Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday: Weeding

This week I have been doing something completely unrelated to ... anything. I have been pulling weeds. We had some guys come earlier in the summer and do our back yard, they landscaped it and put pachysandra on the slope along the street-side for groundcover. They said to water it but did not mention that it would get full of weeds. So by now you have a "good" plant every eight or twelve inches, and a hundred weeds in between.

There are two ways to pull weeds. You can sit or you can bend over. The way these are distributed, you can't sit or you'll sit on a good one. So you bend over. I've been doing this for a couple of weeks and ... it hurts. There is a strip about forty or fifty feet long in the back yard, along the street, and another strip outside the fence, and you start this kind of job with the knowledge that just as soon as you finish you'll have to start again.

Some of the weeds were tall when I started, those pokeweeds will turn into trees, I tell you! So the first thing I did was to go through and get the really big ones. I pull them up by the roots but sometimes they break off, so I keep a hoe handy to dig out the roots. There is a bit of a problem though if the hoe is not within reach, if you have to go get it sometimes you come back and can't remember where the roots are that you wanted to dig out. Some of the roots to these weeds, even the small ones, were as big as potatoes, obviously some of them have been chopped down and grown back repeatedly. There might be new ones in the future but the old weeds won't come back after I'm finished with them.

I remember after my first day, standing back and looking at the slope, there was a little strip of brown where you could see dirt, where I'd cleared it. I was proud of that little strip but it was discouraging too, I could not imagine weeding the whole area, it was just too much.

So weeding became a kind of personal challenge for me. You weeds aren't going to take over my backyard! Every evening after work, if I didn't have something else scheduled, I would go out with my leather gloves on and bend over and pull those buggers out of the ground, one after the other. The brown strip got wider, and then there was a time when I realized I had done nearly half of it, and it occurred to me that I could win. Until then it had been a kind of exercise, something I thought I should do but I never really expected to complete the task. But seeing some results I started to believe I could succeed.

You can't imagine how this makes a person sweat. This is August on the East Coast, people, the temperature has been get into the upper eighties, the nineties, and the humidity -- you can almost drink the air outdoors. Pulling weeds does not really require what you'd call "exertion," you only bend over and pull things up. You can't much complain about how hard it is, it's just work. But man do you sweat. I started wearing yesterday's dirty clothes when I went out, because they end up soaked as if they had been put into a tub full of water and there no use ruining reasonably clean clothes, if that makes any sense. And shorts, you have never seen me in shorts, woo hoo. There is apparently something living in the weeds called "bugs." And these bugs seem to have an appetite for something that is called "me." From the knees down I am bumpy and scabby from scratching. People have told me I should put insect repellent on my skin, or that I should put something on me to make the itching stop but it's not that bad, and I don't blame them for being hungry and wanting me to get out of their weed patch. At the front end of the slope I came across what might have been a nest of crickets, or maybe it was just a place with conditions they liked. There were a million of them. I haven't seen any crickets in the house yet but trust me, they're out there. There are also box elder bugs swarming around their home tree out front, and eventually they'll get to the house and come in under the door, but that's a different story.

Every once in a while, not often but several times, I'd reach down and pull up a clump of weeds and there would be a "good" plant in it. I tried to re-plant these, so far they all appear to be surviving, but you know, it can happen.

The best thing is when you have a single weed that covers a good amount of area. There is something here that in Arizona, where I grew up, we called Johnson grass, maybe you call it crabgrass out here but we used a different word when I was a kid. And that doesn't reflect well on crabs, which we love here in Maryland. It appears that plowing up some earth, fertilizing it, and planting something good in it is like Miss Garden getting on the phone and calling Mister Johnson Grass and asking him coyly to come do lunch sometime, and Mister Johnson Grass was never known for being real good at resisting temptation. He showed up there, and there, and over there, and he's hard to dig out. This grass grows with heavy roots, the blades extend out from a center and where they touch the ground they put down roots again to start another center. Plus the roots themselves will spread out and new connected centers will pop up nearby. Working with a trowel I can dig around a central growth of Johnson grass, loosening it carefully all around, and pull up a concentric chunk that covers several square feet of area. So in one effortful stroke you can clear a pretty good area. You hold the bunch up and shake the mud out of the roots, the point is not to destroy the whole garden but to remove the ugliness, and then the grass gets thrown in the heap with about a hundred other weeds, to go out later in a big paper bag.

A few days ago I got to a point where I thought maybe I could finish. Well, look, you don't finish, the stuff is growing while you're digging it out, there is no need for illusory wishful thinking here. But the good news is that the weeds don't grow as fast as a motivated person can remove them. I got to where it was maybe ninety percent done, the end was in sight and I went out to finish it, but it started getting dark. This was where I got into the crickets, they were hopping all over the place while I destroyed their habitat. And as it was getting dark, I also pulled out a couple of pachysandra plants, and had to pause to put them back. I got that last jungle strip down to about two yards wide, and it was getting dark, and I kept going, and ha! With the help of a half moon I got to the end of it. I hopped down the slope with my hoe, and stood and looked at it. Not bad.

The next morning I went out and looked again, and that last couple of yards really wasn't very well done, there were lots of clumps of clover left, and dandelions that I had torn the leaves off but missed the main plant. Plus there were terrible weeds growing at the top of the slope, above where the pachysandra was planted, I had left that knowing that I could go through like an avenging angel slaughtering everything in sight, pulling up handfuls of green stuff without looking at it. There was one raspberry plant up there that I decided to leave, I do like raspberries. I also left one petunia, I have no idea how that got there but it's pretty.

Yesterday I was out doing errands, and when I came home I noticed the area facing the street. The slope I had been working on goes up to a fence, and then there is a strip about a foot wide along the sidewalk where they also planted pachysandra, and same thing. The public part of our yard was as bad as the private part had been. So I put on my gloves and stood out there in a light rain while the sun went down, pulling out the big ones and digging out the Johnson grass. When I came in I was drenched with sweat again, and sore! My legs hurt, my back, my shoulders, I think the only part of me that didn't hurt was my face.

I still need to bag some of the dead stuff. We ran out of the big paper bags, and I couldn't find any in our neighborhood, so we went over to that cool hardware store in Kensington for some lawn bags, and some other things. It looks hot out there, but I will go out and finish the part by the street and bag everything else as soon as I finish writing this, and then have a shower.

I know it's growing back, I have already had to pull up a couple of big ones that sprang up in the last week. We will have a few more weeks of summer, and I'll need to keep an eye on it until it gets cool. Eventually the pachysandra will get strong and send out runners and form a solid groundcover that will not leave any opportunity, or at least any welcome, to new weeds whose seeds happen to fall on my turf.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Two Transgender People Attacked in NW, One Dies

The Washington Post, yesterday:
Two transgender people who were stabbed Wednesday, one fatally, in Northwest Washington might have been victims of a hate crime, D.C. police said, although investigators had not determined what led to the violence.

The victims, one of whom suffered lacerations that were not considered life-threatening, were found bleeding in the 200 block of Q Street shortly after 2:30 p.m. The incident is being investigated as a possible hate crime based on "a shred of information" that detectives obtained from the survivor, said acting Lt. Brett Parsons, the department's top liaison to the city's gay community.

The surviving victim told a detective that the attacker might have used an anti-gay epithet during the incident, Parsons said. But it would be "extremely premature" for authorities to definitively classify the crime as having been motivated by the victims' gender identity, he said.

"Until we're able to do a really detailed interview with the surviving victim, I'm not sure that anyone really knows," Parsons said.

Police identified the dead victim as Joshua Mack, 21, of the 7500 block of Clinton Vista Lane in Clinton. Parsons said Mack was a biological man but was living full time as a woman, using the street name "Nana Boo." Mack was pronounced dead at Howard University Hospital.

The other victim, also a biological man living as a woman, suffered "serious lacerations" that required immediate medical treatment, Parsons said. Stabbings Probed as Possible Hate Crime - One Victim Dies; Both Identified As Transgender

I hope this event does not require any discussion, I hope there is nobody in our community who finds violent crime to be an acceptable way to express your inability to understand why someone else lives the way they do.
Detectives conducted a brief interview at the scene, Parsons said, before the surviving victim was sedated. Authorities hoped to talk more with the victim Thursday, Parsons said.

The surviving victim was a witness to the incident, and D.C. police do not publicly identify witnesses. Parsons said investigators were not completely sure of the survivor's identity.

Officers responding to a report of an assault on Q Street found a blood-soaked crime scene, Parsons said. "It was a moving scene, like the stabbing occurred at one location and the victim collapsed at another location, all within the block."

It was unclear whether a weapon was recovered.

As for Mack's wounds, Parsons said: "I can tell you, just looking at the scene, it was an artery. There was blood splashed everywhere along the block."

As is standard for D.C. police in homicide investigations, the department offered a $25,000 reward for a tip leading an arrest and conviction in Mack's killing. Police urged anyone with information about the case to call 888-919-2746 or send a text message to 50411. The department pledged to honor requests for anonymity.

If you know anything about this, if you've heard somebody bragging or saw something suspicious, please contact the authorities and tell them.

This didn't happen very far from our county, this is a local crime. If it can happen in Northwest it can happen in Montgomery County.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

PFOX Loses, Announces Great Victory

PFOX issued a press release this week that made it sound like there had been a gigantic legal breakthrough in rights for "former homosexuals," when the fact is -- they lost the case.

PFOX -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays -- is an anti-gay organization that tries to assert that people can stop being gay. They refer to such chimeric individuals as "ex-gays" and complain constantly that "ex-gays" or "former homosexuals" are discriminated against. In 2002, PFOX wanted to set up a booth at the NEA's annual convention -- the NEA being the teachers' union -- and NEA said no. They first told them there wasn't any room, but it came out they didn't want them there because they did not approve of their anti-gay propagandizing.

The PFOX press release starts like this:
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a precedent setting case, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia has ruled that former homosexuals are a protected class that must be recognized under sexual orientation non-discrimination laws. The Court held that, under the D.C. Human Rights Act, sexual orientation does not require immutable characteristics. Court Rules That 'Sexual Orientation' Laws Include Former Homosexuals

This ruling applies to the District of Columbia only. Its Human Rights Act defines sexual orientation in terms of preference and practice, and there is nothing suggesting that the antidiscrimination law applies only to "immutable" characteristics. So this judge reversed a previous ruling by saying that it is illegal in DC to discriminate against "former homosexuals" as well as current ones.

But so what? The NEA never said that PFOX couldn't set up a booth because of their sexual orientation, they said they couldn't set up a booth because NEA doesn't approve of their bigoted message. Anyway, I don't even know if there are any "ex-gays" at PFOX. Mainly they're just sad people who wish the world was different from how it is.

PFOX continues:
"We are gratified that the ex-gay community in Washington D.C. now has the same civil rights that gays enjoy," said Regina Griggs, executive director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX), which had filed the lawsuit against the District of Columbia government for failing to protect former homosexuals in the Nation's Capital.

And you know how often people discriminate against someone because they used to be gay.

They also said ...
"All sexual orientation laws and programs nationwide should now provide true diversity and equality by including former homosexuals," said Greg Quinlan, a director of PFOX. "I have experienced more personal assaults as a former homosexual than I ever did as a gay man."

Let me guess: he's more obnoxious now than when he was a gay man. Am I right?

Please tell me it is still legal to discriminate against obnoxious people. Please.

The judge's opinion can be read HERE, at PFOX's web site. It is often informative to go back to the original.

