Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dick and Dan

Four years ago Richard Wagner Jones was re-baptized into the Mormon Church. This was just three years after his 10 year probation ended. His probation started when he finished serving his five year sentence in prison. His five year prison term, and his excommunication from the Mormon Church, began in 1990 as a result of his felony conviction for second-degree sexual abuse of an 8-year-old girl. Now Dick is on the November 6th ballot hoping to fill one of the three positions on the Granite School Board.

Dick sometimes goes by the name of Rickard Wagoner. This is a great name for politics in Utah as it sounds like it has something to do with covered wagons.

Photo of Richard Wagner Jones from the Utah Department of Corrections Sex Offender Registry

Dick is still a registered sex offender, and will need special permission to visit elementary and middle schools in the school district even if he is elected.

Dick sometimes goes by the name Rick Oliver Kidd. I would not think “Kidd” would be the best alias for a convicted child abuser.

The Granite School District is a suburban district just north of the Canyons School District

Dick is running against Dan Lofgren. Dan is the President, CEO, and founder of Cowboy Partners and Cowboy Properties ; a real estate development firm. Dan is also chairman of the Board of Trustees of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). The SITLA is a uniquely Utahn entity. It controls the sale, use, and collection of revenues from land set aside to generate income for Utah schools. It makes perfect sense to have an active real estate developer running it; doesn’t it?

In other words Dick and Dan are two alleged rapists running against each other so they can be in charge of what they potentially desire that the Utah school system has.

Candidates for the other two Granite school board positions are running unopposed.

Dick has not run from his past; in fact he has spoken to groups about protection from sexual abuse. He explains “that those who are sex offenders are not mentally ill, they are people with serious thinking errors.".

Prior to the conviction for sexual abuse of a child Dick was in the elders quorum presidency of his local Mormon Church. This gave him access to many young children, and may be where he identified his victim.

Dick’s face has been splattered all over the news due to his sordid past. At least one new alleged victim has come forward after seeing his face on the news. This woman, who is now in her mid 40s, claims that when she was just a 14 year old girl from a troubled home she was sent to live with Dick (who was 37 at the time).

"I was pretty much Dick Jones' slave, sex slave, pimped out to his business partners and associates." – Anonymous alleged victim of Dick Jones.

She allegedly ran away, and told case workers about her virtual imprisonment, but nobody believed her. The allegations were apparently not brought out when Dick was convicted of sexual abuse of another younger child a few years later.

Dick wants people to realize that he has paid his debt to society, and focus on the issues instead of his personal baggage.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cue Balls

If you believe the information that ignites the main-stream media you have recently found out that over a month ago our vice president said something inappropriate to a grieving father at an official memorial service. The grieving father was Charles Woods who was the father of Tyrone Woods.  Tyrone was one of the two ex-Navy SEALS killed while trying to protect ambassador Stevens when the Benghazi consulate in Libya was attacked on September 11th.

In a recorded telephone interview Charles Woods clearly recalls that Vice President Biden asked him “in a loud and boisterous voice”: "Did your son always have balls the size of cue balls?"

Charles apparently called up both the Lars Larsen and Glenn Beck shows to break the silence on this.

However, there was no silence to break. The repatriation ceremony Charles talks about took place at Andrew’s air force base on the 14th of September, and was filmed. Joe Biden was not alone in meeting with the families. Also in attendance were the POTUS Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Panetta, former Secretary of State Powell, Senator McCain, and other dignitaries. There was also the usual horde of taggers-on that each of these dignitaries enjoys.

Nobody besides Charles caught the vice-president’s “Balls the size of cueballs” question. Once Charles brought it up there were hordes of commentators tripping over each other just to mention it so it was obviously not missed due to it being dismissible. The cueball comment was even mentioned on “the View”.

It is also bizarre that even the rest of Tyrone’s family missed Biden’s “Loud and boisterous” comments. In fact Tyrone’s mother (Cheryl Croft Bennett) described the repatriation ceremony soon after it took place. She described the ceremony honoring the death of her son on her FaceBook page:

'The entire afternoon was overpowering … Little did I know that I would find myself in a reception room being comforted, hugged, and, yes, even kissed by the President of the United States. Along with the President, there was Vice-President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and General and Mrs Colin Powell. They were all wonderful. They held my hand, offered condolences, gave warm hugs, and were extremely compassionate and genuinely sad for my loss, as I fought back tears and tried to project an image of strength to honor my SEAL son.' -- Cheryl Croft Bennett

So everybody missed this very interesting and inappropriate “loud and boisterous” comment made at an official function except Charles, and Charles did not think it worthwhile to talk about it till the memory of the function had cooled. All the fresh recollections of the function missed it. Of course it is more likely that the recollection is piqued more by the proximity of November 6th than September 14th.

