Adam Says Farewell to DAG

Five years ago, then newly elected City Councilmember Kevin Roden arranged a meeting with the now defunct Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity at UNT. He asked me if I would be interested in forming a citizen’s committee to help the city rewrite their rules governing drilling and natural gas production. This was shortly after the council had approved three wells near McKenna Park amidst great controversy. I agreed and wrote up a one page document outlining the basic idea of an informal, ‘shadow,’ advisory and educational commission. And that’s how the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group was born. Across the years, it changed a lot, including a name change to the Denton Drilling Awareness Group. I served as Chair, then Vice President, then President, then Board Member.

And today, I attended my last Board meeting. After five years, I am no longer a part of DAG. I depart on good terms with all the current members – Rhonda, Tara Linn, Ed, Carol, Michael, and Emily – and I am confident they will continue to do great things. I look forward to supporting them however I can as a fan and occasional volunteer. I have recently been voted in as the Vice President of the Board for the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and I just decided that both jobs would be too much.

I thought I would make this announcement so that everyone would know. Clearly, now when and if I speak in public about fracking I only speak for myself and not on behalf of DAG.

night

I want to thank everyone who has been involved over these past five years. I learned so much and took so much joy in serving my city and fellow citizens. It’s crazy to think now about all that was involved – I wrote over 300 blogs first on the dentondrilling site and then on frackfreedenton.com, produced several videos, wrote many op-eds, participated in a few debates, and hosted dozens of meetings. But that was only a tiny slice of the work that took a whole community to accomplish – reaching out to neighbors, printing flyers, writing reports, raising funds, marching in parades, playing music, making art, writing letters to the editor, making signs, making phone calls, speaking at City Hall, driving down to Austin, working the polls, voting, protesting, and so much more.

Now, if you are a pessimist you might say that after all that, given HB 40, we are right back where we started. But that’s not just too bleak of a view – it’s wrong. Because we have come a long ways. So many people have been educated. So many people have tuned into their power as citizens. So many people have gotten activated to take part in our public sphere. And we won that glorious victory on November 4, 2014. Nothing can ever take that away…and nothing can ever take away that feeling of empowerment and the bonds of community that we have forged.

So, thank you to everyone who has played a part in Denton’s fracking saga these past five years. And my very best wishes to DAG as they go forward and to our entire city as we struggle toward justice.

Asthma, Gender, Numbers, Self

I have lately seen both of my children intersect with the realm of medical and social labels. A kid who likes short hair and Star Wars becomes “transgender.” A kid who coughs and is prone to pneumonia becomes “asthmatic.”

The labels help some and hurt some. It is good to know there are others out there like you and your family. It is good to know there are things to do. I take the labels seriously. But I try not to reify them and let them do the thinking for me. Asthma, for example, is not well defined. Our different pediatricians disagree about the diagnosis. Even those who like the diagnosis admit that asthma is really a catch-all term for lots of poorly understood stuff about breathing problems.

How many asthmatics are there? Well, it’s an unanswerable question, because the term is so loose. How many transgender people are there? Well, I think ditto. That doesn’t mean there is no such thing as being asthmatic or transgender. It just means human categories are often poor approximations of reality. Breath is a spectrum from in to out. Gender is a spectrum. It’s ok, just breathe.

Is Lulu really asthmatic? I don’t think that matters as much as trying to do things that help her to flourish. Is MG transgender? Again, ditto. So, I understand the need for short-hand labels. But beware the way labels become impersonal signifiers. They become numbers and data points that get used this way and that. They hide the faces behind them – the unique stories. They are like the eyes of Medusa – they freeze into stone a living, changing self.

disney

People sometimes ask how a child who is only eight years old could possibly identify with a gender that doesn’t correspond to their sex or the gender assigned at birth. Kids are too young, they say.

Well, maybe it seems less weird if you consider that an eight year old is also a 3,000 day old or a 4,320,000 minute old.  Have you ever spent all day with a three or four year old? It can seem like an eternity. Now stretch those eternities across eight years and you can remind yourself of how it is to be a person. The slow work of unfurling, becoming, self-knowing.

