Vegetarian

August 24th, 2013

I finally decided to switch to a vegetarian diet a little over a month ago. It’s been sort of a phase-in process over the past several years. Throughout my life I have rarely eaten any red meat, mostly because I simply didn’t like it or I thought it was gross. I’ve mostly limited myself to chicken and fish. In recent years I’ve been trying meat-free chicken, such as Morning Star products. I found that I liked them better than actual meat. I also learned how to cook with tofu and I’ve found that most restaurants, particularly my favorite – Thai – offer tofu dishes. The final push came from my concerns about animal rights, but overall the focus was on my health.

HEALTH CONCERNS

I grew up in a very health-conscious home. My dad owns the most equipped gym in New England and is extremely careful about what he eats, although he is not vegetarian. He follows a diet called the Pritikin diet, which severely restricts meat consumption and closely resembles my goals in the Okinawan diet. I chose the latter years ago because the people of Okinawa, Japan have the best health and longest life expectancy of any population in the world. I also subscribe to the Calorie Restriction Diet, though studies are still underway to see if the life-extending effects observed in mice and other species will apply to humans. I have been counting calories since high school. I do deviate from my diet sometimes, but overall I am very conscientious about my health, which includes regular exercise, sports, and doctor checkups. It was only natural that I would finally steer toward vegetarianism, the healthiest diet choice according to research.

The American Dietetic Association supports vegetarianism and a good deal of research indicates that vegetarianism improves health and longevity. A 1999 study found that rates of heart disease – the leading cause of death in the U.S. – were 24% lower in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians:

“Further categorization of diets showed that, in comparison with regular meat eaters, mortality from ischemic heart disease was 20% lower in occasional meat eaters, 34% lower in people who ate fish but not meat, 34% lower in lactoovovegetarians, and 26% lower in vegans.”

ANIMAL SUFFERING

A couple of months ago I was on the website for the American Humane Society, of which I am a member, and there was a story called Billy’s Legacy. It was about a small chihuahua that had been abused and neglected at a puppy mill. He was rescued by an AHS member and I highly recommend watching the story, as well as considering making a tax-deductible donation to the AHS. As the evening went on I researched more about animal abuse and discovered the ways in which farm animals are treated in the food processing industry. It was quite disturbing to watch. I’m not going to get into the gory details, which are readily available for anyone with web access, but suffice to say it was enough to finally convince me to stop eating meat.

Ultimately I decided that I’m not opposed to people eating meat in general, but that it’s the way we process meat in modern industry that I’m most opposed to. Hunting, fishing, raising chickens free-range, and other methods that limit or eliminate suffering seem reasonable to me. A wild or happy domestic life and a quick death for food purposes does not really bother me. Many domestic animals live longer and happier lives than they would in the wild. Unfortunately, until recently I was fairly naive and believed that major meat processing facilities provided similar accommodations to their livestock, or that, at minimum, the USDA and other agencies regulated the industry to limit animal suffering. I was wrong – completely, living-on-another-planet wrong. I encourage you to conduct your own research. PETA can be a good place to start, though they can come off as hyperbolic. I recommend watching the video footage and reviewing some of the statistics on their site. The American Humane Society offers a more balanced perspective on animal suffering, including farm animals. They offer realistic solutions to phasing out practices that cause suffering.

One of the best articles I’ve ever read on this topic is Personal Purity vs. Effective Advocacy, by Bruce Friedrich of PETA, partially excerpted here:

“[W]e all know people whose reason for not going vegan is that they ‘can’t’ give up cheese or ice cream…Instead of encouraging them to stop eating all other animal products besides cheese or ice cream, we preach to them about the oppression of dairy cows. Then we go on about how we don’t eat sugar or a veggie burger because of the bun, even though a tiny bit of butter flavor in a bun contributes to significantly less suffering than any non-organic fruit or vegetable does or a plastic bottle or about 100 other things that most of us use. Our fanatical obsession with ingredients not only obscures the animals’ suffering – which was virtually non-existent for that tiny modicum of ingredient – but also nearly guarantees that those around us are not going to make any change at all. So, we’ve preserved our personal purity, but we’ve hurt animals – and that’s anti-vegan.”

