Tuesday, December 30, 2008

21 Reasons why Gender Matters: shonky referencing and the mental health of gay people

I found a second serious referencing error in the anti-gay pamphlet 21 Reasons why Gender Matters. Like the earlier one, it falsely claims that a study includes text which it doesn't actually include. Unlike the earlier one, I can actually see how they got it wrong.

On page 14 of the pamphlet, the following text appears:
One study revealed that “the lifetime prevalence for two or more psychiatric disorders for men who engaged in homosexual behaviors was 37.85 per cent versus 14.4 per cent for men who did not engage in homosexual behaviors. For women engaging in homosexual behaviours, the rate for two or more psychiatric disorders was 39.5 per cent versus 21.3 per cent for women not engaging in homosexual behaviours. Society’s oppression of homosexual people is a hypothesis unlikely to find support in this study, concluded the Netherlands [sic], which is perhaps one of the most homosexual-affirming and tolerant countries in the world.”110

Footnote 110 refers to a study that is very popular among anti-gay activists trying to "prove" that homosexual behaviour itself directly causes the person engaging in it to become mentally disturbed: "Same-sex Behavior and Psychiatric Disorders", by TGM Sandfort et al, published in volume 58(1) of the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2001.

I have now read the complete study, and the text quoted above as appearing in the study itself does not appear anywhere within in. Given the actual sentiments expressed by the authors in the study, particularly their fairly clear statement in the "Comment" section that "because of the study's cross-sectional design, it is not possible to adequately address the question of the causes of the observed differences" in mental health, it is highly misleading to claim that they made any statement of fact as clear-cut as the one that the pamphlet falsely attributed to them.

The actual source of the quoted text is this article from the so-called "research and therapy" group NARTH, a little way in to "Section D:Mental Health, Physical Health, Stability of Homosexual Men and Women and Longevity of Homosexual Relationships". The shoddy use of HTML, in which a separate font is used when quoting a study, but that font accidentally spills out of the closing blockquote, could, if you're not reading carefully, give the misleading impression that the paragraph after the quote from the study is also a quote from the study. Apparently the Fatherhood Foundation didn't notice the problem.

The study itself that they're misquoting is interesting, and probably deserves a more thorugh consideration given the multiple lies that a great deal of anti-gay organisations tell about it, not just NARTH and the Fatherhood Foundation. For now I'll just point to a news article about a much more recent study about the issue of homosexuality and mental health, one which should give pause to any anti-gay activist trying to encourage negative attitudes to homosexuality: Parents' response key to health of gay youth:
Kids with parents who reacted negatively 8 times more likely to try suicide
by Lisa Leff
Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO - Young gay people whose parents or guardians responded negatively when they revealed their sexual orientation were more likely to attempt suicide, experience severe depression and use drugs than those whose families accepted the news, according to a new study.

Follow the link for the full article.

Friday, December 26, 2008

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters on transgenderism, cont.

The pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" can be found online here.

The pamphlet offers three footnotes citing two documents in support of their contribution to the question of "whether gender re-assignment surgery can ever be justified". The first footnote refers to a court case, in which they reference an online post from the right-wing site Worldnet Daily about the case rather than the case itself. The other two refer to statements made by transgender individuals who allegedly express regret about undergoing gender reassignment surgery, the second of which is also from the Worldnet Daily post.

The court case referred to is Marc Andrew Mario vs P & C Food Markets, Inc, in which Mario tried - unsuccessfully - to argue that his gender reassignment surgey should have been covered by his employer's health insurance because it was "medically necessary". The court found in a summary judgement that this was not the case, a judgement which was upheld on appeal. The characterisation in the pamphlet that the decision was made due to the court's perceptation that there was "conflict in the medical community over whether or not gender dysphoria is a legitimate illness worthy of such severe medical intervention" seems accurate. It's not entirely clear with the court's impression was accurate, though.

Opponents of the ruling point out that this particular decision is "an anomaly in light of the many recent developments signaling a growing acceptance of the reality of transsexualism", including the Medicaid program in the US covering gender reassignment surgery in many states and jurisdictions, "under regulations that limit coverage to medically necessary procedures". There's apparently some room for disagreement here.

