Monday, December 31, 2007

Who the Devil are These Candidates?

We of wee self-control who obsess about politics have been known to follow candidates and have an opinion or two. We'll do that aloud on Wednesday on our Left Ahead! podcast.

Sked Note: This is our usual time, but a one-day bump. The podcast will run from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, January Second, this week only.

Even though this has been the longest Presidential race ever, voters interviewed by MSM often say they don't know what a particular candidate believes and wants to do if elected.

This election has a circus parade of clowns, acrobats and animals (or pundits, preachers, puffballs and pests). After months up and down Main Street, how could people not know where these folk stand? Of course, the likely answer is that they don't read daily newspapers, they get snatches of fluff from TV and cable news, they avoid the public affairs programs, and they await the election fairies coming to present them magically with only one choice, between two major party candidates.

Fortunately, ignorance is almost always easy to fix. Stupidity is another matter, but it's not the major problem here.

Even more fortunately, some journalists in Iowa had the right attitude and enough time. The Des Moines Register staff has assembled enough info on the candidates to shame the entire League of Women Voters. For an all-you-can-eat-and-more buffet of issues and answers, click over to the paper's candidates' database.

Scan by issue or candidate. Get bios.

You say you want to know how Mike Huckabee finds spiritual renewal? Head to his page and find that (in my words), he likes to kill fish and mammals. His long answer includes, "I turkey hunt, deer hunt, duck hunt, and so, to me, as close to heaven as I think I could get would be sunrise out in the flooded timber of Arkansas on a January morning during duck season." Quack. Quack.

How about whom would Rudy Giuliani consider a worthy candidate if he didn't get the shot? "People know that I think John McCain would make a good president. I think I'd be better, but John would have been my choice had I not run."

There's lots there — big and small issues, definitive statements and evasions, smarmy generalities and straight talk, words and videos. Eat 'em up.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Old Man Returns to NH

Maybe the Old Man of the Mountain, New Hampshire's emblematic symbol, didn't go forever. Your silliness for the day is this makes-you-go-hmmm photo comparison of two craggy things.

From the pic with today's Boston Globe article on Willard Mitt Romney going petulant on John McCain is his recent profile (honestly, the one on the left) and the rock formation when it was still in place with wires, bolts and other oldster props.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Blogs as Literature: TK

Yup, to come...unlike my anticipation for the original plug on NPR's series on blogs. Their Digital Cultural series teeing off from the tenth anniversary of blogs promised a report on blogs as good writing by a writer who spent a year evaluating thousands for the best reading.

Instead, it was Christmas cotton fluff and the work of locating and evaluating blog posts as literature falls to us. I'll do my part.

Yesterday's NPR episode was LITE. I suspect that the self-described expert, Sarah Boxer, is a friend of the show folk, who shameless let her flog her new book instead of fulfilling their teaser. If you must hear the segment, click here, and then click Listen Now for not much for nearly eight minutes.

In fairness to Ms. Boxer, any of us would be foolish to expect great substance on this. She was a photography and art writer for the New York Times. She produced a pale (in many senses) little cartoon book, In the Floyd Archives: A Psycho-Bestiary.

Her goth promo pix and a sub-frame from the book are here, both reduced for your viewing pleasure.

Cleverness seems to mark her style. Her alleged year of research was for an edited compilation. That too is clever — her getting paid for her recent year of web surfing. Like the NPR teaser, this drive-by 368-pager promises much more than it delivers. Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web is only OK and does not live up to its subtitle.

I agree with her basic idea that there's lots of good writing among the ain't-my-kid-cute and disdain-for-(insert group) blogs. Yet, she only manages to repost some good stuff, what any of us could do with a few dozen clicks starting from such as Technorati or LeftyBlogs. This is truly a noob book.

I knew she was off into the brambles from the start. For example, up front, she excluded writing from political blogs, because "they spoil" by their timeliness. That's a lesser case of disregarding say The Red Badge of Courage or any period fiction.

As insightful as she got was noting that left-leaning blogs tend toward longer narratives, while right-wing ones dealt with gotcha punchlines instead. Yawn.

She just doesn't get it and can't deliver to us what she doesn't have. So, I'm back with my mule at the unplowed furrow-to-be. In the next few weeks, I'll set out some examples of literature, with another call for us to keep it smart and worth reading.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Bloggers with Crayons

Awwwwww, isn't that cute?! NPR's Blogs Celebrate 10th Anniversary fairly drools cleverness. Click Listen Now there to revel in wee in-jokes and such tiny tricks as fast-forwarding their own interviews. He he he.

There will be several more Digital Culture shows on the subject this week, notably Christmas Day's. Meanwhile, the related page has:
However, my ears' present should come tomorrow. NPR promises a report on a journalist who scoured tons of blogs looking for (drum roll...) good writing!

I have long and repeatedly decried the poor literary quality, the unmemorable phrasing and near illiteracy of blogs.

Many of us are quick to excuse our muddled messages and turgid writing. We're hurrying. Our thoughts are much more important than their expression. The newish medium has new rules. No one looks to blogs for or as literature (self-fulfilling, eh?).

In the next few days, I'll post my own examples of good writing in blogs. Meanwhile, all of us bloggers should get with the program. My readers here, at Harrumph!, and Left Ahead! deserve clear, crafted and even amusing posts.

Get with the program!

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kids: Overdue Oversight

Divine, Deval!

Our governor used an executive order in the right way yesterday. He created Massachusetts' first ever Office of the Child Advocate. It's a great answer to those who criticize such agencies at the Department of Social Services for either 1) being overly aggressive and unreasonably charging parents and even removing kids, or 2) passively letting thousands remain in abusive homes...with some dying there annually.

The executive order is not up on the governor's site yet, but an article in today's Globe has the basics. These include:
  • This office will be a watchdog with power to investigate abuse allegations
  • It will monitor the state agencies charged with protecting children
  • It can go into individual cases
  • It can recommend policy changes
  • It will review the Departments of Social Services, Youth Services, Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Public Health

However, it is nowhere near as powerful as such offices in some states. It will not be able to "issue subpoenas, hold public hearings (or) sue state agencies."

