law school, introduce him to powerful people, and have him elected to be President of the United States. His victory in November then didn't have anything to do with his amazing oratorical skills, his ability to think lightning-fast on his feet, his unmatched breadth of knowledge and ability to reason about super-complicated things at a fine level of detail, or the fact that he has a beautiful wife, six-pack abs, and can hit a three-pointer on the first try under pressure. You and I and millions of other Americans independently decided to push the button beside Obama (D) so some cabal of evil individuals could take over the world. That, people, is a very successful conspiracy!

Maybe history is a shell game played by shadowy figures that the rest of us don't know about, executing plans that take generations to bear fruit. We ourselves, from this view, don't really have any will of our own but only the illusion of controlling our own actions, we really only work the will of our patient, clever, and oh-so-sneaky masters. The election outcome was pre-arranged, the campaign a charade played out to give a credible appearance, we didn't choose to push that button in the voting booth, we were compelled by vast forces beyond our comprehension.

The alternative theory is that the Republicans are mad because their party is a big fat failure and there's nothing they can do about it except cry and make stuff up.

What do you think -- multigenerational conspiracy by shadowy figures, or sour grapes? Aw, come on, it could be a gigantic conspiracy extending across continents over more than a half century to allow evil people to take over the world.

I was reading today about the lady in the red shirt who became famous last week when she stood up during a congressman's speech and demanded to know why Obama hasn't produced a birth certificate and everybody cheered. You've seen the video, right? If not, watch it HERE. Usually when we talk about nuts on this blog we mean extremists, people who are adamant about self-serving beliefs pieced together out of nontruths linked by illogic, we don't usually actually mean mentally ill people.

Here's the local Delaware paper talking about her.
The star of the show -- known as "Crazy Eileen" to callers of a Sussex County talk radio station -- has gone into seclusion, declining interviews and avoiding publicity, even as previous statements by her have emerged referring to Obama as "the antichrist" and speaking of aliens and angels.

"She doesn't want to be another 'Joe the Plumber' I think," said Dan Gaffney, program director and morning host at WGMD 92.7 FM.

The video of the Castle meeting, taken by someone in the audience, shows the woman holding a small American flag and what she said was her birth certificate, asking why people are ignoring Obama's birth. She charged that Obama is a citizen of Kenya, not the United States.

Castle, a Republican, was booed at the meeting while reiterating that Obama is a U.S. citizen.

The crowd applauded and cheered as the woman yelled, "I don't want this flag to change! I want my country back!"

The Constitution states that a person must be a "natural-born citizen" to be eligible for the presidency. The birthers contend that Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate is a fake, and many say he was actually born in Kenya, his father's homeland.

Limbaugh, the nationally syndicated radio talk show host, joked that Obama and God have something in common -- the lack of a birth certificate. Dobbs has broached the issue several times, saying at one point, "The questions won't go away."

And 10 Republican members of Congress have co-sponsored a bill that would require future presidential candidates to provide a copy of their original birth certificate.

Little is known about the woman who triggered the recent firestorm. Gaffney, the WGMD morning host, said she is believed to be from the Millsboro area.

According to another WGMD host, Jared Morris, she has been banned from calling the station -- known for its conservative leanings and hosts -- on several occasions.

In a call from a January show, on New Year's predictions, the woman discusses aliens, angels and the end of life on Earth, according to an audio clip Morris posted on YouTube this week.

In a videotaped introduction, Morris said the woman featured on the YouTube video from the meeting was a regular caller to his program.

"I want you guys to know exactly who you were cheering," Morris said in the clip.

She repeatedly has called Obama "the antichrist" on the airwaves, and "her phone calls have turned to faxes and threats," according to Morris.

"I have actually talked to an angel who came down in human form," she said during the Jan. 1 show. "We will have alien contact in October of this year, in the southwestern USA."

One prediction may seem ironic in light of the anger expressed in her diatribe toward Castle: "There will be peace among men and negativity will end," she told Morris.

Through the looking glass on YouTube

You might be interested to listen to clips of the birthers' spokesperson calling into the radio station, as mentioned in the news story. Listen HERE. Hoo boy.

Japanese Herbivores, A Strange and Apparently Ubiquitous Phenomenon

I had never heard of this, but it appears that men in Japan, especially young men, are abandoning traditional male roles and choosing to be passive, disembodied flakes. According to this article, almost half of young men surveyed have adopted the way of life they call being a "herbivore." From Reuters:
TOKYO (Reuters Life!) – Hotel worker Roshinante has no interest in actively pursuing women, is nonchalant about a career and finds cars a bore -- and he is not alone in opting for a quiet, uncompetitive lifestyle.

Roshinante, 31, who prefers the anonymity of his online handle, is one of a growing group of men dubbed "herbivorous boys" by the media, who are rejecting traditional masculinity when it comes to romance, jobs and consumption in an apparent reaction to the tougher economy.

Forget being a workaholic, corporate salary-man. These men, raised as the economic bubble burst, are turning their backs on Japan's stereotypical male roles in what is seen as a symptom of growing disillusionment in their country's troubled economy.

"Since I was a child, I hated people telling me, 'Behave like a man'," said Roshinante, who runs a forum on popular Japanese social network site Mixi for frank discussion about herbivores.

For decades, Japanese men were expected to work full-time after graduating from high school or college, marry and support their wife and children.

Roshinante, a university graduate, has no plans to follow that path.

"I don't think my parents' way of life is for me," he said in a telephone interview. "I still struggle between the traditional notion of how men should be and how I am."

Almost half of 1,000 men aged 20-34 surveyed by market research firm M1 F1 Soken identified themselves as "herbivorous," defined literally as grass-eating but in this context as not being interested in flesh or passive about pursuing women. Japan's "herbivore" men shun corporate life, sex

In the duration of a single lifetime, women's roles have changed dramatically in our society, men not so much, as women took control of their sexuality and their finances. There was no obvious model for men to accommodate this new balance of power and men were sensitive about ... being sensitive, among other things. In America, it seems to me, the future of masculinity is still an unresolved question.

I don't know about this herbivore thing, though. I kind of hope that doesn't catch on over here.
The media hype has sent marketing experts scurrying to see if there is money to be made from herbivores, many of whom are spending more time and money on their appearance.

"We cannot ignore herbivorous boys because they are almost a majority," said Shigeru Sakai, a researcher at M1 F1 Soken.

Most herbivorous boys lack self-confidence, like to spend time alone, and use the Internet a lot, the survey showed.

The mindset appears to be a reaction to the end of Japan's late 1980s "bubble economy" of soaring asset prices, when everything looked rosy, and a subsequent economic slump.

"Herbivorous men always existed," said columnist Maki Fukasawa, who is credited with coining the term. "But the bursting of the bubble and the collapse of lifetime employment contributed to their increase."

Men will change, there seems to be no way around that, but I would not try to predict how we will change. While there are plenty of traditional male attributes that should go away, our society doesn't want to lose the good qualities of strength and courage and competitiveness that have traditionally been associated with men. There does not seem to be any manifesto or outline for the male of the future, no plan for adapting to gender equality in the workplace and in the home, and my impression is that guys are just trying to figure it out on their own. There seems to be a widespread sense of loss as the Hemingways and John Waynes fade into the past, and there seems to be little to replace that part of life -- the macho lust for adventure is obsolete functionality that might be phased out in the next release.

I recently ran across a quote by Robert Heinlein which seems vaguely appropriate here. He said, "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." You get the impression that these herbivorous Japanese men are unable to do any of these things, they have reacted to the challenge of an evolving society by retreating into incompetence. Let's not do that here, okay?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ensuring a Man's Right to Choose

I hate to open this can of worms, but see if you can spot anything wrong with this picture. From Politics Daily:
An Ohio state legislator has introduced a bill called "Father's Rights Regarding Abortion" that requires written permission from the sperm provider before a physician can perform an abortion.

The improbably named Rep. John Adams, from Sidney, Ohio, failed to get similar legislation passed in 2007 after protests from Planned Parenthood, but he has brought the bill back with modified language. The penalties to patient and physician for violating the measure, were it to become law, would be severe.

Aborting without permission or "providing a false biological father would be a first-degree misdemeanor . . . and [warrant] a maximum $1,000 fine," Adams explained. "On the second occasion, providing false information would be considered a fifth-degree felony."

If the identity of the man is unknown, the pregnant woman would be required to submit a list of possibilities, and her doctor would have to conduct paternity tests, then seek the man's permission to abort. In cases of rape or incest, the bill requires proof via a court document, police report or indictment. Ohio Abortion Bill Would Guarantee a Man's Right to Choose

I'm not even going to comment on this one.

A Kiss Is Just a Kiss

There have been several situations in the country recently where gay people have been hassled or arrested for ... being gay. There was a completely bogus raid on a gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas, on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, where at least one customer was severely injured by police, who were busting people for being drunk in a bar. It was a reprehensible incident, and the city of Fort Worth is making some changes, though I can't say I was that surprised to read that some cops in Texas didn't like gay people.

Last month in El Paso, some gay people were eating at a restaurant, a couple kissed, and security guards told them in Spanish that "faggot stuff" is not allowed at the restaurant. Police came and actually told the customers their behavior was illegal, which is incorrect.

Another situation is more interesting. It seems that Salt Lake City, for some reason, sold a block of downtown, including sidewalks, to the Mormon Church. Mormons and homosexuality, let's say, do not overlap on a Venn diagram, at least one drawn by the church. The church posted security guards along their stretch of property, and one night when some guys were walking home from a concert they paused for a quick kiss and ended up getting knocked around, handcuffed, and cited for trespassing.

Straight people might feel uncomfortable when they see two men or two women showing affection to one another. Well, it's time to get over that. Though we have seen LGBT people coming out of the closet in a verbal way, that is, they might tell their friends and co-workers about their orientation, they have generally kept their feelings hidden from public view. That may have been a good idea at one time, the reaction that kissing in public elicits may have resulted in a step backward for the movement for gay and lesbian civil rights, at a too-early stage in the movement. As certain people are fond of ironically saying, "I don't mind if somebody's gay or what-not, I just don't like them shoving it down my throat." By that they mean they don't like people actually acting gay where they can see it. It's okay to be that way if you have to, just don't, you know, do anything.