Not so much with the second, though. It's a quote from a transgender woman named Dr Renee Richards, taken from an interview with her in Tennis Magazine in March, 1999:
“I would have been better off staying the way I was,” said tennis star Renee Richards, the high-profile sex-change recipient.26 She goes on to say: “I wish that there could have been an alternative way, but there wasn’t in 1975. If there was a drug that I could have taken that would have reduced the pressure, I would have been better off staying the way I was - a totally intact person. I know deep down that I’m a second-class woman. I get a lot of inquiries from would-be transsexuals, but I don’t want anyone to hold me out as an example to follow. Today there are better choices, including medication, for dealing with the compulsion to crossdress and the depression that comes from gender confusion. As far as being fulfilled as a woman, I’m not as fulfilled as I dreamed of being. I get a lot of letters from people who are considering having this operation...and I discourage them all.”

I couldn't find the original interview, but a later interview with the New York Times provides some interesting context when she talks about her 1999 comment. Contrary to the implication in the Gender Matters pamphlet, Dr Richards does not believe that transsexualism doesn't exist, and does still think of herself as a woman:
''In 1999, you told People--'' the reporter begins.

Dr. Richards interrupts.

''--I told People what I was feeling, which I still feel: Better to be an intact man functioning with 100 percent capacity for everything than to be a transsexual woman who is an imperfect woman.''

In the same interview, Dr. Richards talked about wishing for something that could have prevented the surgery.

''What I said was if there were a drug, some voodoo, any kind of mind-altering magic remedy to keep the man intact, that would have been preferable, but there wasn't,'' Dr. Richards says. ''The pressure to change into a woman was so strong that if I had not been able to do it, I might have been a suicide.''

Does she regret having the surgery?

''The answer is no.''

Got that? She does not regret the surgery, she did not view her gendery dysphoria as "curable" through mere therapy, and the reason she does not want others to undergo the surgery is not because she thinks it's wrong to try and change gender, but because it doesn't go far enough in changing it.

The final footnote refers once again to Worldnet Daily, in which is quoted a self-described "former trans-sexual" named Joseph Cluse:
“How can outward physical change bring about the needed change
within? (After surgery) there is still a painful void,” says a regretful Joseph Cluse, who in 1979 had surgery in Trinidad, Colorado. “Relationships are destroyed and everyday I have to live with scars. The mirror is ever before me.”

Joseph Cluse is described on the Exodus International website as "a man whom God redeemed from transsexuality". His statement there that he no longer views himself as transgender, and that he sought gender reassignment surgery in the first place because "Satan’s stronghold on my life was such that I could see no other course for my life than a complete sex change operation" seems sincere enough, but it's difficult to tell with testimonials from people affiliated with ex-gay organisations. Will Joseph Cluse become JoAnna Cluse again as an ex-ex-transsexual, as so many ex-gays have become ex-ex-gays? Only time will tell.

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters on transgenderism

The pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" can be found online here.

On page 5 and 6, the pamphlet disgracefully misuses the story of Dr John Money as an argument against the very existence of transgender people. Apparently because one unwilling boy still viewed himself as a boy after an attempt to force him into girlhood was attempted, then this supposedly "highlights the dangers in gender reassignment which does not match the chromosomes of the individual."

No, this story tells us nothing about people who want to have their gender reassigned at all. But then, the Religious Right always did have a problem fully understanding the concept of free will.

21 Reasons why Gender Matters: Footnote 7

The pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" can be found online here.

It's unclear to me which part of the text footnote 7 refers to. There are two sentences just preceding it: "Yet various social engineers, including extreme feminists and homosexual activists, have sought to ignore or minimise these inherent differences. Their attempts have led to social and personal upheaval." Does the Footnote refer to just the sentence about "social and personal upheaval", or does it contain evidence about the alleged activities of "extreme feminists and homosexual activists" as well? The way it's laid out is not at all clear.

The footnote itself is also singularly unhelpful, saying merely "See for example, Dale O’Leary, The Gender Agenda. Lafayette, LA: Vita Issues Press, 1997." I have to read an entire book to verify the claim (or possibly claims) being made? Again?