This sounds like Karl Rove type bullcrap. People say Kerry was "Swiftboated" perhaps we will soon be saying that Obama was "Cueballed".  Instead of rubbing the nations face in it reporters should be asking how deep the pit of crap is.

The cueball revelation coincides with an analysis of Romney’s stump speeches that shows Mitt has dropped mention of Libya from them. Mitt stops talking about Libya as the underbelly of his campaign starts talking about Libyan Cueballs.  It is as if there is a coordinated plan to erect a firewall between the candidate and any backlash that might occur as the veracity of the crass cueball comment came under scrutiny.

How do we even know that the comments were made by Charles Woods. Even FOX news has only reported the comments second-hand, but Charles was able to call at least two radio stations. I know firsthand that Fox news can have a newsvan out in front of someone’s house in a matter of minutes. How did they not catch Charles on camera telling the world this story face-to-face? It is exactly what Fox would love to show, and they have had an entire day to get it without result.

I think it is reasonable to suggest that it was not Charles Woods making those comments on the radio. It is easy to believe that the likes of Glenn Beck would rather air the cueball statement than check it out. Perhaps even Fox news had too much integrity to air the statement as if it was one that had been responsibly sourced.

What does it do to the families who have lost their loved ones to rub crap into their grieving process? Even if it was Charles Woods on the phone what level of respect does it show to his ex-wife and the rest of there son’s family to invent such a politically motivated untruth about the vice-president making testicle jokes at a somber ceremony?

Whoever was pretending to be Charles Woods must have balls the size of cueballs to make this up.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mail Call Two

The other piece of mail I got yesterday was the newest issue of Decision magazine (volume 53 Number 11). I think the publishers of this tax-exempt publication may have decided to influence the election.

On the cover is a picture of two campaign buttons; one is red-white-and –blue and has the word “VOTE” on it, and the other is black with white letters forming the word “PRAY”. In the lower left hand corner red capital letters order the reader to “TAKE A STAND FOR BIBLICAL VALUES ON NOV. 6”.

On the inside of the front cover is a picture of a younger Billy Graham (he looks barely 80 in the black-and-white photo) holding a book and looking resolved. At the top of left hand side of the page are the words “VOTE BIBLICAL VALUES TUESDAY NOVEMBER 6” in an over-sized font. Just to the right of the command is a special message from Billy that ends with an image of his cursive signature.

“The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.” – Billy Graham

The BGEA has a page asking everyone to share the information and reprints of the inside cover on all sorts of social media sites, and to print it out to show to people.

The first article in the magazine is titled “the Campaign for Immorality”. In this article John Macarthur expounds on an edited excerpt from Romans 1:

“ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness …[this portion removed by Decision magazine]…God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness…[this portion also removed by Decision magazine]… haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things,” -- Exerpt from Romans 1 18, 26-30 NKJV

In his article John tells us of the biblical teaching that “if you don’t work you don’t eat”. I bet there was a voucher program in place to make sure this pre-Randian principle was not violated by “The lilies of the field” (Mathew 6:28).

John gets more specific by stating that the “elimination of god” by one party created a "Romans 1 platform”. He states that putting God back into the platform was blasphemy because the platform talked about “sexual freedom”. John also states, in an apparent contradiction to his ire at leaving God out, that God should not be in either agenda; John is very hard to please.

In his article John repeatedly states that what he is saying is “not about politics”. John must have a keen sense of the seemingly contradictory nature of his irony as most people would casually think that the question of who a person votes for is the essence of politics in a democratic society. John is apparently not trying to tell us to vote for a particular party. No, he is just saying that the Democratic Party is “literally creating a platform out of what God hates”.

John is terribly concerned with homosexuality. He talks about unnatural acts, and I bet he has a much more vivid picture of the details of those acts than I have. He may even have pictures; I don’t know. The picture of a LGBT (though I prefer QUILTBAG) demonstration did not look terribly unnatural to me. The photo did feature an agitated-looking ginger with a nosering and a sign asking people to “SUPPORT LGBT EQUALITY NOT WAR”. I guess I could see this picture as a bit unnatural; noserings must be awfully inconvenient now that cold and flu season is upon us.

Throughout most of the article John pulls back from directly naming the Democratic party as being the target of God’s potential wrath. At the end he lets it slip that the Democrats are the one who will burn in hell, and he does so in a parting bit of self-contradictory irony that puts paid to any doubts about his sensibilities:

"What I’m saying is not hate speech. What the Democratic Party is saying is hate speech, because they must hate homosexuals if they will allow them to go the direction they are going, if they affirm that direction, knowing that it will take them to hell. That’s hate speech. This is love speech.” -- John Macarthur

This issue of Decision has at least five other articles that deal directly with the election. Because I’ve just eaten I’ve only been able to skim them, but they are very focused on the idea that the country is denying God, homosexual sex, and abortions. It looks like denying God is the root cause of abortions and homosexual sex.

