Various Direct Links

12 November 2011

Praise: Gay Neighbors

A new study, There Goes the Neighborhood: How and Why the Bohemians, Artists and Gays Effect Regional Housing Values, finds that it is good for the price of one's house to have such neighbors.  Prof. Richard Florida, of George Mason University, and Charlotta Mellander, a doctoral student at Jönköping International Business School, created a Bohemian-Gay Index to explore the impact on housing values.
The findings indicate that the Bohemian-Gay Index has substantial effects on housing values across all permutations of the model and across all region sizes. It remains positive and significant alongside variables for regional income, wages, technology and human capital.
A BusinessWeek article discussed how this can have a real difference on housing values based on the attitudes of those in a particular market.
Gay couples may lift real estate prices by enhancing cultural amenities, housing stock and the vibrancy of neighborhoods, according to a 2010 study by Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, and Charlotta Mellander of Jonkoping International Business School in Jonkoping, Sweden.
Perhaps the anti-gay hate groups should reconsider the cost of eradicating those they so fear from their neighborhoods.

Thanks to Care2 for the heads up.

11 November 2011

Repudiation: Personhood Amendments

It would have been difficult to miss the news from Tuesday that Mississippi's Personhood Amendment failed at the polls.  It failed by a considerable margin and many think that the issue is now over and done.  That is, many who are outside the anti-abortion movement.

There are national and state-based efforts to get Personhood Amendments (the plural in the title was not a typo) like Mississippi's Initiative 26 in states including Nevada in 2014, Alabama perhaps in 2012, Ohio in 2012, Florida in 2012, Wisconsin in 2012, and more being pushed by a national organization based in Colorado.  It isn't over.

There are a few reasons that this is a bad idea.  The science behind the Personhood Amendments is wrong and the theology is flawed.

The Personhood Amendment does not allow for any abortions, including those needed for medical reasons.  So, a woman with an ectopic pregnancy would be prohibited from getting the medical care that she needs to save her life.  In other words, the attempt to prevent her from aborting a doomed zygote (by definition, there is a conception resulting in a zygote, but not a properly implanted embryo) would not save the zygote but would kill the woman.

The Personhood Amendment does not allow for hormonal contraceptives (such as "the pill"), as these allow for two cells to join before washing them out of the woman's system.  The most common forms of birth control would be outlawed.

A woman who is raped and conceives would be forced to carry and give birth to the child of her rapist.  In a sense, she would be raped a second time and not be allowed to leave the rape behind her short of giving the child that she did not choose away for adoption.

Aside from those very real issues, there is a theological dichotomy between religions that should have these Personhood Amendments fail as unconstitutional because of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  There is no agreement as to when a cluster of cells becomes a person.

Those in the anti-abortion movement claim that as soon as the sperm and ova combine, there is a human person deserving of all rights of any citizen.  They base this claim not upon science but upon the Bible.  In particular, Psalm 139:16 speaks of how God knew David while his body was unformed.  They interpret this to mean that the spirit is formed immediately upon creation of the zygote.  An alternate interpretation is that the spirit, separate from the physical body, is known by God long before it is part of any human flesh.

Similarly, Jeremiah 1:4-5 talks of how God knew Jeremiah before he was in the womb.  Note, this does not mean in the womb, but prior to conception.

There are additional passages in the Prophetical Writings that have a similar vein.  In Judaism, these are not part of the Bible.  These are written by humans, not by God.

The writings of God, for Jews, consist of exactly five scrolls or books.  The germane verse is Genesis 2:7, where God breathed the spirit into Adam.  The spirit is associated with birth, not with conception.  The two Hebrew words that may help understand this distinction are ruach and nephesh.  The Christians think of the soul in terms of ruach.  The Jews think of the spirit in terms of nephesh.  Click on the links for some details.

The debate is also fueled by the first commandment in Genesis 1:28, where God tells Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.  We have done so.  Their descendents include more than seven billion alive today.  We exceed the number of stars that can be seen with the naked eye.  We exceed the number that our planet can sustain without environmental degradation.

The point is that the Personhood Amendment is based on dangerous theories that may harm the lives of women.  It is based on religious dogma that is not universal.  And those who want to see this pass are not about to stop trying.

4 December 2011, FollowUp 1.

19 January 2012, FollowUp 2.

Repudiation: Rena Lindevalvdsen Objects to Occupy DC

Rena Lindevalvdsen is a Liberty University law professor, Liberty Counsel attorney, and the author of a book about and in support of baby kidnapper Lisa Miller and blog, both by the name Only One Mommy.  This caught my attention because of how far off Ms. Lindevalvdsen is from reality.  Of course, I expect that from one involved with one of the Southern Poverty Law Center's hate groups.