So much is packed into a day of, say, a five year old. The bathroom saga. The toothbrush dilemma. The board games strewn around the toy room. The sore fingers from tying water balloons. The skinned knee from falling off the trampoline. The inconsolable rage at your sister. The unstoppable laughter when tickled. The adventure of making lunch. And dear god it’s not even afternoon yet.

We used to play make believe zoo, then make believe garbage monsters, we learned to swim, we used to be a white belt in Taekwondo and of course we used to not do Taekwondo, we used to really be into Spiderman, Minecraft on again off again, we used to love Caillou (thank god that is over).

We used to say there are lots of ways to be a girl. Now we say he is a boy. Dresses went away at the age of 2. Asking questions about whether scientists can turn us into boys at the age of 4. Short hair at the age of 5. Changed pronouns at the age of 6 and a half – really 6 and three quarters. That didn’t happen overnight. Day by day – slow and slow – things change. But some things go away and some things develop. We don’t play garbage monsters any more, but we are still wearing our hair short. We are still convinced “pretty” is a derogatory term. We still identify as boys. We still are boys. We are still who we have always been, though changed, of course.

Transition, metamorphosis, selfhood. I wonder if we can keep all of this in mind when we talk about bathrooms and gender identity. We all have spent millions of minutes becoming who we are and being who we become.

So, please be conscious of the way labels can trigger in your mind instant assumptions, boxes in which you then file people away – good or bad, blessed or cursed, odd or normal. No eternity of days can be captured in a single word. And no word can substitute for listening ears and loving care.

Never Trust Someone the FBI Hasn’t Visited

Shortly after the scary fliers about anarchists and outsiders came out, my family had a medical emergency. I suppose the buzz has now all died down, but I did want to say just a couple of words.

citizenslocalgov

Cindy Spoon and Will Wooten are not outsiders. They live in Denton and they care very much about this place. There is no international organization pulling their strings. They are not puppets – they are thoughtful, autonomous adults. So what if they draw some inspiration from an organization that has its historical roots abroad? Christianity, anyone? And don’t Republicans and Democrats have ties with “Washington, D.C.”? How scandalous this all is!

I know Cindy better than Will and can, thus, speak more to her character. I think she has become one of the smartest political minds in our town. I mean not just that she is savvy, but also that she has a very strong grasp of the perennial themes at stake in politics — about power, privilege, community, and communication.

I think anarchy, understood in its philosophical sense, is a beautiful thing. I’m probably too much of a fuddy-duddy (I won’t say ‘realist,’ cuz that is a total cop out) to live up to that ideal. But I like that it is part of our intellectual/political milieu around here. I keep a copy of To Change Everything in my backpack. It’s good stuff. What’s so wrong about thinking radical thoughts? After all, much of our world – the world we take for granted – is utterly fucked up and unjust.

And what is so wrong with civil disobedience? Yeah, we’ve had some encounters with the FBI. So what? Given that our existing legal order is in such dire need of change, I think we should be suspicious of anyone the FBI has NOT visited. What’s so wrong with you that you are so normal in the midst of this insanity?

Now, keep in mind that I am a supporter of Joey Hawkins, though I wish that his statement would have been much stronger against the fliers.

You, Ma’am, Need Jesus

Here is how the script goes.

A Christian conservative, says something about keeping men out of women’s bathrooms. He gets a bunch of likes on Facebook and supporters who comment “Yeah, give those trans perverts a bathroom of their own labeled ‘confused’ LOL!”

Then someone on the left calls him a hateful monster and brainless excuse for a human being. The two sides shout at each other online for a while until the next story distracts them.

When Tracy Murphree, the Republican candidate for Denton County Sheriff, took to Facebook last week, the script played out. He wrote, “If my little girl is in a public women’s restroom and a man, regardless of how he may identify, goes into the bathroom, he will then identify as a John Doe until he wakes up in whatever hospital he may be taken to.” There was a chorus of “Amens” on his page. Mr. Murphree said he would not arrest someone who had beaten a man in a women’s restroom. Like a county clerk refusing to issue same sex marriage licenses, here was a soon-to-be county sheriff claiming a religious freedom exemption for assault without cause.