On the surface this appears contradictory as one of the often cited problems evangelicals have with homosexual sex is that it does not lead to abortions. I think the only thing that they are clear on is that being an atheist is bad. Since they are clear that laws should be enacted that help to eliminate homosexual behavior and abortions it is logical to assume that they will go after the root cause.

There has been a call to eliminate religious freedom in the US, and the religious freedom they want to eliminate is none.

Freedom of religion must include freedom from religion.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Trump Card

I received two interesting pieces of mail today.  Interesting in a “road kill" way. I want to know what is really meant by these tidbits before their advanced state of decay has made them almost unidentifiable. The first of these was from Donald Trump, and came to me electronically.

For several days Trump had been promising to release a “bombshell” today.  I read through his announcement, and never felt the dynamite go “boom”. The announcement turned out to be a proposal. 

"If Barack Obama opens up and gives his college records and applications, and passport application and records, I will give to a charity of his choice, a check immediately for $5 million." – Donald Trump

So..what are these records that the Donald says POTUS must release? The list is not specific. The only specific thing is the offer for a donation of $5 million. The Donald mentions his request for a long form birth certificate from the POTUS, and how he takes credit for the release of that document; though he does cast doubts on its authenticity in today’s records request by calling it “whatever it was that he released”.

“Many Americans have serious questions – questions that should not be part of the presidential dialogue” – Donald Trump

The Donald is not specific about what questions would be addressed with the records release or whether anyone of sound mind is asking them. This is not the kind of ambiguity that I like. Without a comprehensive viable list of what records are needed, what questions need to be answered, or what acceptable authenticity tests would be it is impossible for anyone to reasonably fulfill the terms of the Donald’s bargain.

The most probable set of questions that the Donald is concerned with are the “Birther” questions. Prove that POTUS was born in the USA.

I actually love the Birther questions because they require that the following be true:

A single mother ready to give birth to her first child decided that she would rather travel almost 11,000 miles to Kenya; this despite the lack of medical facilities and family she had access to in Hawaii. She purchase a round-trip ticket to Kenya with her limited funds despite the looming expenses of a new baby. Without a passport she flew to Kenya without being stopped at any border; the plane had to refuel at least twice on the way, but there were no inspections that caught her. She met with people at the airport who drove her away from the barely adequate medical facilities in Nairobi to a mud-floored hut some many kilometers away. There she secretly gave birth before being whisked back to Hawaii in a reverse of the impossible events that had brought her to Kenya.

Meanwhile, back in the states, the single Mom’s operatives planted a birth announcement in the local newspaper, but forgot to forge a birth certificate. Over the years the young boy born secretly in Kenya would accidentally declare that he was born in a different country in order to secure scholarships and school admissions. Money and admissions that apparently the omnipotent conspirators could not come up with otherwise.  The young man is able to switch from being a Kenyan national to an American-born citizen at will; no questions are asked.

Realizing that their ruse might be bad for the now fully-grown boy from Kenya the now dead single mother’s still-surviving operatives forge a birth certificate, but they neglect to forge the right kind; they also overlook all those times the young man had used his status as a foreign-born individual to get special treatment.

What type of person believes this is possible? I don’t really know. One thing is certain though; that Mitt Romney does not stand a chance of getting elected without them. No matter how ignorant the propagation of these fantasies are a required portion of Mitt Romney’s election strategy.

As I mentioned earlier, the Donald does not go into detail about what he hopes to find in his $5 million-dollars-worth of records. The Donald describes his request as a general search for transparency in the office of the POTUS.

“Their president will become transparent like other presidents” – Donald Trump

But we have not seen transparency in this election from the other candidate for president. I cannot think of any other major-party candidate for president who has not released many years of tax returns when prompted. Mitt Romney’s own father released many years of records when he was running for GOP nomination in 1968. Mitt has become the GOP nominee, and still has not released his tax returns.

We do not know what the unspecified “records” from the POTUS might reveal, and the only competing theories are fantastically ignorant. However, the tax returns of Mitt Romney could reveal some very mundane nefarious activities.

Harry Reid suggests that they show Mitt did not pay taxes some years. Mitt himself said that people should be wary of someone who pays more taxes than they should; I guess it would be a sign of a conniving or soft mind. Strangely enough one of the two tax returns that Mitt did release shows that he did pay more taxes than he needed to in 2011. It looked like he was trying to pay at least 14% as he had advertised. Mitt is sensitive to the charge that he did not pay taxes, and so his refusal to release the tax returns suggests that there could be some level of accuracy to Harry’s accusations.