She complains about the guidelines adopted by the general assembly of Occupy DC.
Rule 1: “Respect each other, each others’ stuff and space.”Hmm, the irony of this one speaks for itself: a group of illegal squatters on publicly-owned property are demanding respect for the stuff and space of others. Well, then, get off property that does not belong to you and go home and go to work. Then you won’t find yourself in the situation of the occupier in New York who threw a hissy fit in a McDonald’s restaurant after they refused to give her free food.
It is public property.  In the United States of America we have the right to assembly and the right to access our public property.  Many who are party of the Occupy movement do not have jobs.  They would like to.  We have a system in place that rewards malfeasance among the richest (with notable exceptions like Bernie Madoff who stole from others who are rich).  Without reasonable oversight, many corporations run roughshod over individuals.  We hear in the news that corporations are sitting on a lot of money but not hiring.  Where are the jobs?
Rule 5: “We consider working class police officers a part of the 99%. However we will not carry out or enforce their orders that jeopardize the safety of other residents of McPherson Park. We will strive to maintain each other’s safety without relying on the police.” The working class reference immediately reminded me of the Communist Manifesto with its reference to the plight of the working class who needed to rise up against the oppressive bourgeois class.
There is a similarity.  That similarity does not mean that the Occupy movement is a facade for Communists.  Looking out for the safety of one another is not a Communist ideal, it is a human ideal.
Rule 10: “Don’t assume anyone’s gender. When possible go with gender neutral pronouns and nouns, such as friend/comrade instead of brother/sister.” After quickly highlighting the good communist reference to “comrades,”I’d like to point out the wholesale adoption of the idea that gender is fluid –you are what you think you are. I guess it should come as no surprise in today’s culture that those seeking to further entrench socialistic ideas in America also seek to legally sanction a view of human sexuality that is directly contrary to the binary nature of sexuality created by God. All forms of lawlessness travel together and work hand in hand to destroy the true meaning of liberty.
Those of us blessed with gender certainty have difficulty understanding that it is not so for everyone.  Ignorance can be cured with some education.  Given the religious nature of Ms. Lindevalvdsen's group, one might think charity would be in order instead of animus, except that religion is their excuse for hate.  God creates us in far more diversity than the "Liberty" folk are ready to accept.
Rule 13: “Be an ally. Take care of yourselves and your friends/siblings/homies in the struggle.” I had to include this one for two reasons. First, the “ally” language reminds us yet one more time of the socialistic tendencies of this group. Second, I’m a bit surprised that the best the “Guidelines Super Committee” could come up with is a rule that refers to taking care of one’s “homies.”
Allies was the term used for those who fought against the National Socialist party of Germany called the Nazis.  There is nothing wrong with the word ally.  Unlike ally, homies is not part of normal academic discourse.  Some in the Occupy movement are academics, but most are regular people.  Many regular people say homies.
Perhaps you have struggled as I have with understanding the purpose of the group or, even more so, the mentality that would cause a group of people to pitch tents on public property for more than a month.
I am among those who were initially unsure about the Occupy movement.  A group having no explicit platform of demands is difficult to categorize.  With time, I have come to see that there is a common set of complaints without a common set of solutions.  Even without agreement as to the solutions, the complaints must be addressed for the sake of our culture and economy.
Their signs only further confound me. Here’s one: “Cancel All Debt.” It specifically lists student loans, electricity bills, and mortgages. The facebook page for Occupy DC K Street states that the occupiers allegedly represent the 99% of the people in the nation who pay the taxes and maintain the economy. Without even turning to statistics – how can I possibly believe that people who sit around all day carrying signs asking that the government cancel all their debt somehow actually pay 99% of the taxes. I do believe you’d have to work in order to pay taxes.
There are numerous misconceptions here.  First, taxation is not limited to employment.  I pay taxes on my home, on products that I purchase, on capital gains and dividends, and in various other ways such as on my continued ownership of a car.  Second, we used to have affordable higher education.  That was a large part of what built a great economy in the United States after World War II.  Student loans are too onerous for many to repay.  This needs to be addressed.  Third, a large part of our Great Recession was caused by the sub-prime mortgage market.  There are too many Americans who have homes underwater and no prospect for financial recovery while they have been doing their best to follow all of the rules and be good citizens.  The American dream of home ownership became a nightmare based on the lies and cheating of too many in the banking industry.  This third point is a large part of why the Occupy movement exists.  Without government intervention, people are carrying signs because they feel they have run out of possibilities for other recourse.
Putting aside the obvious error in their position statement, statistics further disprove their point. A number of sources restate the statistic that the top 5% or the rich in America actually pay 50% of the taxes. So – how is it that the occupiers lay any claim to paying 99% of the taxes and therefore demanding that government use the tax money to forgive all of their debt?
No, the premise is incorrect.  The Congressional Budget Office has real data that shows what is happening.
CBO finds that, between 1979 and 2007, income grew by:
  • 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households,
  • 65 percent for the next 19 percent,
  • Just under 40 percent for the next 60 percent, and
  • 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent.
homepage graphic
The share of income going to higher-income households rose, while the share going to lower-income households fell.
  • The top fifth of the population saw a 10-percentage-point increase in their share of after-tax income.
  • Most of that growth went to the top 1 percent of the population.
  • All other groups saw their shares decline by 2 to 3 percentage points.
The disparity in income growth is counter to the American ideal of a growing middle class.  The solution is not, as Ms. Lindevalvdsen alleges, Communism.  The solution is complicated but needs to include reparations for those stolen from by cheaters and liars, the point of the sign to which Ms. Lindevalvdsen objects, and regulations to prevent future cheating.  Back to her blog article
At its core, we are watching the results of mankind’s sinful nature: we’d rather have a handout than to have to work for our keep; we’d like to have someone come along behind us and clean up our mess (our debt); and we believe that others owe us something (rather than realizing that we deserve absolutely nothing and that anything we have is purely a gift from God).
No.  The majority of those in the Occupy movement are not seeking handouts.  They are seeking a fair playing field in which they are able to earn their keep.  Those who are responsible for the debt need to repay it (particularly fraudulent mortgage dealers on that part of the problem).  God did not force big banks, mortgage firms, and parts of Wall Street to lie and cheat.  God told us to not bear false witness.  Perhaps Ms. Lindevalvdsen should listen more to God.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of First Amendment rights. But, these occupiers have as their goal to destroy the very fabric of this nation.
Wrong.  The Occupy movement seeks to rebuild this nation from the damage wrought by some of the 1%.
During a week honoring all those who have died protecting our God-given unalienable rights, I find this movement particularly offensive because they seek to eradicate the Biblical principles upon which our nation was founded and put in its place a socialistic system that attempts to make big government the savior of all.
Removal of government watchdog systems during the 1990s and 2000s resulted in too many among the 1% ignoring the messages of God to tell the truth and to not cheat one's neighbors.  Ms. Lindevalvdsen and the Liberty Counsel work to prevent equality for all American citizens, all of whom are children of God.  The messages of the Bible are far more socialistic than the Occupy movement.
Why is it people will look every place for a savior yet reject the One who came to save mankind from its sins? Perhaps it’s the same pride and arrogance that leads people to refuse to work, ask me to pay their debts, and squat on land not belonging to them.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution prevents me from being forced to worship your "savior".  The United States is a nation with a majority of Christians which is not the same thing as a Christian nation.  We are a nation that claims to ensure the rights of minorities.  It is pride and arrogance that has Ms. Lindevalvdsen mischaracterizing the Occupy movement's nature, goals, and aspirations.

Thanks to Joe My God for the heads up and to the Rachel Maddow blog for the link to the CBO.

10 November 2011

Praise: Veterans and Geeks

Veterans Day in the United States, once known as Armistice Day and known elsewhere as Remembrance Day, originally celebrated the signing of the agreement to end the War to end all wars.  As we know, it failed to do so.  The Great War, ending at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, had to be renamed World War I when it had a successor far too soon after.

All of those who serve and who did serve should receive a simple thank you.  That is both deserved and appropriate.  We made the mistake of blaming the soldiers of the war in Viet Nam.  It is the leaders who deserve credit and blame for going to war.  Those who serve deserve thanks.

11-11-11 is auspicious because of the symmetry of the date.  A perfect palindrome is unusual.  Numerologists are having a field day.  The cities of Reno, Las Vegas, and Niagara Falls are expecting a lot of weddings, both planned and last minute.  Anyone marrying on this date who forgets their anniversary deserves to be in the dog house for a long time.

Some women are trying to give birth on 11-11-11.  Some psychics have some extreme predictions.  There are too many to link here, just go and play with Google or Bing if you are curious.

Math and computer geeks are having fun with the numbers themselves.  111111 can be a binary number, the equivalent of 63 in our usual decimal way of counting.  Mathematicians would point out that 111111 is a valid number in any regular base, not just base two.

111111 base 3 is the equivalent of 364 base 10

here are a couple more

111111 base 11 is the equivalent of 177,156 base 10

for the computer geeks

111111 base 16 is the equivalent of 1,118,481 base 10

and for the real math geeks

111111 base 111111 is the equivalent of 16,935,155,549,712,959,237,333,656 base 10

Try to get that answer with your calculator!

Happy Binary, Geeky, Veterans Day.

Repudiation: Liars and "Reparative Therapy"

This is a little complicated.  First, we need to start with a group called the International Healing Foundation (IHF) founded by Richard Cohen to counsel homosexuals and do "reparative therapy" to convert them to heterosexual.

Before going further, let's be clear that this does not work.  The American Psychiatric Association has taken a strong stand against reparative or conversion therapy because
Firstly, they are at odds with the scientific position of the American Psychiatric Association which has maintained, since 1973, that homosexuality per se, is not a mental disorder.  The theories of "reparative" therapists define homosexuality as either a developmental arrest, a severe form of psychopathology, or some combination of both (10-15).  In recent years, noted practitioners of "reparative" therapy have openly integrated older psychoanalytic theories that pathologize homosexuality with traditional religious beliefs condemning homosexuality (16,17,18).

