Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu and Google Trends

Google has found that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity. These statistics from Google searches have been compiled into graphs and maps showing computer search activity. Google Flu Trends uses aggregated Google search data to estimate possible flu activity at a state level in near real-time. I, for one, find this information a lot more reliable that the "official" estimates and new releases from government agencies who may have agendas.

To quote the Google.org blog:
In November 2008 we launched Google Flu Trends after finding a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Google Flu Trends may be able to detect influenza outbreaks earlier than other systems because it estimates flu activity in near real time.
This is a way to use actual information, not tainted by politics, to form an idea of seriousness of the Swine Flu outbreak. Google explains how it attempts to validate the information:
In the United States, we were able to validate our estimates using data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We have not verified our data for Mexico in the same manner, but we've seen that Google users in Mexico (and around the world) also search for many flu-related topics when they have flu-like symptoms. Given the tremendous recent attention to swine flu, our model tries to filter out search queries that are more likely associated with topical searches rather than searches by those who may be experiencing symptoms.
Looking at the maps it is evident that flu activity is low in both Mexico and the U.S. However, there are areas of Mexico where the activity is moderate. None of these areas of higher incidence are those being mentioned in news accounts.

As Google notes:
To explore Google Flu Trends data, you can download files containing weekly influenza-like illness (ILI) estimates for the United States. Data is provided for each individual state, the nine influenza surveillance regions, and the entire United States. It is provided at the state level for Mexican states where we were able to produce more reliable estimates given a limited amount of time. Exported data may be used for any purpose, subject to the Google Terms of Service. If you choose to use the information, please make sure to appropriately attribute it to Google.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mexican Swine Flu information cannot be correct

The numbers in the stories coming out about the Swine Flu infections do not add up. Someone is not telling the truth. During the past few days the news accounts have repeated, including in today' s (April 29, 2009) news, that only 26 cases of Swine Flu have been confirmed in Mexico and "health officials there suspect the swine flu outbreak has caused more than 159 deaths and roughly 2,500 illnesses." CNN.

Mexico City, alone, has more than 20 million people. A recent estimate of the population of Mexico is 109,955,400. CIA World Factbook. The outbreak of the Swine Flu in the United States and other countries is being attributed to people who traveled to Mexico. We are collectively being expected to believe that a handful of international travelers, from the U.S., Spain, Canada, Israel and other countries all came in contact with that same 2,500 people somewhere in the middle of Mexico. It is inconceivable that the spread of the disease from Mexico could have been caused by such a small infected portion of the population.

Given the information presently available indicating the spread of the disease throughout the world, there is only one conclusion possible, the Mexican Government is not telling the whole story. The disease has to be much more extensive in the country than we are lead to believe.

Apparently, some of the countries of the world have come to the same conclusion. Japan and Indonesia and testing the temperature of people arriving from Mexico to detect the disease. They obviously do not believe that only 2,500 people have the disease.

Likewise, the reported number of people infected the U.S. is also suspect. If you read the news accounts carefully, you will see that the numbers are always portrayed as "confirmed" cases of the disease. Given the time it takes to confirm a case of flu, from personal experience, it is highly doubtful that the numbers are even nearly accurate.

There may be no need for concern, yet, but this is story that bears watching.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What is a pandemic?

The outbreak of Swine Flu has the news outlets abuzz with rumors. Again and again, the newscasts refer to a possible "pandemic." Hopefully, someone out there in authority knows what this term really means. Additionally, it would be nice if someone had read a little history about the last great flu epidemic in 1918.

Unfortunately, there is no specific definition of the term "pandemic." A pandemic (from Greek παν pan all + δήμος demos people) is an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through populations across a large region; for instance a continent, or even worldwide.Widkipedia That seems really helpful. Think of all the diseases that are already pandemic by that definition: cholera, typhus, HIV and AIDS, measles, tuberculosis, malaria, yellow fever, and many, many others.

Just to give a little bit of perspective to the term pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year 350–500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide, and over one million people die, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. In areas of Africa with high malaria transmission, an estimated 990,000 people died of malaria in 1995 – over 2700 deaths per day, or 2 deaths per minute. Apparently, unless people are dying in New York, a disease is not our problem.

Let's get another interesting perspective, again from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of alcohol-induced deaths in the U.S., excluding accidents and homicides, in 2005 was 21,634. Here's another statistic, the number of Lyme Disease infections in the U.S. for 2005 were 23,305.

Maybe we ought to be a little more circumspect before throwing around the word pandemic.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What's wrong with these words?

Our language has been hijacked by extremists. Here is a list of terms gleaned from a pro-same-sex marriage Website. Can you guess the definitions?

commonwealth
equality
Anti-Gay
bigoted
grassroots
fairness alliance
fairness campaign
human rights campaign
religious freedom protection
social justice issue

It might help you define these words to know that they were all used in a call to for a "full scale, online grassroots call to action against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) also known as the Mormons. The call to action stated: "In response to this secret action by the LDS Church, the Human Rights Campaign today launched a full scale, online grassroots call to action to its more than 35,000 Illinois based members and supporters. The take-action asks members to contact the Nauvoo, Illinois Mormon Temple and let them know these deceitful, fear-mongering tactics can no longer be done in secret."

