Sunday, April 25, 2010

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

School Took 56,000 Secret Photos From Students Laptops

Have you been following this stuff about the Pennsylvania school district that gave students laptops and then activated the cameras on them so they could see what the kids were doing at home?
Lower Merion School District employees activated the web cameras and tracking software on laptops they gave to high school students about 80 times in the past two school years, snapping nearly 56,000 images that included photos of students, pictures inside their homes and copies of the programs or files running on their screens, district investigators have concluded.

In most of the cases, technicians turned on the system after a student or staffer reported a laptop missing and turned it off when the machine was found, the investigators determined.

But in at least five instances, school employees let the Web cams keep clicking for days or weeks after students found their missing laptops, according to the review. Those computers - programmed to snap a photo and capture a screen shot every 15 minutes when the machine was on - fired nearly 13,000 images back to the school district servers. Lower Merion report: Web cams snapped 56,000 images

There's a picture on the web site of a kid named Blake Robbins sleeping. He is suing the school district.

It is just a bad idea to give anybody the ability to take candid photographs of teenagers in their own bedrooms and send them over the Internet. It doesn't matter how respectable the authority is, the potential for misuse here far outweighs the potential benefits. If you were in a meeting of school administrators and somebody suggested that you give students computers with cameras that can remotely take pictures of them in their time away from school, wouldn't you want to say, "Uh, no, that is not a good idea?" Apparently nobody in this school district said anything.

The good news is that so far no one has apparently reported any sex or nudity in the photographs.
Lower Merion began using the system after deciding to give each of its nearly 2,300 high school students their own laptop computer. The program started in 2008 at Harriton High School and expanded this school year to Lower Merion High.

In addition to the photos and screen shots, the technology also used the laptop's Internet address to pinpoint its location. The system was designed to automatically purge all the images after the tracking was deactivated.

Apparently the images were not purged.
Only two employees - information systems coordinator Carol Cafiero and network technician Mike Perbix - have the ability to actually turn on and off the tracking. Hockeimer said the district investigators have no evidence to suggest either Perbix or Cafiero activated the system without being asked.

But the requests were loose and disorganized, he said, sometimes amounting to just an brief e-mail.

"The whole situation was riddled with the problem of not having any written policies and procedures in place," Hockeimer said. "And that impacted so much of what happened here."

Robbins has claimed that an assistant principal confronted him in November with a Web cam photo of him in his bedroom. Robbins said the photo shows him with a handful of Mike & Ike candies, but that the assistant principal thought they were drugs.

His attorney, Haltzman, greeted the release of the numbers skeptically.

"I wish the school district would have come clean earlier, as soon as they had this information and not waiting until something was filed in court revealing the extent of the spying," he said.

Confronted him with a handful of candy that they thought was drugs.

Most of the pictures were taken from stolen laptops, in an effort to figure out who had them, I don't think anybody would be too concerned about that, if that's all it was. But the school does not need to send cameras into students' homes to see whether they are using drugs.

Hopefully this school's embarrassment will send a message to other administrators around the country who might wish they could spy on students.

We live in a time when the boundary between public and private behavior has been worn very thin. There are cameras everywhere, your cell phone is constantly broadcasting your location, people go online and tweet every time they pick their nose. I don't like it. I like to be able to get away with things sometimes, I'm a decent law-abiding citizen but I don't like everybody to know what I'm doing every second of the day. There are obviously people who don't feel like me, who feel that private behavior should meet a public standard. I'm sorry, but I believe in trial-and-error learning, and that means errors, and I don't want every mistake I make broadcast to the whole world. The idea that a school would record the private behavior of its students gives me chills.

The WSJ Takes on Unplanned Pregnancy, In Its Way

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting take on the problem of unwanted pregnancy.
Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the birth-control pill in the U.S. The dawn of dependable contraception not only ended the post-war baby boom, it also ignited the sexual revolution and helped millions of women to enter the work force.

Nowadays, women can choose from a bevy of birth-control options, including pills, patches and rings that allow them to have as few periods as they like, even none. Implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs) can prevent pregnancy for years at a time and eliminate the need to refill and remember. Morning-after pills that can decrease the risk from unprotected sex are available without a prescription even to teenagers. Women who want to end their fertility permanently can do so in a doctor's office without undergoing surgery. Abstinence is still taught in many schools and homes as being 100% effective if followed diligently.

Yet despite all these options, the rates of unplanned pregnancies remain high: Almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S.—some 3.1 million a year—are unintended, according to the most recent government survey, from 2001. One out of every two American women aged 15 to 44 has at least one unplanned pregnancy in her lifetime. Among unmarried women in their 20s, seven out of 10 pregnancies are unplanned. The Birth-Control Riddle

There is something funny about that statement that abstinence is 100% effective if followed diligently. It seems to me that the word "abstinence" is one of those binary things, you are either abstinent or you are not. If you are abstinent five days a week, or twenty-three hours a day, you are not abstinent. It's not that abstinence hasn't been "followed diligently," there just ain't none. "Trying to be abstinent" is known to most people as "not using any birth control," and in itself it is not effective in preventing pregnancy.

Why are the numbers so high?

The answer is a complex tangle of cultural, religious, behavioral, educational and economic factors. Many of those unplanned pregnancies become wanted babies. About a million are aborted each year and others are miscarried.

Almost half (48%) of unintended pregnancies involve contraceptive failures. In 52% of the cases, couples used no birth control at all. Cost is a factor for some of them. Even though most insurers now cover contraceptives, co-pays and deductibles can still present obstacles.

There is something obvious about the Wall Street Journal assuming that the monetary cost of contraception is what drives someone's decision whether to use it.