The earliest scientific criticisms of the early theories and religious beliefs informing "reparative" or conversion therapies came primarily from sexology researchers (19-27).  Later, criticisms emerged from psychoanalytic sources as well (28-39).  There has also been an increasing body of religious thought arguing against traditional, biblical interpretations that condemn homosexuality and which underlie religious types of "reparative" therapy (40-46).
Further, the American Psychiatric Association is concerned about potential harm from such therapies.
The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.  Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction.  The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.
Similar positions have been taken by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers.

In late October, IHF issued an "apology" to the LGBTQ community.  The wording is
IHF apologized to the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) community for years of unknowingly fueling anti-gay sentiment by simply stating, “Change is Possible.”
“We at IHF wish to offer a sincere, heartfelt apology to everyone in the LGBTQ community,” said IHF founder and director, Richard Cohen. “I apologize and ask forgiveness to those who were hurt by our message.” Cohen, a leading expert in the field of sexual orientation and married father of three, knows first-hand how it feels to be ostracized having lived a gay life.
Perhaps I am missing something, but it looks like the apology is only for the wording of their message, not for the message itself.  The websites that IHF, either under its old name or its new, do not appear to be a real change.  The apology is offered at which maintains the line for which the apology is offered.  Weird at best.

Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor, wrote a blog article giving me the heads up about the new face of IHF and expressing some additional opinions.  While Dr. Throckmorton is dubious, he seems to be giving Mr. Cohen some room for real change.

To be frank, I don't trust that Mr. Cohen has changed anything other than his marketing.  He has a long history of being part of the religious establishment that makes homosexuals doubt their self-worth as part of trying to get them into lucrative, for the "therapists", conversion programs.

Peter LaBarbera, head of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), a group recognized for its anti-gay propaganda by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has now asked Professor Throckmorton to apologize.  Let's break down his letter to the Professor.
I certainly don’t think Richard Cohen or anyone needs to apologize for stating the obvious truth that “Change [away from and rejecting homosexuality] is possible.” If we were to apologize for everything that “offends” hardened LGBT activists, we’d be apologizing 24/7.
What offends us are lies that you tell and perpetuate.  Stop lying and there is no need for apologies.  As indicated above, written by the American Psychiatric Association, that change, in the form of so-called therapies, can be harmful.  That's the problem and it must stop.  Apologies are in order.
The question is, when will YOU apologize for affirming homosexuality as an acceptable (or innocuous) identity — while claiming (falsely) to uphold biblical orthodoxy? When will YOU repent for working hand-in-hand with “gay” activists who are diametrically opposed to the Christian worldview on homosexuality as an overcomable sexual sin (and an abomination) — by actively discrediting the need AND potential for wholesome change away from same-sex behavior and indulging same-sex desires?
Homosexuality is acceptable because that is how God created a minority of the population.  One does not choose to be homosexual any more than one chooses to be heterosexual.  There is more than one way to interpret the Bible.  It is a shame that Mr. LaBarbera is so limited and bigoted.
You should either publicly apologize for undermining Scriptural (and observable) Truth — or renounce your claims to be faithful to historic Christian sexual teachings. This request is made more urgent by your employment with an evangelical institution, Grove City College, which purports to be “authentically Christian” — something few biblically-faithful observers of your recent flirtation with pro-”gay” advocacy would accuse you of being.
The scriptures say many things.  I doubt that Mr. LaBarbera follows all of the tenets of the Bible.  Some are impossible and most are disregarded by those who pick and choose which are most important to them.  Regarding "observable" truth, one only needs to look to nature to see that homosexuality is natural in hundreds of species.
I can document all the above statements concerning your conduct and “gay”-affirming advocacy, which has caused widespread consternation and confusion in Christian circles, and within the pro-family movement. You (or anyone) may publish this if you wish.
Mr. Cohen and Mr. LaBarbera are both liars about the nature of change of sexual behavior.  To put this in religious terms, they are bearing false witness (the 9th of the Ten Commandments).

Regarding Dr. Throckmorton's conduct and advocacy, given Mr. LaBarbera's focus on Christian teachings, may I suggest that Mr. LaBarbera read Matthew Chapter 7.

Repudiation: Pending Clear-Cutting of Redwoods for Vintners

When I first heard about two vintners seeking to put in more acreage for their wine grapes, I was not concerned because they were promising to do a great deal of tree planting and other eco-friendly measures.  As reported at Newser

Two large wineries in northern California are petitioning the state for the right to clear 2,000 acres of redwood trees. If the request is approved, it would be the largest woodland-to-vineyard conversion in California history, Sonoma County officials tell the Los Angeles Times. In exchange, the wineries promise to plant a million redwoods elsewhere, restore waterways, and donate 200 acres to a public park.

At first blush, this looks like a reasonable effort to balance commerce and the environment.  However, there are three more factors that need to be considered.

First, there is a social consideration for the Pomo Native American Indians.  The lands slated for clear-cutting includes a large heritage site, as reported by Friends of the Gualala River.
The zone in which the forest conversion is proposed by Artesa Winery (owned by the Spanish winery Codorniu, one of the largest corporate wineries in the world) was once densely populated by Pomo ancestors. We know this from early anthropological studies done by Barrett and Kroeber, both famous UC Berkeley anthropologists who studied the Pomo and other northern California Native Americans.
Second, there is immediate concern for the land.  As reported by the Sierra Club

Third, is the long term concern about loss of forest and its relation to climate change.  A study out this month, as reported by Oregon State University
“Ecosystems are always changing at the landscape level, but normally the rate of change is too slow for humans to notice,” said Steven Running, the University of Montana Regents Professor and a co-author of the study. “Now the rate of change is fast enough we can see it.”
The introduction to the study begins
Over the last three to four decades, forests throughout much of western North America
have been subjected to disturbance at a scale well beyond that previously recorded over the last century (Raffa et al., 2008). Although some disturbances may be attributed to fire suppression policies, which have resulted in fuel accumulation and denser stands prone to insect attack (Coops et al., 2009a), climate change is more likely the cause, based on recent surveys and analyses of natural mortality caused by drought (Allen et al., 2010), bark beetles (Raffa et al., 2008; Bentz et al., 2010), needle blight (Woods et al., 2005), Swiss needle cast (Manter et al., 2005), a reduction in protective snow cover (Beier et al., 2008 ) and an increased frequency and intensity of wildfires (Westerling et al., 2006). Recent changes in climate are well documented in the Pacific Northwest Region of North America and the rates are predicted to accelerate (Mote et al. 2003;Mote and Salathe, 2010).
This does not take into account forest loss due to clear cutting.  From the discussion section of the study
Because climatic warming trends are projected to continue under a range of greenhouse gas emission scenarios (IPCC, 2007), new equilibrium conditions may not soon occur (Thuiller 20 et al., 2008; Jackson et al., 2009). We would expect additional disturbance in those ecoregions
with substantial subalpine zones and well as those where drought is becoming more frequent and intense. The exception is those ecoregions within the maritime influence of the Pacific
Ocean, which seem well buffered against climatic alterations that would favor replacement of the current mix of native tree species (Coops & Waring, 2011).
Disrupting the old-growth redwoods of the region is likely to be a recipe for long-term disaster.

