Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is There Such a Thing as Going Too Far?

See what you think about these turns of events.

From John L. Perry's article on the conservative site NewsMax:
There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America's military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the "Obama problem." Don't dismiss it as unrealistic.

America isn't the Third World. If a military coup does occur here it will be civilized. That it has never happened doesn't mean it won't. Describing what may be afoot is not to advocate it. So, view the following through military eyes:
  • Officers swear to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Unlike enlisted personnel, they do not swear to "obey the orders of the president of the United States."
  • Top military officers can see the Constitution they are sworn to defend being trampled as American institutions and enterprises are nationalized.
  • They can see that Americans are increasingly alarmed that this nation, under President Barack Obama, may not even be recognizable as America by the 2012 election, in which he will surely seek continuation in office.
  • They can see that the economy, ravaged by deficits, taxes, unemployment, and impending inflation, is financially reliant on foreign lender governments.
  • They can see this president waging undeclared war on the intelligence community, without whose rigorous and independent functions the armed services are rendered blind in an ever-more hostile world overseas and at home.
  • They can see the dismantling of defenses against missiles targeted at this nation by avowed enemies, even as America's troop strength is allowed to sag.
  • They can see the horror of major warfare erupting simultaneously in two, and possibly three, far-flung theaters before America can react in time.
  • They can see the nation's safety and their own military establishments and honor placed in jeopardy as never before.
So, if you are one of those observant military professionals, what do you do?
John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Obama Risks a Domestic Military "Intervention"

[ Late note: AmericaBlog points out two things. First, NewsMax is sponsored by the Republican Party, so this was no rogue lunatic, this was the Party line. Second, NewsMax has taken this particular article off the Internet. I don't think they intended for it to get attention outside their base. ]

There were some characters in the text that my browser could not interpret, apparently commas, quotation marks, etc., and I took my best guess at them.

The USA has, in general, a two-party political system, and at any point in time one party has the Presidency, one has a majority in the Senate, one has the House -- they may all be the same party, as currently or during the previous administration, or they can be split up. What can you say? When one party has both houses of Congress and the Presidency, things look grim for the other party. It's frustrating. You have to campaign extra hard in the next election.

Or if you are, at heart, one of those antipatriots who hates the American way of life and the law as it is inscribed in the Constitution, you might recommend a military coup or armed insurrection by citizens.

There was a big conference last weekend called the "How To Take Back America Conference," co-chaired by the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly, a supporter of our county's Citizens for Responsible Whatever. Speakers included Governor Mike Huckabee, "Joe the Plumber," U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Steve King, R-Iowa, Tom McClintock, R-Calif., Dr. Tom Price, R-Ga., and Three-Star General Jerry Boykin.

One speaker at the conference was Eagle Forum's Kitty Werthmann, leading a workshop called “How to recognize living under Nazis & Communists.” She said:
Now, if we had had dictatorship, dictatorship overnight, and had we had our guns, we would have fought a bloody battle to the last person. So, keep your guns, and buy more guns, and buy ammunition. [audience applauds] Take back America. Don’t let them take the country into Socialism. And I refer again, Hitler’s party was National Socialism. [...] And that’s what we are having here right now, which is bordering on Marxism. Conservative Activist Explains How To Recognize Living Under Nazism

I think there will always be extremists, I can remember the John Birchers back in the day, they never actually went away. In a free country they are granted the right to speak out, and I suppose these kinds of people express the sentiments of a constant but small proportion of the population. They distrust government -- well, hey, I distrust government! But I distrust anarchy more. And I cannot think of a better system than the one we have, where the people elect representatives every few years and let them work it out. When the majority rules, by definition the really exceptionally best (and worst) opinions will be ignored, everything will tend toward mediocrity, toward the middle, that's just the way it works. Extremism from both ends of any continuum typically gets washed out. It's not pretty, but it's the best system the human race has come up with so far, and for the last couple hundred years it's worked pretty well.

It's possible that the Republican Party, by whipping up the frustration of working white people who feel they are losing control of the country, can win the next election. That's a plan, maybe that's what's going on here. But when you're telling people to arm themselves, when you're talking about the military rebelling against the elected government, you're in some scary rhetorical territory, it seems to me. Nancy Pelosi's words sounds very reasonable:
"I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made, understanding that -- that some of the people -- the ears it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Iowa Poll on Same-Sex Marriage: Interesting Mix of Results

Iowa legalized same-sex marriages this April, and the state is really in a kind of transition, they are ahead of the curve as far as states granting the same marriage rights to all citizens, but at the same time the controversy is swirling around them, anti-gay forces are fighting against marriage in several states and the propaganda gets thick at times. So you find an interesting mix of attitudes among Iowans. From The Des Moines Register:
Iowans are almost evenly divided about whether they would vote for or against a constitutional amendment to end marriage for same-sex couples, according to The Des Moines Register's new Iowa Poll.

Forty-one percent say they would vote for a ban, and 40 percent say they would vote to continue gay marriage. The rest either would not vote or say they are not sure.

The most intensity about the issue shows up among opponents. The percentage of Iowans who say they strongly oppose gay marriage (35 percent) is nearly double the percentage who say they strongly favor it (18 percent). Iowa Poll: Iowans evenly divided on gay marriage ban

My in-laws are in Iowa, and we travel there fairly often. It's real different from the Eastern seaboard, values are different, the pace of life is different. People out there work hard, and they expect others to do their fair share; as part of that package, they are reluctant to tell somebody else how to live and they definitely do not like somebody else, especially the government whether it's local, state, or federal, making their personal decisions for them.

It is not surprising that the "very opposed" group is bigger than the "very in favor." It's a measure of tolerance. A reasonable person may look at the situation and realize it's none of their business, they don't understand why a guy'd want to marry another guy but if that's what they want to do, who cares? This person is not going to get excited about gay people marrying, they basically don't care if they do or not, and personally I see this as the ideal nonjudgmental attitude -- they may feel strongly that it should be allowed, but as far as "favoring gay marriage," I doubt you're going to register any intensity. On the other hand, there are those who feel repulsed by the idea that couples who are not boy-girl would fall in love and want to start a home and family. The idea upsets their view of how the world is supposed to be, they have an emotional reaction to the thought of same-sex couples marrying, and so you find a bigger percentage "strongly opposed" than "strongly in favor." It's an interesting asymmetry but not a hard one to understand.

Here's the result you just have to love:
The overwhelming majority of Iowans - 92 percent - say gay marriage has brought no real change to their lives.

That's just about everybody. The other eight percent might be people who married, plus their friends and family; the right to marry brought "real change" to their lives, when lovers took their vows of lifetime commitment.

So you have this strange pattern in the data, forty-one percent of people would vote against allowing gay people to marry, yet almost none of them are personally affected by the fact that gay people have been marrying in their state for five months. And really, what could happen? You go to work, you go out in the evening, you shop and do things, what in the world difference could it possibly make if the two people pushing a cart down the aisle in front of you are married or not, or if the guy in the next cube has a male spouse? This is a predictable result, giving gay and lesbian citizens the right to marry does not change the way anybody else lives.

You have to wonder then, what do those forty-one percent think they're voting against? It just might be that it makes a straight person uncomfortable to see two men, or two women, kissing or showing affection in public, you can call them homophobic but it is not so strange to feel discomfort in the presence of behavior outside the norms of your own social group. An intelligent person should be able to separate their own personal discomfort from the principle that is at the heart of American democracy, which is that people have the freedom to express themselves even if it is unpopular. Maybe it makes you uneasy, does that mean you would actually vote to take the right away from someone else, somebody you don't know, to marry the person they love?
This is the first Iowa Poll to examine opinions on the issue since the Iowa Supreme Court in April overturned the state's statutory ban on same-sex marriage.

The newspaper's poll of 803 Iowans ages 18 and older was conducted Sept. 14 to 16 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines.

The poll has a possible margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

There is a pretty thorough article, fascinating juxtapositions of attitudes, I'm skipping through it now.

Here's what I'm talking about:
The poll shows that 26 percent of Iowans favor April's unanimous court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 43 percent oppose it and 31 percent don't care much or are not sure.

Despite the 43 percent opposition to the ruling, 61 percent of Iowans say other issues will influence their decision on whether to vote to retain Iowa Supreme Court justices in the 2010 elections.

"It's really none of my business what other people do in their lives," said Curt Goodell, 38, a Johnston resident.

He identifies himself as a Republican but said he worries his party will try to make marriage a key issue in coming elections. "I don't have any judgment toward people who want to get married: gays, straight or whatever," Goodell said.

That's exactly the right attitude, it seems to me. This guy will not report that he "strongly favors" gay marriage, but when you get down to it he is just fine with other people being happy, doesn't bother him a bit.

Skipping down ...
Few poll respondents who described themselves as Republicans say the court decision is the single most important issue in the 2010 elections. But more than a third of Republicans say it is among several important issues, while only about a quarter of Democrats put it in that category.

Now, that's playing with numbers -- twenty-five percent isn't all that different from thirty-three percent, especially with a plus and minus 3.5 percent margin of error. A few more Republicans than Democrats think it is the most important issue, that's not the point here, the point is that more than two thirds of Iowans think same-sex marriage is not the most important issue in the next elections.
Celinda Lake, a national Democratic pollster, has polled on the issue of gay marriage in Iowa since 2004. She said the minority of Iowans who consider the court decision a top ballot-box issue is consistent with her research.

"What we found is Iowa has always had fewer single-issue voters on gay marriage than a lot of other states even in the Midwest," Lake said. "Now what we're seeing nationwide, the issue has really receded. So, people are not particularly focused on it as a voting issue."

As states adopt marriage equality, and people see that it has no negative effect on anybody's life, it has got to recede as an issue. A small percentage of people benefit when they are permitted to marry or to share the joy of a friend or relative's wedding, zero percent suffer any loss, restriction, or offense. After a while those who oppose the idea will be scratching their heads, trying to remember why it ever seemed so important.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gay Guy Has Stroke, Goes Straight

Warren Throckmorton mentioned this on his blog, and it is a rather curious case. Remember we recently talked about a case where someone's epileptic seizures caused them to believe they were the opposite gender. Of course that suggests that our sense of what sex we are is a physiological thing, there is a part of the brain that determines it, and since the modal structure of the brain is genetically determined, gender identity is, at least partly, genetic.

The anti-gay nuts love to say "there is no gay gene," as if to imply that gay people choose, when they hit puberty or before, to behave in a way that gets them beaten up, badmouthed, and discriminated against for life. It's a plausible hypothesis to a certain kind of mind, apparently.

