Facebook Leaving its Users Furious!


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facebook (Photo credit: sitmonkeysupreme)

(CNN) — Every week, there’s a new Facebook thing to gripe about.

This week, there have been two — and it’s only Tuesday.

On Sunday, it was discovered that the 900 million-person social network was “testing” a feature that would let people see a digital list of the people who were nearby in real life. Called “Find Friends Nearby,” the app was pulled down by Tuesday morning after the Internet freaked out. Commenters said things like “Hell to the naw”and “BAD FACEBOOK!!” and generally complaining that the feature, which was difficult to find, much less use, invades privacy and will lead to stalking.

If that’s not enough, a company named Friendthem reportedly threatened a lawsuit, saying Facebook stole its idea for the location-aware feature. Apparently, Friendthem would like to share the heat.

Item two: A blogger noticed over the weekend that Facebook, without asking permission, had changed the default e-mail addresses of all of its digital residents to @facebook.com accounts. It’s easy enough to change back, as the site Lifehacker and others have detailed, but that little invasion of the hub of digital identity — the Facebook Timeline — was enough to make quite a few Facebookers fire back at their digital overlords. Security researchers called the move dangerous. Normal people felt violated.

“Up next: Facebook inside your underwear drawer!” a commenter wrote on our site.

So that was this week. But it seems like every week has been feeling a little like that.

The fact that an anti-Facebook sentiment bubbles beneath the currents of modern life is, of course, nothing new. When the company introduced the now-popular News Feed in September 2006, users threw a fit — and many abandoned the young network, at least for a moment.

Let’s put the brakes on for just a second and ask a few questions:

Are people mad about Facebook’s individual decisions — the e-mail, the tracking, the News Feed — or do the roots of this discontent reach into deeper, darker places? If it’s the latter, why are people so continually frustrated? Do we hold Facebook to too high of a standard? Is the social network turning its back on users? Or is it just that our digital lives are now so invested in Facebook that it would be nearly impossible to pull out at this point — and, because of that, we feel helpless?

Here are a few theories about what’s actually going on with people’s unhappiness with Facebook. Take a look and let us know which you think is most accurate — or offer up a theory of your own — in the comments.

Facebook has become an octopus

And by “octopus” we mean it’s got too many tentacles to manage. This theory is put forward by the blog the Next Web, which says Facebook is buying too many new companies — Instagram, Glancee — and trying too many new things. (This is a critique more commonly lobbed at Google, especially when it was launching one product after the next that flopped: Google Wave, Google Buzz, etc., etc.)

“When you start packing in more features while you’re removing none of them, feature creep will happen and users will start to ask the question ‘Why can’t they just make it easy for me to talk to my friends?’ ” Drew Olanoff wrote. “After all, that’s why people started leaving MySpace to go to Facebook in the first place, because it simply tried to do too much.”

Writing for Forbes, Kashmir Hill puts it this way: “Facebook would love to be the all-inclusive resort of the Web, replete with complementary digital daiquiris (that you’re forced to chug) upon entry.”

Facebook is a technocracy, and we want a democracy

As Alexis Madrigal writes for the Atlantic, Facebook has evolved into a “technocracy”: a government of sorts that’s run by engineers who value efficiency above all else. When you complain to the real-world government, you can expect a response — or you can use your voting power (or run for office) to push for change. At Facebook, 2 million complaints per week are handled largely by computers and a staff of a few hundred people. Their aim is to process as many issues per day as possible, to help people connect and, as Madrigal puts it, to stop people from leaving the site “by minimizing their negative experiences.”

“Facebook’s desire for efficiency means democracy is out and technocratic, developer-king rule is in,” he writes.

Even when the site does give its users a chance to weigh in on policy, Madrigal says, users don’t take up the offer. In a vote about a recent privacy policy change, 0.038% of users participated.

There’s no competition

Hope and pray all you want, but there’s no other online social network with 900 million people. Chances are, most of your friends are on Facebook, so even if you try to go to a competing network like Google+, it might be as fun as talking to your cat. Here’s a list of alternatives from our What’s Next blog, but none of them seems like actual competition in terms of numbers.

Facebook cares more about investors than users

Facebook went public this year, leading to criticisms that the site’s motives have changed. Is it focused on cash instead of users?

While that complaint may be premature — CEO Mark Zuckerbergmaintains a majority stake in the company, so he doesn’t have to listen to investors and his board all that much — the company’s IPO, and the billionaires and millionaires who resulted from it, doubtlessly cloud how people see Facebook’s motives. And it doesn’t help to know that, in mid-May, you were worth only $1.21 to Facebook.

“How much does Facebook value its users? In strictly monetary terms, about as much as a bag of chips,” David Goldman wrote for our sister site CNNMoney.com.

Or, as Slate put it, Facebook is “conducting an experiment in corporate dictatorship nearly without precedent for such a large and high-profile company.”

Facebook is no fun (anymore …)

I put the question of what’s really wrong with Facebook out on my Google Plus feed, in part because that network is a hotbed for Facebook defectors. Several followers brought up interesting points, the simplest of which is that Facebook, as it grew, became un-fun.

