Thursday, June 30, 2011

Healthcare. Is it worth going to prison for it?

Mansfield Frazier writes a piece about it for the Daily Beast.

“Imagine a place where you don’t have to pay anything or no more than $5 for a visit to the medical clinic,” Roberto Hugh Potter, an expert in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida wrote in an article about the future of universal health care, “Where your physician-prescribed medications cost you nothing, where there is no penalty for missing work or school to go to the clinic, and where every individual has an absolute right to access and receive “adequate, reactive” health care. Welcome to prison!”
That's right. Prisoners have the right to receive healthcare, and they do receive it regularly, with all their prescriptions paid for. There is a viral story about a man named James Verone who robbed a bank for one dollar, specifically so he could receive healthcare after he was put in prison. After being laid off as a truck driver, he could no longer work his part-time job nor afford healthcare after his back started to hurt him and he had a protruding growth on his chest. It looks like he is not the only person who takes advantage of the system.

Damien Calvert, who was recently released from an Ohio prison for a drug-related murder he committed when he was 18 (he’s now a straight-A student at Cleveland State University, studying nonprofit management), said that part of the reason recidivism rates are so high is due to the lack of access to health care on the streets for parolees. “Guys get out with a week’s supply of their medications,” said Calvert, “and when they’re unable to navigate the health-care delivery system out here in the world, they commit another crime so they can go back to their comfort zone, back to where they know they’ll be kept alive. But there’s something fundamentally wrong in this country when people have to resort to committing crimes to receive adequate health care.”
An experienced, old-school convict would not have robbed a bank for $1 as Verone did; they, instead, would have heaved a brick through the front window of their local Post Office, a crime that’s guaranteed to result in a federal judge giving out a buffalo. For those unfamiliar with the argot, a “buffalo” is a “nickel” uh, five years? Plenty of time to get healthy… and pick up a nice hobby to boot.
Instead of having to get arrested to receive healthcare, wouldn'y a universal system of healthcare be better than this? One in which we all pay into the system and get to reap the benefits of seeing healthcare providers early and often for preventative measures, decreasing the cost overall. Read the whole piece. It's worth it.

How Far Does Religious Liberty Go?

An argument that people cite against marriage equality where they actually have a point would be religious liberty. People who are unfamiliar with law, politics, or the organized marriage equality movement, are so afraid that their precious churches and pastors will be forced against their will to marry those vile and repugnant gays (this isn't true, as it is already law that churches and clergy are not required to perform any marriages they do not wish to perform). Everyone should be allowed to practice their religious beliefs (within reason of course; we don't human sacrifices), but they should not be used to trod on the rights of others, including their right to not have religion forced upon them.

Author Rob Tisinai of wakingupnow.com, gives a scenario then poses a question.
Suppose an on-duty police officer sees a known homosexual getting stomped to death in an alley by two men shouting, “Die, faggot, die!”  He does nothing to stop it, and he lets the thugs escape, because he believes in Leviticus 20:13:
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
His religious beliefs make it impossible for him to intefere with what he views as God’s will, or even to hold the assailants responsible.
Should this officer be penalized?  Or would that violate his religious freedom?
This is such a good line of questioning, because it really gets down to the meat of the issue. There are many people who use 'religious belief' to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Usually, that is legally ok, if you are a private citizen. You cannot be forced to let a gay person into your home, or be invited to a private event. But what if you are not just a private citizen, but a public employee, or you perform a public service? Should you be allowed to let your religious beliefs trump your civic duties?

He then introduces us to the first 'victim' of the marriage equality bill in New York, identified by NOM. I'm going to repost the rest of his post, because honestly, he does a much better job explaining than I do.
Barbara MacEwen, the town clerk in upstate Volney who is responsible for signing marriage licenses in the town, said she’s morally opposed to same-sex weddings and does not intend to affix her signature to any marriage documents for gay or lesbian couples.
“If there’s any possible way to not do it, legally, then yes, I would not want to put my name on any of those certificates or papers,” MacEwen told POLITICO. “That’s their life, they can do it, but I don’t feel I should be forced into something that’s against my morals and my God.”
This taxpayer-supported public servant wants the right to choose which taxpayers she’ll serve. NOM, apparently, sympathizes with her.
That’s why I have to wonder about the limits to NOM’s notion of religious liberty. Personally, I’m no big fan of government coercion. You know that New Mexico photographer our opponents keep talking about? I think he should have been free not to photograph a same-sex wedding. Just as I think a gay photographer should be free not to shoot a wedding in a church that works to strip him of his marriage rights.
But Barbara MacEwen is a public employee. She’s an elected government official demanding the privilege of not following the law.
Who’s asking for special rights now?
What other “rights” does NOM think Barbara MacEwen should have? The right to withhold licenses from interracial couples? From a divorced person who wants to remarry? From a Catholic and a Baptist planning to marry in a Baptist church?
All those unions have been considered immoral by someone’s religion. Where does NOM stand on these items? Because as far as I can tell, NOM conception of religious liberty include the right of public servants to ignore laws they don’t like.
At this point, I was going to bring back the police question I asked at the beginning, but I thought of another I like better:  A number of states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, so…
…if NOM wants to let town clerks pick and choose the laws they’ll recognize according to their religion, then shouldn’t clerks from gay-friendly faiths be able to issue same-sex marriage licenses regardless of state law?
So tell us, NOM. Tell us exactly which religious liberty protections special rights you’d like to have.
Unfortunately, it looks like these 'special rights' have found their way into the Rhode Island Civil Unions bill that was passed by the State Senate this week.

