Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Marry Who You Choose in California -- For Now

This comes from Jim, one of my favorite bloggers at Teach The Facts.org:
Since we have taken up this issue of the MCPS sex-education curriculum, we have found that it is interwoven with other issues where a certain rightward-leaning element is determined to impose its own values on the rest of the country. That is really the issue here, in Montgomery County, where the holier-than-thous cannot stand the thought that our kids would learn, in the public schools, that anyone behaves outside the bounds of their own narrow proscriptions.

Personal freedom is under attack everywhere you look, it seems. Like, can you believe that anybody really feels the federal government needs to pick anybody's marriage partner for them? Wouldn't you think that here in America you could just fall in love with someone and marry them, without asking the government if they meet the official criterion?

Ah, so here's this judge in California, where the voters said they want the state to choose your marriage partner. The law gets appealed, the case goes to this judge -- Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer -- and he says, strangely enough:

"It appears," he wrote, "that no rational purpose exists for limiting marriage . . . to opposite-sex partners."

Of course, the "family values" crowd is outraged that a judge would rule in favor of the outrageous freedom to choose your own marriage partner.

Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, which is battling same-sex marriage in several states, blasted Kramer's decision as "judicial arrogance."

"You've got one judge that thinks they know better than the 60 percent of Californians that voted" for the 2000 ballot initiative, Perkins said. "It underscores the need to rein in these rascals in robes with a national marriage amendment." Calif. Judge Backs Same-Sex Marriage: Ban Ruled Unconstitutional; Appeal Likely

Now, this is a fascinating argument, that everyone should do what the majority does. Granted, most people are straight, some people are creeped out by two guys kissing or whatever. OK ... so what? Ya gotta make a law against it? According to these guys, yes.

Let me point out, it is a judge's job to interpret the law in terms of its constitutionality. The whole reason this process exists -- this important process we call "checks and balances" -- is just so that the majority doesn't impose its own preferences on the rest of us. In common conversation, the name for this is "freedom." I know it sounds weird these days, but people have something called "rights." In America, you don't have to do whatever the majority does. It's called "liberty," and we'd better take it back pronto.

Of course this story is not ended. Somebody is going to have to contest this. If you just let people marry whoever they want, uh, they might choose somebody "the majority" doesn't approve of, which would lead immediately to the downfall of our society, I'm sure.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Rabidly Self-Righteous

This time is Jim who says it right, and although I'm not one of them "on cowboy boots and all," I do agree with most of what he is saying.
I'm a blue blodded liberal, for sure, and I'm not going away from that at all. But Jim has his ways of saying what we want to hear. Here it goes, also on our lovely Teach The Facts.org (is that name explicit enough?)

The post goes like this:

Wow, the Ex-Recall folks are going rabid, now that the pilot schools have been announced. Truth is irrelevant, they just wanna bite somebody.

On their blog, paranoia strikes deep. Here's from a blog post titled, "'Zealots' and 'Extremists' or The Intolerance of the Left":

As we have seen, right here in our own Montgomery County, the 'politics of deceit' mandates that people who speak up about the bias of the left (or the bias of the new curriculum or the bias of the CAC) must be silenced. Their most effective weapon is to brand people 'homophobes', ' zealots', 'religious extremists' and the like. We have seen this name calling happen already on PTA list servs, newsletters and on certain websites and blogs where 'supporters' of the new curriculum try to close down any chance for a rational dialogue in this way.

'Homophobes', ' zealots', 'religious extremists' and the like. Uh, yeah? And the part that's wrong is ... what? The part that I disagree with is the idea that saying these things is "our most effective weapon." No, I'd say "telling the truth" is our most effective weapon. And the truth is: yeah, we do see them as a bunch of radical extremists trying to impose their bizarre beliefs on the public school district. Homophobes, zealots, yeah, we see that. I don't have to say it nice, I prefer to say it straight.

Ex-Recall wants you to think they're under attack for "speak[ing] up about the bias of the left."