“Facebook started as a social network that was ‘fun’ to update your friends and classmates (since it started for-college students only) and grew into something that can affect your career, reputation and invade your privacy,” one user, identified as Julie Hancher, wrote.

Here’s another thought, from a person identified as Robert Sons:

“Bombardment with stories you don’t care about from people you barely care about. Depression that you’re jealously stalking other’s lives instead of living your own. Shallowness of content. The more content you absorb, the less valuable your own posts seem.”

And I’ll give the final word to Carlos Ochoa, who wrote, simply: “Everyone uses Facebook but nobody likes it.”

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Stop SOPA/PIPA Censorship! WCMA Joins the Strike!


January 18th is going to be amazing. Sites are striking in all different ways, but they are united by this: do the biggest thing you possibly can, and drive contacts to Congress. Put this on your site or automate it by putting this JS into your header, which will start the blackout at 8AM EST and end at 8PM EST.

WCMA is proud to Join that Strike! 

Learn More about Sopa/Pipa By Clicking Here

Websites: How to Strike


  1. Black out your website for 12 hours with this page’s HTML, or by putting this Javascript into your site’s theme. Tucows is doing this and so is BoingBoing.
  2. Other people have made tools to strike. Some other ways to strike:
  3. Don’t be silent that day. Tweet all day from your official company account (#SOPASTRIKE) and share news on sites like reddit. You will get much love in return from your users, and the bigger the action you do, the more love you will be feeling 🙂 – You can follow us on twitter for news as the strike gets closer. If you are really feeling shy, you can blackout your site logo / add STOP SOPA messages wherever you can.
×

Go On Strike By Adding This Code To Your Theme

Copy this code and paste it into the header of your theme to black your site out in protest of SOPA/PIPA. It will activate only on Wednesday, January 18th.

Everyone: Prepare to Strike


  1. If you have a Twitter account, tweet about the #SOPASTRIKE and ask your followers to get ready. You can follow us on twitter for news as the strike gets closer. Go to Blackout SOPA to add ‘STOP SOPA’ to your Twitter image.
  2. Post this SOPA Strike page to your Facebook account by clicking here.
  3. Get ready for January 18th! Email and tweet at your friends, tell them to tell everyone about the strike. When the day comes, call Congress, tweet like crazy (#SOPASTRIKE), and help the strike appear everywhere!
On Jan 24th, Congress will vote to pass internet censorship in the Senate, even though the vast majority of Americans are opposed. We need to kill the bill – PIPA in the Senate and SOPA in the House – to protect our rights to free speech, privacy, and prosperity. We need internet companies to follow Reddit‘s lead and stand up for the web, as we internet users are doing every day.
Posted in 1/18/2012 Strike, Censorship Strike, Internet Blackout, INTERNET STRIKE, Pipa, SOPA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Amanda Knox pleads for her freedom as murder appeal ends


Perugia, Italy (CNN) — American Amanda Knox, her voice trembling, made an emotional plea to an Italian court to overturn her murder conviction, saying she was paying with her life for something she has not done.

“People always ask who is Amanda Knox? I am the same person I was four years ago. But I have lost a friend. I have lost my faith in Italian police. I am paying with my life for something I have not done. Four years ago I didn’t know what suffering was,” Knox told the court, delivering her statement in Italian.

“I did not kill. I did not rape. I did not steal,” she added. “I was not there.”

Before Knox addressed the court, her co-defendent Raffaele Sollecito said he never hurt anybody.

Sollecito described the original investigation, the trial and the jailing as “living in a nightmare.”

“Amanda and I have spent 1,400 days in prison, more than 20 hours a day in a very small space,” he told the court.

Knox did not look at Sollecito as he addressed the court, though Sollecito detailed his relationship with her.

“We just wished to be together. Nothing else,” he said. “We just want to be able to overcome this thing now.”

His comments followed closing arguments by his and Knox’s defense attorney Luciano Ghirga, who railed against the murder investigation. Girga said his client’s conviction must be overturned because the case is based on “erroneous” evidence.

After the defendants spoke, the two judges and six jurors retired together to consider their ruling.

The two are fighting to be acquitted of the murder of Meredith Kercher. Prosecutors have called for the pair’s sentences — of 26 and 25 years, respectively — to be increased to life.

Knox and Sollecito were convicted of the killing and related crimes in December 2009. Their appeal has focused largely on DNA evidence found on a knife and on a bra clasp belonging to the victim.

Her words and Sollecito’s capped a dramatic week of closing arguments by the host of lawyers battling over the outcome, from the lawyer for a man falsely accused of the crime, who called Knox “Lucifer-like, demonic, Satanic,” to the Sollecito defense counsel Giulia Bongiorno, who insisted that like the buxom cartoon temptress Jessica Rabbit in the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Knox is not bad, just “drawn that way.”

Knox addressed this jury at least once before, telling them in June she was “shocked” at the testimony of the third person convicted of the crime, Rudy Guede, a drifter originally from the Ivory Coast. Guede admitted having sexual relations with Kercher but denied killing her.

Guede was sentenced separately to 30 years behind bars for the murder, a sentence that was reduced to 16 on appeal.