A BALANCED PERSPECTIVE

A lot of things influenced my decision. For most major decisions in life, I like to be as informed as possible. My health was a primary concern and my first thought was, “If I stop eating meat, will I become deficient in certain nutrients or even get sick?” Fortunately, a vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients a person needs (as a side note, this is not true for vegans, who must take supplements to obtain all nutrients, which seems unnatural to me). From an animal rights perspective and as a Buddhist, I had to seriously consider the amount of suffering that modern industry causes to animals and how responsible I was for that suffering if I continued to eat meat. Along those same lines of logic you will discover that meat consumption negatively impacts the environment and exacerbates food shortages. I was also concerned that being a vegetarian would isolate me from enjoying meals with family and friends. I had a lot to think about.

My education and degree is in biology. I do my best (and I am somewhat obligated) to think critically and look at things from a scientific perspective. In my opinion, animal suffering is a difficult topic for biology because suffering is a subjective experience and there is a broad spectrum of capacity for pain in the animal kingdom. Information about such pain capacity in “lower animals” is somewhat limited and continues to be subject to debate. That said, there is little controversy concerning the fact that humans evolved to be omnivores – we have fangs and we digest meat. I had a nagging thought that apparently also occurred to Benjamin Franklin years ago – if one animal eats another animal and humans are animals, why should we not eat animals? Yet would I be willing to eat meat if it were not prepared for me, if I had to kill it and eat it like a non-human animal?

If I had to slaughter every animal I ate instead of having it neatly processed and prepared for me, would I do it? For me, the answer was no. For others, particularly hunters of wild game, the answer is yes, and I can respect that. For some species, hunting actually reduces animal suffering. In wild deer populations, for example, hunters help control population growth that would otherwise cause famine among those populations, not to mention considerable environmental damage. One might argue that humans supplanted wolves and coyotes as natural predators, but whether the meat ends up in the stomach of a wolf or a human is of little importance. A bullet may be a more humane way to die than an attack by a ravenous pack of wolves. Mother Nature invented cruelty long before humans discovered it, though that doesn’t mean we are exempt from our awareness of animal suffering, nor our responsibility to limit it.

In any case, I’m not really talking about hunters or the old ways of obtaining meat – what I’m talking about is our modern methods of processing meat, with tightly caged chickens who have had their beaks seared off with hot metal, pigs that are strung up alive and left to bleed out, or baby calves that are kept in small boxes, unable to move until they are slaughtered for veal. In addition to disturbingly cruel living situations for most livestock, modern industry employs many artificial means of increasing meat yield and profits. Such things as growth hormones, antibiotics, poor-quality or chemically-enhanced feed, and excessive processing have become commonplace. These additives and alterations to the animals are still there when we eat them. What’s bad for them is also bad for us.

As for seafood, I may change my mind, though the relatively small level of potential suffering and health considerations lead me to believe that consuming small amounts of seafood is acceptable for me. The way in which a fish or shrimp is killed by humans is likely equally humane or more humane than how they would be killed by a non-human animal. Maybe I’m still naive. I’m not sure such a direct comparison is at all relevant. An interesting article by Christopher Cox, Consider the Oyster, argues that oysters may be the most ethical, environmentally friendly food item, even better than plant agriculture. When it comes to animal rights, the issue is not to end meat eating, but rather to eliminate unnecessary suffering.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

The Okinawan diet consists of about 80% complex carbohydrates (whole grains, vegetables, and fruits) with a small amount of fat and protein, usually from fish and sometimes pork. The thought of eating pork has always made me nauseous (red meat is also carcinogenic), but I’m still deciding whether or not to eat fish. I haven’t eaten any fish since becoming vegetarian, though I did have some shrimp at a local fair recently. In that case I’m more pescetarian vegetarian. PETA may abhor my decision to continue eating very limited quantities of seafood, but I believe it’s the best option for my personal health and ethics. I can’t really say I’m ovo-lacto vegetarian since I’m lactose intolerant and I dislike cheese except for pizza. The use of animal rennet, often listed as “enzymes,” in cheese (google it!) means I now look for products that use rennet from plants or bacteria instead of baby cows. I use Silk Almond Milk for cereal – it doesn’t upset my stomach, it’s really low in calories, tastes better than dairy milk, and it’s more nutritious. Currently I’m looking for ways to further improve my diet by reducing sodium and added/refined sugars. There was a great article in National Geographic this month about the toxicity of added sugar and why it’s implicated as the top cause of obesity.