Thanks to ForceChange for the heads up.

09 November 2011

Repudiation: Accusation of Fake New Tax Hurts Christmas Tree Farms

Several years ago, during the administration of President Bush (43), the National Christmas Tree Association decided that they should endeavor to promote themselves as the dairy industry does with the "Got Milk?" campaign.  The way the dairy campaign works is that milk producers chose to contribute three cents for each gallon of milk that they produced to jointly market their product.  One could call this a voluntary tax; it was certainly not imposed on any dairy farmer.

David Addington wrote a blog article on 8 November at the Heritage Foundation decided to blame President Obama for a new tax, which resulted in undermining the efforts of the National Christmas Tree Association and hurting farmers of Christmas trees in the long run.  Here are the lies of Mr. Addington and my responses to parts of his lies.

President Obama’s Agriculture Department today announced that it will impose a new 15-cent charge on all fresh Christmas trees—the Christmas Tree Tax—to support a new Federal program to improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees.

Nope.  There was not going to be a tax "imposed".  It was to be voluntary, like dairy producers.

In the Federal Register of November 8, 2011, Acting Administrator of Agricultural Marketing David R. Shipman announced that the Secretary of Agriculture will appoint a Christmas Tree Promotion Board.  The purpose of the Board is to run a “program of promotion, research, evaluation, and information designed to strengthen the Christmas tree industry’s position in the marketplace; maintain and expend existing markets for Christmas trees; and to carry out programs, plans, and projects designed to provide maximum benefits to the Christmas tree industry” (7 CFR 1214.46(n)).  And the program of “information” is to include efforts to “enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States” (7 CFR 1214.10).

That's right, a "Christmas Tree Promotion Board" like the Milk Processor Education Program. This was to be an effort supported by the Christmas tree farmers to help market Christmas trees.  What a radical notion.

To pay for the new Federal Christmas tree image improvement and marketing program, the Department of Agriculture imposed a 15-cent fee on all sales of fresh Christmas trees by sellers of more than 500 trees per year (7 CFR 1214.52).  And, of course, the Christmas tree sellers are free to pass along the 15-cent Federal fee to consumers who buy their Christmas trees.
Imposed is the wrong word.  It was what Christmas tree farmers requested.  Yes, that fifteen cents would probably have been passed on to consumers, despite what was said in a Fox News article today, The industry itself further rejected the claim that the fee would be passed onto consumers. The National Christmas Tree Association said in a statement that the program "is not expected to have any impact on the final price consumers pay for their Christmas tree." 

Acting Administrator Shipman had the temerity to say the 15-cent mandatory Christmas tree fee “is not a tax nor does it yield revenue for the Federal government” (76 CFR 69102).  The Federal government mandates that the Christmas tree sellers pay the 15-cents per tree, whether they want to or not.  The Federal government directs that the revenue generated by the 15-cent fee goes to the Board appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to carry out the Christmas tree program established by the Secretary of Agriculture.  Mr. President, that’s a new 15-cent tax to pay for a Federal program to improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees.
The Acting Administrator had the temerity to tell the truth!  Guess what?  The Christmas tree industry wanted to do this!  This was not a proposal of President Obama, who the Heritage Foundation would love to accuse of creating new taxes.  This was from the tree farmers.

Nobody is saying President Obama doesn’t have authority to impose his new Christmas Tree Tax — his Administration cites the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996.  Just because the Obama Administration has the legal power to impose its Christmas Tree Tax doesn’t mean it should do so.
The Obama Administration was not going to impose anything.  Mr. Addington is lying.

The economy is barely growing and nine percent of the American people have no jobs.  Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do?
This is nonsensical.  President Obama is not trying to place a tax on anyone here.

And, by the way, the American Christmas tree has a great image that doesn’t need any help from the government.
Please, Mr. Addington, explain that to the National Christmas Tree Association who felt that they did.  If you look at their blog entries, they are waging a quiet war against fake trees.  They want to do a better job of marketing their trees.

Following Mr. Addington's lies, Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana decided that he had to stop the imposition of this supposedly unwanted tax.
"It is shocking that President Obama tried to sneak through this new tax on Christmas trees. He might have thought nobody would realize what he did, but I will fight to prevent President Obama from becoming the Grinch who taxed Christmas,” Scalise said. "At a time when hard-working families are struggling in a tough economy, it is hard to believe that President Obama would single out Christmas as a time to break his promise that he would not raise taxes on middle class families. This new tax is a smack in the face to each and every American who celebrates Christmas, and may be the best example to date of President Obama's obsession with taxing and regulating hard-working American families.  A new tax on Christmas trees is something not even Dr. Seuss' Grinch could imagine, yet now it exists on the books in America unless we can reverse it quickly.  President Obama has pledged repeatedly not to raise taxes on those earning less than $250,000, but this multi-million dollar tax does just that - hitting hard-working middle class families squarely in their wallet at the peak of holiday season.  I'm calling on President Obama to stop acting like the Grinch and repeal this absurd tax."
Thank you, Mr. Addington and Mr. Scalise.  You have told lies that make each of you a real grinch for the Christmas tree industry.  Shameful lies that hurt business.

Thanks to Talking Point Memo for the heads up.

Praise: Third Way on Gay Marriage Commitment

Third Way, a centrist think tank, has written a study, Commitment: The Answer to the Middle's Questions on Marriage for Gay Couples.  They look at the facts from polling and have some interesting conclusions.

They note at the start that things are changing.

For the first time, national polls indicate that a majority of Americans now support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

They then proceed with a series of very important lessons.  (Boldface as in the original).

In this report, we unravel the mysteries of the middle and set out a series of lessons gleaned from our qualitative and quantitative research—all aimed at moving the middle from supporters to solid and sustained allies on the path to marriage. And the most important lesson is that advocating for marriage in terms of commitment, not rights, is paramount.

The first lesson is that moving to marriage equality is not a done deal.  Support is growing, but not solid enough to relax.  They break down the data from recent polling to get some interesting numbers.  The full report is only ten pages and worth reading. 

The second lesson is that people need to understand marriage as commitment, not rights.

Most Americans think that marriage is about commitment, obligation, and responsibility. That is why the solemnity of the ceremony and vows are so important—because they represent a one-of-a-kind promise of lifetime commitment and fidelity, made publicly in front of family and friends.

The second lesson concludes

The importance of lifetime commitment and fidelity to the middle’s idea of marriage cannot be overstated. It is the central way they view the tradition of marriage—a tradition which they see as very important in organizing their own lives and society at large.

The third lesson is that we need to explain why we want to wed.

For years, advocates have often focused on rights and benefits, not commitment, when talking about why gay couples want to marry. This mismatch may have exacerbated an existing disconnect in the minds of the middle, perpetuating the notion that gay couples want to marry for different reasons than other couples, or worse, implying that gay couples don’t truly understand what marriage is about.

In a sense, this is a catch-22.  How can one who is denied marriage explain that one understands that which is denied.  Back to the importance of commitment in the explanation.

The theme of commitment continues in the fourth lesson.  Commitment is the message that those in the middle need to hear.

The rights frame appeals to our base supporters, but at this point in the evolution of public opinion, we can already count on them. To move the middle, we must convince them that gay couples want to marry for similar reasons that other couples do—to make a public promise of love and commitment.