Then the other side launched into character assassinations of Mr. Murphree: “What a moronic bigot!”

My wife, Amber, criticized his comment, arguing that it puts our transgender son, MG, at risk of vigilante violence. She soon found herself in a media storm, because nothing gets clicks quite like a gender rumble. Yesterday, a news team came to our house. When the camera went on in our living room, she was set up to play her part in the hate fest. It was as if the director of our culture war had said, “And cue the angry mother of a transgender child…action!” Sit back and watch the sparks fly.

But Amber didn’t stoop to name calling. Instead, she said, “I don’t think Tracy is a bad person.” And for his part, Mr. Murphree apologized, admitted it was a mistake, and promised to have a meeting with the LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas.

We don’t always have to follow the script. The key is to acknowledge human imperfection, avoid the seduction of certainty, and try to get to know each other as human beings, not icons and comment boxes.

The people on Mr. Murphree’s page were oh-so-sure that they know everything there is to know about our family and our son. One of them wrote to Amber, “Give me a freaking break! I raised four kids. Sure, each of them wanted to wear heels etc. when they were little. I let them because they were toddlers! Then you tell them at age 4 & 5, no honey that’s for girls and that’s for boys! I’m not buying your story at all.” Another wrote, “this whole idea of your not born one sex or the other is ludicrous.” And another about our son, “At 8 years old he’s looking for direction. You should point him in the right one not leave him confused and encourage it. Wow…You, ma’am, need Jesus.”

The exclamation points tell us that she has it figured out. Even the most cursory exposure to our family is enough to know for sure that our story is not to be “bought.” The whole thing is patently absurd. There is one right direction and they, of course, know what it is.

If you begin with this kind of piety, rather than compassion, then the beginning is already the end. You already know it all. The only thing left is to spout your wisdom at the benighted masses and hope they find Jesus too.

Sometimes love and hate are hard to untangle. Mr. Murphree’s love for his children came out in a hateful way. I can relate. I bet most dads have felt so protective of their kids that they get that hot feeling in their chest, that righteous anger. It’s intoxicating. I felt that way when I first read his comments and those of his supporters. I love to hate them.

But if I check that impulse I am able to hear something that got passed over in the media frenzy. At least three times, Mr. Murphree referenced political correctness. For example, he said, “I won’t sacrifice my daughter’s safety to political correctness.” This is a man who feels like he couldn’t say something important, because a censorious culture filled with the same pious rectitude would label him bigoted and his concerns illegitimate. But there is a legitimate concern there. What if a culture of tolerance shames people into silence and leads others into harm? As Mr. Murphree later wrote, “I’m angered that when someone says bathrooms should be gender specific, they are made to be a horrible person.”

As an aside, I think our local politics has become diseased with the badgering dogmatism of political correctness. I can’t think out loud through different points of view or even share an article without the hounds nipping at my heels to get me back into the herd. When I stumped for the fracking ban, I’d always acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree. And then I’d give my best arguments for the ban. Being ardently committed to a cause yet retaining a sense of one’s own fallibility is a matter of tone and good grace. Now it feels like I am surrounded by the unimpeachable. It’s exhausting.

Those of us striving for a safe, tolerant, and fair society for transgender people are not going to succeed by shouting down others. As Jonathon Chait wrote, “Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree.”

So, how do we get people to agree with us? I think it takes face to face conversations.

barton

I’d love to talk with Mr. Murphree about his concern that allowing people to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity will “raises the odds” and “give a window” for sexual predators to commit crimes. From what I have read, that is exceedingly rare. According to Media Matters, non-discrimination policies do not lead to an increase in assault, voyeurism, or harassment. Even the American Family Association boycott pledge against Target cites only two examples, one of which just involved a guy taking off his shirt in the women’s locker room. So, I’d like to ask him why there is so much fear.

I’d also like to know what he means by “a man, regardless of how he may identify.” I imagine my son at the age of twenty being forced to use a women’s restroom because of a law that identifies him by birth certificate. I think that may be what Mr. Murphree has in mind, but then again in terms of how MG looks outwardly, a man is in the women’s room. I think he would want MG to use the men’s room. I think he would want trans women to use the women’s room. And of course, neither of us wants anyone to be assaulted or harassed. So, maybe we don’t have much to disagree about.

