ARCHIVES: August, 2005
 
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  The Agenda:

Testing the Premise: Are Gays a Threat to Our Children?

What the "Dutch Study" Really Says About Gay Couples

Federal Hate Crime Statistics: Why The Numbers Don't Add Up

Refuting Christianity Today

 
  Favorites:

Still Life At Sunset

Anderson Cooper and Scooter

Wandering, Wondering

The Aperture of Memory

Easter's Birthday

The First Time I Cussed

 

  Photo Essays:

The Anasazi Ruins of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

Monsoons of 2004

Miracle Mile

Now Showing / Reflection on Hayden, Arizona

 

     

Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead
Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I missed this item in last Sunday's edition in our local Arizona Daily Star. They canned Ann Coulter's column from the editorial page!

Finally, we've decided that syndicated columnist Ann Coulter has worn out her welcome. Many readers find her shrill, bombastic and mean-spirited. And those are the words used by readers who identified themselves as conservatives.

They're replacing her with Fox Radio's Tony Snow. I don't know anything about him, but he's got to be some kind of improvement.

I always knew Tucson was too good for her. This makes my mornings with the paper safe again. Because, as you know, I don't really care much for clowns.

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No Respect
Not Even In My Dreams
Monday, August 29, 2005

I was in that neverland between sleep and wake; too tired to wake up fully, but not quite awake enough to rouse from my slumber. While I was there, I decided to make myself useful by organizing my dreams in alphabetical order for future reference.

That is when I found the letters to the editor. I didn't know they were there, so I thought I should look them over.

What I read dismayed me. "can't dream your way out of a paper bag...so derivative." "Incoherent non-linear storylines make no sense!" "... a racist!"

All that, just because an old Eskimo offered me a glass of water, and I declined because I thought the water tasted a little funny.

And as I continued to read these letters, I noticed how these letters were comprised of oddly jumbled words and random phrases that just go on and on without ever making a complete sentence.

And they have the nerve to tell my my dreams are incoherent?

When I finally had enough of this nonsense, I decided it was time to put a stop to it once and for all. I woke up.

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When Water Falls From The Sky
Wednesday, August 24, 2005

When I was in high school, I experienced a blinding blizzard that brought our entire county to a standstill. I’ve seen ice storms paralyze most of a state for the better part of a week. I’ve seen hailstorms in Texas wreak havoc on buildings and cars, with damage remaining visible for weeks. We still talk about the Great Blizzard of 1978 or the Hail Storm of 1995.

But out here in the desert southwest, things are a little different. All it takes is an early morning rain to bring Tucson to its knees. My twenty minute commute took just over an hour this morning.


P.K. Weis / Tucson Citizen

Being in the desert like this, it goes without saying that we don’t get much rain. So our drainage systems aren’t as robust as what you might find elsewhere. Also, those things that you call “creeks” (we call them “washes”, “arroyos”, or sometimes “rivers”) never have any water in them, at least not for more than a day or so in any given year. So nobody bothers to build any bridges over them. The roadway – even on our busier streets – typically just dips down into the wash, which means the roads flood when the rains come. These flooded washes collect stalled cars the way a retiree gathers kokopellis.

But like the champ that I am, I’ve survive it to live another day. And in my declining years, as I sit in my rocking chair at the old folks’ home, I’ll be able to turn to my buddies and ask, “Where were you during the Great Rain Shower of 2005?”

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A Couple Of Clowns Robbed A Quick Mart
Monday, August 15, 2005

When I was growing up,  I'd sometimes spend the night at my great-grandparents' house just a couple of blocks away. One night, they had me sleep upstairs in the front bedroom that had also been my mother's bedroom when she was little. There were two clown paintings that great-grandmother Easter painted and hung on the wall, one above the bed and one above a small table. I thought the pictures were pretty cool, at least I thought so in the daytime or when the lights were on.

 

Paintings by my great-grandmother, Easter.

But that night after the lights were out, I looked up at the painting above the headboard (the one you see on the right), and the only thing I could see was a grotesque white face that looked like a ghost or a skull, shining starkly against a nearly pitch-black background. It scared the living daylights out of me. I don't remember much more about that night, but I'm pretty sure I never slept in that bedroom again.

That was years before I saw my first monster movie. For a long time afterwards, whenever my friends in the neighborhood talked about giant monsters eating Tokyo, I thought of a grotesquely over-sized clown rampaging down the street, picking up cars and devouring them one by one. Honestly, it was the scariest vision I could come up with. Remember that scene in Ghost Busters where the Sta-Puffed Marshmallow Man wrecked havoc in New York? It was a lot like that.

I was never a full-fledged coulrophobia sufferer, but from then on I've had something of a love/hate relationship with many of the clowns that have come in and out of my life.

So back to the headline. Two clowns robbed a Quck Mart here in Tucson. That's not a joke a couple dressed as clowns robbed a convenience store at 2:30 am last Wednesday morning. Which just goes to show you clowns are just evil.

So yeah, here come those dreams again. Bring 'em on.

Fortunately, these clowns were arrested Thursday evening, making the streets of Tucson safe again. They were each charged with one count of armed robbery, one count of aggravated robbery, and one count of impersonating a president.

Ha ha ha!!! Good joke, huh? Impersonating a president!

Mental health professionals say that making light of a scary situation can sometimes be an effective coping mechanism. It breaks the tension. I hope so. I'm having trouble sleeping at night because I'm beginning to see scary clowns everywhere. That can't be good.

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◄ July 2005
► September 2005

       

Liar Detector
Wednesday, August 3, 2005

The right wing is winding up for a big fight here in Arizona. With a proposal on next year's ballot to outlaw same-sex marriage, you can count on some really big lies being tossed around by our opponents. I saw the first round hurled in Tucson just last weekend.

It all started Sunday evening, as I finally got around to reading that day’s Arizona Daily Star. I saw this letter from Glen Lavy, Senior vice president of the far-right Alliance Defense Fund’s Marriage Litigation Center in Scottsdale:

The Star's recent assertion that legalizing same-sex "marriage" would encourage monogamy in Pima County illustrates a dangerous position based on skewed facts ("Prevent HIV by building strong relationships" July 21).
According to a Dutch study, same-sex "partnerships" for young men are temporal at best, and men in "steady partnerships" have an average of eight partners per year aside from their "main" partner...

Here we go again. Eight outside sexual partners per year? I've been reading a lot of studies in preparation for a new web site I hope to launch later this year, and I've gotten a good education on how the right wing manufactures "statistics" like this one.

I guess you could say I've become something of a Liar Detective.  I look at the "statistics", find out which legitimate study it came from (it's nearly always a legitimate medical or psychological study), read the study, and find out how the right wing expropriated and twisted it out of context in order to manufacture their "statistic".

Eight outside sexual partner per year. I hadn't encountered this particular statistic before, but it still smelled like a lie. Based on past experience, I knew there was probably a strange, convoluted story behind it. And since this statistic landed in my living room, I decided check it out.

First, I turned to Google ["eight partners"+homosexual], where I found some 441 hits from various conservative websites and discussion forums repeating this very same claim, word for word. Obviously it has made it’s way around the web – including many very prominent right-wing websites like the Traditional Values Coalition. After holding my nose and clicking through a few of these links, I found this article from the Washington Times (July 11, 2003):

A recent study on homosexual relationships finds they last 1-1/2 years on average — even as homosexual groups are pushing nationwide to legalize same-sex "marriages."
The study of young Dutch homosexual men by Dr. Maria Xiridou of the Amsterdam Municipal Health Service, published in May in the journal AIDS, mirrors findings of past research.
… The Dutch study — which focused on transmission of HIV — found that men in homosexual relationships on average have eight partners a year outside those relationships.

So, this is where the right wing got it's lie. It was manufactured by the Washington Times. And with this article, I now had a name: Maria Xiridou.

A simple search in the PubMed database (think of it as Google for medical geeks) brought me to the May 2, 2003 issue of the journal AIDS where Dr. Xiridou’s article appeared: “The contribution of steady and casual partnerships in the incidence of HIV infection among homosexual men in Amsterdam.” Quite a mouthful there. But with the article's title, you can see already that this story fits a favorite modus operandi of the far right.

You see, far-right activists just love to invoke The Authority Of Science. That's why they're fond of turning to medical studies to support their arguments. And they have a special love in their hearts for HIV/AIDS and other STD studies where they can get especially juicy statistics to describe “what homosexuals do”. But of course, all you really know from these studies is what some homosexuals do – the ones who go to STD clinics because they’ve picked up some strange disease.

This study is somewhat along those lines. Dr. Xiridou and her colleagues based this article on the Amsterdam Cohort Study of HIV infection and AIDS among homosexual men. It began in 1984, and had several different protocols in its lifetime:

  • Oct 1984-1985: Gay men aged 18-65 with at least two sexual partners in the previous six months. In other words, monogamous partners were explicitly  excluded!

  • April 1985-Feb 1988: Study enrollment was continued, except HIV-negative men were not eligible to enter the study. The study was re-opened to HIV-positive men between February 1988 and December 1998.

  • Various additional enrollments continued from through 1998. Especially notable was a special recruitment campaign for men under the age of thirty beginning in 1995.

  • After 1996, all men above the age of thirty were dropped from the study. Their data was excluded from subsequent analyses.

It is not clear whether the early decision to exclude monogamous partners was ever rescinded. Indeed, since the study was intended to model and predict the spread of HIV/AIDS, it may not make any sense to include monogamous gay men as they would not be doing anything which could result in the spread of HIV/AIDS.

There were other limitations. Nobody outside of Amsterdam was accepted into the study, except for AIDS patients who attended clinics in Amsterdam for treatment. This makes the study almost exclusively an urban one.

So, what do we have? We have a study population that was heavily weighted with HIV/AIDS patients, excluded monogamous participants, was predominantly urban, and under thirty. While this population was good for the purposes of the study, it was in no way representative of Amsterdam’s gay men, let alone gay men anywhere else.

And of course, to spotlight the far-right’s most disturbing deficiency in logic, I would like to point out that these “statistics” have nothing to do with lesbians at all.

With this information in hand, let’s go back and dissect the Washington Times article.  The first paragraph reads:

A recent study on homosexual relationships finds they last 1-1/2 years on average — even as homosexual groups are pushing nationwide to legalize same-sex "marriages."

Wrong! The study was not on homosexual relationships. It was a study to construct a mathematical model of the spread of AIDS among gay men only. And the study didn’t ask if any of the participants were married because they couldn’t marry. Marriage equality did not arrive in the Netherlands until April, 2001, two years after the study ended.

Instead, the participants were simply asked if they had a “steady relationship”, with no further guidance on what that means. People dating for a few weeks could consider themselves in a “steady relationship” – which would be a far cry from full-fledged marriage. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison. For that, you would need to compare this group of gay men (with lesbians added to the mix) to unmarried and married urban straight couples – all under thirty and all non-monogamous. Fat chance finding that comparison anywhere.

The second charge is this, again from the Washington Times:

The Dutch study — which focused on transmission of HIV — found that men in homosexual relationships on average have eight partners a year outside those relationships.

Well, they're half right. They got the nature of the study right (focusing on transmission of HIV) even though they had to contradict themselves from the first paragraph to do so.

But the rest of the sentence is wrong. The authors observed that quoted average in their sample data, but they never tried to claim that it was true for gay men as a whole. At least one portion of the study excluded monogamous gay men, and this exclusion would have skewed the average upwards. And we don't know how much this average was skewed because we don't know how many monogamous couples were excluded. As far as I can tell, this exclusion may have remained throughout the study.

And as for the middle paragraph from our Washington Times snippet:

The study of young Dutch homosexual men by Dr. Maria Xiridou of the Amsterdam Municipal Health Service, published in May in the journal AIDS, mirrors findings of past research.

What past research? The Times only offered one other source, “The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop”, published in 1984 by David P. McWhirter and Andrew M. Mattis. This book was not a survey, let alone a scientific one by any means.

As for other “past research”, the Times is largely silent. But others on the far right are not so reticent. They're very busy, culling “statistics” from various books, non-representative surveys and other professionally published studies, and documenting them in their footnotes. And boy do they love footnotes. By crowding their allegations with footnotes pointing to The Authority Of Science, they are able to pull off a very scholarly air.

But their footnotes are the key to unlocking exactly what they're doing. All it takes is for someone to take the time to look the data over, read the studies, and uncover the deception that the far right uses to present their "facts". Unfortunately, few people have the time to do this.

But if you do, you'll learn that a good chunk of their "facts" come from STD studies. One of these days, I’ll pull out some heterosexual statistics from STD clinics to give you a flavor of how deceptive this tactic really is.

□■□■□

In response to all of this, I sent the following letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Star:

Glen Lavy, of the far-right Alliance Defense Fund complained that the Star’s’s editorial supporting same-sex marriage was based on “skewed facts.” He then cited a “Dutch Study” to claim same-sex partnerships are short-lived and average eight other sexual partners per year on the side.
What he didn’t say was that this study modeled mostly HIV-positive urban men under thirty. It was not a representative survey, nor was it intended to be. The questionnaires were completed in 1999, two years before marriage equality arrived in the Netherlands.
The far right loves to misuse AIDS research to smear gays and lesbians. But these study participants do not represent all lesbians and gays. If you don’t believe it, then check out some studies of heterosexuals from sexually transmitted disease clinics. It will blow your socks off.
Arizonans, beware. Over the next year, we will see more such “facts” from people who have no respect for you or the truth.

Let’s see if they publish it.

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