The fifth lesson is a little different, people are looking for excuses to do so before changing their minds.

The middle is looking for permission to change their minds about why gay couples marry.

From the beginning, our research showed that Americans are on a journey when it comes to acceptance of gay people, gay couples, and ultimately, marriage.

Using a third party testimonial to model that journey resonates with the middle and helps to further their own journey—especially when that journey speaks directly to why gay couples want to marry. Marriage supporters can use a messenger with whom the middle can identify to deliver the information that we know changes their minds: gay couples want to marry for commitment, not rights.

The sixth, and last, lesson is that religion is not a permanent blockage to marriage equality.

Another crucial reassurance marriage supporters must provide to the middle is the notion that allowing gay couples to marry is about making a commitment—not changing religious institutions.

Very religious voters are a long way from supporting marriage. However, for much of the middle faith is important, but it is not the only internal compass in their lives.

As a writer, I have been focusing on equality, civil rights, and human rights.  Third Way is proposing a different tack.  The full study is worth reading.  I did not quote any of the supporting data that they present, just looking at their approach.  Lots of useful data and more detailed conclusions.

Thanks to Care2 for the heads up.

Praise: Scott Adams Calls for Fourth Branch of Government

Scott Adams, best known for his funny and nerdy Dilbert comic, has written an article in the Wall Street Journal calling for a Fourth branch to the United States government.  The fourth branch would be to clarify political information, similar to what the Congressional Budget Office does for legislative financial effects

The problem is that most of the political information out there is at least biased and often completely wrong.  I will be the first to admit that what I write here is biased, with a blatant progressive political slant.  While I endeavor to present accurate facts, I am certainly interpreting those facts to my favor.  Mr. Adams is calling for neutral arbiters to rate political claims.  Brilliant idea.  Now the problem is finding those who we can agree are neutral.  Just like with the CBO, this should be easy.

Repudiation: Newt Gingrich Promises To Hide Financial Truths

One of the things that politicians should never do is to try and hide facts.  Since this blog started, I have been ranting against Republican Denial of Climate Change, including Governor Perry's hiding facts in a study of the Bay of Galveston.  The problem with this, as anyone who has ever studied any science should know, is that the facts are the facts.  Changing or hiding data does not change what the facts are.

Talking Points Memo (TPM) has an article today on Republican dislike of facts researched by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  In short, they are upset because the Affordable Care Act, called ObamaCare by those who oppose it, was crafted to save taxpayer money.  This little fact interferes with their propaganda as annoyingly pointed out by the CBO.  So, TPM writes

Some Republicans want to change the rules that make CBO’s words so powerful. Gingrich, by contrast, wants to get rid of CBO altogether.

They have comments disagreeing with Mr. Gingrich from former CBO directors Doug Holtz-Eakin and Alice Rivlin.

Facts are needed.  Running a government on just faith is stupid.

08 November 2011

Praise: West Virgina Dept of Education Student Code of Conduct

The period for public comments ended earlier today (8 November 2011) on West Virginia's Student Code of Conduct, Title 126, Code 4373.  This new anti-bullying law is a great step in the right direction.  The West Virginia Education Association describes the benefits as

Impact: This new comprehensive policy will provide school employees, students and parents with one policy that includes all aspects of what is expected regarding student behavior and what is expected from school systems in order to create safe and supportive schools. This will be a positive change from the existing structure that fragments the issue among five different policies. This new policy will also require schools to coordinate their efforts across all content areas to assure the comprehensive teaching of student dispositions that are essential to success in school and in the community. Finally, this policy will require schools to create more in-school options to intervene with inappropriate behavior because the new policy limits the use of out-of-school suspension and discourages its use except in situations in which safety must be restored by removing a student from the school grounds.

The Huffington Post indicates that this is very good for the LGBTQ community.

A proposed anti-bullying policy for West Virginia schools acknowledges for the first time that sexual orientation and gender identity are common reasons for harassment.

Fairness West Virginia has been pushing for this legislation.

We support an enumerated policy, or a policy that places an emphasis on certain categories or classes – such as race, religion, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or disability – because of their prevalence in bullying instances. Enumerated policies have been shown to protect all students more effectively across the board and significantly curb bullying instances.

The Code of Conduct has rules that should be obvious.

§126-99-3. Student Code of Conduct.

3.1. All students enrolled in West Virginia public schools shall behave in a manner that promotes a school environment that is nurturing, orderly, safe and conducive to learning and personal-social development.

3.1.1. Students will help create an atmosphere free from bullying, intimidation and harassment.

3.1.2. Students will demonstrate honesty and trustworthiness.

3.1.3. Students will treat others with respect, deal peacefully with anger, use good manners and be considerate of the feelings of others.

3.1.4. Students will demonstrate responsibility, use self-control and be self-disciplined.

3.1.5. Students will demonstrate fairness, play by the rules, and will not take advantage of others.

3.1.6. Students will demonstrate compassion and caring.

3.1.7. Students will demonstrate good citizenship by obeying laws and rules, respecting authority, and by cooperating with others.

The new section on bullying is praise-worthy.

A student will not bully/intimidate/harass another student. According to West Virginia Code §18-2C-2, “harassment, intimidation or bullying” means any intentional gesture, or any intentional electronic, written, verbal or physical act, communication, transmission or threat that:
  • A reasonable person under the circumstances should know will have the effect of harming a student, damaging a student’s property, placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person, and/or placing a student in reasonable fear of damage to his or her property;
  • Is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening or emotionally abusive educational environment for a student; or
  • Disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school.
An electronic act, communication, transmission or threat includes but is not limited to one which is administered via telephone, wireless phone, computer, pager or any electronic or wireless device whatsoever, and includes but is not limited to transmission of any image or voice, email or text message using any such device.

Acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying that are reasonably perceived as being motivated by any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics, shall be reported using the following list: race; color; religion; ancestry; national origin; gender; socioeconomic status; academic status; gender identity or expression; physical appearance; sexual orientation; mental/physical/developmental/sensory disability; or other characteristic.

When harassment, intimidation or bullying are of a racial, sexual and/or religious/ethnic nature, the above definition applies to all cases regardless of whether they involve students, staff or the public. Detailed definitions related to inappropriate behavior of this nature are as follows:
  • Sexual harassment consists of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical conduct or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature when: submission to the conduct or communication is made a term or condition, either explicitly or implicitly, of obtaining or retaining employment, or of obtaining an education; or
  • submission to or rejection of that conduct or communication by an individual is used as a factor in decisions affecting that individual's employment or education; or that conduct or communication has the purpose or effect of substantially or unreasonably interfering with an individual's employment or education; or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive employment or educational environment.
Amorous relationships between county board employees and students are prohibited.