Well, I can only speak for myself. I'm just a blogger here, a kind of ordinary, kind of rednecky straight white guy, and I'll tell you -- I was kicked out of "The Left" years ago. I am not a "good liberal." Nice try, but that is not what this is about. I'm a freedom-loving red-blooded American, in cowboy boots, no less, and I don't like a bunch of holier-than-thou religious extremists telling me what my kids should be learning in a public school. It doesn't matter what I think about abortion, or affirmative action, or immigration, or welfare, or social security, or the war in Iraq, or anything else -- no, this isn't "The Left" speaking. I just don't want these radicals taking over the schools. See? It's not a "lefty" thing, it's an "American freedom" thing. Gay people have the right to be whatever nature made them and by giving them that right and the respect that goes with it, I take for myself the right to be whatever kind of person I am, warts and all. They don't have to explain themselves to me, and I'm not explaining me to anybody.

Liberty works that way: you give a little, you take a little. You put up with people, and they put up with you.

Ex-Recall's shrill press release calls David Fishback, the chairman of the citizens advisory committee that proposed the curriculum, a "gay activist." Doesn't it seem a little strange to be a straight "gay activist?" How would it sound if you called a white guy a "black activist?" No, that isn't "gay activism," the curriculum recommended by the committee is simply common sense.

The Ex-Recall people are extremists who have, for some reason I'll never understand, decided that gay people are going to be the downfall of our society. They have even found a couple of obscure quotes in the Bible, saying that homosexuality is just as bad as letting your meat touch your cheese, and so they think God backs 'em up on this. In the 1950s it was rock-n-roll, then it was Negroes, then it was hippies, then video games, and now it's gay people who are going to send us to hell in a handbasket, according to these guys.

So all of a sudden it's earth-shatteringly important to keep all of our kids in the dark about the very existence of homosexuality. If we talk about it in the schools we'll "normalize" it, they say, we'll "promote" it. Well, some kids are growing up in families (yes, families!) with gay parents; some kids are growing up gay themselves; some kids are growing up teasing gay people and hating them without ever thinking about it. The schools are teaching about sex and leaving this important subject out? Naw, it's time to talk about it. At least tell the kids what it is.

And look, here's "Bianca M.", representing the Ex-Recall group, telling some conservative web site that "We have recently obtained a copy of the new condom video in which the school system now wants to instruct children in anal sex."

Now, I saw the video, and I know it doesn't do that. It might mention anal sex, I can't even remember, it was so shocking. It would be appropriate to mention anal sex in a discussion of condoms, in a sex-education class for tenth-graders -- but "instructing children in anal sex?" "Bianca M.", that's a lie.

The interesting thing to me is, the holier-than-thou crowd wants to complain about AIDS but they don't want to mention anal sex, which is a common way the virus is spread. They think students should end up with the idea that AIDS is spread by ... being gay.

No, the virus is not spread by being gay, it's spread by the exchange of body fluids, especially into absorbing tissues like those in the rectum. Trust me, your kid will not be damaged by hearing that from a health teacher.

And lots of hetereosexual people engage in anal sex, too, y'know, since you brought up the subject, "Bianca." And lots of heterosexual people get AIDS.

And also, now that I think of it -- lesbian gay sex is probably the safest category of sexual behavior there is. The incidence of STIs is very low among lesbians. Doesn't this kind of spoil the idea that homosexuality is a "public health hazard?" Or, would it be OK with you, since it's not a "health risk," to teach about lesbianism, and not male homosexuality? My guess is, no, that would not be all right with you: two-mommy families would still be bad, even though the health risk is low. One sees the tip of the iceburg of hypocrisy, dontcha think?

I say, if certain sexually transmitted diseases are epidemic in the gay population, then let's address that. Let's get information out there about how to avoid those diseases, how to treat them, how to know if you've got them. Same for the straight population. Let's fight these problems by using our intelligence, not by closing our eyes to them.

Certainly you can't blame the worldwide AIDS epidemic on some middle school or high school sex-ed course. A lesson in a health class is not going to turn anybody gay, it's not going to make a modest student promiscuous, and it's not going to give anybody AIDS.

Let the self-righteous indulge in their convulsions of indignity. Let them accuse, let them distort and lie. In the long run, all that matters is whether the school board decides to keep the new curriculum or not. Let them file their lawsuits, let them try to recall the board -- hey, let them run for office if they think they won't be laughed out of the county. The piloting will proceed, and the question now is an empirical one -- does the curriculum succeed in teaching what it is supposed to teach?

