Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fasten seatbelts, the road ahead is bumpy

In the lame duck session last December the Michigan Legislature finally came up with a scheme to adequately fund the repair and upkeep the state's roads. It is a complex stew of bills, the centerpiece of which is a ballot proposal coming up in May to raise the state sales tax. To entice voters to approve a regressive tax increase the package has such goodies as the restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit, more money for schools (as the legislature raids the School Fund to close the budget deficit – again), more money for cities, and who knows what else got squirreled away in the pages. The whole thing was passed as a bundle of bills, which means it isn't easy to find out all the pieces of the package. Couple that with a 300 word description that will appear on the ballot (in which "funding for roads" will be well buried) and the average voter won't understand it. And when that happens it usually gets turned down. Another reason is this sentiment expressed in letters to the editor: After all the tax cuts given to corporations over the last four years lawmakers expect a tax increase on the poor and middle class?

Jack Lessenberry, political columnist for Metro Times, suggests the reason why the package of bills came out the way they did. The GOP hates raising taxes so much they chose the tax in which we would have to do it to ourselves.

Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press notes that since that lame duck session the Michigan legislature has become even more conservative and beholden to the Tea Party. Which means that if voters don't approve this deal whatever replaces it (if anything) will screw the poor and reward the rich even more.

There is a clause in the current state constitution (enacted in 1963) that says every 16 years there must be a vote on whether to call a constitutional convention to rework or update the document. It hasn't happened yet. Though the next such vote is 12 years away Lessenberry says the actions of the legislature over the last couple of years show the state government is broken, as is the constitution that gov't is based on. Perhaps we should call such a convention soon. If we do, Lessenberry has a list of things that must be changed.

* Get rid of legislature term limits – terms are so short legislators don't have time to learn the job, which means lobbyists run the place.

* Allow for a graduated income tax.

* District reapportionment to be done by a nonpartisan commission.

* Prevent political parties from nominating candidates for the supposedly nonpartisan Michigan Supreme Court.

* Require all donors to political campaigns be identified.

* Prevent lawmakers from reinstating a law that voters reject, such as the emergency manager law.

This constitution isn't working. Perhaps it is time to gather signatures to get a call to convention on the next big election ballot so that we have the hope of a constitution that works.

Protections for discriminators

It looks like Indiana is gearing up to pass a religious freedom bill – otherwise known as a license to discriminate against sexual minorities. This one appears to be rather broad. It seems West Virginia wants one too. And the one proposed for Michigan hasn't gone away. Melissa McEwen wonders why do those doing the discriminating need protections?

Michael Bowers, former Attorney General for Georgia (and forever famous to gay couples for the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick case before the Supremes that said anti-sodomy laws were just fine), did a study of the religious freedom bills in that state. Bowers concluded the bill would lead to the revival of the hooded Ku Klux Klan. Yes, in their eyes there is religious justification for racial discrimination. Perhaps this thought will stop these bills in Michigan and other states.

Here's a good summary of what is wrong with religious freedom bills.

There really is a gay agenda

I spent a good chunk of today in a recording studio with my community handbell ensemble. It went pretty well. We have another session at the end of May with the CD likely ready by September. It will make a great Christmas gift, even though there will be only a little bit of Christmas music on it.

The American Family Association is annoyed that the Southern Poverty Law Center won't back down from their declaration of the AFA as a hate group for the vile things they say about gay people. So the AFA has come up with a "Bigotry Map" showing all the organizations across America that promote the homosexual agenda, atheism, humanism, and are in other ways anti-Christian. Yeah, there is a lot of confusion about the difference between not believing in a god and actively working to stir up hate and discrimination against Christians.

Think Progress discusses the ways in which the GOP is chipping away at abortion rights by throwing up all sorts of restrictions. The consequence is that poor women face additional costs and frequently by the time they can raise the money the pregnancy has passed the gestation limits. The only women who are stopped from getting an abortion are poor women, which puts us back to the question of how is America better when it forces only its poor women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term?

Randy Berry has been appointed by the US State Department to be a special envoy to promote LGBT rights around the world. An important step.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Comission of the Southern Baptist Convention released its Legislative Agenda for 2015. Brandon Robertson of Pantheos looked at the item on same-sex marriage. He sees that it isn't really about fidelity to the Bible (actually, a strange interpretation of it), it's really about discrimination.

Rev. John Pavlovitz has done some careful observation of gay people in his congregation and has determined there really is a Gay Agenda. Yup. He feels it is his responsibility to warn us. He has found that gay people want to: work, buy stuff, eat, go to church and worship God (or not), have families, create, and to have the full complement of human emotions. That's the evil Christians are up against.