Mitt’s returns could show other dubious activities. It could show that the Mormon church gave him a break in tithing (Mitt tithes millions of dollars each year) if he funneled that money into political activities instead. Did Mitt act like a money-laundering political activist for the Mormon church? What did ne support for the church? Specific candidates? Prop 8 in CA?

Did Mitt not fully tithe, and yet retain his temple recommend? A member must fully tithe in order to be eligible for a temple recommend. As I have pointed out several times before the loss of a temple recommend removes many of the blessings the church bestows on its members. It can even open the door for treatment by the church that would be illegal if the Mormon Church was a secular entity. The tax returns would show if he had lied on his temple recommend interview. If he had could fully tithing members of the Mormon Church support him?

The tax returns could also show that Mitt’s business dealings were not as he described. This could open him up to legal trouble, but it more likely would expose several areas where he has stretched the truth about his business dealings.

Whatever the tax returns hide it is likely issues that the Romney campaign has decided would turn voters off to the idea of voting for him.

There is no similarity between these two requests. They differ in scope and definition. Comparing these two requests is tantamount to comparing the mystical properties of unicorn dung to the stench of an overused litter box.

Let’s take care of the crap that's real.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Prey with Billy

According to the US constitution there cannot be any religious test for office

“no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” -- Article VI, paragraph 3, US Constitution

Apparently the converse is not true as we have been seeing this presidential election being used as a forum for adopting the LDS church as a true branch of Christianity. We have seen the administration of a political test for religion. Because Mitt Romney is seen as electable the Mormon Church is now a mainstream, and fully Christian, religion.

For decades any “True Believing” Christian would chafe at the affront on mainstream Christian theology they saw in the additions made by Mormons. There are multiple gods, there are multiple heavens, there are even multiple worlds with a distribution of gods many of which were former members of the LDS high command. Perhaps worst of all is that the Mormon scripture describes an account of Jesus Christ himself coming back to earth for a quick tour of the Americas after his ascension into heaven, this sequel tour tarnishes the whole finality-till-the-second-coming aspect of traditional Christianity.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” -- John 14:6

In order to believe Mormonism is true on its own merits one has to acknowledge that Jesus came back and kept the whole second coming a secret till 1835. That’s a long time to keep something big like that a secret. To add insult to injury the ghost of Saint John the Baptist appeared to Joseph and Hyrum Smith one day and baptized them personally. Ghostly John also told them that they were the only ones who had gotten things right for several centuries. In order to embrace Mormonism one has to throw generations of True Believing Christians under the church bus.

On October 7th many conservative churches celebrated what they called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”. On this Sunday, in direct knowing violation of federal law, pastors openly endorsed candidates from the pulpit. In this election cycle the “pulpit freedom” from many churches has spilled over into campaign signs and an ongoing berating of churchgoers to vote the right way. Every day is "Pulpit Freedom Day".  One Texas church received notoriety for posting “Voter for the Mormon not the Muslim” as its Sunday message marquee.

"participate in, or intervene in, ( including the publishing or distributing of any statements) any political campaign on behalf of- or in opposition to -any candidate for public office." – 1954 amendment to the US tax code limiting political activities of tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations.

Some larger church organizations avoid directly confronting the IRS. Though the IRS blinked when Mac Hammond endorsed Michelle Bachmann from the pulpit the initial legal “win” by Hammond appears to be more of a technicality. The more money a church controls the more they would have to lose if the winds of change blow some IRS investigations from an on hold status to some flavor of unfavorable decision.

The typical endorsement of a US politician is for a major evangelical leader to pray with the politician. The Reverend Billy Graham recently prayed with Mitt Romney.

"It was a privilege to pray with Gov. Romney—for his family and our country. I will turn 94 the day after the upcoming election, and I believe America is at a crossroads. I hope millions of Americans will join me in praying for our nation and to vote for candidates who will support the biblical definition of marriage, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms." -- Rev Billy Graham October 2012

Billy Graham sits at the head of an enormous evangelical organization: the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They print books, and magazines, and do the TV thing, and all sorts of other stuff. Their flagship magazine is called “Decision”, and the October edition had a street sign on the cover; one road was labeled “Following God” and the other street was labeled “Rejecting God”. One of the cover’s listed highlights was “America on the road to Destruction”. One of the articles in the magazine was titled “Can an Evangelical Christian vote for a Mormon?”; the answer in the article was “yes”.

The day after Billy and Mitt prayed together all mention of the Mormon church as a “cult” or "insane" were removed from the websites of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

The reasons Billy gives for his support of Mitt are Mitt’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Apparently the need to eliminate abortions and prevent legalization of same-sex marriages is more important than maintaining a negative opinion about a region that maintains as some of its core principles the idea that Billy and all of his followers will never get into the best heaven where all the really cool people go.

