Apr. 16th, 2007
The next time you hear Dick Cheney or George Bush blame the public attitude regarding Iraq on the media’s failure to report “good news”, examine carefully our reaction to the shooting at Viginia Tech. Look at our collective shock. Our horrified reaction. The public sorrow. Yet, in truth, this is an exceptional, unusual day in America. It is not our common experience. But we cannot say the same about Iraq.
From Crooks and Liars
Apr. 15th, 2007
In case you missed it, and the Bush administration certainly wanted you to, the report on abstinence only education is out. Not good news for the tax dollars spent. While I would certainly say that teenagers having sex isn’t a good thing, telling the students lies about the risks of STDs (at one point the program was greatly exaggerating the risks of contracting HIV from unprotected sex), but giving them false information that they can easilly find on the internet from you know local health departments, the NIH, and other places just seriously undercuts any credibility you try to establish.
Before I give you the report from the AP on the study, I would also add that the debate over the HPV vaccine is just stupid. We can virtually eliminate cervical cancer, why isn’t that good?
Anyways, from the AP:
Students who participated in sexual-abstinence education programs partially funded by the federal government were just as likely to have sex, and had the same number of sexual partners, as those who did not take part in the programs, a federally mandated report said today.
Both groups of youths—those who participated in abstinence education, and those who participated in other health education programs available in their areas—had a median age of first intercourse of 14 years and 9 months.
However, those students who participated in the abstinence programs were just as likely to use contraception as those who did not. Some critics of abstinence education programs have argued that they reduce rates of contraception usage.
“We didn’t see any effects, either good or bad,” from abstinence education, said Christopher Trenholm, the lead researcher for the study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. of Princeton, N.J.
Bush administration officials cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the study. They said the four programs reviewed—among several hundred across the nation—were some of the first established after Congress overhauled the nation’s welfare laws in 1996.
Officials said one lesson they learned from the study is that the abstinence message should be reinforced in subsequent years to truly affect behavior.
“This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines. You can’t expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth’s high school career,” Harry Wilson, the commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in an interview with the Associated Press.
For its study, released April 13, Mathematica looked at students in four abstinence programs as well as peers from the same communities who did not participate in the abstinence programs. The 2,057 youths came from Miami and Milwaukee and the rural communities of Powhatan, Va., and Clarksdale, Miss.
The students who participated in abstinence education did so for one to three years. Their average age was 11 to 12 when they entered the programs in 1999.
Mathematica did a follow-up survey in late 2005 and early 2006. By that time, the average age of the participants was about 16½. Researchers found that about half of the abstinence students and about half from the control group reported that they had remained abstinent.
Congress uses three different programs to finance abstinence education. The largest, the Community Based Abstinence Education grant program, provides money directly to public and private groups through the Community-Based Abstinence Education grant program. President Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal 2008 would set aside $137 million for that program, currently funded at $109 million.
The second-largest pot of money, $50 million, goes through the states, which match that funding with $3 for every $4 they get from the federal government. The programs teach that sex outside marriage is likely to be psychologically and physically harmful. Eight states have declined to take part in the grant program. (”States Turn Down Abstinence-Only Grants,” March 28, 2007.)
The programs must follow eight specific guidelines, including teaching that abstinence “is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems” and that “a mutually faithful, monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity.”
The Mathematica findings could have serious implications as Congress considers renewing this summer the state block-grant program for abstinence education, known as Title V of the 1996 welfare reform law.
Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation to promote comprehensive sex education instead of abstinence-only curricula. They want to send money to schools that stress abstinence while also instructing students about the health benefits and side effects of using contraceptives.
Abstinence-only educators were in Washington this month, in fact, trying to keep Congress from cutting back their programs. The abstinence groups have opened their own trade association near the Capitol and have hired a public relations firm with a long list of Republican and conservative clients.
Valerie Huber, the executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said the group’s formation is not a response to the Democrats’ takeover of Congress.
“It really has nothing to do at all with any current political climate, just the evolution of the field of abstinence education,” she said.
“They’ve had smooth sailing for seven years,” said James Wagoner, the president of Advocates for Youth, an organization that promotes comprehensive sex education programs, which teach about contraception. “Their hiring of this firm shows that they know the honeymoon with Congress is over.”
Wade Horn, who oversaw the two largest abstinence-education programs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services until he stepped down April 6, predicted Congress will give states more flexibility in determining how Title V money is to be spent.
“I think it’s going to evolve, but I don’t think it’s going to go away,” he said. “I’ve seen some bills introduced by Democrats that suggest they want a separate fund dedicated to comprehensive sex education, but my sense is that it won’t be at the expense of abstinence education. I think it’s a matter of both, not one or the other.”
Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey sponsored the legislation cited by Mr. Horn. He said he does not believe abstinence education is working. His goal is to make both types of programs available, and he believes schools gradually will shift their focus to the comprehensive sex education programs.
Questions on Accuracy
In a report released late last year, the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency, said HHS was not reviewing abstinence-education programs for scientific accuracy. (”Abstinence Programs Lack Factual Reviews, GAO Study Concludes,” Nov. 29, 2006.)
The GAO also assessed efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of abstinence-education programs, and found much of the research did not meet basic requirements of scientific rigor, such as using a control group or measuring biological outcomes, as opposed to attitudes and intentions.
The department’s written response to the report said all grant recipients are required, as part of their applications, to indicate they are using materials that are grounded in scientific data. In addition, it noted, studies on the effectiveness of abstinence education were under way, including the Mathematica report. A separate legal opinion from the general counsel of the GAO said abstinence programs must include “medically accurate” information about condoms or risk violating federal law. The federal department responded that the programs are not required to talk about condom usage, but must present accurate information about condoms when they do so. (”GAO Opinion Renews Debate on Abstinence-Only Programs,” Nov. 1, 2006.)