Higher ground

Maryam, at the good site Teach The Facts.org has said it so well that I'll just quote her right out:
As I mentioned in my previous post, the sex-ed discussions have provided our community with incredible opportunities—we've been given the opportunity to think more deeply about the many issues being raised, and to get clearer on what exactly we believe about tolerance, fairness, and justice. We have the opportunity to decide what kind of community we really want to live in, and how we want the many different faiths represented in our community to interact with our childrens' education.

Not all of us believe in God, but for those of us who do, that belief is often a primary force in determining perspectives on just about everything. It can be very difficult to separate a person's religious or spiritual beliefs from the more mundane aspects of life, because God is seen as a part of it all. Many of us believe that God is there when we are born, when we grow, when we learn and struggle, when we're happy and sad—many of us believe that God is there through everything we go through, and is as close to us as our breath. No relationship is more intimate, or more powerful in shaping who we are, and how we see the world.

And it can therefore be extremely difficult for any community to decide the right balance between respecting individual religious beliefs, and creating enough of a separation between them and our institutions to not infringe on the rights of others who believe differently.

Schools should not be in the business of telling any child what their religious beliefs should be. But, there are times, when the best scientific data available conflicts with specific religious beliefs...so how should schools handle that? We need to be sensitive to differences in beliefs in our community, and where possible, children should be given alternatives.

But the onus is not only on the schools, but also on religious people. I don't believe that my views about God should be given precedence over other peoples' views in a public institution. I can't limit myself to just thinking about my child, or the children of people who believe like me. As a member of any community, I have to also be concerned with people who aren't like me, and who don't think like me.

Regardless of whether God is seen as immanent or transcendant, the belief in God is about believing in a being higher than us, and more filled with all of the higher qualities of humanity—more love, more understanding, more forgiveness, more peacefulness. So those of us who see God as a reality are called to manifest more of those qualities, not less. We will never all agree on whether Jesus actually lived, or whether or not he's the messiah. The many faiths and denominations in our community will never agree on every aspect of theology.

Since we know we will never resolve all of our community's theological differences, we need to find a place where all people have the opportunity to come together, regardless of faith, denomination, or culture.

We need to find a common ground, and as Jim Wallis said "the common ground is always the higher ground."

The place where we all have a chance to come together is through an absolute and unwaivering commitment to valuing every human being in our midst.

We can argue all day about sexual orientation—what its origins are, and whether or not a gay person can change orientation. But regardless of what anyone believes about that, to view a human being only through the prism of sexuality, is to diminish that person based on one aspect of his or her existence. None of us are that small, and as a community, we can't be so small that we casually gloss over the reality of who our neighbors really are—and focus on nothing more than sexuality.

The belief in God invites us to a higher ground. Those of us who share that belief are asked to be bigger than squabbling with our neighbors. We're asked to listen more, learn more, and speak less. We're asked to connect more deeply with other people, and not to separate ourselves through the wall of judgment.

Judgment, closes doors.

We have a huge opportunity. Through learning about and discussing these issues, we have a chance to become a healthier, wiser, and stronger community.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

HIV/AIDS & U.S. Women Who Have Sex With Women (WSW)

Many of the materials presented by groups opposed to the revisions of the health and family life curriculum in Montgomery County Public Schools, and also presented in several of the abstinence-only programs around the country are infused with specific religious views, which include religious positions regarding homosexuality, as well as sex before marriage. Now I would only talk about those regarding homosexuality.

Many of those groups insist in the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. Here you have a quote from the Recall group, you can find this in the section of their website called: Faith Positions:

A homosexual orientation is usually not chosen and is a cause of suffering. Although this inclination is objectively disordered, it is not in itself sinful. Homosexual behavior, in contrast, is gravely sinful (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9). Like all human actions, homosexual behavior is a choice, because we are not animals dominated by urges, but persons with free will. Like everyone else, homosexual persons are called to chastity, that is, the right ordering of their sexual desires.