In other words, the fairness alliance would like to target one particular Church for a campaign by a "former member of the Church" because, as they claim, "It is irrefutably clear that the LDS Church is fighting an anti-gay crusade throughout the nation, targeting any form of equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community,” Exactly what does this "anti-gay crusade" consist of? Isn't it people with strong moral values who believe in the sanctity of marriage and the family trying to defend morality and decency? Isn't targeting one particular religious group bigoted? Isn't targeting one particular religious group unfair? Isn't targeting one particular religious group, to deny them a voice in the debate a violation of the Church's members' own civil rights? Apparently not, if they disagree with a former member of the Church and his stand on gay-rights.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The law and same sex marriage-- Part Two

One of the most common misunderstandings about the law involves a common phrase -- "It is against the law to...." (fill in the blank). Usually, when people use that phrase they are talking about some issue that could be enforced. Enforcement is a big deal. Let's look at the example of traffic laws. How many of my readers know that the police will not give you a ticket if you aren't speeding more than ___ miles per hour over the speed limit? This is an enforcement issue. The law is clear, exceeding the speed limit by even 1 mph constitutes a violation of the law. But we all know that the enforcement agencies (usually police, sheriffs or highway patrol) will only stop you if you exceed the limit by some arbitrary amount. Does the fact that the enforcement agency fails to enforce the law change the law? Not in the least.

The point here is that the "law" and what is enforced are sometimes vastly different.

Now, what do we mean when we say some activity is against the law? In my experience, most people only have a sort of vague understanding between civil and criminal law. From a legal standpoint the difference rather simple. Criminal laws are only enforced by governments. The plaintiff or complaining party in all criminal cases is the "state" or "municipality" or other governmental jurisdiction. Also, criminal laws routinely provide for incarceration as a consequence of a violation. In the United States there are very few civil violations that can result in going to jail. Civil laws, on the other hand may be enforced by a government entity or by a private citizen, but the remedy is monetary damages not a jail sentence. Because most people do not know the distinction, they use the phrase, "against the law" in both a civil and criminal context.

Now, is same sex marriage "against the law?" The simple answer is it depends on the jurisdiction. If a same-sex couple got married in Massachusetts and traveled to Arizona, would they get arrested? No. In that sense, same-sex marriage is not "against the law in Arizona." However, because of the Defense of Marriage Act (See my last post) Arizona does not have to treat the union as a "marriage." In this sense, a same-sex marriage is not against the law in Arizona or any other state where that form of marriage is not recognized, it is just not recognized as a marriage. Would Arizona's government authorities arrest someone because Arizona has a Marriage Amendment? Of course not, there is a vast difference between a failure to recognize a type of marriage and some sort of enforcement.

This is essentially the same issue that used to exist with divorces. Historically, many states had very restrictive divorce laws. On the other hand, some states, such as Nevada, had very liberal laws. People would travel to Nevada to get a divorce. However, the divorce may not be recognized in the person's state of residence. There are still substantial differences between the state's various divorce laws, just as there are differences between the state's marriage laws. That is not to say that a jurisdiction that did not recognize a Nevada divorce, could not pass laws making it difficult for a person with such a divorce.

Why is this distinction important? Because the rhetoric surrounding same-sex marriage is so lacking in contact with reality that in many cases it is impossible to carry on a rational conversation about the issue. One of the immediate and insistent claims made by those supporting same-sex marriage is that the citizens of Arizona (or whatever state) are depriving them of their "civil rights."

For example, Arizona is a community property state. If you make an estate plan in Ohio and then move to Arizona, you may find out that your plans do not work well or at all in Arizona. The laws are different. However, in both the estate planning situation and with divorces we don't have people claiming that their civil rights are violated merely because some states view the law differently and enforce their laws differently. It is sign of the political and social engineering aspect of the same-sex marriage issues that turn the differences into claims of violations of "civil rights" where no such rights exist or have ever existed.

More later.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The law and same sex marriage-- Part One

The present controversy over the so-called same-sex marriage, has various jurisdictions in the United States implementing a variety of solutions. Some of the states have passed constitution amendments limiting the recognition of marriage to unions between men and women. Other jurisdictions' legislatures have passed laws recognizing same-sex marriage. In some states, the courts have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and the legislatures have taken no action. There are at least a couple of states where neither the courts nor the legislatures have passed on the legality of same-sex marriage. In the next few posts, I hope to review the status of the law in general and indicate my own concerns.

The current Federal law is the Defense of Marriage Act. As cited in Wikipedia:

The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, is the short title of a federal law of the United States passed on September 21, 1996 as Public Law No. 104-199, 110 Stat. 2419. Its provisions are codified at 1 U.S.C. § 7 and 28 U.S.C. § 1738C. The law has two effects:

1. No state (or other political subdivision within the United States) needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state.
2. The federal government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriages for any purpose, even if concluded or recognized by one of the states. The bill was passed by Congress by a vote of 85-14 in the Senate and a vote of 342-67 in the House of Representatives, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.