Interesting that they say nearly half of the unintended pregnancies resulted from "contraception failures." What can that mean? If a couple is using condoms for birth control and one night they have sex without it, is that a "contraception failure?" Because really, if half the unintended pregnancies were conceived using contraception and half were conceived without, what would be the point? Obviously contraception does not work. In this study, it sounds like contraception -- whatever that means -- gives you about a four percent edge, and that might not even be bigger than the margin of error.

I am pretty sure they do not mean "contraception used correctly." If you take your pill every other day, use a condom when there's one handy, you are not using contraception correctly. But you might report in a survey that you use contraception.

It's like, how many unintended pregnancies result from abstinence? Obviously, zero, at least in the last couple thousand years. And how many follow from "abstinence not followed diligently?" I bet it's a bunch.

There is just something screwy here.
And many young people are in "the fog zone" in which their beliefs about pregnancy don't match their behaviors, according to a 2009 report by the National Campaign to End Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. In a survey conducted by the Guttmacher Institute of 1,800 single men and women aged 18 to 29, more than 80% of both sexes said it was important to them to avoid pregnancy right now, yet 43% of those who are sexually active said they used no contraception or used it inconsistently.

Some population experts say the rates of unintended pregnancy would be far lower if more women used IUDs and implants that prevent pregnancy for years at a time. Only about 3% of American women currently do.

These are hard questions. First of all, young people need to understand how to use their contraceptive methods correctly. There is a big difference, for instance, in the effectiveness of condoms with ordinary use and correct use. Then the harder problem is for young people to learn to see the sexual context as one where they can make important decisions that affect their lives and their futures, you can't just get carried away with the passion of the moment, you have to use your head, too.

Now this article takes a sudden change of direction. I'm not going to quote it, but I recommend it. The author goes through and summarizes all the current forms of contraception. Section titles are:
  • The New IUDs
  • The Implant
  • Hormone Pills, Patches And Rings
  • Condoms, Caps And Sponges
  • Emergency Contraception
  • Permanent Birth Control

Then there is a lovely full-color chart of the various methods in magazine-y format, with factoids and information -- you could print it out and put it on the wall outside your daughter's bedroom.

There is one interesting comment here, regarding condoms:
Effectiveness is still an issue. Roughly two of every 100 women whose partners use condoms correctly become pregnant each year, as do 15 of 100 women whose partners don't use them correctly.

Let's assume that someone using condoms is on the youngish side, we'll say these people have sex twice a week. That is 104 condoms per year -- the statistical statements uses a one year reference period. A hundred couples will use 10,400 condoms in a year. And of those, we're told, there will be on average two mishaps resulting in pregnancy, in other words, there is a 2/10,400 or 0.019 percent chance of condom usage resulting in pregnancy.

Certainly some condoms break or leak or whatever during an infertile part of the woman's cycle, when it doesn't matter, as far as pregnancy is concerned, so the failure rate is higher than 0.019 per cent, probably four times that, maybe 0.0769 percent. That doesn't really sound so bad. I think new couples tend to use condoms, and then as they form a commitment and trust their exclusiveness it is common to switch to oral contraceptives, or some other form that does not also protect against infections. Let's not get the idea that condoms don't work, or they fail two percent of the time, they do what they're supposed to do, they block pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections quite well.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Blog Will Be Changing

This blog is hosted at Blogger and then is pushed magically through the tubes of the Internet to, where you can see it. Unfortunately, Blogger, which is run by Google, doesn't want to do it that way any more, they are going to stop ftp publishing at the end of this month.

That means I have to figure out how to keep the blog going. I will be studying the problem over the next week and trying things. It may be that we will just have a link here to a Blogspot address, and it may be that I am able to figure out how to display the blog content at this site.

Something will change, hopefully it will be a minor change for the reader. Just letting you know.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Peter Sprigg Talks to the School Board

The other day we gave you David Fishback's testimony to the Montgomery County Public Board of Education regarding the PFOX flyers that the school district distributes four times a year. Interestingly, when Peter Sprigg, a Family Research Council spokesperson who also represents PFOX, heard that David was speaking, he put together a statement, too, and gave it to the board. That statement is now published online at the PFOX blog, such as it is.

(I guess I had heard that PFOX had a blog, but I had never seen it. Hoo boy, this is a piece of work.)

Here's Sprigg's statement:
Public Comment by Peter Sprigg
Member, Board of Directors, PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays)
Member, Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development
Montgomery County Board of Education
April 15, 2010

I am here because it came to my attention at last night’s meeting of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee that some individual or group would be presenting comments today critical of a flier by PFOX that was sent home with MCPS students under the backpack flier program.

Some critics on the web have even referred to this flier as “hate speech.” I am providing you with copies of the actual flier so that you can see what it actually says. I defy anyone to point to a single sentence or statement in this document that promotes hate toward anyone. In fact the flier says, “All individuals deserve the right to self-determination and happiness based on their own needs, and not the needs of others. PFOX supports tolerance for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.” Where is the “hate” in that?

I was also informed that a citizen would be proposing changes or additions to the MCPS curriculum on sexual orientation that was already extensively reviewed and debated by the committee on which I serve. I would like to suggest that if changes are to be considered, you look at the website, recently created by the American College of Pediatricians to present accurate and up-to-date information on this subject. I have attached a flier with summary information that is available from this source.

Finally, I would suggest that if only one statement could be changed in the lessons about sexual orientation, it should be the removal of the politically motivated, scientifically unsubstantiated statement that was added to the curriculum at the last minute, without review by our committee, saying that homosexuality is “innate.” The most updated information about the origins of sexual orientation, as described by the American Psychological Association, is the following:
“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”

I would suggest that this statement, in full, should replace the inaccurate generalization about homosexuality being “innate.” PFOX responds to PFLAG

Peter says Some critics on the web have even referred to this flier as “hate speech.” and then shows the flyer to demonstrate how sweet and nice it is.