The book's full title is "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Inequality". It is not readily available to me, and I can't give any kind of verdict about it without reading it, even assuming I could take the time to do so, and trace down the further references almost certainly within it. I'll just have to add it to the pile I guess. In the meantime, here's a description of it from the viruently anti-feminist site "Fathers For Life":
The Gender Agenda, by Dale O'Leary, a book that explains the sinister strategy — firmly rooted in communist ideology — for the destruction of our families and the role that the U.N. and the seemingly innocent word gender play in it.

Oookay, then.

There's just too much referenced in this pamphlet to be able to examine everything properly (and why do I suspect that that's deliberate?). I'm going to have to change strategies and go after the low-hanging fruit first.

edit: Here is a further book review of "The Gender agenda", in which the author's bizarre confusion between the concepts of "gender" and "sexual orientation" can be seen:
It is a useful instrument to expose the aims and machinations of a strange new breed of people - people who believe in five genders, male, female, homosexual male, homosexual female, and bisexual.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Treatment of Muntadhar al-Zeidi looking very suspicious

So now the Iraqi government is claiming that the shoe-thrower was put up to the act by an un-named (but definitely evil) "militant".
"He revealed ... that a person provoked him to commit this act, and that person is known to us for slitting throats," al-Maliki said, according to the prime minister's Web site. The alleged instigator was not named and neither al-Maliki nor any of his officials would elaborate.

No word from al-Zeidi himself at this stage, although his brothers have been allowed to visit him. They contradict the government's claims:
"He told me that he has no regret for what he did and that he would do it again," Uday al-Zeidi told The Associated Press."

Muntadhar al-Zeidi's brothers continue to say that he's being tortured while in custody, although the AP is at pains to point out that "there has been no independent corroboration that al-Zeidi was abused once in custody." However, there is confirmation that he received injuries in the process of being arrested:
The investigating judge, Dhia al-Kinani, has said that the journalist was beaten around the face and eyes when he was wrestled to the ground after throwing the shoes at Bush during a Dec. 14 press conference in the Green Zone. The judge said al-Zeidi's face was bruised but he did not provide a further description.

I've been trying to give the Iraqi government the benefit of the doubt over the torture allegations, but this admission that he received injuries during his arrest, combined with the claim that he did not appear in open court on Wednesday 17th December despite earlier expectations that he would, do not bode well.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rick Warren - the reason behind the anger

The kerfuffle over the inclusion of evangelical minister Rick Warren at Obama's inauguration has inspired a fair bit of writing around the blogosphere. I might as well add my two cents.

I think that the reaction to Warren's inclusion is excessive, but the strength of the reaction has a reason behind it. This reason is more than just "hysterical faggots are over-reacting to nothing", which is in some cases disturbingly close to an accurate assessment of the sentiment expressed by people telling us to quieten down.

Having spent some time reading and listening to those who oppose gay rights, there's a certain style to their rhetoric. In many, many cases, the words and language convey kindness and a desire to help, but the sentiment behind them is deeply painful to the gay target. An example is in the motivations anti-gay people ascribe to themselves: where they say they're only so opposed to homosexuals being homosexuals because they love us and want to "rescue" us from the "evils" we face by being "in the homosexual lifestyle". I wonder if it has ever even occurred to them that they just told those of us who don't want to be "rescued" that they think we're in love with our "evil". Why else would we actively resist any attempts to "rescue" us, in their opinion?

I don't know if this duel-messaging is intentional, but it comes off as passive-aggressive: publicly conveying insulting messages, but then acting deeply hurt and shocked when called out on it, insisting that they never said anything insulting at all. Anyone who's been on the receiving end of such a tactic will know how deeply infuriating it is, made all the worse when others insist that it's the target who's in the wrong for losing their temper over "nothing".

Glenn Greenwald has suggested that the existence of the controversy here "is a proxy for numerous pre-existing conflicts and agendas that have nothing to do with Rick Warren". I do think that the anger has something to do with Rick Warren, or rather with evangelical anti-gay sentiment in general. It's frustrating that an evangelical can casually say in response to a question about gay marriage that "a committed boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is not a marriage. Two lovers living together is a not a marriage. Incest is not marriage. A domestic partnership or even a civil union is still not marriage", and then we get berated for suggesting that he just equated gay marriage with incest, and get lectured that Pastor Warren "shows no indication of hate or bigotry". The frustration at that false statement from someone who claims to be on our side needs an outlet.

It's unfortunate that the outlet has become Rick Warren's presence at Obama's inauguration, because it's a symbolic gesture really matters very little, if at all. But telling gay people to "quieten down", while making ZERO effort to understand the source of their anger, no matter how misdirected it might currently be, won't make them quieten down. It'll probably make us more frustrated, and noisier, especially if you give indications that you don't see what's going on. The "loving" and "compassionate" language of evangelicals is deeply hurtful to us, and we fear that people don't see the hurt it's causing.

Please don't give us reason to believe that our fear is justified.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: footnotes 4, 5 and 6

The pamphlet "21 reasons why gender matters" can be found online here.

Footnote 4 is intended to act as clarification rather than an academic cite. The footnote is used to back away somewhat from the claims made in the pamphlet so far that give the impression they believe that gender variation is 100% biologically determined. The footnote mentions that "environmental influences certainly have a role to play". Unfortunately such acknowledgement of environmental influence extends only to a concern about resisting "cultural norms which may constrain the free and natural expression of males and females". I take issue with the argument that environmental factors have such a tiny role to play, but the footnote serves a reasonable function even though it isn't citing anything.

Verdict on Footnote 4: Null Verdict (explanatory footnote, not a cite)

Footnote 5 once again offers an opportunity to explain just what the writers mean when they define homosexuality with the pseudo-scientific sounding label "gender disorientation pathology". This footnote once again fails to do so, once again merely citing the pamphlet itself by saying "See Section 11". Section 11 will (if I ever get there) be dealt with in due course.


Footnote 6 is from the book "Taking Sex Differences Seriously", by Steven Rhoads. The quote is "Sex differences are large, deeply rooted and consequential. Men and women still have different natures, and, generally speaking, different preferences, talents and interests....These differences can be explained in part by hormones and other physiological and chemical distinctions between men and women. Thus they won't disappear unless we tinker with our fundamental biological natures".

The full quote in the original source, with the small amount of redacted text emphasised here, reads "Men and women still have different natures, and, generally speaking, different preferences, talents and interests.The book provides evidence that these differences can be explained in part by hormones and other physiological and chemical distinctions between men and women. Thus they won't disappear unless we tinker with our fundamental biological natures".

The omitted text is logical to remove, but removing it may give the impression that the book is repeating established and uncontested fact about the hormonal/physiological basis of sex difference, while keeping it in illustrates that the author is making an argument and preventing evidence which is contestable. I'm unsure if I should consider this misleading or not.

In any case, examining this footnote means examining the merits of the argument of the book.

The book author - Rhoads - has this to say in response to possible criticism of his work, on page 6: "I will not consider my argument disproved if some of my evidence is questioned. There is so much of it that what remains will be enough to challenge the dominant ideology of the last thirty years that sees men and women as having fundamentally equivalent natures and goals".

So, to challenge Rhoad's argument, Rhoad thinks I need to read his whole book, and then examine each and every book and study that he cites. You begin to see why critically engaging with footnotes like this is very rarely done. I'll say for now that the original source was represented accurately in footnote 6 of the pamphlet (well, except for that slight omission), without going into the relative merits of the source itself. I'd like to though, someday.

Verdict on Footnote 6: Accurately Represented

I wonder how long I can keep doing this?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Strange arguments from supporters of Conroy's censorship proposal

The backlash against Senator Conroy's proposed Internet filter for Australia made the New York Times. Two supporters of the filter were quoted in it.

Clive Hamilton, described by the Times as "a senior ethics professor at the Australian National University and a supporter of the plan", said "The laws that mandate upper speed limits do not stop people from speeding, does that mean that we should not have those laws?.....We live in a society, and societies have always imposed limits on activities that it deems are damaging.....There is nothing sacrosanct about the Internet."

Mr Hamilton seems confused about the difference between a legal restriction like laws against speeding and a technological limitation like what's being proposed for the Australian Internet. This filter is not like passing a law - is Mr Hamilton not aware that child pornography is already illegal in Australia?

The correct analogy to Senator Conroy's proposal in the context of speeding would be as if the government started requiring all cars manufactured in Australia to be made in such a way that they could not go over the speed limit at all. Needless to say, no cars in Australia are made like this, and no car maker would ever accept such a stupid and technologically ignorant demand. I admit I don't fully understand the technical details that make such a thing unachievable in today's cars, but I trust the people who do understand when they say that cars need to be made the way that they're made: with the ability to let the user violate speeding laws. It is the task of the user, not the car, to respect the law and refrain from doing so.

And yet when the people who understand the technology that drives the Internet say that requiring an ISP to filter Internet traffic won't work and is a technically ignorant demand, their expertise is ignored because the answer "it can't be done", no matter how accurate and no matter how well-informed the person giving the answer, is not the answer that Senator Conroy wants to hear. And we get subjected to quotes from ethics professors who confuse the issue with inaccurate analogies.

The other supporter was the group ChildWise, who said filtering child pornography on the Internet would be "a victory for common sense". I guess ChildWise is still in denial about the (lack of) effectiveness of the proposed filter.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: Footnote 3

For reference the pamphlet "21 Reasons Why Gender Matters" can be found online here.

Footnote 3 is provided as evidence that the brains of men and women are different, claiming "for example, one University of Massachusetts researcher reported that “at least 100 differences in male and female brains have been described so far”." The quote is a secondary quote, footnoted as being "cited in Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens, The Mind of Boys. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005, p. 46.

It was tricky to track down for two reasons. The first was that they got the title of the book they cited slightly wrong, and while the difference between "The Mind of Boys", and "The Minds of Boys" (complete title is "The Minds of Boys: Saving our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life") may seem unimportant, it can mean the difference between a successful and a failed Google Book Search.

The second was that the quote in the book was cited in the book from another source, not published there originally. I found the details for the original source. The unnamed-in-the-pamphlet University of Massachusetts researcher has a name: Nancy Forger. The quote from her is not from any academic work, but from a news article. The footnotes in "The Minds of Boys" give the following source: "Quoted in Amanda Onion, 'Sex in the Brain: Research Showing Men and Women Differ in More than One Area', ABC News, Sep 21 2004". This article does not appear to be online anymore at abcnews.com.

I'm forced to rely on what appears to be a reposting of some or all of the original article on a web forum. Again, the quote isn't quite right. "The Minds of Boys" lists the quote as given above, but this repost of the news article includes an extra word: "At least 100 sex differences in male and female brains have been described so far" (emphasis added).

So after all that, does this footnote support the claim that the pamphlet makes in the main text? Yes, as far as demonstrating the existence of differences in brain structure between the sexes goes. But Nancy Forger makes a further statement that isn't included in either the pamphlet or the book quoting her. From the article itself:
This kind of research [searching for differences between sexes in the brain] remains controversial, as does any work that looks for explanations for human behavior in the brain. But most researchers looking into differences of the brain are quick to point out that there are many more differences in the brain just between individuals than between groups of people or between the sexes.

"Men and women are more the same than different in the brain — without a question," said Forger. "But," she added, "little differences can go a long way."

When the pamphlet states in the main text that "our brains are different", it seems to me that they are vastly overstating the limited findings so far. They leave the findings behind completely in the very next sentence, claiming that "such hardwired differences explain why men and women are so different in areas of behaviour, perceptions, the way they process information, and so on".

While there is some of evidence of some difference in brain structure provided, the news article (not a research paper) cited does not support claims about those differences as grandiose as those made in the pamphlet.

Verdict on Footnote 3: Exaggerated

Friday, December 05, 2008

Islamic school controversy: the news reporting is confusing me

After reading about allegations that a Muslim school had banned singing of the Australian national anthem because singing the anthem, or possibly the anthem itself, was against the "Islamic view and ethos", I'm now reading conflicting reports about what really happened. I'm confused about what was in the memo that's the source of the controversy. Later reports only heighten my confusion.

What exactly about the entire situation was against the "Islamic view and ethos"? The news reporting says that "his [the teacher's] proposal for students to sing Advance Australia Fair was ruled to be against the 'Islamic view and ethos'". It doesn't say what specifically about the proposal was problematic. But despite that my reading of the news report strongly implies that we should believe that there's something inherently incompatible between Islam and the national anthem as far as the school is concerned.

The school and its defenders are also disputing the characterisation of their actions as a blanket "ban". And I would dispute the characterisation of their actions as a ban as well, even if it turned out that the national anthem was never sung at any school event at all (which is not actually the case, as per the school officials): it's not as if the decision not to enforce the singing of the anthem is the same thing as explicitly preventing it. Calling this a "ban" makes no sense to me: something is not forbidden just because it's not actively promoted.

I'm also desperately trying to reach back in memory to my school years and failing: I don't recall if I was required to sing the national anthem at every assembly or not. I vaguely recall that I was expected to sing it at some, but I also vaguely remember some in which I didn't. My memory may be faulty or the situation may have changed, but is this school doing something unusual by not expecting the national anthem to be played at every assembly, if that's actually all that they're doing?

It's not entirely clear to me if the anthem was not going to be sung at every assembly or just some. The linked article in the Australian does provide the tantalising quote from the memo saying "the singing of the anthem will be put on hold", but provides no context as to when. Or why. I think that's the main problem I'm having here: the full text of the memo which is the entire source of the controversy is not being made available. By anyone - the newspapers quoting from it or the school that authored it. I find that disconcerting.

Where is the original text? Why is nobody making it available?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: Footnote 2

Footnote 2: inaccurately listed as a second "footnote 1" in the main text. It's purportedly a source for the claim that "some people" refer to a condition called "gender disorientation pathology" (by which they mean "homosexuality"). It isn't a real academic footnote, saying only "refer to Section 15" of the exact same pamphlet.

Section 15 of the pamphlet concerns homosexuality and is predominantly, but not completely, unfootnoted pseudoscientific gobbledygook like "Many homosexuals report that as children, they had a dysfunctional relationship with their same-sex parent - such relationships being their primary means of gender identification and affirmation". Those limited areas which were footnoted in that section will, hopefully, be dealt with in time.


PS Failing to footnote correctly by repeating "footnote 1" twice in the text? Sloppy.

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: Footnote 1

Well, this is going to get old really quickly, but I said I'd do it. I'm going to attempt to go through each footnote of the pamphlet 21 reasons why gender matters and check their validity. Having already seen 1 outright lie buried in footnote 82, I'd like to go through as many as I can for as long as I can. Can I do all 178? Probably not, but I'll attempt it.

To start with, Footnote 1: used to support the claim that "The great majority of single-parent families are fatherless". The footnote reads "In 2006, 87% of one-parent families with children under 15 years were headed by mothers. “Australian Social Trends, 2007: One Parent Families.” Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007."

Original source is here. The footnote's characterisation of the data is accurate.

However, the main text of the pamphlet's characterisation of this data is not. Note that the claim is that children in these families "grow up fatherless". However, according the ABS study quoted, the majority of single-parent families are created from divorce. A further substantial proportion are created from the break-up of de facto couples. Therefore the children from these families have had fathers in the lives, and in some cases may still do so, albeit only in the form of the father's visitation rights. They are not "fatherless" in the alarmist sense that the pamphlet claims.

This is not the evidence of masculinity in crisis that the pamphlet authors claim it is. It is evidence of the unfortunate prevalence of divorce, and possibly an argument that courts in custody battles side with the mother of a child much more than the father (a VERY common complaint of fathers in custody battles, by the way). But the conclusions drawn by this pamphlet here are misleading.

Verdict on Footnote 1: HALF-TRUTH

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thoughts on the Lori Drew conviction

I think the most complete summation of the Lori Drew case is the Wikipedia page on Megan Meier. Short summary: a teenage girl (Megan) killed herself after receiving bullying-style messages on Myspace from a person she believed to be a 16-year old boy ("Josh Evans"), but was in fact a fake account created by the mother ("Lori Drew") of one of her schoolfriends ("Sarah Drew"). Lori has since been charged and convicted, although the charges brought against her don't really seem to match up with the crime: three charges of using a computer account without authorisation.

I can't really find myself in agreement with any of the interests who've presented an opinion on the issue so far. Neither the lawmakers pushing for "cyber-bullying" to be outlawed in the wake of this case nor the people thinking this case tells us nothing new seem to have it right, in my opinion.

danah boyd rightly notes the foolishness of blaming this occurence on computer technology, and highlights the problem of treating "cyber-bullying" as somehow distinct from and more dangerous than offline bullying: all that the internet has done in many instances is made what was a private activity between youth into a public one. Blaming the computer for what people do with them is stupid. But I disagree that this particular case is no different from what has gone before.

Perhaps I'm losing touch in my old age with how young people use the internet these days, but there is one aspect of this bullying case that is completely new to me. It is the fact that much of the emotional abuse inflicted on Megan Meier came from a "person" she was interacting with was a fake identity, and she didn't know that.

Regular internet users are deeply concerned that Drew's conviction was basically for violating that part of Myspace's TOS which states that people should not use a fake identity. I believe that they're right insofar as this could be used against anyone who adopts a pseudonym online at some point (i.e. a huge percentage of the entire Internet-using population). But that doesn't really conform to the situation in this case. The key, in my opinion, is not that the identity was fake, but that Megan Meier thought it was real.

According to the wiki article, the people behind the account went to a great deal of trouble at giving that impression of reality. They provided legitimate-sounding explanations to conceal possible avenues of exposing the account as fake: claiming that "Josh Evans" had no home phone (no contact outside Myspace), was home-schooled (no school to verify his identity with), and had only recently moved into town (accounting for a suspicious lack of long-term local friends). This is, to my mind, very different from some teen or twenty-something deciding to post under the moniker "Pete_Wentz_can_have_my_babies!!!!" instead of their real name. They should be treated differently.

So merely signing on under a different name should not have been grounds to prosecute Lori Drew. The fact that she did not disclose that the fake identity was fake - and took active steps to make it appear real - places it in a different - and worse - category than regular internet anonymity, in my opinion.

Here's where I get speculative: Meier's presumption of validity of "Josh Evans'" identity may have led to a perception of that identity's actions which would be different from what it would be if that identity was known to be fake. The faker could exploit this, inflicting emotional abuse of a type that is qualitatively different, perhaps quantitatively different as well, from what would otherwise be available. In other words, the fact that "Josh Evans" was a fake identity pretending to be a real one may have provided new and interesting ways of exacerbating the harassment. Did that upping of the ante push Megan Meier to suicide in a way that regular online bulling would not have done?

Despite that possibility, I hesitate to say that a blanket prohibition on such deceptive use of a fake identity should be enacted in law. I'm having difficulty seeing where adopting a fake identity and passing it off as real could have a positive benefit that could not still be provided by adopting a fake identity that is known to be a fake, but that may be simply becausing I'm focusing too much on the current situation. Should such identity fraud - not just anonymity, but actively passing a fake identity off as real - be illegal? Should it be illegal only under certain circumstances? if so, which ones? Should it perhaps not be a crime in itself, but be treated as an aggravating factor when considering the punishment given for other crimes that can involve it?

In any case, any such law should have no reference to technology in my opinion. It's the fact of identity fraud, not the use of computer technology to enable it, that is the issue. And I do think that some sort of law needs to be enacted: the very fact that vigilante justice was meted out against Lori Drew suggests to me that there is an interest in dispensing justice here which the law as currently written can't successfully serve.

Mercy Ministries' instructions for Demonic Exorcism leaked

I'm sorry I missed this when it was first reported: Mercy Ministries' exorcism books have been leaked. This is noteworthy in that Peter Irvine, then-head of MM, had earlier specifically denied that his group used such techniques: "There’s no exorcism, no driving out of spirits it’s not how the program works".

The book is called "Restoring the Foundations" and...well, read the article and check out the excerpts Livenews have put online for yourself. I'm just trying to make sense of picture 5. I'm pretty sure that's a list of demons, based on the information provided by the pseudonymous "Megan Smith" about how it all works. If so, then I'd have to say that "lesbianism" is actually one of the less surprising things to be listed there as demonically inspired. Check it out.