A group of people have organized the Great Nationwide Kiss-In to take place August 15th at 2 PM, EDT. Gay people are going to congregate in public places and kiss where everybody can see them.

From their web site:
We suggest that you locate a popular park, promenade, or other thoroughfare in your town or city, some place where you will be seen and heard. Make sure that whatever place you locate doesn’t directly block auto traffic, since this may present problems later when trying to obtain a permit (and we’ll talk about that later). While the idea may be tempting, we do not condone congregating in front of churches or places of worship whose doctrine directly opposes homosexuality; this would be unnecessarily inflammatory. Examples of places being considered in other cities are the Boston Commons, New York City’s Bryant Park or Central Park, and San Francisco’s Union Square. The Great Nationwide Kiss-In

I don't see Washington, DC, listed here, maybe somebody will put something in the comments section if they know where this event will be held. Maybe Montgomery County will have its own Kiss-In.

More ...
The primary purpose of this event is bring people together, to create a warm and fun and exciting environment, and to show religious and other conservative individuals that we are united for a cause, that we are a group that works together, and that there is nothing wrong with anybody kissing anyone, anywhere. As you plan this event, consider the sorts of fun, yet tame, events that would bring people together – music, dancing, socializing. Figure out what the community in your city or town would enjoy, and plan around that.

We strongly recommend that you plan for entirely inoffensive programming. We trust that you understand what we mean. The religious / conservative / far right seeks out anything that resembles deviance; we don’t want to give them additional fuel. They will probably come after us anyway for creating this event; when the event finally occurs, though, we want them to feel rather sheepish for making a big deal out of nothing.

We also strongly recommend that you remind your organizers/coordinators and event participants beforehand to behave as inoffensively as possible when it comes to the kissing and affection portion of the event. There shouldn’t be any blatant French kissing, or licking, or anything that appears crass or sloppy, nor should there be any removal of clothing, grinding, or groping. This is not only a mixed event, but it’s also public; if we play our cards right, there is likely to be a significant amount of media attention. Think of it this way: if we were a film, we would be a 1960s-era Disney picture. We’re aiming for a G rating – General Audiences.

This is the kind of thing that has to happen now. There is too much tip-toeing around the obvious, and the obvious is just not that shocking. I attended a Citizens for Responsible Whatever meeting a year or two ago where they showed a series of videos of shocking gay people in tu-tus and overdone make-up, frightening their audience with bizarre stereotypes. I think it's time to make a nice, clear statement gay people are just people, and the thing that's different about them is that they like one another, and that is a good thing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Extry! Extry! Pro-Family-Values Republican Caught in Affair with Intern!

I think the always-provocative and entertaining Ed Brayton at Science Blogs says it best, so I'm just going to copy and paste his post here.
If I told you that Paul Stanley was caught having an affair with a winsome young blond girl, you probably wouldn't be shocked. Of course, you'd probably be thinking I was talking about the lead singer of KISS. If I told you that Paul Stanley was a God-fearing and gay-hating family values Republican state senator from Tennessee, you'd probably be even less shocked. Par for the course these days, isn't it?

The young girl, McKensie Morrison, was a legislative intern in Stanley's office when the married senator with two children started doing the mattress mambo with her. She's now 22 years old and was, obviously, even younger when this all began. Stanley went to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to report he was being blackmailed by Morrison's boyfriend -- then admitted to them that he was having an affair with her.

Oh, you might wanna set your irony meters for their highest possible level (which is "Bill O'Reilly" on mine):
"When you're married, there's a commitment there," Stanley said last year, while discussing legislation to prohibit gay people from adopting children.

In fact, Stanley was the bill's chief sponsor and he introduced the bill in the legislature. And a few days ago he issued a statement saying that it was unfair to speculate that he might have cheated with the young lady because he was the real victim here:
Unfortunately, I am the victim and a witness to a crime in an ongoing investigation. At this time, I have been advised by authorities and the District Attorney's office not to comment. There is already misinformation being inferred regarding this matter which I look forward to clearing up at the appropriate time.

But then the local media got a copy of the affidavit from the investigating officer in the case, which notes that Stanley admitting not only to a sexual relationship with her, but to taking some apparently explicit pictures of her:
During an interview with Stanley, he advised Morrison was an intern in his legislative office. Stanley subsequently advised he had developed a sexual relationship with Morrison, during her internship. During the interview, Stanley acknowledged taking a photograph(s) of Morrison in Stanley's apartment.

The punchline: Republicans are actually breathing a sigh of relief after finding out he was cheating with a woman and not a man.

Another Family Values Republican Sex Scandal

I'll just add a word here. Nobody's perfect, even good people do bad things sometimes. This guy's private life is none of my business, and though I have an opinion about these things I wouldn't judge him for his adultery. But it really is a different situation when this same guy who is destroying and disrespecting his own family leads the campaign to deny the right to establish a family to people who dream of it.

Sunday Rumination

Summertime, you wouldn't know it. We have hardly had a hot day, at least not the unbearably hot days we get sometimes. This morning the sky is cloudy, it might make it up to the eighties but you're not going to sweat, there will either be rain or a breeze. Yesterday we had moments of drenching rain -- hey, we saw a double rainbow yesterday, did you see that?

This isn't going to be an issues-related post, I guess I'm a little burned out on issues. Well there almost aren't any. The right guys got elected, they're doing a good job, trying to put the government back into sensible order again. But you know, for some reason we have people who just want to stop that. Say health care. The president, the Democrats, have a plan, and what can you say, the idea is that sick people should be able to see a doctor, and the other side is against it. They don't have a better idea, there's no principle or intellectual difference of opinion, it's just that the Republicans don't want the Democrats to succeed. For us that are mostly healthy it's a chess game, people betting Monopoly money, but for a lot of people it really matters, you're going to live or you're going to die depending on how they resolve this. The Republicans are against it because they don't want the party that was elected to accomplish anything.

There are three big, interesting stories this week, it seems to me.

First, the Harvard professor who was busted trying to get into his own house. I saw a show once where they had a guy try to break into a car with the alarm blasting. His horn was honking, you know how that sounds, and he was standing there sliding a coat hanger down into the door trying to trip the lock. Did I mention it was a white guy? You know what people did, they did what you and I would do, they came over and tried to help him. But up there in Cambridge, a black guy couldn't get the door of his house to open, and he got a little upset about it (you and I never would) and the neighbors called the cops and they arrested the guy. For trying to get into his own house. And being uppity.

This is a beautiful story, it has everything. This wasn't just a black guy trying to get into his house, it was the Ultimate Black Guy, the W. E. B. DuBois professor of black studies at Harvard, an African-American brainiac and expert on how black guys get screwed by the cops. And perfect, the cop is giving him a hard time, and this professor comes back with "yo mama."

I was on a jury a few years ago where a black kid was busted in Rockville. He was driving down Rockville Pike in an old car and the cops stopped him for a cracked tail light. Jumped out, ran away, threw his dope on the ground, a respectable (e.g., white) citizen saw it. The kid's witnesses all wore orange jumpsuits. When was the last time you got stopped for a cracked tail light? In the jury room, a lady said, "I work in a hospital, I see this every day, he's guilty, let's get this over with." Poor people. I made them stay there all day, going through the evidence. Literally, he broke the law, he did have drugs, but he was only caught because the police stopped him for the very slightest violation. How many cars on Rockville Pike do you think have a baggy with something illegal in them? You don't know, it only matters if the cops decide to hassle you. Certain people get hassled more than others, let's say, and a large percentage of a certain demographic is in prison and on parole. This is a perfect news story to get a certain discussion rolling.

Now the President has invited the professor and the cop over to the White House for a beer. Is that cool or what? The last guy couldn't do that, if he'd had a beer he would've ended up chugging a case and then he would have, you know, played Truth or Dare with The Button or something. Here you got a professor who understands the fundamentals of racism in America, a cop who sounds like a good guy who got called to intervene in a bad situation, and the President who is black and might have a thought about it and said the whole deal was "stupid" and now has to be cool about it. So -- come on over, guys, let's have a beer and watch the game. That is actually the perfect solution.

Second story, C Street. Aunt Bea has been commenting in detail on the blog about this, Rachel Maddow has been following the story, there is something really important and creepy going on. There is a house on Capitol Hill where a number of politicians live and others visit. It is a Christian group, but not in any sense I ever heard of before. These guys believe they have been chosen by God to be leaders, and anything they do is all right as long as they retain power. A bunch of them are having sex with somebody who is not their wife, they have a budget of gazillions of dollars, all undocumented, they go around to foreign countries and make deals they have no business making. This has been going on for decades. You can say, there's nothing wrong with that, they're private citizens, they have freedom of religion, but ... it is creepy, the country's business is being conducted off the record by people that you just wouldn't trust. A guy joined the group and wrote a book about it. Here's what he said about Doug Coe, the leader of the group:
Doug Coe, David Coe’s father and leader of The Family fellowship going back to the mid ’60s, likes to call The Family “The Christian Mafia.” I knew Coe when I was part of The Family. He explained what it means to be a chosen politician.

Talking to another man, he said, “Let me explain to you the concept of ‘chosen.’ Suppose I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?”

The man says, “You would think I was awful, a monster.”

And Doug Coe said, “No, I would not, because you’re chosen, and when you’re chosen, the normal rules don’t apply.”

These are people who believe that God has hand-picked them to run the world. the Divine Right of Kings has been granted them. I'm sorry, post-Magna Carta I don't think that works. People should not put up with this.

Third story this week: birthers.