The federal health agency released a document that clarified some of the rules states must follow when accepting any federal abstinence grant money. The memorandum to applicants stressed that each of the eight rules must be equally covered, the applicants “must not” promote condom or other contraceptive use, and applicants also must not promote or encourage the use of any type of contraceptives outside of marriage or refer to abstinence as a form of contraception.
Mathematica has conducted two other federally funded studies into abstinence-education policy. Results released in June 2005, from the same communities in the final evaluation, said the program had positive results, but that researchers could not yet tell if participants were actually having sex less often than other youths.
An earlier report, released in April 2002, looked at early implementation of the state grant program. At that time, Mathematica researchers determined that the programs offered “more than a single message of abstinence.” Other messages included building self-esteem, developing values, and resisting peer pressure. Most students also reported feeling positive about the programs themselves.
Apr. 9th, 2007
Trial by Jury
by Richard Dawkins. Published as "Three herring gull chicks . . . the reason juries don't work" in The Observer (London), Sunday November 16, 1997.
Trial by jury must be one of the most conspicuously bad good ideas anyone ever had. Its devisers can hardly be blamed. They lived before the principles of statistical sampling and experimental design had been worked out. They weren’t scientists. Let me explain using an analogy. And if, at the end, somebody objects to my argument on the grounds that humans aren’t herring gulls, I’ll have failed to get my point across.
Adult herring gulls have a bright yellow bill with a conspicuous red spot near the tip. Their babies peck at the red spot, which induces the parents to regurgitate food for them. Niko Tinbergen, Nobel-Prizewinning zoologist and my old maestro at Oxford, offered naive young chicks a range of cardboard dummy gull heads varying in bill and spot colour, and shape. For each colour, shape or combination, Tinbergen measured the preferences of the baby chicks by counting their pecks in a standard time. The idea was to discover whether naive gull chicks are born with a built-in preference for long yellow things with red spots. If so, this would suggest that genes equip the young birds with detailed prior knowledge of the world in which they are about to hatch – a world in which food comes out of adult herring gull beaks.
Never mind the reason for the research, and never mind the conclusions. Consider, instead, the methods you must use, and the pitfalls you must avoid, if you want to get a correct result in any such experiment. These turn out to be general principles which apply to human juries as strongly as to gull chicks.
First, you obviously must test more than one chick. It could be that some chicks are red-biased, others blue-biased, with no tendency for herring gull chicks in general to share the same favourite colour. So, by picking out a single chick, you are measuring nothing more than individual bias. It is no answer to this objection that our chick may have given hundreds more pecks to one colour than to the other. A chick might begin by choosing any old colour at random, but once he has chosen he gets ‘locked on’ to that colour and hammers away at it, giving the other colours no chance. The essential problem here is that successive pecks, however numerous, are not ‘independent data’.
So, we must test more than one chick. How many? Is two enough? No, nor is three, and now we must start to think statistically. To make it simple, suppose that in a particular experiment we are comparing only red spots versus blue spots, both on a yellow background, and always presented simultaneously. If we test just two chicks separately, suppose the first chick chooses red. It had a 50% chance of doing so, at random. Now the second chick also happens to choose red. Again, the odds were 50% that it would do so at random, even if it were colourblind. There’s a 50% chance that two randomly choosing chicks will agree (half of the four possibilities: red red, red blue, blue red, blue blue). Three chicks aren’t enough either. If you write down all the possibilities, you’ll find that there’s a 25% chance of a unanimous verdict, by luck alone. Twenty five percent, as the odds of reaching a conclusion for the wrong reason, is unacceptably large.
How about twelve good chicks and true? Now you’re talking. If twelve chicks are independently offered a choice between two alternatives, the odds that they will all reach the same verdict by chance alone are satisfyingly low, only one in 1024.
But now suppose that, instead of testing our twelve chicks independently, we test them as a group. We take a maelstrom of twelve cheeping chicks and lower into their midst a red spotted dummy and a blue spotted dummy, each fitted with an electrical device for automatically tallying pecks. And suppose that the collective of chicks registers 532 pecks at red and zero at blue. Does this massive disparity show that herring gull chicks, in general, prefer red? Absolutely not. The pecks are not independent data. Chicks could have a strong tendency to imitate one another (as well as imitate themselves in lock-on effects). If one chick just happened to peck at red first, others might copy him and the whole company of chicks join in a frenzy of imitative pecking. As a matter of fact this is precisely what domestic chicken chicks do, and gull chicks are very likely the same. Even if not, the principle remains that the data are not independent and the experiment is therefore invalid. The twelve chicks are strictly equivalent to a single chick, and their summed pecks amount to only a single independent result.
Turning to courts of law, why are twelve jurors preferred to a single judge? Not because they are wiser, more knowledgeable or more practised in the arts of reasoning. Certainly not, and with a vengeance. Think of the astronomical damages awarded by juries in footling libel cases. Think how juries bring out the worst in histrionic, gallery-playing lawyers. Twelve jurors are preferred to one judge only because they are more numerous. Letting a single judge decide a verdict would be like letting a single chick speak for the whole herring gull species. Twelve heads are better than one, because they represent twelve assessments of the evidence.
But for this argument to be valid, the twelve assessments really have to be independent. And of course they are not. Twelve men and women locked in a jury room are like our clutch of twelve gull chicks. Whether they actually imitate each other like chicks, they might. That is enough to invalidate the principle by which a jury might be preferred over a single judge.
In practice, as is well documented and as I remember from the three juries that it has been my misfortune to serve on, juries are massively swayed by one or two vocal individuals. There is also strong pressure to conform to a unanimous verdict, which further undermines the principle of independent data. Increasing the number of jurors doesn’t help, or not much (and not at all in strict principle). What you have to increase is the number of independent verdict-reaching units.