If any "critics on the web" were going to call the flyers hate speech that would be us. TTF is probably the only group that would go to the trouble of getting one of these flyers, transcribing the text, putting it on the web, and discussing it. We want to see MCPS stop distributing this horrible stuff to the young people of our county, right now. It is irresponsible and dangerous, and the school district reveals its fundamental moral impotence when it agrees to hand out these misleading flyers, which contradict school nondiscrimination policy and the content of MCPS health classes, out of fear of legal expenses.

Knowing it would probably be my big mouth that said something like that, I conducted a Google search of this site for "hate speech" and PFOX. TRY IT. The search turned up eighteen instances of those terms coexisting in a blog post, which includes the comments, and a couple of double-hits on individual posts and monthly archives.

Not one blog post at this site says the PFOX flyers are "hate speech." Some commenters have said so, and we have quoted some newspaper articles that suggest it, but actually on the part of the blog we are responsible for, we have never said the PFOX flyers are hate speech. For instance I wrote, Common sense says that the schools should have control over the materials that are given to students, but as long as PFOX is careful not to cross the line (which is not very far away) into "hate speech," it appears that our public schools will be delivering their message for them. I would and have called PFOX a "hate group," because their message is one of prejudice and discrimination against LGBT Americans, but their flyers are sugar-coated poison, they use the passive-aggressive approach of trying to argue that they want "tolerance" and "acceptance" for "everybody," including "former homosexuals." And that is their way of opening the door to tell gay students they should stop being gay, that their sexual orientation is a choice and they can change, it is their way of telling straight students that their gay peers have chosen to be different and to imply that the only reason they are gay is because they are defiant and stubborn, and sinful. The hate drips with syrup, it is a clever strategy and easily defended. Who, us? We don't hate anybody, we l-o-o-o-v-v-v-e everybody, see how nice we are? We just want love and tolerance for everybody, especially people who have stopped being gay.

Then Sprigg has the nerve to tell the school board to look at the web site we have been talking about here recently, he calls it ", recently created by the American College of Pediatricians to present accurate and up-to-date information on this subject." This is the organization that was just called out by the Director of NIH for misrepresenting him. It is the fake group that contacted all the public school superintendents in America, and now Peter Sprigg is citing them as if they were a legitimate professional organization.

Finally, Sprigg wants to quibble about the word "innate," which previous individuals from his side of the aisle have conflated with "immutable." Sexual orientation is obviously innate. That concept doesn't explain how it develops, where it comes from, how it works, but it does describe the experience of nearly every human being. You don't choose who will be attractive to you, you discover it. For most of us, the opposite sex begins to stand out from the background at around the time of puberty, boys start noticing girls and girls start noticing boys in a new way, they don't choose that, it just happens. And for some people it happens the other way, boys notice boys, girls notice girls. That doesn't mean it's genetic or that there's any simple explanation for it, it just happens. It is not imposed from without, it emerges. It's innate.

Sprigg is clever, as usual, proposing text from the APA to replace that evil word innate. The text itself is benign, the point is to get rid of that word "innate." I don't know why, but that set them off when the curriculum was being developed. I think they are afraid the schools are saying that sexual orientation is determined at birth, which would make it harder to badmouth gay people. Prejudice and discrimination come much more easily when you can say they choose their orientation.

Peter Sprigg has the right to try to tell the school board these things, and I hope board members have the education and good judgment to understand what is going on. He presents himself as if he were an expert citing real researchers, but when you look into it none of the research has been published in legitimate scientific journals, none of it holds up.

Armed Seditionists to Demonstrate Today

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. Rightwing seditionists are celebrating by bringing their guns to a demonstration in Virginia to protest government. From this morning's Post:
Daniel Almond, a three-tour veteran of Iraq, is ready to "muster outside D.C." on Monday with several dozen other self-proclaimed patriots, all of them armed. They intend to make history as the first people to take their guns to a demonstration in a national park, and the Virginia rally is deliberately being held just a few miles from the Capitol and the White House.

Almond plans to have his pistol loaded and openly carried, his rifle unloaded and slung to the rear, a bandoleer of magazines containing ammunition draped over his polo-shirted shoulder. The Atlanta area real estate agent organized the rally because he is upset about health-care reform, climate control, bank bailouts, drug laws and what he sees as President Obama's insistence on and the Democratic Congress's capitulation to a "totalitarian socialism" that tramples individual rights.

A member of several heretofore little-known groups, including Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership and Oath Keepers -- former and active military and law enforcement officials who have vowed to resist laws they deem unconstitutional -- Almond, 31, considers packing heat on the doorstep of the federal government within the mainstream of political speech.

Others consider it an alarming escalation of paranoia and anger in the age of Obama.

"What I think is important to note is that many of the speakers have really threatened violence, and it's a real threat to the rule of law," Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said of the program for the armed rally. "They are calling health care and taxes that have been duly enacted by a democratically elected Congress tyrannical, and they feel they have a right to confront that individually." Militia movement will be packing heat at rally on the Potomac

These people seem to hold a belief that the government is planning to take their guns away from them, but I don't see any sign that that is happening. President Obama has allowed people to carry weapons at his speeches, where his predecessor would throw you out for wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a Democratic candidate on it, I don't see how anyone can say that freedom has been suddenly abridged by the new administration.