As goes Maine...

Maine repealed marriage equality on November 3, 2009, with Question one. It was absolutely devastating. Keeping marriage in Maine was supposed to be the LGBTQ answer to Prop8 passing in California the year before. We failed, miserably.

Well, marriage equality is going back in front of the people of Maine, possibly as early as November 2012. From Americablog.com
The announcement comes after 18 months of ongoing public education and two new polls showing 53% of Mainers supporting marriage equality. This afternoon Methodist Pastor Michael Gray will submit the following language to the Sec. of State for review:
"Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?"
By submitting language to the Secretary of State to put marriage on the ballot, EqualityMaine and GLAD begin the process of a citizen's initiative. Once the Sec. of State certifies the language, Equality Maine will then collect 57,277 signatures to get the question on the ballot in November.

Joining Pastor Gray at a press conference this morning is Betsey Smith, Equality Maine's executive director, as well as Lewiston Mayor Laurent F. Gilbert, and Michelle Mondor, a resident of Fort Fairfield, all of whom have evolved to support marriage equality. Smith explains:
"We changed hearts and minds during No on 1, and since then, many more Mainers have changed their hearts and continue to change their minds. We have been going door to door talking to them and hearing their journey towards support. In two separate polls conducted over the last five months, 53 percent of Mainers surveyed said they support letting gay and lesbian couples marry here."


This same Pastor, Michael Gray, speaks about his evolution on marriage equality in the video below.



With a GIANT win in New York and judiciously thorough religious protections placed in the language, Maine should pull through this time. Let's carry this momentum!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ooh baby, do you know what that's worth?

Oh, heaven is a place on Earth.
In heaven, love comes first.
We'll make heaven a place on Earth.

I LOVE THIS SONG! Especially this version by Katie Thompson. (The original, by Belinda Carlisle, is good, even if the video is kind of silly).

Lyrics are always important to me when I consider a song (for the most part, anyways), and it's been a personal philosophy of mine to 'make heaven a place on Earth' for a while. I know that it is a love song but the chorus is really resonating with me right now.


Let's say it's been a rough couple days, and this was a pleasant surprise to lose myself in. Healthy escapes are always good for the soul.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Crazy Interview Questions

I read this on a tip from Andrew Sullivan. It always amuses me to read clever answers to questions that should really never be asked in interviews. This list, written by Giles Turnbull from the Online Magazine, The Morning News: Black and White and Read all over, takes the cake!

My favorite example:
Kiewit Corp: What did you play with as a child?

We had no toys. Grandpa sometimes brought us interesting-looking stones that he’d found by the creek, so we gave them names and invested them with complex personalities and back-stories. They lived in a stony alter-universe where everybody was a stone. The stones had little stone parties sometimes. We offered them bugs to eat, but the stones weren’t hungry. I have my favorite stone in my pocket. He’s called Gufflin. Would you like to meet him?

Love it. I now want to meet Gufflin.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Car Free City Centers of Europe to the US?

Wow. Even though I really shouldn't be surprised, I always am when I read about transportation and/or environmental news out of Europe. It is so different than the United States. An article in the New York Times by the Elisabeth Rosenthal describes how the cities of Europe are discouraging city driving on purpose, while American cities are making it easier.
Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have closed vast swaths of streets to car traffic. Barcelona and Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike-sharing programs. Drivers in London and Stockholm pay hefty congestion charges just for entering the heart of the city. And over the past two years, dozens of German cities have joined a national network of “environmental zones” where only cars with low carbon dioxide emissions may enter.


There are obviously environmental applications to these decisions. Less cars on the road means less carbon emissions from the exhaust, less oil required for gasoline. There are great health benefits as well as daily requirements for exercise are surpassed on the commute into work.

As noted in the article, most European cities were developed hundreds if not thousands of years before motorized transport appeared as a means of getting around, and therefore have narrow roads and are naturally pedestrian/cycling friendly. Living in Boston, I can see how much easier life would be if there were much more cycling and much less driving, considering our roads were developed along the same lines as cow paths.


(everyday traffic in Amsterdam, cycling capitol of Europe)

I have been impressed by the avid cyclists here in Boston who ride even in the winter, and one of the main reasons I wanted to move here in the first place was because it is such a walkable city. One of my biggest concerns for moving to South Florida is that it is not very pedestrian friendly. I know, kind of silly, but being connected to the heart of a city without needing a car is important to me. I've heard than some cities in the US have started encouraging more pedestrian traffic, like Portland, Oregon and San Francisco. I hope this is an idea that catches on.

Welcome to the Fold!