Even so, the president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was pleased. MaryLou Sudders said, "You need someone who can ask tough questions and has the backing of the governor. The office of child advocate is in response to a series of tragedies and legislative oversight hearings."

Following the recent series here on the self-identified parents-right groups, I see this as working many angles simultaneously. Most obviously, it is a strong answer to parents who think government has no role in protecting children, unless they are abused to hospitalization or worse. Some of those portray the DSS as hyper-invasive police who almost always overreach their goals and authority.

At the same time, there are those few high-profile cases and apparently thousands of others in which kids are abused, often for years. Here, an office that identifies procedure and policy changes can only help.

Specifically, in those few cases of petty bureaucrats gone crazy, being able to identify them is great. The DSS for example can retrain or replace any employees who unfairly try to remove kids from a home or fail to do so when they should.

This is one savvy and overdue use of an executive order. It's not original with Gov. Patrick, but that's fine. He's not ashamed to adapt what works in other states. It's Deval's happy holidays to the kids and parents.

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Moist Mitt

Willard (or should that be Weep-ard?) Mitt Romney is awfully stupid for a supposedly brilliant VC. His latest I'm-the-nice-one ploy is both unconvincing in light of his cameo appearance as Massachusetts governor and a gross miscalculation.
I suspect this will be a turning point in his campaign...not in the way this arrogant manipulator hopes. As the observers note, this is straight theater, or more specifically, melodrama. Even conservative Republicans are ready for a real candidate and not to replace the Clown with the Cynic.

As an old guy myself, I am someone who can relate to the sensitivity that comes with experience. For many of us, we bury enough parents, peers and others, we struggle through career troughs, we tend to sick children, and we, well, live. That's why men particularly tend to be much more emotionally demonstrative with age. Adversity blunts bluster.

On the the other hand, as Vennochi and Elias home in on, Weepard's insincerity is incredibly obvious. Back when maybe misting Presidential hopefuls like Edmund Muskie were tagged as weak weepers when the voters wanted a strong leader, tears were toxic. In contrast, Romney grossly insults each of us by his recent skits.

He did remind me though of an amusing country song, Back in the Saddle by Mataca Berg. (Even those of us who don't like country music enjoy her sophisticated words.) In the lyrics, she's been at a dude ranch/health spa and is re-entering the real world at a cowboy bar.
Well, it must've been the burned out new age coffee house
So called sensitive guys
I never thought a leatherneck suckin' on a long neck
Could make my temperature rise
Well, Weepard appears like a prissy rich guy in French cuffs. Showing the Republicans his sensitive side again and again and again is a wonderfully self-destructive move. It's the meringue on top of a dish of Marshmallow Fluff. It's both cloying and lacking in substance.

It won't play in Des Moines.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Casino Report from the Field

Left Ahead!'s own Jimmy Olsen was Ryan Adams today. He attended the budget hearing on casinos and called in his report. He has the word on the stacked hearing and his best guess on casinos' future here.

Check the news and noise at our weekly podcast here.

Ryan's about at the 30 minute mark. Before that Lynne Lupien and I first held forth on Presidential candidates and then got into the parents-rights sub-movement.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Parents Rights:Evils They See in Books

We can't begin to understand the self-identified parents-rights groups without considering their fear of ideas and books that contain ideas. These folk include an astonishing number of ideophobics and bibliophobics who fear and disdain the power and potential for evil of specific ideas and books.

This is part four of a series. Part one of basic concepts and the Mad Dad case is here. Part two on the attack of the control people is here. An overview of this mini-movement's aims is here.

Likely nearly all of us concede that some ideas are inherently evil. For the most repeated extreme, consider the Nazi concepts that whole sets of people their leaders asserted were inferior — Jews, Roms (gypsies), homosexuals, Roman Catholics and others — should either be worked to death as slaves or murdered or both in turn. Worldwide a few crackpots might support such concepts, but damned few.

Even so, refusing to admit such things ever happened or that some people could, did and do champion them is simultaneously cowardly, dishonest and anti-intellectual. Far better would be to expose people to the history and philosophy. Only then can the naive or unaware evaluate the ideas in their framework and in discussions. Hiding ideas or realities neither develops the mind nor, as Ovid might have written, humanizes the character (and not allow it to become cruel).

If we are to socialize our children, we must expose them to essential ideas and realities. Most of us parents also recognize that we instruct them in our thought and ideals, by both our words and actions. We are, in Kahlil Gibran's lingo, the bows and our children the arrows. We guide them as truly as we can, but we must let fly. It would seem that some parents-rights types want to hold that arrow, very tightly, until the kids are at least 18.

Some in the parents rights mini-movement seem to have little faith in their own modeling and teaching, and much less in their children's ability to think. We are still seeing this in pure form here, most obviously in the Lexington school case. The two couples appealing their loss in the Mad Dad lawsuit do honestly seem horrified at what the vast majority of their Lexington peers consider benign or positive ideas and expressions. They claimed in state and federal filings that even mentioning the reality that there are legally married same-sex couples is sex education and indoctrination. They even charged that this somehow prevents them from teaching their children what the foursome consider right and moral.

To most us of us, such hyperbole and well, irrationality, is a little sad and a lot silly. Unfortunately, both in Lexington and in little craters of such explosions elsewhere in the nation, this repeats. Such befuddled parents do far more than hamper their kids' ability to think.They use direct confrontation and even legal tactics to try to force their personal views on the entire community.

In the Mad Dad case, they demanded that teachers not mention, much less read, any of a list of taboo concepts around their kids. That could have taken the form of censoring topics for everyone, even those that arise spontaneously. Alternately, they would have their kids removed from each classroom any time any taboo arose.

The U.S. District Court Justice Mark L. Wolf pooh-poohed those demands in the foursome's court hearing, as well as in his dismissal of their suit. However, the battle continues on another front to pit parents-rights groups against librarians, educators and the most parents.

Skirmishes occur regularly in school and public libraries throughout the country. Despite our U.S. Constitutional Bill of Rights and our long history from colonial times of fighting such censorship, these groups fight on.

Personal Confession

I have to admit that I have loved books and libraries from my early reader days. Perhaps my sister is partially to blame. She is two years older and taught me to read when most kids were barely speaking whole sentences.

Our mother too was key. She kept a house of a thousand or more books at all times, always with at least one set of adult encyclopedia and a broad range of reference, non-fiction and fiction. When I asked about any topic, she'd generally say, "Look it up." Off I'd go to research and to think and to discuss at dinner or in the evening.

We read then and do now. She forbade us no book or idea and was always available to discuss anything we did not understand or that conflicted with her teachings, those of school or those at church. I lived in a home of ideas, not rote learning.

As the Alexander Pope wrote nearly three hundred years ago:
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Then in elementary school, I was also smitten by the lovely and involved children's librarian at the public facility in Danville, Virginia. The building itself was a grand mansion that had been home to a Confederate officer and housed the last days of the CSA. In the huge lower floor, I read everything in the children's area, starting with anything to do with dinosaurs or gods from anywhere. That librarian was so impressed by my taking out as many books as I could carry each week, that she was ready when I had read the room. She spoke with the head librarian and got me rights to all the adult books, after which she gave me lists of suggested reading to keep me perking.

From my own experience alone, I cannot believe that typical elementary school students must be protected from ideas. Such ways stunt intellect and emotion. The many students I have known were not primitive ignorami who needed shielding from ideas lest they be overpowered by them. Likewise, my beloved librarian in Danville never showed any evidence that she considered my brain too fragile to process information.

Public Funding

Those who would cull collections often claim that public funds should not buy books that the community (as in the cullers) object to being on shelves. Those more aligned with the American Library Association (ALA) free-speech-and-ideas guidelines are wont to say that public funds mean that the public libraries should never be controlled by such special interests.

According to various parents-rights websites, the ALA is on par with the United Nations as a bugbear. This seems to go back to those control issues. The ALA's position is that "Decisions about what materials are suitable for particular children should be made by the people who know them best—their parents or guardians." On the other hand, it angers that subset of parents with two freedom-oriented policy positions:
  1. No one censors books by deciding for everyone what goes on the shelves. Selection i's the job and judgment of the professional librarians and the library boards.
  2. After advising their kids, parent should not dictate what material they can examine in the library or have access to records of what they have requested or checked out.
A stark and startling bifurcation separates the parents-rights advocates from Bill of Rights supporters and free-idea digesters. For my own rant on letting kids read what's on the shelves, click here.

Like so many, I have my own preconceptions of librarians, such as their being:
  • Quiet, unassuming public servants
  • Helpers of kids learning to research
  • Guides to the information you need
My wife volunteers in a school library and has the slightly grander view, as depicted in the New Jersey Super Librarian shown to the left. In fact, librarians are often civil libertarians of high order.

Neither of us shares a common view of parents-right types. For the ALA-as-dictator concepts, try some of the self-defined safe-libraries sites, such as Citizens of Positive Education or the Collecting My Thoughts blog. They seem to think kids have very fragile minds and to have real problems not feeling in control of what's on the shelves. Those sites can link to numerous others of similar bent.

Fortunately for the rest of us, these groups and individuals run across opposition to censorship. In fact, the groups are quick to try generally unsuccessfully to hold that they do not want to censor. Considering that their stated aims and actions attempt to determine what books libraries can stock, they are unlikely to be able to make that case.

In the face of this, several of them try to it's-my-money approach that occasionally works. For example, that COPE group states, "We are not for any limits on what people may see and read. However, certain things simply do not need to be funded with the taxpayer’s support and made available in America’s public libraries." That's still censorship, but that version can appeal to fiscal conservatives.

Stifling Schools

Some other factions of this set of parents would like to determine, as in Lexington, both what is on the school library shelves and what they kids read and hear in the classroom. For an example, try the Parents Against Bad Books in Schools site. They have the usual scare tactics, centered on picking excerpts from various books to convince people that there's something terribly immoral out there within their tots' grasp.

On the other hand, they do offer a reactionary, but thorough what-to-do page for like-minded parents. It has specific suggestions on how to challenge or work within the system to remove books and their related subversive ideas. This is refreshingly like portions of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. It avoids the annoying whining and demanding, replacing these with action. I can disagree with the premises and aims, but applaud the methods.

The other big library issue is whether kids can expect any privacy in their thought process. Many parents-rights types scream, "NO!" A common battle is over whether libraries will provide lists of materials children have requested or checked out when a parent asks.

In this nation and time, you might suppose the answer would be that even children should be able to read and think without fear of retribution and with a modicum of privacy. After all, both school and public libraries have procedures to prevent minors from accessing adult material. Regardless of how some groups would like to remove all such materials or classify much more as adults-only, they are far from being able to do either.

However, the issue of library records is far spottier. The parents-rights groups won that in Wisconsin, but have repeatedly lost it in most other places. Particularly because this is a skirmish that can be waged very locally as well as statewide, we can all expect this to come to a library near us.

Some groups, such as Family Friendly Libraries, also incorporate the it's-my-money approach. They expand that to a conspiratorial view that librarians had better keep and make available all records...or the terrorists have won. They write, "When libraries systematically purge Internet and borrowing records, they are effectively playing the role of the accomplice who flushes evidence while a criminal climbs out the window. When law enforcement officials arrive at a library with a subpoena or search (warrant), all records which might serve as evidence are gone."

Yet the underlying issue seems instead to be an assertion that minors should have no privacy and that parents have an absolute right to see what the kids check out. The c9ntrol and the assert9oin of new rights appear again.

Tale of Two States

On this, contrast Wisconsin and Massachusetts. The former has pockets of liberalism and swatches of conservatives. The latter is more the mirror image of that.

In Wisconsin four years ago, Rep. Sheryl Albers successfully led the effort to add wording to state law that requires libraries to provide such lists on demand to parents of children 16 and younger. As she said at the time, "It's a parental right."

She helped this become a right, although it had not been before. Her opponents, such as Rep. Marlin Schneider in contrast called it "a major invasion of the right of privacy of children. Children need to understand their rights are protected, and if government won't protect their rights, nobody will." Sen. Fred Risser added, "I think we should encourage kids to use libraries, encourage their minds to be open to new ideas. I don't know why we should have the public libraries be an investigative arm for parents."

By contrast, public policy and law here favor privacy and freedom of speech. Our laws, Chapter 78: Section 7, for example, includes strictures such as "That part of the records of a public library which reveals the identity and intellectual pursuits of a person using such library shall not be a public record..." Along the same line, the Boston Public Library privacy policy reads that "Circulation, registration information, and information retrieval records may not be disclosed except to: 1. The cardholder (with card or other proper id). NOTE: This is regardless of age or relationship. For example, parents cannot be told what materials a child has checked out without the child’s consent..."

On this subject as the other cited in this series, the Boston position differs radically from the parents-rights advocates. Again, it is an issue of control and the new and broadened privileges they claim as rights. They are unlikely to ever get what they did in Wisconsin statewide in Massachusetts or even in any populous area.

However, they might have a shot at school libraries or small public facilities. So far, they don't seem to be going the Alinsky path of joining the decision-making education or library boards. As those bodies are typically elected, it seems unlikely such regressive candidates would get seats, much less earn a majority.

Nonetheless, the twin issues of what's on the shelf and who can peek over the kids' shoulders are not going away.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Parents Rights:What Do These People Want?

Zooming in on those who demand parents rights in schools and libraries, and controlling their kids without any government involvement, who are these people and what do they want?

Without getting involved in any conspiratorial theories at all, you can easily find that while they come from various cities and states, and concentrate on one theme more than another, there is surprising agreement and coordination of effort. They are still a very small minority, but they have intense passion and righteousness. They simply think differently than you and I.

This is part three of a series. The next part will concentrate on efforts to control public and school libraries. Part one of basic concepts and the Mad Dad case is here. Part two on the attack of the control people is here. The post on the efforts to control ideas and books in school and libraries is here.

As much as I avoid the ask/answer questions format, this is a good place to deal with what do these people want? On the surface, the parents-rights sorts who want to control public institutions come from various viewpoints. Yet, they end up wanting a very similar set of goals — an agenda, to use their own slur on the progressives. Moreover, there are some underlying themes that tie each agendum together with the others.

By their own statements, publications and websites, they want:
  • To establish by law a right for parents to control what information public-school students read or hear.
  • To prohibit by law interference with corporal punishment as a training method for parents to use on their children.
  • A nationwide parents-rights law that forbids states defining broad powers for them that do not exist.
  • To stop any sex, health or sexuality education or diversity curricula in public schools, reserving anything remotely related to "moral training" to parents.
  • To require that parents opt into any such topic instead of merely having the choice of opting out.
  • To define as taboo in school even mentions that homosexuality exists, as well as civil unions or same sex marriage in states where those are already legal.
  • To permit parental access on demand to any school or public library records of what their minor children view or check out.
Some of the more extreme of these extremists also want:
  • Abolition of public education, including any taxation for such purposes.
  • School vouchers for any parents who do not want their children to attend public schools.
  • Limits on or dissolution of state child protective agencies with the power to investigate neglect and abuse cases.

UN and Control Issues

The United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly illustrates the distinctions between parents-rights advocates and the rest of us. Read it for yourself to see that it is alternately benign, commonsensical, and humane. Yet it will cause parents-rights sorts to rant and turn colors.

Of course, for many wingers, anything associated with the UN is an issue, which has been the case since President Woodrow Wilson first worked for membership in the League of Nations following WWI. Here, the control issues we mentioned in part two of this series flare. As we saw with the League, the UN and the Kyoto Protocol on protecting the climate, the underlying problem for U.S. rightists is the same. If we sign on, we cede some of our power, or rights, or control...control.

The Parental Rights Organization's assault on the Convention is typical of the hysteria on this and the core issue. Reduced to its simplest, these ask if they can't beat their children at will and must allow them to evaluate information on their own, what is left for parents?!

Meanwhile, as with Kyoto, we stand with only the basest nations. For the Convention on the Rights of the Child, only two nations have not ratified it in whole or part. Those two are perennial human-rights violator Somalia and the United States. That's not good company to be linked with. President Clinton signed the Convention, but the U.S. Senate has refused to ratify it.

So, you might well wonder what is it that inspired 190 countries to sign onto this document to foster children's well-being that so horrifies our Senate and these winger groups. A clear subhead list comes from the Home School Legal Defense Association, including:
  • Overall, disregard for parental authority (presently a "right" only in the minds of the parental-rights folk).
  • "Severe Limitations Placed on the Parents' Right to Train Their Children."
  • Article 13 gives kids the right to read or hear information and evaluation it; the dreaded freedom of expression.
  • Article 14 likewise permits freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This keeps parents from mandating religious training to suit themselves.
  • Article 15 permits freedom of association for children. Parents would have to convince kids to pick or not pick friends instead of forcing their will on them.
  • Article 16 gives kids privacy rights. These groups claim without basis that this means children would thus have unrestricted rights to birth control and abortion as a result.
  • Article 19 is perhaps the worst lunacy of all misinterpretations by the parents-rights groups. It says that the governments must act "to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse." This is the widest chasm between the groups and the rest of us. They would have us believe that virtually all child abuse and neglect claims are trumped up lies, and that such mandates will create many more such unnecessary prosecutions of loving parents.
  • Articles 3, 19 and 37 for "Prohibition on Corporal Punishment. They do, in fact, prohibit torture and other inhumane treatment of children. Unfortunately a subset of the parents-rights groups calls regularly beating children with sticks, paddles and straps "loving correction."
  • Article 29 also seems particularly odious to the wingers. It could have been written by a Unitarian; it is so egalitarian. It directs an education that develops a child to full potential. The extreme parents-rights types home in on its section (d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin. In case you are such a pinko that you don't feel the terror in that, be aware that to the parental control freaks this means that kids may have to consider that it might not be okay to hate and fear homosexuals and others, even if their parents do.
Consider the recap from a widely cited 1990 article by Barbara Johnson, then of the Alberta Federation of Women United for Families. Her statement continues to appear in various forms, saying:
The danger of the Convention is posed by the fact that it portrays the state as the protector of children, and the arbiter of how a child should be raised. In pre-emptying this role from the parents, it will inevitably result in weakening the family unit further, and thereby doing untold harm to the children it purports to be advocating for. For, in the end, the only real chance a child has to grow up safe and whole, to live and grow and learn and find happiness, is to be raised in a strong family.

Asserting New Rights

This chasm seemed to become unfordable in the mid to late 1990s with efforts to pass state and national amendments formalizing extreme parents-rights. These so far have failed but the attempts clearly illustrate the divide between these groups and the vast majority of the world.

On one side is a relatively small set of fervent believers in their own brand of parents rights. Many say that their scriptures inform them that the father in particular and parents together have absolute rights over their children's minds, emotions and bodies until they reach majority. While there is scant legal or moral basis for that, as Bob Dylan wrote in 1963, "You never ask questions when God's on your side."

On the other side are normal parents and many dozens of children's rights, civil rights and other organizations, plus governmental agencies, saying, "Not so fast. Your kids are not property for you to do with as your whims and fantasies compel."

The efforts a decade ago to pass a national parents-rights amendment, plus a test one in Colorado, carry a lot of baggage. Granted, the People for the American Way are heavily human-rights oriented, but they have a great set of pages on the national effort, including arguments of those in favor of passing it.

For a microcosm, see the Guttmacher Institute's analysis of why the drive to pass this as the laboratory failed in very conservative Colorado. The short of it is that the anti-amendment side faced the obvious. The LITE version presented by the pro-amendment forces was parents should be able to raise their own kids their own way. That was hard to argue with until the anti forces polled the public and presented a message of:

  • The amendment was dangerous, because children would be left in abusive homes and teenagers would be prevented from obtaining information and services that would help them avoid pregnancy, STDs and abortion.
  • It was unnecessary, because parents already have the right to raise their children as they see fit.
  • Although attractive on paper, in practice it would turn public schools into ideological battlegrounds for parents with opposing values and make adoptions more difficult because adoptive placements could be challenged in court.
  • And it was so vague that it would result in a flood of litigation initiated by angry parents, at taxpayers' expense, against anyone working with children, including teachers, librarians, social workers and counselors.
Again, when the control issue of a few faced reality, the larger public said the risks were way too high to play the game.

Public Says No!

Originally, the Congressional version of the bill was The Federal Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act (H.R. 1946/S. 984). It was very big on rights and virtually devoid of any responsibilities. That seems to be the insurmountable problem of the parents-rights groups. They want to be given legal authority to do whatever they want with their children in private being answerable to no one, private or government.

That's not how it has worked for a couple of centuries in this country and elsewhere. As I cited in the previous parts of the series, existing customs and laws share responsibility for the welfare of children to compensate for irresponsible and abusive parents. It's awful beyond discussion that they exist, but they do. We can't grant all parents absolute rights to do whatever they wish with their children; we have far too much history showing that too many will not be responsible or parental.

I rather doubt that any hard-core parents-rights groupie will realize that he or she had it wrong. They will continue to push, hard, for what we in the larger society refuse to grant.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Parents Rights:Who's Your Daddy?

Control is the concept behind the parents-rights folk we are hearing here. They both want to be in charge and don't want anyone else in charge.

This is part two of a series on parents-rights aims. Part one is here. An overview of this mini-movement's aims is here. The assaults on ideas and books in schools and libraries is here.
Terminology note: Authoritative personality and authoritarian personality share traits and sound alike, but are significantly different. The latter, detailed by Adorno et alia, has been largely discredited because of sloppy methodology and a simplistic test linking authoritarian personality types with totalitarianism.

The former easily translates into pop psychology in concepts such as the headman or alpha male. These sorts can be natural leaders or bullies or both. They need unambiguous authority. They will accept it or if it is absent, supply it. Stereotypically, you see this in behavior of a cocksure authoritative type's wife. While she seems around him to revel in and submit to his pronouncements, when he is not there, she'll happily play the role until he returns.
It appears as through prevalence of authoritative types in the parents-rights groups prevents compromise. Those who view their goals as a zero-sum game are not likely to compromise, are likely to use a Randian style of false-premise shout-down to interrupt any argument they don't like, and may not accept even obvious defeats.

We can consider the Mad Dad case to illustrate many aspects of this.
  • Removing books from classrooms, libraries or optional diversity bags sent for parental review is not censorship, he avows.
  • Demanding that the teacher call the parents and remove his child from the classroom whenever a pre-defined taboo-to-him subject arises, even spontaneously, is not attempting to control curriculum or placing unreasonable demands on the school system, he avers.
  • A teacher mentioning that some kindergarten or elementary school families have two moms or two dads usurps his absolute right to moral education of his child, he states.
For anyone who has recently arrived or who has avoided coverage of nearly three years of this silliness, be aware of the basics.
  • Mad Dad and Mrs. Dad received the same kindergarten diversity book bag for parent review as other families.
  • It contained a picture book that included drawings of single-parent, mom/dad, mom/mom and dad/dad families, all engaged in common activities like cooking dinner.
  • Rather than removing the book and letting his son have the others, Mad Dad began making those demands for the classroom and school.
  • When he didn't get what he demanded, he staged a sit-in in school offices and remained for hours until the police were unable to convince him to go home and arrested him for trespass.
For deeper background, search this blog or MassResistance Watch or Mad Dad-friendly MassResistance.

We have a long tradition of civil disobedience in this country and particularly in Massachusetts. Our models made stands and took the consequences, whether it was fine, jail, public disapproval, or even the victory of getting what they wanted.

No Thoreau

Instead, the agenda of this kind of parental-control group uses very different tactics. From the beginning, Mad Dad, his co-plaintiffs in suits, their attorneys, and supporters:
  1. Play the victim.
  2. Lie about their goals, tactics and actual events.
  3. Made unsupportable assertions, publicly and in court.
  4. Refuse to acknowledge lack of control no matter how fringe and few they are or how many times they lose.
It's hard not to be amused by the group's frequent use of the image of a baleful Mad Dad in plastic handcuffs. He continues to allege in every writing or public comment and on his defense-fund site that he was arrested for trying to prevent his son's indoctrination. In reality, it was for misdemeanor trespass after he had lost his argument, and then had neither the grace nor the manners nor the wit to go home.

Actually, Mad Dad's own words are good ways to illustrate the extreme nature of the authoritative behavior, and perhaps why more reasonable people will not find compromise with this group. Before you get to his site, consider his remarks two years ago when he had a hearing on his trespass charge. The court ordered this volatile fellow to stay away from the school. Our exemplar of authoritative behavior said, "' son is very cognizant of the fact that his daddy can't enter school.' A reporter asks the criminally charged dad how he explains this. 'I told him his daddy's in charge. And he smiled.'"

Interestingly enough, daddy wasn't in charge. He has also lost his hearings and trials through U.S. District Court. Someone with less certitude and need to control might see the pattern here. He does not, any more than he would consider that his ideas about parental rights might have flaws.

He goes beyond painting himself and his beliefs positively — very understandable and very human reactions to his failures of control. Through his attorney's pleadings and briefs as well as his own words, he shows the defining characteristic of the group. That is, they make unsupportable and even illogical assertions of rights and other related claims.

Twisting Reality

He is not shy about his demands on his defense-fund site either. As just one example, in framing his arrest and the resulting suit, he writes:
This case is fundamentally about freedom of choice for parents to raise their children in the interest of their well being, health, happiness, growth and development as productive members of society. It is about maintaining parental sovereignty over one's children in private and public spaces - as parents are legally accountable and responsible for their own children. Therefore, this sovereignty should not be undermined by external authorities.
I have no doubt he buys into that. Such parents-rights group members often assert that they are subject to no governmental authority, that no one tells them what to do with their children. Reality differs.

For one, authoritative types seem to favor spanking, paddling and using sticks to punish their children. As Mad Dad did in a recent interview, they like to call his loving correction and swear it is never abusive. While I am not aware that he favors it, some of the same bent also employ Christian Domestic Discipline, which many of us would call wife beating. Yet that site and others like it use the same terms as Mad Dad does for his kids. This is their God-mandated right and duty as family headman. They say they are being pious as well as behaving legally.

Yet in the thousands of cases annually when children are found bruised, bloody and beaten, definitely beyond anyone's definition of loving correction, the government has the power to step in. Parental sovereignty exists only as a concept and in reality has many exceptions.

More mundanely, the big, bad government can dictate that kids must attend school — public, private, or home — through 16. It also requires seat belts in cars and helmets on bicycles for youngsters. There are other laws and regulations mandating keeping children fed, clothed and healthy.

The domestic sovereignty bluster is just that. It is an amusing atavism. It harks to times when slaves, servants and wives were considered too emotional, ignorant and illogical to understand the master's instructions without pain and humiliation — those lesser beings could understand. While slavery exists in pockets here and elsewhere in th world, the days when people could be treated like property are largely gone.

Blinders — Check

A somewhat more subtle assertion that permeated Mad Dad and company's federal suit is the extrapolated right for parents to have total control of any teaching they view as a moral one. They cite the defensible proposition that parents are and should remain the primary providers of moral training for their children. In fact, that's one area where most of us agree and many would agree that a lot of parents do too little here by word or example.

However, up in Lexington, this somehow morphed into parents as the sole providers of moral training by any stretch or association. In addition, the plaintiffs contend that mere mentions of common reality violate their federal rights to teach their kids values.

We heard this most clearly about both the family book and an early reader presented to a second-grade class. It had cartoons of a prince who turned down a parade of potential princess brides, preferring a prince. According to the plaintiffs, this:
  1. (Is) a form of propaganda specifically intended to wipe out their way of life.
  2. (This strikes at) the very, very, very core of their existence.
Oh, another assertion of this group is that because same-sex marriage was created here as a result of a court decision and not a legislative bill, it is not legal. The wingers love that, although anyone who had a middle-school civics class knows the various ways things become legal.

We can stop for a moment to appreciate the position of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that he'll go with an eight-year-old public preference referendum on this even though his legislature has approved SSM twice. He holds that it's courts that legalize SSM, not that nasty old set of elected representatives.

So, here, SSM is the law of the land. In Lexington as throughout the commonwealth, some families have two married moms or two married dads. Kids run across that regularly, regardless of their parents' fantasies.

Yet the Mad Dad foursome does not think they should provide basic information on daily reality to their children, even if they say clearly they do not approve of SSM and homosexuality. Instead, they demand that the teachers and libraries join them in this conceit.

Fortunately for those who prefer the real world, the U.S. District Court judge eviscerated the plaintiffs' arguments and dismissed the case. He advised them to try again at the state level, that no federal rights were involved here.


They did appeal that federal court dismissal, got that hearing before a three-judge panel, and say they'll plea to the U.S. Supreme Court if they lose. I think it is a lock that they'll lose yet again here. District Court Justice Mark Wolf was very specific about their suit's flaws, and the appeal presented nothing new.

Yet another defeat, by three judges instead of one, is not likely to deter this group. They clearly have funding for appeals, through their United Parent of America Inc. In playing the victim, Mad Dad likes to say this effort is expensive and he's fighting it on his own. I would be extremely surprised if they opened their books to show that there were no large donors from outside Massachusetts funding the bulk of this effort.

When they lose this appeal and get turned down by the Supremes, it's likely they'll try again at the state level. There, they have already failed to make the existing parental-notification law much broader. Unfortunately for this group, it is a sensible regulation, requiring opt-out for primarily sexual education curricula. There's really nothing there to empower the alpha male.

The next post will hit on the national efforts for a parents-rights initiative, and a future post will cover battles over controlling library shelves and records of what children check out. The first post in this series is here.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Siren Call of Parents Rights

WE SUPPORT PARENTAL RIGHTS — that looks reasonable on a picket sign or news release. Who are these people and why shall we continue to see...and hear...more of them?

Some key points in this first of a series include:
  • Many very different interest groups use the term for very disparate concepts.
  • Some of these groups have, to use the standard winger term, an agenda.
  • They've been following their strategy and tactics for years and will continue to do so.
  • Many are willing and eager to strip rights from everyone else to create new ones for themselves.
  • They are going to be more and more in our ears and eyes, and courts.

What Do You Mean?

Political activists, particularly those on the right have become very good at creating boffo slogans or at the least hiding their intent behind high-minded and benign-sounding terms. The parents' rights folk haven't coined that catchy slogan, but are real good at the latter.