I think one day humans will stop eating meat completely, at least from living animals. Earlier this month the first lab-grown hamburger patty made headlines and last February an art display at the Royal College of Art ignited a discussion concerning the feasibility of growing headless chickens. Even further, 24-year-old software engineer Rob Rhinehart, has raised over $1 million for his Soylent food replacement shake. The idea is to completely eliminate typical food consumption and instead drink a shake that is designed to provide precisely all the nutrients a human body needs, nothing more, nothing less. While some of this sounds like something from futuristic sci-fi literature, I do believe that the human race is moving toward reducing violence and suffering among ourselves and animals. Like the abolition of Roman Colosseums, it seems the gradual movement away from meat consumption is a natural direction for a society that seeks to be more humane and peaceful. There is a parallel between animal abuse and abuse of our fellow humans – numerous studies and the American Psychological Association present strong evidence that animal cruelty is strongly linked to domestic violence.

We are at an interesting point in our history, an era of substantially heightened awareness about our impact on other people around the world, animals, and the environment. More than ever we are not only more curious about our individual impact or “footprint” on the world, but we also have unprecedented resources, such as the Internet, to pursue those curiosities and become informed. We occupy a special, perhaps even anomalous, place in the animal kingdom. That position brings with it equally special powers and responsibilities. That’s what this post is about – I want you to inform yourself more about your health and how your everyday choices impact others, including those who can’t speak for themselves. It would seem that what is good for us individually is also good for others, good for animals, and good for the environment as well.

CONCLUSION

The past month or so has been very easy for me. Perhaps that is because I’ve been subconsciously transitioning into this for years or maybe it’s just because I happen to dislike meat, in general. I cannot find any downside to being vegetarian. I have eaten at several restaurants in the past month and gone camping with my family and I never felt like I had to choose between eating meat or going hungry. I feel healthier and I haven’t had any cases of food poisoning, which used to be somewhat frequent for me when I ate meat. I believe my health will be better, too, because my actual diet is now more in line with what I consider to be an ideal diet, that of the Okinawans, the healthiest, longest-lived people in the world!

I feel better knowing my meals aren’t coming from animals and that my diet choices limit suffering in the world. The other day my little sister commented something to the effect of, “Being vegetarian isn’t going to stop the meat industry. People will still eat meat and animals will still suffer.” She’s right, of course, at least in the short term. In the long term, significant social change often requires many small changes that accumulate over time. I know that my choices will have some impact. Not only will I be healthier and live longer, but about 271 pounds less meat (the average American’s annual meat consumption) will be sold each year. Over the course of my lifetime, that’s about 30 – 50 cows or several thousand chickens. The average American eats more than 81 pounds of chicken every year. So, as you can see, one person’s decision really can make a difference in the immediate future. Also, if more people were vegetarian, food costs would go down (vegetarianism is much less expensive meat consumption), global famine would be reduced and pollution, particularly greenhouse gases, would also shrink. Meat production generates more greenhouse gases than automobiles and transportation.

Some of my family members have been eating less meat because of my decision. My dad has always severely restricted his meat consumption due to his Pritikin diet, but recently some of my other family members have been limiting their meat consumption as well. My uncle has sometimes replaced chicken with tofu when my family goes out to eat or they’ve been trying things like Morning Star hot dogs, which are meat free and taste just like the real thing while being much more nutritious. My mom bought a meat-free “chicken” salad from our local CO-OP the other day. She said she felt better knowing that she wasn’t hurting any animals with that meal. Some of my coworkers have also taken an interest in my diet change and it’s given me an opportunity to educate more people about the benefits of vegetarianism. People tend to feel more comfortable about something foreign to them when they meet someone who possesses that attribute. This is how change happens. Biologically we evolved to be omnivores, but we are still evolving and it falls on us to ensure that the definition of human continues to move closer to humane.