Terrence Heath does a weekly Wingnut in Review in his personal blog. It can be tough to wade through all the nonsense conservatives spew in a week, though I suppose somebody has to do it. This week's edition has a bit of fun. The Conservative Political Action Conference is going on now and organizers invited anyone to use Twitter to ask questions of any of the speakers. Liberals jumped at the opportunity to ask questions that probably won't be addressed by anyone at CPAC. Such as: While Ben Carson was bashing people who need gov't aid, why didn't anyone question his past need of gov't aid? The list of aid he received is long.

A couple weeks ago a train derailed in West Virginia. Somewhere around 570,000 gallons of crude oil caught fire and exploded. Similar accidents over the last year prompted Obama to start talking about tanker car upgrades, including thicker tank walls, electronic breaks, and devices o prevent crumpling and rollover. Yes, these upgrades would cost the oil companies billions of dollars. So they are contributing heavily to members of Congress to prevent any of these safety measures from taking effect. Which means the West Virginia Bomb Train was brought to us by the GOP. The group Forest Ethics has created a map of potential bomb train blast zones. There are two such routes through Michigan, one through Detroit and one through Flint, though my home and my parents' home are both outside the 1 mile impact zone.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Broccoli and garlic

Yeah, the last time I posted something was more than a week ago. There are a dozen things in my browser tabs to mention. I may get to some of them eventually, others may have to be passed over. I usually write for this blog in the evening, but I've had events every evening since I last wrote. Some of it was the usual rehearsals. Other things were concerts in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Tchaikovsky Festival (of which the event describe here was a part), and the showcase event at the college where I teach that gave the music and dance students a chance to show what they can do (so perhaps now they'll come back to class).

About six weeks ago I took swabs from the inside of my cheeks to send to a company to have the genetic material analyzed. This was recommended by my nutritionist, mostly because she thought there was some missing detail preventing a stable weight and optimum health. Thing are getting better – my skin rash, usually worse during cold weather, is showing improvement. But there appear to be lingering toxins or parasites.

This genetic test did not screen for genes associated with disease (such as cancer). Instead, it correlated genetic markers with components in exercise and diet. It came up with these recommendations through a compilation of research into such topics.

After some delays (they later sent me a note apologizing that their computer didn't tell me the report was ready) I was able to see my Action Plan. There is a long section of the genes they test, whether I have a variation, and how I should change my diet to compensate for it. Fortunately, most of them said no action required. More useful was the summary, the list of things I should do. They include such things as getting enough A, B, C, D, and E vitamins as well as omega-3. A few other recommendations were:

* Reduce smoked meats, including meats grilled over an open fire. Alas, most hams are smoked and my favorite cheese is too. I should also avoid second-hand tobacco use. Now that Michigan restaurants are smoke-free, that's easy to do. I think the reasoning is my body treats the smoke as a toxin.

* Eat lots of broccoli or cauliflower. Not a problem.

* Eat lots of garlic and onion. Oops, big problem. My nutritionist suggested garlic pills that don't have a taste or stink up my skin.

* A single daily serving of alcohol (and red wine in particular) may help with cholesterol. I don't drink, so it will be quite a while before I try it (if at all).

* Use enough olive oil every day. Not a problem.

* Reduce saturated fat. I can easily switch from coconut oil to olive oil in most of my cooking. But the recommendations cut into the fat from meats and cheeses. My nutritionist said their guideline is too low. Then she said something a bit troubling – some of the studies included in their compilation were probably from the Food Industry and Diet Industry with biased results. These are the same studies my nutritionist has been contradicting for the last 18 months. If I had known that I may not have paid the big bucks for the genetic test. I hope the reduction in smoke and the garlic pills are the answer.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The hotness factor

About a month ago I had said that our society has equated thinness with health and that perhaps we have done that because we equate thinness with sex appeal. I used that as a comment on another blog and the response was essentially, well, duh! In addition, I was told, what we consider appealingly sexy is culturally conditioned, and driven by the Diet Industry and Fashion Industry. And here comes a study that shows just that. Participants were asked to rate the "hotness" of people in a series of photographs. The results changed when participants were first told how others rated the same photos.

A Texas one-step

A state district judge ordered the Travis County Clerk to give Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant a marriage license. The couple promptly got married. This came after a Travis County probate judge struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban. A federal judge had struck down the ban a year ago, but that decision is before the 5th Circuit Court. The Travis County Clerk has said marriage licenses to same-sex couples must be court-ordered. So only one couple for now.

As expected the state Attorney General is in a tizzy and asked for a stay from the state Supremes. The Texas Supremes granted that stay, but did not invalidate the one marriage. That didn't satisfy the AG, who is considering other ways to invalidate Sarah and Suzanne's marriage. Grinch.

It is cold enough in America that residents in Atlanta are complaining of the cold and there is significant ice on Niagara Falls. Detroit is forecast for -9F tonight.