DC Superior Court Judge Maurice Ross said:
The Court affirms OHR's [Office of Human Rights] ultimate determination that PFOX's application was denied legally. In NEA’s judgment, PFOX is a conversion group hostile toward gays and lesbians. Thus, even though PFOX vehemently disagrees with NEA’s characterization, it is within NEA’s right to exclude PFOX’s presence at NEA’s conventions...

Furthermore, NEA persuasively argues that its rejection of PFOX's application was proper in light of the facts and Hurley. Indeed, the HRA [Human Rights Act] would not require NEA to accept an application from the Ku Klux Klan or a group viewed by the NEA as anti-labor union or racist... Similarly, military organizations and the Boy Scotts of America are excluded from renting exhibit space at the NEA Annual Meetings because of the positions those organizations take with regard to gay and lesbian rights. The analogy is persuasive because NEA rejected PFOX’s application not based on their personal traits, but rather because of PFOX’s mission and message. Certainly, other exhibitors at EXPO 2002 were homosexuals or heterosexuals, like the members of PFOX, but they were distinguishable from PFOX because the other exhibitors presented exhibits the NEA deemed to be agreement with its policies. Thus, PFOX’s arguments miss the point. The NEA did not reject its application because PFOX’s members include exgays, homosexuals, heterosexuals, or members of any other sexual orientation. Rather, NEA rejected PFOX’s application because PFOX’s message and policies were, in NEA’s opinion, contrary to NEA’s policies regarding sexual orientation.

I wish somebody at Montgomery County Public Schools would apply this logic. It is tragic that our public schools send this reprehensible group's literature home with students. They agreed to do this in a legal settlement agreement but that does not make it any less objectionable. PFOX's message is contrary to MCPS's policies regarding sexual orientation, too, and contrary to what is taught in the health curriculum, yet still the schools hand out their material.

I suppose PFOX is making lemonade out of lemons here. They lost their case but got a judge to agree that a law that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should include someone whose sexual orientation has changed. I have never heard of a straight person being discriminated against because of their past, but I don't think that would be a very nice thing to do.

Anti-Animal-Cruelty Leader Is Cruel to Animal

You hear people say, "Isn't it always the Mother Against Drunk Driving who gets busted driving drunk?" This is like that.
RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — An executive for an anti-animal cruelty group says her 16-year-old blind and deaf dog died after she accidentally left him in her hot car for four hours.

Robin Starr, the CEO of the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says she didn't realize "Louie" was in the car until noon. Starr's husband, Ed, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he put the dog in her car as she got ready for work Aug. 19. She often took the dog to work with her.

Robin Starr took the dog to two clinics, but he died of kidney failure.

The National Weather Service says the temperature had reached 91 degrees by noon that day.

The board of the SPCA says it still supports Starr, who has been CEO since 1997 and does not plan to resign. It was unclear whether she would be charged. Anti-animal cruelty CEO's dog dies in hot car

This fits a pattern we have seen in other domains.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On the Death of Ted Kennedy

Statement from President Obama:

Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy.

For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.

I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as President from his encouragement and wisdom.

An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time.

And the Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad.

Our hearts and prayers go out to them today--to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Report Finds the Internet is Safe

Many readers of this blog are parents, we started out discussing the sex-ed curriculum in our county's schools, we are obviously interested in the sexual information that children are exposed to. In these days of fast-as-light communication technology kids have access to chatrooms and forums, web sites and instant messages, they text one another and send pictures around, it is very difficult to control the information that is made available to your kid.

Michael Castleman, writing at the Psychology Today blog, has a view of all this that you may find interesting.
Take one newly pervasive communications medium that makes some people apprehensive. Add concern about sexual exploitation of children that makes everyone apprehensive. Stir in a few highly publicized cases of pedophiles luring innocent young kids to horrible fates via email or Facebook. Season with echoes of Hansel and Gretel. And what comes out of the oven? Full-blown hysteria that every child with an Internet connection faces substantial risk from sexual predators.

The hysteria may be real. But the actual threat is negligible.

Last year, the attorneys general of 49 states created the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to investigate sexual solicitation of children by molesters who troll for targets using sites popular with kids, among them, MySpace and Facebook. The 278-page report concluded that there's no real problem.

The task force, led by Harvard researchers, looked at reams of scientific data dealing with online sexual predation and found that children and teens were rarely propositioned for sex by adults who made contact via the Internet. In the handful of cases that have been documented-and highly publicized-the researchers found that the victims, almost always older teenagers, were usually willing participants already at risk for exploitation because of family problems, substance abuse, or mental health issues.

The report concluded that MySpace and Facebook "do not appear to have increased minors' overall risk of sexual solicitation." The report said the biggest risk to kids using social networks was bullying by other kids. Sexual Predators: NOT an Internet Threat to Kids

It is impossible for us to imagine what life is like for our children, who have grown up with digital technology and take it for granted. I was telling my kids the other day about the old cell phones we had when I was a kid, they were so big your shoulder would get tired from carrying it around. And the video games we had were so slow!

Even some of our readers might not be able to imagine the pre-Pong world.

In this new reality, people can communicate with one another anywhere at any time, they have the sense that their communications are private, text and images can be forwarded without limit, it is really a different kind of nest that they live in, the environment has an ambience that is totally different from what older adults experienced. And there are threats in that, of course, creepy people can take advantage of the curtain of anonymity that conceals participants in these huge communication structures, and can take advantage of the norms of trust that form.

We can easily imagine bad horrible things happening. But according to this study, bad things don't happen nearly as often as we think they do.

Here's a provocative point...
Not all the participating attorneys general agreed with the report's conclusions. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal charged that "thousands" of convicted sex offenders are members of social networking sites.

That may well be true, but most "convicted sex offenders" are not predators who molest children. In most states. "sex crimes" include exhibitionism, voyeurism, public urination, transvestism, even ownership of a vibrator. In addition, in some states 18-year-old men have been convicted of statutory rape, a sex crime, for having sex with their fully consenting 17-year-old girlfriends.

It is interesting to note how willing we are to imagine that the Internet is dangerous, and how reluctant we are to accept that kids today know how to handle it, and that it is a relatively safe environment. You almost feel like you're doing something wrong, just saying it.
Meanwhile, in the small number of cases where child molesters have connected with children online, most of the encounters have followed a predictable pattern: online contact, leading to telephone contact, ultimately leading to face-to-face meetings. But notice that those who are up in arms about the supposed hazards of social networking sites seem unconcerned about the key role that the telephone plays in the sexual exploitation of children. Why is that?

I think it's because the telephone is an old technology fully integrated into our culture. The Internet is still new, and kids use it more than adults, which makes many adults nervous that something nefarious must be going on. But according to the attorneys general report, next to nothing is.

Managing the Comments

Ever since the first days of this blog, there has always been at least one Anonymous rightwing troll. It's not always the same person, but they're all the same -- they almost always sign their comments as "Anonymous," and they interrupt rather than discuss, they post irrelevant assertions, they bully and insult people, and they drive the discussion off the track.

I have allowed this to happen, hoping that some good would come of it.

Some members of our commenting community have risen to the occasion, researching the origins of the anonymous trolls' assertions and providing counterarguments. This takes a lot of work, when somebody says the sky is green you can't just point at the sky and note the obvious, you have to find research explaining the blueness of the sky, and god bless them we have people here who take the trouble. Some members of the community have had fun with our trolls, mocking them and playing with them. And some members of our commenting community have complained and asked me to ban these absurd, self-absorbed mental masturbators.

I had hoped that the more reasonable members of our community would figure out how to deal with this. In a way, it's a microcosm of our national situation, where you have a handful of idiots overrunning serious discussion -- listen, what does the term "death panel" have to do with anything? Anybody who says the President is a Nazi, or a socialist, or a Muslim, or is not an American citizen, is doing just what our anonymous trolls have been doing, they are hijacking honest discussion and preventing any kind of serious progress. And how do you deal with that? I had hoped that TTF commenters would figure it out on their own. I can not tell you how many times people have asked me to ban these noisemakers, but I had hoped the community would solve the problem dynamically, self-organizing without the intervention of authority.

Basically there are two approaches to dealing with schoolyard bullies. You can punch the bully in the nose, or you can tattle to the teacher. A good teacher will refuse to intervene and will take care to look the other way when you punch the bully in the nose, and I have tried to be that good teacher here. The sad fact is that many who think of themselves as progressives or liberals are unwilling to throw a punch. It has been fascinating, and sad, to watch the discussion devolve, day after day, as some moron hijacks another thread, turning the discussion to something irrelevant to the posted topic, lying and exaggerating and misconstruing, blaming and alleging while the serious ones sit around wishing this wasn't happening, pleading with me to ban the troll.

Liberals, if you can't deal with this you are doomed. You can't manage the simplest bully on the Internet, how are you going to win any contest in the deep-pockets world of national politics? You can come up with brilliant ideas for making the world a better place, but some loudmouth will drown you out and your ideas will dissipate in time. Come up with a way to improve the health of all American citizens, and some imbecile will say there will be "death panels" and that grandma will be put to sleep if she's not productive, and guess what -- you lose.

Last night I reached my breaking point. Our current anonymous troll posted one ridiculous comment after another, copying and pasting from some stupid propaganda source for the thousandth time, and I snapped. I may have deleted some perfectly good comments, it's not like I'm going to sit there and read every word of it. If your name is "Anonymous" and you had something to say and I deleted it, I apologize and suggest you try again. You may want to pay some attention to your tone.

I don't want to moderate the comments. I like to have free discussion, but it turns out that regulation is necessary in the marketplace of ideas, too. Apparently I have to step in and delete the ridiculousness, at least until things become reasonable again. You intelligent people who comment here, don't gloat. You let stupid people frame the issues and take over the debate, just as they have at every level of our country's dialogue. You need The Man to come in and enforce some rules? Okay, I'll do it, but I am not happy about it. I am perfectly comfortable as the kick-back old hippy who lets people crash at his pad, staying up all night rapping and hanging out, but when somebody starts trashing the place I guess I'll have to get up off my bean-bag chair and throw them out.

I can turn comments off entirely, I can ban individuals, I can delete specific comments, and I can do it capriciously or arbitrarily if I want. If people want to discuss the issues, I am happy to grant total freedom to everyone, but realize, that freedom is a gift, it isn't a right. I can delete your comment or ban you for no reason at all, and believe me I won't lose any sleep over it. At this point the rule will be simple: don't piss me off.

I welcome the presence of conservative voices in our community, and will not censor anyone for expressing an opinion I disagree with. This blog has been the one place where individuals on both sides of important controversies in our county have been able to express themselves, and there have been lots of times when the two sides have grown to have some understanding of one another. I love that. You don't have to agree with me on anything, actually I wouldn't want to live in a world where everybody was like me, in more ways than one! If I have to intervene to preserve civility, then I will. I don't like to, but I will.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Whole Foods CEO Alienates Customers

The BBC has an article this morning that may interest readers of this blog. Maybe you saw that editorial by the CEO of Whole Foods the other day in the Wall Street Journal. It struck me at the time as kind of inconsistent with the Whole Foods image, and I wondered whether there would be any controversy about the article. Turns out there is. Here's the BBC:
It's the shop where wealthy American liberals buy their groceries.

But the American supermarket chain Whole Foods Market has found itself at the centre of a storm of controversy after its chief executive, John Mackey, wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal presenting a free market alternative to President Obama's proposed healthcare reforms.