“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. There were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, ‘It makes a difference for this one.'”
~Loren Eiseley

Grammy Flanders

August 5th, 2013

My Grammy Flanders passed away last week. Her funeral was today. I made a video slideshow and I spoke at the funeral. My speech is below. She meant a lot to me. If you would like to leave condolences, you may visit her page on the Riposta Funeral Home website.

I want to thank you all for coming today. I’m sure Grammy Flanders would be happy to know she is loved, though I suspect she might say everyone’s making too much of a fuss about everything. I can’t imagine what she would say about all these flowers and how dolled up she looks right now. Those who knew her knew she always told it like it is. Along with her stubbornness, I think it rubbed some people the wrong way, but for many of us it was refreshing to be in the company of someone so genuine.

Grammy Flanders’ humility was one of her strongest virtues. I think it’s fair to say she even took pride in going without and having less than the average person. I have never known someone to be so comfortable with themselves and so content with the simple things in life. I always felt that she never wanted anyone to trouble themselves over her, almost as if she imagined she was invisible. Yet so many of us know just the opposite was true. Wherever she was, it seemed people were drawn to her, often because of her warmth and selflessness, or perhaps out of curiosity. She was a unique individual. She worked very hard her whole life and asked for little or nothing in return. I think people admire that, though I doubt Grammy Flanders would care one way or another if people admired her or not. She was like that. She didn’t care what other people thought about her. I know some thought she was a bit odd, and that’s probably one of the few compliments she would accept.

It wouldn’t be fair to talk about my grandmother without telling you about another side of her. You see, Grammy Flanders was also a bit of a trickster. She liked games and she liked thinking she knew a little more than most people. Someone so content and simple in such a malcontent and complex world – perhaps she did know something more than most of us. Growing up, I always knew that if either of my parents said “no,” I could call Grammy Flanders and she’d be there in a flash and most of the time she’d say “yes.” My parents say she spoiled me, but I think we had a special friendship and an understanding that was more than just a grandson and grandmother. We baked together, she taught me how to sew and brought me to craft fairs – I always felt like we were two mischief makers and could find an adventure anywhere. I know she felt the same way. She’d say, “Adam, we’re not like those old fuddy duddies. We have fun, don’t we?”

Grammy Flanders was an expert at finding joy in little things and even things others would consider an inconvenience or discouragement. She never took life too seriously. She had a genuine sense of humor and had no problem laughing at herself. When I was younger we got a pair of chickens and one day she was holding both of them in her arms. The chickens did not want to be held and they made their displeasure known by leaving some gifts on Grammy Flanders’ shoes. But she didn’t get upset, she just laughed like it was all a big joke. I don’t recall anything ever keeping her down for long. I think that’s what made her so strong – she knew how to see the world, as if every day were her first or her last.

Although she would have been 86 next month, I think she has always been a child at heart. She looked at the world with curiosity. She was stubborn like a child, too. Once she was set in her ways about something, nobody could change her mind. She would insist on wearing out clothing, especially shoes, until they were practically ripping at the seams. She wouldn’t let us get her anything new and she insisted on living a life that most of us was call old-fashioned. Again, she was a very simple and humble person in that respect. It seems a paradox that someone who got through each day trying to leave the smallest footprint behind, would leave such a huge memory in our hearts.

My grandmother has been ill for some years now. At some point it became difficult for her to remember who we were or what our relationship with her was. It was disturbing to feel like I was losing her before I had actually lost her. My family and I saw recognition light up in her face when we visited her, even if she couldn’t express her feelings in words. Grammy Flanders and I had spent so many years doing things with little or no words – sewing, kite flying, snowmobiling, crafts, cooking, sledding, gardening – that we didn’t need words to just be there for one another. When she was no longer able to do those things, it was apparent that just my presence had to be enough.

I was fortunate to see her Wednesday when she was still awake, still able to open her eyes. I debated talking about this, but I wanted all of you to know that in her last days she was happy and content as always. I laid down next to her and just held her hand. She would respond by gripping my hand and watching me. Until that night I had never realized her eyes were blue, like mine. I told her stories about when we were both younger, our adventures together, the spiteful chickens. I fell asleep next to her, stroking her hair, and when I awoke she was still watching me. Although she could barely move, she still managed to smile and keep her eyes wide open. Her expression seemed to ask what the next adventure would be, or to tell me everything would be OK, and as the hours passed by I began to wonder who was comforting whom. I just wanted her to know I was there with her. She seemed so small, like a little child.