But look at this case. A gay guy has a stroke, and all of a sudden he's straight. From the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences:
The patient, a 57-year-old right-handed man, sustained his first cerebral vascular accident in the right middle cerebral artery region at the age of 45, which resulted in right-sided hemiparesis that resolved completely within 3 months. He continued to run his private business successfully while living with his mother.

The patient lost his father in early childhood. There was no evidence of an emotional or conduct disorder during school years, and the patient eventually obtained his university degree. He continued to manage his successful practice until he sustained the second cerebral vascular accident in the left middle cerebral artery region at age 53.

The patient became aware of his homosexual orientation in his early teens and had several gay partners. He suffered a major depressive episode at age 26 that resolved within a few months. He also had a diagnosis of excessive harmful use of alcohol, but there was no evidence of dependence.

The patient started complaining of his changed personality and heterosexual orientation 6 months after his second stroke. At the same time he complained of excessive mood swings and changed interests. He became preoccupied with photography and had a successful photographic exhibition a year after his second stroke. His sexual orientation remained heterosexual 4 years following the second stroke, and he preferred to describe himself as bisexual because of his previous homosexual orientation. Altered Sexual Orientation Following Dominant Hemisphere Infract

Well, first of all, the doctors reading this can confirm, but I think the word is "Infarct," not "Infract." Also, the "distant father" references in the text (there are a couple of them) are unnecessary references to a pop-psych theory that has no support or credibility. Well, whatever, we'll assume the authors are experts on strokes, not sexual orientation.

So the guy was gay all his life, he had a stroke at forty-five and recovered, he was all right; he had another stroke at fifty-three and pretty soon he "started complaining" that he was straight. Can you imagine? All his life he's lived one way, by his fifties he's pretty well comfortable with who he is, he walks the walk and talks the talk, his friends all know him as a gay man, and all of a sudden it doesn't make sense any more. Would that be weird, or what?

The article says:
It is unlikely that his psychological reaction to his first and/or second stroke could explain his altered sexual orientation, and his sexuality was accepted by his social network and family members.

Our gay readers will note the irony of brain damage causing heterosexuality.

This article only mentions that an "organic process within the left middle cerebral artery region is the cause of his altered sexual orientation." It seems to me it would be of theoretical interest to know exactly what regions were affected by the event. Is there a place in the brain that determines sexual orientation? We'd like to know about that.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Domestic Violence - No Boys Allowed

This is one of those stories where there's almost nothing to say.
HARRISBURG - The state House of Representatives churns out uncontroversial resolutions every week to commemorate the dead, honor people's achievements, raise awareness of health issues, and recognize things important to Pennsylvania, such as pretzels.

So it took many people by surprise when a resolution designating October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month was derailed Wednesday by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), who claimed it "had a homosexual agenda."

The Western Pennsylvania legislator said he detected that agenda in this phrase: "one in six women and one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape."

Metcalfe's objection, which under House rules meant the bill was sent back to committee, mystified the bill's sponsor and angered groups that advocate for victims of domestic violence and for gay rights.

"His comments show incredible insensitivity about what domestic violence is, combined with bigotry against lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgendered people," said Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress, an advocacy group in Harrisburg.

Morrill said he was urging supporters to send faxes and e-mails to Metcalf's office demanding that he apologize to Pennsylvanians for his remarks.

Metcalfe, in an interview yesterday, said he opposed the resolution because it went beyond what he considered traditional domestic-violence programs that help battered women and children.

"It had language woven through it that brought men into the situation," said Metcalfe, who voted for similar resolutions in the last two years. "I don't support the resolution or funding for groups that go beyond helping women." Pa. lawmaker sees gay agenda in a resolution

This is really remarkable. This guy thinks domestic violence only happens to women. Or, I guess, if a guy is abused in a domestic relationship, it must be a gay guy. Like there was never a cartoon showing the wife with a frying pan in her hand, huh? Like that wouldn't hurt.
Victims' advocacy groups say men are victims of domestic violence in both homosexual and heterosexual relationships. There were 835,000 reported cases of male victims of domestic violence in the nation last year, according to the resolution.

And look, that's reported cases. I imagine things have to get pretty bad before you call the cops to tell them your wife or girlfriend is beating you up. I'd guess that number to be one to ten percent of actual incidents, what do you think?
Metcalfe says he voted for the resolution in the past because he did not notice references to sexual violence against men.

The measure's sponsor, Rep. John Siptroth (D., Monroe), said the language of this year's bill had been modified only slightly and called Metcalfe's action "completely out of line."

"There was no mention at all about homosexual activity," Siptroth said. "It could be that a [victimized] partner was a man, but it did not promote that."

Groups that provide domestic-violence counseling, housing, and other support services for victims said they were discouraged that Metcalfe would block the resolution at a time when the state budget crisis had left some shelters with empty freezers and resorting to "blast" e-mails to round up toilet paper.

Judy Yupcavage, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said there were 50 fatalities statewide in domestic-violence cases.

The Victim Outreach Intervention Center in Evans City last year served 2,300 men and women in and around Metcalfe's district. Director Elizabeth Clark-Smith said her group had seen a spike in such violence recently. She said she was discouraged that the region's representative appeared "completely confused" about the issue.

I'd have to agree with that carefully worded statement. "Completely confused." It has a nice ring to it, you don't get to use a clear phrase like that too often.
Metcalfe said that although the resolution was symbolic and did not authorize any funding, it could be seen as promoting groups that serve homosexuals.

Siptroth said he hoped the House would consider the resolution in the next two weeks, in time for him to participate in an event with a domestic-violence services group in his district. He said he wanted to present the group with a copy of the approved resolution.

Metcalfe, who has served in the House for a decade, said he looked forward to debating the issue on the House floor. Of Morrill's apology campaign, the lawmaker said, "Tell him, don't hold his breath."

I really hope this shapes up into a big battle, that his fellow nuts join him in insisting that a Domestic Violence Awareness Month promotes homosexuality. I want to hear people talking about this.

Sheesh, Talk About Raining on a Parade ...

Last Saturday was the Poolesville Days Celebration parade. Sounds like good, hometown fun, there were activities for kids, live music, pony rides, just a good time in Poolesville, fun for the whole family.

The Citizens for Responsible Whatever were there, I am told, handing out their flyers. You can see the flyer HERE . From the file name it appears that this document was created in September of 2008. The flyer has a picture focused on Dana Beyer, with an arrow pointing at a smiling Duchy Trachtenberg next to her, with a gigantic headline: "Duch’ Is Out of Touch."

Then it continues:
The County Council passed a “Gender Identity” Bill promoted by Equality Maryland. The County Council says the Bill has “never been about the bathrooms”. But who’s right? Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg : “opponents of transgender rights sought to make this debate about ridiculous non-issues such as bathrooms and public showers.” (press release, September 9, 2008) Washington Post, September 15, 2008, page B1, article with above photo: “To Allyson Robinson” (a male ‘transsexual’) “it means accompanying her young children to public restrooms in Montgomery County”

First of all, let's clear this up. Allyson Robinson is not a "male transsexual," Allyson Robinson is a female woman, transitioned from a male sex assigned at birth if that's the part you want to focus on. She is Associate Director of Diversity at the Human Rights Campaign.

The Great Google knows how to find that photograph and the article from the Washington Post last year: it's HERE. The article starts like this:
To Allyson Robinson, it means accompanying her young children to public restrooms in Montgomery County without worrying that someone will call the police.

For Colleen Fay, it brings the hope that the next time she applies for a driver's license she won't be badgered about her previous life as a man.

And for Chloe Schwenke, it means other people like her will be able to enjoy the job security she has found in her international development work in the District.

With the decision by Maryland's highest court last week to block a referendum petition, Montgomery County's law banning discrimination against transgender people takes effect immediately. Ruling Inspires New Hope For Transgender People

I don't know why the CRW wants to act like there is some problem with a woman going into the ladies room, this seems to be a sticking point for them.

At the bottom of the flyer they were handing out is big bold text that says:
Protect Your Family
Defeat the Defective Gender Identity Bill

Here's the thing. You wonder who would spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the parade for a happy little hometown, handing out flyers to defeat a bill that was passed and approved by the courts a year ago? What would motivate a person to be so concerned about transgender people -- of all the things in the world! -- that they would go out and hand these flyers to happy families standing along the road watching the high school band march by, the local County Council member, some kids on fancy bicycles, people on stilts?

The bill is law. There is a little less discrimination in our county. No ladies have been accosted by men in the ladies room claiming to be "women on the inside." It's water under the bridge. Why are they still doing this?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Tone of the Talk

This week Nancy Pelosi said something that has been on my mind, too, and doubtless a lot of people are growing concerned about the tenor of our nation's dialogue. I only finally watched the video just now, you can see it HERE. From the descriptions and discussion, I figured she'd broken down weeping, but really her voice is even, her sentences are carefully and well formed, she has tears in her eyes, that's it.

Pelosi was in San Francisco at the time Harvey Milk was assassinated, and she has compared the tone of today's talk to that. Here is the core of her comment:
"I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made, understanding that -- that some of the people -- the ears it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume."

I think this was overly generous, I'd say that people like Glenn Beck are just as nutty as the people who listen to them, she is giving them more credit than I would.

Something has started to happen, even here on our blog, that worries me a lot. Certainly in the five years TTF has been busy we have been embroiled in controversies, that's what we're here for, to fight over issues that involve our community, to promote values that we think are important, in the face of outspoken opposition. The other side has always played dirty, starting in the first month when they bought the dot-com version of our domain name, which ends with dot-org, and pointed it at their own site. (Try it: Over the years we have tracked and documented the lies, the misconstruals, the nuttiness of the other side, and they have complained about us, and that's the way it works. It happens that our view is the majority position in our county and also courts and boards have decided in our side's favor in the long run, but whatever, there are two sides and we fight it out.

Lately in the blog comments, though, there has been a new level of sentiment. Several times recently, commenters have said that my posts here, or my beliefs, are "evil."

This sounds to me like the voice of desperation. The religious right won some elections, at one point they owned the federal government -- the executive, legislative, judicial branches, all of it. But the people in this democratic country held an honest election and turned things around, now there are liberals in Congress and the White House, and the Supreme Court may shift further during this President's term. Now the other side is screeching that they "want their country back." And, you know, they're tough, they fight hard, they might be able to win an election again, that's how you get it back. You don't do it simply by disrupting meetings and lying on television, we'll have an election in a couple of years and if the people don't like who's in office now they'll elect somebody else.

When you call somebody evil you suck the life out of them, you treat them as a shell, not a person. It's okay to punish evil people, it's okay to kill them, they aren't real people, they aren't good people like you and me, they're bad people. I think that in a fundamentalist Christian context when you say somebody is evil you are saying that they are doing the work of the devil, and in the Bible those who go against God's will are often put to death through some horrible means, stoning or whatever.