People hear this and they will either laugh at it or buy it. There is some kind of story that the President is not an American. He was born in Kenya, or Indonesia, or something. It is impossible to imagine what the actual plan was, who is in on the conspiracy, how this works. True, the President is a black guy with the middle name "Hussein." He ain't your stereotypical President of the United States. And some people are having a hard time swallowing that. But really, people, get a grip. We voted, he won. This time there wasn't even any argument over the number of votes, everybody agrees he got a lot more votes than the other guy. He's smart, he's got six-pack abs, his wife is beautiful, he can hit a three-pointer on the first try. Everything hasn't gone perfectly in his first term, but come on, the guy is an American, he qualifies for the office. I watched Gordon Liddy on a TV show trying to question Obama's citizenship, and it was sad, there is simply no reason to believe he's not what he says he is. Liddy looked depressed, he's trying to believe something that there is no evidence for. But it's all these poor people have to cling to, they desperately want to believe he is not a natural born citizen. It would make their whole nightmare go away, we could get an old white guy in the White House again like we're supposed to have. This is just weird to watch, but you see there are a lot of them, a lot of people think with something other than their brains.

I'm up a little early today, listening to WPFW, drinking coffee. My mind is still a little blurry. Santana is ripping it up on the radio, this is good. Oh, now it's Stevie Wonder, "Isn't She Lovely." Back in the day I used to play the harmonica on that one, a chromatic harmonica, we played in the key of E. There are a couple of guys who play chromatic harmonica, Stevie Wonder being one of them, it is a great jazz instrument.

The band I'm playing in is doing pretty well. Every time we play people like us and we get booked back. We are a three-piece band, we play old rockabilly songs that everybody knows, mostly. This week we learned one that I wrote, and I think I will bring another one to rehearsal this week. We play restaurants and bars in Montgomery County, mostly up here around Rockville where we all live, and it really is fun. But here's the thing: I want a Wammy. I don't want to just be another band of old guys doing old songs, I want to be the best. We are booked pretty solidly, we have a couple of weeks off starting now but we have gigs every weekend, just about.

I'm glad to have this weekend off, people, I'm going to go fishing. I used to fly fish every day, then kids came along and I would fish with the little ones but it's not the same thing. We're going to go up to Pennsylvania where there are some of the best trout streams in the world, and I'm going to whip a fly-line out there and see if I can manage to catch one or two. Most of my fishing was in California, and out here the streams are smaller, you need lighter tackle, so I got a new rod and line. It's going to take some getting used to, I stood out in the parking lot at the Orvis store in Bethesda casting and I think it will come back to me.

I fish because I have always had a recurrent dream of fishing. There are many variations on it, but always there is something in the water that I can't quite see, and I try to catch it, it is something deep, dark, mysterious. I never catch a fish in my dreams, I only know they're there. Sometime in the eighties I decided to follow the dream, and I began fishing for bass. Then, I can't explain this but my beard turned gray and so I shaved it off and decided to fly-fish for trout. It all went together, I used to tie my own flies and I went out every day back when I was single. Fly-fishing is different, the fly has no weight so you cast by waving the line back and forth in the air, you hope the fish -- usually trout -- will think your lure is a bug that they like to eat. It takes patience and is frustrating, you lose a lot of expensive stuff in trees and bushes. There is something low-tech and primitive about it, and elegant. I am eager to catch a nice fat German brown trout in Pennsylvania. I'll pull the hook out of his mouth and put him back in the water, and maybe somebody else will catch him another day.

This week I had surgery on my guitar. This might not mean much to you, but I play a certain model of Fender Stratocaster that was only made in 1983. It was an experimental model with a lot of different features, including a new kind of wammy bar. If you don't play, I'll tell you, a wammy bar is a lever that you can press to reduce the tension on the strings, so the pitch will drop. Sometimes you can raise it, too, but you don't usually do that, you can bend the strings to raise the pitch. The original wammy bar on my model of Strat, called the Stratocaster Elite, simply didn't work. The instrument wouldn't play in tune. So like everybody else I replaced it. Well, this year the replacement part wore out, and I have had a problem staying in tune. I did some research on the Internet and picked a new one, ordered it, went to Chuck Levins in Wheaton and talked to the guys, and they installed it. Partly it means routing out the wood of the body of the guitar, and actually I don't even want to know about that. It's like when they draw blood from your arm and you look away. They did a beautiful job on it, I played it Friday night in Rockville and did not have to tune up once. It has changed the sound and feel of the guitar, though, and I'll have to get used to it. The sound now is more percussive and maybe it has less sustain, and the strings are a little lower than they used to be but I can get used to that. Most guys like the action low, I tend to like it higher where I can grab the strings and bend them.

There are all kinds of ways to approach the guitar. I'm a rocker, I guess I have a little country side to me, I like to play fast and loud. Out in California I used to have some friends that played together, they had a lot of Les Paul and Chet Atkins things worked out, fast harmonies. Sonny was a little older and had arthritis when I knew him, he was in his last days of playing, but Chris was my age, and we even had a band together at one point. Chris and Sonny played together like one person, their twin guitar parts were fluid and complex. Sometimes people would come over and Chris and Sonny would play for them, you know, five or six people, and those two would tear it up, How High the Moon, Honeysuckle Rose, some old Bob Wills things. Chris and I got tight, he was left-handed so we couldn't switch off but we had a band where I played bass, we had a house gig near the beach. At closing time, packing up, he knew these nasty songs, corruptions of tunes everybody knew, man they were funny! I have known a few country guys like that, they'll sing Waylon and Willie while they PA is on, but they have this alternative repertoire that you'd never guess, they seem like such nice guys. Chris and Sonny had a whole different approach to the guitar, they played pretty, subtle, it was countryish, jazz-ish, they didn't care much about blues or any rock and roll, they simply loved to play music. I wonder what they're doing now. I tend to bang on it, I like to get people on the dance floor, if people are dancing I play better. Chris and Sonny just played because they loved that music and they loved playing together. They didn't want to get paid for it or anything, Chris and Sonny just liked playing.

Hey, it was raining a little bit ago and now the sun's out. Yesterday we saw a big double rainbow, did you see that? When I moved to the East that was something I missed, we used to have rainbows in Arizona all the time, at least in late summer, in the monsoon season, but out here you hardly ever see them. This week I have seen rainbows twice, including the double one yesterday. Nice.

I've got chores to do, I need to get some polarized sunglasses and there are a couple of other things I want to accomplish today, bills are piling up, you know, stuff. It is a beautiful day out there, clear sunshine, the slightest breeze, I'm going to hop in the car and get out there.

Friday, July 24, 2009

When the Police Tell You To Do Something

The Channel 9 web site has a pretty good piece about what you should do if a cop violates your rights or demands that you do something you shouldn't have to do. This is in response to the incident in Cambridge last week where the black Harvard professor was arrested trying to get into his own house.

I play in a little rock and roll band, and we do that perennial song, "I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)". You might as well face the fact that there is no song called "I Fought the Law (And I Won)," the cops have handcuffs and guns and back-up and the judge almost always takes their side. Channel 9 suggests that maybe when they tell you to do something, the smart thing is to do it, even if you shouldn't have to.
WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- The controversy surrounding the arrest in Cambridge, Massachusetts of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates has raised the question of what rights a homeowner has to refuse the orders of a law enforcement officer who has entered that home in the course of his duties and what limits there are - if any - on what a homeowner can say to the officer without risking arrest for disorderly conduct.

"You generally have a right to call a police officer names as long as you don't rise to the level of a public nuisance, a public disturbance. And in your own home you generally have freedom to use language that might be offensive out on the street, and you have a right to be louder in your own home that you would out on the street," said George Washington University Law Professor Stephen Saltzburger.

The issues are complicated and case law depends on the specific facts of a given confrontation. In addition, laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so what may be allowed in one state could be outlawed in another.

"Generally speaking, what I advise everybody is that if you know your rights and you know that an officer is wrong, that the officer is ordering you to do something upon pain of penalty, you should do it and sort it out later.

Choosing to raise the level of confrontation with a police officer is almost always a bad idea. If they are violating your rights, you've got remedies, but if you raise the level of confrontation there really a chance that there will be a physical encounter and, usually, the citizen is the one who is worse off in that," Saltzburger told 9News Now.

Police offer similar advice on following their instructions, even if you believe your rights are being violated. "My suggestion is go along with the officer's commands. Sort it out on the back end. You may not know that you look like the bank robber. You may not know that a call went out that the bank robber had a gun.

And it would be in your interests in that case not to do anything provocative," said Ted Deeds, Chief Operating Officer of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America. Do You Have To Follow A Cop's Orders?

The problem of course is that we have a monolithic tradition of freedom of speech, and that includes provocative speech. The reality is that we have freedom of speech "in theory," but when it comes right down to it, you better zip your lip when the cops are around.

The Birthers

This is a fascinating phenomenon: the Birthers. You've seen this video, right? The Republican Congressman from Delaware is holding a town hall meeting, and a lady starts waving her birth certificate around, demanding that we find out if President Obama is an American citizen, and people are cheering her on. Obama's birth records have been made public, his birth certificate has been studied, the local Hawaiian newspapers printed his birth announcement, there's no real question about whether he's an American citizen. Still, they believe.

The lady said something interesting in the town hall meeting that I can sort of identify with it. She said, "We want our country back!"

Well, lady, welcome to the club. The rest of us sat here for eight long years while our leaders attacked random foreign countries, tortured people, let a major, beautiful American city be destroyed by ineptitude, we saw our civil rights eroded, people jailed without charges, phone calls listened to without warrants, we watched the economy collapse under the weight of greed ... a lot of people "wanted our country back."

There is a way to get your country back. Win the election. That's what the Democrats did. They ran a candidate who could get more votes than your candidate. That's all there is to it, that's how "our country" works.

Now there are secessionist movements in many states -- Sarah Palin's husband is part of one, several states have introduced measures or made statements about seceding. The teabaggers model themselves after eighteenth century revolutionaries, the whole point is about overthrowing the government in the same way the American colonists overthrew the British. Fox commentators urge armed revolution, usually in slightly veiled terms, we have even heard them argue that a major terrorist attack would be good for the country. The anti-patriotism of the right is shocking, but not surprising.

