Friday, April 9, 2010

Palin's Time as Alaska Commander in Chief Trumps Time as Actual Commander in Chief?

You just cannot ask for a more. Regulars here will know of my love of fallacies - or rather, my love of pointing them out - and with Sarah Palin at the top of the news, I get to talk about them every day if I want to. In fact, I could start a new blog dedicated to Sarah Palin fallacies. hmmm.... [brackets enclose my comments]

 PHOTO: Credit Balloon Juice

Speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference this week, Palin responded to the news of Obama's proposed nuclear arms reduction treaty as a schoolyard fight, saying his agreement was like two kids getting ready to fight and one saying:

"Go ahead, punch me in the face and I'm not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me."
Going on to deride Obama's vast experience as a community organizer [compared to her vast experience as a monitor of Putin's flight path], she goes on to say that:

Asked to respond to her comments, and obviously frustrated to have her remarks given that level of importance, Obama replied in as refreshingly an honest manner as we have seen. My trolls might need a review of the definitions of satire and fallacy, to appreciate the following.

Sadly No writes today of the exchange (via media of course) between President Obama and half-term Governor Palin regarding the recently proposed nuclear arms reduction treaty:

"Obama makes the common fallacious appeal to authority here, while throwing in some ad hominem and the appeal to ridicule:

“I really have no response to that. The last I checked, Sarah Palin is not much of an expert on nuclear issues,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News."

Hearing from the other side of the aisle, Confederate Yankee, whose blog banner reads "Because liberalism is a persistant vegetative state," we get the insightful comment:

"Palin’s view of nuclear weapons was shaped by her stint as the commander in chief of the Alaskan National Guard, our first line of defense against Soviet nuclear weapons. Obama has held his same views since he was a stoner college student and has showed no signs of maturing."
Sadly No continues his commentary, responding to Confederate by saying:
"Amen, Br’er Owens [Confederate Yankee]. I’ve always said that when it comes to knowing nukes, two-and-a-half years as commander in chief of the Alaskan National Guard trumps one-year-and-change as commander in chief of an actual nuclear arsenal. Because 1) it’s longer and 2) don’t bogart that joint, fella!"

UPDATE: While Bob Owens is busy composing his ode to Sarah Palin’s stalwart defense of Cochinchina in the face of Red Tonkinese aggression, not to mention her leadership role in mediating talks with the Ottomans, we pause to alert you that our uppity POTUS has ’sassed’ the esteemed former part-time Alaska governor."
I would expect that people without much education would lack a basic understanding of logic, reasoning, and fallacies, but mainstream media? I understand bloggers commenting on what Sarah Palin says. I understand Fox News and other right-wing commentators reporting on the conference and her remarks. What I don't understand, is to give important to Palin's remarks about Obama's actions and to ask him, in an on-air interview, to respond. The only purpose served by such a question is to titillate the viewers and, quite frankly, to generate the level of buzz generated by blogs such as this.

As linked on Sadly's blog, The Nizkor Project contains an in-depth review of fallacies as well as a guide to arguments and logic that is well-written and easily understood. As the authors say, "In order to understand what a fallacy is, one must understand what an argument is." If you do not (a premise, maybe two, and a conclusion), then I suggest you follow the link and review. Our "news" is full of distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies. Everyone (including me) has an agenda. In order to wade through the overwhelming amount of information available to us, the commentary thrown at us from all sides (and yes, there are far more than two sides), we all need to hone our critical thinking skills and learn how to listen and to analyze for ourselves what we hear.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Here We Go Again. Sex Ed Teachers Threatened With Arrest For Doing Their Job.

Yesterday I wrote about CNN and their hosting of Richard Cohen, the "Conversion Therapist" who claims that he can cure homosexuality and proves it by citing his own conversion and successful marriage. Today, as reported here, a District Attorney in Juneau, Wisconsin has distributed a letter  to teachers and school administrators as they begin to develop a plan to implement a new state law,  The Healthy Youth Act, next fall. In this letter, DA Southworth warns teachers that should they "follow a new state law requiring them to instruct students on how to use condoms and other contraceptives" they could be arrested.