I don't like to talk about this. I should be able to write on a blog about sex ed and nondiscrimination bills in a suburban county without fearing for my life. In a free society this should never cross my mind, I am not advocating for anything other than an open mind and open discussion, and I shouldn't have to worry that antipatriotic members of our community feel I'm evil, for crying out loud.

Granted, a lightweight version of this kind of sentiment has existed all along, that really has been the problem since we started. There are, for instance, diverse views on what should be taught in a sex-ed classroom. Our group argued that classes should be informative and thorough, students should learn everything they will need in order to make responsible decisions, including judgments and decisions regarding their own and others' sexual orientation and gender identity. More conservative parents might feel that classes should promote abstinence, and that sex education belongs in the home, not in a public school. Those are both valid viewpoints, and the school district would benefit from an honest discussion between those two groups.

But instead we had a group that wanted to shout out that gay people are dirty, perverted, disease-spreading pedophiles, that the subject is too immoral to be discussed in a health class. The underlying assumption was that their religious belief was correct and everybody else was wrong, and it didn't matter what you said, whether you lied or cheated or twisted the words of the curriculum, the only important thing was to win, to stop the curriculum cold.

When the county added gender identity to the nondiscrimination bill, same thing. You can debate whether discrimination on the basis of this or that should be prevented, including gender identity, it's a fair topic to discuss. But one Republican leader stood up in the County Council meeting and shouted "Heil Hitler!" and added ‘"Wait until little girls start showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature." A law says you can't discriminate against someone on the basis of their gender identity, but thse people wanted you to imagine that the result would be dead little girls. Another letter to the Council said, "Hopefully, it will be one of your daughters who gets raped first!" These statements had nothing at all to do with the bill under consideration, and everything to do with frightening people into supporting prejudice and discrimination. The question is: how far will it go?

That kind of talk is nutty, I think we can all agree about that, these are people who have lost touch with reality in some fundamental sense. But lately we have seen the incredible explosion of the tone of it, whether it is racist sentiment, people carrying guns to speeches by the President, incitement to join militias and secede from the US, the desire to "take our country back," or challenges to the qualifications of Barack Obama to hold the office, and I believe Pelosi was onto something, this has gone beyond extremism. It is beginning to sound dangerous.

It seems to me that some people try to live their lives in ways that are reasonable, seeing themselves in the context of a larger society where the individual's needs are limited by the needs of others, while other people see the world as a place of competition where everyone is striving as hard as they can to attain the most personal power. It is very difficult for the two sides to talk to one another, as evidenced in the current health-care debate where the Democrats are trying to work out a way to provide health care to Americans and the Republicans are trying to beat the Democrats. When you see everything in terms of power, violence may appear to be a rational tool for the establishment and enforcement of domination. I hope, with Nancy Pelosi, that the public discourse will cool down a little bit so Americans can focus on solving their problems, but I am not optimistic.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Endocrine Society Issues Guidelines for Transgender Children

A transgender individual is someone whose gender identity or subjective sense of what sex they are differs from the legal sex that was assigned them at birth. Some transgender individuals have identifiable physical syndromes that result in ambiguous sex characteristics, while others simply live their lives feeling that they are the opposite gender from what people think they are. This sense often begins in childhood, though some individuals wait until late in adulthood to choose to make the transition to the sex that fits their experience.

Once a young person has matured physically and acquired the secondary sex characteristics of their birth sex it is much more difficult to transition. Thus a person with male anatomical features whose voice changes, whose body shape becomes that of a man, whose body is covered with hair, will have a much more difficult time if they are ever to live as a woman. It is possible to intervene medically, to administer hormones that will delay or prevent the onset of puberty, which would ease the transition. But you're talking about a kid here, and a lot of people are uneasy about interfering with what appears to be a natural process, even if intervention would make the person's life happier and more satisfying in the long run. Adults are always concerned that the child is "going through a phase" that will pass, and may be hesitant to initiate procedures that will have permanent impact. Plus, there are a lot of people who are eager to pass judgment on anyone whose sexual orientation or gender identity varies from the majority.

From the LA TImes:
The nation's oldest and largest organization of endocrinologists has recommended that physicians treating children with gender identity disorder intervene to delay puberty at its first signs and wait until a child is at least 16 before offering hormonal therapy that would begin his or her gender transition.

In a new clinical practice guideline unveiled today, the Endocrine Society tackled some of the most ethically sensitive decisions endocrinologists face in the treatment of those who are born of one gender, but identify themselves strongly with the opposite gender. Indeed, the society urges that its physicians rely on a mental health professional to render a diagnosis of transsexualism, which is termed gender identity disorder in the psychiatric profession's current diagnostic manual.

The new practice guidelines also recommend that no action be taken to intervene in the hormonal balance of a young child who identifies as the opposite gender of his or her birth. "A diagnosis of transsexualism in a child who has not gone through puberty cannot be made with certainty," the group concluded.

At the first signs of puberty, however, the new guidelines recommend that physicians use hormone therapy strictly for the purpose of suppressing pubertal changes until an adolescent has reached the age of 16. At that point, the group concluded, "cross-sex hormones may be given." Treating transsexual kids: wait for, then delay puberty to treat

Seems like these days puberty starts hitting around eleven or twelve years old, sometimes younger. Plain old puberty is confusing enough to a kid that young, your body's changing but you still feel like a kid, and then to experience yourself being swept along with a falsehood about what sex you are, who you are really, that's got to be very difficult. A kid that age may not be ready to make decisions that will affect their entire future. So it sounds like a good idea to wait until they are sixteen, they ought to have some sense of who they are by that age.
Those guidelines come at a time when many of those with "gender dysphoria"--persistent distress over one's gender at birth--are asking to begin gender reassignment hormonal therapy and/or surgery at an earlier and earlier age. While surgeons have been reluctant to do gender reassignment surgery on a patient under 18, endocrinologists often face pressure from would-be transsexuals to offer earlier, interim treatment. The new guidelines are likely to set a standard that many endocrinologists will follow in such cases.

"Transsexual persons experiencing the confusion and stress associated with feeling 'trapped' in the wrong body look to endocrinologists for treatment that can bring relief and resolution to their profound discomfort," said Dr. Wylie Hembree, a Columbia University endocrinologist who chaired the committee drafting the guidelines. The new guidelines, he added in a news release, are intended to provide "science-based recommendations" for practitioners to provide "safe and effective treatment" to those diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder.

Oddly, some members of our community use the DSM category "Gender Identity Disorder" to argue that transgender people are sick, or mentally ill. Really the diagnosis only identifies individuals who might live better after they transition to the opposite sex. Still, some bad-hearted people will try to smear transgender individuals with the stigma of mental illness, I guess it makes them feel better about their own lives.
The transgender community has advocated for changes in the psychiatry's approach to the diagnosis of gender identity disorder, which is now being revisited in drafting sessions for the profession's diagnostic manual. Among the transgender community's concerns: that current definitions of Gender Identity Disorder lump the diagnosis under "paraphilias," contribute to stigmatization, and fail to support the goals of gender transition and access to surgical and hormonal therapies in treatment of GID.

The new practice guidelines are published in the September issue of the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. For a somewhat dated discussion of the ethical issues involved, check out this article from Salon. And if you feel you were born into a body of the wrong gender, here's a place to seek help and support.

These decisions are bound to be controversial. On one hand these doctors are talking about treating a straightforward, if complex, condition; on the other hand, the treatment is nested within the norms of a society that has strict prohibitions on gender behavior, and makes harsh judgments of individuals who violate those prohibitions. While it will be impossible, and probably not even desirable, for physicians to outline treatment without acknowledging social norms, in the end the patient's best interests must be kept in mind, regardless of what others think.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Teen Pregnancy Correlates with Religiosity at the State Level

Here is a little study that took existing data and showed what you probably already knew -- states with the highest proportion of religious conservatives also have the highest teen pregnancy rates. Check this out:
Teen birth rate is very highly correlated with religiosity at the state level (P<0.0005), with more religious states having a higher rate of teen birth.

That's the conclusion drawn by Joseph M. Strayhorn, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with faculty appointments at Drexel University College of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh, in an analysis published in the open access journal Reproductive Health.

Strayhorn and co-author Jillian Strayhorn came to that conclusion by correlating Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2008 data with teen birth rate data from the CDC and income data from the U.S. Bureau of Census.

Not surprisingly, states with a higher religious index score had a lower abortion rate, so religiosity was predictive of both more teen births and fewer abortions (P=0.002), Strayhorn found.

The "correlation between religiosity and teen birth rate remained highly significant (P<0.0005) when income was controlled for," he wrote.

Strayhorn speculated that a "possible explanation for this relationship is that teens in more religious communities may be less likely to use contraception." Religious Beliefs No Barrier to Teen Pregnancy

That is a good guess. Teens in those communities are less likely to have comprehensive sex education, they are less likely to know how to prevent pregnancy, and they are no more likely to practice abstinence.

Ah, here is a wise statement:
Adding that it was possible that "conservative religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging use of contraception among their teen community members than in discouraging sexual intercourse itself."

Great. Just great.

Here is a careful statement. Since the analysis uses data aggregated at the state level, it is possible that it's the less religious girls getting pregnant, but in an environment that is influenced by religous conservatism.
He also cautioned against using the results to conclude that religious teens get pregnant more often.

"The associations we report could still be obtained if, hypothetically, religiosity in communities had an effect of discouraging contraceptive use in the whole community, including the nonreligious teens there, and only nonreligious teens became pregnant."

The "religious index" used in this analysis was based on responses collected by a Pew phone survey in 2007. The survey included 35,957 participants who were asked to respond to eight statements concerning religious beliefs.

On a state-by-state basis, the authors calculated the percentage of survey participants who endorsed these statements:
  • Belief in God or a universal spirit: Absolutely certain.
  • There is only one way to interpret the teachings of my religion.
  • Scripture should be taken literally, word for word.
  • Religion is very important in my life.
  • Attend church at least once a week.
  • Pray at least once a day.
  • Receive an answer to specific prayer request at least once a month.

Finally, Stayhorn wrote that the findings "by themselves, of course, do not permit causal inferences."

That last statement is an acknowledgement of the statistical fact that "correlation does not imply causality." Of course in a time-lagged design you could use a different analytic approach, for instance in this case it is not likely that teen pregnancy causes religious conservatism, because, say, Mississippi (which rated highest in both religiosity and teen pregnancy) was a conservative Christian place before today's teenagers were born. So in reality, you can infer causality in this situation, though it would be better to use a regression analysis than linear correlation.