Apparently spending a few years with same-sex married people is a worse hell than spending eternity in the regular hell. Billy will be 94 soon so he would not have to endure the damning vibes pouring off the marital bliss of same sex couples for very long; so it must be a very bad thing for him to be so willing to cash in on his Pascal’s wager.

"What a strange people these Mormons are. They are like a flock of sheep; if I should jump into hell, I believe they would follow me!" -Joseph Smith as quoted in Macomb Journal, January 25, 1877, p. 2

Of course there is the possibility that none of these men really believe the stuff they say. I prefer to think that the softening of rhetoric between the various camps of invisible dude followers is due to some sort of enlightenment. The words of intolerance are just the product sold to followers who need more than they discern.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tastes like ambiguous

On the list of things in the universe I like to write about ambiguity is, if one judges desire by frequency, at the top. It is difficult to write about ambiguity…to really capture things ambiguously…and still structure a document so that it can be effectively skimmed over.  It is so difficult that I don't even try to do it.

I can, and do, write material that can easily be skimmed, but not usually for this blog, and it is scrubbed clean of ambiguity. Without the ambiguity it is simple to do. It helps to break things into sections. Then all someone has to do is read the first paragraph, and then maybe read the first sentence or so of each section. Sentences should be short, and avoid comas; they should also avoid using semi-colons.

The issue with writing stuff with the intent of having it skimmed is that one is writing with the intent of having much what one is writing ignored. Why not leave out the part that is not designed to be read? Why not just tweet the major point, and be done with it?

It is always possible to compress stuff down, but if there is data in the message then information is lost upon compression. There are ways of measuring this. Doing so requires abstracting the concept of information into some quantifiable set of terms. This is actually very interesting; a kind of algebraic philosophy.

Expanding information from a tweet into a longer study cannot be done without outside information. This is why short communications are so comforting. In order to make any sense they have to tell you things you are already familiar with.

One interesting trend is creating blog posts by bundling a bunch of tweets. Perhaps there is a way of making content by arraigning short communications about like Lego blocks.

Implied content is effective at reinforcing prejudices and preconceptions. Strip away the ambiguity, and everything makes more sense.

The latest presidential campaign has flooded the “airwaves” with info bytes. One can easily be exposed to so many little bits of information that one is full before even realizing that you were snacking. Volume mimics variety. Everything starts to look and sound the same, and it crowds out more meaningful communication.

“If everything tastes like chicken then what does chicken taste like?”

In order to pass as interesting the information packets become more bizarre. I must admit that descriptions of the president as a “secret fundamentalist Islamic atheist communist delivered to the world through a witch doctor’s black magic ceremony in Kenya” are more interesting than how Romney’s “five-point plan is really a one-point plan”, but even the hysterically crazy gets tedious after a few iterations. However, it was due to my secret fondness for the irrational that I found myself interested in this badly-photoshopped picture.

The caption described how democrats had opposed abolition (BTW we are coming up on the 150th anniversary of the battle of Fredericksburg; a battle that was simultaneously one of the most humiliating defeats and greatest victories in American military history) and therefore comprise a large portion of the KKK. It goes on to give this as a reason why they endorsed Obama in his first run for president, and then goes on to state how this proves that voting for the re-election of the first black president is actually a racist action. Just imagining someone following this line of reasoning is akin to watching a bad bicycle accident: “that’s just gotta hurt”.

Embedded in the caption for this photo was a link to a NYT article that purportedly reported on the KKK endorsement. I read the article, and instead of an endorsement the KKK spokesperson described Obama’s election as a calamitous betrayal that would cause more people to join the KKK. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

“The betrayal will stare them in the face each time they watch the news and see little black children playing in the Rose Garden,” -- Thomas Robb, National director for the KKK.

So the picture becomes a Trojan horse of sorts. People propagate it because it proves what they already know, but without bothering to read the content they are posting they inadvertently transmit information that questions the position that motivated them to post the material in the first place.

I guess this is a type of ambiguity, and it is amusing. It ignores the more compelling ambiguity that is part of the human condition. No matter what people do the end result will be that people are doing it. We can embrace the figure and grain that is humanity, or we can attempt to skim over it.

Unfortunately an election forces one to make a parsimonious choice that refuses to acknowledge ambiguity. We do not have to become the choice. We do not even have to abandon ambiguity in order to make an unambiguous choice.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Today is both 10/11/12 and the 14th installment of National Coming Out Day. LGBT folks are supposed to “come out” publicly about their sexual orientation or gender identity or increasingly defined undefined statement about gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

"Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!" – Harvey Milk 1978.