Late on Friday night, New York State finally passed the Marriage Equality Bill with the help of four Republican State Senators. One of them, Sen. Mark Grisanti, gave an extremely relevant speech. I believe everyone should hear it.


He is a lawyer, but also a very religious, very devout Catholic, yet he still found reason to support marriage equality. These are basic CIVIL marriage rights. Decisions on religous marriage should be left to those churches who want to make them. (cough... Catholic church... cough cough...). This truth is BLATANTLY obvious for those who understand how the US system of government actually works.

In related news, the American Medical Association has just officially endorsed marriage Equality.
209. MARRIAGE EQUALITY
Introduced by Medical Student Section
Reference committee hearing: See report of Reference Committee B
HOUSE ACTION: FOLLOWING SUBSTITUTE RESOLUTION 209 REFERRED IN LIEU OF RESOLUTIONS 209 AND 210
RESOLVED, That our American Medical Association recognize that denying civil marriage based on sexual orientation is discriminatory, imposes harmful stigma on gay and lesbian individuals and couples, and contributes to health care disparities affecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community; and be it further
RESOLVED, That our AMA support ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage in order to reduce health care disparities affecting those gay and lesbian individuals and couples, their families and their children; and be it further
RESOLVED, That our AMA support the repeal of the “Defense of Marriage Act” as it discriminates against married same-sex couples and their families and directly contributes to health care disparities among the GLBT community.
210. MARRIAGE EQUALITY TO REDUCE HEALTH CARE DISPARITIES FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES
Introduced by Young Physicians Section
RESOLUTION 210 WAS CONSIDERED TOGETHER WITH RESOLUTION 209.
SEE RESOLUTION 209.
RESOLVED, That our American Medical Association recognize that denying civil marriage based on sexual orientation is discriminatory, imposes harmful stigma on gay and lesbian individuals and couples, and contributes to health care disparities affecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community; and be it further
RESOLVED, That our AMA support ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage in order to reduce health care disparities affecting those gay and lesbian individuals and couples, their families and their children; and be it further
RESOLVED, That our AMA support the repeal of the “Defense of Marriage Act” as it discriminates against married same-sex couples and their families and directly contributes to health care disparities among the GLBT community.
(AMA)

But anyways. CONGRATS NEW YORK!!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cure for Type 2 diabetes?

Scientists at Newcastle University, in the UK say they have found a way to cure type II diabetes. Here's a quick, basic refresher for those who are not sure what the difference is between type 1 and type 2.

Type 1:

Usually diagnosed in young children. Pancreas no longer makes the amount of insulin necessary to control blood sugar. (Usually causes blood sugar levels to spike, causing damage to small vessels in they eyes, kidneys, etc)

Type 2:

Usually diagnosed in obese people. The body is no longer produces enough insulin to control the levels of glucose in the blood, this is different than type 1, because it is not necessarily the production of insulin that is affected, it is the receptors for insulin become desensitized to insulin. Much attention and research has been given to type II, because the US has seen its population become more obese in the last few decades.

The scientists are claiming to have cured type 2 diabetes by prescribing a strict no-carb, 600 calorie diet of low-starch vegetables and diet drinks for eight weeks. They are claiming that seven of the eleven in the treatment group had no symptoms at the conclusion of the trial.

For some reason, they seem astonished that with weight loss, their type 2 patients no longer need drugs to control their symptoms. As I learned about type 2 it seems intuitive to me that with weight loss, the dependence on drugs would decrease. I know that physiology is very complex, but sometimes there can be simple cures. Lose weight, cure your type 2 diabetes. Go figure.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Forbes Magazine says Gay Marriage for Straight Legislatures

This article from Forbes.com is probably one of the best defenses for marriage equality that I have seen in such short and succint form. If anyone had a question on whether or not the 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The author, Lisa Duggan, describes her first marriage from start to finish.
When I got hitched for the first time, in Staten Island’s tiny city hall, I was a naïve twenty-two year old, wearing a dress off Nordstrom’s rack. New York State didn’t ask, so we never had to tell anyone why we wanted to marry, only that we did.  Two signatures and two vials of blood was all that was necessary to be granted the state’s legal blessing.
New York State was there as well, three years later, when we decided to get unmarried—and this time they were asking questions. Cruel and inhuman treatment? Abandonment for a period of one or more years? Adultery? Who did what to whom, and when: it was all material to our legal grounds for divorce.
She then goes on to describe how married couples can completely lose any and all protections once they cross state lines, and how this law was written and passed specifically to discriminate against the LGBT population. It makes me sick to look back and see how complacent our legislators (and most of their constituents) were (and are) when it comes to writing discrimination into our laws, and potentially into our Constitution.
It means that our government will not pay Social Security benefits to the same-sex spouse of any enlisted person, grunt or officer, even if their partner of fifteen years dies while defending this country.
Is it me, or does all this scream civil rights violations? Isn’t it the height of hypocrisy for State and federal legislators to collect taxes from their gay constituents with one hand, while denying their rights with the other?
Especially when you consider that this legal landscape is neither an oversight, nor a murky interpretation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution, which manages potential conflicts between various states’ rules.  In fact, the US Congress had to go out of its way to create this “marriage apartheid.”
She then goes on to attack DOMA and the potential Federal Marriage Amendment directly.
The 1996 law that unfairly singles out some American citizens based solely on sexual orientation is called The Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The law was inspired when several gay couples from Hawaii sued for the right to legally marry. (DOMA was signed into law by that hero of marital fidelity, Bill Clinton.)
DOMA doesn’t prohibit individual states from allowing gay marriages, but it denies federal recognition of these marriages and grants each state the right to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages issued by other states.  Keeping gay families unequal and separate.  As legal scholar Andrew Koppelman observes in his book, The Gay Rights Question in Contemporary American Law, DOMA:
“Create(s) a set of second-class marriages, valid under state law but void for all federal purposes. The exclusion of a class of valid state marriages from all federal recognition is ‘unprecedented in our jurisprudence.”
And the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment will forever seal this separate status by defining marriage to be between one man and one woman. We’ve been here before, although some refuse to see the parallels: it wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional every miscegenation law in the country.