The last thing I would love to ask him is what he means when he says: “I have no issue with transgenders. That’s between them and God.” For me, the religious dimension is one of love. Christians have been given a radical call to love everyone, even the despised outsider lying in the ditch. Mr. Murphree admitted that his statement was un-Christian. I think that is a very Christian thing to do. And it’s a good place to start.

The Princess

One day, when the king and queen were not looking, the evil troll sprinkled a dark magic on the golden hair of the princess. He had always been jealous of the rose in her cheek and the wild in her eye. She was the keeper of the keys of the future – a place from which he was forever banished.

The queen and the princess went on a journey to visit their friends in the north. They did not know that the dark magic had already begun to take a hold of her little body. The king stayed home with the prince in their castle and watched the rain in dark strands among the green arms of brave oaks. He could have never imagined how such a steady world, an anchored earth, could so easily fall apart.

It was on the second night of the journey that the princess fell ill. The dark magic became gravel in her lungs. Rocks filled every alveolus. The bronchioles closed in. The bellows in her chest labored. The muscles in her neck strained with each inhalation. The queen almost allowed the princess to spend that night in bed with her little friend upstairs. Had that happened, she would have simply run out of air in the quiet of night with no one to know.

But as it was, an angel told the queen to keep her child close. The queen awoke to the rocky brackle of broken breathing. The princess, straining for air, drifted from slumber to stupor and back again. The queen wrapped the princess in her cloak and flew to the white palace of medicine.

lulu sick

All through the night and all through the morning, the healers worked. The queen sent home word to the king: “I don’t know what to say. They have been at it for many hours and she is not responding…”

There was a wretched silence. Un-nameable thoughts, unspeakable thoughts filled the king’s head. He had been in town at the academy where he liked to speak with the youth of the world. When that silence came, the king fell upon it and he shattered as if he had been made of the most fragile glass.

A wind must have blown the shards of him back to the castle, for the next thing he knew he was in the princess’s room. He picked up her books and arranged them on her shelves. He picked up her dolls. He picked up her puzzles. It was too quiet. Would it always be so? The alphabet spilled in nonsense across the floor. The gauze of speculation that always clouded his mind had been ripped off with the scaly claw of mortality. His consciousness had never before been such a desert.

And time had stopped. The future no longer existed. All clocks break when the princess is sick. The walls of the castle wept. The corner stone began to jar loose.

The king clawed at his chest in the silence. He wanted to rip out his heart. What sort of thing can cause such harrowing grief, what foul necessity, what pump of incessant pain? He lit candles. There is no reckoning for this.

The princess lay for hours on the tipping point. Drift one way and the bloom of youth returns. Drift the other way, and… The king had now gone mad. He’d been pulverized by the relentless silence. The queen was the only one strong enough to stand guard over the child. The king would not have been able to watch life drain from limpid arms and ashen cheeks. He could not have stood to hear the brattling and crackling wheezes. Life is far too horrible for man. Only the one who assembled her from her own body could know the depth of the well of life.

Slowly, all too slowly, the dark magic began to subside. The healers began to flush out the gravel. The queen held the hand of the princess and chanted her back into the land of the living.

From far away, the king heard the voice of the princess. He jumped on a dragon and flew to her. When he walked into her room in the palace she was asleep. When she awoke, she did not recognize him at first. She had been so very far away, hidden behind so many boulders with only the faintest shaft of air to sustain her. But it wasn’t long before her eyes lit up above her oxygen tubes.

Two days later, the king and the princess where back in the castle. He showed her the places where the stones had begun to crumble when she had been sick. She only laughed. He laughed too. It is good to laugh, he thought.

lulu home

They played in the room that he had cleaned. Never before had he been so happy to see it in disarray. She did his hair and his nails. He ordered many pretend meals.