Sexual harassment may include but is not limited to:
  • verbal harassment of a sexual nature or abuse;
  • pressure for sexual activity;
  • inappropriate or unwelcome patting, pinching or physical contact;
  • sexual behavior or words, including demands for sexual favors, accompanied by implied or overt threats and/or promises concerning an individual's employment or educational status;
  • behavior, verbal or written words or symbols directed at an individual because of gender; or
  • the use of authority to emphasize the sexuality of a student in a manner that prevents or impairs that student's full enjoyment of educational benefits, climate or opportunities.
Racial harassment consists of physical, verbal or written conduct relating to an individual's race when the conduct:
  • has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working or academic environment;
  • has the purpose or effect of substantially or unreasonably interfering with an individual's work or academic performance; or
  • otherwise adversely affects an individual's employment or academic opportunities.
Religious/ethnic harassment consists of physical, verbal or written conduct which is related to an individual's religion or ethnic background when the conduct:
  • has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working or academic environment;
  • has the purpose or effect of substantially or unreasonably interfering with an individual's work or academic performance; or
  • otherwise adversely affects an individual's employment or academic opportunities.
Sexual violence is a physical act of aggression or force or the threat thereof which involves the touching of another's intimate parts, or forcing a person to touch any person's intimate parts. Intimate parts include the primary genital area, groin, inner thigh, buttocks or breast, as well as the clothing covering these areas. Sexual violence may include, but is not limited to:
  • touching, patting, grabbing or pinching another person's intimate parts, whether that person is of the same sex or the opposite sex;
  • coercing, forcing or attempting to coerce or force the touching of anyone's intimate parts;
  • coercing, forcing or attempting to coerce or force sexual intercourse or a sexual act on another; or 
  • threatening or forcing exposure of intimate apparel or body parts by removal of clothing.
Racial violence is a physical act of aggression or assault upon another because of, or in a manner reasonably related to, race.

Religious/ethnic violence is a physical act of aggression or assault upon another because of, or in a manner reasonably related to, religion or ethnicity.

As a teacher, this explicit enumeration of expected behavior and what behaviors cannot be tolerated make it much simpler to work with students.  Clear expectations are always a good thing.

Of course, there are always those who will object.  The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, writing at Citizen Link, believes that this policy will discriminate against those who believe in the Bible.

If a student makes a comment about homosexuality on Facebook or teaches a Bible study on Romans 1, there’s reason to believe they’ll be in violation of the policy.

After reading the policy, I believe that students in Bible study are not at risk of violating the policy unless they choose to also preach Romans 1:26-27 to those who are not part of their Bible study.  In terms of Facebook, the rules on Cyberbullying are not as clearly laid out.  Under individual skills, students are to

Refrain from cyber-bullying

Of course, this is open to some interpretation.  The decision by bigots to select Romans 1:26-27 out of the entire Bible as a focus is a problem.  There is so much love in the Bible, to focus on one section that is hateful is a deliberate choice.  West Virginia is moving in a wise and healthy direction.

Thanks to Joe My God for the heads up.

07 November 2011

Repudiation: Ken Blackwell Complains That Marriage Is Defenseless

Ken Blackwell is a "Senior Fellow" with the Family Research Council and has written a "Perspective" titled True Marriage Defenseless? at the FRC site and published in World Magazine, a Christian pub.  I will rebut most of it.

The Obama administration is lending support to Congress in an effort to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. The president, instead, is backing something called the "Respect Marriage Act." The latter measure, quite simply, would abolish marriage.

No.  The Respect Marriage Act would not abolish marriage.  Here is the entire language of the bill (without all the headers and such which can be found at the above link)

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Respect for Marriage Act of 2009’’.

Section 1738C of title 28, United States Code, is repealed, and the table of sections at the beginning of chapter 115 of title 28, United States Code, is amended by striking the item relating to that section.

Section 7 of title 1, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:
 ‘‘§ 7. Marriage
 ‘‘(a) For the purposes of any Federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a State.
 ‘‘(b) In this section, the term ‘State’ means a State, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any other territory or possession of the United States.’’.

In no place does the Respect for Marriage Act abolish any marriage.  What it does is recognize marriages that were previously discriminated against by the Defense of Marriage Act.  Nothing less and nothing more.

While calling for "respect" in the Orwellian sense, it would offer true marriage the same "respect" President Obama showed to the body of Osama bin Laden-a hasty burial at sea after summarily being put to death.

No.  Mr. Blackwell is designating that only heterosexual marriages are true marriage, which is incorrect.  There is no slight offered by President Obama to heterosexual marriage, something he enjoys with the First Lady and their children.  Rather, the Respect for Marriage Act would extend respect to more, not limit it from some.  This is not a zero sum game.  Existing marriages lose nothing in granting equality to all.

I don't object to the president's actions against a sworn enemy of our country, but I object most strenuously to his plan to finish off marriage.

Great hyperbole, but completely off base.  There is neither abolishment nor finishing off of extant marriages or of future heterosexual marriages.

What the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) does is protect true marriage in federal law. This means that Social Security, the military, our diplomatic service, the Census, our federal work force, and myriad federal activities may consider as married only one man and one woman.

No.  What DOMA does is LIMIT, not protect, marriage to only one man and one woman.  Without DOMA, heterosexual marriage is what it is today.  There is nothing lost except exclusive status.  Equality adds to the protection of families and to the number of marriages with nothing diminished.

DOMA has also protected states from being forced to recognize the counterfeit marriages that have been legalized by a few liberal states.

This much is true.  DOMA has protected states from being forced from discrimination against otherwise legal marriages.

This is critical. Thirty-two states have voted to protect true marriage, which have included liberal and conservative states, swing states and moderate states. In these states, a new coalition has come together to defend marriage.

Thirty-two states have used election procedures to deny civil rights and human rights.  No civil rights and no human rights should ever be subject to a vote.  The coalition to discriminate against some marriages is acting in discord with the famous line from the Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Skipping a bit about voting in Hawaii ...

DOMA protects marriage. It also protects the integrity of the electoral process itself. The drive to abolish marriage is fundamentally anti-democratic. The people want true marriage; the elites want to do away with it.

No.  DOMA does not protect any marriage, it limits marriage.  Since there is no move to "abolish marriage" the rest of this is nonsensical.

How do we know this? In 2008, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., a panel discussion on marriage featured liberal law professor Jonathan Turley. He responded to critics' charges that allowing two men or two women to marry would lead to polygamy. Turley conceded the point that it would lead to polygamy: "And I am for that!" His audience was composed of journalists, law students, and Capitol Hill staffers. They applauded wildly the death of marriage.

Prof. Turley may be correct that repealing DOMA would lead to polygamy.  I am not making that prediction as slippery slope arguments are usually precarious.  Allowing polygamous marriage (not something I advocate) would be a return to biblical notions of marriage, something which religious leaders who support DOMA conveniently forget.  But, even if repeal of DOMA leads to polygamous marriage that does not define a "death of marriage."

That death will mean the impoverishment of more women and more children. We know that if a young couple will but finish high school, avoid bearing children out of wedlock, and marry, the chances they will live in poverty are only 4 percent. True marriage is the best anti-poverty program ever devised.

By this reasoning, repeal of DOMA will lead to children having children and allowing homosexuals to wed will prevent heterosexuals from doing so.  This is absurd.  Neither is on anyone's agenda.

No one who is for the abolition of marriage can claim to be a friend of the poor. And it is not only poor women and children who will suffer, but also minorities and the marginal. We know this because they are the ones suffering now.

But no one is for the abolition of marriage, so Mr. Blackwell is not making any sense whatsoever.  And since "they are the ones suffering now", this does not provide any clue as to how they would suffer more with marriage equality.

Skipping a bit about wedge issues ...

What a tragedy it will be for the country, and especially for black Americans, if President Obama succeeds in abolishing marriage.