Land of the Free? Home of the Brave? Please read the article. The rest is really good. Let me know what you think.

Pottermore

My world just stopped. In a good way. My obsession for years has just returned. I know I've already posted twice on this blog (here and here) about Harry Potter and JK Rowling, but just wait. After seven books, eight movies, a website full of mysteries and clues, JK Rowling has just opened up the Potterverse (yes, it's real) wide open.


This morning a video and website were released, called Pottermore (very British, and very appropriate). A continuation of the world of Harry Potter for the digital age. It opens in October. I cannot wait! She describes the new experience way better than I can. Watch the video, get excited!

Neil and I will be at the midnight showing for HP 7.2. Be there or be square!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Beautiful Music

So, in my own opinion my last post was kind of harsh. To make up for it, I decided to post one of my favorite pieces of classical music. I have always loved listening to classical music (in moderation) and sometime use it to help me focus when I study. The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college, I took a course on Music History, and this beautiful piece by Bedřich Smetana called Má Vlast Moldau is the only new piece that has stuck in my mind. Smetana was inspired by the Vtlava river (Moldau in German), and wrote six symphonic poems to represent different lengths of the river on its way to joining the Elbe.  

You can almost see the streams running over rocks and crevices, then joining together through woods and forests. You can hear the dancing and merry making of the farmers' wedding, you can see the grandness of the ancient ruins and castles. Or none of these things if you decide to just listen to it as background music. I think it's beautiful.

The Three Wings of the Republican Party.

I wish I would have written this piece (PLEASE READ IT! It's really insightful). Drew Weston, a psychologist who is now teaching at Emory University wrote a post for Huffingtonpost, describing three wings to the modern Republican party.
The first wing, the psychiatric wing, is defined by severe psychological and intellectual impairments, exemplified by the inability to read a birth certificate.
He cites the likes of Sarah Palin who rewrites history or factual information to cover gaffes, (or just don't realize their version of reality is actually just in their heads. Michelle Bachmann is another easy example that he comes up with. Politicians like these would stand no chance in elections if mainstream media types treated elections with greater importance instead of just popularity contests and celebrity reality shows.
The second wing is the corporate wing, also known as the wing-tip wing. Once the home of moderate Republicans such as Bob Dole, this wing used to be slightly to the right of the American center. Its advocates held beliefs now seen as "quaint" by modern-day wing-tips (e.g., that humans evolved the same way other animals did, that a fertilized egg does not hold property rights any more than an omelet does, and that cutting the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, police, and firefighters does not reduce unemployment).
According to Weston, a wing-tip politician holds three principles above all others: 1. when there is a problem, cut taxes for the rich, 2. There's no shame in being bought and paid for by special interest groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Big Oil, Pharma, Wall St, or anyone else out to make a profit at taxpayer expense 3. When not in power, deficits are the worst thing for the government; when in power, deficits do not matter (Pres. George W. Bush). Politicians who belong to this wing include the more 'pragmatic' legislators like Sen. Richard Lugar and Rep. John Boehner. It looks like Sen. Scott Brown is trying to embody this type of philosophy, but bounces back to the psychiatric wing when he's trying to win votes.