And then they found a tiny field mouse trapped in a bucket. How in the world did he get in there, they wondered. The king picked up the bucket and took his daughter’s hand as they walked outside. She showed him a good spot in the grass by the brave oaks. “We shall let him go here,” she said. “Very well,” the king replied, and he tipped over the bucket as gently as he could.

The mouse twitched his nose and blinked his wet black eyes at the wide world around. The princess delighted in the way his jumping legs carried him through the hummock and into the thicket. The king marveled at the audacity of such a little thing against the impossibly large horizon bedecked in dark clouds. He squeezed the still living hand of the wild-eyed princess and they walked back inside.

The Weird Science of Religious Transphobia

The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act signed into law by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant protects people from state sanctions when they act on “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The bill makes it lawful for people (whether judge, florist, limousine driver, or disc-jockey) to refuse to participate in same-sex marriages. Religious organizations can refuse employment, housing, and services to LGBT persons. Doctors can refuse certain treatments for transgender individuals. Employers and schools can require transgender individuals to dress in ways and use restrooms that do not match their gender identity.

Many have rightly denounced the bill. Yet its most dangerous aspect has not been highlighted: it clothes discrimination against transgender people in the authoritative garb of science. In so doing, it raises some of the ugliest specters in the history of modern oppression. Eugenics, racism, slavery, sexism – science has long been used to justify dehumanization and discrimination.

One of the beliefs protected by this law is that “Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” With this appeal to the scientific terms of biology, genetics, anatomy, and objectivity, the bill seeks to accomplish the old sleight of hand whereby nature displaces politics. The Mississippi legislature has not decided who shall count as male and female – they are only the modest witnesses to what Mother Nature has already unalterably inscribed!

Inconveniently for them, this sincerely held belief about the ‘immutable’ binary of sex is wrong. Indeed, it’s just as wrong as Ron Burgundy’s blithe pronouncement that women have brains one third the size of men. “It’s science,” he says with that lovable confidence of a dunce unaware of his own density.

Like the chauvinist 1970s anchorman, the people behind this bill don’t really care or know much about the science of sex. They just want a sledgehammer to put an end to an argument that has gotten too complex for them and pushed them out of their comfort zone. As we all know, “It’s anchor-man, not anchor-lady. That is a scientific fact!”

Still it’s worth pointing out just how much evidence there is against the belief that male and female are objectively determined by biology. There are human chimeras like one pregnant woman who found out in her forties that a significant portion of her body is actually chromosomally male. Nearly everyone is a mosaic of genetically distinct cells, some with a sex that doesn’t match the rest of the body. Roughly one in 100 individuals has some form of differences of sex development (DSDs). Some of these people have a sexual anatomy that says one thing and chromosomes that say something else. There are individuals who are genetically XX but who develop as males if they have a copy of a certain gene.

Men often carry cells from their mothers and mothers carry cells from their sons, which might actually integrate into their tissues and adopt a working role in the body. Then there are those cases where grown men who are XY with normal external male genitalia discover they also have a fully functioning uterus and ovaries. And of course all of this is not even to mention that gender is the quest for personal identity, a moral and psychological saga that overlays its own intricacies atop this jumbled biological bazaar.

That announcement at the time of birth (It’s a boy!) is not an objective determination based on the dictates of chromosomes and their anatomical expression. It’s a snap judgment based on a first look – in many ways, the opposite of science.  Our bodies are not blank slates, to be sure. We each have a nature that we spend a lifetime responding to – refining, resisting, seeking, exploring. We don’t determine our chromosomes. But neither do they determine us. Our personal identity, including our gender identity, is a personal project shaped, but not fated, by our biology.

“He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them human” (Gen. 5:2). There are two poles, male and female, that anchor a stable cosmic order where one can feel at home. That’s the basis of this sincerely held belief. I understand the urge to ward off the disorienting thrust of what seems like a nihilistic culture. And I can see the strategy of trying to galvanize deeply felt intuitions (what Aristotle called nous, or worldviews) with science, which is the authoritative voice of that culture.

But this isn’t just dangerous and wrong; it’s nonsense. For science, no belief, no matter how sacred or ensconced in tradition, is beyond critical examination. Science is the last place to look for refuge. All convictions live with their necks in the guillotine. Objectivity is not a shield to guard established truths, but the shining blade poised overhead. And science is beheading old beliefs about immutable sex and gender binaries.