Mr Mackey began his article with a quote from Margaret Thatcher and went on to add that Americans do not have an intrinsic right to healthcare - an idea strongly at odds with the views of a large proportion of Whole Foods' customer base.

The company, which has 270 stores in North America and the UK, sells organic vegetables, biodegradable washing powder and sustainable seafood to a well-heeled clientele and champions its liberal credentials. Customers call for Whole Foods boycott

Even the name: Whole Foods. It sounds like they sell happy vegetables raised by happy farmers. You shop there because you want a better quality product, not necessarily the cheapest. You want something that's good for you, and you have the expectation that food is not produced under conditions of exploitation or cruelty to animals, true or not that's just the vibe Whole Foods gives off.

It doesn't sound like a company that doesn't care if sick people can't afford a doctor.
Former Whole Foods devotees responded to Mr Mackey's article by picketing outside branches of the store in Washington DC, Maryland, New York and Austin, Texas.

Others stormed Twitter and Facebook to vent their rage and called on shoppers to boycott the store.

Russell Mokhiber led picketers outside Whole Foods' P Street store in Washington DC. He said, "I have been a Whole Foods customer for many years but I, like many former customers, am disgusted by John Mackey's stance on healthcare."

Representatives from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) labour union also picketed outside the Washington store.

"Mackey's views are totally at odds with those of the company - he has to go," said UFCW spokesperson Mark Federici.

Skipping down a little bit...
Seemingly caught off-guard by the unfolding PR crisis, Whole Foods sought to distance itself from its chief executive's comments.

"We've had a lot of emails and phone calls and people coming into our stores to talk about it," said Libba Letton, spokeswoman for Whole Foods. "Our top priority is addressing their concerns."

But public relations experts criticised the store for bungling its response.

"You have two choices: you either take a proactive approach and wade right in and sort it out or you sit back and wait," said Erica Iacono, executive editor of industry magazine PR Week. "The company seems to be taking a wait and see approach and hoping it goes away. It's a mistake."

Massachusetts-based playwright Mark Rosenthal's "Boycott Whole Foods" Facebook page has so far attracted 24,738 fans, including supporters in the UK and Canada.

Rosenthal said, "I read the article and it stunned me, the hubris of this man who has made his millions selling his products to progressives in America based on an image of caring for the community."

This is not a trivial fluff piece, BBC talked to a lot of people. It will be interesting to see if our local stores lose any business over this.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Conflicting Stories About Incident at the Tastee Diner

It's not clear exactly what happened at the Tastee Diner recently. A pair of lesbians were ... doing something ... as they paid for their late-night meal and the manager of the place ... said something. They may have just been hugging and the manager told them to leave, or they may have been friskier than that and the manager asked them to cut it out.

Whatever happened, the result was a "kiss-in" at the diner Wednesday night, the couple has filed a complaint, and the diner has released security-camera footage that they say supports their side.

Here's how NBC News has it:
SILVER SPRING, Md. -- The lesbian couple that organized last night's sit-in demonstration at Tastee Diner has filed a complaint against the restaurant.

Meanwhile, the restaurant has released surveillance video they say backs up management's decision to ask them to leave for behaving inappropriately.

Aiyi-nah Ford and Torian Brown contend the restaurant's night manager improperly asked them to leave after showing innocent affection for each other near the cashier at about 2 a.m. Aug. 12. Last night, the couple and about 40 friends staged a polite sit-in at the diner in protest.

"They had their bodies pressed and rubbed up against one another, and at one point, one of their faces goes down in the other girl's breast, and we found that to be inappropriate," General Manager John Littleton said.

The diner released several minutes of surveillance video, which it contends shows the inappropriate behavior and justifies the night manager's decision.

"If you start touching each other and going beyond the point of kissing and things start to become a little bit X-rated, we're going to ask you to stop," said Lisa Wilkes, whose family owns three popular diners. "And if you don't stop, we're going to ask you to leave."

The diner is willing to sit down with the women to discuss the incident, Littleton said. The couple said they were embarrassed and have not been offered an apology.

They do not intend to eat at the restaurant again, but they have filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations. They said the commission has opened a preliminary investigation. Lesbians Tossed From Tastee File Complaint

I live in Rockville and don't make it over to Silver Spring as often as I'd like, but I am told that TTF met at the Tastee Diner once several years ago, or ate there after a meeting. I don't really remember it, but you know what they say, memory is the second thing to go. It's one of those local places where everybody goes, it's open all night, I've never heard anybody complain about it before.

Jennifer Deseo at the Silver Spring Penguin blog has the most thorough coverage of the situation. Jennifer, I hope you don't mind if I steal some of your text ... Readers, follow the link and look around that site, the Penguin news staff works around the clock to bring you the latest scoop from the streets of Silver Spring. There's always something interesting there.
It was a same-sex love fest at the Tastee Diner Wednesday night, as gay and lesbian couples protested what they claimed was the restaurant’s objection to public displays of affection.

About 50 people huddled in booths inside the Cameron Street diner, most of them chatting, few of them eating. The quasi sit-in was sparked by one couple’s recent late-night dispute with the manager, who told them to take the cuddling outside.

Ironically, neither the amorous lesbians nor the manager differed much in their retelling of that night’s events. But there is disagreement on the degree to which certain things went down.

About one week ago (or one month ago, if you ask the diner’s owner), Aiyi’nah Ford and Torian Brown ducked into the diner for some 2:00 a.m. nosh. They paid the bill and were at the diner’s main counter while waiting to give their server a tip.

Ford described her interaction with Brown (below) as an embrace, with her girlfriend sitting on a stool as she stood. But Lisa Wilkes, whose family owns the Tastee Diner, told The Penguin that the women were doing more than that. While she wasn’t there the night of the incident, Wilkes said surveillance video showed the couple in “rated R to X” action, with one woman placing her face in the other’s “breast area” more than once. Gay couples protest restaurant’s objection to PDA

The Penguin has interview video, the two women describing their version of the story. They say there was a heterosexual couple nearby engaging in behavior that was "much more extreme" than what the women were doing. When the manager said something, they assumed he was talking to the straight couple.

The blog continues.
Whatever. Back to what everyone agreed on.

Ford and Paul Terko, the diner’s graveyard-shift manager involved in the incident, both said a heterosexual couple got hot and heavy nearby. That’s when Terko said, “Can you all take that outside?” There was no response (Ford believed Terko was addressing the heterosexual couple), so he repeated his request.

“I turned around and looked at him, and my exact words were: Are you serious? It’s 2009,” Ford said (and Terko confirmed). “He said this is a family establishment, and people are trying to eat. As if what we were doing would sicken someone.”

But Terko said he just wanted them “to stop the contact,” which he described (below) as inappropriate for a restaurant setting. He did not ask the couple to leave. (Similarly, Ford and Brown gave no indication that they were told to get out.)

There is another video of the manager talking. He says "I just asked them to stop the contact, that's all I wanted them to do. They got up and said, 'Well, they're throwing the gays out' and out the door they went."

As far as I know, Tastee Diner is not apologizing, neither side is backing down. If they can demonstrate that they interrupt all public displays of affection equally, straight and gay, then everybody just needs to go to their room and catch their breath. If it's only against the rules for same-sex couples then it's time for some education at the diner.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Proving Your Sex

There have been a couple of these lately, women who have to prove they are women. From The Guardian:
The world of athletics was hit by controversy tonight after a female South African athlete who won the 800m final at the world championships was asked to take a gender verification test to prove she is a woman.

Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old who had never competed outside of Africa, before this week aroused suspicions when she posted the fastest 800m time in the world this year, winning gold at the African junior championships.

Tonight she won the gold medal in Berlin in 1 minute 55.45 seconds, the best in the world this year, beating Janeth Jepkosgei, the defending champion, by 2.45 seconds. The British runner Jenny Meadows won the bronze medal.

Semanya, from Polokwane, Limpopo province, possesses an unusually developed muscular frame and a deep voice and has clocked times which belie her youth – tonight's winning time is more than three-quarters of a second faster than Kelly Holmes's career best. Gold medal athlete Caster Semenya told to prove she is a woman

Maybe for women's sports it is important to draw the line somewhere (I doubt there would be a problem if a woman wanted to compete in men's sports, or it would be a different kind of problem), but there is no clear variable that distinguishes one sex from the other. It's tricky, but on some level it does seem to matter if men compete in women's athletic events. I have no idea how the officials should decide in the case of an intersex athlete, and I don't know what the actual situation is with this particular athlete, she might just be a muscular woman.

On the other hand, sometimes it doesn't matter:
A Pennsylvania transgender woman has filed suit against her former employer, who she said requested a photograph of her genitalia as a condition of continued employment.

In 2007, Kate Lynn Blatt, was employed by Manpower Inc., a staffing services agency that placed Blatt at an aluminum products manufacturer for $10 per hour as a temporary factory worker. However, she was let go by the plant after a supervisor said she was not healthy enough to complete her job.

Shortly following her dismissal, Blatt returned to the Manpower office to regain employment. It was at this time that Irene Kudziela, a Manpower branch manager, said she needed to turn in a letter from her surgeon that documented her sex-reassignment surgery along with a photograph of her genitalia, which Kudziela said would solve problems related to appropriate use of restrooms and locker rooms. Trans Woman Sues Over Photo Request

Imagine if you applied for a job and they required you to bring in a picture of your genitals!

Some things are just going to have to change. Maybe it matters if a person who competes in an athletic event as a woman is "really" a woman, but I don't know how they should define that. Most people fit into one category or the other, but there are plenty of people who fall in-between. Intersex individuals may have some combination of male and female physical sex characteristics, and transgender people may simply be the opposite gender from what they appear to be based on outward evidence. I don't have the answer for athletics, I can't think of any sport where women outperform men, but women's sports can certainly be exciting, and it would spoil it if there were men on the team. On the other hand, you work in a factory, you get temp work from Manpower, why in the world would it matter?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Scalia, Thomas: Kill Him Anyway

This case is raising a few eyebrows, especially in the insight that the minority opinion gives into the thinking of the most conservative Supreme Court justices.

The question seems like a simple one: should the government execute a man who has been found guilty of a capital crime, even though later evidence reveals that he is in fact innocent? Common sense says no, you don't execute an innocent man. Justices Scalia and Thomas say, sure, kill the guy.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a federal trial court in Georgia to consider the case of Troy Davis, who is on death row in state prison there for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer. The case has attracted international attention, and 27 former prosecutors and judges had filed a brief supporting Mr. Davis.

Seven of the witnesses against Mr. Davis have recanted, and several people have implicated the prosecution’s main witness as the actual killer of the officer, Mark MacPhail.

The Supreme Court’s decision was unsigned, only a paragraph long and in a number of respects highly unusual. It instructed the trial court to “receive testimony and make findings of fact” about whether new evidence clearly established Mr. Davis’s innocence. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined the court this month, did not participate. Supreme Court Orders New Look at Death Row Case

So the Supreme Court told a lower court to look at the new evidence. That sounds like a good thing, especially when a guy's life is at stake.
The decision set off a sharp debate between Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia about Supreme Court procedure, the reach of a federal law meant to limit death row appeals and the proper treatment of claims of innocence.

“The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death,” Justice Stevens wrote in a concurrence joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, “clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing.”

Justice Scalia, in a dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the hearing would be “a fool’s errand,” because Mr. Davis’s factual claims were “a sure loser.”