And that brings us to the third wing of the Republican Party, the Democrats. Their standard-bearer, President Obama, has proven himself perhaps the strongest potential challenger to Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination if he decides to join the debates, having established his conservative bona fides on a wide range of social and economic issues:
  • Deporting more immigrants and breaking up more families than George W. Bush (or to put it in more business-friendly language, increasing U.S. "exports" of poorly documented human capital).
  • Coming out in support of expanded off-shoring drilling just before the BP catastrophe in the Gulf; repeatedly touting production of a mythical substance (seen only, legend has it, by industry executives) as "clean coal" (widely believed to be found in the Fountain of Youth); and calling for the building of more nuclear plants, which the Japanese have shown to be a safe complement to offshore drilling (perhaps with the hope that water contaminated with radioactive materials discharged into the ocean might prove useful as a dispersant for oil).
  • Extending the "Hyde Amendment" to allow GOP lawmakers to exclude abortion coverage from even private health insurance.
  • Cutting 120 billion in taxes for the rich while proposing billions in cuts to "entitlements," such as home heating subsidies to people who are poor or elderly.
  • Making sure the nation's largest banks remained solvent so they could continue to foreclose on the homes of millions of Americans, whose tax dollars supported the multi-million-dollar bonuses of the executives who continue to refuse to renegotiate their mortgages.
  • Saying virtually nothing as Republican governors and state legislators around the country attack organized labor (e.g., remaining almost entirely mum on the Wisconsin law stripping workers of the right to negotiate their contracts).
But that's just the president. We can't blame the party whose name he never utters for the actions or inactions of its titular leader, who prefers to remain "post-partisan."
I know it's a long quote, but I could not have said it better myself. This complaint that Democrats are beginning to sound like, look like, and act like Republicans is something I've noticed since becoming interested in politics, and I've blogged about before, here, and here. If you've read this far, you should really read the rest. I'm all for progressive politics. We need to hold our elected leaders' feet to the fire, and remind them why we put them there in the first place. TO HELP US GET BACK TO WORK! Not to create a better environment for businesses to reap in record profits and take advantage of the little guy, or to police our social lives and bedrooms. For those interested in progressive coalition building, some good information can be found here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ex-gays and Mental Health

This article was written by a friend of mine, Benoit Denizet-Lewis. We play on the softball team together. (And by play, I usually mean, I sit on the bench and watch Neil, Benoit, and the rest of the team play). I read it yesterday, and wanted some time to think about it. I didn't think I would blog about it at all. To be honest, the whole 'ex-gay' mess is something I just don't want to touch. The psyche is a delicate, yet powerful thing. It has always been my philosophy that if you are attracted to men, there's really nothing you can do to change that. If you're attracted to women, there's nothing you can do to change that. The only choice involved in sexual orientation is whether or not one 'chooses' to live a happy life going with their orientation, or a not-so-happy and potentially miserable life going against it.

Anyway, with people like Michael Glatze, I don't know what to think. When I hear about ex-gays now, it is usually someone who 'struggled' with their same sex attractions and because of their religious convictions, cannot reconcile their natural inclinations with their faith. They then claim the label of 'ex-gay,' to prove to the world they have overcome their 'struggle,' though privately it never truly goes away.

Michael didn’t begin to question his life path, he told me, until a health scare in 2004 that led to what he calls his “spiritual awakening.” That year, when Michael was 29, he experienced a series of heart palpitations and became convinced that he suffered from the same congenital heart defect that killed his father when Michael was 13. (Michael lost both his parents young; his mother died of breast cancer when he was 19.) After tests eventually ruled out his father’s illness, Michael felt that he had escaped death and found himself staring “into the face of God.”
If I had to come to any conclusion, I think the health 'scare' really freaked him out. He was so confident in his 'gayness' before, I wonder if that flash of mortality made him want to find something more lasting, more secure. Eventually that led him to fundamental Christianity, the kind whose adherents can live nothing but their own interpretation, with no space for an outside view.

I'm too young to remember, but didn't the first crop of ex-gays come out (or should I say go back in) during the first HIV/AIDS scare? Nothing can make you re-think your life, like a close touch with death, and fear can be a very powerful motivator.

P.S. Another thought I had about this piece has to go with the mental health of those who feel they must struggle with their sexuality. I feel like counseling is an important part of the coming out processes, or just even understanding yourself better. This counseling has been hijacked by those who claim to be counseling those with same-sex attractions, and can actually help people out of them. (See boxturtlebulletin.com for a lot more about this myth). I actually had a counselor whose creed entailed not encouraging any positive feelings toward affirmation in a gay identity, but encouraging any opposing feeling, either straighthood or anti-gay feelings (American Association of Christian Counselors). Those seeking counsel, including religious counsel, should know that God loves them, no matter who they are, who they love, or how they feel, and should be free to come to any conclusion they so desire without any influence of religious bias (one way or another). Mental health is more important. Here's a good follow up article by the New York Times.

HP 7.2 Final Trailer! SQUEE!

Here it is! The trailer for the last Harry Potter movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. So many of my favorite scenes from the book are going to be in this movie, and some of them are highlighted here. I actually teared up watching it.

I am so impressed by JK Rowling's story telling, and even more so with the how the last two films are turning out. Neil and I are going to the midnight showing. It's going to be awesome!



Who else is excited? Anyone else going to the midnight showing?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sweden on my Mind

Yesterday, I spent some time looking at Sweden. This country has slowly taken over my life. (Not really, but it has popped up a lot more than it usually does). I was perusing one of my favorite websites, andrewsullivan.com, when I found this very cool video:



Believe it or not, this guy, FreddeGredde, is Swedish. I am also Swedish (well, there are a few Swedish drops of blood in me, I'm sure). I read on his blog how he was a student and that had me thinking about how most things (like education and health care) in Sweden are free, because of all their taxes (which I would rather pay, and get free health care and education).  