Oddly enough, the bizarre American system of televising trials opens up a real possibility of improving the jury system. By the end of trials such as those of Louise Woodward or O.J.Simpson, literally thousands of people around the country have attended to the evidence as assiduously as the official jury. A mass phone-in might produce a fairer verdict than a jury. But unfortunately journalistic discussion, radio talk-shows, and ordinary gossip would violate the Principle of Independent Data and we’d be back where we started. The broadcasting of trials, in any case, has horrible consequences. In the wake of Louise Woodward’s trial, the Internet seethes with ill-spelled and ungrammatical viciousness, the cheque-book journalists are queuing up, and the unfortunate Judge Zobel has had to change his telephone number and employ a bodyguard.
So, how can we improve the system? Should twelve jurors be locked in twelve isolation chambers and their opinions separately polled so that they constitute genuinely independent data? If it is objected that some would be too stupid or inarticulate to reach a verdict on their own, we are left wondering why such individuals are allowed on a jury at all. Perhaps there is something to be said for the collective wisdom that emerges when a group of twelve people thrash out a topic together, round a table. But this still leaves the principle of independent data unsatisfied.
Should all cases be tried by two separate juries? Or three? Or twelve? Too expensive, at least if each jury has twelve members. Two juries of six members, or three juries of four members, would probably be an improvement over the present system. But isn’t there some way of testing the relative merits of such alternative options, or of comparing the merits of trial by jury versus trial by judge?
Yes, there is. I’ll call it the Two Verdicts Concordance Test. It is based on the principle that, if a decision is valid, two independent shots at making it should yield the same result. Just for purposes of the test, we run to the expense of having two juries, listening to the same case and forbidden to talk to members of the other jury. At the end, we lock the two juries in two separate jury rooms and see if they reach the same verdict. If they don’t, nothing can be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and this would cast reasonable doubt on the jury system itself.
To make the experimental comparison with Trial by Judge, we need two experienced judges to listen to the same case, and require them too to reach their separate verdicts without talking to each other. Whichever system, Trial by Jury or Trial by Judge, yields the higher score of agreements over a number of trials is the better system and might even be accredited for future use with some confidence.
Would you bet on two independent juries reaching the same verdict in the Louise Woodward case? Could you imagine even one other jury reaching the same verdict in the O.J.Simpson case? Two judges, on the other hand, seem to me rather likely to score well on the concordance test. And should I be charged with a serious crime here’s how I want to be tried. If I know myself to be guilty, I’ll go with the loose cannon of a jury, the more ignorant, prejudiced and capricious the better. But if I am innocent, and the ideal of multiple independent decision-takers is unavailable, please give me a judge. Preferably Judge Hiller Zobel.
Mar. 21st, 2007
Oh but they are crumbling at Fox News. There's this little sordid episode, for instance. After challenging the wildly popular Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City to a debate on Iraq and impeachment, Sean Hannity has backed out of the debate and tried to foist it on Anderson.
Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity has claimed on his syndicated radio program that Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is putting up roadblocks to get out of their proposed debate.
But it is Hannity who is balking, and here is the proof, based in part on e-mails between Anderson's office and Hannity's staff that I obtained through an open records request:
* Hannity said on his radio program Monday: "First, he [Anderson] said he wanted a joint press conference instead of a debate. If it's just a press conference, I might as well just send a video."
* But here is a March 12 e-mail from Eileen Lofrese, Hannity's producer, to Patrick Thronson, Anderson's communications director: "For the sake of bipartisanship I think it is best to refer to this as a 'Joint Press Conference' and not a 'Debate' and I will relay that to all parties intending on broadcasting this educated and civilized forum for the voicing of opinions and conflicting viewpoints."
* Thronson responded: "Mayor Anderson cannot agree to any other format than a structured debate format, with a moderator. Mr. Hannity has repeatedly expressed his desire for a debate on the Iraq War and impeachment, not a 'press conference.' We are mystified as to why he has now apparently changed his position." Lofrese then apologized and said the misunderstanding was her mistake.
The whole Fox News charade is coming apart. According to Mark Mellman, surveys he did showed that the audience of Fox News is the single most Republican voting block in the country. People like Sean Hannity (whose spokesperson refers to bipartisanship when discussing a debate with a Democrat... hmmm) are unwilling to confront their opponents or follow through on their public commitments out of fear their bluster will be exposed. And Democrats have moved out of their 1990s induced torpor, bringing a new hard-edged attitude that we are right, they are immoral fools, the public is sick of them, and calling Fox News Republicans out is a productive strategy.
Hopefully we can be done with the Fox News fight at some point soon. I hadn't realized the depths to which the Democratic establishment is still split over the news channel, and how productive an open debate can be. Hannity is worth understanding as a public figure. He is an important Republican surrogate, and his attempts to lie about this debate and about Rocky Anderson are a tremendously weak cover to the role he and most Repulbican leaders played in operating as lackeys for Bush.
03:43 am - Spring Break has been quiet
Spring break has been fairly quiet as I spend the week at home doing absolutely nothing, and in my oppinion its a fantastic way to spend Spring Break.
The week before was supposed to be an easy week, I had nothing to do at all. And as of 10:30 PM Wednesday, it was easy. Then I noticed my dogs eye didn't look right, part of his eye was sticking out a bit and it was bleeding a little bit. So Mom and I got to take the trip to emergency vet that night. We left him there, the vet opthamologist looked at him the next day and concluded that it was time to remove his eye. This wasn't a huge suprise to us as his eyes have been in poor shape for a while now, so the dog had surgery Thursday afternoon and I picked him up Friday morning. He has been doing very well, though I now get to spend Spring Break playing nurse, not that he needs much more codling than I thought he would.