Young people should be taught about sex, how it works, what the consequences are, what choices can be made to reduce the negative consequences. But in some parts of the country (not necessarily geographical, perhaps demographic cross-sections) teen pregnancy is not seen as a negative outcome, but rather as God's blessing. The result is babies born to mothers who can't take care of them, the perpetuation of poverty and poor health, despair, and a major obstacle for the teen mother who dreamed of a career or even a marriage. I don't see a way to reason with people who believe that way, for them life is a bleak sequence of events that they have no control over. A major part of comprehensive sexual education is to empower women to take control of their own reproductive organs, and this is perceived as a big threat by some.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Poll: People Are Hanging In There

There was an interesting CNN poll released yesterday, in the middle of all the health-care controversy, with teabaggers and birthers, Congressmen shouting out insults in Congress, death panels and talk about euthanizing grandma -- you have to wonder, what do people really think is going on?

I'm going to skip to the questions that interest me, you might want to go to the SUMMARY or the the survey RESULTS for more information.

First of all, people do approve of how the new guy is handling his job, 58 to 40 percent. It's not what it was, but he's a popular President. When asked about whether he had handled particular things well, majorities approved of his handling of The economy 54%; Foreign affairs 58%; Health care policy 51%; and even Taxes 51%. Only 46% liked how he was doing with the federal budget deficit.

Fifty one percent of Americans favor his health plan, which isn't a great majority but it's good enough. Most people think their costs will go up, and more people thought that senior citizens would be worse off under the health plan than better off.

Here was a good one. In reacting to President Obama's health care proposals, do you think the Republicans are generally offering constructive criticism, or are they being obstructionist for mostly political reasons? Thirty five percent said "Constructive," 61% said "Obstructionist," and 5% had no opinion. So while it seems that the Republicans might be largely succeeding at undermining the President's plan, they aren't winning any points for themselves.

Okay, to tell you the truth, here's the question that got my attention in the first place, the "death panel" question: If Obama's plan became law, do you think senior citizens or seriously-ill patients would die because government panels would prevent them from getting the medical treatment they needed? "Would happen" 41%; "Would not happen" 57%; "No opinion" 2%.

So while you can say, glass-half-full, that "most people" understand there will not be death panels, more than four out of ten do believe it.

When you walk down the street into a stream of faces, people going to work, people worrying about their kids, their mortgages, the Redskins, getting enough fiber, whether their breath smells okay today, you can figure that nearly every other one of those people thinks that the Obama health plan will include death panels of bureaucrats who will decide whether senior citizens are productive enough to deserve medical attention.

Another one, the "socialist" question: If Obama's plan became law, do you think the federal government would or would not eventually take over all aspects of the country's health care system?

Fifty five percent said it Would happen; 42% said it Would not happen; 2% had no opinion. Call that a success for the insurance industry's propaganda machine.

In other questions, 47% think the health plan would provide insurance to illegal aliens, compared to 49% who think it would not, and 74% thought the health plan would increase the federal budget deficit, while 24% thought it would not.

To my mind, that's a good public opinion question, and a clear result. People expect this health plan will be expensive.

Two more. I think these are fascinating, especially taken together.

During that address, a Republican member of the U.S. House shouted that Obama had lied while Obama was speaking. Do you think that was appropriate behavior or inappropriate behavior?

Fifteen percent of people thought that was Appropriate, 85% said Inappropriate. That's clear, and quite refreshing, people still want their government to be run with dignity.

And then the related question: And just your best guess -- based on what you have read or heard about that address, do you think Obama lied while he was speaking to Congress on Wednesday night, or don't you think so?

Thirty two percent thought he had lied, 60% thought he had not, with 8% no opinion.

The important lesson from these last two questions is that a tiny minority felt it was okay to yell "You lie" at the President of the United States when he is addressing a joint session of Congress, but a not-so-tiny minority thought maybe he was actually lying. That means that there are a lot of people who are level-headed enough to want to preserve decorum even in a situation where they agree with the opinion that was shouted out.

It is shocking that so many people accept the "death panel" and "socialist" frames, but in general this poll reflects a fair-minded population that wants to see the debate managed coolly and intelligently and is being assaulted by outrageous propaganda.

Monday, September 14, 2009

People Not Trusting News Media

Over the years a few themes have emerged from the thousands of posts and comments on this blog, and one of the most important is the role of the commercial media in influencing public opinion. The optimal business arrangement is that a news outlet reports accurately on events, citizens are well-informed, the competition in the marketplace is driven by customer's desire for accurate knowledge so publications and networks try to get the story first and most thoroughly, most accurately. Unfortunately human attention is easily captured by shiny things, and people will put a quarter into the machine for something outrageous and false faster than they will for something accurate, thorough, and possibly boring.

People cannot see firsthand what is going on in remote parts of the country, or behind closed doors, they can't race around and witness every newsworthy event firsthand, we rely on journalists to tell us what's happening. Even if journalists themselves, those individuals who go to a scene and witness an event and interview relevant players and then write up a summary, hold no preconceived evaluation of the event, their editors get pressure from the publishers, who get pressure from outsiders, to present a story in a certain light. Lately we have seen the Washington Post, for instance, lose its objectivity in a sharp swing to the right, as liberal writers are fired and stories glorifying conservatives get more and more prominent placement.

People know this. Anybody who has been on the scene of an event and then read about it in the newspaper, or has seen the story on TV, knows there were errors in it, errors that often appear intentional. Journalists seem not to report what they have seen with their own eyes but what they are told to report. People notice this.

Here's the Washington Post (as if you can believe them):
SAN FRANCISCO -- The news media's credibility is sagging along with its revenue.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans think the news stories they read, hear and watch are frequently inaccurate, according to a poll released Sunday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. That marks the highest level of skepticism recorded since 1985, when this study of public perceptions of the media was first done.

The poll didn't distinguish between Internet bloggers and reporters employed by newspapers and broadcasters, leaving the definition of "news media" up to each individual who was questioned. The survey polled 1,506 adults on the phone in late July.

The survey found that 63 percent of the respondents thought the information they get from the media was often off base. In Pew Research's previous survey, in 2007, 53 percent of the people expressed that doubt about accuracy. Poll: News media's credibility plunges to new low

I think when people are asked about "news media" they do not include bloggers.

I once saw a talk by an engineer who had devised a way to track public opinion without surveying people. He showed a lot of graphs where his results closely paralleled the findings of the major polling organizations. What he did was collect news text and feed it into a content analysis program. So if the word "scandal" was near a politician's name, for instance, the program would count the distance -- the number of words separating them -- and add up a score. If a positive word appeared near the politician's name he would add up the positive side, again weighting for proximity. In the end he would take all the news sources and add them up together, and he could predict very accurately what public opinion polls would find.

This was maybe ten years ago, and I remember disagreeing with his explanation for his results. He saw the media as a filter, inputting public opinion and reflecting it in the content of news stories. I see it the other way, the output of the news media influences public opinion. Can you imagine what the 2004 Presidential race would have been like if the news media had not played and re-played Howard Dean's famous yell? The guy was exuberant, he yelled, that happens every day. The media focused on it, creating the news, playing "the yell" over and over again as if it were an important event. This sort of thing happens every day. I have marched in anti-war demonstrations hundreds of thousands of people strong, the parade stretching all the way around the center of the city, and receiving at best a mention in the newspaper somewhere after the jaywalking immigrant pedestrian hit by a car. But when "tens of thousands" of conservatives show up on the mall the newspaper gets a photograph that makes the crowd look big and editors put the story at the top of page A1. People at home pick up the paper in their front yard, they sit on the toilet and look at it for a few minutes, they didn't bother going to any demonstration, but their impression is that the antipatriots really are picking up steam, this Glenn Beck character really has a lot of influence, that President seems to be some kind of socialist or something, see, it says right there on that sign that person is holding on the front page of the paper.

Oh, this is rich.
Newspaper ad sales plunged by 29 percent, or nearly $5.5 billion, during the first half of this year, according to the Newspaper Association of America. TV ad revenue on broadcast stations dropped by 12 percent, or nearly $3 billion, during the same period, according to the Television Bureau of Advertising. Radio advertising fell by 23 percent, or $2.3 billion, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau.

The budget squeeze "means facts don't get checked as carefully as they should," according to Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times.

But he still believes many media outlets still go to great lengths to get the facts right and own up to their mistakes when the information is wrong.

"The great flood that goes under the heading `news media' has been poisoned by junk blogs, gossip sheets, shout radio and cable-TV partisans that don't deserve to be trusted," Keller told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

Sure, it's the bloggers who are bringing down the quality of journalism, says the guy from the newspaper that was foremost in warning Americans day after day about the immediate danger that Saddam Hussein was going to attack the US with weapons of mass destruction. Good, blame bloggers and talk TV. Well, at least he admits they aren't checking their facts any more.

Skipping ...
The most recent poll found just 29 percent believed news reports had the facts straight. (Eight percent said they didn't know.)

Similarly, only 26 percent of the respondents said the press is careful to avoid bias. The figure was 36 percent in 1985.

As has been the case for years, television remains the most popular news source. The poll found 71 percent of people depend on TV for national and international news. Some 42 percent said they relied on the Internet, 33 percent turned to newspapers and 21 percent tuned into the radio. (The figures don't add to up 100 percent because some people cited more than one medium.)

There is one interesting bone to chew on here, right at the end of the story, a nice cognitive salience bias.
Even as more people than ever don't believe everything in the news, Pew found that the public still seems to value the media. When asked how they would feel about a news outlet closing, 82 percent said it would be an important loss if there were no local TV news and 74 percent said it would be a major blow to lose their local newspaper.

Keller suspects many people cherish the newspaper they read or TV news program that they watch.

"Just as polls routinely show that people hold Congress in low esteem but tend to like their own congressman, I think the public is suspicious of the media in general but tends to trust the particular news organization they turn to for news," Keller wrote.

I saw a picture of someone holding at sign at this weekend's teabagger rally that said something like "God bless FOX News for keeping us informed." See? They like the one they watch but think the others are biased. I heard once of someone who thought FOX was biased, probably a blog reader.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Medium Demonstration, Big Press

Yesterday there was a small-to-medium demonstration on the Mall, not nearly as big as the anti-war demonstrations of the Bush era but 60-70,000 people, that's pretty big, especially for a conservative issue. The Washington Post chose to feature the demonstration at the top of page A1. A quote in a box at the top of the page: "Nobody's standing up for us, so we have to stand up for ourselves," is attributed to one Phil Chauncey of Clinton, Tennessee. Here is the photograph that dominates the top half of the page:

Can you imagine the outrage if a liberal flew the flag upside-down? The antipatriots were out in force, and The Post loved it. They say things like...
The crowd -- loud, animated and sprawling -- gathered at the West Front of the Capitol after a march along Pennsylvania Avenue NW from Freedom Plaza. Invocations of God and former president Ronald Reagan by an array of speakers drew loud cheers that echoed across the Mall. On a windy, overcast afternoon, hundreds of yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags flapped in the breeze.