Over the years that NCOD has been celebrated the LG designation has evolved into LGB then LGBT then LGBTQ. Currently there is a movement to use the term QUILTBAG for Questioning-Unidentified- Intersex-Lesbian-Transgender-Bisexual-Asexual-Gay. I like the term QUILTBAG for two reasons: first, it is easier to say, and second, it reinvents terms like “quilting circle”. I don’t think it is a derogatory term, but people tend to soften their usage of derogatory names in conversations with me.  If it is generally known as a derogatory term would someone please let me know so I can stop promoting its use?

NCOD is on the 11th of October because that was the first anniversary of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (see how it started as just an LG thing) . The First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (which was just called “National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights” at the time) took place on October 14th and celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall riots which took place in June of 1969. So the actual date is only made special by the people who choose to celebrate their “coming out” on this day.

Of course today’s NCOD is extra special because it falls on 10/11/12, and that will not happen again for a thousand years. The very idea of an NCOD should become ludicrous long before then, so it is safe to say that this is the first and last time the NCOD will fall on 10/11/12.

In addition to the accretion of identities, which I hope may someday include Atheist, the NCOD has gained geographic presence. In 1988 the NCOD was celebrated in 18 states, but was really a West Hollywood phenomenon. Not until 1990 did it grow into the “National” part of its name by being celebrated in all 50 states. Today it has outgrown the “National” in its name by being celebrated all over the globe.

I hope they do not change the name to iCOD as that sounds like a cold water fish made by Apple, or perhaps an electronic codpiece. Either way it is not a great name to change to.

Today should also be a celebration enjoyed by those who have had people “come out” to them. There is something enormously special about being the initial recipient of such trust. The sharing of one’s sexual identity with another person simply because they are another person, and not because they share that orientation, is a unique gesture of trust. I hope everyone gets a chance to share that bond of trust with someone they respect.

On the other hand…I actually hope that the process of coming out soon becomes folded into the process of simply growing up. We will lose something special when the process of self-definition becomes special only in a uniquely personal way. No longer will it be a sharing of, or discarding of, a secret.

The first close friend who “came out” to me did so shortly before the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Even Liberace was not publicly gay at the time as it would probably have affected his record sales.  It was a big deal, and I treated it like it was just something else that was going on.  I am kinda conflicted about how my self centeredness allowed me to essentially ignore my friends coming out. We have discussed this a couple times recently, and he assures me that it was the perfect way anyone could have responded.  I know we were both more demonstratively concerned with what Disco was doing to American music than "issues", but I also don't think that speaks highly for our mutual maturity at the time.   

Each time I have been gifted with the experience of someone coming out to me it has been special...even if I've not noticed. I had one friend “come out” a few weeks before the first NCOD. I think that Ben would have waited if he had known about the upcoming event, but none of us did. He was just taken with the warmth of a September Southern California sun, and the love of people who cared more about how important the announcement was for him than what he was actually saying.

Coming out is a multifaceted process for the person who comes out. For Ben it was also a sexual debut of sorts. The few days spent crammed into my one bedroom apartment after his announcement was an interesting note to a vacation filled with special faces. When Ben returned to DC it became a new element of his life.

At the time the world did not have FaceBook, and most people did not have e-mail. My handwriting was illegible, and so the communications with Ben broke into a series of long conversations over coffee separated by years-long silent spaces between my visits to DC.

Ben’s debut did not go the way he would have hoped. He was a sensitive person who would have liked to cuddle to the murmur of meaningless conversation, but he announced himself as a particular sexual object. Ben was not the most physically attractive of people; though he had lost several hundred pounds leading up to his coming out he still wore the excess skin like a toga. He was hurt by slights and derision for his appearance. His few encounters often resembled rape in his descriptions of them, and he would tear up at the thought that he could not be sexual and kind with the same person.

On the last time I saw him he was recovering from a particularly brutal encounter which left him so severely injured that he had apparently laid for hours after it in a pool of his own blood hoping that death would stop the pain teething in his gut. He described how instead of death taking the pain the cramping caused by blood and fecal material mixing in his abdomen grew till it drove him to call out for help. For several more hours his roommates could not hear the soft whimpering cries that were all Ben could produce.

Ben was part of a group that met in rooms with circled chairs. The physical pain he described paled to the awkward social pain he experienced sitting in a circle with his abuser while people made light of trivial unrelated situations to giggles and nods. He related that he felt like he was back in the closet, but this time as a victim of sexual abuse.

The last I heard of Ben he had cashed out his life insurance in advance of his liver going out after it had lost a battle with non-A-non-B Hepatitis. I picture him boarding a plane to Europe with just a bag of prescriptions and a smile.

Things have changed a lot for people that come out. The last person who came out to me did so from behind a lectern to a room of almost a hundred people. I had not even been invited so his coming out to me in particular may have been a mistake.