Otherwise things have been quiet and nice. I have to contemplate the future, ie what happens after graduation. I don't quite know what to do. I know what I want to do as a career. I want to be a doctor. However, my grades are in no situation to get admitted to medical school even if I did exceptionally well on the MCAT, which I could if that was required. So its a choice of all the various non-traditional routes, but I don't know which one to take. All are good options and would work, but they all have their various positives and negatives. Its a common theme for me to be paralyzed by choice when no choice is clearly better than another or several choices.
Anyways, something I have recently learned. You should steer well clear of any doctor of naturopathy anybody purporting to be a naturopathist. These people are deluded kooks and believe in such stupid ideas as homeopathy which is one of the most absurd claims in medicine I think I have ever heard (though its success in the late 18th and 19th century I can understand because it has virtually no risks). Anyways, there is a ND in Vestavia and he is running commercials. So you know be careful.
Mar. 14th, 2007
10:43 pm - A great Blog entry on Tautologies
Today's bit of basics is inspired by that bastion of shitheaded ignorance, Dr. Michael Egnor. In part of his latest screed (a podcast with Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute), Egnor discusses antibiotic resistance, and along the way, asserts that the theory of evolution has no relevance to antibiotic resistance, because what evolution says about the subject is just a tautology. (I'm deliberately not linking to the podcast; I will not help increase the hit-count that DI will use to promote it's agenda of willful ignorance.)
So what is a tautology?
A tautology is a logical statement which is universally true, by nature of its fundamental structure. That is, even without knowing anything about what the statement means, you can infer that it must be true.
To make that a bit clearer, let's look at a couple of the most classic examples of tautologies.
- "A⇒A" - A implies A. You don't need to know what A means. You don't need to know if A itself is a true or false statement. The statement that A implies A: that is, if A is true, then A must be true - must be true.
- "A∨¬A" - A or not A. In classical first order predicate logic, either A is true, or A is false. So A or not A must be true. Again, we don't need to know what A means, or whether A is true or false; it doesn't matter. This statement must be true.
- "(A⇒B)∧A⇒B" - A implies B and A implies B. This is just a basic statement of one of the fundamental inference rules of logic. Once again, it doesn't matter what A means, or what B means; and it doesn't matter whether A or B are true or false. No matter what, by virtue of the structure of the statement, it must be true.
That third tautology is particularly important - because it's an example of a fundamental principle of logic. If you take any proof - any sequence of statements and valid inferences from those statements - and you combine all of the statements of the proof together, the resulting statement is, by definition, a tautology. The obvious implication of this is that you can take any statement which is provably true, and present it as a tautology.
And this brings us to Egnor's idiocy. It's a common tactic among idiots to criticize various scientific theories as tautological. And it's pretty much always done to mislead. Because all actual scientific theories are based on inferences from observations, and use the result of those inferences predict that future observations will match prior observations. So by taking the statement of the observation and the inference, you can derive a tautological statement from any scientific theory.
The theory of gravity? If you let go of something, it will fall - therefore, if you let go of something, it will fall.
Relativity? Light bends when it passed through a gravitational field - therefore, if I shine a light through a gravitational field, it will bend.
Evolution? The things that survive to reproduce are the things that survive to reproduce.
Tautological statements of theories don't invalidate the theories; and they don't mean that the theories are useless and have no explanatory value. The only time that a tautological statement of a theory is a problem is when it's the only statement of the theory - that is, when the theory itself consists of nothing more than a tautological structure. A theory that consisted of nothing more than the fundamental statement "A=A" isn't a theory - it's gibberish dressed up to look like a theory.
For an example of where tautological reasoning is a problem, you can do things like look at arguments presented by lazy objectivist/liberatian Ayn Rand worshippers. Please note that I'm not saying that all objectivist libertarians use this kind of nonsense - I'm describing arguments by intellectually lazy objectivist libertarians! The fundamental statement of Rand's philosophy is "A=A". But a lot of lazy objectivists take that, and use it to make ridiculous arguments. The arguments are ridiculous not because they involve a tautology, but because they use a tautology in place of an actual argument. You can find objectivists arguing that, for example, tax=theft, because tax="government taking your property away from you without your permission", and theft="someone taking your property away from you without your permission". But the real argument there isn't in the "A=A" part = it's in the definitions chosen for "tax" and "theft". To make the objectivist/libertarian argument about taxes, you need to justify the definitions - not just assert definitions, and then use the tautological equivalence of the unjustified assertions as your argument. If you read some objectivist literature, you can find some pretty good arguments about why that definition of tax is valid. But most of the time, you have people just blindly spewing the definition, and then shouting "A=A" at the top of their lungs when anyone tries to disagree with them. To repeat, the problem isn't that there's a tautology - it's that the truth of the tautological statement is used as the whole of the argument, when in fact, the argument relies on the truth of something other than the tautology. The libertarian argument about taxes is not a simple "A=A" argument. It relies on the inference that there exists an A such that taxes=A, and there exists a B such that theft=B, and that A=B, therefore taxes=theft. The step of showing the validity of defining taxes and theft as equivalent things is crucial - and omitted from the lazy version of this argument.
To return to Egnor: he asserts that the theory of evolution is irrelevant to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, because after all, all that evolution says is "If you have an antibiotic that doesn't work on a bacterium, then that antibiotic won't work on that bacterium".
Well, yeah. It does say that. But it also predicts that if you use antibiotics on some population of bacteria, and you don't kill all of them, that over time, the population of bacteria will change to become resistant to the antibiotics.
As I mentioned over at Mike's blog, this is something that's become quite personal to me, because my father has gone through a horrible medical crisis in the last few months caused by a highly antibiotic-resistant strain of staphylococcus aureus. A strain of staph that had never been observed as recently as 10 years ago, and which is dramatically different from its ancestors. A strain which is the result of an evolutionary process, where non-resistant bacteria were wiped out, and resistant bacteria filled the niche left behind. Where that simple tautological statement: "if an antibiotic doesn't kill a bacteria, then it doesn't kill the bacteria" is a precise description of how the bacteria that paralyzed my father came into being.