"Hell hath no fury like a taxpayer ignored," declared Andrew Moylan, head of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, urging protesters to call their representatives. The demonstrators roared their approval.

"We own the dome!" they chanted, pointing at the Capitol. Lashing Out at the Capitol

It might have been responsible reporting to mention at that point that the people at this demonstation do not in fact own the Capitol dome. These people represent the party that was voted out of the Capitol, and the White House, in the last election. They can bitch and moan but the fact is they lost, they do not represent the views of the majority of Americans.

Instead of correcting the erroneous statement, The Post goes on to aggrandize the demonstration:
The demonstrators are part of a loose-knit movement that is galvanizing anti-Obama sentiment across the country, stoking a populist dimension to the Republican Party, which has struggled to find its voice since the 2008 elections.

Can you see that sign in the lower righthand corner? It says "Socialism: trickle up poverty."
With Democrats in control of Congress, battling the president legislatively has been difficult. But after a spring of anti-tax rallies and summer health-care protests proved to be effective, a growing number of GOP leaders are dropping their wariness and seeing the political possibilities of latching onto this freewheeling coalition. Others are cautious about embracing views that can be seen as extremist.

Extremist? You don't say!

There are elements, apparently including editors at The Post, who would like to believe that it is mainstream to believe the President of the United States is a socialist, a Nazi, a communist. We have had lots of experience with this phenomenon in our own county. Because the news media feed on sensationalism, an outrageous and noisy group with no real support gets as much or more coverage than those who are actually getting work done amid the noisy distractions. The Post has covered the birthers and teabaggers so much that they seem to have convinced themselves that a significant proportion of Americans are actually that nutty.

This is interesting, from the AP:
Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized the event, said on stage at the rally that ABC News was reporting that 1 million to 1.5 million people were in attendance.

At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, D.C., fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as "tens of thousands."
As a result of Kibbe's erroneous attribution, several bloggers and commenters repeated the misinformation. ABC News Was Misquoted on Crowd Size

Salon had a little more level-headed story on the demonstration. They featured this photograph:

Notice the empty street in the background, as people cluster in tightly for the photo.
WASHINGTON -- "You have redefined gridlock in Washington, D.C.," Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told the crowd gathered in front of the Capitol on Saturday for a rally that was part Tea Party and part Glenn Beck's 9/12 Project. The reference was to the highways around the nation's capital, which Blackburn said she'd heard had been closed due to the 1.5 million people who'd come out for the demonstration.

Crowd size estimates like the one Blackburn gave were flying around all day on Saturday. Some said they heard 1.2 million, others 1.6 million; conservative blogger Michelle Malkin said in one post that ABC News had estimated the attendance at 2 million.

Malkin was wrong -- ABC had never reported anything like that. In her own way, Blackburn was wrong, too. So were all the others. They weren't even in the ballpark, which most news outlets estimated in the tens of thousands and D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services said, unofficially, was somewhere between 60,000 and 75,000 people. Conservatives march on Washington

I'm sure it was exhilarating for the conservatives to congregate and wave signs just like old-time hippies protesting the war in Vietnam, man. They've owned the government for so long it must be at least a little odd to have to stand on the mall and lie about your numbers, waving signs and chanting, hoping somebody inside the Capitol or inside the White House notices, besides the Secret Service snipers on the roof.

This is actually a pretty clear summary of the situation.
But the crowd numbers, and the confusion over them, were symptomatic of a larger phenomenon that was taking place on the Mall Saturday. Stepping in to the crowd there felt, at some times, like stepping into an alternate reality. It was a reality in which provisions establishing "death panels" really can be found in healthcare reform legislation, where President Obama is a Marxist and a Fascist, where the majority was represented by these protesters rather than the voters who elected a Democrat president and gave him an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress less than a year ago -- it was a reality where the D.C. Beltway had been shut down due to an influx of 1.5 million people, almost three times more than the entire population of Washington.

It was, also, a reality that would brook no interference from the one outside it. In one incident that's quickly become famous on the Internet, a CNN correspondent doing a live appearance on television was drowned out by the shouts of protesters behind her. The network was a frequent target, especially the bus it had parked on 3rd Street, which formed the border of the primary protest area. The vehicle became a gathering place for those angry about the mainstream media and what they perceive as its liberal bias. (By contrast, when most of the protesters went to a Fox News truck parked nearby, it was to express their appreciation.) One man stood out on the street in front of it, holding a large sign headlined "Today's state-controlled media." Below, he'd added the logos of various networks, and his own takes on their acronyms. There was NBC, or "Nothing But Crap," ABC -- "All Barrack (sic) Channel" -- and CBS, which he'd dubbed "Controlled by State."

At one point in the afternoon, a CNN employee stood on the sidewalk in front of the bus, a bemused look on his face despite the crowd of about 20 people that had gathered to hurl various insults at him and his company. One woman was there dressed as the Grim Reaper; she carried a sign that declared "Journalism died: 2008."

Because journalism was so good before that.

It will be interesting to see how well the corporate media can continue to drum up support for antipatriotism over the next few years of Obama's first term, if they are able to somehow make the teabaggers seem legitimate or if Americans will just stop watching the news altogether.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fundamental Right to Anonymous Political Speech

Anonymity is a powerful force. For instance, it is possible to commit crimes and get away with things in a big city that you could never do in a small town where everyone knows you. On the Internet, it is possible for people to express extreme viewpoints that they could never defend face to face, by logging in anonymously or under an alias. In a free society individuals are granted permission by their peers to do as they wish and are accountable for the consequences of their choices; in an anarchic society they do things without permission or accountability. A society where everyone is anonymous would be anarchic.

Anonymous voting is a cornerstone of our way of governing ourselves. An individual can vote in private, without social influence, and without anyone ever knowing how they voted. In that carefully contrived private situation, there is no motive, no incentive for the individual to say something outrageous or extreme, there is no one to shock, you go in and vote for the people and issues that you really hope will win. Anonymity in that context is protection to do what you believe is right.

Petitions are not voting booths. Items on a ballot are carefully worded and presented in a standardized way, you take time to read it carefully and there is no partisan person present to "explain" what the words mean. On the other hand, if somebody comes up to you and says, "Will you sign a petition to keep men out of the ladies room" you might do it, believing whatever the person presenting the petition says, and in the end you will have contributed to discrimination against a weak minority. Should you be accountable? Should others be able to find out that you signed that petition? Or should you be able to contribute to discrimination anonymously?

See what you think about this judge's ruling up in Washington state:
OLYMPIA, Wash. — A federal judge on Thursday ordered the state of Washington to keep shielding the identities of people who signed petitions to force a vote on expanded benefits for gay couples.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma granted the preliminary injunction involving petitions for Referendum 71 while a related case moves forward on the constitutionality of the state public records act.

The referendum, sponsored by a group called Protect Marriage Washington, asks voters to approve or reject the "everything but marriage" domestic partnership law that state lawmakers passed earlier this year.

In his ruling, Settle said he was "not persuaded that waiver of one's fundamental right to anonymous political speech is a prerequisite for participation in Washington's referendum process." Judge shields signatures in gay rights referendum

Maybe one of the lawyers who reads this blog can explain in the comments section about "one's fundamental right to anonymous political speech." I've never heard of that. I figure part of a petition is that you can see the names and know who signed it.
Referendum campaign organizer Larry Stickney said he's already been subjected to threats and harassment for his involvement in the effort. The campaign also said it has heard from supporters who didn't want to sign the petition for fear of reprisals.

However, Assistant Attorney General Jim Pharris told the judge that Protect Marriage hasn't shown significant harm beyond rude comments or phone calls - nothing that would "be appropriate to overturning the state's strong tradition for open government."

The rightwing groups are always complaining about being persecuted. You read about abortion clinic bombers all the time, have you ever heard of anyone blowing up a Family Blah Blah office? I'll bet they get some angry phone calls, that's the way society works, you express an opinion, you try to make changes in a society, and you're going to hear about it. They aren't working in a vacuum and they have no right that I know of to take away people's rights without revealing their own identities.

When I was growing up, they called it "standing up for what you believe in."

I have the feeling this ruling will not stand. Somebody signs a petition as a public statement of their position on a topic, it is not a voting booth where privacy is expected but a statement in a public discussion. Some people want to conduct a political activity but not face its consequences, and I don't see that as something we necessarily want to encourage, a whole society of anonymous trolls.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

City Paper Looks for Ex-Gays, Finds Almost None

Amanda Hess at the DC City Paper has the current issue's cover story, called The Ex-Gay Movement that Wasn't -- Meet the city's tiniest demographic. She honestly wants to find some "ex-gays," she has twice advertised on her blog The Sexist. Like, yesterday, she had a post that said:
Do You Know Any Ex-Gays? PFOX Doesn’t, Either - If you do, pick up the phone right now and CALL ME (202-332-2100). If you don’t, read my cover story this week on why a dearth of local ex-gays poses a logistical problem for the area’s biggest ex-gay advocacy organization. BONUS: A discussion of fun new sexual orientation term, “everstraight”! Do You Know Any Ex-Gays? PFOX Doesn’t, Either

She had a similar ad a couple of weeks ago. Apparently got no takers.

Her City Paper piece looks at Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), an anti-gay organization that ostensibly exists to defend the rights of "ex-gays." I'm selecting text here, to read the entire article you should follow the link below or pick up the paper in the rack somewhere. Here's how she starts:
Last month, Robert Rigby approached a booth at the Arlington County Fair staffed by volunteers with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), a group dedicated to the rights of recovering homosexuals. Rigby was already familiar with the message the ex-gays were peddling. As an ex-ex-gay, he had considered the PFOX position for 17 years before deciding to live openly as a gay man.

Rigby didn’t stick around long enough to dispute the fine points of sexual orientation with the PFOX volunteers. All he wanted was the brochures, to make sure he was up to date on the ex-gay movement’s latest obsessions. “I didn’t discuss ex-gay anything. I talked to them about Latin,” says Rigby, 46, who for the past decade has taught the language to Fairfax County high schoolers. “The kids think I teach too much grammar, not enough mythology,” he announced to the PFOX volunteers as he discretely collected the organization’s pamphlets for further review. The Ex-Gay Movement that Wasn't -- Meet the city's tiniest demographic

This reporter talked to a lot of people and seems to have honestly tried to find some "ex-gay" individuals for her story.

The inspiration for this article seems to have been PFOX's recent press release, where they claimed victory in a lawsuit that they lost, when a judge said that it appeared to him that "ex-gays" should be covered under DC's Human Rights Act (HRA), the same as gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. It does seem reasonable, if you can't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation you shouldn't be able to discriminate on the basis of changing sexual orientation, I guess, even though an "ex-gay" person would be heterosexual and probably not much in need of special legal protection.