In June, he refused to tell the court hearing Knox and Sollecito’s appeal that they had not been involved.

A prosecutor then read a letter Guede had written to a newspaper from prison, saying he thought they had killed Kercher.

“The only time Rudy Guede, Raffaele Sollecito and I were in one room together was in a courtroom,” Knox told the court in June.

Her defense dismissed Guede’s letter as based on “a feeling,” not facts or events he witnessed.

Before the hearing began Monday, Knox’s stepfather told CNN he was optimistic about the outcome of the appeal. He made his way into the court through a throng of reporters, ignoring shouted questions from journalists.

Knox was 20 and Kercher was 21 years old, studying at Perugia’s university for foreign students, when Kercher’s semi-naked body was found in the house they shared.

Sollecito, 23 at the time, was Knox’s boyfriend, studying computer science at another university in Perugia.

Knox and Sollecito were convicted of the killing and related crimes in December 2009. Their appeal has focused largely on DNA evidence found on a knife and on a bra clasp belonging to the victim.

Prosecutors and police say Kercher’s genetic material was on the blade and Knox’s was on the handle, and that a Kercher bra clasp found at the crime scene had Sollecito’s DNA.

Defense lawyers and independent experts argued strenuously during the appeal that the DNA testing process was badly flawed and the results should be inadmissible.

Either side can appeal this court’s ruling to Italy’s High Court, but such an appeal will be on narrow technical grounds only.

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Michael Jackson slurred his speech after visits to Dr. Klein, aides say


Witness: Murray asked for CPR device

Tune in to HLN for full coverage and analysis of the Conrad Murray trial and watch live, as it happens, on CNN.com/live and CNN’s mobile apps.

Los Angeles (CNN)Michael Jackson slurred his speech after visits to Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Arnold Klein, trips that became “very regular” for the pop star in the weeks before his death, Jackson’s personal assistant testified Wednesday.

Defense lawyers for Dr. Conrad Murray, who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death, contend that Klein addicted the singer to Demerol during those visits, something Murray did not know about.

His withdrawal from that Demerol addiction was what kept Jackson awake despite Murray’s efforts to put him to sleep with sedatives the morning he died, the defense contends, arguing that Klein is at least partly responsible for Jackson’s death because of the Demerol.

Michael Amir Williams, who worked for Jackson the last two years of his life, was asked by defense lawyer Ed Chernoff whether he went to Klein’s office with Jackson.

“At a certain point, it was very regular,” Williams said.

Chernoff then asked Williams whether he’d ever heard Jackson talk slowly with slurred speech, as he did on an audio recording played in court Tuesday.

“Not that extreme, but I have heard him talk slow before,” Williams said.

“And when he left Dr. Klein’s office, have you observed him sometimes to talk slow?” Chernoff asked.

Sometimes, Williams replied, “he would talk slow like that. I never heard it that extreme, but I can definitely say he has come out, and he’s a little slower.”

Jackson security guard Faheem Muhammad, who often drove Jackson, followed Williams on the witness stand Wednesday afternoon.

“There were times he would go almost every day” to Klein’s office, and Jackson often appear intoxicated when he left, Muhammad testified.

Jackson once told Muhammad that his frequent trips to the dermatologist were for treatment for a skin disease.

“My doctors tell me that I have to go, so I go,” Muhammad said Jackson told him.

At the start of court proceedings Wednesday, Paul Gongaware, an executive with the company promoting Jackson’s comeback concerts, said he noticed that Jackson had “a little bit of a slower speech pattern, just a slight slur in the speech” after a visit with Klein.

Medical records show that Klein gave Jackson numerous shots of Demerol in the weeks before his death, Chernoff told jurors Tuesday.

Jackson’s inability to sleep the morning he died was “one of the insidious effects” of Demerol addiction withdrawal, Chernoff said. Since Murray did not know about the Demerol, he could not understand why Jackson was unable to fall asleep that morning, Chernoff said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor previously ruled that while the jury can see some of the records of Klein’s treatment of Jackson, the doctor would not testify. Demerol was not found in Jackson’s body during the autopsy, which makes Klein’s testimony irrelevant, Pastor ruled.

Testimony from Williams and Muhammad included emotional details about the chaos in the Jackson home and at the hospital the day Jackson died.

Williams described Wednesday a frantic series of phone calls that started at 12:13 p.m. June 25, 2009, the day the pop icon died.

“Call me right away, please, call me right away,” Murray said in a voice message to Williams, which prosecutors played in court Wednesday.

“Get here right away; Mr. Jackson had a bad reaction,” Williams said Murray told him when he called him back.

Williams then ordered a security guard to rush to the upstairs bedroom where Murray was working to resuscitate Jackson.

Muhammad, one of those ordered upstairs, described seeing Jackson on a bed with his eyes open and his mouth “slightly opened” as Murray tried to revive him.

“Did he appear to be dead?” Deputy District Attorney David Walgren asked.

“Yes,” Muhammad replied.

Jackson’s two oldest children were standing just outside the room, watching in shock, Muhammad said.