He went on to say that the federal courts would be powerless to assist Mr. Davis even if he could categorically establish his innocence.

“This court has never held,” Justice Scalia wrote, “that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

You gotta love the quotes around the word "actually." Most of us operate under the assumption that defendants are actually guilty or innocent, and are not simply portrayed convincingly as one or the other by lawyers in court. The court may find incorrectly, and there may be ambiguous cases where the interpretation of the law is called into question, but usually, for instance in this case where somebody was murdered, the guy either did it or he didn't do it.

It may or may not be relevant to note that the defendant here is a black man convicted in Georgia for killing a cop. According to Wikipedia, "After the trial, seven of the nine prosecution eyewitnesses who had linked Davis to the killing recanted or contradicted their original trial testimony, claiming police coercion and questionable interrogation tactics." One of the remaining two is a possible suspect himself, and the other one identified the defendant in court two years later. Huh, interesting, "Many prominent politicians and leaders, including President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Presidential candidate Bob Barr, and former FBI Director and judge William S. Sessions have called upon the courts to grant Davis a new trial or evidentiary hearing." But Scalia and Thomas don't see any problem with executing the guy.

You remember that during the Sotomayor hearings there were complaints from the right about the question of "empathy." Conservatives argued that it was wrong to consider empathy as an important quality in a judge, they didn't want empathy, they wanted a literal reading of the Constitution.

This is what they were talking about.

You know, we could encode all the evidence from a criminal case into some kind of spreadsheet format and feed it into a computer program that had access to all laws and precedents. It could probably spit out a verdict within a few milliseconds, and that verdict would be perfectly defensible. There's a reason we don't do that. We have people decide, judges and juries, because it's better. Call it empathy if you want. Maybe it's legal to execute a man who you know is innocent, that doesn't mean we should do it.

A little more from The New York Times:
That question is indeed unresolved. In a 1993 decision, Herrera v. Collins, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court that “we may assume, for the sake of argument in deciding this case, that in a capital case a truly persuasive demonstration of ‘actual innocence’ made after trial would render the execution of a defendant unconstitutional and warrant federal habeas relief.” But the showing of supposed innocence in that case, Chief Justice Rehnquist said, fell short.

Mr. Davis reached the Supreme Court by an unusually direct route, filing an original writ of habeas corpus with the court rather than appealing from a lower-court ruling. The court has granted such petitions just a handful of times in the last century, and Justice Scalia said the court had not taken the “extraordinary step” of ordering a federal trial court to adjudicate such a petition from a state prisoner in nearly 50 years.

There is no saying whether this guy would be found guilty in a new trial without all the lying witnesses that helped get him convicted the first time around. I hardly think it's a waste of time though, considering the consequences.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Business Puts Pressure on Chief Teabagger Beck

From a Color of Change press release:
OAKLAND, Calif.—Eight more Glenn Beck advertisers, including Wal-Mart – the world’s largest retailer – have confirmed to that they pulled their ads from the controversial Fox News Channel broadcaster’s eponymous show. Allergan (maker of Restasis), Ally Bank (a unit of GMAC Financial Services), Best Buy, Broadview Security, CVS, Re-Bath, Travelocity and Wal-Mart join the dozen other companies who previously distanced themselves from Beck.

Twenty companies have pulled their ads from Beck’s show in just the last two weeks. The moves come after the Fox News host called President Obama a “racist” who “has a deep-seated hatred for white people” during an appearance on Fox & Friends. Previous companies who pulled their ads include ConAgra, GEICO,, Men’s Wearhouse, Procter & Gamble, Progressive Insurance, RadioShack, Roche, SC Johnson, Sanofi-Aventis, Sargento, and State Farm Insurance.

“We are heartened to see so many corporate citizens step up in support of our campaign against Glenn Beck,” said James Rucker, executive director of “Their action sends a clear a message to Glenn Beck: Broadcasters shouldn’t abuse the privilege they enjoy by spewing dangerous and racially charged hate language over the air. No matter their political affiliation, hate language doesn’t belong in our national dialogue.” Eight More Companies Decide to Pull Ads from Glenn Beck; Twenty Companies Have Now Pulled Advertising

Twenty companies specifically requesting that their ads not show up on the antipatriotic teabagger Glenn Beck's TV show, where he advocates rebellion against the government and has called President Obama a racist with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." I'd say that's significant.

Sure, he has the freedom to say what he says. Ironically it is not the US government that he despises cracking down on him, but market pressure.

Monday, August 17, 2009

CRW: No, I Mean Yes, Unisex Bathrooms

The City Paper had a little article last week that is generally forgettable but there is a twist down in the text. It's about the fact that people ignore the signs on public restrooms, and that in DC you aren't supposed to have signs anyway for single-stall restrooms. As any adult has noted, typically there is a line down the hallway for the ladies room even while the men's room is empty, and it is not unusual for a lady to use a stall in the men's room. Sometimes it's the other way, guys have a way of destroying the plumbing I guess, and you'll see the men's room out of order, so a man will use the ladies room. There is a certain traditional modesty involved in all this but it doesn't go very deep -- there are lots of places in Europe where men pee right along the sidewalk, there is actually nothing very lurid about it. We separate the sexes for eliminative functions out of modesty but if the situation is urgent most people don't get too freaked out if somebody uses the other room.

More relevant for our ongoing discussions, not everyone neatly fits into a gender category. Intersex individuals may have physical characteristics of both sexes, there are numerous states that a transitioning transgender person could be in, and it is often said that masculine-looking lesbians meet the most resistance of all when they try to use the ladies room. As noted, it's not any big deal if somebody uses the unexpected restroom, but if you were to force the issue you would find enough questionable cases to make unambiguous assignment impossible.

So this article describes a DC nightclub that has a blue human-sized exclamation mark on one door and a pink one on the other.
Human beings, however, do not always fit the color scheme. That raises something of a grammatical problem for [club owner] Miskinyar: Policy’s subtly gendered punctuation may be inconsistent with a little-known provision of D.C. human rights law.

Since 2006, the D.C. Human Rights Act has protected transgender men and women from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations—including restrooms. Since public bathrooms are traditionally gender-specific, gender nonconforming clientele have faced harassment, attack, and even arrest for picking the “wrong” gendered stall. Restaurants with multi-stall bathrooms segregated by gender can work to eliminate discrimination by ensuring that even when rooms are marked for ladies or gentlemen, they’re free of harassment for the spot’s gender-variant pissers.

Miskinyar says he would be happy to open his pink and blue doors to a unisex flow. “We’re in a predominantly gay neighborhood, so why not?” he says. “When it gets busy, the restrooms are effectively unisex anyway—everyone just goes straight to the first open stall.” But restaurants equipped with single-stall restrooms, like Policy, are required to go a bit further in ending discrimination—they must eliminate the gendered bathroom sign entirely. According to the regulations, “All entities covered under the Act with single-occupancy restroom facilities shall use gender-neutral signage for those facilities (for example, by replacing signs that indicate ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ with signs that say ‘Restroom’).” D.C. Bathroom Signs: Ignored By Many, Hated By Some, Expensive, and Possibly Illegal

It gets a little interesting here, as the City Paper at least seems to think that transgender people and anti-transgender people agree on this.
While local business owners and the OHR may disagree over forced redecoration, the unisex single stall is a welcome fixture for two groups that have clashed over toilet turf: transgender activists, and the people who refuse to share a restroom with them.

Last month, the D.C. Trans Coalition launched its “Pee in Peace” campaign to raise awareness about the three-year-old restroom requirements in local accommodations. For the DCTC, “Peeing in Peace” means navigating the bathroom line “without having to worry whether someone is going to assault or arrest us for using the ‘wrong’ one.”

Really, it is such a silly thing, isn't it? It's hard to imagine that the shower-nuts have actually made this an issue, whether transgender people should pee in the bathroom corresponding to the sex assigned them at birth or the one they have transitioned to.

We will remember not so long ago when the Citizens for Responsible Whatever in our county campaigned against unisex bathrooms. Here's a fuzzy picture of John Garza, one of the group's leaders, speaking in front of their famous yellow signs. The one on the left says, "NO UNISEX BATHROOMS."

But now the City Paper interviewed CRW president Ruth Jacobs, who had this to say on the subject:
Last year, the Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government launched its own awareness campaign over transgender bathroom use: the “Not My Shower” initiative. Ruth Jacobs, the group’s president, says the campaign is meant to publicize the flip-side of transgender rights—privacy infringement for “normal people.” “If somebody with an opposite body part is allowed in to a ladies’ restroom—a guy who has a penis, who could put his penis inside my vagina—what am I to do?” says Jacobs. “We need to be able to retain the right to speak up about men in our bathrooms without being labeled bigots.” Jacobs does, however, approve of the gender-neutral single-stall. “That sounds like a reasonable compromise that doesn’t cause any problems for anybody, and that’s a fine thing to do,” she says.

Please go back and read that paragraph over again, see if you can absorb the implications of it. Pause over this sentence: “If somebody with an opposite body part is allowed in to a ladies’ restroom—a guy who has a penis, who could put his penis inside my vagina—what am I to do?” says Jacobs. I'm sorry but I can't not think of something funny to say when I read that. I will stifle myself, just this one time.

It is fascinating that the Citizens for Responsible Whatever are now in favor of unisex bathrooms. Apparently it doesn't really matter if a guy who has a penis uses the same restroom as a lady with a vagina unless the door has a sign stating that the room is for women only.

Friday, August 14, 2009

RIP Les Paul

I need to say something about the passing of Les Paul, who died this week at the age of 94. Les was an old-school good guy. He loved music, he loved tinkering with the equipment, he personally, individually, out of his own compulsive creativity brought music into the age of electronics. He was an excellent guitarist and innovative inventor whose contributions to music, and especially recording, changed the ambience of our world profoundly.

I'll quote from MSNBC -- you should follow the link and read more if you are not familiar with this musical giant.
NEW YORK - Les Paul, who invented the solid-body electric guitar later wielded by a legion of rock ’n’ roll greats, died Thursday of complications from pneumonia. He was 94.

According to Gibson Guitar, Paul died at White Plains Hospital. His family and friends were by his side.

As an inventor, Paul also helped bring about the rise of rock ’n’ roll with multitrack recording, which enables artists to record different instruments at different times, sing harmony with themselves, and then carefully balance the tracks in the finished recording.

The use of electric guitar gained popularity in the mid-to-late 1940s, and then exploded with the advent of rock in the mid-’50s.

“Suddenly, it was recognized that power was a very important part of music,” Paul once said. “To have the dynamics, to have the way of expressing yourself beyond the normal limits of an unamplified instrument, was incredible. Today a guy wouldn’t think of singing a song on a stage without a microphone and a sound system.”

“Without Les Paul, we would not have rock and roll as we know it,” said Terry Stewart, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. “His inventions created the infrastructure for the music and his playing style will ripple through generations. He was truly an architect of rock and roll.”

A tinkerer and musician since childhood, he experimented with guitar amplification for years before coming up in 1941 with what he called “The Log,” a four-by-four piece of wood strung with steel strings.

“I went into a nightclub and played it. Of course, everybody had me labeled as a nut.” He later put the wooden wings onto the body to give it a traditional guitar shape.


In the late 1960s, Paul retired from music to concentrate on his inventions. His interest in country music was rekindled in the mid-’70s and he teamed up with Chet Atkins for two albums. The duo were awarded a Grammy for best country instrumental performance of 1976 for their “Chester and Lester” album.