We talked about the lawsuit and press release HERE. PFOX had wanted to set up a booth at a teacher's convention, and the teachers (NEA) wouldn't let them. PFOX argued that they were being discriminated for being ex-gay, and a judge ruled against them. He said (quoting the City Paper now):
“In NEA’s judgment, PFOX is a conversion group hostile toward gays and lesbians,” Ross wrote. “Indeed, the HRA 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.”

PFOX’s celebratory press release about the ruling didn’t mention that the judge saw fit to make an analogy to the KKK. The embrace of D.C.’s sexual-orientation law was a bit of a departure for PFOX, which has spent most of its history rallying against anti-discrimination protections for gays, lesbians, and transgender people.

The reporter entertainingly describes her search for an ex-gay in the DC area.
If there are any ex-gays left in Washington, D.C., they are tucked discretely back into the closet. “There is a large population of ex-gays, but they dare not speak as I speak about being ex-gay,” says Harley. “They dare not associate too openly with me because then people may think they are ex-gay. They’re just going to church, living normal lives with their husbands, like happily ever after.”

In 1999, Rigby almost raised the local ex-gay population by one—but not quite. Rigby was fresh out of the ex-gay movement and a lapsed member of PFOX’s ex-gay Listserv when he moved to Fairfax for a teaching job. Rigby, who serves as a mentor to the county school district’s Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA), says he hasn’t encountered an openly ex-gay kid in a decade of teaching—though he’s met many who flitted in and out of the closet in their high school years. “It’s called the coming-out process,” says Rigby. “We all go through that.” In 2005, PFOX attempted to drum adolescent ex-gays out of hiding by offering up an antidote to the GSA. PFOX’s version, dubbed “Ex-Gays and Everstraights”—that would be heterosexuals who have never identified as gay—never really caught on. “Not one group started up in the entire country,” Rigby says. “I just don’t think an ex-gay student was interested.”

PFOX has always had a hard time getting ex-gays to join the club. PFOX’s board of directors includes a surplus of everstraights but few former homosexuals. Parents of openly ex-gay children are also in short supply. The closest the group comes to fulfilling its name is Griggs, who speaks publicly about her loving—and disapproving—relationship with her openly gay son.

In our county, the public school district passes flyers to students four times a year promoting PFOX's message, telling gay students they can "change."

The City Paper reporter did some interesting background checking:
Beyond the one hopeful parent of a future ex-gay, PFOX’s directors are more fit to provide political influence than ex-gay support. Paul Rondeau, the group’s president, is not ex-gay. Estella Salvatierra, vice president, is a civil rights attorney and is not ex-gay. If Scott Strachan, the group’s secretary, is ex-gay, he’s not talking about it. Michelle Hoffman, the treasurer, once told the Montgomery County School Board that “I know many former homosexuals and am proud to call them my friends.” Peter Sprigg, a director, is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and has publicly identified as everstraight. Retta Brown, a director, is not ex-gay. Robert Knight, a former director of Concerned Women for America, is not a woman and is not ex-gay. Barber, a director, works at Liberty University Law School and is not ex-gay. Quinlan, a director, is ex-gay.

Thanks to Quinlan, the closest ex-gay connection that most PFOX members claim is that they are the “friends” of an ex-gay. They better be. The organization’s ex-gays are stuck with the dirty work: fighting off homosexual urges, inserting themselves into possibly discriminatory scenarios, and never, ever accomplishing the full heterosexuality of the everstraights. Ex-gays aren’t even welcome in PFOX meetings. In an e-mail posted on one ex-gay message board, a PFOX rep made the group’s target audience clear: “PFOX meetings are for families and friends of strugglers only, and not for ex-gays.”

An organization of "ex-gays" would be pretty small, I'd have to say.
How has PFOX managed to build the local ex-gay movement with the participation of so few actual ex-gays? Through the clever use of a smokescreen. The group claims to represent relatives and friends of ex-gays, which is code for the true constituency—Christian conservatives. Accordingly, PFOX does not deal in ex-gay counseling, therapy, or support groups; PFOX sues people. For that, it requires access to lawyers and lobbyists, not guys who can grant interviews about the decades they spent giving head in gay bathhouses. Never mind that Washington, D.C., is too liberal and gay to support any real ex-gay population—it provides the ideal base for an ex-gay front organization. For the past 14 years, PFOX has courted the attention of national conservative groups and legal funds in D.C. while waging its local turf wars across Maryland and Virginia—all the while quietly ignoring the interests of ex-gays.

I get quoted somewhere in this piece, not the important part.

Here's the wrap-up.
The visibility of ex-gays is necessary to PFOX’s survival, but the ex-gay reality is often too strange, off-message, or gay to sit well with the everstraight conservatives who make up PFOX’s inner sanctum. PFOX’s new legal strategy, however, actually encourages ex-gay public embarrassment—by attempting to coax gays and ex-ex-gays into harassing them, much as a defender in basketball strains to draw a charging foul. In Quinlan, who has a history of alleging physical and verbal attacks at the hands of gays, PFOX may have finally found a fitting ex-gay poster boy for PFOX’s political cause. He may be the only one. “They’re using ex-gay people in public venues as bait,” says Rigby. “But I don’t think they have enough ex-gay people to pursue that as a strategy. They just don’t know enough people who identify as ex-gay who would be willing to file such suits.”

PFOX has been a minor annoyance in Montgomery County, where they have joined in on lawsuits against the school district and otherwise attempted to derogate gay and transgender people through various means. It is a subtle trick, you can use the term "ex-gay" over and over again, and unsuspicious people will automatically assume that such people exist. Then you can argue that those people are constantly discriminated against, and again unsuspicious people will tend to believe you. They're never seen it happen, but it sounds vaguely plausible. They file lawsuits and put out press releases proclaiming that "ex-gays" have rights, too, and railing against those who discriminate against them, as if such behavior actually existed. It's a good trick, you have to give them credit for that. They allege that the rest of us say they "don't exist," as if that were a horrible prejudiced thing to say, but in fact ... where are they? The City Paper has done a service here, exposing the fact that there are almost no "ex-gays" for PFOX to represent.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What an Actual Socialist Thinks of Obama

Interesting interview by Patricia Murphy at Politics Daily. Here's the set-up for it:
If a space alien landed on American soil tomorrow, it could be forgiven for thinking the president of the United States also represents a place called "Socialism."

A quick tour of the web turns up hundreds of socialist-inspired images of Barack Obama-- Obama as Che Guevara on "Che Obama Socialist" t-shirts; Obama as a radical Marxist at Even the Investor's Business Daily penned a series of editorials on the Obama agenda called, "The Audacity of Socialism."

And when President Obama announced he'd be giving a back-to-school message to students, now-famous Florida GOP'er, Jim Greer, said it would "spread President Obama's socialist ideology."

So if the United States has elected a socialist president, the socialists must be pretty excited, right? Claiming just a single U.S. Senator (Vermonter Bernie Sanders) and exactly zero members of the House of Representatives as their own, putting a socialist in the White House would represent the greatest achievement of any socialist alive today.

But there's just one problem. The socialists won't claim Obama as their own. They won't even call him a socialist.

Frank Llewellyn, the National Director of the Democratic Socialists of America, the country's largest socialist organization, said Obama is most definitely not one of them. "He's not any kind of socialist at all," Llewellyn told me this week. He called the president "a market guy," which is hardly a compliment coming from a man with serious reservations about market capitalism.

"He's not challenging the power of the corporations," Llewellyn added. "The banking reforms that have been suggested are not particularly far reaching. He says we must have room for innovation, but we had innovation -- look where it got us. So I just...I can't..I mean it's laugh out loud, really."

Llewellyn offered his belief that Republicans have historically called opponents "socialists" in order to stop moderate reforms, and that the new stickiness of the Obama/socialist association is one part misinformation, one part ignorance. "The Republicans are doing the same thing they did when Roosevelt was president -- confusing somebody who is trying to save capitalism from itself with somebody who is trying to destroy it. (Obama) is not trying to destroy capitalism."

Llewellyn did, however, have kind words for GOP Chairman Michael Steele, to whom he suggested -- and it sounded only half-in-jest -- he owes a thank you note. "We have more media attention as a result of this stuff than anything else in the last 10 years," he said. Top U.S. Socialist Says Barack Obama is Not One of Them

You ought to read the interview, it gives you an idea what an actual socialist thinks about all this, especially relevant in comparison to what the Glenn Becks of the world say.

MoCo Students Hear Speech

Montgomery County students generally heard the President's speech yesterday. Here's The Gazette:
Justina Sarkodie, 7, said President Barack Obama doesn't want her to give up.

Her classmate at Gaithersburg Elementary School, Brandon Lazo-Flores, 7, said the president wants him to learn from his mistakes.

These were just a few of the messages that area students took away from Obama's much-hyped speech to the nation's students that aired at noon Tuesday.

Chris Cram, a spokesman for Montgomery County Public Schools, said it was left up to principals whether their schools would show Obama's speech. He said he did not know of any schools that chose not to air it.

Any guidance, Cram said, came from the U.S. Department of Education, but principals with questions could call their community superintendents.

The president's address sparked controversy nationwide among some parents, politicians and teachers, with critics charging that Obama's address and accompanying lesson plans would bring politics into the classroom.

Obama released a copy of his prepared remarks over the weekend to allay fears that his message would be overly political.

Niki Hazel, principal of Gaithersburg Elementary School, said she spoke with PTA members to see if parents shared her interest in showing the address in school. She decided to use an automated phone message system to alert parents that students would be able to see Obama's speech in class Tuesday, but they could opt out of the speech or accompanying lessons.

"If they didn't want the child to participate, they could send a note to school," Hazel said.

She received two notes out of 500 students. Those students participated in alternate activities, Hazel said.

Hazel said she received other notes, too.

"I got a few notes from parents thanking us for the opportunity, and a note from a parent saying that even though they didn't agree with Obama's views they would allow their child to watch it, but they didn't want their child to participate in any after-activities."

Hazel said she let teachers decide whether to lead students in any activities related to Obama's speech. In Justina's and Brandon's Gaithersburg classroom, students used markers to write down what they heard in Obama's address. Schools across county air Obama speech

To my mind, this is ideal. I am a believer in distributed control -- if you create an environment where things are allowed rather than prohibited, people are free to make the best choices, and I am confident that most people, given the autonomy to choose, will make the best choice. If one central authority prohibits something, then choice is taken away from participants in the system, and if the authority orders the wrong thing, everybody does the wrong thing.