“Paris was on the ground, balled up, crying. And Prince, he was standing there, he just had a real shocked, you know, slowly crying, type of shocked look on his face,” he said.

His description of Murray’s efforts to revive Jackson raised questions about Murray’s knowledge of how to perform CPR.

It was several minutes before the guard called for an ambulance.

Williams and Muhammad later rode with Jackson’s three children to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, following the ambulance that carried their father.

Jackson family members slowly arrived at the emergency room and joined the children, who were kept in a private room with their nanny while doctors tried to revive their father, Williams said.

“Dr. Murray and the doctors walked out, and they closed the curtain and said, ‘He’s dead,’ ” he testified.

Williams described what he called an odd request by Murray at the hospital for a ride back to Jackson’s home after he was pronounced dead.

Murray told Williams he needed to go back to retrieve “some cream” from Michael’s bedroom that Jackson “wouldn’t want the world to know about.”

The prosecution contends that Murray wanted to retrieve evidence of his medical misconduct that led to Jackson’s death.

A lawyer hired by concert promoter AEG to draw up the contract with Murray testified that Murray requested a cardiopulmonary resuscitation machine and money to hire a second doctor to help him care for Jackson.

The additional doctor and the CPR equipment were never provided, since the contract was not signed before Jackson died, attorney Kathy Jorrie testified.

She told the court that it was her understanding that Murray did not want the CPR unit or the additional doctor until he arrived in London with Jackson in July 2009 for the “This Is It” concerts.

“I asked Dr Murray, why do we need a CPR machine?” Jorrie testified.

Murray told her he needed it since “given (Jackson’s) age and the strenuous performance he would be putting on, that if something went wrong, he would have it,” she said.

The second doctor would be necessary because “if (Murray) was tired or unavailable, he wanted to make sure there was someone else to be of assistance” to Jackson.

AEG is being sued by Jackson’s mother, Katherine, based on her contention that the concert promoter hired and controlled Murray when he was caring for her son.

The prosecution contends that part of the negligence that makes Murray criminally liable for Jackson’s death is the lack of monitoring and CPR equipment on hand when Jackson died.

The trial began Tuesday with prosecutors playing a stunning audio recording of an apparently drugged Jackson slurring his words weeks before his death. Prosecutors also showed jurors a photo of Jackson’s corpse on a hospital gurney.

Jackson’s struggle to sleep between rehearsals for his “This Is It” comeback concerts is central to the prosecution and defense theories of how the entertainer died.

Walgren blamed Murray for Jackson’s death, saying he abandoned “all principles of medical care” when he used the surgical anesthetic propofol to put Jackson to sleep every night for more than two months.

The coroner ruled that Jackson’s death was the result of “acute propofol intoxication” in combination with sedatives.

Defense lawyer Chernoff contended that Jackson, desperate for sleep, caused his own death by taking a handful of sedatives and drinking propofol while the doctor was out of the room.

Chernoff told the jury that scientific evidence will show that, on the morning Jackson died, he swallowed a sedative without his doctor’s knowledge, “enough to put six of you to sleep, and he did this when Dr. Murray was not around.”

Jackson then ingested a dose of propofol on his own, creating “a perfect storm that killed him instantly,” Chernoff said.

“When Dr. Murray came into the room and found Michael Jackson, there was no CPR, no paramedic, no machine that was going to revive Michael Jackson,” he said.

“He died so rapidly, so instantly that he didn’t have time to close his eyes,” Chernoff said.

Chernoff told jurors that Murray was trying to wean Jackson off propofol when Jackson died.

Jackson’s death was “tragic, but the evidence will not show that Dr. Murray did it,” Chernoff told jurors.

The prosecution contends that Murray wanted to retrieve evidence of his medical misconduct that led to Jackson’s death.

Murray appeared to become emotional at one point as Chernoff presented his opening statement Tuesday morning, dabbing his eyes at times. Mostly, though, the defendant remained stoic through the proceedings.

If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Murray could spend four years in a California prison and lose his medical license.

Prosecutors played clips from Murray’s interview with investigators in which he described giving Jackson a final dose of the propofol after a long, restless night when the singer begged for help sleeping.

“The evidence in this case will show that Michael Jackson trusted his life to the medical skills of Conrad Murray, unequivocally that that misplaced trust had far too high a price to pay,” Walgren said. “That misplaced trust in the hands of Conrad Murray cost Michael Jackson his life.”

The most dramatic moment Tuesday came when jurors heard a May 10, 2009, recording, captured by Murray’s iPhone, of Jackson “highly under the influences of unknown agents,” as he talked about his planned comeback concert, according to Walgren.

“We have to be phenomenal,” Jackson said in a low voice, his speech slurred. “When people leave this show, when people leave my show, I want them to say, ‘I’ve never seen nothing like this in my life. Go. Go. I’ve never seen nothing like this. Go. It’s amazing. He’s the greatest entertainer in the world.’ I’m taking that money, a million children, children’s hospital, the biggest in the world, Michael Jackson’s Children’s Hospital.”

The tape, prosecutors say, is evidence that Murray knew about Jackson’s health problems weeks before his death.