That got me thinking some more about my future. I'm a political person, a wary political person who always has an escape plan just in case one of the many anti-gay politicians find themselves in power. I know it's silly, but some of their biggest supporters advocate for us to be expelled from the country, so why not get a head start, eh? It's always good for my mental health to be prepared. Anyway, I looked up Sweden on their official website, Sweden.se and found a lot of really cool stuff, including a bunch of great short films! TAG! was my favorite. 

I don't know if I'll ever make it over there, and Neil has vowed to never have to become fluent in any other language than English, so that makes things a bit harder. At least now I know why I have this Robyn song stuck in my head.



We have similar dance styles. :)

The Commitment: an AMAZING read by Dan Savage

I LOVED The Commitment, by Dan Savage. First, a little about him. Savage is the author, Savage Love, an advice column about love, sex and relationships published in the Seattle Stranger. He, with his husband, Terry Miller, started the It Gets Better Project, so far to great success. The first video and amazing google chrome commercial posted below.
Original Video


Amazing Commercial. I get chills every time I watch it!

Anyways, I love his advice, and I love his writing. (The Kid was fantastic!) Back to The Commitment.  The (true) story is about his reminiscing about the marriages of his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, all which happened on the north side of Chicago. (Which is one of my favorite areas in the world.) Back in Seattle, this leads into his struggling to figure out with his boyfriend the whys and hows of getting married, and if they want to or not.

Neil and I had this book recommended to us as something we should read before we get married. He already read it, and I'm so glad I did. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in great storytelling, and might want to rehash the purpose of marriage.

UPDATE: News from New York

Over the last 24 hours, we have picked up another Republican state Senator, Roy McDonald, stating:
“I think I’m doing the right thing, it’s the appropriate thing, and if the public respects that, I’m grateful,” Mr. McDonald said as reporters pressed him in the Capitol for his decision. “If they don’t, then I move on.” (NYTIMES)
With his vow of support, we now have 31 of the 32 votes needed for a simple majority. (If you want to help, you can call a New York State Senator with my friendfactor account. It's easy, since they give you a prompt of what to say!)

Republican state senators caucused for four hours yesterday, without coming to a decision about a vote. According to the New York Times:
Anguished Senate Republicans held a four-hour meeting on Wednesday at which they were unable to decide even whether they would bring same-sex marriage to a vote, stalling a last-minute drive by supporters of the legislation.

The long-debated marriage measure, which has overshadowed all other issues in the final days of this legislative session, remained one vote shy of the number they needed for passage in the Republican-controlled Senate. The Democratic-controlled Assembly approved the legislation late Wednesday, by a vote of 80 to 63, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is a strong supporter.

Dean G. Skelos, the Senate majority leader, emerged from his caucus’s meeting on Wednesday afternoon to say that Republicans had not decided how to proceed on the marriage bill, but would continue discussions on Thursday.
(my emphasis added)

We need ONE MORE GOPer. One more. I wrote earlier how Alesi, the first GOP defector stated that 6-7 others in his camp might join the side of equality. Here is a list of Senators still on the fence. If you believe in equality, CALL THEM!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Big News in the Empire State

This is a big week for New Yorkers. Yesterday three Democrats from the State Senate, Addobbo, Huntley and Kruger flipped their votes to Yes for marriage equality! That's every Democrat except for the homophobic senator from the Bronx, Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr.

Later in the early evening, the first Republican, James Alesi, broke from the ranks and joined the side of equality! He is now predicting up to six other Republicans will join him. What a turn around from two years ago!

Andrew Cuomo, New York's Governor, vowed to make marriage equality one of his main priorities, but with the legislative session ending June 20th, I didn't think he could make it happen. It looks like I was wrong! There have been tons of big names (and small ones too), that have made videos through the HRC's New Yorkers for Marriage Equality.  Thousands have joined Friendfactor.org, a new type of advocacy website, where you can show your support for your LGBT friends and call state and federal legislatures. (My friendfactor page is here). Everyone is doing some last minute lobbying, including Cynthia Nixon (Sex in the City) and Sean Avery (New York Rangers). After some major disappointments in Maryland and Rhode Island, I have my fingers crossed for this one.  Come on New York! Let's make it happen!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Why do some people eat dirt?

The answer may be found in a study from Cornell University. This craving, which happens usually in young children and pregnant women has usually been contributed to malnutrition, or a lack of minerals in the diet, but scientists have proposed a differing theory.
"This clay can either bind to harmful things, like microbes, pathogens and viruses, that we are eating or can make a barrier, like a mud mask for our gut," said study researcher Sera Young, at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "Contextualizing this, making it clear to people that its not such a weird behavior, will help women come forth and not feel so alone."
The practice is most common in warm, tropical areas, though it has been found all over the world, including in the United States. Most people with dirt cravings don't readily admit it, though. Several hypotheses have been put forth to understand why some people eat dirt, though there is no consensus.
Very interesting.