Despite the fact that the handful of people who have gifted me with their coming out have never done so in observance of NCOD I like to take this day and remember them.

And say “Thank you”.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Viva Las Conferencias

This weekend is general conference weekend for the Mormon (LDS) Church. All the Prophets and Apostles get up in front of TV cameras and transmit the direct word of God to the lesser-endowed Mormons around the world.

By some estimates over a hundred thousand “devout” Mormons will be speeding down to Las Vegas to do the things that infamously “happen in Vegas and stay in Vegas”. The Bishopric will be busy arraigning the satellite feed, and freed from their watchful gaze the tempted will stray.

I would like to paint a picture of Caesar’s Palace overrun with true Roman excess; magic underwear worn in place of togas. Unfortunately, the realities of most LDS debauchery are not sordid enough to excite much interest.

According to estimates published in the Deseret News (The LDS Church paper) a hundred thousand of the faithful will flock to Salkt Lake City to attend the biannual general conference. The official LDS Church website has a little video up telling people how awesome the conference is.

Apparently if you want to hear what is going on with god you go to the conference. At the conference you’ve got apostles and prophets, but not necessarily in that order. Various people appear throughout the video “testifying” in an assortment of languages about how awesome the conference will be.

All the messages they tell us in the conference are exactly what we need to hear.” - Random woman with spacey look.

Unfortunately God apparently wants you to hear old white men drone on almost incomprehensibly about trivial things couched in vaulted language. God does not want to get into specifics about global warming, overpopulation, the Higgs Boson, or just about anything that someone going to the conference has not known for years.

The Mormons have all sorts of secret rituals. Perhaps they save the good stuff for what happens behind closed doors?

Here is a little video someone took of a secret endowment ceremony. It is long and tedious to watch. I fast-forwarded through much of it. It is obvious that the general conference is actually their most exciting stuff.

Perhaps I should head down to Vegas, and try to catch a glimpse of some Utah-Mormon Soccer Mom sipping a white Russian while furiously yanking a slot machine.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

GMO Lab Rats

I personally hate working with animals in the laboratory. They take up lots of room, are messy, and they smell; though not as bad as some anaerobe cultures. In order to get reasonable data from a study that utilizes animals one must use dozens, and their care and maintenance pushes other productive studies out of the lab. I personally avoid using animals in the lab wherever possible, and that has thankfully been possible most of the time.

Some people use primates. Laboratory monkeys have a habit of throwing fecal material at people. I’ve never worked with monkeys, but I cannot picture working with them making Monday a more pleasant day of the week.

The iconic laboratory rat is a creature inbred for generations upon generations that usually self destructs around its second birthday. I am not a big fan of the Laboratory rat, and by the fact that many of them have tried to bite me while I’ve held them down I am lead to believe that they are not too fond of me.

It is not uncommon to look at a colony of specially inbred mice and see one missing a limb. “This strain sometimes eats one of their legs off” I have been informed. Conversely once a lab worker who started a colony from a control group of mice to feed her snakes showed me her colony, and in it I observed some tiny disembodied limbs. I was told that: “If I don’t get to the babies soon enough Mom sometimes eats them”. Mice are simply horrid.

The worst thing about working with animals is that I don’t like the way the data looks from studies involving them. Luckily I have not had to use animals or work with anyone using them for several years. I do not look forward to ever using them again.

In addition to the worthiness of animals as test subjects they are actual feeling creatures. Viewing them in the dispassionate way that I dispatch cultures containing billions of microbes is not a humane option. I do not think it is psychologically responsible to ignore the action of causing discomfort, pain, or death in another feeling creature.

With that in mind I also dislike being bombarded with papers describing this or that animal study. Over the past couple of weeks a dozen or so people have sent me questions regarding the same animal study paper:

Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Sep 11. pii: S0278-6915(12)00563-7. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.005.
Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize.
Séralini GE, Clair E, Mesnage R, Gress S, Defarge N, Malatesta M, Hennequin D, de Vendômois JS.

Most of the references have only included some words like: “Scientists prove GMO food causes cancer”. Luckily it was not too difficult to track down which scientists and how they proved the cancer link. It was not too difficult because so many news outlets are talking about this study; crosswalk a couple and one can reproduce enough information to look up the paper using an abstract service like PubMed. It was made even easier because of all the papers studying GMOs fed to laboratory animals there was only one that found such a link.

The study is interesting because it not only addresses GMO corn but the process of taking advantage of the GMO gene this particular corn (NK603) had. NK603 is a RoundUp (a herbicide) resistant corn; to make it worthwhile to grow it one has to use RoundUp. It has long been suspected that dousing foodstuff with increased amounts of herbicide might be bad for people who later ate the foodstuff. This study examined this possible issue with surprising results.