Jurors also saw a video of the superstar rehearsing at the Staples Center in Los Angeles the night before he died. Jackson sang and danced to “Earth Song,” the last song he would rehearse on stage.

Prosecutors also presented a photo of Jackson’s lifeless body on a hospital gurney, about 12 hours later.

Producer Kenny Ortega, the first prosecution witness, said Tuesday he was jolted by Jackson’s appearance when the latter arrived at a rehearsal, on June 19, less than a week before he died.

“He appeared lost and a little incoherent,” Ortega said. “I did not feel he was well.” Ortega said he gave the pop singer food and wrapped him in a blanket to ward off chills. Jackson watched the rehearsal and did not participate that day.

Ortega was helping Jackson prepare for the “This Is It” world tour scheduled for London’s O2 Arena in autumn 2009.

In an e-mail early June 20, Ortega wrote, in part, to AEG President Randy Phillips, “My concern is, now that we’ve brought the Doctor in to the fold and have played the tough love, now or never card, is that the Artist may be unable to rise to the occasion due to real emotional stuff.”

The producer said Jackson appeared weak and fatigued on June 19.

“He had a terrible case of the chills, was trembling, rambling and obsessing,” he wrote. “Everything in me says he should be psychologically evaluated. If we have any chance at all to get him back in the light. It’s going to take a strong Therapist to (get) him through this as well as immediate physical nurturing. … Tonight I was feeding him, wrapping him in blankets to warm his chills, massaging his feet to calm him and calling his doctor.”

Jackson also appeared to be scared of losing the comeback tour.

“I believe that he really wants this … it would shatter him, break his heart if we pulled the plug,” Ortega wrote. “He’s terribly frightened it’s all going to go away. He asked me repeatedly tonight if I was going to leave him. He was practically begging for my confidence. It broke my heart. He was like a lost boy. There still may be a chance he can rise to the occasion if (we) get him the help he needs.”

AEG was the concert promoter.

Murray was unhappy that Jackson did not rehearse June 19 and told Ortega not to try to be the singer’s physician, Ortega testified, adding that Jackson insisted the next day he was capable of doing the rehearsals. Jackson was a full rehearsal participant in the days before he died, the producer said.

Jackson’s parents, brothers Tito, Jermaine and Randy, and sisters La Toya, Janet and Rebbie filled a row in the courtroom for a second day of the trial. Jackson’s three children are not expected to attend the trial or testify, according to a source close to their grandmother, Katherine Jackson

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Patriotism and the ‘God gap’


“And may God bless the United States of America” is a popular closing line in speeches by presidents and presidential hopefuls.

Does a higher power, if one exists, “shed his grace on thee,” as the lyrics of “America the Beautiful” proclaim?

And if so, does this make the United States of America the greatest country in the world?

Christianity Today crunched data from a Pew Research Center poll that asked more than 1,500 Americans for their views of the United States.

“Nearly all Americans think they live in the best country on Earth. While a majority of Americans believe there are other countries just as great, nine in 10 say no nation is better. Within this high view of America, there are differences between different religious groups,” the magazine noted.

To this end, Christianity Today suggested the existence of a “patriotism God-gap in America.”

Among those surveyed, evangelicals were the most likely to think the United States is No. 1.

“Other Christian traditions were less enthusiastic about America’s position in the world, but they still saw the U.S. as one of the best on the planet. About 40% of other Christians said the U.S. stands alone as the greatest country; around 55% said it and some other countries were equally great. As with evangelicals, only a few said there were greater countries in the world.”

“Those with no religion, however,” hold a much less favorable view, according to the magazine.

“Only one in five of those without religious beliefs said the U.S. is the best country in the world, an equal percentage agreeing that ‘there are other countries that are better than the U.S.’ ”

Not everyone is enamored with equating religious conviction and patriotism. Consider these excerpts from the comments that followed the Christianity Today article:

“To call yourself a Christian evangelical and still think that America is the greatest is ironic to say the least. God is not about country. God is about love and everyone is equal in his eyes, including the rest of the world.”

“What’s really sad is the widespread perception among evangelicals that there is some kind of link between America’s standing and the work and purpose and success of God’s kingdom. There is not. Two words: wrong kingdom. I repeat: wrong kingdom. It matters not a whit what America’s status in the world is. The kingdom of Jesus Christ does not depend on this in any way and will continue regardless.”

“When our astronauts look down at the Earth it doesn’t look like a classroom globe with lines on it. All of those lines are drawn in the minds of human beings. I am grateful to be an American. But sometimes I think that some elements of conservative Christianity really see their religion as patriotism, their scripture the Constitution and God their servant to gain their personal aims. This whole Earth is the object of God’s love and concern. And to claim that any one nation in today’s world is more favored than another may be promoting a Christian heresy.”

Flying the flag is among the easiest ways to display patriotism. Is it also an expression of religion?

In an article titled “Flag Desecration, Religion and Patriotism,” Temple University associate law professor Muriel Morisey suggested that for proponents of a constitutional amendment, “the American flag is the equivalent of a sacred religious icon, comparable to Christianity’s crucifix, Judaism’s Torah and the Quran of Islam. No court has designated patriotism as a religion for Establishment Clause purposes, but in every other significant respect it operates as a religion in American culture. Regardless of the religious beliefs we profess, we simultaneously practice patriotism.”