So remember: next time someone tries to convince you that you should ignore something just because it's a tautology, what they're really saying is, "This is true, and I can't make any argument that it isn't".
Feb. 28th, 2007
Feb. 16th, 2007
01:38 am - Rep. Virgil Goode is an idiot
Or something like this. What follows below is a transcript of a speech he gave on the house floor.
We are in the middle of a four-day marathon here. While I cannot say that I agree with all of the actions of the president in dealing with Iraq, I will not be supporting H.Con.Res. 63. The eyes of the world are upon this House and there will be commentary from the Middle East to the streets of small town America about what we do here over this four-day period even though this resolution does not carry the weight of law.
When the commentary begins in the Middle East, in no way do I want to comfort and encourage the radical Muslims who want to destroy our country and who want to wipe the so-called infidels like myself and many of you from the face of the Earth. In no way do I want to aid and assist the Islamic jihadists who want the crescent and star to wave over the Capitol of the United States and over the White House of this country. I fear that radical Muslims who want to control the Middle East and ultimately the world would love to see "In God We Trust" stricken from our money and replaced with "In Muhammad We Trust."
I have to wonder where to start. First of all, a Muslim, particularly the radical muslims Goode fears so much, would never allow such a thing to happen. That would be heresy to them. The phrase would have to be "In Allah We Trust" for it to be acceptable to them. Of course, if we are going to be printing this in English, you would have to translate the arabic word allah to English which translates as "god". So in essence, nothing about our money would change. Amazing!
Secondly, how can you even conceive that any congressman or senator wants the islamic fundamentalists to win and take over our country.
Ok, well bedtime, enough of this pointless ranting. But this guy is an idiot.
Feb. 12th, 2007
The software mogul Tim Gill has a mission: Stop the Rick Santorums of tomorrow before they get started. How a network of gay political donors is stealthily fighting sexual discrimination and reshaping American politics
A tough loss can be hard to swallow, and plenty of defeated politicians have been known to grumble about sinister conspiracies. When they are rising stars like Danny Carroll, the Republican speaker pro tempore of Iowa’s House of Representatives, and the loss is unexpected, the urge to blame unseen forces can be even stronger—and in Carroll’s case, it would have the additional distinction of being justified. Carroll was among the dozens of targets of a group of rich gay philanthropists who quietly joined forces last year, under the leadership of a reclusive Colorado technology mogul, to counter the tide of antigay politics in America that has generated, among other things, a succession of state ballot initiatives banning gay marriage. Carroll had sponsored such a bill in Iowa and guided it to passage in the state House of Representatives, the first step toward getting it on the ballot.
Like many other state legislatures last year, Iowa’s was narrowly divided. So all it would take to break the momentum toward a constitutional marriage ban was to tip a few close races. If Democrats took control of the House and Senate, however narrowly, the initiative would die, and with it the likelihood of further legislation limiting civil rights for gays and lesbians. And, fortuitously, Carroll’s own reelection race looked to be one of the closest. He represented the liberal college town of Grinnell and had won the last time around by just a handful of votes.
Over the summer, Carroll’s opponent started receiving checks from across the country—significant sums for a statehouse race, though none so large as to arouse suspicion (the gifts topped out at $1,000). Because they came from individuals and not from organizations, nothing identified the money as being “gay,” or even coordinated. Only a very astute political operative would have spotted the unusual number of out-of-state donors and pondered their interest in an obscure midwestern race. And only someone truly versed in the world of gay causes would have noticed a $1,000 contribution from Denver, Colorado, and been aware that its source, Tim Gill, is the country’s biggest gay donor, and the nexus of an aggressive new force in national politics.
Carroll certainly didn’t catch on until I called him after the election, in which Democrats took control of both legislative chambers, as well as Carroll’s seat and four of the five others targeted by Gill and his allies. Carroll was just sitting down to dinner but agreed to talk about his loss, which he attributed to the activism of Grinnell College students. A suggestion that he’d been targeted by a nationwide network of wealthy gay activists was met with polite midwestern skepticism. But Carroll was sufficiently intrigued to propose that we each log on to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board’s Web site and examine his opponent’s disclosure report together, over the telephone.
Scrolling through the thirty-two-page roster of campaign contributors revealed plenty of $25 and $50 donations from nearby towns like Oskaloosa and New Sharon. But a $1,000 donation from California stood out on page 2, and, several pages later, so did another $1,000 from New York City. “I’ll be darned,” said Carroll. “That doesn’t make any sense.” As we kept scrolling, Carroll began reading aloud with mounting disbelief as the evidence passed before his eyes. “Denver … Dallas … Los Angeles … Malibu … there’s New York again … San Francisco! I can’t—I just cannot believe this,” he said, finally. “Who is this guy again?”
Tim Gill is best known as the founder of the publishing-software giant Quark Inc., and for a long time was one of the few openly gay members of the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans. He was born in 1953 to one of Colorado’s well-known Republican political families. (The town of Gill in the north-central part of the state is named after them.) After earning a degree in applied mathematics and computer science from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Gill founded Quark in his apartment in 1981, in the manner of other self-made computer magnates like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, with a $2,000 loan from his parents.
While Gill participated in gay activism in college, his passions ran more toward differential calculus, and he didn’t feel particularly beset by his homosexuality. He had come out to his parents when he was a teenager and been accepted. It was the very ordinariness of his upper-middle-class upbringing, in fact, that made his political awakening such a shock. In 1992, a ballot initiative approved by Colorado voters altered the state constitution to prohibit laws aimed at protecting gays and lesbians (it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court). Gill noticed bumper stickers supporting the measure on the desks of some Quark employees. Not long afterward, he set up the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado, through which he donates to “mainstream” charities—libraries, symphonies, vaccination clinics, even a Star Trek exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science—to spread the message that gays and lesbians care about the same things as everyone else. In 2000, he sold his interest in Quark for a reported half-billion dollars in order to focus full-time on his philanthropy.