"All Natural" corn

The study reports a 200% to 300% increase in tumors as well as other problems in rats fed diets with NK603 grown with RoundUp, and rats fed diets with NK603 grown without RoundUp, and rats fed a diet without NK603 that was simply dosed with RoundUp. There were a variety of ailments, and some occurred as much as 5.5 times as often in a particular test group. Interesting data.

Having roundup in a diet is therefore bad, but greatly overshadowed by the presence of the GMO gene. In other words there appears to be a specific protein that when present in food aggressively causes cancer, and we know what that protein is because it was specifically introduced. This is important information regardless of the link to GMO foodstuff.

The gene in question codes for the protein called 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS). It is present in most plants and is a key enzyme in the biosynthesis of the aromatic amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan. RoundUp (which is a tradename for Glyphosate or more specifically N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine) inhibits this enzyme so the plant cannot make these essential amino acids, and it dies. Many bacteria have the enzyme as well. In RoundUp-Ready GMO crops a version of this enzyme that is resistant to Roundup is transferred from a soil bacterium to a crop strain. Because it is a ubiquitous naturally-occurring enzyme if a randomly-selected version of it causes cancer it is reasonable to believe that there are cancer-causing versions of the enzyme in many non-GMO foods.

The discovery that there may be versions of EPSPS that cause cancer may be a major breakthrough in identifying an environmental cancer trigger, especially for vegetarians. The potential impact is far greater than simply identifying a problem with NK603.

High-profile research must pass through the uncomfortable but expected gauntlet of post-publication peer examination. Discrepancies and weaknesses in data are pointed out, and in high-profile studies like this one camps form that support or deride particular aspects of the study. More data is provided, and follow-up studies are designed and conducted. This is an essential element in the advancement of science, and it is an honor to be surfing a wave of attention to one’s work.

Unfortunately the French researchers who conducted this study have clamed up. The French parliament went so far as to state that they were in a position to ban the import of GMO corn if the study stood up to a standard level of examination. However Gilles-Eric Seralini responded at a press conference saying that "It's out of the question that those who authorised NK603 carry out a counter-study of our findings as there'd be a conflict of interest.". No data would be released, and no examination would be possible.

This leaves the examination of the study struggling to second guess the published data. Were the data real at all? Was there a flaw in the conducting of the experiment? Was there a problem with the design of the experiment?

What the general public should be concerned with is why these researchers should be so shy about a potential breakthrough in cancer research as to willingly appear to be narcissistically defending their narrow interpretation of the results. The idea that a researcher should be allowed to authorize the people who see their data on the basis of a potential bias is a troubling politicization of science. What are the motivations behind such secrecy? In light of this conspiracy-marinated-paranoia can we even treat this study as valid scientific inquiry?

Some high profile studies do not survive the process of post-publication examination. Just a couple years ago a new life form where arsenic replaced phosphorus was “discovered”. Upon examination this “discovery” was found to be the result of a series of unfortunate experimental issues. A retraction for the “discovery” was eventually circulated. Nobody envies the research team that ends up on the losing side of an examination, but they are awarded a certain amount of respect for supporting the process that is science.

Gilles-Eric Seralini and his team may be sitting on data that are embarrassingly less than perfect. After all they did use animals.

The specific animals Gilles-Eric Seralini’s team used were Sprauge-Dawley rats. These are albino mutants which sport such inbred deformities as no gall bladder, a left lung with only one lobe, and a right lung with four. They become sexually mature in a little over two months, and have been bred since 1925. So any rat you see may be the product of well over a thousand generations of genetic homology.

The Sprauge-Dawley Rat’s esophagus attaches to the stomach in such a mutant way that they are physically incapable of vomiting. Is this a good thing?

When they are stressed the Sprauge-Dawley rats produce a pigmented excretion from ducts around their albino-red eyes that looks like blood when it dries. These "tears of blood" glow under UV light.

The Sprauge-Dawley rats can live up to 3.5 years if coddled, but the average lifespan is closer to two. The Gilles-Eric Seralini team discovered most of the physiological effects of GMO corn in rats approaching two years of age.

Old Sprauge-Dawley rats get sick. They get awful-looking tumors. They get the diseases that Gilles-Eric Seralini’s team attribute to GMO corn. Differences in how they are kept or fed can increase the occurrence rate of many of these age-related diseases. The specific data are needed to determine if there are ancillary factors that accounted for the observed disease symptoms in Gilles-Eric Seralini’s data.

However, the reticence of Gilles-Eric Seralini to release the data for examination suggests that they have trouble with another type of animal. It suggests that the problem is not in the subtle effect of mutant rat traits in end-of-life pathologies but in the excretions of political cattle. It suggests that the data is contaminated with bullcrap.