Who could argue with giving rights to parents to raise their kids? What could be more sensible and fair, eh? Before we feel too warm and approving, let's ask who is using parents or parental rights lingo.

Among the many definitions, each with their own set of organizations, websites and publicity, are new or expanded rights and privileges for:
  • sperm donors to see or have some custody
  • more latitude when investigated by child protective agencies
  • divorced parents' visitation
  • looser home-schooling requirements
  • vouchers and tax breaks for non-public schools
  • accommodations for scholastically advanced students or those who need remedial help
  • access to library records of minor children
  • freedom to use corporal punishment on children (and even wives)
  • grandparents' visitation
  • parent-specified limits on what teachers and even students can discuss in classrooms
  • removal of specified books from school and public libraries


Our own most noted local case is was the manufactured one of the Mad Dad, joined by his wife and later another couple from Lexington. It is instructive because they have followed the precise agenda of related groups in other states. We'll surely see more of these situations in many locations. They pop up like a jack-in-the-box.

The Lexington case is a good example for several reasons. First, the groups assert rights they don't have, often claiming such rights predate the concepts of government and laws themselves. Then, they engineer a confrontation. When they lose that, they simultaneously find pliant lawmakers to advance bills for them and bring civil suits claiming their imagined rights were violated. Beyond this, they often have enough sub rosa donations to appeal their court loses, both getting more attention and holding on to the hope of eventual legal victories.

The real aim is to undermine existing shared rights to carve out expanded or new ones in the specific areas they want. It's such that has attracted the watchful eyes of such lefty groups as People for the American Way. Over a decade ago, they published a detailed analysis of 'Parental Rights' Initiatives, which they called The Trojan Horse of the Religious Right Attack on Public Education.

Future posts here will detail some of the legislative and judicial efforts of self-described parents-rights groups. Meanwhile, without being too paranoid about it, I'd note that the Mad Dad types are not just kindly and high-minded parents. They do have an agenda, one that would harm kids and families alike, as well as undermine education and established freedoms.

We aware that their aims are control of shared pubic rights. They are not going away, even after numerous defeats and proof that they are a tiny minority. Unfortunately, the Mad Dad is not unique.

Part two on the attack of the control people is here. An overview of this mini-movement's aims is here. The assaults on ideas and books in schools and libraries is here.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

R.I. Supremes Duck SSM Divorce

Those damned passivist judges strike again! This time it was in Rhode Island, where the Supreme Court told a Massachusetts-married lesbian couple to they couldn't divorce locally.

The three-to-two decision could have gone either way. Oddly enough, the court did not seem as terrified as so many in other states. A big concern has been whether divorcing a legally married SS couple would somehow open the door to recognizing those marriages. The littlest state's AG has already said for various purposes legal marriages elsewhere are okay there, but R.I. does not offer SSM...and apparently not SS divorce.

The best report of the decision was in the Providence Journal here. The 29-page ruling is here, as a PDF file. The Leonard Link analysis is here.

Like so many other rulings in the past couple of years, the court threw the big issues back to the state legislature. In a press release following the ruling, the rationale of the relative inaction was:
The role of the judicial branch is not to make policy, but simply to determine the legislative intent as expressed in the statutes enacted by the General Assembly. In our judgment, when the General Assembly accorded the Family Court the power to grant divorces from ‘the bond of marriage,’ it had in mind only marriages between people of different sexes.
There was the seeming mandatory irony here. The court said SSM was not off-limits. The ruling itself (page 28) included:
We do not mean to suggest, however, that the Family Court is precluded from adjudicating the validity of the marriage if one of the parties allegest the marriage is void or voidable...The parties in this case have not challenged the marriage, and therefore the issue of voidness is not properly before the Court. Moreover, we do not think it proper for the Court, on the state of this record, to attempt to determine whether same-sex marriage is "strongly against the public policy of this jurisdiction.
The dissenting justices noted that the case did not ask recognition of same-sex marriage to be performed by Rhode Island, rather the divorce issue. The couple had a legal Massachusetts marriage and had also then satisfied the residence requirement in Rhode Island to seek a dissolution of the marriage. "The subject matter jurisdiction of the Family Court does not turn on the gender of the parties; rather it turns on their status as a married couple," the dissent held.

The judges used the state statutes and regulations, and then whipped out a dictionary. They concluded that the R.I. codes didn't cover this and ducked it underlying issues. They refer to the General Assembly (legislature) number times in the decision, including the statement (page 16), really a charge, that " But, if there is to be a remedy to this predicament, fashioning such a remedy would fall within the province of the General Assembly.”

Not our job, man!

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God Guy Romney

Brylcreem adI wasn't going to do the Willard Mitt Romney, a.k.a. Cap'n Brylcreem, thing after his religion speech yesterday. I comment only for a major point I don't see getting play.

Cap'n Media Note: Look on his home page in the Mitt TV box. Click the Faith in America link for the pop up of the 6-minute version. The 21-minute one has lots of podium shots and embarrassing spans of former President G.H.W. Bush patronizing the Cap'n, and distancing them.

Many analysts draw comparisons with then Presidential candidate John Kennedy's I'm-an-American-who-happens-to-be-Catholic template. That's fair. Clearly, the Cap'n hoped for the same mollifying effect and stole Kennedy's outline.

For the bulk of the speech, note a huge difference. While both had a primary message of their churches not controlling their public policies, the second big message showed their minds, and Romney's great flaw.

Kennedy spoke forcefully of the desirable and necessary separation of church and state. Romney called for religiosity in public office. Kennedy spoke of a religion-blind America, free of "attitudes of disdain and division" and promoting "the American ideal of brotherhood." In contrast, Romney assumed all Americans were some flavor of Christian, and that this shared religion has a major role in the Presidency. The Cap'n said, "(I)n recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning."

That may play well to conservative Republicans, particularly evangelicals. However, their skeptical view of Mormonism may just as well keep them from supporting Romney anyway.

As is his wont, the Cap'n was too spongy and too slick. Kennedy stood to confront preachers who distrusted Roman Catholicism. Romney went before a handpicked claque. Even there, he did not make strong personal statements. He did nothing to placate the Protestants other than noting that they all had a tie to Christ (even though their ropes lead down different cliffs). That's about as effective as contending Jews and Arabs in the Middle East claim the God of Abraham together.