Even as he has shied from the spotlight, Gill has become one of the most generous and widest-reaching political benefactors in the country, and emblematic of a new breed of business-minded donor that is rapidly changing American politics. A surge of new wealth has created a generation of givers eager to influence politics but barred from the traditional channels of participation by recent campaign-finance laws designed to limit large gifts to candidates and political parties. Like Gill, many of these figures are entrepreneurs who have made fortunes in technology. And like Gill, many turned first to philanthropy, revolutionizing the field by importing strategies from the business world and largely abandoning the old dispositions toward moneyed dilettantism and gifts to large foundations in favor of creating independent charitable enterprises that emphasize innovation and accountability. The Gates Foundation, founded by Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, is a prime example of this new results-oriented philanthropy.
Gill’s principal interest is gay equality. His foundations have given about $115 million to charities. His serious involvement in politics is a more recent development, though geared toward the same goal. In 2000, he gave $300,000 in political donations, which grew to $800,000 in 2002, $5 million in 2004, and a staggering $15 million last year, almost all of it to state and local campaigns. Gill, who considers himself a “pathological introvert,” normally shuns media attention, but he agreed to meet with me in his Denver office last November, on the eve of the election, to explain what he is trying to accomplish.
“My goal is to see that all Americans are treated equally regardless of sexuality,” he told me when we met. Tall and lean, Gill is a vigorous fifty-three years old, a sci-fi buff and an avid snowboarder (he runs a social networking site for gay snowboarders, called Outboard). He was dressed in the manner of a successful Denver businessman—casual, but not overly so, in jeans, a sports shirt, and Italian leather shoes. In our conversations, he gave the impression of someone who feels he has been picked on and now, having acquired the means, fully intends to do something about it.
Gill led me through his evolution as a donor. For years he gave generously to gay organizations and dutifully supported gay-friendly candidates. His guiding ambition was helping to teach other donors and nonprofits how to operate more efficiently, and he had organized a series of major-donor conferences toward that end. But several years ago, a growing number of his peers began to sense that they were playing in the wrong arena. “A lot of [gay donors] are driven, cycle to cycle, by the notion that there’s going to be an epiphany—that one day they’ll wake up and accept us,” he said. “But this group had spent millions of dollars on philanthropy, and yet woken up the morning after the election to see gay-marriage bans enacted all across the country.”
Gill decided to find out how he could become more effective and enlisted as his political counselor an acerbic lawyer and former tobacco lobbyist named Ted Trimpa, who is Colorado’s answer to Karl Rove. Trimpa believes that the gay-rights community directs too much of its money to thoroughly admirable national candidates who don’t need it, while neglecting less compelling races that would have a far greater impact on gay rights—a tendency he calls “glamour giving.” Trimpa cited the example of Barack Obama: an attractive candidate, solid on gay rights, and viscerally exciting to donors. It feels good to write him a check. An analysis of Obama’s 2004 Senate race, which he won by nearly fifty points, had determined that gays contributed more than $500,000. “The temptation is always to swoon for the popular candidate,” Trimpa told me, “but a fraction of that money, directed at the right state and local races, could have flipped a few chambers. ‘Just because he’s cute’ isn’t a strategy.”
Together, Gill and Trimpa decided to eschew national races in favor of state and local ones, which could be influenced in large batches and for much less money. Most antigay measures, they discovered, originate in state legislatures. Operating at that level gave them a chance to “punish the wicked,” as Gill puts it—to snuff out rising politicians who were building their careers on antigay policies, before they could achieve national influence. Their chief cautionary example of such a villain is Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who once compared homosexuality to “man on dog” sex (and was finally defeated last year, at a cost of more than $20 million). Santorum got his start working in the state legislature. As Gill and Trimpa looked at their evolving plan, it seemed realistic. “The strategic piece of the puzzle we’d been missing—consistent across almost every legislature we examined—is that it’s often just a handful of people, two or three, who introduce the most outrageous legislation and force the rest of their colleagues to vote on it,” Gill explained. “If you could reach these few people or neutralize them by flipping the chamber to leaders who would block bad legislation, you’d have a dramatic effect.”
Gill’s idea was to identify vulnerable candidates like Danny Carroll and move quickly to eliminate them without the burden of first having to win the consent of some risk-averse large organization or board of directors. Another element of this strategy is stealth. Revealing targets only after an election makes it impossible for them to fight back and sends a message to other politicians that attacking gays could put them in the crosshairs. Independence also allowed Gill to pursue an element of his philosophy that chafes many national gay organizations: the belief that enduring acceptance can be won only with Republican support. “If you want a majority, you have to change people’s minds,” he said, noting that in Colorado, Republicans outnumber Democrats. “Just because you’re conservative doesn’t mean you’re antigay.”
With that in mind, he assembled a bipartisan team of political operatives and tested his theory in 2004, quietly targeting three antigay Colorado incumbents; two of them went down. Through the combined efforts of a host of progressive interest groups, including many supported by Gill, Democrats captured both chambers of the legislature for the first time in forty years. Gill’s decision to back Democrats in Colorado was the only choice that would produce the gay-tolerant leadership he’s pursuing. But ten years from now, he told me, he hopes he’ll be able to give evenly to Republicans and Democrats.