In this case, MCPS allowed the speech to be televised, at the principals' and the teachers' discretion. It sounds like all of them chose to enrich our county's children's education experience by showing them the President's speech.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Obama Official Crosses Beck, Has to Resign

Late Saturday night Van Jones, the President's top adviser on "green" jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, announced his resignation after a hoo-hah of fake controversy. This is the kind of background noise we have gotten used to hearing, and I'm afraid we have gotten numb, we have stopped thinking about it. The guy's offense was that he signed a petition in 2004 that asked some questions about the 9/11 attacks, and he said out loud that Republicans are "assholes."

We as Americans are supposed to find it abhorrently controversial that the guy endorses an uncertified conspiracy theory and thinks poorly of Republicans. Why do we accept that? Do you know what it would like if every conspiracy theorist was kicked out of government? You can read the petition he signed HERE and see what you think. A hundred prominent people and forty-eight family members of 9/11 victims signed the document calling for answers to a lot of questions about the attacks. You might see some questions there that you would like to know the answers to, as well. If you agree that these questions should be answered, and you have a conscience, you should quit your job.

In a speech last February, an audience member asked Jones why the Republicans were so successful at getting bills passed in the Senate without supermajorities, while the Democrats can't do it, even with 58 votes of their own. Jones' answer was, "Well, they're assholes."

It is so shocking that a Democrat would say this about a Republican that the guy had to resign his position in the administration, where he was seen as a rising star and a powerful force toward improving the quality of the environment.

There's another way to look at it. Glenn Beck is a loudmouth FOX TV guy who is one of the leading voices of the "teabagger" movement, which is an attempt by some ignorant white people to "take their country back." He has said the President is a racist, well he'll say anything. What Van Jones said about Republicans can easily be said about Glenn Beck, or to be nicer you can say he's an unintelligent rabble-rousing miscreant. Glenn Beck has been hammering Jones on his show, day after day ranting about him, criticizing him, focusing anger on him, saying he should be fired, he should resign.

Glenn Beck has been having trouble lately. His advertisers have been pulling out, one by one. As of September 2nd, fifty seven companies had pulled their ads from his show.

Now, see if you can follow the bouncing ball. The advertising boycott was organized and promoted by Color of Change, a group that calls itself the "largest African-American online political organization in the country." The group was originally formed as a reaction to the government's failure to protect a largely African-American population after Hurricane Katrina, and communicates mostly through emails to more than 600,000 members. The boycott has been very successful -- in the long run the FOX network will not be able to carry a show that can't get any advertising.

Color of Change was co-founded in 2005 by James Rucker and Van Jones.

The media have portrayed the situation entirely as if it were a matter of this controversial character saying outrageous things, but we have just had eight years of outrageous things being said without people resigning. A better frame for the situation is this: someone in the Obama administration crossed Glenn Beck and the administration let the person go rather than stand up for them.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama: Back to School Event

The prepared text of President Obama's Back to School Event for Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.

I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America. White House, Prepared School Remarks

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Word About Patriotism

I don't talk about my work here on the blog, but like a lot of our readers I am a federal employee. On the evening of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, the day America was attacked by terrorists, President Bush, who had been put into office by sketchy court rulings and irregular vote counts, said:
The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight and will be open for business tomorrow.

I remember, I was drinking a martini while I listened to his speech, after sitting in front of the television all day with my children, watching and discussing what we saw. I said, "Okay, I'm going in." My wife looked at me in surprise and told me maybe I should take the day off. Nobody knew what was going to happen. I work a block from the Capitol, nobody knew if the attacks of that day were the start of an ongoing war or just a one-time assault.

My President was going to stand firm, he was going to keep the government operating. It's easy for me to take time off, I could easily have stayed home. I had kids in school, a wife, a mortgage they couldn't cover without me, why would I risk my life to go to work?

I know that families across the Washington area had the conversation we did, deciding whether to stay safe in the suburbs or go to work in the bulls-eye city. September 12th, everybody in my office went to work. Well, except for the one loudmouth Republican. Nobody worked very hard, everybody talked and worried and followed the news on the Internet, but we were there, the government was open for business.

Why did we go back? The feeling that I had at that time was patriotism. I went back to support my President in standing up to enemies who had sucker-punched us. I didn't agree with the guy, didn't like him, didn't vote for him, but he was the President according to the law of the land, and if we didn't back him up, who knew what would happen?

The day after tomorrow the President of the United States is going to give a special speech to students who are just starting a new school year. He will tell them to study hard and pay attention in class, probably tell some inspirational stories about overcoming hardships, get them jazzed up about the new school year.

Some people who live in this country don't want the President to speak in their kids' school. They don't accept the electoral process that put him in office, they do not respect the will of the majority, they are organizing and rabble-rousing to undermine our government and the leaders we chose to lead us as a country.

Some of us complained when GW Bush was President. I will speak for myself, I thought the guy was a moron and everything he did was bad for the country. I wanted to see the other party get back into control. I'm a little lazy and don't get involved very much in party politics, but I voted for the guys that are in now and was glad they won.

My point is, even though I did not agree with the last guy or like anything he did, I did not question his authority as President and did not see his incompetence as a reason to destroy what two centuries of history have built up. If Bush had wanted to address schoolchildren, nobody would have kept their kid home, every school with the capability would have shown it. We might have complained if he said some stupid stuff, which he always did, it might have been one of those teachable moments you hear about, where we have to explain to our kids later what the nice man meant to say. Some of what he said would likely have been political, scaring kids about terrorists and stuff, but nobody would have thought to be so unpatriotic as to demand that the President of the United States should not speak to schoolchildren.

The country is busy now with groups meeting to talk about secession, militias buying guns to fight the government, wild-eyed nuts on TV screaming that they want "their country" back. There is talk that the President is a Nazi, a socialist, a communist, a Muslim, a foreigner. There are racist jokes and cartoons that put a bone in his nose or mock him for being black. This isn't talk that the guy is unqualified or is making bad decisions, I don't mean that, this is hateful talk, intended to undermine his authority and sabotage the foundation of the republic. It is unpatriotic talk, bordering on treason. When you say you love America you don't just mean you love the land and natural resources, or that you love the nice people who live here, you are also talking about a method that we have developed for governing ourselves in freedom, a complicated and expensive method but one that guarantees each of us rights and sees that the guarantee is fairly enforced.

I always thought of loyalty as one of the better qualities of conservatism, well I don't agree with being loyal to someone who is wrong but it's better than just being greedy and shifty. A good example was Colin Powell, he was destroyed by his loyalty but you could respect him for it. You learned he can't be trusted, but you understood why he lied and respected him for sacrificing his personal reputation for the cause.

But these people today are disloyal, the teabaggers and birthers, the people who don't think the President's speech should be shown in schools. As soon as their side lost the election they abandoned the principles this country was based on. They don't love democracy, the republican form of government, they don't want fair courts, a powerful Presidency, a Congress that solves important problems in the way the majority of the people want them to. They only want to run it all down, because their side lost.

It's time for reasonable people to take the flag back. We've let the nuts run with it for too many years. And what we need, perhaps paradoxically, is a strong President. They can call him a socialist or whatever, the fact is he was elected to enact a progressive platform and he has wasted a lot of time and energy trying to compromise with people who only want to defeat him. He ran as a liberal and now has moved too far to the center, trying to make everybody happy. You won't make everybody happy, it just won't happen, the Republicans only want to win the next election, they are not interested in improving the economy, international diplomacy, education, security, the environment, rights for sexual minorities, they are only interested in winning the next election. We need a President who will strongly state, This is what I believe is right, and then who will put all his efforts into doing what he said he would do.

The antipatriots among us won't like it when things start to get better, it will take the wind out of their sails. The Republicans will lose even worse next time around, until they return to some sensible core values having to do with moderation in government and individual liberty. In the long run there is still hope, but if the President continues to negotiate away his integrity the whole thing can collapse into anarchy.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

SIECUS Addresses NYT Misrepresentations

Somebody just sent this to the TTF Yahoo group. It is a statement by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) referring to the document referred to in the previous post here. I'll just copy and paste without editing:
A story in today’s New York Times made a number of misrepresentations regarding the publication of the International Guidelines on Sexuality Education: An Evidence Informed Approach to Effective Sex, Relationships, and HIV/STI Education by the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO).

The International Guidelines are an important development in advancing comprehensive sexuality education and HIV/STI-prevention efforts around the globe and UNESCO should be applauded for its leadership on these important issues.

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, SIECUS, has been extensively involved in the development of this document, fully supports it, and would like to help clarify a number of points.

First, the story vastly overstated the extent of criticism directed at this ground-breaking document, quoting an extreme, right-wing organization as well as an obscure local organization in the state of Maryland in the United States as sources of this disapproval. The latter organization was formed to address a very local issue and does not represent a significant or noteworthy constituency. The other is a fully discredited extremist organization whose theories on population are best suited for science-fiction novels, not the pages of the New York Times.

While giving too much weight to critics, the article also vastly underestimates the support for this important publication among agencies of the United Nations system. There are on-going discussions and processes working themselves through the UN system. We have every confidence that at the end of the day, the International Guidelines on Sexuality Education and the implementation of comprehensive sex education will be fully supported by all UN agencies whose mandates guide them to promote adolescent health. We call upon the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the agency cited in the article, to clarify its support both for efforts to expand comprehensive sex education globally and for these Guidelines as an important step in toward that goal.

Finally, the story erroneously reported that the Guidelines were to be released this week at a meeting in Birmingham, England and suggested that this event was cancelled as a result of criticism. In fact, no such release was ever planned and UNESCO already released a draft version of the document in June 2009 which is currently circulating in the public realm. Ongoing input to create a stronger and more effective document is, as always, welcome. The hope is that the document serves as a model for further adaptations to regional and country-level contexts.

In fact, this week a meeting is being held in Mexico City where technical experts – including numerous representatives from the same agency that the New York Times asserts does not support this effort – met to discuss how these Guidelines can be helpful in advancing comprehensive sex education in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Sex education works and is supported by every major public health agency around the world. Efforts to provide comprehensive sexuality education as part of HIV/STI prevention are moving forward around the globe aided by key resources such as the UNESCO’s Guidelines. Manufacturing controversy by misrepresenting the support among the United Nations agencies and by citing fringe American groups fails to reflect the genuine consensus and reality of global movement that is now heading in the right direction. SIECUS Statement on New York Times Article’s Misrepresentation of New International Sexuality Education Guidelines

NYT Story on UN Sex-Ed Guidelines, Several Weird Things

This little story is weirder than it seems, and on the face of it it seems pretty weird. The New York Times had an article this week about new sex-ed guidelines issued by the United Nations. Here's how it starts:
PARIS — A set of proposed international sex education guidelines aimed at reducing H.I.V. infections among young people has provoked criticism from conservative groups that say the program would be too explicit for young children and promote access to legal abortion as a right.