That said, a “God gap” may exist in the flying of Old Glory as well.

A Pew poll taken March 30-April 3 suggested that 78% of religious people display the flag on their clothing, in the office or at home, while 58% of nonreligious do likewise.

Evangelicals were the most likely to say they displayed the flag; those Americans unaffiliated with religion the least likely.

As to the religious identity of the nation, 62% said the United States is a “Christian nation” in a survey of 1,000 adults done a couple of years ago for Newsweek, while 75% of Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey also done in 2009.

And earlier this year, writing for the CNN Belief Blog, Boston University religion scholar Stephen Prothero analyzed the religious affiliations of those elected to serve in the 112th Congress and concluded: “Is this a Christian nation? No way, says the Constitution. But U.S. voters are telling us something else altogether.”

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Transgender kids: Painful quest to be who they are


Berkeley, California (CNN) — One of the first things Thomas Lobel told his parents was that they were wrong.

The 3-year-old had learned sign language because he had apraxia, a speech impediment that hindered his ability to talk. The toddler pointed to himself and signed, “I am a girl.”

“Oh look, he’s confused,” his parents said. Maybe he mixed up the signs for boy and girl. So they signed back. “No, no. Thomas is a boy.”

But the toddler shook his head. “I am a girl,” he signed back emphatically.

Regardless of the fact he was physically male, Thomas has always maintained that he is a girl. When teased at school about being quiet and liking dolls, Thomas would repeat his simple response, “I am a girl.”

Thomas, now 11, goes by the name of Tammy, wears dresses to school and lives as a girl.

Her parents have been accused by family, friends and others of being reckless, causing their youngest child permanent damage by allowing her to live as a girl.

When children insist that their gender doesn’t match their body, it can trigger a confusing, painful odyssey for the family. And most of the time, these families face isolating experiences trying to decide what is best for their kids, especially because transgender issues are viewed as mysterious, and loaded with stigma and judgment.

Transgender children experience a disconnect between their sex, which is anatomy, and their gender, which includes behaviors, roles and activities. In Thomas’ case, he has a male body, but he prefers female things likes skirts and dolls, rather than pants and trucks.

Gender identity often gets confused with sexual orientation. The difference is “gender identity is who you are and sexual orientation is who you want to have sex with,” said Dr. Johanna Olson, professor of clinical pediatrics at University of Southern California, who treats transgender children.

When talking about young kids around age 3, they’re probably not interested in sexual orientation, she said. But experts say some children look like they will be transgender in early childhood, and turn out gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Gender nonconformity is not a disorder, group says

There is little consistent advice for parents, because robust data and studies about transgender children are rare. The rates of people who are transgender vary from 1 in 30,000 to 1 in 1,000, depending on various international studies.

Like Tammy, some children as young as 3, show early signs of gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder, mental health experts who work with transgender children estimate. These children are not intersex — they do no have a physical disorder or malformation of their sexual organs. The gender issue exists in the brain, though whether it’s psychological or physiological is debated by experts.

One of the most recognizable transgender celebrities is Chaz Bono, who currently competes on “Dancing with the Stars.” Born female to entertainers Sonny and Cher, Bono underwent a transition to become a man in his 40s. He wrote in his book “Transition” that even in his childhood, he had been “aware of a part of me that did not fit.”

Many transgender kids report feeling discomfort with their gender as early as they can remember.

Mario, a 14-year-old Californian who asked his full name not be used, was born female. He dresses and acts like a boy, because, he said, since he was 2 years old, he never genuinely felt like a girl.

“I feel uncomfortable in female clothes,” said Mario. “I feel like why should I wear this when it’s not who I am? Why should I be this fake person?”

But when a child starts identifying with the opposite gender, there is no way to determine whether it’s temporary or likely to become permanent.

“It’s important to acknowledge the signs of gender dysphoria, especially for children,” said Eli Coleman, who chaired a committee to update treatment guidelines for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, an international medical group meeting this week in Atlanta, Georgia. “By not addressing it, it could be really more damaging for the child than not.”

“It’s a very difficult area and there are a lot of children who have gender nonconformity. They will simply grow out of that. Many of them later on identify as gay or lesbian, rather than transgender.”

The American Psychological Association warns that “It is not helpful to force the child to act in a more gender-conforming way.” When they’re forced to conform, some children spiral into depression, behavioral problems and even suicidal thoughts.

Your comments: Too young to know your gender?

Do kids know who they are?

 
Since age 3, Thomas Lobel has told his parents that he is a girl. Since age 3, Thomas Lobel has told his parents that he is a girl.
Thomas' mother, Pauline Moreno, observed that Thomas never smiled and his look was "of a child who was lost, that he simply couldn't find his place." Thomas’ mother, Pauline Moreno, observed that Thomas never smiled and his look was “of a child who was lost, that he simply couldn’t find his place.”
Two years ago, Thomas began transitioning, wearing girls' clothes and now attends school as a female, Tammy. Two years ago, Thomas began transitioning, wearing girls’ clothes and now attends school as a female, Tammy.
Tammy plays with a doll in her bedroom, where she has a picture of Thomas on her wall. Tammy plays with a doll in her bedroom, where she has a picture of Thomas on her wall.
Tammy's mom said of the transition, Tammy's "personality changed from a very sad kid who sat still, didn't do much of anything, to a very happy little girl who was thrilled to be alive." Tammy’s mom said of the transition, Tammy’s “personality changed from a very sad kid who sat still, didn’t do much of anything, to a very happy little girl who was thrilled to be alive.”
Mario, 14, said he never genuinely felt like a girl, although he tried. "It felt it wasn't meant to be." Mario, 14, said he never genuinely felt like a girl, although he tried. “It felt it wasn’t meant to be.”
Mario, who passes as a boy in school, said some of his family members rejected his gender transition. Mario, who passes as a boy in school, said some of his family members rejected his gender transition.
 
 

The journey of gender

Thomas Lobel’s metamorphosis can be told in pictures.

After his parents, Pauline Moreno and Debra Lobel, adopted Thomas at age 2, they observed that he was aloof. Shy and freckle-faced, he usually sat in a corner reading a book.

Unlike his two older brothers who were boisterous, athletic and masculine, Thomas was unusually quiet. Because of his speech impediment, he had to go to special education. Despite developing better speech skills, he didn’t want to engage in conversation or socialize.

“He seemed so depressed and unhappy all the time,” Lobel said. “He didn’t enjoy playing. He sat there all the time, not interacting with anybody. He seemed really lonely.”

In photos, Thomas appears small with a clenched smile and a glazed and distant look in his eyes.

Throughout his childhood, Thomas wanted to read Wonder Woman comics rather than Superman, wear rhinestone-studded hairbands instead of baseball caps and play with dolls rather than action figures. And, his parents said, he kept insisting he was a girl.

His personality changed from a very sad kid who sat still… to a very happy little girl who was thrilled to be alive.
-Pauline Moreno

His situation worsened when Thomas told his parents he wanted to cut off his penis. His parents tried to rationalize with him, warning him that he could bleed to death. But his request was a signal to them that this was serious and required professional help.

After seeing therapists and psychiatrists, the mental health specialists confirmed what Thomas had been saying all along. At age 7, he had gender identity disorder.

The diagnosis was hard for Moreno and Lobel to accept.

“The fact that she’s transgender gives her a harder road ahead, an absolute harder road,” Moreno said.

They have been accused of terrible parenting by friends, family and others, that “we’re pushing her to do this. I’m a lesbian. My partner is a lesbian. That suddenly falls into the fold: ‘Oh, you want her to be part of the lifestyle you guys live,’ ” Moreno said.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth, they said. People don’t understand how a hurting child can break a parent’s heart.

“No parent wants to be in this situation,” said Lisa Kenney, managing director of Gender Spectrum, a conference for families of gender nonconforming children. “Nobody had a child and imagined this was what would happen.”

Transgender kids do not come from lax parenting where adults “roll over” to their kids’ whims, said Olson, who treats transgender children.

“The parents are tortured by it,” she said. “These are not easy decisions. Parents go through a long process going through this.”

Moreno and Lobel allowed their child pick his own clothes at age 8. Thomas chose girl’s clothing and also picked four bras. Then, Thomas wanted to change his name to Tammy and use a female pronoun. This is called social transitioning and can include new hairstyles, wardrobe. Aside from mental health therapy, this stage involves no medical interventions. Social transitioning is completely reversible, said Olson, a gender identity specialist.

Every step of the way, her parents told Tammy, “If at any time you want to go back to your boy’s clothes, you can go back to Thomas. It’s OK.” Tammy has declined every time.

She continues to see therapists.

Tammy’s room is painted bright golden yellow, decorated with stuffed animals and cluttered with pink glittery tennis shoes. At home, Tammy dances through the hallway, twirling in her pink flower dress.

“As soon as we let him put on a dress, his personality changed from a very sad kid who sat still, didn’t do much of anything to a very happy little girl who was thrilled to be alive,” Moreno said.

iReport: ‘I am transgender, and I want my voice to be heard’

The hormone question

This summer, Tammy began the next phase of transition, taking hormone-blocking drugs. This controversial medical treatment prevents children from experiencing puberty.

Girls who feel more like boys take hormone-suppressing medications so they will not develop breasts and start menstruating. Boys who identify as girls can take blockers to avoid developing broad shoulders, deep voice and facial hair. The drugs put their puberty on pause, so they can figure out whether to transition genders.

The hormone blockers are also reversible, because once a child stops taking the drugs, the natural puberty begins, said Dr. Stephen Rosenthal, pediatric endocrinologist at UC San Francisco.

But if the child wants to transition to the other gender, he or she can take testosterone or estrogen hormone treatment to go through the puberty of the opposite gender.

This transgender hormone therapy for children is relatively new in the United States after a gender clinic opened in Boston in 2007. Programs for transgender children exist in cities including Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. The kids are treated by pediatric endocrinologists after long evaluations by mental health professionals.