Note that they say homosexual inclination is "objectively disordered." This statement contradicts the opinion of most medical and scientific associations, as you could see in Just the Facts About
Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel
, but that's not the point now.
These groups also insist in the inherent risk of homosexuality as a cause for disease, specifically HIV/AIDS, and they are against the scientific fact that is not being homosexual in itself what is a cause for disease, but that specific kinds of sex (such as unprotected anal sex) are riskier than others (that would apply to heterosexual anal sex too). From this it follows to them that homosexual sex is a risk factor.
Then it must be only homosexual sex among men, because in fact, homosexual sex among women has extremely lower risk (NOTE, PLEASE, THAT IT DOES NOT MEAN THERE IS NO RISK!) than heterosexual sex.
Is it that God's perceive homosexual sex between women as less sinful than between men?
Or is it that the level of risk has nothing to do with having homosexual or heterosexual sex, and a whole lot to do with having unsafe attitudes towards sex and life (being promiscuous, having unprotected sex, being unfaithful, using drugs, etc.)?
Homosexuality in itself does not lead to promiscuity (and the huge amount of adultery out there should send a signal on the issue). There are many couples that has been together for many years, and has much lower risk of contracting any STDs than many unfaithful married people.

So, how do you explain now the low incidence of HIV/AIDS transmission among lesbians? It has to do with the technicalities of lesbian sex, obviously. Therefore, it is not being homosexual what is risky.

Oh, did I forget to mention the source of this? Well, take a look at this Fact Sheet about women who have sex with women from the National Institutes of Health... That gay advocacy organization.

Female-to-female transmission of HIV appears to be a rare occurrence. However, case reports of female-to-female transmission of HIV and the well documented risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV indicate that vaginal secretions and menstrual blood are potentially infectious and that mucous membrane (e.g., oral, vaginal) exposure to these secretions have the potential to lead to HIV infection.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Cuba, Venezuela, US and Other Human Right Violators

It seems the US has decided to fault Cuba (again) and Venezuela on Human Rights violations. It's interesting that the current US administration had supported a coup d'etat against Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and had to retract from it once the people of Venezuela decided that they prefer Chávez to the same old same old opposition. Chávez, then, had already won one election and one referendum, by now he had won four of those.

The last referendum was also a victory for Chávez, attested to by our own Jimmy Carter:

Finally, after three hours, we offered to the still irate opposition leaders our services in resolving any of their remaining doubts before we had to leave (after two more days). Having insisted all during election day on a 20 point defeat for Chavez, their pollster (Súmate) admitted before leaving that their data now showed only a five point defeat and that quick count data were still being received. Early the next morning, they reported that these results were reversed, with 55 percent supporting Chavez, but opposition leaders still were claiming massive fraud and a victory for their side. Final voting results, including the centers with manual ballots, showed 59-41 in favor of Chavez, with his victory in 22 of the 24 states.

Funny enough, US have had some weird experiences regarding elections lately, but we still keep that self righteousness that allows us to judge everybody's business from the top of sanctity we supposedly live in. (In fact, lately I have thought that US people may take some advise from Lebanon and Ukraine where people who really care for democracy stood their ground until justice and fairness were uphold... without the questionable help from a Supreme Court.)

Well, back to that US Report condemning Cuba and Venezuela. It's interesting that US faults Cuba and Venezuela, both countries with strain relations with US because they have no intention to bow to the master, however, there are many other human rights issues all over the world with governments with which US maintains very cordial relations (in fact, that has been historically the case: remember that picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam when a bunch of Kurd were still grasping for a breath of air after the gassing?).

But now I'm concerned with Cuba. Does the report refers to Guantánamo Bay, or to the rest of the island? In fact, there seems to be a lot of evidence of brutal human right violations on that naval base there. Even some overzealous women were overreaching in terms of their torture mechanism, which seems specially repulsive to me, as a woman, and as a tax payer. The right wing Administration is all for religion in the schools, virginity pledges and abstinence only education, but have no problem trafficking with sex, and breaking people's religious faith when it's in it's interest. I really don't know how they could be this cynical.

In fact, those women in uniform doing that should have been twice ashamed of themselves: there has been a continuous fight to create a place of respect and equality for women on the Armed Forces, and then they allow themselves to be used as meat to break detainees. Now the US army is playing in the pimp business. Could you tell me the MORAL difference between that and prostitution? Did they clear that with their pastors? I certainly prefer my daughters to have sex before marriage than to use sex to break people's faith.