Nope. The Cap'n is smarmy. He is and remains a salesman. Are you buying...from a God in your politics and government guy?

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mad Dad Spinning Wheels

A few folk have asked me about yesterday's U.S. District Court Appeals hearing for the two couples in the Lexington kissing kids' book case. The Mad Dad, Mrs. Dad and other couple were tilting at the same windmill from a different angle after already having been knocked down by it.

I confess, I didn't go down to the courthouse this time. They have lost this battle, on very specific legal grounds and:
  1. We can expect the usual federal-court shuffling about and waiting an unspecified time for a decision.
  2. There is no new info or legal basis for them to get this junk in a federal trial now when they already failed.
Fortunately for the housebound and terminally curious, the Metro West Daily folk did not disappoint. The big local dailies didn't bother, but Ian Murphy's piece was in the Lexington edition. The spoiler info is that the three judges gave both sides 10 days to hand over any written material and supplementary briefs they want. Otherwise, the panel doesn't promise when it will rule.

The Mad Dad side has the same attorney and set of allegation and set of claims about why this should be a federal case, as the expression goes. The original jurist, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf dismissed the case, noting that it did not raise federal issues or violate any of the plaintiffs' federal rights. He was very specific, as well as pointing out that what they wanted was control of the school curriculum and classroom.

Honk. Thanks for playing, but game over.

P.M. Update: Bay Windows got its coverage online too.

For your listening amusement: Two days ago, one day before the hearing, the Mad Dad was on the way-out-there Pundit Review talk show with Gregg Jackson. It's over 20 minutes of alternating bluster and martyrdom.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Term Limits Podcast.

Click below to play the 13-minute podcast of Boston City Councilor John Tobin speaking about the philosophy and particulars of term limits for his body and the city's mayor. He talks with Ryan Adams and Mike Ball.

The whole 64-minute session is available for download or listening at Left Ahead!

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Remote Control Rightwingers

You don't have to leave your lounge chair to foil those terrible pinkos. You don't even have to get out your down parka to support the Mad Dad, Mrs. Dad, and their like-minded pair of neighbors.

The Massachusetts Family Institute has announced that you can do this today from the comfort of your living room. Their hearing before a three-judge panel in an effort to overturn their loss on customizing the Lexington public school to their religious beliefs takes place today in Boston.

We should note that the Mad Dad/MFI/MassResistance side views this differently. As MFI puts it, this is not controlling curriculum or heading to a private, fundamentalist school, rather:
A long list of major homosexual groups have filed briefs in opposition to the case and have put forward a united front in seeking to stop parents from being the primary moral educators of their children, replacing them with teachers and school administrators, many who have their own agenda regarding homosexual issues.
For the non-agenda-driven fundy of superior rationality and purity of spirit who needs to participate with the least discomfort, they offer:
MFI calls on our supporters to support the Parkers and Wirthlins through prayer. Pray for the two couples and their children, as well as the judges who will hear the arguments. Pray that the lawyers will make the case for parental rights and the judges will understand the real threat to parental authority apparent in the two incidents...Pray on Wednesday wherever you are.
Bend a knee. Change the world.

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Term Limits? Not So Much

Everyone loves the idea of term limits, an idea taht is well on us, right? Well, not really.

In preparing for our Left Ahead! podcast with Boston City Councilor John Tobin, I checked a bit. He's a gutsy guy and he announced that he'd propose them for his body as well as for mayor here.

Among other things I found was that New England in general, and Massachusetts particularly is not so hot on the practice. We are one of a small number of states in the country that does not limit terms for governor. We also have no term limits on legislators. When we did have one from 1990, the Supreme Judicial Court overturned them in 1997. It ruled that the legislature did not have the authority to change part of the constitution on its own.

In addition, only three municipalities have any. Those are:

CityPop.YearLimitedLimitsMethod of
% of Vote in Favor% of Vote Opp.# of Votes in Favor# of Votes Opp.
Methuen31,5341993mayor, council3 terms
(2 yr. terms)
charter amend.66.4%33.6%4.1722.109
Provincetown3,5611991council3 terms
(3 yr. terms)
charter meeting vote, not recordedn/an/an/a
Stow4,0401991all elected and appointed officials3 terms
(3 yr. terms)
charter revisiontown meeting vote, not recordedn/an/an/a

The net has a a lot of such info. The best central location is the source of that chart above, the U.S. Term Limits organization site.

You can contrast that feeble list with New York State's. There, towns as small as 1,300 to New York City limit their leaders' terms.

In Boston, we like our mayor/kings, particularly if they are entertaining rascals like James Michael Curley, who served four terms, including one that saw him spend five months in jail in the middle for mail fraud.

Yesterday, Council Tobin noted how few mayor we had in recent memory. Check a list of the early mayors to see single terms dominating. Later mayors seemed to have figured out it was more than public service, more than an adventure. Many neither advanced nor returned to their previous careers.

The incumbents and their supporters who advance arguments for keeping mayors as long as they get reelected are not terribly convincing. Truth be told, if a 12 or 24-year term mayor led us to increasing glory, safe streets, great school and such, they'd have win the debate. It simply doesn't happen.

Tobin's point was that even respected and beloved mayors and council members get set and stale and even lazy. Look at most of the 20th century till now. Curley was in four terms, with short breaks from 1914 through 1950. Then:
  • 10 years — John Hynes (plus Curley's five months in jail in 1947)
  • 8 years — John Collins
  • 16 years — Kevin White
  • 9 years — Ray Flynn
  • 14 and counting — Tom Menino
Tobin iterated several times that he likes Tom Menino, who is a long-term friend of the family who even took him ice skating when Tobin was a kid. However, he points out that we don't like to turn out incumbent mayors.

Moreover, on the councilor side, he'd like fewer and longer terms. Not the least driver is the constant two-year drill. Like football's two-minute version, councilors know they are up for reelection ever other year. They end up spending far too much time and energy that should go toward their jobs campaigning and fund raising.

It will be fascinating to see how the council and Menino react. If this comes up for public debate, that should be worth the free admission to the session.

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