A Richland, Washington florist refused to do the flowers for a gay couple. A county court has now ruled against the owner, saying that while religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren't. An appeal is likely.

Two bills made it out of Oklahoma's House Judiciary Committee. The first bill would (1) fire any gov't employee who gives out a same-sex marriage license, (2) bars public money to enforce any court order that requires giving licenses to same-sex couples, (3) fire any judge who tries to enforce same-sex marriage, (4) declares itself above "any contrary federal court ruling." They mean business. The second bill would get rid of marriage licenses, replacing them with marriage certificates, which only certain people could submit to the state.

I had reported the Arkansas legislature had passed a bill banning local non-discrimination protections for sexual minorities. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is torn – between burdensome business regulation and the loss of local control. That gays and lesbians lose protections escapes his concern. So Hutchinson is conflicted enough he won't sign the bill – but he won't veto it either, letting it become law.

A similar bill was approved in Arizona last year. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it at the urging of business leaders. But in Arkansas the business leaders are strangely quiet.

As for same-sex marriage in Alabama, a few of the current crop of GOP prez. candidates aren't exactly thundering in their condemnation. They seem to be reduced to claiming it is something that states should decide.

An Arkansas Supreme Court Justice (not Roy Moore) has given his opinions on same-sex marriage. Somehow allowing gays to marry completely voids the entire marriage law in the state and nobody should be able to get married. It seems gay marriages threaten the constitutionality of all marriages.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tchaikovsky's closet

Yes, it has been a while since I had time to write to this blog. Last Wednesday I left the Ruth Ellis Center early to head down to Orchestra Hall for a bit of the Tchaikovsky Festival, now underway (I went back Friday evening for a concert that featured his 6th Symphony). However, the Wednesday event wasn't music, it was a panel discussion about Tchaikovsky's "rumored" homosexuality, as the advertising put it. The panel was moderated by Dr. John Corvino, the Gay Moralist, though I wish he had been given a larger role – all he did was introduce the others and try to signal when time was up.

The first speaker was Leonard Slatkin, artistic director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the one conducting the concerts of the festival. He talked about why Tchaikovsky is worthy of being featured in a three week festival – the first Russian symphonist, one who excelled in symphonies, concertos, tone poems, ballets, operas, chamber music, and songs.

The second panelist was Dr. Jonathan Anderson, Assistant Professor of Composition at Wayne State University (just up the street from Orchestra Hall). I worked with Anderson for one semester as I was working on my thesis composition and my advisor took a sabbatical. It was Anderson's first semester on campus. He still isn't telling his students he is gay just to make sure it doesn't mess up his chances to get tenure (so I didn't know when I worked with him). He talked at length about Tchaikovsky's homosexuality – no "rumor" here. There is lots of evidence in the letters between the composer and his brother Modest, who was also gay. Anderson said Tchaikovsky wasn't as closeted as one might think he needed to be in Russia of the late 19th Century (and certainly in Russia of today). It also appears he did his best work after his disastrous marriage, after which he became more accepting of his orientation. Between the Lines has a nice story of Anderson talking about Tchaikovsky, which covered many of the points that were covered in the panel.

Since Tchaikovsky's death in 1893 at the age of 53 there have been riddles on how and why he died so young and unexpectedly. I'd go through them, but Anderson says most of them have been disproven, leaving us simply wondering. We're not sure he was killed by cholera, as had been believed. There has also been lots of discussion about whether the Pathetique 6th Symphony is a suicide note of sorts. It has an unusual gloomy last movement rather than the expected triumphant ending, and Tchaikovsky conducted the premier just 10 days before he died. But Slatkin says the symphony was completed in August that year and after that Tchaikovsky wrote a movement of a third piano concerto in a bright and upbeat mood that does not sound like someone considering suicide.

The third panelist was Nancy Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health System. I was puzzled why she was on the panel and what she might add to the discussion. Actually, quite a bit, but not directly. She is a lesbian who is leading a corporation. She talked about needing to be closeted while younger, of being outed, and of making sure her current board of directors didn't care she is a lesbian – of course, it helped that the chairman of the board was Alan Gilmour, who is gay.

Slatkin said that over the course of a long career conducting many pieces of music from gay composers he hasn't found any gay notes. He hasn't found any female notes either (he is married to a composer).

Who decides?

Justice Antonin Scalia was at an event at George Washington University. One of the things he said:
The issue of gay rights, on abortion, on many of the issues in which [Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg]'s opinions and mine differ does not pertain to the substance. It doesn't pertain to whether gay people ought to have those rights or whether there ought to be a constitutional right or a right to an abortion. That isn't the issue. The issue is who decides. That's all. I don't have any public views on any of those things. The point is who decides? Should these decisions be made by the Supreme Court without any text in the Constitution or any history in the Constitution to support imposing on the whole country or is it a matter left to the people? But don't paint me as anti-gay or anti-abortion or anything else. All I'm doing on the Supreme Court is opining about who should decide.
I'm not sure whether I should rant in outrage – or laugh. Don't paint him as anti-gay? What about his rants in dissents to pro-gay rulings over the last 20 years? Isn't one of the tasks of the Supremes to prevent tyranny of the majority? But enough. Melissa McEwen of Shakesville and her commenters do a much better takedown than I want to bother with.

Bring it on!

The Arkansas legislature has passed a bill that prevents cities and counties from enacting their own anti-discrimination laws that protect sexual minorities. No governor veto is expected. Lawmakers say the bill created uniformity (so much more important than rights). Some things just need to be uniform across the state – along with murder and fraud. Yep, our desire for rights was just compared to murder and fraud. Democrat Representative Clarke Tucker challenges the claim that the bill would be good for business.

Hours after the state Senate passed the bill (and before the House did) the city of Eureka Springs, "the gay capital of the Ozarks," did exactly what the bill banned. Though the state may not sue, a right-wing group likely would. Council member Mickey Schneider said, "Bring it on!"

The little town of Thrumond, West Virginia passed passed an ordinance banning discrimination of sexual minorities. How little? There are only five residents in Thurmond. With a voting population that small it is easy to get a unanimous vote. But with a town that small and no news whether any of them are gay, why bother? The area is a big tourist draw for rafting and fishing and the ordinance will demand equal treatment by any business working through the town. In addition, it sets a great example.

JONAH stands for Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, the Jewish counterpart to Exodus providing services "for those struggling with unwanted same-sex sexual attractions." Meaning they attempt to make a gay person become straight. Through a lawsuit a judge in New Jersey has declared that JONAH has violated the state's Consumer Fraud Act for advertising they provided a service they could not deliver. Hopefully, this will set a precedent against conversion therapy clinics across the country.


Yes, same-sex couples in Alabama have started to marry, though – considering it is Alabama – the process hasn't been smooth.

The 11th Circuit denied a stay. So did the Supremes, though Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented. This time Thomas wrote 3 pages for his dissent, saying that since the matter is before the Supremes it is improper for the court to allow marriages to proceed. Yes, he was criticizing his colleagues. And, yes, allowing Alabama same-sex couples to marry makes it harder for the Supremes to come to the conclusion he wants.

You may remember Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supremes. He was the one that installed a big Ten Commandments monument in the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building. More than a decade ago he refused an order from a federal court to remove it. As a result he was removed. But in Alabama Supreme Court Justices are elected and in 2013 voters returned him to their high court. They like their bigots. So in a state where its Marriage Protection Amendment was approved by 80% of voters in 2006 Moore feels he is on safe political ground when he announced an order prohibiting probate judges from issuing marriage licenses. We don't need no stinkin' US Constitution! Comparisons were quickly made to George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door to prevent integration.

Moore posted on his Facebook page that citizens who see a judge breaking Moore's order should tell the governor (since Moore can't dish out punishment himself). Gov. Bentley responded by saying he will take no action against judges who defy Moore's order.

Some of the probate judges apparently liked the cover Moore gave them and have been refusing licenses to same-sex couples. And to show they aren't bigoted, some of those have decided to not issue marriage licenses to anyone, gay or straight. It didn't take long for one of the judges to be sued. It also didn't take long for the federal judge who overturned the ban to order that sued judge to issue licenses, and same-sex marriages have begun in Mobile. Even so, perhaps about 50 straight couples are being denied licenses each day this mess continues.

As all this confusion plays out, a same-sex couple in Autauga County did get a license, but the judge refused to perform the ceremony. If I do it for one couple I have to do it for everyone! Rev. Anne Susan Diprizio saw the couple's distress and offered to perform the ceremony. Proceedings began and she was arrested.

Gay couples in Texas are asking the 5th Circuit that since Alabama didn't get a stay, could you get rid of ours? Couples in South Dakota and Missouri are asking the 8th Circuit the same thing.

As of yesterday 47 of Alabama's 66 counties have marriage equality. Another 6 aren't issuing licenses to anyone, 8 give licenses only to straight couples, and the last 5 aren't telling reporters.

And the marriage map is looking pretty good – now if we could turn the red areas to purple...

Of course, we're not done with the crazy. Liberty Counsel petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court to stop same-sex marriages. The court agreed to take the case on a 6-2 vote (Chief Justice Moore didn't vote). It could be entertaining since a state court can't trump a federal court on issues of the US Constitution. So a ruling that Liberty Counsel likes could be swiftly smacked aside.

Monday, February 9, 2015

English impressionism

Yes, same-sex marriages began in Alabama today. Alas, I don't have time this evening to relate all the sweet and juicy details.

One reason why I don't have time is because I went off this afternoon to see the movie Mr. Turner about the life and art of painter Joseph Mallord William Turner. I got to know Turner's art a couple years ago when I was in Liverpool, England and my hotel was in the same dockside complex as the Tate Liverpool Museum, where there was an exhibit comparing the art of Turner with that of Monet. The Monet was enough to get me in the door. I found the art of Turner to be both wonderful and strange because here was an Englishman who seemed to be doing impressionistic work a half century before the French.

There were a few of his canvases shown in the movie that I recognized from the museum. There was also a scene that I recognized as being the inspiration for another canvas – he was shown working on it just a few moments later.

The movie was more a character study than a story with a conflict in need of resolution. His artwork is exceptional – and we see lots of it in the movie – the man, not so much. In this portrayal he grunted a lot. Some artist colleagues thought highly of him, parts of the general public mocked him. Beyond that, it seems hard to describe him in just a few words. So, go see the movie (if you can find it) or visit his Wikipedia entry, which at least has samples of his work.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Don't get out the vote

A referendum to reinforce existing laws to ban same-sex marriage and adoption went before voters in Slovakia. Of the votes cast, 94% approved the tougher laws. But the new provisions will not become law because only 21.4% of eligible voters cast ballots. To become law the proposals needed a quorum of voters to participate. Pro-gay groups asked supporters to stay away from the ballot box.

Alas, Pope Francis was very much in support of these provisions.


Yesterday I went with my friend and debate partner and his girlfriend to the Detroit Film Theater for the films nominated for an Oscar in the categories of Short Animation Films and Short Live Action Films. The five animated nominees, plus an honorable mention, were short enough to all fit within an hour. My favorite was "Feast" by Disney, in which we see the love life of of a man through what gets fed to his dog. Great fun!

The five live action films took two hours. I have a couple favorites. The most bizarre was "Yak Butter Lamp" in which an itinerant photographer and assistant takes portraits of Tibetan peasant families in front of various backdrops of Chinese and Tibetan scenes. Yes, that's the whole 15 minute movie.

One that was merely strange was "Aya." She is waiting for someone at the airport in Tel Aviv. A driver is paged to move his car and hands her his sign identifying his passenger. When that passenger shows up she decides to pretend to be the driver and take him to Jerusalem. Along the way she wants him to talk to her rather than get some work done. I didn't care for this one.

Another I did enjoy was "Boogaloo and Graham" from Ireland. The father gives his young sons two chickens to raise. The boys give the chicks the names in the title, then overdo their tasks, taking the chickens to bed, declaring they'll grow up to be chicken farmers, and have become vegetarian (except for sausages and hamburgers). Quite cute.

Go to hell!

The pastor at my church gave a fascinating sermon this morning. He had spent the week studying what Jesus had to say about hell. He built his sermon around what he had learned.

The guy in charge of the visuals on the screen tried to help out. He created an image with the words: "Want to find out what hell is like? Come hear our pastor."

Jesus mentioned heaven 11 times more frequently than he mentioned hell. Therefore, it is more important for this pastor to preach about the love of Jesus rather than damnation in hell.

Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven being with you now. So, let's talk about how we can bring heaven to this life and alleviate hell in this life rather than worrying about what comes after this life.

When Jesus talked about hell he was addressing the religious leaders of his day, the equivalent of the modern church council. He accused them of putting people in hell. Jesus did not talk about hell when addressing the common man, the outsiders, those in need of his message of love.

When Jesus spoke of hell he was referring to a real place, a valley outside Jerusalem named Gehenna. Two things about Gehenna – it was where children had been sacrificed to the god Molech, and it was outside the protection of the city walls. That means, said our pastor, it referred to a nasty place outside the community, a place without love and support.

So what should we as a church and community be doing? Go to hell! … and bring those who are in hell back into the community.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Two-tiered market

Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina appears to be one of those who believes all regulations are bad. He proposes that restaurants be allowed to remove the signs that say employees must wash hands after using the bathroom, as long as the public knows the signs are gone. And the market will take care of whether that's a good idea.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville disagrees, saying the market doesn't work the way the senator thinks it does. She says a restaurant that advertises "We wash our hands" will be offering a premium service and prices will rise accordingly. Meaning the only restaurants the working-class can afford are the unsanitary ones. Deregulation creates a two-tiered market – those who can afford it get the healthy stuff. Those who can't get the crap.

Bad science

I've written many times about bad science. There has been the research of Paul Cameron and Mark Regnerus, designed to harm gay people and quickly embraced by the anti-gay crowd. Cameron has been thoroughly discredited and Regnerus looked mighty silly at the end of the same-sex marriage trial in Michigan a year ago.

Then there is my nutritionist saying a lot of things contrary to the established Medical and Food Industries. The scientific evidence behind her appears to me to be pretty solid but the scientific community hasn't yet discredited any of the research that says a low fat diet is best.

The validity of research was on my mind with the current measles outbreak in the news and along with that stories of parents refusing to get their kids vaccinated because of a link to autism. We've been told that link has been disproven. If so, I'm skeptical and need details.

Misty of Shakesville in a post from four years ago provides those details.

The source of that vaccine-autism link came from Dr. Andrew Wakefield. He studied 12 children, 10 of whom were autistic. He found a pattern of intestinal inflammation. The parents of 8 of those autistic kids said autism began to show right after the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine. Wakefield went to the press about a link between the vaccine and autism. His errors:

* Extremely small sample size.

* No research to show comparative rates of intestinal inflammation in autistic and normal children.

* No research to show rates of autism from those who got the vaccine and those who did not or whether the autism symptoms actually appeared before the vaccine.

* No research to show a link between the vaccine and intestinal inflammation.

* Wakefield proposed vaccines for the three diseases given widely spaced would not cause the problems of the three given together, which makes no sense.

And then the ethics issues piled up:

* Wakefield had been paid by a lawyer representing families with autistic children looking for a way to sue the vaccine makers. He didn't disclose the conflict of interest.

* 11 of the 12 children in the study were from those families.

* Wakefield had developed his own measles vaccine and had not disclosed that conflict of interest, either.

* Wakefield's research had not been approved by the hospital's ethics committee because the children would be subjected to harmful procedures not appropriate to their medical history. One child suffered multiple bowel perforations (apparently the colonoscopy was botched). He claimed he didn't need approval.

* Other people looked over this research and found several kids had shown autism symptoms before receiving the vaccine. His reports of intestinal inflammation were reviewed by other doctors and declared to be normal – meaning he falsified data.

So, yes, this was bad science. Wakefield was stripped of credentials. And, no, there is no link between vaccines and autism.

Blogger Terrence Heath looks at the measles outbreak what conservatives are saying about it. And what they're saying is a lot about about personal rights and responsibility. Heath summarizes the anti-vaccine movement, and a good deal of conservatism, in his second sentence:
That anti-science, anti-social position is in light with conservatism’s rejection of responsibility to the greater community.

Thinness and happiness

The discussion of mistreatment of fat people on the blog Shakesville included a link to the blog The Militant Baker, written by Jes Baker. She describes herself as a body advocate, mental health professional, self-love enthusiast, and professional rabble-rouser. The particular post that I was led to is a discussion of why so many people hate fat people who are happy. There is lots of evidence for that hate – check out the social media feeds for anyone who says she is fat and happy.

This puzzled Baker for quite a while. She finally figured it out.

The overwhelming message from our culture is that thinness equals happiness. The Diet Industry, the Fitness Industry, the Fashion Industry, the Entertainment Industry, and many more push this connection. It has us so convinced that millions of us spend huge amounts of money working like crazy to be thin. The Diet Industry rakes in $60 billion a year. All this work and all money spent in pursuit of impossible perfection is supposed to get us happiness.

And then this fat chick refuses to do the work and refuses to fix her body says she is happy. She just contradicted everything we zealously believe in, broke all the rules, jumped to the front of the line, ripped us off, and made a lifetime of work meaningless. Of course, we freak out! But the average customer doesn't know why.

The core of the problem is that thinness does not equal happiness. The whole thing is a scam.

Yes, there is lots of anger. And all that anger is toward themselves. As Baker puts it, people who hate the bodies of others hate their own. People who love their bodies don't try to get others to hate theirs. Whatever shape you're in, love yourself. Especially around body image, don't listen to the noise of the culture. To help you along take a look at the photo essay Baker put together titled This Year Love the Mirror.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


There are two marriage cases from Michigan. The famous one is about same-sex couples' right to marry. It had a big trial last March with a favorable outcome, was overturned by the 6th Circuit, and is now before the Supremes. When that big announcement came out last March about 300 couples got married before the 6th Circuit issued a stay. Shortly after that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder proclaimed those 300 marriages are legal, but the state won't recognize them or provide any benefits (taxes, joint ownership, adoption, etc.). Eight couples sued for recognition, becoming the second case.

Last month a federal district judge ruled the state must recognize those marriages. A three-week stay was added to the ruling, giving the state time to appeal. That time is almost up and... Snyder will not appeal. Yay!

All the news reports I've seen highlight the words of Snyder. Conspicuously absent are words from Attorney General Bill Schuette. It was Schuette who wrote the Free Press editorial whining how he just had to support the rule of law and take that first case all the way to the Supremes. So did Snyder knock some sense into Shuette's head?

Gary Glenn, our nemesis who wrote Michigan's 2004 Marriage Protection Amendment and is now a member of the Michigan House, is pissed at Snyder. He's calling on Snyder to do what Schuette claimed must be done.

Between the Lines is reporting that arguing the marriage case before the Supremes will cost $1 million – and that's with the lawyers doing all their work for free. The cost includes such things as filing all the legal documents with the court, putting on mock trials so their brief time in front of the Supremes goes well, and getting advice and assistance from constitutional law experts. A group renamed itself from Michigan Marriage Challenge to National Marriage Challenge to raise money to meet those expenses.

In other marriage news...

The 11th Circuit has denied an extension of the stay in the Alabama case. The Supremes have until Monday to intervene. Otherwise marriages begin. The 11th Circuit has also put the Alabama and Florida cases on hold until the Supremes rule on the Michigan case.

The 8th Circuit has agreed to combine and expedite the marriage cases from Arkansas, Missouri, and South Dakota. Oral arguments are scheduled for mid May.

When the Defense of Marriage Act went before the Supremes John Boehner and GOP colleagues in the House spent $2 million to help defend it when Obama said he wouldn't. The Supremes ruled in our favor in June of 2013, which provided the legal framework for the mountain of same-sex marriage rulings that have come since. Now that marriage itself is before the Supremes Boehner and colleagues have announced they will sit this one out. That is great to hear. Haven't heard yet what their base thinks of that.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

If society cares about children

The radio news report this morning said Sunday's snowstorm dumped 16.7 inches at Detroit Metro Airport. That makes it Detroit's third largest storm, measured in depth of snow. It was also the most snow fallen in one day. I guess the bigger storms lasted more than a day. And … it started snowing today about mid-evening. Predictions are for about 3 inches by tomorrow morning. We set a record for snowfall last year. We don't need to do it again.

Rochelle Riley is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. In her column this past Sunday she wrote about the more than 40 years that Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children's Defense Fund, has been advocating for children in poverty. One of several statistics Riley includes from this year's CDF report: Poor parents don't have time to read to their kids. Those kids hear a lot fewer words and are exposed to a much smaller vocabulary. They are less likely to know their letters, count to 20, and write their names. These are disparities that are quite difficult to overcome.

But this year's report, titled "Ending Child Poverty Now," adds specific recommendations for action to its advocacy. For example: The current defense budget is $578 billion. That is 37% of the world's military expenditures to protect 5% of the world's population. Cut that by 14% and $81 billion becomes available for lifting children out of poverty.

This caught my attention: There are 15 million children in poverty in this country. Lifting 9 million (60%) out of poverty would cost $70 million. Keeping all these kids poor would cost $500 billion – half a trillion.

I could make a great point that it seems crazy to not spend that $70 million when it would save $500 billion. But there are clues in the story that make me doubt that $70 million. First, that works out to $8 a child. Second, the few changes to the federal budget (only one described above) that are covered by Riley add up to $330 billion. Why raise $330 billion when only $70 million is needed?

So I followed the link Riley provided to the report that Edelman wrote. Alas, Riley may not have been an accurate journalist. Here's the important part:
Child poverty is too expensive to continue. Every year we keep 14.7 million children in poverty costs our nation $500 billion – six times more than the $77 billion investment we propose to reduce child poverty by 60 percent. MIT Nobel Laureate economist and 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Dr. Robert Solow in his foreword to a 1994 CDF report Wasting America’s Future presciently wrote: “For many years Americans have allowed child poverty levels to remain astonishingly high…far higher than one would think a rich and ethical society would tolerate. The justification, when one is offered at all, has often been that action is expensive: ‘We have more will than wallet.’ I suspect that in fact our wallets exceed our will, but in any event this concern for the drain on our resources completely misses the other side of the equation: Inaction has its costs too…As an economist I believe that good things are worth paying for; and that even if curing children’s poverty were expensive, it would be hard to think of a better use in the world for money. If society cares about children, it should be willing to spend money on them.”

Not only does child poverty cost far more than eliminating it would, we have so many better choices that reflect more just values as well as economic savings. We believe that food, shelter, quality early childhood investments to get every child ready for school and an equitable education for all children should take precedence over massive welfare for the rich and blatantly excessive spending for military weapons that do not work. We cannot let our leaders spend $400 billion, without offsets, to make permanent tax breaks to wealthy corporations and others and then say we cannot afford to ensure every child is housed and fed.
As for those series of suggestions that I totaled up to $330 billion, only one of the suggestions is needed to raise the necessary $77 billion. That works out to about $8500 a child. The report aims for 60% of those 15 million children because the money and effort would have an immediate effect on those kids.

That half-trillion in costs when kids remain in poverty was computed as $170 billion in lost productivity, $170 billion in increased crime, and $160 billion in worse health.

I can now get back to the point I wanted to make, though with revised figures. It seems crazy to not spend that $77 billion when it would save $500 billion. To me that means child poverty is not an issue of money, but an issue of power.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Digging out

Yup, snow yesterday. One news report this morning said we got 14 inches, another said over a foot. From what I shoveled off my driveway I could believe the 14 inches. That was definitely a day's exercise.

Here's a photo of the deck in my back yard. The wind was strong enough not much snow stayed on the flower pot. Instead, it drifted off the deck creating a strange hole beside it. There's also lots of drifting against the glass door.

There also wasn't much snow in the shrubs and trees. This is the tree in the center of the circle in front of my house. I'm sharing the photo just because it came out well.

Most schools were closed today. I didn't drive until evening. When I left the roads of my neighborhood hadn't been plowed yet, so it was careful going. The plow did come through before I returned. We should be mostly back to normal tomorrow.

Boston has us beat. That's fine with me.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

For the people

Ever since Obama stressed help for the middle class in his State of the Union speech the GOP has been clamoring to say we're the ones who will help the middle class the most. The exchange I heard this morning started with an Obama comment about middle class tax cuts. It was followed with a GOP comment saying if Obama really cared about the middle class he wouldn't veto so many jobs programs. I'm sure that GOP comment was about the Keystone pipeline, which doesn't offer all that many full time jobs and would provide a mighty benefit for the 1%. In contrast, the Obama proposal would benefit millions of people.

Naturally, Fox News is supporting the GOP is best for the middle class charade – when it isn't decrying Obama's ideas as "class warfare." Media Matters has a long list of the latest efforts by Fox News followed by an even longer list of how GOP policies help the 1% and hurt everyone else.

The Telegraph reported on a study by Princeton and Northwest Universities. The study examined 1800 policies enacted between 1981 and 2002. Each was compared to expressed preferences of average Americans (50th percentile of income), rich Americans (90th percentile), and large special interest groups.

Conclusion: US government policies rarely align with the preferences of average Americans and usually align with the interests of the rich or special interests. When the preferences of the average and the elite are in conflict, the elite win. That is true even when large majorities of Americans favor a policy. So, yes, we live in an oligarchy in which the rich and powerful rule the country, and not a democracy.

In related news, a network created by the Koch brothers has announced plans to spend $889 million in the 2016 campaign. Not all of this comes directly from the Koch brothers and not all will be donated to candidates. Some will be used to create their own "party" – doing all the things that local, state, and national Republican party usually do, but with the purpose of doing what the network wants, not what the political party, or the American people, want.

This particular news article is by Rich Lowry of the Washington Post. He seems to think (1) the Koch want freedom from government, (2) that's a good thing, (3) all this Koch money is protected by the First Amendment, and (4) Liberals only want to regulate everything. I disagree with all four of his premises, especially because he confuses speech with bribery.

Racism in the church

Rev. Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is proclaiming the best way to deal with racism in America is to deal with racism in Christian congregations. We need to know those of another race as brothers and sisters. Then we'll speak up for one another. Moore speaks of it as a basic biblical principle.

Yes, he knows his own denomination doesn't have a good record on race. It was formed in 1845 so its members could continue to keep slaves. And in the 1960s pastors in the denomination were either vocally against civil rights or were silent. But the leadership recognizes the need for change.

Alas, Southern Baptist congregations haven't gotten the memo yet. Then again, neither have most congregations in the country, no matter the denomination.

A bit of gay theater history

It is a snowy day in the Detroit area. Snow began falling last night and is expected to continue until tomorrow morning. We might get up to a foot of the stuff. I did get to the church service today, but the drive home, slow though not treacherous, was enough to convince me to not bother with a concert this afternoon. I'm also relieved that an evening inclusive service was canceled (though that team tends to do that before the first flake has fallen and just a week ago a predicted 3 inches didn't happen).

Friday evening I went to the Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale for a performance of The Boys in the Band. It was written in 1968 and for the time was groundbreaking for being a realistic portrayal of gay men. Prior to then gays in theater were cardboard characters of comic relief or pathetic men on their way to doom. So I was watching a bit of gay theater history.

The basic story is about a bunch of gay men who gather together in Michael's apartment to celebrate the birthday of Harold, one in their group. Also in the mix is Alan, Michael's college roommate. At first, Michael doesn't want Alan to know he is gay, but later accuses Alan of also being gay.

There are times this feels like a modern story, with many modern gay issues and lots of gay camp. But in other ways the story feels dated – most of these men are not in a good mentally healthy place. The story opens with Michael and Donald discussing Donald's most recent visit to his therapist and comparing notes about self-medication. And a good chunk of the second act is taken up with many of them, though mostly Michael, playing rather cruel mind-games with each other. Michael hasn't accepted that he is gay and that he will remain so.

Nearly all of the performances were excellent. The Ringwald is a small space and for this show the stage was enlarged, so there were only 40 seats for the audience. Alas, only about 15 of them had people sitting in them.