The extent of the abuse, and the direct part taken by CIA personnel on it has many people there more than a bit concerned, as we have seen reported in the Within C.I.A., Worry of Prosecution for Conduct.

I guess at some point Americans will realize that they can not keep claiming a higher road, and passing judgment on others when their government routinely practices a double standard policy that creates enemies all the world over. When the Abu Graib pictures came out the first phrase uttered was: that's un-American. Why? What do we assume that America is in itself saint and pure? America does not exist. What exist are the people of America, therefore everything good that an American does is American, and so it is everything bad an American does. It's very easy to disown the “bad apples,” and claim the heroes.

Torture chicks gone wild

By Maureen Dowd

By the time House Republicans were finished with him, Bill Clinton must have thought of a thong as a torture device.

For the Bush administration, it actually is.

A former U.S. Army sergeant who worked as an Arabic interpreter at Gitmo has written a book pulling back the veil on the astounding ways that female interrogators used a toxic combination of sex and religion to try to break Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Cuba. It’s not merely disgusting. It’s beyond belief.

The Bush administration never worries about anything. But these missionaries and zealous protectors of values should be worried about the American soul. The president never mentions Osama, but he continues to use 9/11 as an excuse for American policies that bend the rules and play to our worst instincts.

“I have really struggled with this because the detainees, their families and much of the world will think this is a religious war based on some of the techniques used, even though it is not the case,” the former sergeant, Erik R. Saar, 29, told The Associated Press. The AP got a manuscript of his book, deemed classified pending a Pentagon review.

What good is it for President Bush to speak respectfully of Islam and claim Iraq is not a religious war if the Pentagon denigrates Islamic law — allowing its female interrogators to try to make Muslim men talk in late-night sessions featuring sexual touching, displays of fake menstrual blood, and parading in miniskirt, tight T-shirt, bra and thong underwear?

It’s like a bad porn movie, “The Geneva Monologues.” All S and no M.

The AP noted that “some Guantanamo prisoners who have been released say they were tormented by ‘prostitutes.’ ”

Saar writes about what he calls “disturbing” practices during his time in Gitmo from December 2002 to June 2003, including this anecdote related by Paisley Dodds, an AP reporter:

A female military interrogator who wanted to turn up the heat on a 21-year-old Saudi detainee who allegedly had taken flying lessons in Arizona before 9/11 removed her uniform top to expose a snug T-shirt. She began belittling the prisoner — who was praying with his eyes closed — as she touched her breasts, rubbed them against the Saudi’s back and commented on his apparent erection.

After the prisoner spat in her face, she left the room to ask a Muslim linguist how she could break the prisoner’s reliance on God. The linguist suggested she tell the prisoner that she was menstruating, touch him, and then shut off the water in his cell so he couldn’t wash.

“The concept was to make the detainee feel that after talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength,” Saar recounted, adding: “She then started to place her hands in her pants as she walked behind the detainee. As she circled around him he could see that she was taking her hand out of her pants. When it became visible the detainee saw what appeared to be red blood on her hand. She said, `Who sent you to Arizona?’ He then glared at her with a piercing look of hatred. She then wiped the red ink on his face. He shouted at the top of his lungs, spat at her and lunged forward,” breaking out of an ankle shackle.

“He began to cry like a baby,” the author wrote, adding that the interrogator’s parting shot was: “Have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself.”

A female civilian contractor kept her “uniform” — a thong and miniskirt — on the back of the door of an interrogation room, the author says.

Who are these women? Who allows this to happen? Why don’t the officers who allow it get into trouble? Why do Rummy and Paul Wolfowitz still have their jobs?

The military did not deny the specifics, but said the prisoners were treated “humanely” and in a way consistent “with legal obligations prohibiting torture.” However the Bush White House is redefining torture these days, the point is this: Such behavior degrades the women who are doing it, the men they are doing it to, and the country they are doing it for.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to squeeze information out of detainees. But isn’t it simply more effective to throw them in isolation and try to build some sort of relationship?

I doubt that the thong tease works as well on inmates at Gitmo as it did on Bill Clinton in the Oval Office.

Maureen Dowd (liberties@nytimes.com) is a columnist for The New York Times.