No.  President Obama is not for abolishing marriage.  The Respect for Marriage Act does not abolish any marriage.  No loss of black American marriage.  No loss of white American marriage.  No loss of any other color American marriage.

His own marriage has been a model for the nation. He says his views on marriage are "evolving." We know what that means. Evolvers only go one way. He is readying the country for his change of stance.

I certainly hope so.

I would appeal to the president to remember Tennessee in 1866. In that first year after the Civil War, thousand more marriages were recorded. Thousands of freedmen and freedwomen walked hundreds of miles to have their marriages legally sanctioned. Many of these former slaves were barefoot, but they wanted desperately to achieve what had been so long and so unjustly denied them: marriage as God had designed it. After slavery, after Jim Crow, the worst calamity ever to befall black Americans has been the loss of marriage in our culture.

This is one of the strangest arguments for continued bigotry that I have ever read.  Right now my partner and I cannot legally marry.  If we are allowed to wed, then there is a gain of marriage in our culture ... not a loss.  If one wants to make the comparison to the oppression of blacks under slavery, the LGBTQ community certainly has not lost all freedoms as had blacks for nearly two centuries; but we do not have equality of marriage and, according to the Congressional Budget Office there are 1,138 laws that discriminate against non-married couples.

President Obama! Remember Tennessee! Defend the Defense of Marriage Act!

Fortunately, President Obama is not beholden to Mr. Blackwell.  He is not defending a law that is constitutional.

Thanks to Joe My God for the heads up.

Repudiation: Linda Harvey Opposes Protecting Students

Right Wing Watch has a short clip from Linda Harvey.

As we’ve found out time and again, so-called conservative, pro-life politicians are sometimes wrongly persuaded that homosexuality is a worthy lifestyle and cause. 

Homosexuality is a fact for about six to ten percent of our population.  Is it worthy?  It is a fact.  Is it a lifestyle?  There is no single homosexual lifestyle.  Just like heterosexuals, some homosexuals are in monogamous relationships (including some who stray).  Just like heterosexuals, some homosexuals spend time at bars and clubs and have multiple sexual partners.  Just heterosexuals, some homosexuals are more like hermits with an asexual existence.  Despite all the stereotypes, there is no one lifestyle for any group.

As a cause, the goal is equality.  That should be seen as worthy for any group, particularly for a minority.

This amounts to promotion of these lifestyle’s to kids brought into schools in the Trojan Horse of anti-bullying programs. 

Again, the premise if flawed.  There is no single homosexual lifestyle.  Further, despite the implication by Ms. Harvey, homosexuality is not being promoted.  The science show that is clear that individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual.  The idea of anti-bullying programs is exactly what it claims to be.

We already have these programs in many schools, but federal involvement adds a troubling new dimension.

People for the American Way documented the nature of "federal involvement" back in July.  What is troubling is bullying.  See my last posting on sexual harassment for part of why this is a problem.

If these amendments pass, they do nothing to protect kids that isn’t already available at the local level. 

Again, based on the latest data, the local programs are not enough.  LGBTQ students committing suicide makes it obvious that Ms. Harvey is wrong.

The only thing they will do is threaten local school districts with a cutoff of federal funds if the schools aren’t turned into indoctrination camps where conservative viewpoints are systematically silenced all to fulfill the fondest wishes of those who want traditional morality to disappear.

No.  That is not what anti-bullying programs are about.  Quoting from the PFAW article

SSIA supports the creation of comprehensive anti-bullying policies that enumerate specific categories of victims, including incidents based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as data collection, public education, and grievance procedures. SNDA protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. SNDA recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Indoctrination is an absurd concept.  As discussed above, homosexuality is not contagious.  No one wants to get rid of morality, just to extend it so that all students are protected.

Special rights for homosexual behavior are not needed.

The goal is equality.  Not special rights, human rights.

This makes me very sad for every child in our schools who will be subjected to this deception. 

The only deception is the set of lies being told by Ms. Harvey.

There is a very well-traveled path out of homosexuality that every child deserves to hear about.

This "well-traveled path" is one that many gays and lesbians would gladly take if they could.  The harassment and bullying that is engendered by those who are protecting their "traditional morality" is not something anyone would choose.  But, again, the fact is that sexual orientation is not something that one chooses.  But, guess what?  Every child does hear about heterosexuality; it is what most people are and talk about all the time.

But no, this will become like California in every state, a bigoted mandate to force everyone to accept and approve of homosexuality. 

Accept, yes.  Everyone deserves to be accepted.  Approval is nice, but not necessary.  To understand how far off base Ms. Harvey is in regard to California, please see my post on SB-48.

Please call our Ohio senators, Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, tell them in that in the upcoming, big education bill, we don’t want the federal government using bullying prevention as a tool to force approval of homosexuality and gender bending on children, teachers and families.

No, Ms. Harvey.  You can withhold approval.  The proposed legislation is about accepting every student and preventing any bullying.  No one will go in straight and come out lesbian or gay.  No one will go in sure of their gender and come out questioning.  Those are fear tactics that are effectively lies.  To put this in terms of Ms. Harvey's Christian "Mission America", Ms. Harvey is bearing false witness.  Shame.

Thanks to Joe My God for the heads up.

Praise: AAUW Study, Crossing the Line

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has just released their latest study, Crossing the Line:  Sexual Harassment in School, on sexual harassment in middle schools and high schools.  These studies are conducted every eight to ten years and this one is shocking, even for one working in the schools.  As they write in the Foreword

Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School presents new evidence on sexual harassment, including cyber-harassment, in middle and high schools. It examines sexual harassment as reported in a nationwide survey of students in grades 7–12 conducted in May and June 2011. The survey confirms that sexual harassment remains an unfortunate part of school culture, affecting the educational experiences of millions of students, especially girls. Still, only a fraction of students who were sexually harassed during the 2010–11 school year reported the incident to a teacher or other adult at school. Many students told no one about their experience.

Unlike much of what I write about here, this is not simply an LGBTQ issue.  The report finds that nearly half of middle and high school students are victims of sexual harassment.  Since the LGBTQ community is upwards of ten percent of the population, this means that this is primarily a heterosexual problem.  To be more fair in my wording, since it also involves many LGBTQ students, this is everyone's problem.  From the Executive Summary

Sexual harassment is part of everyday life in middle and high schools. Nearly half (48 percent) of the students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year, and the majority of those students (87 percent) said it had a negative effect on them. Verbal harassment (unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures) made up the bulk of the incidents, but physical harassment was far too common. Sexual harassment by text, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means affected nearly one-third (30 percent) of students. Interestingly, many of the students who were sexually harassed through cyberspace were also sexually harassed in person.

The report finds that girls are more likely to be victims of sexual harassment than boys (56% of girls, 40% of boys).  Being harassed for being gay or lesbian (whether or not the students really is) was equally divided (18% of all students).  Again, since the LGBTQ community is upwards of 10% of the population, there are a lot of straight students who are harassed with allegations of being gay or lesbian.  This is a problem for everyone.