With Mary Ford, his wife from 1949 to 1962, he earned 36 gold records for hits including “Vaya Con Dios” and “How High the Moon,” which both hit No. 1. Many of their songs used overdubbing techniques that Paul had helped develop.

“I could take my Mary and make her three, six, nine, 12, as many voices as I wished,” he recalled. “This is quite an asset.” The overdubbing technique was highly influential on later recording artists such as the Carpenters.

Released in 2005, “Les Paul & Friends: American Made, World Played” was his first album of new material since those 1970s recordings. Among those playing with him: Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Richie Sambora.

“They’re not only my friends, but they’re great players,” Paul told The Associated Press. “I never stop being amazed by all the different ways of playing the guitar and making it deliver a message.” Guitar legend Les Paul has died at 94

You want to know what's good about America, look at Les Paul, a regular guy from Waukesha, Wisconsin who did things his own way and changed the world without trying.

Abu Ghraib Torturer Was Just Playing

Hey, it was nothing, we was just joshing. Like in college, you know.
Five years after the infamous Abu Ghraib torture photos came to light, Lynndie England says the government's "softening up tactics" are acceptable ways to get information from prisoners.

In an interview with the BBC, England defends herself and fellow soldiers who posed Iraqi prisoners in degrading positions for photographs in 2004.

"Compared to what they do to us, that's like nothing," England says in the BBC video, referring to instances where Americans were decapitated, burned, dragged through the streets or hung from a bridge by insurgents. She likens the physical degradation that appears in the Abu Ghraib photos to the kinds of hazing that go on in American colleges and boot camps. Abu Ghraib Torture Was "Like Nothing"

I'm going to go out on a limb here and note a distinction between abuse of Iraqi citizens by American soldiers and abuse of American soldiers by Iraqi citizens. It's a subtle thing, but it might make a difference in how you interpret these things. The distinction is this: these events took place in Iraq. In one case, the citizens were resisting a brutal invading force, in the other, the invading force was humiliating citizens in captivity. It might not be an important distinction, but it sheds a somewhat different light on the interpretation of events, at least for me.

And, uh, just to clear this up, I went to college, in fact I graduated from several, and I don't remember being dragged around on a leash while German shepherds snapped at me, I don't remember students lying dead in puddles of blood ... Maybe in the Sociology Department, I wouldn't know, but not in Psych.
"Similar humiliation tactics and physical exertion, you know, everybody goes through that stuff in boot camp in the military," she says.

England, whose biography was published in May, has popped up in the media several times in recent months. In June, she admitted to the Associated Press that she made some bad decisions, but says she was only following orders.

"We were just pawns," she told AP. "People were just playing us."

In April, the government released Bush administration documents sanctioning "enhanced interrogation techniques," causing some to sympathize with England's claim. But Christopher Graveline, who prosecuted England, says the Iraqis in the Abu Ghraib photos were common criminals, not terrorists.

"The idea that she and her colleagues were working somehow for military intelligence is not supported by fact," he says.

Today, England spends most of her days in seclusion, rarely leaving her West Virginia house except for short trips to the grocery store. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety and worries most about being a good mother to her 4-year-old son Carter, whose father, Charles Graner, took the Abu Ghraib photos.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

MCPS Award Nominee Comments on Obama Award Recipient

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, aka PFOX, has nominated anti-gay professional Peter Sprigg for the Montgomery County, Maryland, Public School District's Award for Distinguished Service to Public Education. Peter is Vice President of Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, where he researches things you can say about gay people to make them look bad.

As the MCPS Board of Education ponders whether to give the award to Peter Sprigg, you might be interested to read Sprigg's opinion of someone who received an award this week from the President of the United States.

The President awarded sixteen Medals of Freedom to "agents of change." According to the White House web page, "America’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." One of the recipients was Harvey Milk. explains Milk's contributions:
Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk encouraged lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens to live their lives openly and believed coming out was the only way they could change society and achieve social equality. Milk, alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, was shot and killed in 1978 by Dan White, a former city supervisor. Milk is revered nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights. President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients

Other recipients were Stephen Hawking, Jack Kemp, Edward Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, Sidney Portier ... this is a lofty crowd.

It is interesting to see how our local award nominee sees the President's award:
A presidential medal based on a sex life

By Peter Sprigg

When President Obama today awards a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk, it may mark the first time in history that the nation's highest civilian award has been granted primarily on the basis of someone's sex life.

As the White House announcement explained, "Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977." Yet Milk served in that office for less than a year, so that hardly qualifies him for the Medal of Freedom. Milk was also assassinated in November of 1978. But that cannot qualify him for this award, either – San Francisco Mayor George Moscone was killed by the same assassin the same day, but he will receive no Medal of Freedom. At least lesbian Billie Jean King, who will also be honored by Obama, was a genuine tennis star.

But Milk is famous only for winning one election, being murdered – and having sex with men. In his "gay rights" stump speech, Milk once said, "Like every other group, we must be judged by our leaders and by those who are themselves gay." What can we conclude about the homosexual movement in America based on the life of Harvey Milk? I recently decided to find out by reading "gay journalist" Randy Shilts' 1982 biography of Milk, "The Mayor of Castro Street." A presidential medal based on a sex life

"Medal based on a sex life" -- that's exactly like saying Martin Luther King was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1977 based on pigmentation.

You can read Sprigg's summary of Shilts' 1982 book if you want, I'm skipping over it. Harvey Milk had gay sex and potheads voted for him, it says here. If you're interested to know how Peter Sprigg twists it, you can follow the link and see this, I'm not going to quote it because I don't want to have this kind of stinking slime on our blog.

Skipping down... Sprigg concludes ...
But in the few months that Milk actually held elective office, "Harvey left little doubt that his term would be marked more by his unique brand of political theater than by the substantive tasks of the board," according to Shilts. And that "political theater" had mostly to do with advancing the homosexual movement – in his "political will," Milk declared, "Almost everything that was done was done with an eye on the gay movement."

In other word, it was all about sex. Pro-homosexual activists will describe the issue as one of identity – "who they are." But the real issue is one of behavior – what they do. And what Harvey Milk (like other homosexual activists) wanted was not only the freedom to engage in homosexual sex, but the right to do so without ever being criticized. Milk told one audience that "it is madness to ... be ashamed of the sexual act, the act that conceived you. ..." Yet homosexual acts never conceived anyone, which is what separates them, undeniably, from heterosexual acts.

Since Harvey Milk died from an assassin's bullet, over a quarter million American men have died of AIDS, which they contracted because they had sex with other men. What's truly "madness" is that someone whose only claim to fame is that they promoted such deadly behavior should be honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Montgomery County Public Schools made a special exemption to keep the author of this article on the committee that advises them on content for the school district's sex education curriculum, after he had passed the limit of two consecutive terms. What do you think, will they give him the Award for Distinguished Service to Public Education? You can express your opinion to the school board by emailing The selections will be announced at their August 27th meeting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Nuts Rise to the National Level

I admit I am having a sort of feeling of cheerful vindication as the discourse over health care melts down into pure nuttiness. Teach the Facts first came together in late 2004 as a reaction to developments in the creation of a sex education curriculum in Montgomery County, Maryland, which in many ways presaged the current situation but on a local level. We had a situation where liberal parents and conservative parents had differing views of what sex-ed should be, most focally what should be taught about sexual orientation, just as the nation currently faces a question about the optimal extent of involvement of the federal government in health care support for individuals. But, just as the debate over health care is being shouted down by extremists, our debate over sex-ed was disrupted by a small cell of extremists making outlandish claims, misconstruing statements from the curriculum, accusing policy-makers and participants in the debate of immorality and other personality weaknesses, and it became almost impossible to discuss the issues themselves.

We heard arguments that if our school district taught students that there are variations in sexual orientation the result would be an epidemic of AIDS and the deaths of many students, followed by lawsuits that would blame the school district for the deaths and ultimately bankrupt it. We heard that gay people are dirty, disease-ridden, promiscuous, we heard that they are child molesters and that they are trying to spread their evil lifestyle to our children through the schools. People who supported the curriculum were described as "pro-promiscuity." These were simply inflammatory and derogatory lies, and did nothing to further the debate over what to include and exclude in the classroom, how to present possibly delicate information, what sources to draw on and what ones to reject, how to prepare teachers to present subjects they might not know much about.

Yesterday the blog FireDogLake had a short summary of recent disruptive events. It's an incomplete list, but you get the idea.
July 29: Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) hanged in effigy, with a sign reading "Congress: Traitors to the American Ideal."

August 3: Rep. Brad Miller's (D-NC) office gets telephone death threat warning "Miller could lose his life over this."

August 4: Teabagger urges Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) to kill himself with painkillers and alcohol.

August 4: Republican Rep. Todd Akin gets laughter and applause from a crowd of supporters by joking about his Democratic colleagues "almost [getting] lynched."

August 6: Three days after begging his viewers not to kill anybody, Fox News host Glenn Beck sets a great example by pretending to poison Nancy Pelosi's wine.

August 7: Twittering teabagger urges fellow protesters to bring guns, and also tweets that "If ACORN/SEIU attends these townhalls for disruption," (oh the irony) his fellow protesters should "stop being peaceful, and hurt them. Badly."

August 10: CNN anchor Lou Dobbs calls Howard Dean a "blood-sucking leftist" and says "you gotta put a stake through his heart to stop this guy."

August 11: Teabagger shows up at Obama townhall with a loaded gun strapped to his leg and a sign reading, "It Is Time To Water The Tree Of Liberty!" (That would be the tree that Thomas Jefferson said "must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.")

August 11: Teabagger with bullhorn at Obama's townhall yells, "Send [illegal immigrants] home with a bullet in the head" and "Read what Jefferson said about the Tree of Liberty - it's coming, baby!"

And yet, as repellent and crazy as these people are, prominent Republicans like David Vitter, House Minority Leader John Boehner, NRSC Chair John Cornyn, and NRCC Chair Pete Sessions embrace them as Patriotic Concerned Americans Speaking Their Minds And Giving Those Democrats What For...

Eliminationists ‘R’ Us

Last night I watched Chris Matthews interview the guy who brought a loaded gun to Obama's talk yesterday. The guy was articulate enough, he presented his case well enough, but the fact is, it's dumb and unnecessary to bring a loaded pistol to the President's talk. The guy said the gun is a "defensive tool," and I can relate to that, but a speech by the President is not the place where you need to be able to shoot people to defend yourself, and the risk of some crazy person bringing his gun to perform an assassination is, you might say, a serious one, especially when we hear that death threats against the President have increased four hundred percent under this administration.

Chris Matthews then interviewed a couple of guys in suits, including one from the Wall Street Journal who more or less supports the teabaggers. Matthews referred to them as "nuts," which maybe we haven't seen on a major news program before. The WSJ guy argued that the people disrupting these town hall meetings are not "nuts," but are people who are outraged by blah blah blah, and then went on to refer to the guy with the gun as a "nut."

I grew up during the waning years of the McCarthy era, but I don't really remember it. I remember being warned that Communists were everywhere, but by the time I was aware of the real world the embarrassment of the blacklists, the hearings, the accusations, was behind us. And it was an embarrassment, people looked back at those days and could not understand how it had happened, how our freedom had so broken down that the government was conducting inquisitions into people's beliefs, and tens of thousands of people were losing their jobs because they would not give the expected answer to some trick question.