Listen, people, you lost, that's all. The country isn't going communist, or socialist, or fascist, it's not being handed over to black people or wise Latinas or gay people or pacifists or atheists or [insert paranoid theory here] to do whatever they want with it. Some policies are going to change, because a new party is in power. It's not the end of the world, the Democrats waited while the Republicans ran the country into the ground and did not start talking about a secession or a revolution or encourage terrorist attacks. There were questions about George Bush's criminal record, his military record, his addictions, but nobody seriously suggested he was not eligible to be President. Even when he was jacked into office by questionable court rulings, Americans left and right accepted the rule of law. The Democrats lost, and they turned their attention to the next election. That's just how the wheel turns.

Barack Obama is a natural-born American citizen. There is no reason to think he's not. Those who oppose him -- and this is turning out to be a large part of the Republican base, including several powerful spokespersons -- are grasping at anything, no matter how absurd, to undermine his Presidency. Having lost the election by a landslide, they make insane assertions about Obama's legitimacy in the office.

The fact is, in America we elect our leaders. The election was last year. Your guy lost. It's only three more years till your next shot at it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

AA Responds to Anti-Gay Vandals

American Apparel posted a statement on the company web site about this week's window-smashing.
Yesterday an American Apparel store in Silver Spring, Maryland had a window broken by someone upset over the company's support for gay marriage. Our Georgetown location and others in the areas have received similar threats. We just wanted to use this forum here to announce that not only are they not going to prevent us from speaking out on an issue that is important to this company and our employees but we'll continue to run Legalize Gay advertisements in papers across the DC-Metro area. We'll also send Legalize Gay t-shirts to any group in Washington DC that is fighting for gay rights and will help support any protest or rally for the cause.

We don't find this kind of thing funny and we definitely don't find it intimidating. Thanks to everyone who has reached out to us and if you need anything please contact: Jonny at or (213) 488-0226.

American Apparel responds to those who destroyed Legalize Gay window

On the other hand, DCist reports that "the Silver Spring store has since removed its front window display." Maybe one of our commenters will drive by there today and confirm if that's correct.

You have to think of this as a marketing move, of course, but you also have to realize the fact that American Apparel recognizes that the way to sell clothing to fashion-conscious young people is by supporting gay rights, and not timidly, not passively.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Broken Window in Silver Spring

I understand American Apparel is a hip and happening clothing store, and that's good for them, I think I may not be their target demographic, you might say. Actually, now that I think about it, I did take my daughter there once in high school, to the one in Silver Spring. She didn't buy anything, chip off the old block. Apparently American Apparel has a line of clothing that says "Legalize Gay" on it. See their catalog page HERE. The text on the side says:
In the fall of 2008, Proposition 8 passed in California, striking down the legalization of same-sex marriage. Now the decision rests in the hands of California's Supreme Court, with state lawmakers declaring the vote unconstitutional.

Equal rights for all – repeal Prop 8.

It's bold of them to take a stand, and I think they know their market. "Legalize Gay" is going to sell clothes to cool young people.

But some people seem unwilling to let the free market flourish. They have to regulate commerce, illegally, by trying to interrupt the delivery of desired products to consumers.

Here's the City Paper telling you what happened in Silver Spring.
A local vandal may have found an antidote for the “Legalize Gay” T-shirts that have popped up in American Apparel window displays around the D.C. area—eliminate the window.

When Kassandra Powell arrived for work at the Silver Spring American Apparel store yesterday morning, she was met with a crowd, a police car, and a broken window. “I was told that the [security alarm] went off at 5:15 a.m.,” she says.

Powell, a store manager, had reason to believe that the early-morning glass-shattering was more than your average retail break-in. Nothing was stolen from the store—including the anti-Prop-8 t-shirts prominently displayed on the opposite side of the glass. Gay T-Shirts In Windows A Problem For American Apparel

It seems that lots of times I end up commenting on headlines. They're important. The headline puts the frame on the story, it tells you what the story is about, you look at the headline and decide whether to read further, and you read the text within the context of your expectations, as created by the headline.

"Gay T-Shirts" were NOT a problem for American Apparel. Morons throwing rocks were a problem. Vandalism is a problem, not t-shirts with messages on them.


There's a little bit of a twist to this:
This morning, the Georgetown American Apparel location experienced its own attack from an upset window shopper—this time, over the telephone. Around 10:30 a.m., visual merchandiser Walter Reed fielded a call from a male who was “enraged for no reason.”

“He was like, is this the Silver Spring location? And I said, ‘No, this is the Georgetown location, ‘” says Reed. “He said, ‘You have some Legalize Gay shirts in the window there.’ He said that he and his friends found it offensive, and that if we didn’t take them down, they were going to break it—the window,” said Reed. “I said, ‘Is that a threat, Sir?’ And then he hung up.”

So a smart guy called the wrong store to complain, and by the time they got the message to the Silver Spring store it was too late.

We have been talking about hate crimes. I don't know if this would count as a hate crime, but it is interesting to compare this act to, say, a kid with a slingshot shooting out a window at a school. Do you think there is a difference between those two acts? In both cases, somebody broke a window, that's all. In one case they were trying to stop the dissemination of printed language that supported a group of people, in the other case a kid would rather play outside than sit in class. I doubt this will be prosecuted as a hate crime, well actually I doubt there is any way to catch the idiot who broke this window and I doubt the police will put much effort into it. But it does seem to me that the actor's intent has something to do with the way we interpret their actions.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Statistics: Teen Sex Risk Increasing

A few years of abstinence-only "education" have had their effect. The CDC has a new survey out.
Birth rates among U.S. teens increased in 2006 and 2007, following large declines from 1991 to 2005, according to a new U.S. government study.

It found that previously improving trends in teens' and young adults' sexual and reproductive health have flattened or may be worsening in some cases.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers analyzed national data from 2002-2007. Among their findings:

  • About one-third of adolescents hadn't received instruction on methods of birth control before age 18.
  • In 2004, there were about 745,000 pregnancies among females younger than age 20. This included an estimated 16,000 pregnancies among girls aged 10 to 14.
  • Syphilis cases among young people aged 15 to 24 have increased in both males and females in recent years.
  • In 2006, about one million young people aged 10 to 24 were reported to have chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis. Nearly one-quarter of females aged 15 to 19, and 45 percent of females aged 20 to 24 had a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection during 2003-2004.
  • From 1997 to 2006, rates of AIDS cases among males aged 15 to 24 increased.
  • In 2006, the majority of new diagnoses of HIV infection among young people occurred among males and those aged 20 to 24.
  • From 2004 to 2006, about 100,000 females aged 10 to 24 visited a hospital emergency department for nonfatal sexual assault, including 30,000 females aged 10 to 14.

"This report identifies a number of concerns regarding the sexual and reproductive health of our nation's young people," Janet Collins, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in a news release. Pregnancy, STDs on the Rise Again Among U.S. Teens

It's easy not to get pregnant. Birth control pills are easy to get, condoms are easy to get and they block the spread of disease, too. But nearly three quarters of a million American girls and young women under twenty got pregnant in 2004.

Only about two percent of the pregnancies occurred in girls under 14 years old. Looking at Census statistics, we can see that the 2005-2007 American Community Survey estimates that about 26.5 percent of American females are under twenty years old, with about 6.9 percent age 14-19. Playing loose with the numbers, if there are 300 million people in the country and half are women, then there are about 10,350,000 girls in the 14-19 range, and 729,000 of them got pregnant in 2004, for a rate of approximately seven percent.

If a classroom has thirty students and half are female, then there is a pregnant girl in every high school class and every class in the first two years of college, on average.

It is not surprising that STD rates would correlate with pregnancy. Young people who are not protected from pregnancy are also not protected from syphilis, HIV, HPV, and other diseases that can be spread through sexual intercourse.

The last number is worrisome, too, though there is no context for it in this article. 100,000 girls and young women had to go to the emergency for sexual assault, including 30,000 between the ages of ten and fourteen. Each of those cases was unique and different, some went for injury and trauma and some went because of the risk of pregnancy, but those numbers are frightening. It hurts just to imagine a little girl being raped so severely she has to go to the hospital. This AP article does not elaborate, for instance we don't know if that number is going up or down, but there simply should not be a hundred thousand young American girls and women suffering from that. Education needs to change attitudes as well as behavior.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

CRW: Stand Up For Hate Crimes

First some background by way of the Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON - Legislation to extend federal hate crimes protections to gays and the disabled reached the Senate floor yesterday with the best prospects in years to become law.

The measure, which also makes it easier for federal prosecutors to get involved in hate crimes cases, passed the House in a similar version in April and enjoys solid support in the Senate.

And for the first time since Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts first introduced the bill in 1997, pro-bill Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

President Obama, unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, backs the legislation. Attorney General Eric Holder has urged Congress to act so the government can prosecute cases of violence based on gender and sexual orientation. Outlook improves for hate crimes bill

In Montgomery County, Maryland, yesterday, the president of the Citizens for Responsible Whatever sent out an urgent message to tell people to call their Senators and oppose the bill.

Here's what Ruth Jacobs, writing from a email address, said:
Harry Reid is smuggling the controversial Hate Crimes bill through the Senate -- this week! He is bypassing the regular process and attaching Hate Crimes as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill which Congress must pass in order to fund our military.

Please call Harry Reid and your senators right now and tell them you oppose the Hate Crimes amendment that is being rushed through the Senate this week. We can stop this end run, but only if enough concerned Americans sound the alarm!


Don't you wonder why the CRW is so adamant about supporting hate crimes?

This newsletter has "talking points." Here's what you are supposed to say when you call your Senator. He or she will pick up the phone in their Capitol Hill office, and you will say to them:
1. I am very disappointed that the Senate is fast-tracking the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (H.R. 1913) by attaching it as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill.

2. This Hate Crimes bill is so controversial that it must be considered as a stand-alone bill, not rushed as an amendment.