An easy question to as is why teachers and principals are doing more to stop this.  The report find that part of the answer is that sexual harassment is rarely reported to teachers and school administrators.  Also from the Executive Summary

The prevalence of sexual harassment in grades 7–12 comes as a surprise to many, in part because it is rarely reported. Among students who were sexually harassed, about 9 percent reported the incident to a teacher, guidance counselor, or other adult at school (12 percent of girls and 5 percent of boys). Just one-quarter (27 percent) of students said they talked about it with parents or family members (including siblings), and only about one-quarter (23 percent) spoke with friends.2 Girls were more likely than boys to talk with parents and other family members (32 percent versus 20 percent) and more likely than boys to talk with friends (29 percent versus 15 percent).3 Still, one-half of students who were sexually harassed in the 2010–11 school year said they did nothing afterward in response to sexual harassment.

I am among the majority of teachers who do not see most of this happening.  I admit this without knowing whether this is because I am subconsciously ignoring harassment (I hope not) or because it is well hidden from me (also bad, but more useful in understanding why I haven't seen this).  Most teachers who I know will stop blatant harassment immediately.  But that doesn't mean that it won't continue, perhaps via electronic media or in person outside of the classroom.

The numbers of harassed students during a single school year are perhaps more stunning in graphic format.  From Chapter Two of the report

The chapter continues with a chart depicting the breakdown of different types of in-person sexual harassment.  The most common was of the category "unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures to or about you."  Second most frequent was "being called gay or lesbian in a negative way".  These were followed by being forced to see something sexually undesired and then four categories of physical sexual harassment.

The reasons offered for sexual harassment are not surprising if one thinks about them.  Most common was "it's just part of school life/it's no big deal".  As explained in the conclusion of Chapter Two

A sizeable minority (18 percent of boys and 14 percent of girls) admitted that they sexually harassed another student during the 2010–11 school year. Most harassers felt that their actions were no big deal, and many were trying to be funny. Many stated that they were being stupid, which suggests that they view their actions as a mistake. Yet, students who admitted to being harassers are only a subsection of students who sexually harass others. The majority of sexual harassment remains unclaimed, suggesting either that the harassers are unaware of how others perceive their behavior or that they are unwilling to admit to it, even in an anonymous online survey.

Chapter Three looks at the effects of sexual harassment.  It then discussed how the, sadly rare, interventions by other students took place.

When students witnessed sexual harassment and stepped in to help, they were most likely to tell the harasser to stop or to see if the sexually harassed person was okay. Many students who witnessed sexual harassment did nothing simply because they did not know how to respond, did not think it would make a difference, or feared that they would become targets themselves.

As education communities, we are failing to help.  From Chapter Four

Only 12 percent of students surveyed felt that their school did a good job addressing sexual harassment, and more than two-thirds of those students had not been sexually harassed during the 2010–11 school year. Of the remaining students, nearly all thought that their schools could and should do something about sexual harassment.

Strategies for addressing sexual harassment at school are most effective when they come from the top. Studies show that if administrators such as principals tolerate sexual harassment or do nothing to address it, teachers and students have less incentive and less support to do anything about it (Lichty & Campbell, 2011; Meyer, 2008).

Chapter Four continues to detail what different members of the education community can and should do.  The various lists of recommendations are fairly long.  As an example, here is what is recommended for teachers who observe sexual harassment

  • Name the behavior, and state that it must stop immediately.
  • Suggest an appropriate alternative to an offensive word or phrase and advise students to use it going forward.
  • Use the incident as a reason for talking to students about sexual harassment, what it is, and why it’s not okay.
  • Follow the school policy for handling sexual harassers.
  • Send the person to the principal or guidance counselor, and notify the families of the students involved as necessary.
In one sense, these are obvious and fairly easy to follow.  But, there are problems.  We cannot address problems that we do not see.  When we see what a student calls sexual harassment, it may not be apparent as such (the different between joking an harassment is often one of perception).  Some school administrators do not want teachers addressing sexual harassment in class as it is not part of the curriculum.  Principals and guidance counselors at many schools are already overburdened with problems that may appear more serious.

This list of excuses that I have just given are not intended as a call of "don't blame me."  Rather, these are real circumstances of which all parties should be aware prior to casting blame for a broken system.  Teachers are part of the blame but cannot own all of it.

The full report is clearly presented and well worth reading.

06 November 2011

FollowUp 3: Voting Rights

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on 23 October that New Smyrna Beach High School teacher Jill Cicciarelli may be fined thousands of dollars for helping students legally register to vote.

Prepping 17-year-olds for the privileges and responsibilities of voting in a democracy is nothing new for civics teachers, but when Jill Cicciarelli organized a drive at the start of the school year to get students pre-registered, she ran afoul of Florida's new and controversial election law. 

Among other things, the new rules require that third parties who sign up new voters register with the state and that they submit applications within 48 hours. The law also reduces the time for early voting from 14 days to eight and requires voters who want to give a new address at the polls to use a provisional ballot.

At least the school is not upset with her.

For the students involved in the voter registration drive, the incident has proven an unsolicited lesson in real-life civics, New Smyrna Beach High Principal Jim Tager said. 

"You're talking about a high-energy teacher who cares about her kids, cares about her community and cares about her country," he said. "We want to do things by the rules. We just didn't know about these. In the end, I think this has become a good real-life lesson."

What is upsetting is that this law is limiting the ability of educators to empower their students.  To deny those who are legally entitled to vote the easy opportunity to do so is unAmerican.  Thanks to Care2.

3 October 2011, Original Pedantic Political Ponderings article.
14 October 2011, FollowUp 1.
22 October 2011, FollowUp 2.

14 November 2011, FollowUp 4.
14 December 2011, FollowUp 5.
8 March 2012, FollowUp 6.
2 April 2012, FollowUp 7.
3 June 2012, FollowUp 8.

Praise: David Groshoff's Modest Proposal

In the spirit of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, Professor David Groshoff of Western State University College of Law, has written a short offering to effectively end bullying in schools.  Okay, not really to end bullying, but to get more conversation started.  His essay is well worth reading.

Weird: Extraterrestrial Overlords

I don't usually take this blog in the direction of science fiction / fantasy because that is usually not part of politics.  Sometimes, though, politics overlaps the absurd.

The White House announced that it is, indeed, looking for E.T., but has not found evidence.  Really?  More than seventeen thousand people signed petitions demanding to know.  Really?

Belief in extraterrestrial life is not new.  A majority of Americans polled in 1997 believed in it.  Three years ago a poll found more people believed in aliens and ghosts than in God.  With profound apologies to God, there are even religions who believe that God is an extraterrestrial.

The fact is that anything that requires belief of that which cannot be proven must be believed as a matter of faith or not at all.  The evidence for all religions in internal; they are based on belief in their own texts and doctrines which are all of the evidence that there is.  Stating this does not disprove any religion and does not disprove alien overlords.  But, it must be time to set aside those aspects of faith that are incongruous with the facts of science.

Yes, let's keep looking for E.T.  The process of exploring inner and outer space results in expansion of human knowledge, a good thing.  But petitioning for disclosure of that which does not exist is a waste of government resources and human time that could be much better spent elsewhere.

Praise: Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community since she started performing. Her hit song Born This Way seems to have become the new gay and lesbian anthem.  Along with Harvard University, the MacArthur Foundation, and the California Endowment, Lady Gaga is creating the Born This Way Foundation to empower youth and combat bullying.  The Born This Way Foundation will officially launch in 2012. 

Thanks to the Huffington Post for the heads up.