The guidelines, scheduled to be released by Unesco in a new draft next week, would be distributed to education ministries, school systems and teachers around the world to help guide teachers in what to teach young people about their bodies, sex, relationships and sexually transmitted diseases. They would address four different age groups.

“In the absence of a vaccine for AIDS, education is the only vaccine we have,” said Mark Richmond, Unesco’s global coordinator for H.I.V. and AIDS and the director of the division that coordinates educational priorities. “Only 40 percent of young people aged 15 to 24 have accurate knowledge” of how the disease is transmitted, he said, even though that age group “accounts for 45 percent of all new cases.” Sex Ed Guide Generates Opposition

I had seen a summary of these sex-ed guidelines on another site, and they are pretty controversial sounding. I even flipped through the report, not reading but just seeing what it was, I figured I'd come back to it. The UN recommends pretty explicit information for young children regarding sexual function. For instance, according to THIS blog report, the 5-8 year old category includes learning about:
  • Private body parts that can feel pleasure when touched by oneself
  • Basic information regarding conception, fertilization, pregnancy and childbirth
  • The natural exploration of one’s own body
  • Masturbation: the touching and rubbing one’s genitals
  • Cultural and religious messages regarding sex, gender and sexuality
  • Gender roles, gender inequality and gender-based violence
  • Consensual sexual activity and sexual abuse
  • Male and female sexual organs
  • Sexual diversity
  • HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections

Just to give you an idea. Not everybody would agree about the appropriateness of these topics for kids that young, let's say. But whatever, it opens the subject up for debate. Why wouldn't you teach eight-year-olds that some parts of your body feel good when you touch them? It is an undisputed truth, and everybody knows it, what's so terrible about saying it out loud? See what I mean? There are things to talk about here.

Now here's the first weird thing. The link in the NYT article, which I included in the blockquote above, goes to some 2008 report from a 2007 conference, a document titled Review of Sex, Relationships and HIV Education in Schools. That isn't new, and it does not contain guidelines, it is a review of sex-ed education, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. It is clearly the wrong document.

Here's the second weird thing. I went back to read the original, and the UN has taken their document offline. It was HERE, and it was more than a hundred pages long. The current document at that link is one page long, with text covering the title that says, "A new version will be available soon."

So it sounds like they are taking the criticism very, very seriously.

More from the Times:
But the conservative criticism has already caused one of the key participating and donor agencies, the United Nations Population Fund, to pull back from the project and ask that its name be edited out of the published material, United Nations officials said.

A Population Fund official, reached in New York, said Tuesday that the fund wanted changes to the text. “Discussions are ongoing to make the publication more effective and adaptable by countries, so it may better serve countries as guidelines for use in national educational systems,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter.

A draft issued in June has been attacked by conservative and religious groups, mainly in the United States, for recommending discussions of homosexuality, describing sexual abstinence as “only one of a range of choices available to young people” to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy, and suggesting a discussion of masturbation with children as young as 5.

We are familiar with that way of wording things, "children as young as 5." The 5-to-8 category gets some information, so they say the five-year-olds get it. The construction casts doubt on the author of this piece, Steven Erlanger, and alerts you to other signs of bias in the article. An objective author would have said that children would have the knowledge "by the age of eight." But the Times chose to go with shocking rather than accurate. Look, HERE is an article on a conservative web site titled "United Nations Plan: Teach Masturbation to 5-Year-Olds." See how clever that is? The New York Times should be better than that.

Suspicion having been raised, I wonder what exactly in the recommendations the Population Fund objected to -- there is no reason to believe they objected to the imparting of accurate information at a surprisingly early age, they may have objected to something else. But listen, we're talking about organizations that generate paperwork by the ton, there's not much of a chance I'm going to Google around and find out what this group objected to. That means the author gets away with implying that the United Nations Population Fund sides with puritanical conservatives in this matter.

Skipping down...
The barrage of criticism has put Unesco, the United Nations agency charged with advancing education and culture worldwide, on the defensive. The agency has removed the June draft of the guidelines from its Web site, and delayed the release of the final document.

“Unfortunately, the way the guidelines have been presented by certain media has provoked some fairly aggressive reactions, mainly in the form of virulent comment on conservative American Web sites, but also via some very nasty e-mails directed at the two co-authors as well as certain Unesco staff,” said Sue Williams, the spokeswoman for the agency, which is based in Paris.

Okay, that explains why the document I was reading a couple of days ago is gone now. It doesn't explain why the Times links to a random 2008 report though.

Man, I wish I'd saved that thing.

Then weird thing number three:
The guidelines suggest, for example, that teachers begin discussing masturbation with children ages 5 to 8, with a more extensive discussion for those ages 9 to 12.

Michelle Turner, founder of the Maryland-based Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, says children that age should be learning “the proper name of certain parts of their bodies” but “certainly not about masturbation.”

“I’m really concerned about what they want to teach 5- to 8-year-olds, and I have concerns about their position on abortion and the way they want to present it to youth,” she said. “Where are parents’ rights? It’s not up to the government to teach these things.”

Here is an international organization issuing guidelines to be used all around the world, and the reporter calls up Michelle Turner of Montgomery County's Citizens for Responsible Whatever to ask her what she thinks about it?

That is some thorough reporting.

Not to be a spoilsport or anything, there is nothing here about "the government," this is a United Nations report. I understand that conservative people might not want their children to find out that touching certain body parts is pleasurable, but this report is not a mandate, not "the government," it affects "parents' rights" in no way.

I think of our controversies here as local, sometimes forgetting the media attention we have gotten. It is possible that Michelle Turner, having championed the failed effort to undermine our county school district's intention to teach students about contraception and sexual orientation, is, after all is said and done, a nationally recognized expert on such matters. I would say that the techniques used by the CRC in fighting sensible sex-ed were the precursors of the kinds of "death panel" and "euthanize grandma" techniques we see now being implemented at the national level, so maybe our little fishbowl is a bigger deal than we realize sometimes. Maybe Michelle Turner's opinion matters to somebody.

Oh, but here's one of those nutty liberals who wrote this recommendations document:
But one of the guidelines’ authors, Nanette Ecker, former director of international education and training at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, said that given the extent of sexual abuse, unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, sex education has to start early in order to “provide young people with the specific information and skills they need to navigate safely from childhood to adulthood.”

Why, I never! Those liberals and their wild ideas!

One more important aspect of this:
“The document is not a curriculum,” Mr. Richmond said. “It focuses on the why and what issues that require attention in strategies to introduce or strengthen sexuality education.”

The US has traditionally ignored UN recommendations about everything, and I am pretty sure these guidelines would never in a million years affect any decision made by any school board or schoolteacher. But this is a polarizing topic, and knee-jerk conservatives know what their opinion is as soon as they see the title of the document, it's not like they have to read it to know they're against it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Madaleno on Marriage

My schedule has been keeping me away from the blog lately, but after this morning I should be back to normal, so to speak. In the meantime, we should take note of this really nice piece that Maryland State Senator Rich Madaleno had in the Washington Post this past week.
In 2002, I became the first openly gay person elected to the Maryland General Assembly. It was important to me to be straightforward about who I was while not being pigeonholed as “the gay guy.” I immersed myself in my role as a public servant, focused on my constituents and worked hard. As time passed, people began to see me as “the budget guy,” or as an advocate for education, addiction treatment or developmental disability programs, or simply as Rich. My colleagues also came to know my husband, Mark.

Seven years have helped me to transcend being defined by my sexual orientation. But seven years, two wonderful children and a church wedding later, my husband and I are still denied the fundamental protections of civil marriage. Anyone who has ever stood up for his or her family will understand why the risk of being viewed as “the gay senator” can no longer keep me from speaking out. Achieving the freedom to marry, and removing a restriction that impedes the development of secure families, is a matter of fundamental social justice that needs vocal champions.

This year and last, with 52 of my colleagues, I introduced legislation to allow people to enter into civil marriage contracts regardless of gender. Unfortunately, this bill has yet to appear on a voting list in either chamber. This legislative inertia doesn’t have to be the end of the story, as I will explain in a moment. But, at a personal level, it has caused me to rethink this basic aspect of my public service: Until more legislators are willing to stand with me, there is no question that I must speak on behalf of my family and the thousands like us. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Truth ..... must be clothed with flesh and blood, or it cannot tell its whole story.”

It will soon be 10 years since Mark and I were set up on a fateful blind date and eight years since our wedding at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda. Do we have a marriage license? No. But marriage is more than a legal document. The foundation of ours is the commitment we made, before our families and religious community, to build a life together and to be there for one another in good times and bad. The root of our marriage isn’t a license but our son and daughter, our families, our home, our memories and our dreams. But make no mistake — a marriage license would mean vital rights and responsibilities for our family, especially during turbulent financial times, and in matters related to health care, child-rearing, social services, retirement and, though we do not relish the thought, the time when one of us leaves this life for something greater.

In Maryland, instead of allowing us to legally marry, the General Assembly has passed a few limited bills to placate us “domestic partners,” as we are referred to in law. We appreciate the 10 to 15 rights of marriage now within our reach. But with 400-plus rights of marriage bestowed by the state and more than a thousand bestowed by the federal government, it is clear that no arrangement other than civil marriage will achieve equal protection under the law or erase the sting to our personhood that results from denying us the freedom to marry.

Gaining this support in the General Assembly may take time. But there is a way in which Maryland can move forward immediately.

While Maryland does not allow same-gender couples to legalize their relationships here, many such couples in our state are already legally married. Some had destination weddings in a pro-equality state such as Vermont or Massachusetts; others were married before moving to Maryland for work or family. Recently, I asked for an opinion from Attorney General Doug Gansler regarding whether Maryland should follow the District and New York and honor these legal marriages. Having reviewed our case law, I believe we have a legal obligation to do just that. In the past, Maryland has, as a legal principle, honored marriages performed elsewhere even when those marriages could not have been performed here. A government should not dissolve a validly contracted marriage without even one party requesting it.

The fact that the legislature is crippled by inaction on this issue does not end Maryland’s responsibility to the law. With the stroke of a pen, Gansler and Gov. Martin O’Malley can help to bring peace and security to thousands of Maryland families.

Mark and I would prefer to make it “official” in Maryland rather than traveling to New England. But until more of my colleagues in the General Assembly make it possible for gays and lesbians to legally marry here, we could at least take heart in knowing that our marriage was honored by our state. Whatever road it takes to get there, this “gay guy” looks forward to the day when his family is like any other, and when future generations have no understanding of what it was like before all Americans had the freedom to marry the person they love. A Marriage Like Any Other