That era only ended when the situation became so extreme that ordinary Americans could see what was wrong. We can cite our heroes, those brave souls who risked ostracism to speak out, but as folks at home watched the hearings on television it became clear that this was totalitarianism, pure and simple, draped in the good name of freedom. And at some moment the spell was broken, maybe when the Army's special counsel Joseph Welch said to McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" Suddenly people remembered decency, and it came back to us.

This teabagger business has been bubbling under the surface for a long time. It is not a belief system with a lot of facts behind it, it is more of a sense that our society is changing in ways that the individual can't control, the "way of life" that G. W. Bush famously invoked on 9/11/01 is dissolving into ways of life that the ordinary white guy might not understand, and because our society is free there is not much he can do to stop the progress, change is inevitable and some people are choking on it. The teabaggers' cry is "We want our country back," but it never belonged to them in the first place, the Founding Fathers did not intend to establish a lineage of overseers, they meant to create a system that was adaptive in the face of change while guaranteeing rights to individuals.

A main complaint of the disruptor movement is the cost of the interventions that are being implemented to bail the country out of recession. So far individuals' taxes have not gone up, but it is possible, and that will light a fuse that could lead to another regime change, but so far that is not in the works. The obvious question is, where were these people when the Bush administration was spending trillions of dollars to ravage Iraq? The fact that these same teabaggers supported that extravagant expense undermines their alleged outrage over the expense of salvaging a sunken economy and taking care of our own citizens.

It may seem perverse of me, but I am sort of enjoying watching the network talking heads deal with this problem that has plagued our county, and many other localities in the country, for some years at the grassroots level. The nuttiness has finally risen to the surface, and now needs to be addressed by the pundits and politicians for what it is. These corporate-supported outbursts are not furthering debate on any topic, they are an interruption of the dialogue exactly as we have experienced it in Mongtomery County. It is my hope that the country as a whole is watching, shocked at what we have become, and that a sense of decency will return as we collectively deal with these mobs.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Second Motive

Matthew Yglesias published an insightful piece yesterday, he brought out an idea I had not heard before. What we can call "Christian conservatives" have defined life to be a difficult thing to get through -- to oversimplify, you are not supposed to do a lot of things that you might like to do. This seems to me to be an important justification for their overuse of the word "family," as in Focus on the Family, American Family Association, Family Research Council, etcetera; for them, the concept of a family symbolizes the principle of resisting temptation, a family means building a monogamous relationship with someone, with offspring you love and protect, versus building ties to the world outside your household, a world that lures you with offers of sin and temptation. There is nothing wrong with families, please don't quote me as criticizing those ideals, I love my family and can think of nothing more important in the world than keeping a family together and happy. But in our day the word has become a code-word for a set of beliefs, actually a set of feelings, having to do with avoiding mundane temptation. Everybody is in favor of families, not everybody sees it the way the Family Blah Blah groups do.

The Christian right has a problem, they have a really pretty bad track record when it comes to living up to their ideals. We smirk and laugh over here in lefty-land every time another Republican gets caught having an affair, spending time with hookers, hitting on same-sex underlings, sitting with a "wide stance" in an airport men's room, because Christian conservatives have defined acceptable conduct in terms too narrow for themselves to stay within the boundaries. They talk like everyone else is weak and evil, as if the institutions of marriage and family are constantly under attack, but they themselves are not really that good at staying on the straight and narrow. Even with all the talk about resisting temptation, there is a lot of "hiking the Appalachian trail" among that cohort.

Yglesias comments that the United States is a country that’s “conservative right up until the moment that it costs us.”
I think this explains a lot about the appeal of anti-gay crusades to social conservative leaders. Most of what “traditional values” asks of people is pretty hard. All the infidelity and divorce and premarital sex and bad parenting and whatnot take place because people actually want to do the things traditional values is telling them not to do. And the same goes for most of the rest of the Christian recipe. Acting in a charitable and forgiving manner all the time is hard. Loving your enemies is hard. Turning the other cheek is hard. Homosexuality is totally different. For a small minority of the population, of course, the injunction “don’t have sex with other men!” (or, as the case may be, other women) is painfully difficult to live up to. But for the vast majority of people this is really, really easy to do. Campaigns against gay rights, gay people, and gay sex thus have a lot of the structural elements of other forms of crusading against sexual excess or immorality, but they’re not really asking most people to do anything other than become self-righteous about their pre-existing preferences. Social Conservatism Beyond the Easy Parts

This suggests a second motive for vehement anti-gay campaigning as we have seen in our county and elsewhere. The first motive, of course, is the need to suppress one's own tendencies, a man hates to find that he has "those feelings" and as he tries to deny them in himself he accuses others of failing to suppress their own feelings adequately. It must just kill some of these guys who are trying as hard as they can to live as heterosexuals, when they see openly gay people living normal lives, having friends, accomplishing things. That's gotta be hard to watch, and you can see why they'd be against that.

But this second motive is a little more subtle. With all their white-knuckle monogamy, the mandible-grinding difficulty of forgiving those who trespass against them, it must be a tremendous relief to be able to point the finger at sinners who are doing something that they themselves have no desire to do. It's easy for you not to have sex with members of your own sex, therefore those who do that are immoral beyond your capacity to imagine.

It's not an argument I have heard before: Campaigns against gay rights, gay people, and gay sex thus have a lot of the structural elements of other forms of crusading against sexual excess or immorality, but they’re not really asking most people to do anything other than become self-righteous about their pre-existing preferences. Good point.

Monday, August 10, 2009

MCPS Award for Sprigg?

Last week PFOX issued a press release saying that they were nominating Family Research Council monkey-monk Peter Sprigg for an award. They didn't say what award it was, just that he is a sterling fellow for his work toward making life better for "former homosexuals" in Montgomery County. I blogged about it and made fun of the fact that it appeared that PFOX was giving a PFOX board member a PFOX award. The press release was very poorly worded.

PFOX is Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, a sad organization that is based on the proposition that gay people can and should change their sexual orientation. Their schtick consists mainly of pretending that "ex-gays," or as they sometimes call them, "former homosexuals," e.g., straight people who used to be gay, are discriminated against by society. This perspective gives them a platform for saying nasty things about gay people and how the "gay agenda" is trying to take over our society. This is just one front in the attack on gay rights, and in reality over the years PFOX has become isolated from the broader rightwing crusade as the others have come to see them as an ineffective band of crackpots.

Our friend Alvin McEwen is an author and blogger down in South Carolina who has been an active member of our online community for a long time and is getting to be quite well known for his relentless investigations of the anti-gay industry. Alvin was the one who first brought the PFOX announcement to our attention, he posted it to the TTF Yahoo group. I blogged about it here, and it was not clear what kind of award this was that they were nominating him for.

Alvin wrote about the nomination on his blog Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters. If you aren't sure who Peter Sprigg is, Alvin explains in his usual thorough way with references, links, video. There has also been quite a bit of discussion on the TTF Yahoo group about this.

Curious about the award, Alvin did the sensible thing and emailed Regina Griggs at PFOX and asked her what award it was. He found out that PFOX has nominated Peter Sprigg for an award by the school district for Distinguished Service to Montgomery County Public Schools.

The discussion at our Yahoo group has focused on communicating with the school board, who will make the decision about the award. Peter Sprigg is an anti-gay professional, he is someone who makes his living speaking and writing against gay people, pushing negative stereotypes as facts and promoting laws and policies to make their lives harder. MCPS already passes PFOX flyers out to students four times a year, and they made a special exemption to keep Peter Sprigg on the citizens advisory committee for another term. We are a liberal county, and these are elected officials, and I'd say they're on thin ice already with this situation. The school board may feel that if they give Sprigg an award they will hush criticism from the extreme right.

If you would like to express your opinion, pro or con, about awarding Peter Sprigg the MCPS award for distinguished service to our schools, you can contact the MCPS Board of Education at That email address goes to all the board members and relevant staff at the school district.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Obama Health Plan is Evil: Palin

Former governor Sarah Palin has finally published her analysis of the Obama health care proposal. She and her advisors have rated the plan Evil, especially due to the fact that sick people will have to "stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care."
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin says President Obama's plan to overhaul health care is evil.

The former Republican vice presidential candidate posted her thoughts Friday on Facebook.

Palin says in the America she knows, people won't have to "stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care."

She says such a system is "downright evil."

An e-mail sent to Palin's spokeswoman confirming authorship was not immediately returned.

Palin resigned as Alaska governor July 26. She promised to speak out on issues but has largely been silent on both Facebook and Twitter since resigning. Palin says Obama's health care plan is 'evil'

Obama's death panel. That is good. Really really stupid people will buy this, no problem.

Oh, by the way, you can read the details of the evil plan HERE.


The phone rang. It was a recording. A young man's voice said:
Press one if you want to hear a message about capitalism.

Halfway curious, I pressed 1. He said something like this:
This country was founded on the principles of small government and letting people follow their dream. Keep capitalism alive.

That was the whole thing.

All I can think is that by pressing "1" I somehow gave away my identity or something, authorized somebody to bill their phone calls to my number, I don't know, it might have been a scam of some sort. Is it possible that somebody is calling people at random to tell them to "keep capitalism alive?" Who are they for? Who are they against? Is capitalism dying?

In a competitive free market you'd get a better robo-call than that.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The APA's Recommendations

I have just read the APA's report, and also the Wall Street Journal's amazing interpretation of it: A New Therapy on Faith and Sexual Identity. The WSJ says, "... in a striking departure, the American Psychological Association said Wednesday that it is ethical -- and can be beneficial -- for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions." The article is a piece of work, full of misconstruals -- I expect we will hear a word from Wayne Besen before the day is over, addressing the way he was quoted there. I was going to tear into it but decided to take a different approach. It doesn't matter what the Wall Street Journal says, what matters is the APA's statement. Let me just copy and paste the resolution at the end of the APA's report. This is the resolution that the committee who did the research wants the APA membership to adopt (I have taken all the parenthetical citations out for readability -- the original is HERE).

WHEREAS, The American Psychological Association expressly opposes prejudice (defined broadly) and discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic status;

WHEREAS, The American Psychological Association takes a leadership role in opposing prejudice and discrimination, including prejudice based on or derived from religion or spirituality, and encourages commensurate consideration of religion and spirituality as diversity variables;

WHEREAS, Psychologists respect human diversity including age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status and psychologists strive to prevent bias from their own spiritual, religious, or non-religious beliefs from taking precedence over professional practice and standards or scientific findings in their work as psychologists;

WHEREAS, Psychologists are encouraged to recognize that it is outside the role and expertise of psychologists, as psychologists, to adjudicate religious or spiritual tenets, while also recognizing that psychologists can appropriately speak to the psychological implications of religious/spiritual beliefs or practices when relevant psychological findings about those implications exist;

WHEREAS, Those operating from religious/spiritual traditions are encouraged to recognize that it is outside their role and expertise to adjudicate empirical scientific issues in psychology, while also recognizing they can appropriately speak to theological implications of psychological science; [ Footnote: We use the term sexual minority to designate the entire group of individuals who experience significant erotic and romantic attractions to adult members of their own sex, including those who experience attractions to members of both their own and the other sex. This term is used because we recognize that not all sexual minority individuals adopt an LGB bisexual identity.]