3. I oppose the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and urge you to oppose it as well. It is an attack on faith and family while granting special rights based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity," terms which are not even clearly defined in the bill.

Usually they mumble something like, "Love the sinner, hate the sin," but this time they are forced into a corner, and there is no ambiguity about their position. The Citizens for Responsible Whatever, who are the same people who campaigned against comprehensive sex ed in Montgomery County and then changed a word in their name and campaigned against equal rights for transgender people, have made a statement as clear as can be: they demand the right to commit hate crimes without federal prosecution.

Irony in Maine

Same-sex marriages are legal in the state of Maine, and the nuts are doing all they can to put together a referendum to stop it. They say they've got enough signatures on the petitions, though we saw what happened in our county when most of the signatures had to be thrown out because of forgeries and irregularities.

Bill Nemitz at the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram has a well-written and weird article about what's going on up there right now.
File this one under "supreme irony."

Twenty-five years ago last week, a trio of young thugs beat up Charles Howard and tossed him off a bridge to his death in the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor – all because he was homosexual. If you were gay or lesbian in Maine back in those days, you had good reason to be afraid.

Now, as the campaign to repeal Maine's same-sex marriage law shifts into high gear, fear is once again in the air. Only this time it's not the homosexual community that's quaking.

It's their opponents.

"I know what you're saying – there is some irony there," agreed Marc Mutty, now on leave from his job as public affairs director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to run Stand for Marriage Maine.

Still, Mutty said, "We feel like the minority that's being discriminated against. We are being treated like pariahs everywhere we go."

Some might hope that's a harbinger of how many Mainers will vote this November, when a people's veto of the same-sex marriage law is all but certain to be on the statewide ballot. (Polling that consistently shows the question too close to call, however, suggests the referendum will be far from a landslide in either direction.)

Others might look to the complaints coming from Mutty & Co. and observe that victimization sells – especially in politics.

In a recent interview with Susan Cover of the Kennebec Journal, Stand for Marriage Maine's leader, Bob Emrich, complained that he and his wife have been getting rude phone calls at their home in Plymouth. People also drive by and holler insults, he said, and on a recent night at 12:30 a.m., someone "banged real hard on our door and ran off." This time, gays are not the target

This is horrible. A group formed to destroy people's marriages and -- gasp! I can hardly say it -- somebody played ding-dong-ditch with one of them? In the middle of the night? Why, that's horrible!

One guy beat up, thrown off the bridge, dead. One guy's door gets knocked on and somebody runs off. "There is some irony here," agreed Marc Mutty, whose name rhymes with ... never mind.
"I expected people to be emotional, but I really didn't expect not to feel safe in the little town of Plymouth," Emrich, a Baptist pastor, told the KJ.

Apparently he's not alone.

A recent e-mail to the staff at the Portland diocese, forwarded to me this week by someone using the pseudonym "M. Luther," offers this advice to the diocesan staff:

"For security reasons, please do not give the physical location of the SFMM (Stand for Marriage Maine) office to anyone. It's imperative that no one else know the location."

The e-mail also instructed staff members, should they receive any "marriage" calls, to "direct the angry mobs to the toll-free number or invite them to visit the SFMM website."

Sitting Monday afternoon inside Stand for Marriage Maine's headquarters, an unmarked office in Yarmouth, Mutty said he authorized the e-mail. The "angry mobs" reference, he said, was tongue-in-cheek and not meant for public consumption.

Asked why repeal proponents are so worried about their safety, Mutty cited "what happened in California."

During last fall's successful campaign to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage in California, Mutty said, "Churches were desecrated, donors were identified and harassed by the other side, and businesses (that supported the repeal) were blackballed."

You remember what happened in California? People who contribute money to a campaign, in that case Proposition 8, are listed in a database, it's public record. "What happened in California" was that some people looked up the names in that database and put them online, including anti-gay business owners and community leaders, and held them accountable. There was no "angry mob." You can say "businesses were blackballed," or you could say businesses were boycotted, or you could say people did not spend their money at businesses that donated money to destroy their lives.

Skipping down ...
But by complaining loudly and often that they've been called names and heard things go bump in the night since they launched their campaign, might Stand for Marriage Maine's organizers also be portraying themselves as an oppressed "minority" (Mutty's word, not mine) in the hope that they will be perceived as the victims this time around?

"No," Mutty replied flatly. "I don't think that's the way to operate. That's not the point we're trying to make."

Maybe not, but Stand for Marriage Maine's secretive ways contrast sharply with the see-through strategy of the Maine Freedom to Marry coalition.

Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for Maine Freedom to Marry, said his group plans a grand opening of its headquarters on outer Forest Avenue in Portland in the next week or two – and the public is invited.

"Our whole effort is volunteer-driven," Connolly said. "And our volunteers need to know where we are – so we'll be publicizing that throughout the state."

Beyond the logistical advantages to having an actual address, Connolly said his organization is "totally transparent" and looks forward to operating a "very welcoming and open office."

Strange tactic those gays are using, doing everything out in the open so people think there's nothing wrong with it. Very devious.

Here's the stinger.
"Maine is a much different place from California," Connolly said, adding, "I'm not sure where (the opposition's) fears are coming from."

Here's a theory:

Those who are trying to overturn Maine's same-sex marriage law are learning – many for the first time – how frightening it can be when someone gets in your face or dials your home phone out of the blue and calls you a nasty name.

At the same time, those who are defending the law are learning – many for the first time – that the more the social pendulum swings their way here in Maine and beyond, the less they need to live in fear.

What a difference a quarter-century makes.

I'm not making any predictions about how Maine's debate will turn out. We'll see if the anti-marriage groups are able to actually get people to feel sorry for them. You know they've got big funding come in from out of state Family Blah Blah associations, so they don't really need a store-front where the citizens of Maine can volunteer and contribute. Their best bet is probably to hide out, work incognito, use the old techniques of misconstrual and lies, and see if they can get a referendum passed so the state government will step in and tell people they can't marry the one they love.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

That Is One Unruly Teenager

Earlier today I posted one, saying, aren't you glad your mother isn't like this? Well, here's one for us parents of teenagers, we can all say, aren't you glad your kid isn't like this? Sheesh, kid goes to CVS and spends 2,000 times as much money as the national debt. My kid never did that, at least!

From The Consumerist blog:
Kids these days! Dale writes, "My lectures about financial responsibility appear to have failed: yesterday [my teenaged daughter] charged $23,148,855,308,184,500.00 at the drug store." You would think Visa would have caught the error and addressed it, if you were high. What Visa actually did was slap a $20 "negative balance" fee on it, of course.

Dale writes,
The embarrassingly-named VISA BUXX card is a debit card for teenagers: parents get reports, control, etc. My daughter has one.

My lectures about financial responsibility appear to have failed: yesterday she charged $23,148,855,308,184,500.00 at the drug store. That's 2,000 times more than the national debt, which is a paltry 11 trillion.

The ever-vigilant folks at VISA added a $20 "negative balance fee," and have suspended the card.

When I called, they said that there was a "system problem," and that the "help desk was working on it."

Unruly Teen Charges $23 Quadrillion At Drugstore

They have a picture of the Visa statement. And hey, good luck getting that fee canceled.

Power and Umpiring

Digby at Hullabaloo had a partial quote that sent me back to the original. As the Senate Judiciary Committee considers President Obama's well-qualified nominee for the Supreme Court, it is interesting to read this description of the approach taken by the last guy's pick for Chief Justice. Jeffrey Toobin was writing about John Roberts in The New Yorker back in May. The good stuff is in the last few sentences:
Roberts’s hard-edged performance at oral argument offers more than just a rhetorical contrast to the rendering of himself that he presented at his confirmation hearing. “Judges are like umpires,” Roberts said at the time. “Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.” His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party. No More Mr. Nice Guy

Sometimes Authority is right, and a good judge should be able to recognize those times. But sometimes the little guy is right, sometimes the little guy gets a bad deal, and an unbiased judge needs to be able to recognize when that has happened, too. It just can't be that the authority, the prosecution, the state, the corporation is always right, and the worker, the prisoner, the customer is always whining about nothing.

It's the Only Possible Explanation

All I can say is, aren't you glad this isn't your mother? From across the pond, The Sun has a little story:
A WOMAN is suing an Egyptian hotel claiming her daughter got pregnant - from using the swimming pool.

Magdalena Kwiatkowska's 13-year-old returned to Poland from their holiday expecting a baby.

Magdalena believes the teenager conceived from stray sperm after taking a dip in the hotel's mixed pool. She is now seeking compensation from the hotel.

A travel industry source said: "The mother is adamant that her daughter didn't meet any boys while she was there.

"She is determined to go ahead with the case."

Tourist authorities in Warsaw, Poland, have confirmed they received the bizarre complaint. Teen pregnant after ‘swimming in pool’

I'm sure we could tie this into some words on the desirability of comprehensive sex-ed, but I think the story speaks for itself.

Hey, do you know what a "mixed pool" is?

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Survey: Scientists and the Public

The Pew Research Center has released results of a survey of scientists and the public showing ... lots of interesting things. Pew worked with the American Association for the Advancement of Science to survey 2,533 scientists. They also sampled 2,001 adults over the phone in April and May, and another 1,005 in June.

Whereas 35 percent of the public identify themselves as Democrats, 55 percent of scientists do. 23 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans, but only 6 percent of scientists. 37 percent of Americans call themselves "conservative," compared to 9 percent of scientists, with 52 percent of scientists saying they are "liberal" compared to 20 percent in the population at large.

Of course this can be interpreted in different ways. It possibly means that there is a bias in academia, and liberal professors allow only liberal grad students to succeed, to obtain a PhD and establish a research career. It could also mean that people who have an aptitude for objectivity and rationality, that is, people who become scientists, also tend to see the world from a liberal perspective. The saying is, "Reality has a liberal bias."

Turns out the public has high regard for scientists, ranking them third behind members of the military and teachers in terms of contributing "a lot" to society's well-being (just a percentage point above medical doctors).