The Post story includes this observation:
When they stand on the river banks Monday and preach an activism that sounds to some like sedition, the armed demonstrators will have the full support of the federal government they fear, carefully detailed in the 26-page event permit, complete with the gun regulations of both Virginia and the Interior Department and a commitment to provide fencing, barricades and bike racks for the event.

"We handle tens of thousands of demonstrations of a First Amendment nature annually," said Dave Schlosser, spokesmen for the U.S. Park Police, "and we are handling this event no differently than any of the others. We assess what their needs are to allow us to facilitate a safe and successful demonstration so they can exercise their rights to free speech and free assembly without interference."

This demonstration is intended as a show of force by individuals who intend to use their weapons to fight the "totalitarian socialism" they imagine the US government to represent.

Today's date was carefully chosen.
April 19 is the anniversary of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and the government's final confrontation in 1993 with the Branch Davidian cult members in Waco, Tex. But Almond said he chose the date to honor the anniversary of the 1775 battles at Lexington and Concord that began the Revolutionary War, "and that is the only reason."

Do you buy that? I don't either.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Statement by David Fishback on PFOX Flyers

This guest blog is presented by David S. Fishback, Advocacy Chair of the Metro DC Chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG):
In February, the interestingly-named group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) distributed fliers in some Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) high schools telling students that people can change their sexual orientation from gay to straight by “therapies.” PFOX was able to distribute these fliers because a federal court decision several years ago required that MCPS not discriminate based on viewpoint in what the court viewed as a “public forum.” The same court also made it clear that MCPS, when speaking for itself, need not present all viewpoints. That is why PFOX lost in its lawsuit in 2007 and 2008 to block the health education curriculum revisions dealing with matters of sexual orientation unless its “viewpoint” was also presented.

The PFOX flyer is dangerous to children’s health.

On April 12, I wrote a letter to the Montgomery County Board of Education on behalf of the Metro DC Chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians (PFLAG), excerpts of which are copied here:

As you aware, last February, fliers from Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX) recently were distributed to Montgomery County high school students. See “Potomac high-schoolers get note saying therapy can turn gays straight”. At that time, PFOX announced that it would distribute more such fliers in April. The PFOX fliers tell students that gay people can become straight through "therapies.”

We know that the PFOX fliers are dangerous to the health of students who are gay. Because the "therapies" advocated by PFOX do not, in fact, change sexual orientation and create enormous -- and sometimes fatal -- emotional difficulties for those who are subjected to them, every American mainstream medical and mental health professional association, including the American Medical Association, has condemned them.

Because MCPS has chosen to continue the flyer distribution program, we believe that it has a heightened responsibility to deal with the PFOX misrepresentations. While the 2007 revised MCPS 8th and 10th Grade Health Education Curriculum includes an excellent discussion of sexual orientation, it does not deal with the "reparative" therapy issue. This is not an issue that MCPS has ignored; indeed, since the revised curriculum was implemented, MCPS has provided to Guidance Counselors and School Psychologists information from the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics explaining that these so-called therapies are dangerous.

On April 14, fliers submitted by the Metro DC Chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gay will be distributed to all high school students in MCPS. Those fliers show that the medical community rejects these so-called therapies. However, under appropriate MCPS rules, the fliers contain the disclaimer that the contents do not represent the views of MCPS. (“These materials are neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the Superintendent, or this school.”). So what students are receiving are contending views, even though MCPS itself understands that the PFOX “viewpoint” is dangerous.

There is a way to begin to resolve this problem.

In 2006, your Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development recommended that the 8th and 10th Grade Health Education Curriculum include the following statements, which are the positions of the mainstream health professional associations:
  • Homosexuality is not a disease or a mental illness.
  • Sexual orientation is not a choice and the American Medical Association opposes "therapies" that seek to change sexual orientation that are premised on the assumption that people can or should change their sexual orientation.
  • Children raised by same-sex couples do just as well as those raised by heterosexuals, and are no more likely to be homosexual.
  • Children who have fleeting same-sex attractions may assume incorrectly that they are gay or lesbian. Mere fleeting attraction does not prove orientation.
  • Homosexuals can live happy, successful lives; they can be successful parents.

In January 2007, the Superintendent proposed curriculum changes which, while very good, failed to contain any of these recommendations. On June 6, 2007, the Citizens Advisory Committee, believing that the above statements should have been in included, sent a report urging their inclusion. Later that month, the Superintendent proposed to include the first statement -- that being gay is not an illness -- but only if it were in response to a student's question. None of the other statements -- including the second, which deals squarely with the issue raised in the PFOX fliers -- were placed in the curriculum.

Consequently, we urge that the Board and the Superintendent take steps to include your Citizens Advisory Committee’s recommendations from June 2007 in the curriculum. Again, those recommendations comport with material that is already in MCPS Guidance offices.

On April 15, following the PFLAG flyer distribution, I testified before the Board of Education. Below is that testimony.
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has been pleased with how MCPS has handled matters of sexual orientation in recent years. The Board’s 2007 health education curriculum explains that it is important “to be educated about homosexuality [because such education] . . . is likely to diminish anti-gay prejudice. Accurate information . . . is especially important to young people who are first discovering and seeking to understand their sexuality.”

In 2007, your Citizens Advisory Committee strongly urged that the curriculum include the fact that “sexual orientation is not a choice and the American Medical Association opposes ‘therapies’ that seek to change sexual orientation that are premised on the assumption that people can or should change.” Unfortunately, that information – which is contained in materials provided for use by MCPS Guidance Offices – was not included in the curriculum.

The need for this information was made strikingly clear by the recent flyer distribution in several high schools by PFOX, telling students that gay people can change their sexual orientation through “therapies.” This assertion is not just hurtful to gay students and their families, but is rejected by every mainstream American medical and mental health professional association. These “therapies” are dangerous and have led to terrible outcomes, including depression and suicide.