Convinced his approach was sound, Gill decided to go big. When I visited his headquarters last fall, liberals were working alongside conservatives on a list compiled by his top consultants—one a national Democratic consultant, the other a former Karl Rove protégé—of seventy races in which a key antigay candidate was vulnerable or the outcome of a race was likely to affect control of the legislature. The list included state legislators, governors, and judges, not just Republicans but Democrats as well—like Philip Travis, the Democratic legislator leading the push to overturn gay marriage in Massachusetts.
From the standpoint of an entrepreneur, Gill saw opportunity and believed he could amplify his return on investment. Last spring, he sponsored another conference for wealthy gay donors, only this one designed to steer money to the right political races instead of the right nonprofits. His pitch was simple: Instead of waiting for a political savior to fix everything, consider donating to these races, where you’ll have more effect at a fraction of the cost. As Trimpa later characterized the rationale for such an approach: “We live in a post–Will & Grace society. Americans believe and understand that gay people are everywhere, and most view them in a mainstream context. But this is a recent development, and the political world has not yet caught up—it’s lagging behind. The day will come when all of this is aligned, but we’re not there yet.”
In the 2006 elections, on a level where a few thousand dollars can decide a close race, Gill’s universe of donors injected more than $3 million, providing in some cases more than 20 percent of a candidate’s or organization’s budget. On Election Day, fifty of the seventy targeted candidates were defeated, Danny Carroll among them; and out of the thirteen states where Gill and his allies invested, four—Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Washington—saw control of at least one legislative chamber switch to the Democratic Party. (In Massachusetts, Travis decided to retire rather than seek reelection.) The national climate, which was strongly anti-Republican, helped bring about this transformation. But Gill’s stealth campaign was both effective and precedent-setting. For the first time, in a broad and organized way, gays had taken the initiative in a sweeping multistate strategy and had mostly prevailed.
The history of gays as open participants in American politics is a relatively brief one, though it contains clear antecedents for what Gill is attempting to do. In the 1950s, the homophile movement first sought social acceptance for gays and lesbians through a handful of small, politically cautious organizations like the Mattachine Society, which sponsored newsletters and discussion groups and lobbied to end police raids targeting gay activities. The Stonewall riots and the gay-liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s worked toward securing the legal protection afforded by federal minority status, to diminish discrimination and blackmail. The devastating rise of AIDS in the 1980s halted momentum toward the political mainstream and helped solidify gays’ status as victims in the public mind. The failure of state and federal government to respond to the crisis, however, prompted gays for the first time to organize to provide the care and services others would not. Explicitly gay philanthropy grew from a few million dollars a year in the early 1980s to around $100 million in the early 1990s, as independent, privately funded organizations came into being.
When AIDS finally did register as a national pandemic, political acceptance of homosexuals remained limited even in the most liberal spheres. In 1988, Michael Dukakis declined gay contributions to his presidential campaign after deeming them too politically risky. Bill Clinton’s candidacy, four years later, appeared to change that. Clinton openly accepted millions of dollars from many rich activists, promising a broad federal assault on AIDS, a federal antidiscrimination statute, and, most famously, an executive order lifting the military’s ban on gays. “When Clinton was elected, everyone thought there would be this epiphany on gay rights,” said Patrick Guerriero, a former Republican state legislator and mayor in Massachusetts who runs Gill’s political team, the Gill Action Fund (which operates independently of his foundation). “Instead, the only two major pieces of legislation were a disaster: ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ and the Defense of Marriage Act. The experience of the ’90s taught us that there is no magic president who’s going to fix everything.”
The Clinton presidency is one of the major fault lines dividing gay politics, and disappointment with it was one of the motivating forces behind Gill’s move away from national politics. But his is a controversial view. Jeff Soref, an heir to the Master Lock fortune who became a prominent philanthropist during the AIDS crisis and was later appointed to the Democratic National Committee, vigorously disputes the notion that Clinton’s presidency was a failure and doubts that Gill’s response to it is the appropriate one.
“Clinton broke the silence about the AIDS epidemic,” Soref says. “He told gay people we were part of his vision for America. He directed federal money to AIDS research. He gave us an AIDS czar and a liaison in the White House and an executive order banning discrimination in the federal workforce. He invited us to the table and gave us a place in the Democratic Party. One of the problems with Tim’s strategy is that he’s turning people away from national politics at a time when Democrats have just achieved a big victory—one that we weren’t as big a part of as we might have been, perhaps because of his steering gay money away from the national level. I’ve personally gotten calls, pre- and postelection, from Democratic leaders who feel the gay community has not been as supportive in this election as in previous ones. There’s a tangible downside to disengaging. In a competitive environment, our issues may not get the attention we want them to get.”
Soref cited the possibility that the new Democratic Congress may soon consider a long-desired national employment nondiscrimination bill as one reason not to abandon Washington. “I can understand Tim’s frustration,” he says. “But his way, state by state, will take years. There’s nothing like passing national legislation that benefits everybody equally.”
As the amount of money in politics continues to grow, against a backdrop of deep Democratic frustration over the party’s narrow losses in the last two presidential races, the momentum of the Democratic world is moving in a direction closer to Gill’s than to that of traditional Washington insiders. Well beyond its gay facet, Democratic politics is increasingly dominated by rich donors who share Gill’s dissatisfaction with traditional methods of party politics. This group believes that conservatives were able to reshape American politics because they built, over the last forty years, a broad movement independent of the Republican Party to support conservative candidates and espouse their ideals—an achievement liberals now wish to match. Beginning in 2004, many of these rich Democratic donors lavished tens of millions of dollars upon new independent enterprises, like America Coming Together and the Democracy Alliance, meant to impose accountability and tactical discipline on the liberal movement, expressly to improve Democrats’ performance at the polls.
What came into being instead were large, cumbersome outfits—technically independent, but hardly nimble—comprising many of the same strategists and warring interest groups that had collectively lost the election in 2000, and again in 2004. (In frustration, several of the party’s biggest donors, including George Soros and Peter Lewis, severely curtailed their giving last year.)