No statistics exist on the number of transgender children taking such medical treatments.

Medical practitioners have to be careful with children with gender identity issues, said Dr. Kenneth Zucker, head of the Gender Identity Service in the Child, Youth, and Family Program and professor at the University of Toronto. Giving children hormone blockers to kids before the age of 13 is too early, he said.

Zucker conducted a study following 109 boys who had gender identity disorder between the ages of 3 and 12. Researchers followed up at the mean age of 20 and found 12% of these boys continued to want to change genders.

“The vast majority of children lose their desire to be of the other gender later,” he said. “So what that means is that one should be very cautious in assuming say that a 6-year-old who has strong desire to be of the other gender will feel that way 10 years later.”

All of this leads to unsettling answers for families trying to understand their children. No one knows whether a child’s gender dysphoria will continue forever or if it is temporary.

The unsatisfying answer repeated by experts is that only time will tell.

Despite the murky science and social stigma that confound adults, Mario, who has lived as a boy since fourth grade, has a simple answer.

“Don’t change for nobody else,” he said. “Just be you and be happy.”

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‘M’ word on lips of MJ fans vying to get inside doctor’s trial


Los Angeles (CNN) — They came seeking justice as the sun rose Tuesday over a courthouse in the heart of downtown Los Angeles made famous by its celebrity trials — O.J. Simpson, Snoop Dogg, Phil Specter.

But there were almost as many definitions of justice as there were justice seekers. Some shouted “Murderer!” as the defendant, Conrad Murray, arrived at the Clara Foltz Justice Center for the start of his involuntary manslaughter trial in the death of pop superstar Michael Jackson.

“Dr. Murray,” corrected Beatrice Fakhrian, a supporter of the defendant. “He has earned that title.”

So began the long-anticipated trial of the personal physician accused of causing the death of one of the most famous people in the world. More than 100 people from France, Spain and Australia, as well as the far-flung suburbs of Los Angeles, crowded into the dingy courthouse plaza, jockeying for a chance at one of just six courtroom seats, or to say their piece in front of television cameras.

Some read psalms, some handed out sunflowers, some chanted “Justice for Michael,” and many of them carried signs, transforming a wall outside the courthouse into an international billboard.

“Bulgaria Loves Michael Jackson,” one sign said. So do the Netherlands, Romania and Malaysia, according to the signed poster taped to the wall.

A doctor in a while coat preached about safe ways to administer anesthesia.

A Michael Jackson impersonator preened for the cameras.

“Even in death, Michael Jackson can draw a crowd,” said Najee Ali, a Los Angeles civil rights activist who grew up in Jackson’s hometown, Gary, Indiana. Ali was the force behind the “Caravan of Love” to support Jackson when he was acquitted in Santa Barbara of child molestation charges in 2005.

Julie Jenkins, 31, came from Australia and was rewarded by winning the lottery for one of the courtroom seats available to the public. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was 7 and wore black jeans, a red shirt, a black armband and aviator sunglasses in honor of her idol.

“For me, it represents the first time I saw him in person,” she said, explaining her get-up, which was vaguely reminiscent of Jackson¹s look during his “History” tour. “It also represents blood, because we think he was murdered.”

She pounded a closed fist over her chest.

That sentiment is shared by many of Jackson’s fans, although Murray is charged with the less serious offense of involuntary manslaughter. He is accused of giving Jackson a lethal dose of the powerful anesthetic propofol to help him sleep as the pop star prepared for his comeback “This is It” concerts in June 2009.

Defense: Michael Jackson caused his own death

Julie Jenkins came from Australia and was rewarded by winning the lottery for one of just six courtroom seats.

Murder also is a major theme for the group “Justice4MJ,” which was out in force on Tuesday, leading the crowd in chants of “Justice for Michael” as Jackson’s family walked into the courthouse.

Erin Jacobs, one of the group’s outspoken leaders, also won a seat for the trial’s first day. She has attended every pretrial hearing, and was tossed out of court last week during jury selection after getting into a staring contest with Murray.

She said she hadn’t slept. Like her idol, “I experienced insomnia last night,” she said. “I have been a fan my whole life. This is my passion, to work for Michael.”

Court officials warned Jacobs she would have to cover up her T-shirt in court. If she flashed her “Justice4MJ” logo, she’d lose her seat and be banned for the rest of the trial.

Karlene Taylor, 49, wanted a seat so badly she couldn’t sleep. She has been a Jackson fan since she was 8. “I remember ‘ABC’ Michael,” she said. Alas, the lottery gods did not smile on her Tuesday.

Robyn Starkand and Betty Byrnes of the fan group “Call for Love” handed out sunflowers, hoping to lead a respectful vigil on the courthouse steps, complete with songs and prayers. But they were upstaged by a Michael Jackson look-alike.

They started with “Heal the World,” but the voices soon waned, and Jackson impersonator Goward Horton stepped in with his version of “Man in the Middle,” complete with Jackson’s distinctive yips and squeaks.

“They’ve turned it into the Goward show,” Starkand groused. “This is really serious. It’s not the time for a Michael Jackson impersonator.”

It was time for the real one, their Michael.

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