Yesterday, PFLAG distributed fliers in every high school, setting forth the mainstream medical view. Per MCPS regulation our fliers stated that they “are neither sponsored nor endorsed” by MCPS. Thus, we believe that MCPS has a responsibility to provide accurate medical information on this issue. (More details are provided in the letter I recently sent to the Board which is attached to the written version of my testimony).

This is not merely a disagreement between PFOX and PFLAG. It is a disagreement between PFOX and the entire mainstream health community. We urge you to begin the process for including this accurate medical information in the health education curriculum: it could save lives.

Also testifying at the April 15 Board of Education meeting was Peter Sprigg, Vice President of James Dobson’s Family Research Council. Mr. Sprigg stated on the Chris Matthews program Hardball last winter that he believed that same sex activity should be criminalized. He did not mention this to the Board, but asked the Board to consider material from the American College of Pediatricians (ACP), which he attached to his testimony and which states that “sexual reorientation therapy has proven effective for those with unwanted homosexual attractions.” The American College of Pediatricians is a front for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a notorious anti-gay organization. Indeed, the same day Mr. Sprigg testified, Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, issued a statement condemning the ACP for supporting “an ideology that can cause unnecessary anguish and encourage prejudice. The information they present is misleading and incorrect, and it is particularly troubling that they are distributing it in a way that will confuse school children and their parents." See

It is imperative that the Board include material, recommended by its own Advisory Committee, specifically stating that mainstream medical and mental health community recognizes that being gay is not a choice and that so-called therapies to change sexual orientation are opposed by the mainstream health professionals as dangerous. Please contact the Board at to urge MCPS to provide this needed improvement to the health education curriculum.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

NIH Director Responds to Fake Medical Group

The other day we were talking about the American College of Pediatricians, a fake medical group that exists to make anti-gay bigotry appear respectable.

Their "Facts About Youth" web site, which is full of fiction, contains a copy of a letter that the ACP sent to all American public school superintendents. Yes, they say all. It includes this tidbit:
Dr. Francis Collins, former Director of the Genome Project, has stated that while homosexuality may be genetically influenced, it is "… not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.” He also states [that] “…the prominent role[s] of individual free will choices [has] a profound effect on us." Letter to Superintendents


A message dated Thursday, April 15th, has been published on the National Institute of Health web site:
"It is disturbing for me to see special interest groups distort my scientific observations to make a point against homosexuality. The American College of Pediatricians pulled language out of context from a book I wrote in 2006 to support an ideology that can cause unnecessary anguish and encourage prejudice. The information they present is misleading and incorrect, and it is particularly troubling that they are distributing it in a way that will confuse school children and their parents."

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director Statement from NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in Response to the American College of Pediatricians

Misquoting Dr. Collins is a favorite habit of anti-gay extremists. He is a Christian and an extremely well-respected geneticist, and the Nutty Ones were happy to find a quote from a very authoritative figure that seemed to vaguely support their contention that people choose to be gay, and can choose not to be. We have discussed these misquotations several times on this blog, and they have been thoroughly refuted many times on other sites.

For instance, RoseMarie Briggs is a local Montgomery County anti-gay leader who in 2007 told our Montgomery County, Maryland, public school board:
My uncle happens to be Francis S. Collins head of the Human Genome Project in Rockville, and he says sexual orientation is NOT hardwired by DNA. How do you know that it is? New Voice, Same Old Stuff

Even before his niece misrepresented him at a public hearing, Dr. Collins had told Ex-Gay Watch:
The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality — the observation that an identical twin of a male homosexual has approximately a 20% likelihood of also being gay points to this conclusion, since that is 10 times the population incidence. But the fact that the answer is not 100% also suggests that other factors besides DNA must be involved. That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable.

Your note indicated that your real interest is in the truth. And this is about all that we really know. No one has yet identified an actual gene that contributes to the hereditary component (the reports about a gene on the X chromosome from the 1990s have not held up), but it is likely that such genes will be found in the next few years. Major Geneticist Francis Collins Responds to NARTH Article

Chastisement by the Director of the National Institutes of Health is a small price for the American College of Pediatricians to pay for their mischief. You can be sure the major media will not be reporting this development. The ACP is actively misinforming the public, working presently through school superintendents, and needs to be stopped. They have the right to send letters to people, but they are fraudulently misrepresenting themselves as spokespersons for the scientific and medical consensus, lying about the research. Somebody should stop them.

Friday, April 16, 2010

This Is Great

You remember the Mississippi girl who wanted to bring her girlfriend to the prom. When the school -- Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi -- wouldn't let her, the ACLU got involved. The school said sure, you can come to the prom, you can even wear a tux, and then parents set up another prom and didn't tell the lesbian couple where it was, and all the other kids went to that. Only Constance McMillen and her girlfriend and a couple of learning-disabled students went to the "official" prom. I'm sure the other students thought this was a great way to get even with "those lesbians" for ruining everything.

Now we'll see who wants to go to whose dance.
TUPELO, Miss. -- Green Day, former N'Sync member Lance Bass, and celebrity chef Cat Cora are among those helping to pay for a prom in Mississippi next month that's open to everyone but geared toward gay students.

The American Humanist Association also will contribute $20,000 for the May 8 event in Tupelo.

The annual prom is organized by the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition. This year's event has drawn attention because of the case of Constance McMillen, a high school senior who challenged her school district's rule banning same-sex dates at proms.

Coalition spokesman Matthew Sheffield says plans for the event haven't been completed, but Bass is among the celebrities expected to attend. Celebrities help sponsor 2nd chance prom in Miss.

Oh man, I hope Green Day plays at it.

This is a story that keeps on giving. Constance will serve as grand marshal of the annual gay pride march in New York City on June 27th, and has become somewhat of a celebrity. Full analysis and reporting HERE.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Smoke On A Plane

This morning I noticed two letters to the editor in The Post about the diplomat from Qatar who was apprehended by air marshals after someone smelled smoke on an airplane, and he said he was trying to set his shoes on fire. The plane was escorted by fighter jets, 5,000 flights in the air were alerted about a possible 9/11-type attack, the whole thing was an international incident with repercussions still rippling around the world.

One of the letters to the editor suggested that airlines should not allow lighters on airplanes at all. The writer had had his Preparation H taken away from him, and so as an experiment he brought a lighter on another flight, and there was no problem, even though the writer "can think of at least a dozen ways to cause havoc aboard an airplane with a cigarette lighter." The other letter says "How do some Arab diplomats react? 'This never would have happened if Madadi was Swedish.' Won't someone please say it: Blond, blue-eyed Swedes aren't trying to blow up commercial airliners."

Everybody I know has the same opinion about this incident: the guy is an idiot. You don't smoke on planes, especially if your name is Mohammed al Madadi, and you don't joke about shoe bombs, especially if your name is Mohammed al Madadi.

In that light, I feel forced to point out the fact that "this" was nothing. A guy smoked a cigarette in an airplane lavatory and made a bad joke. Do we really need to take further steps to prevent "this" from happening again? Yes, he should have known all hell would break loose if an Arab lit a match on an airplane, yes, he should have waited with the "I'm trying to light my shoes on fire" joke until he was on the ground and hanging with his friends. But look what this incident says about us, that even though we know it was nothing we are treating it as if it were a major national security breach. We are so breathless about what it "could have been" that we are apparently incapable of recognizing the truth, that it wasn't what it could have been, it was what it was. A cigarette and a bad joke.

What we need is a security process that distinguishes between actual threats and guys who need their nicotine at thirty thousand feet. But as long as the public goes along with this sort of security theater, this is what we're going to get. You want to clutch your pearls, the TSA and the press are happy to give the country pearl-clutching stories. You want to be safe, sorry, the country has to get over it and see things for what they are.

Shower Nuts Know They're Wrong

Our friend Alvin McEwen cross-posted something he noticed yesterday at Pam's House Blend and his own site, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters.

I don't know if our suburban county was the first place where the Nutty Ones tried to make the case that outlawing discrimination would result in male pedophiles and predators lurking in ladies rooms, leering at the women and girls and waving their festering penises at them. Because of overly permissive laws passed by liberals, there is nothing you can do to stop them! Maybe Montgomery County was the first place they tried that stupid line, but it certainly was not the last. We've seen it repeated all over the country.

Missoula, Montana -- a place I have always wanted to go, by the way -- just passed a nice nondiscrimination law, and the Concerned Women for America, naturally, opposed it, citing, among other things, the "men in the ladies room" argument.

Alvin noticed something in a Missoulian article:
Even one of the most staunch opponents of those laws can't point to increases in frivolous lawsuits or sexual predation. Still, Concerned Women for America president Wendy Wright said such ordinances lead the country down the wrong track.

"We have a constitutional protection for religious freedom in our First Amendment," Wright said. "There is not a constitutional protection for sexual orientation, and yet judges and city councils and others are acting as if sexual orientation trumps religious freedom."

The Concerned Women aim to bring biblical principles to public policy, and the Montana office opposes the Missoula ordinance. It's one member of, a group that formed to defeat the local ordinance in large part because of fear sexual offenders will prey on women and children in bathrooms and locker rooms.

Wright couldn't point to places that have counted increases in sexual offenses because of such laws, but she said such data is beside the point.

"It doesn't go back to numbers," Wright said. "It goes back to the issue that people will have legal rights that will trump other people's rights. The right of a woman or a girl to feel safe in a fitting room, a locker, a restroom, their rights will be trumped by a person who is claiming their sexual orientation right has legal protection." Other towns see protection, little trouble with anti-discrimination ordinances

Alvin drilled down to the core of meaning in this little snatch of interview. He wrote;
While there should be some appreciation of Wright's admittance that the "men in womens bathrooms" argument is without proof, she shouldn't be able to get away with claiming that the lack of proof is beside the point, mainly because the lack of proof is the point.

In the next sentence after she admits the inaccuracy of the "men in women's bathrooms" claim, she says that that the right of women or girls to feel safe would be trumped by pro-lgbt laws.

But Wright's concern leaves me scratching my head. Didn't she just admit that she doesn't know of any example in which the safety of women and girls would be threatened?

And yes, he's right. The Concerned Women for America -- and here we have the rare case where their spokesperson is a woman -- have used the "men in the ladies room" thing more than anyone. They believe that the safety of women and children requires the right to discriminate against gay and transgender Americans. But in all the regions of the country where such discrimination has been banned -- and there are lots of places, including, now, our county -- there has been no increase in sex crimes and no reports of anyone using the nondiscrimination laws as cover to lurk in women's shower-rooms and bathrooms.

And they know it.

They just keep saying the same thing over and over again because it scares people who live in restricted little worlds. If you are paying attention to the issues, you will have recognized this argument from all the previous times it has been used, and you would understand that it is just a formula that the self-righteousness carnival brings to town to excite the locals. You would know there's nothing to it, it's just a talking point. Predators and pedophiles are not going to pretend to be women, even "women on the inside," so they can lurk and leer and molest women and children. That's not how it works. But if you only know what you hear on talk radio and see on Fox, you can be led to believe that there is a real danger of that happening.