85 percent of the scientists felt that the public does not know very much about science, and 76 percent said the news "does not distinguish between well-founded findings and those that are not." On the other hand, while 87 percent of the scientists agree that they "think that humans, other living things have evolved due to natural processes," only 32 percent of the public thinks so.

Thirty two percent. That number just amazes me.

84 percent of the scientists believe that "earth is getting warmer because of human activity," but only 49 percent of the public agrees.

"Favor use of animals in scientific research," 93 percent of the scientists, 52 percent of the public.

"Favor building more nuclear power plants," 70 percent of scientists, 51 percent of the public.

There are, then, major differences in opinion between people who understand the issues from a scientific point of view and the general public, who mostly get their information through commercial media.

Here's an interesting tidbit from the report:
Both scientists and the public overwhelmingly say it is appropriate for scientists to become active in political debates about such issues as nuclear power or stem cell research. Virtually all scientists (97%) endorse their participation in debates about these issues, while 76% of the public agrees.

Why would anyone want to leave the most knowledgeable individuals out of the debate? The report mentions that "older Americans (those older than 50) and less educated people are somewhat more likely to see scientists’ political involvement as inappropriate..."

95 percent of the public but only 51 percent of scientists say they believe in God or a higher power. 75 percent of the public identifies as Catholic or Protestant, compared to 30 percent of scientists, while 17 percent of the public and 44 percent of scientists report being "unaffiliated" (agnostic, atheist, or "nothing in particular"). Interestingly, where 2 percent of the public is Jewish, 8 percent of scientists are.
Religious belief among scientists varies somewhat by sex, age and scientific specialty. Younger scientists are substantially more likely than their older counterparts to say they believe in God. In addition, more chemists than those in other specialties say they believe in God. More men (44%) than women (36%) say they believe neither in God nor a higher power; belief in God is comparable for men and women scientists, but more women than men profess belief in a different supreme being or higher power.

See? Isn't this interesting?

A democratic society relies on its citizens' knowledge to guide it to make correct choices. Science, by definition, possesses the most likely correct knowledge of subjects within its domains, it possesses beliefs that have been tested empirically and debated in the halls and journals of academia. Of course ordinary citizens are not expected to read the journals and keep up with the very latest findings, but the items measured here are generally not anything new -- Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859! It seems to me that if we are to excel as a society we should possess excellent knowledge. Scientists in this survey were concerned about the media's reporting of scientific topics and about the public's lack of knowledge. Ideally we would see some of these gaps close as the public absorbs more factual knowledge.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

And He Seems to Think This Happens to Everybody

A number of bloggers have commented on this already, so I'm not going to try to add anything new, but this has been a topic of much conversation at our house. David Brooks is a New York Times columnist. He was being interviewed on MSNBC, and he said this:
BROOKS: You know, all three of us spend a lot of time covering politicians and I don’t know about you guys, but in my view, they’re all emotional freaks of one sort or another. They’re guaranteed to invade your personal space, touch you. I sat next to a Republican senator once at dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time. I was like, ehh, get me out of here.


BROOKS: I can only imagine what happens to you guys.

O’DONNELL: Sorry, who was that?

BROOKS: I’m not telling you, I’m not telling you. David Brooks says a Republican senator groped his thigh at a dinner party

Now, I admit, this has never happened to me, so I can't tell you exactly what I'd do. But my reaction would be more like Fixer at Alternate Brain, who said, "Anybody, man or woman, who would take liberties like that with me, uninvited, would be making a visit to the emergency room to get the bones in their fingers reset."

I just imagine the guy sitting there, letting some senator grope him all through dinner.

It's just, it seems, it just ... I don't know what to say.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Clergy Refusing to Sign Govt Marriage Certificate

I don't really see why the government is involved in telling people who they can marry. If a marriage is seen as the binding together of two souls, if a marriage is based on love and the desire to have a home and a family, well I don't see the government really having the expertise to make decisions about that, sorry. As far as ownership of property, custody of children, insurance and other financial and legal agreements, yes, I can see the role of the government in regulating those kinds of contracts between partners, but marriage is not special in that regard, business partners deal with most of those issues, or ones like them. Marriage though seems to me like something that falls in the domain of religion.

There is a movement starting up now among clergy from various denominations to take possession of the institution of marriage by refusing to sign legal marriage certificates. The group's web site is HERE. Salon has the article this morning.
July 10, 2009 | Art Cribbs leans forward in his pressed blue shirt and pink tie, wide-eyed and wistful, exclaiming his love of wedding ceremonies while sitting in his office one morning.

"It's just glorious," he said. "Every time I do a wedding, I go back to my wife and reconnect. It's like reliving our own wedding vows."

But Cribbs, a 59-year-old African-American minister with the United Church of Christ in San Marino, Calif., isn't attending many weddings lately.

As part of a nationwide movement, Cribbs is refusing to oversee the union of couples until the right to marry is granted to all, and laws like Proposition 8 in California, which deny the right of same-sex couples to marry, are repealed.

Headed by John Tamilio and Tricia Gilbert of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Cleveland, the Refuse-to-Sign campaign seeks to make the division between church and state clearer, as it concerns the issue of marriage.

Supporters of the campaign argue that faith leaders have, by default, become agents of the state, signing off on marriage licenses -- whether or not they agree with the state's policy on marriage. By asking clergy to refuse to sign marriage certificates, they hope to make a distinction between the obligation of the state to afford equal rights to all and marriage as a religious sacrament.

In short, the Refuse-to-Sign campaign says, while churches have the right to choose whether to bless same-sex couples, states should not have such a choice, and have a duty to extend marriage certificates to all who seek them. Clergy say, "I won't"

It seems to me this approach could take the entire "gay marriage" issue off the political table. There will be some churches that perform the ceremony and some that don't. The partnership agreement can be a legally regulated contract like any other, and marriage between two soul-mates will be handled by religious authorities, not bureaucrats.

Skipping down ...
It's an idea that organizers think both conservatives and liberals can get behind.

The Refuse-to-Sign movement, despite being made up largely of liberal organizations, is actively making an appeal to conservatives: We want your church to be able to decide for itself on the issue of same-sex marriage, even if, in the end, it chooses not to bless same-sex couples; we just don't think the state has that choice.

Although conservatives may not like the direction the country is heading, they could be satisfied with the knowledge that they will continue to have the freedom to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, without getting hassled by the state or other religious organizations.

And although the Obama administration has been receiving piss-poor grades from the LGBT community of late, there are enough who are afraid of what might be around the corner -- on both sides of the debate -- that a movement to seek more autonomy, and separate church and state on the issue of marriage, could very well be appealing. For supporters of gay marriage, it means avoiding the possibility that friends who are homosexual will never achieve marriage status, and for those on the other side of the debate, it means the religious communities they belong to won't be forced to comply with a state mandate with which they disagree.

There you go, the flip side of this proposal is that a church can refuse to marry people of the same sex if they want. As it is, there are inclusive churches and prejudiced ones, and you're free to go to whatever suits you. There is something satisfying about it.

Metro - Videos Show Slackers Operating Trains

I've been complaining about the Metro lately, as has everybody else. This week at Union Station, not only did neither escalator on the First Street exit work, they had one blocked off, so one of the busiest transit stations in the world had its customers climbing a single escalator as if it were stairs, going both up and down on the same one, bumping shoulders, tripping over baggage, thousands of people backed up in lines hundreds of feet long.

After the big wreck last month I was glad that they didn't try to blame the little guy, especially the operators. Turned out Metro had screwed up in every way, brakes hadn't been inspected, trains were obsolete and unsafe, sensors along the track weren't sensing. Now everybody seems to think Metro needs more money. Uh, maybe.

The last couple of days have seen two examples of citizen journalism that do blame the little guy. You've probably seen these...

Somebody posted a video on YouTube of a Metro operator texting while his train is speeding down the track. He's got his phone down under the dashboard, if you call it that, he's looking at it, clicking the keyboard, and he has no idea what's out there in the world he's hurtling through. See that one HERE.

Then a kid got video of an operator sleeping while he was driving the train. Check out the Fox News report HERE.

If you work in an office, you'll see somebody snoozing in their cube, or somebody closing their door and catching some z's. But man, when you've got a train full of people, watch where you're going, okay? Nap on a break.

A little news came out yesterday on this. From Bloomberg:
Washington Metro train and bus operators caught texting while operating a vehicle will be fired immediately in a “zero tolerance” policy started after one of the workers was caught in the act.

The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority previously had a “three-strikes” policy on sending text messages in which the first offense resulted in a five-day suspension, the second a 10-day suspension and the third termination. The new policy takes effect July 13, the authority said in a statement. Washington Metro Train Operators Caught Texting Will Be Fired

I'm not big on "zero tolerance" rules, it seems to me they usually backfire. But the pilot who shows up drunk, the pill-popping surgeon, the Metro operator speeding down the tracks with several hundred people trusting him or her with their lives, these are people with a lot of responsibility, I don't think there needs to be a second chance. You watch that video of the guy texting, when they pan the camera out the window and you see that the train is speeding down the track -- there's nobody in control, you don't trust a computer to see something on the track, you trust a person.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

BTB on NARTH Nonsense

Anti-gay "researchers" have a hard time getting published in real scientific journals. Well, their research doesn't meet a standard, for one thing. Editors and reviewers don't tend to approve when you start with a conclusion and then twist some data around to give the appearance of supporting it.

The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, known as NARTH, is a bizarre entity, an organization that exists to argue that gay people are sick and need to be healed, and that therapy can make gay people straight. It is a dangerous kind of hate group, they don't parade around in robes and hoods but instead veil their hatred in academic-sounding terms.

No repectable journal will publish their research because it's no good. They have an opinion and occasionally think of a clever way to argue their assertion, they may come up with the occasional phrase that has a ring to it, but once you collect data, once you do an experiment, you find that the assertion fails the test.

But they are not a bunch of losers who let something like respectability and validity stand in their way, no siree. They started their own journal.