Gill’s decision to shift away from national politics seems dictated even more by his philosophy about how to engage most effectively in politics than by the mediocre gains chalked up during the Clinton years. “If your objective is to innovate and take risks, you move faster with a small group,” Gill’s political director, Guerriero, told me. “If Columbus had needed a conference call before setting sail for America, he’d still be at the dock.” (This kind of gridlock has long hampered the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest gay political organization.) Though Gill, too, has suffered disappointments, his grand experiment is, for better or worse, more consistent with the pragmatic direction of twenty-first-century politics than anything else on the Democratic horizon. Whether that achievement derives from the unique frustrations within the gay community or from the history and ability of that community to organize to help itself, it is changing gay politics, and it could change Democratic politics as well.
A large part of Gill’s credibility stems from the ex- ample of his home state. His influence on Colorado’s politics has been much more public than his recent national efforts. For years a reliably old-conservative Mountain West enclave, Colorado had a political culture that tended toward libertarianism until, in the 1990s, the Republican leadership turned hard to the right. Before he became active in national politics, Gill had been spurred to action locally by the 1992 ballot initiative prohibiting laws to protect gays and lesbians, and his involvement intensified several years later after he was deeply offended by a Republican legislator’s introduction of a bill banning any discussion of homosexuality in Colorado’s public schools. Since then, Gill has become the top political donor in the state. Aided by his record as a community leader, he has managed to achieve limited victories for gay equality, most notably getting Colorado’s socially conservative Republican Governor Bill Owens to agree in 2005 to a bill protecting gays under the state’s hate-crimes law.
During this time, Gill formed an alliance with three other major donors (two of them tech moguls, one of them gay) to find a way to moderate the state’s politics and loosen the grip of Republican social conservatives. Working in conjunction with progressive groups throughout Colorado, “the Four Millionaires,” as they came to be known, built a kind of information-age political machine that enabled Democrats to outspend Republicans for the first time in years.
On Election Day 2004, as George W. Bush carried the state handily, Democrats captured both chambers of the legislature. “There’s no doubt that Tim Gill and some of the other wealthy funders contributed mightily to the takeover,” Andrew Romanoff, the Democratic speaker of the House, told me. Romanoff believes that voters perceived Republicans as caring more about marginal social issues like gay marriage than about the economic woes hampering the state economy. “The difference between our agenda and theirs was the difference between the kitchen table and the bedroom door.” Last fall, Democrats extended their gains in the legislature and captured the governorship as well.
One component of Gill’s strategy includes courting that element of the Republican Party that’s open to compromise, while at the same time making clear that gay bashing will now come at a price. “You have to create an atmosphere of fear and respect,” said Trimpa, “and set up the proper context for them to do the right thing.” But neither Gill’s checkbook nor the Republicans’ woes have stopped social conservatives from pressing their agenda. Last year, when it became clear that Colorado Republicans intended to back a ballot initiative banning gay marriage, Gill and his allies moved first to frame the debate by pushing Referendum I, a bill endorsing domestic partnerships, and spending $5 million to promote it.
This effort also included some shrewd inside maneuvering. Colorado is home to a prominent Christian-right movement, centered on James Dobson’s Colorado Springs organization, Focus on the Family. Gays held no realistic hope of defeating the marriage ban. So to create a more favorable environment for domestic partnerships to become law, Gill’s operatives worked to divide their opponents into two camps: those conservatives who wanted to ban only marriage but would countenance partnerships, and the rest, like Dobson, who wanted, as Trimpa put it, “to ban the whole ball of wax.” They reached an informal truce with the moderate element of the conservative movement to back only the marriage ban and to not oppose the referendum on domestic partnerships. Among this faction’s leaders was an adversary of Dobson’s within the evangelical community, the Reverend Ted Haggard of the New Life Church.
As I arrived in Denver a week before the election, Haggard’s life became a national sensation. He first denied, but later resigned because of, a report that for years he had paid for sex with a gay prostitute through whom he had also bought crystal meth. The story exploded across the state, yielding full-banner headlines for four days running in The Denver Post and wall-to-wall footage of Haggard’s awkward semi-denial to a local TV news crew.
While the pundits predicted that the scandal would demoralize conservative voters and benefit the state’s liberals, Gill’s organization held no such illusions. Its polling showed that the vote on domestic partnerships had been running near even, but now this development seemed certain to tip things against them. Trying to explain why, Trimpa characterized it best by grimly invoking “the gay ick”—his rueful term for the tendency of well-meaning and fair-minded straight voters to become turned off when gay issues focus explicitly on sex. The Haggard episode, which fed right into the Mark Foley congressional page scandal then in full bloom, created, Trimpa believed, the worst possible environment in which to put gay-rights issues on the ballot. On Election Day, the initiative failed, 53–47.
To date, twenty-seven of the twenty-eight state ballot initiatives banning gay marriage have been approved, including those in three of the four states last year where Gill funded efforts to oppose them (Arizona voters, with Gill’s help, defeated one last November). The losses seem to have neither dulled Gill’s resolve nor prompted him to rein in his spending. “As an engineer, I like experiments,” he explained. “The only way you find new tools is to take one out and try it, and I’m perfectly happy to be in this for the long haul.” His general success in state races has already stimulated plans for a larger target list in 2008 and a seminar, scheduled for next March, to brief interested high-net-worth donors. The challenge, he believes, will be expanding the ranks of donors while maintaining the focus of those who participated last year and now face the ultimate temptation in “glamour giving,” the 2008 presidential race. “You hope that the forces of darkness will be the ones distracted by the shiny bauble of the presidency,” Gill said. Then he excused himself to continue mapping out a state-by-state conquest that already has advanced gay interests in politics, even as the need for his surreptitious methods suggests how far they still have to go.
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