Alvin concludes:
Wright further admits why CWA opposes pro-lgbt non-discrimination ordinances and of course it has nothing to do with "safety issues."
Wright said one big reason Concerned Women opposes such laws is because the group does not want local ordinances to be used as stepping stones toward making gay marriage legal and teaching it in the public schools.

In other words, lgbts having the right to be free from discrimination is just another way to "force gay marriage."

By the way, as a born-and-raised Westerner, I want to point out that this is Montana we're talking about. We think of that as a pretty conservative region, but it may turn out to be conservative in a good way. People there value their freedom and realize they have to work together to protect their own and their neighbors' liberty. I recently came across this video from another town in Montana. As far as I'm concerned, this is what it's all about -- people taking care of each other:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Know the Difference

This one strikes me as especially dangerous. A small group of conservative pediatricians has formed an alternative to the legitimate pediatrician's association, and has set up an ideological web site that is designed to look like a place for expert medical advice. You can go to their site to get bad recommendations about how to raise your kid.

Real pediatricians belong to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has 60,000 members. Position statements issued by the AAP are considered to represent the consensus of pediatricians' opinions, especially, in this discussion, about developmental aspects of sexual orientation, gender identity, abortion, contraception and abstinence, and related topics.

An anti-gay conservative group has been around since 2002 calling itself the American College of Pediatricians. This group exists to promote the religious right's views about these topics. It is a religious-slash-political propaganda outlet disguised as an official professional organization of doctors.

According to the American College of Pediatricians web site, they recently sent letters to all public school superintendents in the country, directing them to the web site

Here are the first couple of "facts" from that site's "fact sheet:"
  • Homosexuality is not a genetically-determined, unchangeable trait.
  • Homosexual attraction is determined by a combination of familial, environmental, social and biological influences. Inheritance of predisposing personality traits may play a role for some. Consequently, homosexual attraction is changeable.

Hey, wait a minute.

It's not genetically determined, but the predisposition can be inherited? It can be inherited, therefore it is changeable? The inconsistencies in the first two facts, are dizzying.

Some more ... I'm skipping through ...
  • Most students (over 85%) with same-sex attractions will ultimately adopt a heterosexual orientation if not otherwise encouraged. Most questioning students are experiencing temporary sexual confusion or are involved in experimentation.
  • The homosexual lifestyle, especially for males, carries grave health risks.
  • Sexual reorientation therapy has proven effective for those with unwanted homosexual attractions.
  • For many youth, homosexual attraction develops due to negative or traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse. These students need therapy for the trauma, not affirmation of a "gay identity."
  • There is no evidence that pro-homosexual programs, such as on-campus student clubs, ease the health risks or emotional disorders suffered by homosexuals.

And so on. You see what this is.

None of these facts are correct. This is simply a group that promotes the pipe-dream that sexual orientation is a choice, that it is something that can be changed through therapy. Truth Wins Out says ACP sent the link to this site to more than 10,000 school superintendents.

How is someone supposed to know the difference between the legitimate American Academy of Pediatrics and the bigoted American College of Pediatrics? A school superintendent should know the difference, but I'll bet most of them don't. Parents won't know the difference, they'll be worrying about their kid and google this stuff up, how can they tell it's fake?

Others have dissected the content of the ACP site more thoroughly than I ever could. For instance, Warren Throckmorton, who we do not always agree with, goes through the site and pretty much demolishes everything there. Box Turtle Bulletin has done their homework, as usual, they give lots of links to support their analysis.

It is especially insidious for a small group of extremists to tarnish the reputation of an entire profession. It is likely that innocent parents who love their children, and innocent educators who want to lead their students toward the light, will come across this group and be misled. Wayne Besen at Truth Wins Out titled his post "Science Needs to Get Off the Sidelines" and calls for a multidisciplinary task force to deal with the misuse and misrepresentation of scientific and medical research. I like the sound of it, but you know implementation would be extremely difficult, I expect that in the end the only ones who get anything out of it will be the lawyers. Let's take Besen's post as a call for ideas for dealing with these kinds of organizations, which confuse the topic in order to push forward a viewpoint that is one hundred eighty degrees opposite of what the real experts believe. Something formal should be done about this problem; in the meantime, it's up to us to inform ourselves as individuals, to know the difference, and to make sure others understand.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Section About American Ignorance of Science Removed From NSF Report

Americans do not have good knowledge of science and mathematics, compared to the rest of the world. Our educational system has never been as rigorous as those in Asia and Europe, and where we typically see education as a way for underprivileged people to pull themselves up, we tend not to appreciate the actual value of higher education. Look for instance at politically motivated pundits assuming that they can address complex issues in climate science and biology, criticizing findings by highly educated scientists who have devoted their lives to detailed research within a narrow scientific domain.

The National Science Board, under the National Science Foundation, is charged with assessing the public's science literacy every couple of years. Something weird happened this year, though. The Science and Engineering Indicators survey discussed Americans' understanding of evolution and the origins of the universe, and then at the last minute the NSB decided not to publish that section.

ScienceInsider has the story. They say:
In an unusual last-minute edit that has drawn flak from the White House and science educators, a federal advisory committee omitted data on Americans' knowledge of evolution and the big bang from a key report. The data shows that Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang.

They're not surprising findings, but the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), says it chose to leave the section out of the 2010 edition of the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators because the survey questions used to measure knowledge of the two topics force respondents to choose between factual knowledge and religious beliefs.

"Discussing American science literacy without mentioning evolution is intellectual malpractice" that "downplays the controversy" over teaching evolution in schools, says Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that has fought to keep creationism out of the science classroom. The story appears in this week's issue of Science.