WHEREAS, The American Psychological Association encourages collaborative activities in pursuit of shared prosocial goals between psychologists and religious communities when such collaboration can be done in a mutually respectful manner that is consistent with psychologists’ professional and scientific roles;

WHEREAS, Societal ignorance and prejudice about a same-sex sexual orientation places some sexual minorities at risk for seeking sexual orientation change due to personal, family, or religious conflicts, or lack of information;

WHEREAS, Some mental health professionals advocate treatments based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental disorder;

WHEREAS, Sexual minority children and youth are especially vulnerable populations with unique developmental tasks who lack adequate legal protection from involuntary or coercive treatment and whose parents and guardians need accurate information to make informed decisions regarding their development and well-being; and

WHEREAS, Research has shown that family rejection is a predictor of negative outcomes and that parental acceptance and school support are protective factors for sexual minority youth;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association affirms that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association reaffirms its position that homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder and opposes portrayals of sexual minority youths and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association encourages mental health professionals to avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts by promoting or promising change in sexual orientation when providing assistance to individuals distressed by their own or others’ sexual orientation;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association concludes that the benefits reported by participants in sexual orientation change efforts can be gained through approaches that do not attempt to change sexual orientation;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association concludes that the emerging knowledge on affirmative multiculturally competent treatment provides a foundation for an appropriate evidence-based practice with children, adolescents and adults who are distressed by or seek to change their sexual orientation;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association advises parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association encourages practitioners to consider the ethical concerns outlined in the 1997 APA Resolution on Appropriate Therapeutic Response to Sexual Orientation, in particular the following standards and principles: scientific bases for professional judgments, benefit and harm, justice, and respect for people’s rights and dignity;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association encourages practitioners to be aware that age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, disability, language, and socioeconomic status may interact with sexual stigma, and contribute to variations in sexual orientation identity development, expression, and experience;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association opposes the distortion and selective use of scientific data about homosexuality by individuals and organizations seeking to influence public policy and public opinion and will take a leadership role in responding to such distortions;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association supports the dissemination of accurate scientific and professional information about sexual orientation in order to counteract bias that is based in lack of knowledge about sexual orientation; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association encourages advocacy groups, elected officials, mental health professionals, policy makers, religious professionals and organizations, and other organizations to seek areas of collaboration that may promote the wellbeing of sexual minorities.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

APA: Insufficient Evidence That Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Work

The American Psychological Association issued a press release today called Insufficient Evidence That Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Work, Says APA. Not tough to figure out what it's about:
TORONTO—The American Psychological Association adopted a resolution Wednesday stating that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.

The "Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts" also advises that parents, guardians, young people and their families avoid sexual orientation treatments that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and instead seek psychotherapy, social support and educational services "that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth."

The approval, by APA's governing Council of Representatives, came at APA's annual convention, during which a task force presented a report that in part examined the efficacy of so-called "reparative therapy," or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).

"Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation," said Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD, chair of the task force. "Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions." Glassgold added: "At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions. Yet, these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted or its long-term mental health effects. Also, this result was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex."

Based on this review, the task force recommended that mental health professionals avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts when providing assistance to people distressed about their own or others' sexual orientation. Insufficient Evidence That Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Work, Says APA.

Four times a year our county's school district distributes flyers to students, propagating the false belief that "change is possible" and that gay students can and should become straight. It is time for them to stop doing that. The sponsoring organization, PFOX, is a nonprofit, which qualifies their literature for distribution, but the information they propagate does not meet the standard that our educational institutions need to adhere to. This report should seal it. The psychological therapy that PFOX endorses does not work, according to the American Psychological Association, and the school district should have no part in telling any part of PFOX's lie to Montgomery County students.

Skipping down a little bit...
As to the issue of possible harm, the task force was unable to reach any conclusion regarding the efficacy or safety of any of the recent studies of SOCE: "There are no methodologically sound studies of recent SOCE that would enable the task force to make a definitive statement about whether or not recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom," according to the report.

"Without such information, psychologists cannot predict the impact of these treatments and need to be very cautious, given that some qualitative research suggests the potential for harm," Glassgold said. "Practitioners can assist clients through therapies that do not attempt to change sexual orientation, but rather involve acceptance, support and identity exploration and development without imposing a specific identity outcome."

As part of its report, the task force identified that some clients seeking to change their sexual orientation may be in distress because of a conflict between their sexual orientation and religious beliefs. The task force recommended that licensed mental health care providers treating such clients help them "explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation, reduce the stigma associated with homosexuality, respect the client's religious beliefs, and consider possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and rewarding life."

"In other words," Glassgold said, "we recommend that psychologists be completely honest about the likelihood of sexual orientation change, and that they help clients explore their assumptions and goals with respect to both religion and sexuality."

And when they say "be completely honest about the likelihood of sexual orientation change," they mean, "tell them it won't happen."

A copy of the task force's report may be obtained at

Southerners Buy It

I just came across this interesting graph HERE. What do you make of it?

What Award?

There is some ambiguity about this award nomination announcement, you might say. First the press release, from PFOX:
PFOX Director Nominated for Award for Distinguished Service to Public Education
Contact: Regina Griggs, Executive Director, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX), 804-453-4737,

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Maryland, Aug. 4 /Christian Newswire/ -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) has nominated Peter Sprigg for recognition of his service to public school education in Montgomery County, Maryland.

As a member of the Board of Directors of PFOX, Sprigg represents the ex-gay community and families of same-sex attracted children before the Montgomery County, Maryland, Board of Education.

For the past four years, Mr. Sprigg has served on the school board's Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. The 15-member Committee consults with professional educators within the public school system in developing and evaluating the student sex education curriculum.

Mr. Sprigg has spoken out in favor of including former homosexuals in the county's "Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality" school lessons. These lessons promote tolerance of homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, cross-dressers, and the intersexed, yet failed to include ex-gays, which is the only disfavored group within the public school system. Without Sprigg, the ex-gay community and parents would not have a voice in the public schools.

Mr. Sprigg also enabled public school staff to promote a positive learning environment that holds mutual respect for others by participating in PFOX's flyer distribution program. PFOX distributed flyers to every high school student in the Montgomery County public schools urging the elimination of bias and prejudice against former homosexuals and their supporters. Students also received factual information on sexual orientation and resources on alternatives to homosexuality.

PFOX congratulates Peter Sprigg for his groundbreaking achievements in the public school system.

Visit for information about the ex-gay community.

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) promotes an inclusive environment for the ex-gay community, and educates youth with factual information about same-sex attractions.

Peter Sprigg, you should know, is the Senior Fellow for Research Studies at the Family Research Council. I consider him to be one of the more dangerous nuts in our county, because he is a smooth talker with a sophisticated speaking style, if you don't go back and look up his citations you might believe he is citing actual research. He is a high-profile anti-gay and anti-transgender professional.

I once heard Sprigg announce in a speech that he himself is not "ex-gay." He referred to himself as an "everstraight," whatever that is supposed to mean. Even so, he was appointed in 2005 to serve on the Montgomery County Public Schools' Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development as the representative of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, which should be PFOX-GAG), as part of a legal settlement agreement. I was, for four years, the Teach the Facts representative. This summer our appointments ran out and MCPS granted a special exemption to Peter Sprigg to allow him to remain on the committee, now as a private citizen, not representing any group.

PFOX exists to convince gay people that they can and should stop being gay. They incessantly talk about "former homosexuals," as in this press release, as if people can decide to change their sexual orientation. They talk about the "ex-gay community," as they do here, implying that such a community exists. Their big assertion is that "ex-gays" are discriminated against by the rest of us. In reality PFOX is a sad organization headed by a woman with a gay son. Even the other "ex-gay" groups dissociate themselves from PFOX, it is an extremist organization grounded in a dream world of bitterness and disappointment.

Besides re-appointing Peter Sprigg to the citizens committee after his term had expired, MCPS sends PFOX flyers home with schoolchildren four times a year.

But here's the question: what-in-the-world "award" is this?

I think what is happening here is that PFOX is nominating one of their directors for an award that they themselves will give him, making this not only circular but a very tight circle. Peter Sprigg is essentially giving himself an award.

It looks like this meaningless press release has been propagated, according to Google, to a couple hundred web sites so far. Granted, a couple -- Pam, Alvin -- are critical, but most simply copied the whole thing and published it.

[Update: Alvin McEwen wrote to PFOX's Regina Griggs, who told him that Peter Sprigg was nominated for the Montgomery County, MD Public School's Award for Distinguished Service to Public Education.]

Monday, August 03, 2009

Instructions for Disruption

Almost four years ago we talked here on this blog about "the third group," which made dialogue between liberal and conservative members of the community nearly impossible. As we worked on a new sex education curriculum for our community, it was clear that some parents would prefer a more direct, factual, thorough approach, while others would prefer modesty, understatement, and leaving the bulk of sex education to parents. These two views can be discussed, boundaries can be negotiated, and the school district could have worked out a curriculum that was satisfactory to both groups.

But there was a "third group." The third group doesn't want communication, it wants disruption. The third group is so sure that its own views are correct that they feel it is their right -- they feel it is their responsibility -- to interrupt discourse between serious participants. It isn't just our community or our controversy, a perfect example of this strategy at work can be seen HERE, where a crowd disrupts a talk by a Congressman to assert that the President is not a native born American.

A memo has emerged, instructing these "third groups," aka teabaggers, birthers, etc., in how to take the discourse off course. It explains how to infiltrate a town hall meeting, ask off-topic questions, shout out comments during a speaker's talk, how to get the press to report on them instead of the actual presentation. Four years ago they had not fixated on the "socialist agenda" as the object of their hatred, our local nuts were concentrated on the "gay agenda," but whatever, the same, the point is that there is an evil conspiracy that must by opposed by nonsensical noise-making, misconstrual, and disruption.

Think Progress has a pdf of the memo. Here is a transcription of the text of the memo itself, there are news articles attached which I did not transcribe.

This is not news, the memo has been online for a few days, but this element seems focally important to understanding how political policy has deteriorated in this country. I'm sure there are some typos in this, I will try to fix them if I see them.
Political Action Memo
We in Fairfield County Connecticut conducted an action at Congressman Jim Himes's Town Hal] meeting in May 2009. We believe there are some best practices which emerged from the event and our experience, which could be useful to activists in just about any district where their Congressperson has supported the socialist agenda of the Democrat leadership in Washington.

Our objective was to "pack the hall" with as many of our people ready to challenge the Congressman, put him on the defensive, and give him a reality check from we-the-people. We were successful in organizing about 30 people and we spread out among the crowd of about 150 people in the hall. We used some techniques early on which immediately made Himes uncomfortable, and several of us got our chance at the microphone to ask questions. Himes clearly left the hall staggered, as the meeting, billed as a progress report for his economic solutions, clearly did not go as he had planned.

We humbly submit the following as a potential playbook to conduct similar events to achieve similar outcomes in most any targeted district.