UPDATE: My Dream

One day after I posted about literally having a dream about the economic future of the United States, I read this headline on Americablog.com.
"Obama slams government hiring, says private industry should lead"
Obviously intrigued, since this line of thinking is more Republican than Democrat, I clicked on the cited article from Bloomberg. The first statement confirmed to my horror, the idea that government cannot be a main proponent in the creating of jobs.

"Government is not, and should not be, the main engine of job-creation in this country,” Obama said in his weekly address on the radio and Internet. “That’s the role of the private sector.”
In the rest of the article, Obama stated that the role of government was to make sure the working populace of the United States were trained to take the jobs created by the private sector. While I'm in agreement, (and wondering when the US government is going to pick up my full tab for medical school. wink wink, nudge nudge), I disagree that the United States government should not be a major source of stability for the fragile economy. It is common knowledge that we were brought out of the Great Depression by the entry of the United States into World War II. But specifically, it was the spending by the United States government that brought the country out of the Great Depression. Yet, in this same article, it is stated that Obama is in talks with business leaders on how to increase hiring without increasing government spending. The idea of decreasing payroll taxes, which fund social security, has also been kicked around. This is a Democrat who is looking at these solutions? No. I don't believe it. The last time an economic recession of this magnitude occurred, the actual Democrat elected to the presidency created these measures:
•federal assistance for people who had lost their jobs, houses, savings, and livelihoods
•job creation for the unemployed through massive public works projects
•agricultural assistance for troubled farmers
•manufacturing assistance for troubled industries
•stricter banking regulations to prevent bank failures
•creation of the FDIC to protect bank customers’ deposits
•investment in the banking system to free up credit (link)

Almost all of these policies, called the New Deal, have been under attack since Obama became President. While he has actually used all of them at the beginning of his presidency, Republicans have used scare tactics and sometimes outright lies to tried to hold them back, discredit their effectiveness, and keep the economy in its fragile state so they can regain the White House, the Senate and keep the House in the next election; voters almost always go with the other party when the economy is bad.

Obama has tried to be so bipartisan that he is actually starting to look and sound like a Republican in his messaging and policies (yet those on the right still accuse him of being a socialist/communist). I'm very disappointed. Something has got to be done. Any ideas?

Because I wanted to include some music in this post, I think this might be fitting. "Cold Shoulder", by Adele.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

My dream for the Future

I just had a dream that we (as the people of the United States) were making a 4 trillion dollar investment in our future and creating jobs by increasing spending on infrastructure projects and education. How would we pay for it? By going back to Clinton era tax rates, closing corporate tax loopholes, and pushing individual and corporate civic responsibility campaign. Remember the whole, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," and taking care of your neighbor?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

LGBT Healthcare

It is important to know your patients. It is important that they feel comfortable enough to tell you everything relevant to their health history. This is a quote from Dan Savage, co-founder of the It Gets Better project.

The first adult authority figure that I came out to who wasn't a member of my family: my pediatrician. I'd been seeing him since I was a child and he was still my doctor. After my third or fourth visit about "a small skin blemish," he asked me what I was really worried about. I remember what I said to him: "I'm gay and I don't want to have AIDS." I don't remember what he said to me, but I'll never forget the look on his face. It was this combination of pity, panic, disappointment, and judgement. I never saw him again.
This is unacceptable. This encounter occurred in 1981, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and attitudes have mostly changed since then. Nevertheless, queer people still feel uncomfortable going to the doctor. New York City Health Department has put together a video to help train physicians on the importance of understanding sexual orientation and gender identity, how these identities affect the health of those people who claim them, and how important it is to help these under-served populations feel comfortable to seek the healthcare they need.



This video helps to put a human face on LGBT people. I think everyone should watch it.

UPDATE: Push Back

I posted last week about Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., a pastor and state senator for New York from the Bronx. He is about as vocal an opposition leader to marriage equality in a position of power, considering he can actually cast a vote for or against it in the legislature.

He has sad many hateful things about LGBTs, and opposes marriage equality SOLELY on his religious beliefs. He also claims to be the church, and the state.