Board members say the decision to drop the text was driven by a desire for scientific accuracy. The survey questions that NSF has used for 25 years to measure knowledge of evolution and the big bang were "flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs," says Louis Lanzerotti, an astrophysicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who chairs NSB's Science and Engineering Indicators Committee.

The explanation doesn't appear to have soothed White House officials, who say that the edit—made after the White House had reviewed a draft—left them surprised and dismayed. "The Administration counts on the National Science Board to provide the fairest and most complete reporting of the facts they track," says Rick Weiss, a spokesperson and analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The deleted text, obtained by ScienceInsider, does not differ radically from what has appeared in previous Indicators. The section, which was part of the unedited chapter on public attitudes toward science and technology, notes that 45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals." The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, "The universe began with a big explosion," with which only 33% of Americans agreed.

The board member who took the lead in removing the text was John Bruer, a philosopher who heads the St. Louis, Missouri-based James S. McDonnell Foundation. He told Science that his reservations about the two survey questions dated back to 2007, when he was the lead reviewer for the same chapter in the 2008 Indicators. He calls the survey questions "very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding" of the two topics. Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report

Respondents were asked whether they agreed with these two questions:
“Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.”
“The universe began with a huge explosion.”

This article says the whole section was deleted, after the White House had had a chance to review the report. It is interesting to see what else the section said:
In the United States, 45% of GSS respondents answered true to the first question in 2008, similar to other years when the question was asked. In other countries and in Europe, the comparable figures were higher: 78% in Japan, 70% in Europe, 69% in China, and 64% in South Korea. Russia and Turkey were the only countries where less than half of respondents responded correctly (44% and 27% respectively) (Gokhberg and Shuvalova, 2004; EC 2005). Similarly, Americans were less likely than survey respondents in South Korea and Japan to answer the big bang question correctly: one third of Americans answered this question correctly compared with 67% of South Korean and 63% of Japanese respondents (figure 7-11).

Americans’ responses to questions about evolution and the big bang appear to reflect factors beyond familiarity with basic elements of science. An experiment conducted in the 2004 Michigan Survey of Consumer Attitudes showed that respondents were more likely to answer these two questions correctly when the questions were prefaced by “according to the theory of evolution” or “according to astronomers.” These differences probably indicate that many Americans hold religious beliefs that cause them to be skeptical of established scientific ideas, even when they have some basic familiarity with those ideas (for additional details see NSB 2008).

Recent surveys conducted by the Gallup Organization provide similar evidence. A 2009 survey showed that more than half (55%) of Americans could correctly name evolution or another closely associated term, such as natural selection, when asked which scientific theory they associate with Charles Darwin. However, in a follow-up question, only 39% of Americans say they believe in the theory of evolution, 25% say they do not believe in this theory, and 36% do not have an opinion on this subject either way (Newport 2009).

In response to another group of questions on evolution asked by Gallup in 2008, 43% of Americans agreed with the statement that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so,” while the 52% agreed with either of two statements compatible with the theory of evolution: that human beings developed 1 over millions of years either with or without God’s guidance in the process (figure 7-12). These views on the origin of human beings have remained virtually unchanged in nine surveys since the questions were first asked in 1982 (The Gallup Organization 2008c).

For almost a century, whether and how evolution should be taught in U.S. public school classrooms has been a frequent source of controversy. The role of alternative perspectives on human origins, including creationism and intelligent design, and their relevance to the teaching of science, has likewise been contentious (The National Academies 2008a). A recent national survey of high school biology teachers in public schools shows that there is a large variation in how teachers approach the topic of evolution. How they teach evolution, in turn, affects public knowledge (see sidebar, How Schools Teach Evolution).

In other developed countries, controversies about evolution in the schools have occurred more rarely. However, signs of opposition to the theory of evolution are emerging in Europe (Clery 2008, Nature 2006). [From the Insider excerpt linked above]

There is also a sidebar about how American schools teach evolution.

The authors don't give us numbers, but we learn that Americans understand that scientists believe that human beings developed from earlier species of animals, they just don't believe it themselves. These polls numbers then reflect a fundamental disrespect for science and education, a feeling among the public that a bunch of brainy guys with PhD's might have a bunch of theories but they're wrong.

Why was this section removed from the report? Maybe because of the numbers themselves, revealing Americans to be largely ignorant about science and far behind the rest of the developed world -- but these percentages are similar to previous reports, and no surprise. Maybe it was because the questions were not well worded, I could accept that for the big bang question but the evolution question is perfectly clear.

Regarding Bruer's assertion that the section was removed because the questions were "very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding," ScienceInsider has this:
"I think that is a nonsensical response" that reflects "the religious right's point of view," says Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. "Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs."

When Science asked Bruer if individuals who did not accept evolution or the big bang to be true could be described as scientifically literate, he said: "There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution," adding that such questioning has led to improved understanding of evolutionary theory. When asked if he expected those academics to answer "false" to the statement about humans having evolved from earlier species, Bruer said: "On that particular point, no."

It is revealing how Bruer chose to answer that question. Of course there are details in evolutionary theory to work out, that's not what he was asked. The survey asked people whether they agreed with the statement “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” which is not under question by any biologist or anthropologist. If there is a scientific fact, this is it. This doesn't ask about any subtle detail of the theory of evolution, people were simply asked whether they agree that we are descended from other species, and the correct answer, the scientifically literate answer, is yes.
Miller, the scientific literacy researcher, believes that removing the entire section was a clumsy attempt to hide a national embarrassment. "Nobody likes our infant death rate," he says by way of comparison, "but it doesn't go away if you quit talking about it."