Organize for Success
  • Alert people in the district to watch for the first announcement of a Town Hall- there may be as little as a week's notice. Have a central person advised so that the alert can be distributed to as many potential supporters as possible.
  • The organizer should go to and obtain the Rep's voting record. It can be copied, pasted into Word, cleaned up, highlighted and readied for distribution.
  • Questions should be prepared. Most pols are pros at deflecting off-the-cuff questions. The questions should contain facts and numbers (which are embarrassing and damning to the Rep and his voting record). They can run up to five sentences or so - you will not be cut off at that length. The questions should put the Rep on the defensive and demand a specific answer. Also, anticipate the evasive, deflective answer and be prepared with a quick follow-up. The questions should personalize the Rep e.g. why did YOU vote for a budget that immediately carried with it a $1.7 trillion deficit? Use the Alinsky playbook of which the Left is so fond: freeze it, attack it, personalize it, and polarize it. You only need to distribute five or six well constructed questions. There are some questions attached here which apply to most any Democrat that is supporting the Socialist agenda.
  • The voting record and questions and any relevant articles which would Place the Congressman on the defensive should be distributed to all indicating a willingness to attend. People should be asked to meet in the parking lot of the hall a half hour before the scheduled start.
  • Should you seek visibility for your group voicing opposition to the Rep's voting record and agenda , you could schedule a press conference 20 minutes before the Town Hall is scheduled to begin. Write and distribute a press release to local newspapers and TV. Have someone available to read a prepared statement and answer questions. We actually issued the press release and were prepared for the conference. However, the media were following Himes and did not show up until the Town Hall started. We distributed the statement to some of the people arriving at the hall. Copies of both the press release and our statement are attached here.

Meet and Deploy
  • The team should meet outside the hall with voting record and questions distributed. Everyone should be asked to use one ofthe questions or a similar one that boxes in the Rep. The team should also be advised to spread out inside the hall but should try to get seats in the front half. The Rep wIll inevitably start picking people toward the front.
  • The use of protest signs outside is an option if people bring them. However, those without signs should go in the hall early enough to get good seats. Those wanting the Rep to see the signs will end up entering the hall at the last minute and will likely end up in the back with less chance to be picked for a question. Do not bring the signs into the hall if you want any chance to be picked for a question.

Inside the Hall
  • Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington. They need to leave the hall with some doubts about their agenda. The other objective is to illustrate for the balance of the audience that the national leadership is acting against our founders' principles which are on the other side of the debate - and show them that there are a lot of solid citizens in the district who oppose the socialist approach to the nation's challenges. We want the independent thinkers to leave the hall with doubts about the Democrat solutions continually proposed by the national leadership.
  • You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early. If he blames Bush for something or offers other excuses -- call him on it, yell back and have someone else tallow-up with a shout-out. Don't carry on and make a scene - just short intermittent shout outs. The purpose is to make him uneasy early on and set the tone for the hall as clearly informal, and free-wheeling. It will also embolden others who agree with us to call out and challenge with tough questions. The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.
  • When the formal Q&A session begins get all your hands up and keep them up -- be persistent throughout the entire session. Keep body language neutral and look positive to improve chances of being selected. When called on, ask a specific prepared question that puts the onus on him to answer. It can be a long question including lots of statistics/facts. You wi1l not be interrupted from reading a solid question. If you ramble on too long without a focus, you will be stopped. After the Rep answers, or more likely diverts or dodges, be prepared with a follow-up -- take the initiative and you will be able to follow-up. The balance of the group should applaud when the question is asked, further putting the Rep on the defensive. If the Rep tries a particularly odious diversion, someone from the group should yell out to answer the question. These tactics will clearly rattle the Rep and illustrate some degree of his ineptness to the balance of the audience.

In Summary
When the session ends, those who asked effective questions should seek out any press remaining at the hall, providing their names for attribution -- you may be quoted in the press article. If the gameplan above is implemented the resulting impact will likely be:
  • A Rep and his staff set back on their heels, recognizing that people in their district can see past the charade and are angry about the socialist agenda, infringement of our liberties, and profligate spending. After a couple of these sessions one of the weaker ones may consider swaying from the party voting line.
  • Audience members expecting business-as-usual go home recognizing that many of their neighbors oppose the agenda, see the dire financial impact, and see a Rep exposed to some degree as a charlatan, and put on the defensive.
  • Articles appearing in the local press will amplify the above points to the local community, rather than being puffpieces for the local Representative. Two local newspaper articles about the Himes Town Hall are also attached.

We believe we achieved the desired impact with a modest amount of planning and the dedication of only a few hours to attend the event. We will be traveling the state to provide a similar reality-check for all five of the Reps, and of course Chris Dodd. Just imagine what we can achieve if we see to it that every Representative in the nation who has supported the socialist agenda has a similar experience!

In liberty,
Bob MacGuffie

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sunday: Fly Fishing

I am writing this from a tiny room in a motel outside Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where I have come to fly fish for trout. We are in a beautiful region of the Appalachian Mountains, with shallow limestone streams everywhere, and, they say, the best trout fishing in the country.

When I was trying to get fly-fishing gear in Montgomery County I discovered that nobody stocks the stuff except for one (expensive) specialty shop in Bethesda. There are fly streams near us, but most people don't bother with it. It's tricky to learn, and a hard way to catch fish, but satisfying in a unique way. I will assume here that you know nothing about fly fishing.

I am fishing with artificial flies, which are essentially fish hooks with bits of feather and fur wrapped around them. Most of them are very tiny -- I bring my reading glasses with me when I do this! Some of the patterns of the flies are ancient, there are particular very specific ways to tie them -- the royal coachman, for instance, has white wings, a body made of peacock herl with a waist of red thread, and a tail that is made from a particular pheasant feather. Most flies are designed to look like the variety of mayfly that is hatching on the stream at the moment, and as there are hundreds of varieties there are of course thousands of imitations. Further, the fly may be tied to imitate the nymph stage of the mayfly after it hatches underwater, the mature fly as it dries its wings on the surface preparing to fly, or the "downwing" stage of the mayfly's short life, after it has completed its mating cycle and fallen back into the water to die. Some flies don't really look like anything from nature, but fish think they look good to eat.

The thing with artificial flies is that they don't really weigh anything, not much more than the hook itself. If you've fished you know that you usually cast by swinging your rod and letting the weight of the bait or the lure carry your line out over the water toward your target. In fly fishing you can't do that because the fly is essentially weightless, so you use a special line that is thick and heavy (but usually one that floats), with the fly tied to a long length of very thin monofilament so the fish won't notice it, and you wave your heavy line in the air over your head, back and forth, finally letting go on a forward stroke so the fly will gracefully land on the water without a splash, to be grabbed by a big fish.

Sometimes the fly lands on the water and no big fish takes it. That happened to me yesterday. Oh well, as we say, it beats working.

Fly fishermen tend to wade out into a stream, partly so there is room behind them to wave the line in the air, and partly because most of us can't cast more than thirty or forty feet, and you might want to get closer to the fish. These streams up here are perfect for wading, the bottom is rocky but even, where I was the water came up around my knees in most places, you wear waders of some sort to keep you dry and that technology works pretty well.

There are so many miles of good streams here and so few fishermen that it is easy to find a spot, even on a Saturday afternoon, all to yourself. I was able to stand in the middle of a beautiful stretch of Spring Creek called Benner Spring, with no one else around to scare the fish -- it was my pleasure to scare the fish entirely on my own. Hiking in, there were bunnies along the path, and squirrels, herons flying overhead. I saw a beautiful scarlet cardinal preening in a sunbeam, and while I was fishing a kingfisher came speeding along, following the water. There are bald eagles in the area but I have not seen any yet.

And of course the fish. There is no happier sound than that of a big fat trout jumping out of the water. Serious authors will tell you the trout is only interested in acquiring nourishment so it can reproduce; I recently read an article that seriously explained that they are not curious, they don't get angry, the only reason they will take your lure is that they want to eat. But I'll tell you, a fish could easily schlurp an insect off the surface of the water, minimizing its energy expenditure, maximizing its caloric profit. Instead, he races to the surface of the stream, grabs the bug in his jaw, and keeps going, flying out of the water and landing again with a big splash. I have to believe he's doing that for the pure fun of it. And, you know, to taunt me.

I didn't catch any fish yesterday, and doubt I will on this trip. I usually don't. I will pay a lot of money for special lines, reels, rods, lures, leaders, a vest, waders, polarized glasses, an out-of-state fishing license. I will gladly throw my stuff in the car and drive with my wife for nearly four hours (which became closer to six, but you don't want to hear about how disorganized I am) to stay in a cheap hotel and eat bad food for the thrill of waving a string in the air on the end of a stick for a few hours while fish jump out of the water all around me. I shouldn't joke, standing knee-deep in a gurgling mountain stream with birds singing and the occasional early autumn leaf catching your eye as it drifts to the water is worth doing. I pity the rest of you, back home in the suburbs.

I began fishing when I was about thirty, for one reason. All my life, I had recurring dreams of fish in the water. I never caught the fish, but I would be traveling to a body of water that had special fish, or I would be standing alongside a pool looking into the water for fish, or a fish would be pulling me somewhere. These are mysterious forces that you can't really see but you know they're there, and to catch them you've got to make them come to you.

Because of my dreams, which I had several times a week for as long as I can remember, I started fishing. I had a friend who fished for bass and I started going out on the boat with him, but I quickly became interested in catching trout on a fly. Okay, I'll tell you the connection, but you won't get it. My beard was turning gray, so I decided to shave it off and start fly-fishing. It all goes together somehow, I'm not going to try to understand it, it was a change in my life and I can't really see anything wrong with it, except that it doesn't make any sense. As if it would be sensible to live your life sensibly.

The water in California where I lived then is different from the water out here. Picture a Western mountain range, the Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevadas, and then picture an Eastern mountain range. They are geologically different, the water runs down them differently. The forests are different, the ground feels different, they smell different. Fly-fishing grew up in the Eastern United States, well I think it was a Scottish thing first, and though they fly-fish a lot in Montana and Idaho, the classic streams are out here on this side of the country. The flies match these hatches, the techniques are better adapted to these clear rippling streams than to the steeply tumbling roils of icy rapids you find out West. With kids and everything I neglected my fly-fishing over the years, I took the kids fishing plenty but it's not the same, you're untangling their lines and baiting their hooks, and I've only just picked it up again. Life has brought me to the East and now it is a pleasure to come up here to the traditional fly-fishing land to fish in the kinds of streams I always read about.

Oh hey, you should see this motel! There are no live insects in the room, as far as I can see, but this place struggles to meet a minimum standard. There is a bed, a toilet, a shower, a TV, which makes it better than sleeping in the car. And it's cheap. I have never seen a toilet like this. When you pull the handle to flush it, it explodes with a sound like a 747 firing up its engines, no matter how you brace yourself you are not prepared for that sound. The shower produces nearly enough water to wash the soap suds off your skin, management has devised some clever method for not wasting water, though customers here are probably recognizable to the townfolk for our distinctive olfactory aura. And this tops it off, this was cool, facing the motel there is a house with a garage where they keep the door open, and a heavy metal band practices, as far as I can tell, about twenty hours a day. I'm sure they're good, if good means something like "persistent." I wonder if the woman who runs this place pays them to ensure vacancy.

We have breakfast in a cafe where the whole family waits tables and cooks, and last night we sat in the "Hofbrau," which is these days a pizzeria but they didn't want to change the name, and had a beer and talked with the bartender, a college student at a little college around here. Bellefonte seems not to be a big tourist destination, though it is a beautiful little place with great scenery and excellent trout fishing, and I believe there are numerous bed and breakfast places here. The town is known for its Victorian buildings, this is an old town and you get a certain feeling from these big old churches and towering homes and offices. You don't see horses on the street but it wouldn't surprise you if you did.

I'll be back in a couple of days. I can tell you, since I came here I have not wondered once where the President was born. I'm not even sure this town has a newspaper, if they do I have not seen a rack or seen anyone reading it. Like Spring Creek (pronounced "crick") running along Water Street and out to Bald Eagle State Forest, time passes through Bellefonte and just keeps going.