From Matthew 18, Jesus is speaking to his disciples and one of them asks, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

“Jesus called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Grammy Flanders had a big heart, so big that even though she’s gone in body, I still feel like she’s here. I don’t know how God managed to place such a tremendous personality and a tremendous heart in such a little person. But there she is, like a small, sleeping child. I think I can see a smile on her face and somewhere she is laughing – laughing at how silly we all are.

I love you Grammy Flanders.

Equality II

June 28th, 2013

This is an update from my last post about the DOMA and Prop 8 cases. It was just announced that the 9th Circuit Court lifted the stay on the ruling and same-sex couples in California can now get married again! This comes as welcome and exciting news to many of us who believed it would be at least a month or so until marriages could resume in California.

Also, only hours after the DOMA ruling, California Senator Diane Feinstein reintroduced the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) into the Senate with 40 co-sponsors. The same bill was simultaneously introduced into the House of Representatives with 160 cosponsors. The RMA is a bill that would completely overturn DOMA. The recent Supreme Court ruling only struck down section 3 of DOMA, meaning the federal government now recognizes same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. However, section 2 of DOMA, which allows non-equality states to continue to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, still stands. RMA would eliminate that and same-sex marriage would effectively exist in every state in the US. That is, although every state would have to recognize same-sex marriages, not every state would perform such marriages for the time being, assuming the passage of RMA.

To clarify, prior to the DOMA ruling, a same-sex couple could get married in Maine, for example. Their marriage would only be recognized in Maine and the other states that recognize same-sex marriage. Following the DOMA ruling, the federal government now recognizes such a same-sex marriage performed in Maine and other equality states, which brings with it numerous federal benefits such as tax advantages. If RMA passes and DOMA is completely eliminated, then such a same-sex marriage in Maine should be legally recognized in every state, even states like Texas and Mississippi. Again, those states would still not perform same-sex marriages, but theoretically a resident of a non-equality state could simply get married in an equality state like Maine and then return to their home state and have full marriage recognition. Even if RMA fails in the House, it’s very likely a same-sex couple will soon sue a non-equality state for recognition of their marriage performed in an equality state. This would essentially follow in the footsteps of interracial marriage (see Loving v. Virginia (1967)) and it’s apparent from the court’s DOMA ruling that they would easily find section 2 of DOMA to likewise be unconstitutional.

Equality

June 27th, 2013

First of all I want to say thank-you to the courageous plaintiffs of the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, as well as their attorneys and everyone who helped us toward today’s victories in our nation’s highest court. We made history, a history that can never be revoked by a popular vote or referendum. This is permanent and it has set the stage for the final steps in this battle for equality. I am proud of our nation today. We are led by the first president to openly embrace and support the LGBT community. Gays and lesbians are serving openly in the military and now are proud members of the Boy Scouts. It is fitting that these Supreme Court rulings came in June, which is, by presidential proclamation, National LGBT Pride Month. For the first time in history, a majority of Americans favor marriage equality, and that majority becomes a vast majority for those in my generation and younger.

The direction in which we are moving is clear and the path ahead is laid out before us – we need only take a few more steps. I expect it won’t be long now until we achieve nationwide marriage equality in every state as same-sex marriage is now free to follow in the footsteps of Loving v. Virginia. There is still a great deal of work to be done in other areas of law, such as the federal Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which will make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation in employment and education, respectively. As David Boies, attorney for the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case, indicated, the DOMA ruling demonstrates that when the issue of gay marriage returns to the high court, “marriage equality will be the law throughout this land.”

When I was in high school, I was harassed on a daily basis for being gay. I was suspended for a week and threatened with arrest because I wore a gay pride t-shirt to school. No state had yet recognized same-sex marriage and sodomy was still criminalized in some parts of the country. My experiences convinced me that I had to take action and stand up for what was right, and shortly after graduating high school, I helped pass Maine’s anti-discrimination bill that outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity / expression. So much has changed since then. Today’s ruling not only grants over 1,000 federal benefits to married same-sex couples, but is also symbolic of a cultural shift. I think I speak on behalf of millions of other gay and lesbian Americans when I say that I feel very affirmed and proud of who I am and my community. Nothing will ever be the same again.

While the majority’s opinion praised equality and condemned discrimination against gay and lesbian people, Justice Scalia’s homophobic dissent was quite prophetic and I believe he is correct. We haven’t much longer to wait until full equality is realized for LGBT Americans…

“The Court is eager – hungry – to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case…Yet the plaintiff and the Government agree entirely on what should happen in this lawsuit. They agree that the court below got it right; and they agreed in the court below that the court below that one got it right as well…As far as this Court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe.”

RAV4

May 22nd, 2013

My uncle brought my new RAV4 to Maine from California today. I’ve been working really hard and saving up for the past 6 months so I could get this car and not have any loans or debt. I’m super happy with it! It’s a V6 and has tons of room inside, 5 seats with a huge trunk / storage area (with fold-down seats), and can get up to 31 mpg. Sound system is great and I can attach my iPhone to the audio input. I got it from California so that there wouldn’t be any concerns about rust damage, which is common for cars sold in New England. I don’t intend to keep it here much longer since I’m planning on leaving Maine in a year or less (my aunt and uncle would like me to move out to southern California), but in any case I know it will last me a long time. Consumer Reports rates it as the best mid-size SUV. I’m right in love with it 😀

These are photos from the California dealership’s website when the listing was still up. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge:

Next month (June) is LGBT Pride Month, made official by Presidential Proclamation last year. It is fitting that the US Supreme Court will soon be deciding the final outcomes of Prop 8 and DOMA. I expect both of them will be repealed in some form, though how broad the ruling will be is anyone’s guess. It could be anything from marriage equality in California and at the Federal level, all the way to full nationwide marriage equality overnight. AFER has a great graphic that explains it better than I can: Prop 8 Potential Outcomes. I think Prop 8 will be overturned, DOMA will be repealed, and thus California, the Federal government, and all states with only civil unions will have full recognition of same-sex marriage. With DOMA out of the way, interstate lawsuits will ensure that same-sex marriage follows in the same footsteps as interracial marriage (see Loving v. Virginia, 1967). Also this week the Boy Scouts will be deciding whether to allow gay youth in their troops and Illinois may become the 13th state to pass marriage equality.

Spring

May 5th, 2013


Spring is here and the weather is so nice. I’ve already been out shooting (archery) and rollerblading. I’ve been working really hard to save up for a new car – almost there! I’ve also been conducting some of my own experiments with plants, mostly tissue culture. I’ll publish results when I have something interesting. Still working on Pom Rush, the iPhone game I’m developing. It’s about two-thirds complete. I’m working on making it more difficult, but all the levels and characters are finished. That’s all I’m saying for now. I think I’ll have it ready and for sale in the App Store sometime this Summer.

This Summer is going to be exciting in the world of gay rights. As many of you know, Rhode Island just became the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriage. It also means that every state in New England has marriage equality! France also recently passed it, making 11 countries that fully embrace equality. It will not be long before the entire US recognizes same-sex marriage. Next month the Supreme Court will hand down rulings on DOMA and Prop 8, both of which are expected to favor equality. I predict Prop 8 will finally be overturned, adding California to the states where gay couples can wed. I believe that parts of DOMA will also be struck down, paving the way for Federal recognition of same-sex marriages and establishing significant precedent that will qualify sexual orientation for “heightened scrutiny” (protected classification along with race, religion, gender, etc.). Once DOMA is out of the way, same-sex marriage will be free to follow in the footsteps of interracial marriage, specifically Loving v. Virginia – there will be nothing to prevent a same-sex couples married in an equality state, such as Maine, from moving to another state such as Florida, and suing that state for marital recognition. At that point it’s a fast track to national recognition in every state. For now, but probably not much longer, DOMA is the only thing standing in our way.

The majority of Americans who support marriage equality continues to climb in number and organizations that previously objected to equality, such as the Boy Scouts, are now reconsidering their position. Even the Republican Party seems to be shifting its stance on several social issues including same-sex marriage. I don’t think anything can stop our momentum 😀

Madonna at GLAAD Awards

March 20th, 2013


This is why I love Madonna. She’s always been my favorite. She spoke at the GLAAD awards, dressed in a Boy Scout uniform, and called on the BSA to end their discriminatory practices. She presents an award to Anderson Cooper, who recently came out on national TV. She gives a very good speech about the national and international state of prejudice against LGBT people, bullying, and how we cannot accept this as we move forward. She points out that homophobia is no different than a white man hanging a black man before the civil rights movement, or the Taliban shooting a young girl in the head because she blogged about equal education for girls. I totally agree. Homophobia is no different than racism or sexism or any of the past prejudices which have come to fall from popular discourse. Homophobia is on its way out. Please read my February 6th blog about how I used to be a Boy Scout and call on the BSA to end discrimination against LGBT youth, as well as my work in civil rights.

“I don’t know about you, but I can’t take this shit anymore. And that is why I want to start a revolution.”
~Madonna

Madonna Calls on Boy Scouts to Lift Ban on Gays



Snowboarding

February 17th, 2013

I went snowboarding with my family yesterday. We had a pretty good time at the start of it, though later in the afternoon I wiped out and my ankle started swelling up so I went to the ER. They discovered that I had fractured my ankle pretty bad, so now I’m on crutches with a boot cast for a while. You can see the X-ray below and the lightning bolt-shaped fracture on the side (the outside ball of my left ankle). The ER was irritated that I didn’t come in sooner. At first they were mad at my mom because they thought I was a minor, lol.


Adam Flanders Snowboarding in Maine


23 and Me

February 12th, 2013

One of my Christmas gifts was a DNA profile from 23 and Me, a service that genotypes your DNA and evaluates, among other things, your traits, risks for certain diseases, and ancestry. It takes some time to process (you mail them a saliva sample), so my results just came in today. There weren’t many surprises and my ancestry information is still processing, though it shows a completely European background. I found the disease information to be most informative and potentially useful.

My highest risk for disease is Alzheimer’s. I have genetic markers indicating a doubled risk compared to the general population. There is long list of diseases for which there are markers, though this was the highest risk disease for me. In contrast, my lowest risk for disease was melanoma (skin cancer) and pulmonary embolisms, which has to do with blood clots.

My DNA profile accurately predicted that I have straight blond hair and blue eyes. It also accurately predicted my blood type and that I have fast-twitch muscles (I was a sprinter in high school). I have genetic markers indicating a higher likelihood of living to 100 and having a lower body mass index and low tendency to overeat. I currently weigh 132 pounds with a goal weight of 125, the lowest weight someone of my height can have without being underweight based on body mass index (BMI). I have a lower than average likelihood of developing male pattern baldness and I am likely to consume more caffeine than the average person. I have a higher than average tendency to develop addictions to alcohol and nicotine, though I neither drink nor smoke so that has never been an issue for me. I have markers indicating that I have an increased sensitivity to pain.

Other information includes my likely response to certain drugs and medications (nothing real significant) as well whether I carry any disease risks (I’m not a carrier for any diseases). Much of the information was very accurate, like my physical traits, while other information is more probabilistic, such as my likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. My grandmother is currently in a nursing home with full stage Alzheimer’s, yet otherwise she’s extremely healthy and is 85 years old. My great-grandfather lived to 94 and my great-grandmother lived to 89, so I do have longevity in my family.

The information has to be taken with a grain of salt – genetics is just one facet of health. The other major elements are behavior and environment, the latter of which is very complicated and filled with confounding factors. For example, Maine has the highest rate of cancer of any state in the US. Is that because we have the second highest per capita geriatric population in the US? Is it because of radon leaking out of Maine granite? I’m a strong believer in personal choices, individualism, and self-determination, so I lean toward behavior being the most important factor. I exercise, stay active (rollerblading, archery, tennis, etc.), and hold to a fairly strict diet. I don’t drink, smoke, or use illicit drugs. I do what I can to have fun, reduce stress, and maintain a positive outlook on life. Mentally I challenge myself all the time with computer programming and science projects, lots and lots of reading (especially scientific journals), and creative projects. I also take several health supplements. I recently read a book called The Longevity Project, by Howard S. Friedman, PhD, and Leslie R. Martin, PhD. It was based on an 80-year study of behavioral patterns associated with life span. They found that the number one predictor of long life was conscientiousness. I consider myself to be extremely conscientious and I have been told that I am often conscientious or principled to a fault, so I was happy to read their findings.

I’m still waiting on the ancestry results, which will give me a profile of my racial and ethnic background. I suspect that I have significant Native American ancestry on my father’s side, though we’re not sure. I’m also waiting on the “relative finder” to process, though I assume that for that to work, my relatives must have also had their DNA profiled through this service. I think it applies to very distant relatives, too, so that significantly expands the possible matches. There is still a LOT more information for me to explore and they are adding more stuff all the time. There are well over 100 different traits with in-depth explanations, so I’ve got a lot of information to explore!

Boy Scouts

February 6th, 2013

“Every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good scout.”
~Boy Scouts of America, Handbook for Boys, 1911

I was disappointed with the Boy Scouts today. They were supposed to make a decision regarding their organization-wide ban on gay scout members. Instead, that decision has been deferred to May.

The Boy Scouts are feeling heat from both perspectives on this issue, that is if the side of discrimination and bigotry can be called a perspective (more like a delusion). A number of religious organizations, including the Maine Christian Civic League, have signed a statement encouraging the Boy Scouts to “stay morally straight.” That statement also includes a threat to end their support, including financial support, to the Scouts, if they change their policy.

The topic is not merely a matter of liberal views vs. fundamentalist delusions. Our country is moving in a direction of civil rights and there is no turning back now, anymore than we would turn back and reinstitute racial segregation. Those opposed to basic equality for gay and lesbian individuals, which, for now, includes the Boy Scouts of America, are on the wrong side of history. The direction we are moving in is obvious. DOMA was overturned, more and more states continue to legalize same-sex marriage on the heels of high court rulings in favor of equality, and in every walk of life gay and lesbian people are becoming more accepted. A majority of Americans now support marriage equality and Maine recently became the first state to legalize marriage equality by popular vote. This is the first time in history we’ve had a president who openly affirms equal rights for us.

When I was in high school (Class of 2005) I was harassed and bullied on a daily basis for being gay. Several students and even some teachers regularly did whatever they could to make me feel unwelcome and down about how I was born. It got so bad that I attempted suicide and had to transfer to another high school. When I sued the school district, their attorney said, “Yes, we did all those things, but they weren’t illegal at the time.” In 2005 I told my story to Maine’s legislature and helped pass the anti-discrimination bill that makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit, and public accommodation. Now less than a decade later, my little sister attends the same high school and reports that there are several openly gay students who are accepted and that the homophobic bullies are in the minority and remain silent, as they should.

Whether or not it is the right way to make this decision, the Boy Scouts will likely choose a course of action based on finances. Membership has drastically reduced over the years and a large number of major companies have already terminated their funding to the Scouts due to the Scout’s anti-gay policy. Such companies include Intel, Emerson, Verizon, 3M, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Pfizer, Valero, UPS, U.S. Bank, Eli Lilly and Co., GE, Monsanto, Medtronic, PNC, Nationwide, Abbott, General Mills, Alcoa, Caterpillar, Illinois Tool Works, Allstate and Dow Chemical. In any case, if the Scouts uphold their current policy, they will become increasingly outmoded and unpopular to the point of no longer being able to maintain their existence.

As was true with the US Military prior to the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gay scouts and leaders are already present in troops across America. I know this because I was a Boy Scout for several years. I did all the things that you might expect in scouting and it was a very good experience for me. Among other things, I participated in box car racing, skeet shooting, camping, wood carving, and a number of other activities that no boy should be denied just because of how he was born. It is worth pointing out that the Girl Scouts do not ban lesbian leaders or scouts from their troops.

I hope that come this May, the Scouts will make the right decision and end their discriminatory policy. Opponents of equality still have a voice and are putting all their efforts on trying to maintain the last remnants of homophobia in our society. They know they are quickly becoming irrelevant and that their message is rapidly losing support in modern America. When such groups become trivial hate factions and go the way of the KKK and Neo-Nazis, I really hope the Scouts are not in the same boat. Whatever decision they make this May, there will be unhappy people and the Boy Scouts will have to follow their own motto – Be Prepared.