Besides all these things, he is a family man. He is a father, and also a grandfather. One of his grandchildren, Erica Diaz, is a partnered lesbian with two children. On May 15, 2011, she held a opposing rally in support of marriage equality, while her grandfather and several others spoke against gay people. (Many continued to spread falsehoods of and anti-gay stereotypes) Before her grandfather finished his speech, Erica wanted to stand beside him. To show him that his family was watching.
After she returned to her side of the plaza, after her girlfriend greeted her with a jubilant kiss and her friends raised her arms in victory, like a triumphant boxer who had just left the ring, Ms. Diaz said she believed her grandfather, particularly at this moment, needed to be reminded that his family was watching.
“It was important,” she said of her decision to go onstage. “I wanted him to know that I’m here, and that as long as I am alive, I’m going to stand up for what is right.”
How did she expect all this to go over at the next family dinner?
“We don’t really mix politics at the dinner table,” Ms. Diaz said, allowing herself a smile. “Family is family.” (NYTIMES)
She later responded to her grandfather, and his rally through an interview with the NY Post.
When I was younger, marriage equality was not an issue for me. But now, as my grandfather ceaselessly and callously comments on the issue, each and every word stings, since I live with my girlfriend of 2½ years, Naomi Torres, and our two sons, Jared and Jeremiah Munoz. This fight is personal.
My family deserves the same benefits as others. Naomi -- whom I would like to marry -- should be able to do things that straight married people take for granted, like make a decision for me if I'm sick.
And my grandfather has witnessed our love. At Christmas he lovingly played with our children.
But as he continued to ratchet up his rhetoric, something in me snapped. I decided to show up at his rally last month on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse so that he could face a person he loved, a person who was gay, as he spoke against us.
That day I waded through the religious crowd and saw children as young as mine say hateful things. "You're not God's child. One man, one woman. You're not living by God." I was so nervous that morning that I threw up. I spoke against him across the street, directly within his view. But then I approached a police officer who escorted me to the podium where he spoke. My grandfather introduced me to the crowd and kissed me on the forehead. "This is my granddaughter," he said. "She chose her way of life, but I chose God's way, but I love her." Grandpa even called me after the rally, to say that he was proud of me for "respectfully speaking up for what you believe in." You cannot tell someone that you love them and stay silent when people call for their death. "Love" is empty when you say someone's life isn't natural.
He could quietly vote "no" if that's what he believes is right. But I want him to know that every word he utters hurts his own blood. (NYPOST)
Her question is one I can mirror myself. How someone play with the life of a family member so easily?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ending the Drug Wars

I have had many conversations about how the war against drugs isn't working. My brother and I talked about this subject back when we were freshman in high school! There is now a report written by former officials of major world organizations including: former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former US Secretary of State George Stultz, former Presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, and former FED chair Paul Volcker.
The report calls for an end to the "criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others," and for governments to experiment with ways to regulate drugs so as to undercut organized crime and improve public health.
"Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime," the report says. "Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights - and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation."
As I said, I have had numerous conversations about this topic over the years, and as recently as a few weeks ago with Neil, before this report came out. We have never agreed on everything, but I think there are some definite changes that can be made, with some long-term beneficial implications. There are several policy points made in the report.

Drug policies must be based on solid empirical and scientific evidence. The primary measure of success should be the reduction of harm to the health, security and welfare of individuals and society.
Drug policies must be based on human rights and public health principles. We should end the stigmatization and marginalization of people who use certain drugs and those involved in the lower levels of cultivation, production and distribution, and treat people dependent on drugs as patients, not criminals.
Several recommendations were made in the report, including:
Break the taboo. Pursue an open debate and promote policies that effectively reduce consumption, and that prevent and reduce harms related to drug use and drug control policies. Increase investment in research and analysis into the impact of different policies and programs.

Replace the criminalization and punishment of people who use drugs with the offer of health and treatment services to those who need them.
Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (with cannabis, for example) that are designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.
Some unintended consequences of criminalization were highlighted as well:

The implementation of the war on drugs has generated widespread negative consequences for societies in producer, transit and consumer countries. These negative consequences were well summarized by the former Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, as falling into five broad categories:
1. The growth of a ‘huge criminal black market’, financed by the risk-escalated profits of supplying international demand for illicit drugs.
2. Extensive policy displacement, the result of using scarce resources to fund a vast law enforcement effort intended to address this criminal market.
3. Geographical displacement, often known as ‘the balloon effect’, whereby drug production shifts location to avoid the attentions of law enforcement.
4. Substance displacement, or the movement of consumers to new substances when their previous drug of choice becomes difficult to obtain, for instance through law enforcement pressure.
5. The perception and treatment of drug users, who are stigmatized, marginalized and excluded.
It was kind of cool to read in the report some conclusions that I had come to independently several years ago. But it had me thinking. When a teenage kid with zero policy background can come to the same conclusions as an expert panel with many years of experience and research at their disposal, something must be wrong. It would be great to see at least some of these changes implemented. Our prison population is one of the largest in the world per capita, with most of them being non-violent drug offenders.

I definitely agree with the reports assessment of treating drug abusers more as patients than criminals. How do we expect to help those with drug abuse problems return to a normal life after being incarcerated in our broken prison system? I'm sure I could write much more about his subject. Perhaps in an update?
Read the actual report here. More information on drug statistics can be found here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Push Back Against Homophobia

This is an important story. It is my understanding that the Spanish-media in the US allows for a lot more homophobic comments and viewpoints without any rebuttal or push-back.

Not this interview.

New York state Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr (more info here) has been the voice and face of opposition to marriage equality in New York, where between 51% and a historic 58% favor allowing same-sex couples the rights and protections that marriage provides. During his career as a pastor and politician, he has made many outrageous claims, like comparing homosexuality to drug addiction and bestiality and lying about marriage legislation, stating that churches would be forced to marry same-sex couples or have their tax-exempt statuses revoked.

New Yorkers, and others, if you feel so inclined, spread the word! Read the article, then write/call Ruben Diaz and let  him know how you feel about his opposition to marriage equality, and check out Marriage Equality New York to see what can be done to help bring marriage equality to the Empire State.

To put you in the mood:



Or for the Gleeks: