"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Saturday, February 28, 2015


I'm sure you've run across this little episode in the annals of Sun City, Arizona (where but Arizona?), but now it's been set to music:

What more can I say?

Saturday Science: They Ate Clams

You don't think of Peru as a place to find crocodiles, and these days, you'd be right. Thirteen million years ago, however:
Thirteen million years ago, as many as seven different species of crocodiles hunted in the swampy waters of what is now northeastern Peru, new research shows. This hyperdiverse assemblage, revealed through more than a decade of work in Amazon bone beds, contains the largest number of crocodile species co-existing in one place at any time in Earth's history, likely due to an abundant food source that forms only a small part of modern crocodile diets: mollusks like clams and snails. The work, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, helps fill in gaps in understanding the history of the Amazon's remarkably rich biodiversity. . . .

Before the Amazon basin had its river, which formed about 10.5 million years ago, it contained a massive wetland system, filled with lakes, embayments, swamps, and rivers that drained northward toward the Caribbean, instead of today's pattern of eastward river flow to the Atlantic Ocean. Knowing the kind of life that existed at that time is crucial to understanding the history and origins of modern Amazonian biodiversity. But although invertebrates like mollusks and crustaceans are abundant in Amazonian fossil deposits, evidence of vertebrates other than fish have been very rare.

We should keep in mind that the eastern range of the Andes, the area in question, only began to form about 10 million years ago, much later than the western, coastal ranges. The Amazon River itself only started forming 11 million years ago, so the present configuration of the whole area is fairly new.

So, 13 million years ago, the Amazon basin was a swamp full of crocodiles digging for clams.

This model is a life reconstruction of the head of Gnatusuchus pebasensis, a 13-million-year-old, short-faced crocodile with globular teeth that was thought to use its snout to "shovel" mud bottoms, digging for clams and other mollusks. Model by Kevin Montalbán-Rivera.
Credit: Copyright Aldo Benites-Palomino

Something to think about.

This Needs to Happen More Often

Democrats need to nail their Republican colleagues to the wall more often. Barbara Boxer:

Some highlights:
The Center for American Progress, states it would cost more than $50 Billion to deport the entire population that the president is protecting.

And here's the deal - I've never heard of a Republican (and I will stand corrected if any Republican corrects me) I've never heard of a Republican complaining when President Eisenhower used his executive order power to help immigrants, when President Nixon did the same thing to protect immigrants, when President Ronald Reagan, their hero, protected immigrants, when George Bush Sr. protected immigrants, when George W. protected immigrants, they all used their authority.

Show me one Republican that stood up and said, 'Oh, this is outrageous! Let's impeach the president!' But it's President Obama. And they're annoyed because he won twice. Sorry. Sorry. Wake up and smell the roses. He IS the President. And he is doing the right thing for America, because he loves America. So I say to my Republican friends. There's a presidential race coming. Forget this last one. Get over it. Okay? Let's work together. Listen, I served with five presidents. I'm a strong Democrat. Everyone will tell you that. But I respect the office of the presidency. If I didn't agree with Ronald Reagan, I came down here and said it. But we had the respect back and forth. If we lost, we lost. And we moved on. And that worked both ways. I know what it is not to like the policies of a president. I get it. But don't overdo it and make it so personal. Get on with it.

Grow up. Do your job, you know? Do your job! Have respect for the office of the presidency.

Don't suddenly say executive orders are bad when the president you don't like does it, but you don't say one word when a Republican president does the same thing!

Offhand, I'd say she's a little annoyed. It's worth watching the whole clip.

Via Crooks and Liars.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Image of the Week

We got more snow yesterday. It hasn't really been bad this year -- not like the Northeast -- but it keeps happening: the forecast every few days says "chance of snow" and we may or may not get it. Yesterday, we got it.

This one's from Bernice, from a couple of weeks ago:

I'm sure I've done something similar, but the one I have in the tank is somewhat more stark:

Culture Break: Einojuhani Rautavaara, Cantus Arcticus

Wednesday was rather topsy turvy (it seems that "radiator inspection" is a thing, at least in Chicago), and I forgot to do a "Culture Break" post, so this is by way of catch-up.

I used to have a recording of this, and have no idea at this point what happened to it. At any rate, it's a piece I liked well enough to investigate more of Rautavaara's music.

The video is rather static, but it's not what you'd call a lively piece. Billed as a "Concerto for Birds and Orchestra."

You can read more of my thoughts on this one in my review.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Over the Top

This takes batshit crazy to a whole new order of magnitude. From one of the most unhinged figures of Anti-Gay, Inc., Scott Lively (who is facing trial for crimes against humanity):
Regardless of where one stands on Ukraine or Vladimir Putin, just for a moment consider where the pro-family movement would be if it hadn’t been for the Ukraine coup. Russia would still be (relatively speaking) a respected member of the international community offering an alternative, genuinely pro-family model for social policy. There would likely be at least a half-dozen nations which would have adopted the anti-propaganda law for themselves (with many more considering it) and there would be a healthy international debate raging on pro-family vs LGBT visions for the future. I believe the tide would probably have begun to turn in our favor, at least on the global scene, if not yet in the US or EU. Is it really so far-fetched to believe that morally wicked, Imperialistic, Alinsky-ite Obama (credibly alleged to be a homosexual himself) started the Ukrainian civil war to punish Russia for opposing the 'core value' of America, the priority of his State Department? Or (more importantly to the 'gays') to prevent the Russians from leading a pro-family counter-revolution in the world?

If you have any awareness at all of current events, I don't even have to parse this for you.

Via Joe.My.God.

The Danger of Local Government

While everyone has been focusing on upcoming presidential elections, the rabid right has been taking over the states, with predictable results. What we're seeing is a series of designed to chip away at gay civil rights, especially marriage -- a strategy the right has followed with a fair degree of success in hampering women's reproductive rights. Arkansas recently passed a state law that forbids local governments from enacting any ordinance that protects the rights of groups not included under state law. And that forceful leader, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, didn't sign it -- but he didn't veto it, either. (Walmart, based in Arkansas, weighed in against the bill at the eleventh hour -- actually, at about eleven hours and fifty-nine minutes.) And the silence from other quarters has been deafening:

Noted activist Scott Wooledge, who you'll recall played an instrumental role in the identifying of the three gay bashers currently on trial for an attack on a gay couple in Philadelphia, spoke to The Post about the lack of movement from national organizations over SB 202 and about his own involvement: “For some reason, many LGBT organizations have been slow to respond on state level fights,” he explained. “Mostly I stepped up because I felt like there was not going to be a national response.”

Michelangelo Signorile went further, accusing the HRC of malpractice for its silence on SB 202:

Signorile was directing much of his criticism at HRC president Chad Griffin, who hails from Arkansas. “Whatever the reasons, many LGBT national leaders are nowhere on this terrible and potentially enormously impactful law,” Signorile wrote on Friday morning. (Griffin eventually released a statement to the Arkansas Times in a blog post dated Friday afternoon.)

(Every once in a while, I run across some earnest college kids out on the street panhandling for HRC. I routinely turn them down, and explain exactly why. I hate to do it, because they're all so enthusiastic, but every once in a while I can see that what I'm saying is registering.)

Well, now West Virginia has decided to follow suit.

The bill, named the "West Virginia Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act", claims its intent is to "improve intrastate commerce" and business by enacting "uniformity" of laws, thus benefitting "the businesses, organizations and employers seeking to do business in [West Virginia] and will attract new ones to [it]." In actuality, the bill prevents local governments from protecting its LGBT citizenry from discrimination.

That was the smokescreen for the Arkansas bill as well, and you can expect to see more of them. (If I'm not mistaken, similar bills have already been passed in a few other states, but I can't remember which ones, although Texas seems a likely candidate.)

And in Iowa, they're still trying to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, six years after the fact:

Nearly six years after the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously legalized same-sex marriage, 23 Republican lawmakers are still battling to overturn the ruling.

Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, and Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Columbia, have introduced resolutions in the Iowa Senate and House seeking a statewide referendum on a state constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman. The resolutions are co-sponsored by 21 other GOP legislators.

The comments at the article are not supportive of the effort. And just to demonstrate how completely they've thought this through, the Supreme Court will be ruling on marriage this spring, and most observers are expecting a decision in favor of the right of same-sex couples to marry. These guys are going to look like the idiots they are.

And states and municipalities are going after trans folk, especially students, hammer and tongs:

This past Monday the Kentucky Senate Education Committee revisited and approved Senate Bill 76 in an 8-1 vote in an attempt to force transgender students to use the bathroom at their school that matches their biological sex rather than their gender identification. In a particularly shady move, the committee kept its agenda for Monday in perpetual "Pending" status and no mention of the bill was ever made to the public until it was brought up at the meeting.

I don't know why these people are so obsessed with bathrooms -- although I suspect more than a little projection: they're that sick. And the ground troops are involved -- they're even using bathroom scares to work against local anti-discrimination ordinances.

And of course, there are the "religious freedom" bills that legalize discrimination. One of the latest is from North Carolina, where the legislature is working on a bill to allow clerks and judges to avoid doing their jobs -- i.e., marrying gay couples -- based on their "religious beliefs." The reaction has not been very positive:

Sworn public officials have to do their duty, and this not-so-clever bit of legislating is certain to be found unconstitutional. Magistrates and registers of deeds don't get to cop out of their jobs based on their personal beliefs.

This is amateur hour at the General Assembly, and a petty action that could get expensive. The legislature already has spent nearly $100,000 to have outside lawyers appeal the federal rulings on same-sex marriage. State Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, wisely decided not to press on with appeals once the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the issue.

If the high court rules that laws banning gay marriage are unconstitutional, it follows that a silly maneuver like this one regarding magistrates will fall quickly in the courts as well.

And let's not count out reactions to those states who have passed or are considering banning "ex-gay" torture of minors -- and who should step to the head of the line on that score but that stalwart defender of bigotry, Sally Kern:

With an eye on what has happened in California and New Jersey, today an Oklahoma House committee approved state Rep. Sally Kern's bill to prohibit the state from regulating "ex-gay" torture therapy. Kern, the chair of the committee, claims her bill is the first of its kind in the nation. Her bill is expected to face strong opposition before the full chamber.

Be interesting to see how that bill progresses -- no reputable medical professional is going to support it, but it is, after all, Oklahoma.

I just realized this turned into something of a link dump. And sorry if it's wandering a bit, but there's so much crap going on in the states that we need to be paying attention to, since our major advocacy groups can't be bothered.

It's going to be a war of attrition. I don't think these clowns will have the support in fighting equal rights for gays that they've had fighting abortion rights -- in spite of their attempts to link the two, equal rights doesn't resonate the same way that "killing babies" does. But they'll keep fighting as long as the cash holds out.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Faith and Governance

So the latest right-wing attack on Obama is that he's not a "Christian" (whatever that means, and if you look at some of the "experts" voicing this opinion, it's obviously an open question). Jon Green has a piece at AmericaBlog on why it shouldn't be an issue.
If you’re curious, or perhaps frustrated, as to why every Republican candidate is probably going to be asked about Obama’s faith this week, look no further than the people they have to pander to for the next year and a half: Republican primary voters and activists, who run the gamut from uncertain about Obama’s Christianity to absolutely convinced that it doesn’t exist[.]

And why is this important to the base? Well, there's this:

A majority of Republicans nationally support establishing Christianity as the national religion, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday.

The poll by the Democratic-leaning firm found that 57 percent of Republicans "support establishing Christianity as the national religion" while 30 percent are opposed. Another 13 percent said they were not sure.

This is the party that loves the Constitution. Also the party that carries on endlessly about "religious freedom."

Do you wonder why I've gotten to the point where I can't make myself vote for a Republican, even an Illinois Republican?

Footnote: That's also why evolution is such a big issue.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It's Official

Roy Moore is pandering to idiots:
In an interview with the Associated Press published Monday, Judge Moore attempted to illustrate just how much the legalization of same-sex marriage would actually change the institution of marriage across the nation.

"You're taking any definition of a family away," if the Supreme Court finds a right for same-sex couples to marry, the Alabama jurist claimed.

"When two bisexuals or two transgendered marry, how large is that family?," he posited. "Can they marry two persons, one of the same sex and one of the opposite sex? Then, you've got a family of four or how many?"

Now, I'm not going to try to guess whether Moore believes this himself or not: he's not stupid, he's a con artist and liar, but he's also a fundamentalist "Christian" of the sort who sees the world through a very dense filter. But I'm willing to bet that this is tailored for an audience not inclined to doubt authority -- the same audience that re-elected him to the Supreme Court of Alabama after he's been removed for ethics violations -- including violations of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

For some reason, I thought nonsense was limited to children's rhymes and Lewis Carroll. Silly me.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Marriage News Watch, February 23, 2015

A few judges are still refusing to see gay and lesbian couples in Alabama. Texas has had its first lesbian marriage, and now state officials are scrambling to find a way to undo it. And some major national anti-gay figures are preparing to release a new manifesto to stop the freedom to marry.

Roy Moore's supporters are just the sort of people you'd expect. And it seems that there's another Supreme Court justice in Alabama who's just as extreme as Roy Moore:

In an opinion concurring with an order by the Alabama Supreme Court stating that it wouldn’t tell Alabama probate judges whether they had to follow the federal court order that legalized same sex marriage, Justice Glenn Murdock suggested that maybe the court should just stop giving out marriage licenses.

He argues that if the state legislature had known that banning same sex marriage violated same-sex couples' right to equality, then maybe it would’ve been better to make everyone equal by letting no one get married.

“Considering the meaning of the term ‘marriage’ intended by the Legislature in those statues, they may be deemed to survive, or must be stricken as wholly void, if they are not to be applied solely to a union between a man and a woman,” he wrote.

He references a decision that states that laws can be entirely struck down if, “the invalid portion is so important to the general plan and operation of the law in its entirety as reasonably to lead to the conclusion that it would not have been adopted if the legislature had perceived the invalidity of the part so held to be unconstitutional.”

Good luck with that. Aside from the legal hurdles -- he's talking about nullifying a fundamental right for the entire state -- wait until all those straight couples realize they can't get married and that if they go out of state, their marriages won't be recognized at home.

The state officials in Texas trying to nullify the lesbian couple's marriage are also on shaky legal ground -- their license was issued pursuant to a court order. What he's asking the Texas Supreme Court to do is overrule a court order based on a decision that the Texas marriage ban is unconstitutional, without weighing the merits. I'm not sure which is the most laughable line from his filing: "harm is imminent" or "Alabama, too, is experiencing similar confusion."

And aren't these all just the most mature, level-headed reactions you've ever heard of?

And the "Reclaiming Marriage" farce is just about what you'd expect: the Manhattan Declaration redux, just as empty, and no doubt just as effective. It's really nothing more than warmed over Catholic doctrine on sexuality, and you know what I think of that.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday Science: The Evolution of Words

I admit it: I'm a language nerd. Language fascinates me, and not only because it's one of the tools of my trade. Probably more than anything else, language is what sets us apart of other animals, and the way that our languages have developed provides some fascinating insights into our prehistory. And now, statisticians have developed a way to figure out when those changes happened:

A team of researchers in the U.S. and U.K. has developed a statistical technique that sorts out when changes to words' pronunciations most likely occurred in the evolutionary history of related languages.

Their model, presented recently in the journal Current Biology, gives researchers a renewed opportunity to trace words and languages back to their earliest common ancestor or ancestors - potentially thousands of years further into prehistory than previous techniques can do with any statistical rigor.

Merritt Ruhlen, in The Origin of Language, provides tables of words with equivalent meanings with task of sorting them into families. It's fascinating to see the various variations in sound that crop up. From the article:

For example, the modern languages of English and Latin descended from a common predecessor called proto-Indoeuropean. In English, the words father and foot took on an initial f sound, but in Latin those words retained their p sound, as in pater and ped. This transition occurred across the English language in many words that had featured a p sound.

That holds true within families -- the Romance languages have retained the "p" -- pere, padre -- while the Germanic languages have shifted to the "f" -- German vater. (Don't be fooled by the spelling -- it's still an initial "f" sound, which to me only emphasizes the fact that writing is pretty recent.)

Ruhlen, if I remember correctly, manages to get back about six or eight thousand years. This goes further:
"Our new method is another exciting step to understanding how languages and genes evolve," says Pagel. "It will allow us to go back in time further than before, making it possible to reconstruct ancient proto-languages, words that might have been spoken many thousands of years ago."

I recommend Ruhlen's book, by the way -- in addition to being highly informative, it's fun.

On the Lighter Side

For those of you in the Northeast, it's not all bad:

I haven't seen the red pandas at Lincoln Park Zoo lately -- I've been sticking to the bird house. But the Amur tiger (that's the new name, I'm told) seems to be enjoying the snow.

Evidence? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Evidence!

The pope has weighed in on gender, the way it's supposed to be:

"Let's think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings," he continues. "Let's think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation."

"With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator," the pope says. "The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate."

"God has placed man and woman and the summit of creation and has entrusted them with the earth," Francis says. "The design of the Creator is written in nature."

I honestly can't remember, right now, when I've seen a clearer example of the impermeable membrane with which so many Christians wrap themselves. "The design of the Creator is written in nature." Where does he think our recent (relatively) rethinking of gender and sexuality in general come from? Psychologists and biologists aren't in the habit of making these things up. (Unlike, say, Catholic bishops.)

What more is there to say? Except maybe, "Open your eyes, Francis, and take a look at the world around you."

Footnote: This attitude probably accounts for most, if not all, of the problems we're having with the environment today: "God has placed man and woman and the summit of creation and has entrusted them with the earth[.]" It's a slightly different take on the old "dominion over all things" idea, but the seed is still there, to which I can only respond, "You're doin' a heckuva job, Brownie."

Martyr du Jour

Remember Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers in Washington state? She's the one who ran afoul of the state's anti-discrimination law when she refused to sell flowers to a gay couple (who had been regular customers for years) for their wedding, because Jesus. Hypocrisy point number 1: she had no trouble taking their money all that time, even though she knew they were gay, which in her book (you know the one I mean) is a no-no.

Well, the state offered her a settlement:

A florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding has rejected an offer from the Washington state attorney general to settle a discrimination case by paying a $2,000 fine.

The rejected settlement also said if the florist chose to continue selling flowers for weddings she would have to sell the items to all couples, including same-sex couples.

“Our state would be a better place if we respected each other’s differences, and our leaders protected the freedom to have those differences,” Barronelle Stutzman wrote in a letter Friday to Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

She wrote that gay couples are allowed to act on their views, but “because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs.”

Hypocrisy point number 2: Apparently, we have to respect her differences, but not the other way around. Why, she sounds arrogant and self-absorbed enough to qualify as a Real Christian™.

Potential hypocrisy point number 3: Any guesses on whether her beliefs prohibit her selling wedding flowers to divorcees?

The judge who heard the case made a very good point:

Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom on Wednesday rejected arguments that Stutzman’s actions were protected by her freedoms of speech and religion.

The First Amendment protects religious beliefs but not necessarily actions based on those beliefs, Ekstrom ruled. The state has the authority to prohibit discrimination, and Stutzman can be held personally liable for damages if she breaks bias laws, the judge said.

She plans to appeal the ruling. She's represented by the ADF. Any competent attorney would have told her to accept the settlement, which is really only a slap on the write, but it's another chance to point to the "evils" of treating gay people like -- well, people.

Via Joe.My.God.

And here's some of the rhetoric leading up to this moment of Christian defiance:

Stutzman "stands to lose her business, her home, and her personal savings," a CNN op-ed today wrongly claimed.

And The Heritage Foundation ran this apparently fictive piece today:
In a phone interview with The Daily Signal, Barronelle Stutzman said the decision—and its accompanying fines—will put her flower shop out of business, or worse.
After the fines and legal fees, “There won’t be anything left,” Stutzman said.
“They want my home, they want my business, they want my personal finances as an example for other people to be quiet.”

Seems sort of anticlimactic, if you ask me.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Image of the Week

After two days of bitter cold (highs in single digits), I'm ready for something a little less wintery.

That was my dad's back yard in North Carolina. Complete with pick-up.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Culture Break: Annbjørg Lien, "Loki"

Annbjørg Lien does some very interesting music, sort of spanning Nordic traditional and not-so-traditional. She's also one of the String Sisters, who I featured here. That instrument she's playing is a nyckelharpa, which gives some fascinating sounds: it's basically a fiddle with an extra set of drone strings, and is keyed, not fingered.

This song appears on the album Aliens Alive, which might give you some idea of her approach.


Ii just realized that I've been blogging on this site for over nine years, starting in December of 2005, when I moved here from my old blog at Earthlink (which is no longer viewable, since I no longer have an Earthlink account).

How time flies.


Via Box Turtle Bulletin, a very interesting report published in 1963 from the Literature Committee of the Friends Home Service Committee on sexual morality:

“Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters,” the authors wrote. “One must not judge by its outward appearance but by its inner worth … We see no reason why the physical nature of a sexual act should be the criterion by which the question whether or not it is moral should be decided. An act which expresses true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both, does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual.”

The report asserted that “sexuality, looked at dispassionately, is neither good nor evil — it is a fact of nature.” it also explored the meaning of morality itself. “It seems to us,” the report continued,” that morals, like the Sabbath, were made for man, not man for morals, and that as society changes and modes of conduct with it, we must always be searching below the surface of human behavior, to discover what is in fact happening to people, what they are seeking to express, what motives and intentions they are satisfying, what fruits good or bad, they are harvesting.”

That's essentially what I've been saying for a while: sexual morality is not about who sticks what into whom under what circumstances. It's about how we treat those we are involved with -- the quality of the relationship. (Well, morality in general is about how we treat each other.)

Selections from the full report are here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Without Comment

Via Crooks and Liars

Monday, February 16, 2015

Marriage News Watch, February 16, 2015

Things are finally settling down in Alabama. We'll take a look at just how messy it got last week, and what happens now. Plus, Justice Ginsburg makes some pretty candid predictions for the Supreme Court's upcoming marriage decision.

Here's Roy Moore trying desperately to justify his resistance, and failing miserably.

What he doesn't seem to understand (OK, I'm being kind -- that should actually read "What he doesn't want to admit publicly") is that a federal court ruling, especially in cases like this, where there is a question of fundamental rights, is the law. He's relying very heavily on Justice Thomas' concurrence in Lockhart v. Fretwell, which says that a state court is not required to follow a federal district or circuit court's interpretation of federal law. What Moore is saying is that probate judges are not bound by a district court decision finding Alabama's marriage laws unconstitutional under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment -- not the same question. At least he admits that federal law takes precedence over state law.

I commented on Justice Ginsburg's remarks, and the right-wing reaction, here.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday Science: No Big Bang?

So, what if the universe actually didn't have a beginning?

The universe may have existed forever, according to a new model that applies quantum correction terms to complement Einstein's theory of general relativity. The model may also account for dark matter and dark energy, resolving multiple problems at once.

The widely accepted age of the universe, as estimated by general relativity, is 13.8 billion years. In the beginning, everything in existence is thought to have occupied a single infinitely dense point, or singularity. Only after this point began to expand in a "Big Bang" did the universe officially begin. . . .

"The Big Bang singularity is the most serious problem of general relativity because the laws of physics appear to break down there," Ahmed Farag Ali at Benha University and the Zewail City of Science and Technology, both in Egypt, told Phys.org.

Ali and coauthor Saurya Das at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, have shown in a paper published in Physics Letters B that the Big Bang singularity can be resolved by their new model in which the universe has no beginning and no end.

This will, of course, cause creationist/literalist heads to explode all over the place -- after all, they have enough trouble with the Big Bang, since it contradicts their idea of creatio ex nihilo. I find it fascinating as a commentary on how our way of looking at the universe depends on our preconceptions. The prevailing mode of thought in the West, which has been largely shaped by Christianity, sees history as linear: it has a beginning, it runs its course for a certain period of time, and then it ends. Existence becomes a one-off.

Most other traditions see the universe and its history as cyclic, this existence one of a series of similar existences stretching through time with no real beginning and no real end. Granted, some of them see the cycle in more or less dramatic terms -- Hindu mythology foresees a cataclysm that marks the end of our existence -- and then it starts all over again. The Indians of the American Southwest, on the other hand, see a much more peaceable transition: we all came here from another world, probably underground. Even the Norse, as grim as their mythology could be, foresaw Ragnarok, the final war, as the beginning of the transition to the next cycle: Baldur would be resurrected and would lead the few human beings who escaped the destruction into a new, peaceful world.

At any rate, the article is fascinating, if you're into theories on the origin of the universe -- or even if you're not.

Here's a nice refresher on the Big Bang Theory:


Yes, I have been working, sporadically, on updating the Reviews pages with the Green Man Review material, but it's slow going: I'm finding a lot that has to be moved to Sleeping Hedgehog (which will be added to the pages when it's published there).

But I haven't given up.

Friday, February 13, 2015

It Gets Better

As an antidote to all the poison being spewed by Anti-Gay, Inc., there's this, from a young man named Dalton Ray:

Here's his story. Read it.

Via Towleroad.

Image of the Week

Or two. Winter images, but not exactly what you might expect:

Today in Twisted Knickers (Updated)

Well, the right wing noise machine is all atwitter because the Notorious RBG actually mentioned same-sex marriage in an interview.

“The change in people’s attitudes on that issue has been enormous,” Ginsburg said. “In recent years, people have said, ‘This is the way I am.’ And others looked around, and we discovered it’s our next-door neighbor -- we’re very fond of them. Or it’s our child’s best friend, or even our child. I think that as more and more people came out and said that ‘this is who I am,’ the rest of us recognized that they are one of us.”

So of course, the calls for recusal are coming in at top volume.


From Ed Whelan at NRO:

How can Ginsburg possibly think that it’s proper judicial conduct for her to speak out on this issue while the marriage case is pending before the Court? If she had any sense of her duty to maintain both the appearance and the reality of impartiality, she would recognize that she is now obligated to recuse herself from the case. But of course she won’t.

Given that Whelan is a right-wing hack with limited reading comprehension, even he should realize that she didn't address the cases before the Court: she made an observation on a trend in public opinion.

And of course, Brian Brown has to get into the act, via WingNut Daily:

“Even the attempt to posture that as a judge you’re obeying a code of ethics is now gone,” Brian Brown, the group’s president, told WND.

“They do whatever they want. She should recuse herself. It’s embarrassing for the judiciary.”

Brown said basic judicial ethics “that any judge should follow would clearly advise against commenting on a case currently coming up before you.”

Once again, she didn't comment on the cases. Duh.

Given the history of, say, Antonin Scalia, in both legal opinions and public comments regarding equal civil rights for gay people, where are the calls for recusal? (crickets)

Next teapot.

Update: Well, Brown obviously thought he was being too conciliatory:

I'm sure RBG will pay all due attention to NOM's demand. And I'm sure Jason Chaffetz, new head of the House Witch Hunt Committee, will be more than happy to investigate a Supreme Court Justice. As soon as he figures out what for. That is, if he can take time from wading through all documents in the possession of employees of the FCC.

Today's Must Read

Laurie Higgins, who is something called a "cultural analyst" for the hate group Illinois Family Institute (which you may remember as Peter LaBarbera's old gig, before he proved himself incompetent even in their eyes, and is one of the few state-level organizations designated as a hate group by the SPLC) has once again gone off the deep end: It seems that Kelly Cassidy, openly gay representative from Chicago's North Side (and my former rep, actually) has introduced a bill to ban so-called "conversion therapy" for minors. Rob Tisinai has an excellent analysis/take down at Box Turtle Bulletin, so I don't need to rip it to shreds myself.

I do want to point out one thing, where Higgins gives the game away:
The bill claims that homosexuality is not a “disorder, deficiency, or shortcoming,” stating that “The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the United States have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years.” What specifically does this mean? Are the bill’s sponsors asserting as fact that engaging in homoerotic activity is not morally disordered, morally deficient, or a moral shortcoming? If so, where is their conclusive scientific proof for such a claim about the moral status of freely chosen activity?

So we know it's not about the welfare of young people, or the fraudulent basis for what they're now calling "SOCE" (Sexual Orientation Change Efforts. Apparently "reparative therapy" wasn't working, as in, if it ain't broke, don't fix it), it's all about enforcing her warped sense of morality on everyone else. And what kind of loon wants a scientific proof of claims about morality?

Anyway, read Tisinai's post -- it's long, but it's thorough and just a wee bit snarky.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Culture Break: Çudamani

I've been catching up on reviews of Indonesian music, so this seemed like an appropriate Culture Break post. The clip is about ten minutes, but it takes that long to get attuned to the music. The dancer is an added treat -- more of what gamelan is in real life, as opposed to a CD.

For more information and reviews of gamelan, check the Music Reviews page under "John Noise Manis," who recorded and produced most of the discs I've reviewed. There's also a review of an Indonesian singer, Uun Budiman and the Jugala Gamelan Orchestra, and as a matter of fact, I reviewed a disc by Çudamani -- the first one I did, actually, so there's a lot of background information on gamelan in that one.

Marriage Equality and the General Public

This point struck me while reading this story this morning:

The truth is that many Republican strategists are privately hoping the Court legalizes gay marriage. It would remove the issue from the political arena and save Republicans from having to choose between between their evangelical base and a majority of voters in the 2016 election.

My take is that there are two groups in this country that are energized by same-sex marriage: gay rights activists and anti-gay evangelical "Christians."

Yes, polls over the past few years have trended toward acceptance of marriage equality by the general public, which most people attribute to greater visibility of gays and lesbians. OK, that makes sense: most Americans are basically decent people and want everyone to be treated fairly, but they're not going to think very much about things that don't affect them personally.

On that score, I found this video, of a straight couple in Alabama unable to get a marriage license, particuarly apt: you can see the light bulbs lighting up for this guy:

The point: marriage discrimination didn't affect this couple until they couldn't get a marriage license because the county probate judge thinks gays are icky. You can tell they're decent people who probably think everyone should have the same rights, but now it's real.

So, what does this have to do with Republican hopes for taking marriage off the table in 2016? Simply that the Republican primaries are driven by the teabaggers and the social conservatives, for whom marriage is an issue. The general election is driven by the general electorate, for most of whom it is not. The Republicans are going to have to deal with the economy (which they won't do, except maybe to lie about the recovery and dodge their own role in slowing it down), foreign policy (bomb ISIS and make Benjamin Netanyahu Secretary of State), the ACA (how many repeal votes have they held now? And how many more can they fit in before the election?), and whatever new "scandal" they come up with.

So the hope is not that they don't have to deal with it in the general election, but that they can defuse it as an issue for the primaries, because the majority of voters in the general election are not going to vote based on that issue.

As for defusing it in the primaries, good luck -- there are too many people making too much money off of opposition to gay rights, including marriage, to let it rest until they've squeezed the last possible dime out of it -- at least, until they can get Vladimir Putin to pay for it.

And a look at the kind of backflips the Republican presidential wannabes are going to be using, courtesy of Gov. Bobby Jindal:

Well, look, we're a nation of laws. That's why I've said I want the Supreme Court not to overturn our law, and that's why, ultimately, if the Supreme Court were to do this, I think the remedy would be a constitutional amendment in the Congress, to tell the courts you can't overturn what the states have decided.

I doubt there's going to be much enthusiasm for repealing the Supremacy Clause, but look at what's passing for logic here: we're a nation of laws, but if the Supreme Court overturns a law, he wants a Constitutional amendment to take away its power to do that. (Come to think of it, to make popular referendums on minority rights Constitutional, you'd have to repeal the Bill of Rights.)


Monday, February 09, 2015

Marriage News Watch, February 9, 2015 (Updated)

Marriage starts today in Alabama, and the usual suspects are still trying to figure out some way to stop it. Nebraska accidentally passed a bill that will recognize gay and lesbian couples, but only when they're carrying a concealed firearm. And we're on a fast track for rulings in several southern states.

More on Roy Moore's hail Mary:

There's this little thing called "the Supremacy Clause" in the U.S. Constitution that makes Moore's posturing just that. The governor's office had no comment. The probate judges had a mixed reaction:

Some judges across the state had already signaled they would do nothing to aid gay couples and, in some instances, any couples. “Marriage licenses and ceremonies are no longer available at the Pike County Probate Office,” the office said.

And Washington County Probate Judge Nick Williams released a “declaration in support of marriage” in which he said he would “only issue marriage licenses and solemnize ceremonies consistent with Alabama law and the U.S. Constitution; namely, between one man and one woman only, so help me God. . . ."

“With all due respect to Chief Justice Moore, he’s on the Alabama Supreme Court, and he’s not a federal judge,” said Alan L. King, a probate judge in Jefferson County, said last week. . . .

“I don’t want to see judges make the same mistakes that I think were made in this state 50 years ago, where you have state officials not abiding by federal orders,” said Judge Steven L. Reed of Montgomery County, who added, “The legacy always hangs over us until we show that we’re beyond it.”

I noted Huckabee's comments in this post.

And here's a story about the legislator who says that same-sex marriage will be "too expensive."

And that's it for now.

Update: Marriages have begun in Alabama.

And the map:

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Investigation du Jour

Well, it looks like the House Witch Hunt Committee has a little time on its hands:
Congressional Republicans are accusing the White House of having "an improper influence" over the Federal Communications Commission's decision on net neutrality, and are launching an investigation.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today demanding documentation of all communication between FCC personnel and the White House, as well as calendar appointments, visitor logs, and meeting minutes related to meetings with the White House, and all internal documents discussing the views and recommendations of the White House.

And just in case you thought Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Comcast) wasn't being aggressive enough:
The committee's document request had several other components, including "all documents in the possession of FCC personnel working in the Office of Chairman Wheeler and the Office of General Counsel."

It seems chairman Wheeler and the FCC had the audacity to recommend classifying the Internet as a "public utility" under Title II of the Federal Communications Act of 1934, when everyone knows that the Internet should be the sole province of major telecoms. Just ask them.

Oh, and not only did President Obama abuse the powers of his office (Tyranny!!1!) by publicly supporting net neutrality, but the public overwhelmingly supports it, so you know it can't be good for the country.

One commentator echoed my thoughts exactly:

xWidgetArs Centurion

I believe communications companies may have been having improper influence on this committee. I'd like to see their communications, meetings with company representatives, and any documents in their possession.

Via Balloon Juice.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Saturday Science: Male Sexuality

No, it's not set in stone. Of course, anyone who has followed any of my comments on sexuality in general knows that I've never believed it was, but now there's even more evidence:

The story is different for men. The sexuality of straight men has long been understood by evolutionary biologists, and, subsequently, the general public, as subject to a visceral, nearly unstoppable impulse to reproduce with female partners. Consequently, when straight men do engage in same sex contact, these encounters are viewed as incompatible with the bio-evolutionary coding. It’s believed to signal an innate homosexual (or at least bisexual) orientation, and even just one known same-sex act can cast considerable doubt upon a man’s claim to heterosexuality.

Anyone who stops to think about it knows that a teenage boy is willing to screw anything with a hole -- an urge that is not limited to teenagers: how many instances have there been of male/male couplings (by otherwise heterosexual men) in prison or the armed forces? If nothing else, Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male gave us a couple of basic insights:

Parts of the Kinsey Reports regarding diversity in sexual orientations are frequently used to support the common estimate of 10% for homosexuality in the general population. However, the findings are not as absolute, and Kinsey himself avoided and disapproved of using terms like homosexual or heterosexual to describe individuals, asserting that sexuality is prone to change over time, and that sexual behavior can be understood both as physical contact as well as purely psychological phenomena (desire, sexual attraction, fantasy). Instead of three categories (heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual), a seven-point Kinsey scale system was used.

The reports also state that nearly 46% of the male subjects had "reacted" sexually to persons of both sexes in the course of their adult lives, and 37% had at least one homosexual experience. 11.6% of white males (ages 20–35) were given a rating of 3 (about equal heterosexual and homosexual experience/response) throughout their adult lives. The study also reported that 10% of American males surveyed were "more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55" (in the 5 to 6 range).

The key, of course, is that male sexuality, like female sexuality, is not an either/or proposition.

The other key factor is that Kinsey's research was based on behavior, not identity or ideas about "sexual orientation."

I almost hate to bring this point up -- it's too easy -- but I think that most of our thinking about sexual orientation and sexuality in general is shaped, like so many of our other attitudes, by the prevailing mode of thought in the West, our heritage from the dominance of Christianity. It's an either/or way of thinking, in which things must be black or white, with no room for grays. Unfortunately, as we are learning more and more, the universe doesn't work that way -- it's a place of grays, with few, if any, absolutes.

Think about the cultures of ancient Greece, ancient Ireland (there's an episode in The Cattle Raid of Cooley in which Cu Chulainn takes a male lover), ancient and medieval China and Japan, pre-colonial Africa -- there are too many examples of men finding companionship, let's call it, with other men, and, indeed, too many instances in which these relationships became institutions.

All of this while these men, for the most part, married and had children.

So, it seems that these new insights about male sexuality are not so new.


Yesterday got a little out of control, and I forgot to post this:

That's one from Bernice, again. (Man, she's busy with the camera.) And yes, I've done similar images:

Gotta love those diagonals.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Today's Must Read: The Perils of Privatization

I started thinking about privatization of public facilities after reading this article at Crooks and Liars:

A controversial bill signed into law this afternoon by Gov. Chris Christie would allow for fast-tracking the privatization of many public water systems in New Jersey.

The Water Infrastructure Protection Act removes the public vote requirement to sell water systems throughout the state under emergency conditions that many systems currently meet.

Hmm -- "removes the public vote requirement." How very democratic of them -- will of the people, and all that.

Then I ran across this one at Baloon Juice, which focuses on my home town:

Looting the public treasury for private benefit — it’s bipartisan! At In These Times, Rick Perlstein (The Invisible Bridge, Nixonland, Before the Storm) introduces us to “Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, the privatized metropolis of the future“:

… For over a decade now, Chicago has been the epicenter of the fashionable trend of “privatization”—the transfer of the ownership or operation of resources that belong to all of us, like schools, roads and government services, to companies that use them to turn a profit. Chicago’s privatization mania began during Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, which ran from 1989 to 2011. Under his successor, Rahm Emanuel, the trend has continued apace. For Rahm’s investment banker buddies, the trend has been a boon. For citizens? Not so much.

He goes on about the supposed benefits:

That is the promise of privatization in a nutshell: that the profit motive can serve not just those making the profits, but society as a whole, by bypassing inefficient government bureaucracies that thrive whether they deliver services effectively or not, and empower grubby, corrupt politicians and their pals to dip their hands in the pie of guaranteed government money…

What no one seems to want to talk about -- at least, no one who is touting privatization as the remedy for our tottering infrastructure, not to mention the perennial manufactured "crises" in Social Security and Medicare -- is that you're inserted another layer of potential abuse into the system: suddenly, someone has to make a profit off of something that has been functioning without having to make a profit.

However, the rush to outsource responsibility for housing the poor became a textbook example of one peril of privatization: Companies frequently get paid whether they deliver the goods or not (one of the reasons investors like privatization deals). For example, in 2004, city inspectors found more than 1,800 code violations at Lawndale Restoration, the largest privately owned, publicly subsidized apartment project in Chicago. Guaranteed a steady revenue stream whether they did right by the tenants or not—from 1997 to 2003, the project generated $4.4 million in management fees and $14.6 million in salaries and wages—the developers were apparently satisfied to just let the place rot…

The head-scratcher here is that the taxpayer is going to have to pay for this, ultimately, by reimbursing the new owners for the purchase price (often inflated) and by paying for any maintenance the owners care to do. Higher rates for everyone, coupled with a decrease in service. Something else that no one wants to talk about.

I'm not going to point fingers at Republicans or Democrats on this one -- it's a bipartisan effort.

And from the standpoint of value for the dollar, it's really, really stupid.

Some things really should not be subject to the profit motive. Like just about anything that we, as taxpayers, are footing the bill for.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Today's Must Read

This post at Mahablog.

On the other hand, there’s a real problem in some academic studies in which perspectives other than those of dead white European guys are still being frozen out. For centuries, women were locked out of contributing to both eastern and western civ, but that doesn’t mean current, well-documented gender bias in academia can be ignored. And the philosophy departments of American universities continue to shortchange Asian philosophies.

There's no excerpt that I can find that really does justice to the post, so read it.

I have some thoughts on this, but my brain is in hibernate mode this morning. I may come back to it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Culture Break: Amoeba, "Pivot"

Amoeba is an experimental duo comprised of composer Robert Rich and guitarist Rick Davies. I first came across them while pursuing the music of Rich, who has had a somewhat interesting career. He's generally regarded as a composer of ambient music, but it goes a little beyond that.

This piece is somewhat livelier than the selections on their first album, Watchful, but it has a lot of the same elements.

Idiot du Jour

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who thinks restaurants should be able to opt out of certain regulations:
“I was having a discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like ‘maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,'" the senator said.

Tillis said his interlocutor was in disbelief, and asked whether he thought businesses should be allowed to "opt out" of requiring employees to wash their hands after using the restroom.

The senator said he'd be fine with it, so long as businesses made this clear in "advertising" and "employment literature."

“I said: ‘I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,” Tillis said.

There's an interesting reveal on the thought processes, such as they are, of "conservatives" -- they seem to get to a certain stage that gives them a good line, but they can't go any farther than that. So, restaurants can opt out of requiring employees to wash their hands, but they have to put up a sign saying so. Tyranny! Oppressive government regulation!


(One wonders what other regulations Tillis thinks should be optional? Sanitary regulations? Food inspection? Fire code?)

Liar du Jour

I'm not really up for a lot of analysis today -- it's just one of those days -- and picking apart Tony Perkins' lies is almost too easy, but why not? Via Joe.My.God.::
Make them bake cake! That's the verdict of an administrative judge in the case of Oregon bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein. The couple, who became the brave face of America's religious liberty clash, were informed yesterday by the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries that in the battle over marriage, their First Amendment rights no longer counted. Unfortunately for the parents of five, wedding vendors like them may soon have no choice. In the free market, the courts no longer seem to recognize the right to believe what you want. Owners of small businesses like Sweet Cakes by Melissa, Arlene's Flowers, Simply Elegant Wedding Planning, Hands On Originals, and others are seen as nothing more than tools of the government to think and believe as the state sees fit. If they refuse, as Aaron and Melissa have done, Oregon is threatening to bring the full weight of the government to bear. Where are all of those writers who insist that conservatives 'can't even convincingly demonstrate that anyone is hurt in any way by a gay wedding?' Still denying reality no doubt.

Where to start? First off, none of the cases he cites occurred in states where same-sex marriage was legal at the time. They're not about marriage law, they're about public accommodations law.

Second, the courts have said nothing about the vendors' personal religious beliefs, which are still, despite Perkins' fear-mongering, protected by the First Amendment. What they are not allowed to do is force those beliefs on everyone else, whose freedom of conscience is also protected by the First Amendment.

"Tools of the government"? That's extravagant, even for Perkins.

A point: I noticed he's dropped the "participate" part. I guess that just wasn't flying. I guess the part about being "hurt by a gay wedding" is supposed to dog-whistle that one.

And reading through this again, I realize there's no substance to it whatsoever. It's all just his stock catch-phrases with the names inserted in the appropriate blanks.

Needless to say, today's recipient of the Tony Perkins Award for bald-faced lying is none other than Tony Perkins.

Sadly, he's gotten to be a real bore. He needs some new material.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Marriage News Watch, February 3, 2015

Marriage could be starting next week in Alabama. Anti-gay officials are saying that they don’t have to let gay couples get married, but their reasoning isn’t exactly what you would call true. Oklahoma’s marriage equality backlash is getting dangerous, with a proposed law that would hand new victims to ex-gay predators. And the National Organization for Marriage thinks they’ll have an impact on the 2016 presidential election.

For my take on Roy Moore, see here.

Sally Kern's bill to punish state officials who comply with equal marriage rulings is only one of several. Similar bills have been introduced in Texas and, I believe, South Carolina. They won't go far -- if they pass, the states will be sued very quickly.

Today In Disgusting People

Pastor Governor Mike Huckabee, who wants to be Pastor President Mike Huckabee. Apparently he doesn't understand the difference between those job titles.

There you have it: all the arrogance, self-absorption, disdain for America's founding principles common to "Christians." He's also a liar.

I doubt that I have to parse this for you -- for anyone to cite "biblical principles" as a basis for American law sort of gives the game away.

Oh, and about those last two examples? I'd love to see Pastor Governor Huckabee's reaction if Jews started demanding that bacon and shrimp be banned, or if Muslims demanded that all dogs be killed.

Am I the only one who sees a big fake here?

Sunday, February 01, 2015

About Vaccinations

There's a good post over at Mahablog on the anti-vaxxers and their consequences. She has the close to the same reaction that I do, not only to the whole "vaccinations cause (fill in favorite horrible condition)" mantra, but to the self-obsessed "health" nuts in general:

Health fads aren’t new at all, but fads about diets have gotten so prevalent they’ve spawned a new term — orthorexia. Suddenly gluten is bad. Suddenly people have to de-tox. Like we didn’t have livers for that. Not that I’m exactly a role model of sensible eating, but I do run into people who are absolutely obsessed with only eating certain foods from a few trusted, and out of the way, sources. It’s like anything sold in a chain grocery store might cause sudden death.

My working theory for at least some of this craziness is that food and health fads have taken the place of religion for some people as a means for protecting themselves and their loved ones for the scary things out there. Prayer has been replaced by colon cleanses.

I've seen labels at my local Jewel crowing that the packaged ham is gluten free. Ham? Why would you find gluten in ham to begin with? Yes, gluten -- which is nothing more than the protein in wheat and similar grains -- is sometimes added to other foods as a stabilizing agent, but meat? Granted, there are people with gluten allergies, but all the manufacturers need to do is include information on gluten on the label. Jewel is jumping on the latest food-fad bandwagon. (The idea the gluten is "bad for you" is patently ridiculous, unless you're one of those with the aforementioned allergies.)

I have a friend who at one point was avoiding carbohydrates -- she called them "empty calories." I sort of lit into her, pointing out that your body needs carbohydrates, that's mostly what it burns for energy, especially at rest, and carbs are not "empty calories." It's amazing the nonsense that people pick up from the media that becomes received wisdom. (Well, that's my problem with received wisdom, now that I think of it. Who knows what these "authorities" have been smoking?)

Back to vaccinations. The real problem here is that we need our herd immunity; without it, diseases -- such as, for example, measles -- have a nice big playground. (I was talking to my sister yesterday and we were remembering all the vaccinations we had as children. She remembered the polio vaccinations, which I had forgotten, but who in the hell would want polio to come back? Or smallpox? I religiously get my pneumonia vaccinations -- having had pneumonia twice in the past five years, I can assure you it is no fun -- two or three days in the hospital and maybe three to four weeks for a full recovery -- and my shingles vaccination, and even flu shots, even though I have variable reactions to the flu vaccines: sometimes I get sick for a night, sometimes I don't, but I'd rather spend a night in bed than a week.) So now, thanks to Sarah Palin, among other luminaries, we have measles outbreaks all over the country.

O'Brien's last statement gets to the heart of it:

The measles outbreaks also reminds us that the things we do, or don’t do, really do affect other people in myriad ways. We can go around pretending that our personal choices are just our business, but it’s not always that simple.

That's it, with a small caveat: some of our personal choices are purely personal, but a lot of them simply aren't, because we're social animals, we travel in groups, and for better or worse, what's experienced by one member of the group has a big chance of eventually being experienced by most, if not all, of the others. Like measles.