Religious liberty has become the conservative flavor of PC culture – a censorious wall protecting beliefs from the harsh light of examination. It’s state sanctioned confirmation bias, as if we don’t have enough of that in the age of personalized media. We don’t really know what’s going on with sex and gender. We just know it is more freaky and complex than we once assumed. Insofar as science can inform our policies, it can’t be as a brine to pickle outdated ideas, but as a model of humility in the face of a changing world.

Guest Post: A Reply from Brian Daskam at DME

A couple of days ago, I made an argument that we might be able to restructure our capital investment schedule to make the 100% renewable option more affordable. Brian Daskam with Denton Municipal Electric wrote to me today with a reply and I’d like to share it here. So, here is his note to me:

Adam,
 
In your recent blog post you wrote about, “How Denton Can Afford 100% Renewable Energy.” As always, I appreciate your interest in this project, as well as the humility you bring to the discussion. In your final paragraph you say, “Now, if I am wrong, someone please let me know how.” In fact, the post does make a mistake about how electric transmission infrastructure projects are funded in Texas, and this mistake makes a real difference to your analysis.
 
DME invests in electrical infrastructure to meet new growth in the city as well as to replace aging infrastructure. Reviewing these activities, you make an analogy:
 
“It’s as if we have an old house and we decided to remodel it and at the same time build an addition on the west side.”
 
It would certainly cost money for a homeowner to remodel and expand their house, and you claim that DME’s capital investment projects also, “makes for a bigger mortgage.” You push the analogy further by saying that we should install solar panels as part of the remodel (i.e. go 100% renewable) and hold off on some of the other improvements as a way to save money. Perhaps this would be a way to achieve 100% renewable energy without raising rates.
 
It’s worth mentioning that, like all analogies, this one can only go so far. Families often remodel their homes for reasons of comfort and aesthetics. As such, we think of these as non-essential expenditures. Electrical infrastructure is different. New housing developments are being built in Denton and the downtown area continues to experience infill development. Those homes and business expect power, and are not likely to view electric service as non-essential. As our infrastructure ages, it needs to be replaced for the sake of the safety of Denton’s residents. Neglecting this duty would be unacceptable.
 
Furthermore, even if we decided to be irresponsible, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would not allow us to be. FERC is the federal agency with regulatory oversight of our transmission system, and DME’s capital improvement plans are developed to be in compliance with FERC requirements.
 
But imagine that both DME and FERC decided to neglect their duties. The analogy still has a major flaw which has to do with how transmission infrastructure projects are financed in Texas. We can generally presume that a family would save money by reducing or delaying a home renovation. Not only is this different from how DME’s electric transmission infrastructure projects work, it is exactly the opposite.
 
All rate payers in ERCOT share the cost of transmission infrastructure projects. If a new transmission line is built in San Antonio or a new substation is energized in Dallas, rate payers across the state reimburse the entity for the cost of constructing those projects. Because Denton rate payers are funding the transmission projects of others in ERCOT, we need a different analogy. It’s as if we live in a large apartment complex. Each tenant is able to make approved improvements to their apartment, and each renter shares the cost of those improvements. It’s worth noting here that solar panels (i.e. going 100% renewable) would not qualify for these funds, since they are considered generation rather than transmission.
 
Even this analogy doesn’t go far enough. You might think that reducing our own costs related to infrastructure improvement would still reduce our costs, however modestly, since they are being shared with the entire state. But in fact, given how the Transmission Cost Recovery Factor works, if we reduced our own infrastructure spending while the rest of the state did not, we would see an increase in our costs.
 
So am I saying that Denton cannot afford to go 100% renewable? That is not my determination to make. DME presented estimated rate impacts of various scenarios, including 100% renewable. The City Council has repeatedly given DME direction to increase renewables while protecting rates and reliability. The Renewable Denton Plan is still the best plan that I have heard to meet that direction.
 
Thanks again for your continued interest and dialogue on this topic,

Brian Daskam
Manager of External Affairs
Denton Municipal Electric