I hate to copy and paste somebody else's work, but Box Turtle Bulletin tells this story better than I ever could. If you don't follow that blog, I strongly recommend it. Having said that, I will now steal their work:

Focus On the Family has issued a breathless article claiming that a “new study” has proven that sexual orientation can be changed:
A new report in this month’s issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Human Sexuality finds that sexual orientation can be changed — and that psychological care for individuals with unwanted same-sex attractions is generally beneficial and that research has not found significant risk of harm.

The study, conducted by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), examined more than 100 years of professional and scientific literature from 600-plus studies and reports from clinicians, researchers and former clients principally published in professional and peer-reviewed journals.

The problem with all that? Well first of all, this isn’t a study at all. It doesn’t consist of an experiment with study participants, methodology, measurements, analysis or results. Instead, according to this so-called journal — which I have a copy of — NARTH mined nearly 100 years of research on attempts to change sexual orientation. Of course, the vast majority of those studies were done when aversion therapy was commonly practiced, when many people sought therapy because they were convicted of homosexual offenses before Lawrence v. Texas to avoid jail, when few clinicians bothered to do any kind of follow-up, and when the APA still considered homosexuality a mental illness. Much of this paper is an updated regurgitation of several other articles already posted on NARTH’s web site.

Also, the so-called “peer reviewed” journal is not actually a journal. The Journal of Human Sexuality is actually a booklet published by NARTH themselves. In fact, it’s structured more like a book than a journal, with only one article whose title matches the title on the front cover. This journal is billed as “volume 1,” and was, according to its acknowledgment, conceived back when Joseph Nicolosi was still president at NARTH. At this rate, I would expect volume 2 to show up sometime in 2011.

This is very similar to another stunt pulled by George A. Rekers in 1996. He too created a one-off journal, also called The Journal of Human Sexuality which seems never to have made it to a second volume. It looks like NARTH decided to recycle Rekers old idea.

And as for this new journal’s “peer reviewed” status? Well, I guess when you have a paper written by an anti-gay activist posing as a therapist, and you send that paper off to other anti-gay activists posing as therapists, all of whom are members of your tight little NARTH club with no possibility of an actual independent review taking place, then maybe I would have to concede that the effort was “peer reviewed.” Unfortunately, that’s not the definition accepted by the scientific community.

This publication is not a dispassionate study of changes in sexual orientation. It is a cannon-blast of anti-gay animus in a long 94-page screed, a veritable anti-gay propaganda omnibus touching on all sorts of unrelated subjects including HIV/AIDS, alcohol and drug abuse, violence, psychiatric disorders, and “promiscuity as the new social norm.” As far as anti-gay propaganda goes, there’s little that’s missing here.

Anyone can write a “journal” and select the studies to prove their point as I illustrated in my satire, “The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing the Myths.” (Hey, I had my partner read it before I published it; that must mean it’s peer-reviewed!) A quick look at NARTH’s “journal” shows that they pulled the same tactics as I did when I wrote my satire. Unfortunately, they didn’t intend for their publication to be read for satirical purposes. They are pushing it as legitimate science, and others are likely to be taken in by it.

Over the next several months — it is, after all, 94 pages of text — we will be going into greater detail to show just what a fraud this so-called journal really is. Stay tuned. NARTH Publishes Fake “Study” In A Fake “Journal”

We have seen BTB take down fake research before, and I expect that this will be an informative and entertaining series.

The Myth of Two Sexes

The New Scientist reviews Gerald N. Callahan's new book, Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the myth of two sexes. The reviewer, Deborah Blum, can't go wrong quoting the American pragmatist William James.
"I AM satisfied with a wild free Nature," the psychologist-philosopher William James once wrote to a quarrelsome colleague. "You seem to me to cherish and pursue an Italian Garden, where all things are kept in separate compartments, and one must follow straight-ruled walks."

I've always admired the way James challenged what he perceived as scientific dogma. In this case, he raised a conundrum we still wrestle with today. Science, with its love of classification, seeks to impose a strict order on the world around us. Yet life on Earth is (forgive the pun) by nature tangled, messy and, in James's words, "everywhere gothic". Review: Sex in shades of grey

While the Victorian thinkers were classifying things, spirits like James and Thoreau and Peirce were un-classifying, exploding taxonomies, paring away cognitively-imposed schemes in order to see the world as it is. They are easily seen as the ones who set the stage for the modern science of dynamic systems, including chaos theory, complexity theory, studies of self-organization. The world is fundamentally messy and in itself is resistant to fitting neatly into boxes.
This Jamesian perspective pervades Gerald Callahan's smart and compassionate book. Callahan's argument arises from the fact that human sexuality spans a slippery biological spectrum. The stereotypical view of two sexes - me Tarzan, you Jane - is not only cartoonish, it limits our understanding and appreciation of our own biology.

I want to linger over that word "cartoonish," which is only the set-up. I like the sound of it. Cartoonish.
"We still see a gap where none exists," Callahan writes, "a mirage that shimmers over the hot land of sex." He argues instead that there is a range of sexual characteristics that stretches from the testosterone-inflated Tarzan to the womanly "perfection" of a stereotypical Jane and all the variations that lie in between. "In truth, we are all intersex," he concludes.

The standard model of human development is built on 46 chromosomes, including two that determine sex: XX for female, XY for male. But, as Callahan points out, not everyone ends up 46XX or 46XY.

Variations in sperm or egg, in the mixing of cells from mother and father and in the cell division that follows can all stir the genetic soup into alternative outcomes. The possibilities, Callahan writes, "are as grand and as varietal as the fragrances of flowers: 45X; 47XXX; 48XXXX; 49XXXXX; 47XYY; 47XXY; 48XXXY; 49XXXXY; and 49XXXYY." These variations are familiar to geneticists - the first on the list, for instance, is known as Turner's syndrome - but the general public is still stuck in a black and white, XX/XY world.

And it is time for the general public to awaken to the idea of variation.
Much of Callahan's book is spent exploring our understanding of intersexuality, from the physicians of ancient Greece to today's neuroendocrinologists. He also weaves in the stories of people who live in the stretch between the classic male and female endpoints. "Truthfully, I think the most important thing I would like people to understand about me is that I am a person," Kailana, who is hermaphrodite, tells him in a diatribe of anger, grief and courage.

It is shameful that there is any question of that, that any person is treated as less than equal, less than deserving, because they do not match a stereotype.

It will be interesting to follow the science of sex and gender over the next few decades, as nature breaks out of its overly-facile taxonomies and human understanding expands to absorb the immensity of the variation among human beings.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Flyer

Maryland Politics Watch has the Washington Post flyer, offering access to and influence over their journalists and government officials for $25,000 per meeting. You can see it HERE. Click on the image to see it full screen.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Breaking News: WaPo Meltdown

The Washington Post recently abandoned any appearance of balance by firing their one liberal columnist, Dan Froomkin. Then a couple of days ago, The Post's Dana Milbank, who I normally like, threw a snit on a news show because a blogger got called on in a Presidential press conference. The blogger, Nico Pitney, was the one who had put together the terrific web site following events in Iran as they unfolded -- we linked to it last week -- and he had elicited questions for the President from Iranian people. Milbank was apparently outraged because someone from the administration called the blogger the day before the news conference to tell him he would be asked a question. It was an embarrassing episode for The Post.

But that was nothing.

Today a lobbyist revealed a flyer that had been sent to him by the Washington Post. Politico has it:
"Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate," says the one-page flier. "Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. ... Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders."

The flier promised the dinner would be held in an intimate setting with no unseemly conflict between participants. "Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No," it said. "The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less."
The first "Salon" was to be called "Health-Care Reform: Better or Worse for Americans? The reform and funding debate." More were anticipated, and the flier described the opportunities for participants:

"Offered at $25,000 per sponsor, per Salon. Maximum of two sponsors per Salon. Underwriters' CEO or Executive Director participates in the discussion. Underwriters appreciatively acknowledged in printed invitations and at the dinner. Annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000 … Hosts and Discussion Leaders ... Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post ... An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done. ... A Washington Post Salon ... July 21, 2009 6:30 p.m. ..."

"Washington Post Salons are extensions of The Washington Post brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard," the flier says. "At the core is a critical topic of our day. Dinner and a volley of ideas unfold in an evening of intelligent, news-driven and off-the-record conversation. ... By bringing together those powerful few in business and policy-making who are forwarding, legislating and reporting on the issues, Washington Post Salons give life to the debate. Be at this nexus of business and policy with your underwriting of Washington Post Salons." Washington Post cancels lobbyist event amid uproar

This is just incredible. One of the nation's premier news sources is selling the opportunity to lobby their journalists, and apparently planned to sell access to their news sources in insider Washington as well.

Now they say they have canceled the first "salon."

The story as of ten o'clock Thursday night, from Politico, who broke the story:
Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth said today she was canceling plans for an exclusive "salon" at her home where for as much as $250,000, the Post offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record access to "those powerful few" — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer was detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff."

With the Post newsroom in an uproar after POLITICO reported the solicitation, Weymouth said in an email to the staff that "a flier went out that was prepared by the Marketing department and was never vetted by me or by the newsroom. Had it been, the flier would have been immediately killed, because it completely misrepresented what we were trying to do."

Weymouth said the paper had planned a series of dinners with participation from the newsroom "but with parameters such that we did not in any way compromise our integrity. Sponsorship of events, like advertising in the newspaper, must be at arm's length and cannot imply control over the content or access to our journalists. At this juncture, we will not be holding the planned July dinner and we will not hold salon dinners involving the newsroom."

But you know, lady, it's too late, the cat's out of the bag. You had the invitations, they were printed up and distributed to K Street wheeler-dealers, this isn't some crazy idea that's being batted around the conference room. This was a done deal.

Personal access to Post reporters and administration officials, $25,000 for one, and special for you my friend, $250,000 for eleven. This story is going to last a long time and go a long way. I can't think of anything in modern journalism that quite compares to this. This isn't a lazy reporter making up quotes, this is selling out the entire organization from the very top, a major American newspaper. I think this could be the end of an era.