Wisconsin Act 139 requires that schools provide sex education to students utilizing "...medically accurate, age-appropriate information, including how to use birth control and prevent sexually transmitted disease. It also requires the classes to include information about how to recognize the signs of abuse and how alcohol can affect decision making." Appropriately, parents will be allowed to opt-out of the program, and schools can choose not to participate as long as they notify parents of their decision to do so.

In his letter, Mr. Southworth states that because it is a crime for anyone under the age of 16 to engage in sexual activity, providing instruction on how to utilize contraception "Promotes the sexual assault of children." Typical of the Christianist agenda, Mr. Southworth states that providing this information encourages children to engage in sexual activity and  that "... our school districts should never promote illegal activity."

Referring to the Wisconsin criminal code dealing with contributing to the delinquency of minors, Mr. Southwork says in his letter that if a "... teacher knows a child is engaging in sexual activity or that the natural and probable consequences of the teacher's instruction is to cause that child to engage in sexual intercourse with a child..." they are again liable to be charged with a crime. He claims that depending on the child's behavior, the teacher could be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. He states that providing facts about contraception is legal, but providing instruction on their use, is "implicit encouragement."

Mr. Southworth's continues by claiming that if this horrendous action occurs, parental authority will be undermined. He says that effect, schools will be encouraging children to seek "other family members" to communicate their questions about sexuality and sexual behavior. He believes this will cause them to "... shop around for any family member who will provide the approval they want..."

And finally, any class in sex education will of course provide information on gender stereotypes and might even (oh the horror) give them information about transgender and transsexual individuals. Of course, every student must be treated with dignity and respect (right), but these new laws, according to Southworth, will disallow any instruction by the school on the morality of these controversial issues and inject "unnecessary politics" into the classrooms.

There's more, of course, but I'll ignore the fear of Planned Parenthood having access to the children of Juneau County, and the punishment inflicted on schools, families, and teachers who want to maintain high moral standards. Sigh.

Mr. Southworth claims to know what he is talking about because he deals with numerous sexual assaults as a District Attorney. I know what I'm talking about as well when I say that sex education does not increase sexual activity, it decreases it. Providing information about contraception (including the proper use) does not encourage young people to engage in sexual activity, in fact, it is more likely to discourage it. Knowledge is power, and the more we give to our young people, the more likely they are to make the right decisions. Statistics have shown that young people will be sexually active but if they have information about contraception and disease prevention, they are less likely to experience an unwanted pregnancy or STD. Classes that teach young people about the reality of teen parenthood also increase the use of contraception (you would not believe how many of my teen clients thought it would be fun to have a little baby to play with and cuddle).

Forcing religious views on everyone is wrong and that is what the Southworth's of the world are trying to do. Morality to some is all about sexual behavior. To others? It is about what happens after that behavior has occurred. Mr. Southworth claims to have knowledge of sexual assault of children, yet cannot understand that children may need the force of law to be able to have an alternate family member other than parents to speak to and for them (maybe it was Daddy that got her pregnant, after all). Demanding that we all adhere to his perspective of the family being one mom, one dad, and children denies the reality of this country, and I would bet, his county. If he wants sexual assaults of children to continue, unwanted teen pregnancies to continue, sexually transmitted diseases to continue, the teen suicide rate to remain the same, and young people making all the wrong choices about their own sexual behaviors, then he should continue to threaten the educators who should be receiving his support and appreciation.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

CNN Hits Bottom Hosting Richard Cohen and Search for "Truth" About Homosexuality Cure

I remember when CNN started. As a news junkie, it was remarkable to be able to see national and world news 24/7, in-depth. There was a lot of fluff as the network went through its growing pains and tried to develop content and most of the air time was filled with the same news events recycled over, and over again. Now? CNN is hard at work trying to emulate Fox News and this video demonstrates that. It is of an exchange between Richard Cohen and California Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, hosted by Kyra Phillips discussing an old, forgotten law that Lowenthal is trying to have repealed. The law requires medical researchers to examine the "causes and cures of homosexuality."
Many of the on-air personalities we know now started out on CNN as actual journalists--I can still hear Wolf Blitzer's panic-filled voice as he reported from Baghdad during the first Gulf War, and Greta Von Susteran reporting on the OJ trial before plastic surgery and a bleach job working as an actual legal analyst, using the skills she was trained for. Now? It seems to be all about ratings, and competing with Fox to see how much water they can carry for the right-wing extremists.

This video is appalling in so many ways that it is  hard to know where to begin.

First, the lead. "Homosexuality. Is it a problem in need of a cure?" and its screen icon saying, "Finding a cure for homosexuality? California considers repealing 1950 law.

Actually, this sounds more like the National Inquirer than Fox. Of a headline we might have seen back in the 60's. The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a mental disorder back in the 1970's. My copy of the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Revision) has an entire chapter on paraphilias (sexual disorders) and I can assure you, homosexuality is not included (memorizing every disorder, the categories and sub-categories within each disorder and the criteria for each was part of my training). The fact that CNN would host such a show is called desperately grasping for ratings at any cost, in other situations, some might call it ... well, you get the idea.

Most of the 7:32 minute long video is taken up with conversation between Richard Cohen and Kyra Phillips. Assemblywoman Lowenthall is asked why she has put forward a bill repealing this old statute, but other than that, is given little opportunity to offer anything to the discussion. Considering that the focus of the program is not the bill or its repeal, but rather homosexuality itself, its understandable that she wouldn't have much to add.

Cohen is introduced by Phillips as a psychotherapist, and as an expert in this area because he is someone who used to be a homosexual, and thus qualified to discuss the validity of researching a "cure" for homosexuality (never mind that we did not hear about why homosexuality is no longer considered a mental disorder, and why the law is long-forgotten and not enforced).

Phillips either does not know or "forgot" that Cohen is no longer a psychotherapist, even though he said it quite proudly to prove the validity of his claims. [Note: remember The 10 Fallacies and the rule of inappropriate authority. Just because someone has credentials in something, doesn't mean they are an expert in other things.] The American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (and I double checked my copy prior to writing this), includes the rules that members do not seek to meet their own needs at the expense of their clients. They also must not engage in dual relationships with their clients. A dual relationship is one in which you have any kind of relationship with the client outside of that of counselor/client. For example, if you provide any kind of service to me, I can't be your counselor. If I purchase any kind of goods from you, the line becomes less clear, but again, I have to be very careful before I become your counselor. If you own or manage a business but have no personal oversight of my financial transactions (i.e., where I purchase my groceries for example), then as long as the nature of our counseling relationship remained confidential, I could continue to shop at your grocery store. I probably would not, but if it were a small town, I might not have any choice.

Another kind of dual relationship that concerns ethics committees is when counselors use their clients for their own ends or to advance their own agenda. The counselor's own opinions, worldview, political persuasion, religion, or belief system cannot enter the counseling relationship. I do not have to agree with my clients, or like what they do or how they live their life, but I do have to leave my opinion outside the door and give my client unconditional positive regard, support, and empathy. If I cannot do that, if I feel that I have to change who they are, make them into something they aren't, do something they are not comfortable doing, force them to change into something or someone else, or change faster than they are ready to change, then I have committed malpractice and could be sued, and lose (in my case) my certification and those with a license, would lose their license. I would also be kicked out of the American Counseling Association and all the other professional organizations that I belong to, each of which has a very similar code of ethics to follow, not to mention the state law that governs the rules for practice for my profession.

Why so much detail? Richard Cohen was kicked out of the American Counseling Association and is no longer a psychotherapist because he engaged in dual relationships with his clients and forced his own agenda on them (convincing them that homosexuality is "curable" and that he could convert them). Even if the clients came to him because they were unhappy with their sexual orientation, it was his responsibility to help them work through their feelings, not change their life. The counselor's job is to guide the client as they work through their feelings and make any changes that they decide need to be made, if any, in their lives. If, as counseling progresses, the client comes to realize that there are situations in their life that are not working and the counseling process has enabled them to develop the strength to make changes, then it is up to the counselor to support the client in making those changes, not force them to do what the counselor believes is the right thing to do.

In the discussion, Cohen lists as one of his reasons a concern for children and protecting them from child molesters. Many, many people are afraid of homosexuals because of fear for their children's safety. This is not to say that no homosexuals are child predators, but statistics have shown, over and over again, that the majority of child molesters are middle-aged, married, heterosexual men. Of course, parents should be concerned about any adult who is around their children, no matter who it is. Child molesters groom their victims, and their victims include the parents. Grooming includes making the victim comfortable around the molester so that the predator has the opportunity to molest. Molestation takes place in private, so the predator has to create the opportunity to have time alone with the child, and accomplishes this by creating a relationship of trust with the parents, then with the child.

Richard Cohen claimed that the American College of Peditricians had recently sent out a Fact Sheet about homosexuality that "proves" what he is saying. In this "Fact Sheet," we are told that homosexuality is a result of a combination of familial, environmental, social, and biological influences, and that 85% of youths who experience same sex attractions eventually end up as heterosexuals. Unfortunately, this is a marvelous way of dressing up the truth to look like a lie to look like a lie.

Note how they tucked in biological at the end of the list of reasons for homosexuality? It is the last of their four reasons, and I am sure they consider familial and environmental factors key (the old blame the domineering mother most likely), but as they have no answer as to why several children can grow up in the same family with theoretically the same environmental factors, they had to throw in biological factors. What they did not understand is that no two children in the same family experience the same environment. The parents are in different places, they react to each child differently, the child has different experiences outside the home, different friends, teachers, events, and reactions to those events. Even how they experience the family will be different, which goes a long way towards explaining why children from the same family grow up to be completely different people. I digress, however. Their complete lack of understanding of sociological concepts and counseling theory is as clear as their misunderstanding of scientific research.

During the developmental process, many children feel attractions to others of the same sex, and to the other sex. Does this mean they are homosexual? Or bisexual? No. It means they are normal. If they act on these feelings, will they become one or the other? No. They will become who they are. Is someone who has sex with someone of the same sex a homosexual? No, of course not. If that were true, then 80% of our prison populations are really homosexual, and all the heterosexual men (frequently married) caught in public restrooms engaging in inappropriate behavior with other men would really be homosexual. All the middle-aged, heterosexual men who molest children of both sexes would really be homosexual if their preferred target happened to be boys (and, child predators can be broken up into two categories, those who molest by type, and those who molest by opportunity - if by opportunity, gender and age do not matter, if by type, it does). So, in a way, most children who have attractions to others of the same sex end up as heterosexual, but the way this "Fact Sheet" frames it leads the reader to believe that it is simply a matter of environment.

Additionally, this "Fact Sheet" also states that homosexuality can be dangerous to men. Of course it can if the world is filled with people like this. Until our society understands that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice but simply who someone is, it will be dangerous for anyone homosexual. It states that reorientation therapy works, and that pro-homosexual programs that validate this lifestyle (pretty loaded framing) are not appropriate. As long as we continue to use the language of "lifestyle choice," then people will continue to believe that homosexuality is something bad that should be treated.
 The two biggest concerns I have with the stated facts, are;
  • "Regardless of an individual's sexual orientation, sexual activity is a conscious choice."
  • "...It is not the school's role to diagnose and treat any student's medical condition..."
First of all, homosexuality is not about activity. Homosexuality is about how you perceive yourself. It is how you interact with the world, and how you see yourself in relation to others. Imagine if you will, if you were told (assuming you are heterosexual), that you must choose a life partner of the same sex. That you must kiss them, hug them, be intimate with them, and have sex with them. What if you were told that your sexual urges were wrong, and that your desire to make yourself attractive to others was wrong. How would you feel? Could you be intimate with someone you felt no sexual desire for? Or someone you actually were repulsed by? How would you feel if all of your friends, family, and neighbors all had a significant other, someone to do couple things with, talk over problems with, have families with, be with, and you could not, because the person that you wanted to be with was not allowed? How would you feel if you were asked, regularly, when you were going to get married? Have children? Settle down? Or had your friends and family try to set you up on blind dates? Or your buddies told dirty jokes, or talked about their dates or sexual matters and you couldn't participate?

The second? This is a group of pediatricians (not psychologists or geneticists) talking about homosexuality as a familial and environmental problem on the one hand, and then saying the schools have no right to discuss medical problems on the other. Which is it? And, all of this being discuss by an expert who claims his expertise because he is a psychotherapist, somehow implying that it is thus a mental illness. So, family upbringing or environment (bring on the sociologists!), medical problem, or mental illness. Which? Do they even proofread their own materials? Dig a little deeper into their website, and you'll find that at heart, this is a narrow-minded group of Christian right ideologues trying to force their agenda on everyone else. Just because this group can put M.D. after their names gives them no greater voice in this issue than any other.

I feel badly sometimes that I am grateful that I am heterosexual and have not had to experience these difficulties. I have been married for what seems like forever and have raised my children without too much trauma. I don't know these things from first-hand experience, but I do know these things from talking to friends and family and clients. I do know these things because as a counselor, the required element to do my job is empathy, and having it, I can often relate too well to those around me. If you don't know or can't relate, then take a moment and stop and think. Just think.

I stopped watching CNN regularly a long time ago, but I do occasionally watch some programs. Wolf Blitzer sold out long ago. I completely gave up when John King had the White House beat because of his pandering to the Bush Administration, but I never thought I would see them sink as far as they have with hiring Erick Erickson, and now this.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sheriff Joe Arpaio New Taser Spokeperson While Under Grand Jury Investigation. Sweet.


Today, I read that Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona has been selected as the new marketing sponsor for Taser International. In case you aren't familiar with Joe, he is currently under grand jury investigation for abuse of power, and last summer was stripped of his ability to enforce federal immigration laws, an action he refused to acknowledge. Famous for his tent city for jail inmates, humiliating downtown marches for immigration detainees, and pink underwear for prisoners, he has now decided to run for governor despite an active campaign against him by many of his deputies. Joe never lets little things like the law get in his way.

But, the Sheriff Joe's of the world could not exist without us.

I've written here and here about my concerns about the increasing use of tasers by law enforcement. In addition to my concern about the over-use of tasers, I am as concerned about a culture that accepts their use and sees little wrong with tasering teenagers, elderly women, or persons with  medical conditions because, at the time, the person using the taser believed its use was necessary.

Few, other than progressive bloggers and civil rights attorneys and organizations, have questioned the fact that tasers are routinely issued to police officers assigned to schools, and that tasers are frequently used not when officers are dealing with physical violence or persons resisting arrest, but rather persons who are rude, verbally abusive, or passively resistant.

We read the news stories and shake our heads, sigh with relief that no lasting harm was done (usually), and probably believe that in some way, the individual being tasered deserved it because they were not cooperative enough with the person in authority.

Consider this. Is it possible that someone who would taser another person because they did not move fast enough, or because they had an attitude problem might be lacking in training? Or common sense? Or intelligence? Is it possible that someone who would taser a 72-year-old woman for exercising her legal right to refuse to sign a traffic ticket and was belligerent about being arrested for it might be abusing his or her authority?

Are we to comply with all orders from those "in authority" even when we know those orders are illegal, unethical, or simply wrong? Are we to comply with orders from those in authority even if we choose to accept the consequences for our actions (i.e., passive, peaceful resistance - a long-established tradition in this country), counting on the authorities to keep us safe while doing so? (I know, I remember Birmingham, and Kent State, and the 1968 conventions...).

My point, is that by increments, our law and order society is becoming inured to violence. Not just violence by criminals, or violence committed by terrorists or gang members, but violence that filters through all aspects of our lives. Officer involved shooting is something I hear on the news once or twice a month now, when in the past, it was a very rare occurrence. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have created a tolerance to torture and we have been taught to move the gauge of what is acceptable as time goes by.

I am delighted that police officers reach for tasers instead of guns, however, I would be more delighted if they were trained in anger management, conflict resolution, and basic risk assessment and didn't reach for anything at all. It is not illegal to swear at a police officer. It is not illegal to be angry (although it is illegal if you act out on that anger in a physical or threatening manner). Having attitude is not a criminal offense. Being out in the hallway without a hall pass deserves a trip to the Principal's Office, not being thrown to the floor and tased.

Taser International decided that Sheriff Joe was an appropriate spokesman for their product. They believe that using him in their marketing campaign will encourage others to buy more of their tasers. As said in the article at Change dot org,

"At the same time as Taser International boasts endorsements from the likes of Joe Arpaio, they run stories on their blog detailing how tasers save lives. They are trying to play both sides of the field, a stance that gets them into similar problems regarding the potential health risks of the weapon ... at the same time they are trying to lure police forces and consumers by flaunting the power of their weapon.
... Taser International should dump Arpaio and stop marketing their guns as safe, easy to use, every-day, self-defense products. Tasers are serious weapons, not to be fooled around with by unqualified crackpots."

There is a significant difference between a rule and a law and it would behoove our law enforcement personnel to learn the difference and save the guns and tasers for actual threats of physical violence, not threats to their inability to deal with difficult people.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

Friday, April 2, 2010

At Tax Time, RNC Shows Us Creative Ways to Expense Costs

As I work on my taxes, it's good to know, courtesy of the RNC (Republican National Committee), that I can charge off alcohol purchases as office supplies and "...goodies from the girl's playground for trendsetting young women..." as meals according to this. Silly me. I was always careful to go through my receipts and separate out what are actual office supplies from other purchases, and I've never expensed alcohol (although there are occasions when it is perfectly legal to expense alcohol as a meal expense. sigh).

In an article at Huffington Post, Jason Linkins tells us about how in addition to the RNC's little problem with expensing charges at a bondage club in Los Angeles (and hey, I was just in west LA last weekend, great time, but no naked bartenders) and somehow bills from the Boyden Valley Winery in Vermont (over $700 worth) appeared on their disclosure forms under office supplies (the winery says they do not sell office supplies and I have to say, it's not the first place I would think of if I were in search of paperclips) and RNC Deputy Finance Director Debbie Lehardy decided last December that the appropriate column to list her expenses ($453 worth) at Bendels on 5th Avenue in New York was under meals. Not sure if you know what Bendel's is, but the "playground for trendsetting young women" captures it (clothes, jeweley, makeup), and no, they do not sell food any more than Boyden Valley Winery sells office supplies.

For those of you who want to say that "well, the Democrats do it, too" (as if that excuses anything), last night on Keith Olbermann's show, Karen Finney of the DNC talked about working under Howard Dean when he headed the DNC. She reported that while in New York, he was so careful of expenses that he finally let staffers use the subway rather than walk.

Chairman Steele certainly leads a charmed existence, for the Democratic Party. Clearly, after his antics of the past year without being fired, he's here through at least the 2010 election. The Democratic Party thanks him.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.