Tomorrow's page A1 is going to be one of the most important pages The Post has ever laid out. If this story isn't there, they're toast.

[ Friday morning Update: I don't see it in the print edition this morning, but online The Post has the story HERE. They're blaming a marketing executive, Charles Pelton, even though the "salons" were going to be held at publisher Katharine Weymouth's private residence. Various people are appalled, journalists were stunned and angry, etc. ]

Endocrine Disruptors in the NYT

Let's see what you think about this one. Kristof in the New York Times the other day.
Some of the first eerie signs of a potential health catastrophe came as bizarre deformities in water animals, often in their sexual organs.

Frogs, salamanders and other amphibians began to sprout extra legs. In heavily polluted Lake Apopka, one of the largest lakes in Florida, male alligators developed stunted genitals.

In the Potomac watershed near Washington, male smallmouth bass have rapidly transformed into “intersex fish” that display female characteristics. This was discovered only in 2003, but the latest survey found that more than 80 percent of the male smallmouth bass in the Potomac are producing eggs.

Now scientists are connecting the dots with evidence of increasing abnormalities among humans, particularly large increases in numbers of genital deformities among newborn boys. For example, up to 7 percent of boys are now born with undescended testicles, although this often self-corrects over time. And up to 1 percent of boys in the United States are now born with hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the penis improperly, such as at the base rather than the tip. It’s Time to Learn From Frogs

So there's something in the air, or in the water, or somewhere in our environment, that is affecting the sexual development of wildlife and humans. I like to catch bass but I admit I can't tell a male fish from a female unless there are eggs. It is interesting to know that our own Potomac River has intersex fish. What do you suppose that water is doing to your kids?
Apprehension is growing among many scientists that the cause of all this may be a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are very widely used in agriculture, industry and consumer products. Some also enter the water supply when estrogens in human urine — compounded when a woman is on the pill — pass through sewage systems and then through water treatment plants.

These endocrine disruptors have complex effects on the human body, particularly during fetal development of males.

“A lot of these compounds act as weak estrogen, so that’s why developing males — whether smallmouth bass or humans — tend to be more sensitive,” said Robert Lawrence, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s scary, very scary.”

Okay, I think we might have here a perfect example of irony. Unregulated free enterprise resulted in the dumping of endocrine disruptors, including chemicals that act as female hormones, into the environment. Even while they campaigned against gay and transgender rights, the cowboys of the Bush administration let business set its own standards for pollution and toxins, and the ironic result is the demasculinization of the American man.

How do you like that?
The scientific case is still far from proven, as chemical companies emphasize, and the uncertainties for humans are vast. But there is accumulating evidence that male sperm count is dropping and that genital abnormalities in newborn boys are increasing. Some studies show correlations between these abnormalities and mothers who have greater exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy, through everything from hair spray to the water they drink.

Endocrine disruptors also affect females. It is now well established that DES, a synthetic estrogen given to many pregnant women from the 1930s to the 1970s to prevent miscarriages, caused abnormalities in the children. They seemed fine at birth, but girls born to those women have been more likely to develop misshaped sexual organs and cancer.

There is also some evidence from both humans and monkeys that endometriosis, a gynecological disorder, is linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors. Researchers also suspect that the disruptors can cause early puberty in girls.

A rush of new research has also tied endocrine disruptors to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, in both animals and humans. For example, mice exposed in utero even to low doses of endocrine disruptors appear normal at first but develop excess abdominal body fat as adults.

The Wikipedia page on endocrine disruptors is pretty informative. Bisphenol A is an important endocrine disruptor that is found in baby bottles, infant formula cans, and, you might be interested to know, in the plastic that bottled water comes in. It's bad stuff, even Wal-Mart agreed to remove it from their products. At 0.025 µg/kg/day it causes permanent changes to genital tract -- the EPA limit for human exposure is 50 µg/kg/day, which has been shown to cause adverse neurological effects in primates. It affects breast tissue, prostate weight, testosterone production, maternal behaviors ... this is nasty stuff.

This is just the kind of thing where conservatives complain about Big Brother government monitoring and setting limits, they argue that consumers will choose safer products if that's what they want, and the market will adapt. But the public doesn't know, people can't tell when something has an endocrine disruptor in it -- gazillions of people think that pure bottled water they're drinking is good for them, they don't realize the plastic is undermining their endocrine system. I don't like Big Brother government telling citizens who they can and can't marry, but I don't mind if objective studies are done by agencies with no profit incentive to learn the effects of toxins on humans, I don't mind if regulations are established and enforced to protect the population from businesses who only respond to the bottom line.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

CNN: Transgender People are Here to Stay

CNN had an article online last week titled "Commentary: Transgender people are everywhere," by a transsexual woman named Donna Rose. She starts out reminding us of Chaz Bono, Sonny and Cher's kid, formerly named Chastity, who recently announced that he was transitioning from a female to male gender identity. This is a high-profile celebrity transition, Rose says, but it is not such a rare event.
We're a cross-section of society -- pilots, engineers, doctors, factory workers, artisans and pretty much anything else you can imagine. It was only a matter of time before we came to Hollywood. Make no mistake -- Chaz isn't the first and certainly won't be the last.
In a very real sense, transgender people are no one thing. We are everyone, everywhere. Whether you realize it or not, we go to your school, we are active in your communities of faith, we are your neighbors, your co-workers, your family members. Commentary: Transgender people are everywhere

We sometimes quote an estimated statistic that about one tenth of one percent of the population is transgender. That's not very many people, which makes the situation harder, because many people have no experience at all interacting with a transgender person. They haven't given it a thought, don't know what to say, and sometimes respond with anger at their own awkwardness when they do find themselves face to face with someone who does not conform to their expectations about gender. Rose's point here is a good one, that in fact there are transgender people in all walks of life. A few celebrities might get noticed by the media or whatever, but there are a lot of people who have quietly made adjustments in their ordinary lives to correct the erroneous assignment of gender at birth.
We live in a world that tries to force all of us to conform to the expectations and roles established for our bodies at birth, yet our heart and our spirit often realize that we have been miscast in life. We are forced to ask questions of ourselves about things that few ever consider.

The search for answers is indeed the pathway for overall happiness and fulfillment in life. This is a journey that each of us is on -- trans and not -- and the simple fact of the matter is that the transgender journey may appear unique, but the end goal is a universal one: Happiness.

Needless to say, there are those who continue to live in a world where "different" somehow automatically means bad, or is a threat. These are people who would keep transgender people trapped in stigmas of mental illness, moral weakness, sexual perversion and general societal freakishness.

It seems to me that nature gives us sexual qualities, we don't need to pretend to have them. A man shouldn't need to "act like" a man, a woman shouldn't have to "act like" a woman, you are what you are already, and everything you do is an expression of that. Maybe your nature is stereotypical of your sex, and maybe it is not, by degrees. But there is social pressure pushing us as individuals toward the ends of the continuum, a feminine man or masculine woman is punished in everyday interactions by stares and comments and worse, discrimination, violence.

I like her comments about people who believe "different" somehow automatically means bad. Really, that's the heart of it, that's the thing we argue about here on this blog, this is what brings TTF to the cultural battlefield. Our unifying value is the belief that someone can be different from us and still be a good person. We undermine social pressure toward conformity, especially on sex and gender dimensions, and oppose efforts to dehumanize and sanction individuals who are different from the statistical norm. We stand for freedom of personal expression.
Our defense is a simple one: We prove who we are, individually and collectively, not with words but with the courage to come out and the ability to live our lives with dignity and grace.

It may come as a surprise for many people in this country to recognize that many of us who are transsexual are not embarrassed, ashamed or otherwise apologetic of who or what we are. We refuse to go back into the stifling closet of trying to be something we're not.

We enjoy each and every day being unique, as men and women and everything in between, and we rejoice in our diversity rather than fear it. The ties that bind us are far more than the obvious connections of gender. They are bonds of courage, authenticity, integrity and pride.

You have to admire people who have the courage to make their lives right. You know there is almost no social support for someone changing the public expression of their gender identity. Our society, in fact I expect it is accurate to say all societies, have characteristic role expectations dichotomized by gender, and when someone switches roles or expresses an identity somewhere in the middle it makes people uncomfortable. We don't have routinized behaviors for interacting with someone of uncertain gender, and many people react negatively. Yet thousands of people every year are brave enough to make the transition. I can't even imagine how hard that must be.

Ms. Rose has a good point to make here.
Transgender people are victimized by crime more frequently than the general population. Many of us find ourselves unemployed and unable to be hired for jobs for which we are well qualified simply because we are transgender. And, as harsh as this life can be for us, many previous generations had it even worse. Things are changing -- slowly but surely.

Why are they changing? Because transgender people are here to stay. We've been here all along and we're finally acknowledging that our unique journey is part of who we are, but not ALL of who we are. Chaz is a courageous brother. He is a role model to others struggling with similar issues and questions. He is someone who has taken control of his life and intends to live it to the fullest. These are not things to fear. These are things to admire.

The message here is not one of our bodies, but one of our spirits. It is not one of becoming something you're not; it is of accepting what you are. As French writer Andre Gide said: "It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you're not." Many of us have experienced these words first-hand and know them to be true. Chaz knows who and what he is. That is not something to fear. That is something to celebrate.

This month marks the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which in many minds marked the beginning of the revolution for gay rights. We use an acronym "LGBT," sometimes switching the L and the G, and sometimes forgetting about the T. In recent years, as Congress has debated an act that would require equal employment opportunities for gay and lesbian citizens, there has been real debate about whether that protection should be offered to transgender individuals, too, or just LGB. The debate has caused tension in some quarters between gay and transgender people, with gay people explaining that they really don't feel much in common with the transgender community and hoping that gay rights are not postponed while Congress considers whether to include this other group. I think the transgender community is realizing that they have to speak up for themselves, they will not ride automatically on the successes that gay and lesbian people have seen. That may be the good that comes out of the inclusive-ENDA debate.