The present administration has indicated that it will attempt to repeal the law in the near future.
In the United States what is called the "law" arises from various sources. Since we have three major divisions in our government, the legislative, executive and judicial, all three of these divisions can create laws. However, ultimately, the power over the laws of our country lies with the people themselves. The people elect the government officers and the legislators who make the laws. In some jurisdictions, the people also vote for their judges, but some judges are appointed by the executive branches subject to the consent of the legislative branch.

The ultimate authorities for law in the United States and each of the individual states are the various constitutions. When there is a disagreement about the interpretation of the provisions of those various constitutions, the provisions are interpreted by the courts.

In the common law system such as that in the United States and Great Britain, controversies or cases are decided by judges who base their decisions on precedents, that is, following how prior cases have been decided. This method of deciding cases is called stare decisis; lower courts follow the rulings of higher courts. When a court has ruled on on specific legal issue, the decision is said to be controlling and therefore must be followed by courts deciding similar cases. If there is no case law "on point" then the judges are free to follow other authority or make "new law."

If a lower court rules against precedent or if a party disagrees with the ruling, then the party opposing the ruling can appeal to a higher court and ultimately to a State Supreme Court or, in some cases to the United States Supreme Court. In the United States, the Supreme Court Judges are nominated by the Executive Branch (the President) and their appointment confirmed by the Legislative Branch, the Senate has the authority to consent or reject the appointees.

The United States and each of the individual states, also have legislatures. The legislatures can pass laws but if someone claims that the law is not consistent with the state or Federal constitution, then the law can be challenged in the courts. In some states, the people of the state have the right to initiate laws,

Not only can the courts and the legislatures make new laws, the executive branches our our state and Federal governments can make new rules and regulations at any time. Usually, these rules and regulations have the force of law.

Because all of these entities have input into the drafting of laws and the interpretation of the existing laws, the entire legal process is always in a state of flux or change. State and Federal Statutes may be repealed at any time. Long standing case law can be overturned with the next court decision that comes along. Changes in the political administration may result in significant changes to the executive regulations and orders.

Historically, people have always tried to use the courts to make new law, especially when they became frustrated with the actions or inactions of the various legislative bodies. The present status of the same-sex marriage laws reflects the diversity of opinion as well. As of April 20, 2009, the most current status of the laws is shown in the Wikipedia as follows:

Two states (Massachusetts and Connecticut) currently allow same-sex marriage, five states recognize some alternative form of same-sex union, twelve states ban any recognition of any form of same-sex unions including civil union, twenty-eight
states have adopted amendments to their state constitution prohibiting same sex
marriage, and another twenty states have enacted statutory DOMAs. On April 27,
2009, same-sex marriage will become available in Iowa because of a ruling by that state's Supreme Court. On September 1, 2009, an act of the Vermont Legislature becomes effective and Vermont will start offering same-sex marriage as well.

More to come.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Myth of Gay Civil Rights

What is the origin of same-sex gender attraction? Is it an inherent condition determined from birth and unalterable? Does it have a cause? Or is it a series of choice made by an individual? How many people actually have the condition? Answer these and many other questions and you may be on the way to determining one of the basic requirements of the groups' so-called civil rights, that is the definition of the protected class. Without an answer to these and the many other related questions, there is no definition of the protected class and therefore any claim to civil rights is based upon a myth.

A myth is a fictional tale that attempts to explain the causes of natural phenomena. It is also a traditional story accepted as fact. Both of these definitions apply to the modern phenomena of "Gay Civil Rights."

To illustrate, look at the definitions of the following classes: race, national origin or ethnicity, religion, color, age, sex, familial status, disability, and veteran status. What is the difference between each of these classes and the the claimed class of "sexual orientation?" The answer is obvious and easily understood. Each of the other enumerated classes has a definition which is independent from personal choice and preference. You are either black or you are not. You are either from Mexico or you are not. However, some of the classes do have a "choice" component and in each case there is a plethora of case law determining whether a certain person is or is not a "member" of the class. [For example, examine the conscientious objector cases to illustrate some of the issues involved].

On the other hand, "sexual orientation" has no objective criteria that enables a rational determination of inclusion in a class. I anyone claims membership in the class, in the present mythological world of Gay Civil Rights, they are automatically included in the "class." There is no test, no indices, no basis whatsoever for exclusion or inclusion. Essentially we have to take the "word" of the person claiming inclusion. [For a more in depth discussion of this conundrum see this article]. Quoting from Tony Marco, "Gay militants are asking that gays be recognized as a protected class based on nothing but their unexamined word -- a development totally unprecedented in civil rights history." Article.

Gay civil rights is a myth.

Friday, April 10, 2009

NPR plays one side of the same-sex marriage issue

On April 10, 2009, National Public Radio weighed in on the same-sex marriage controversy with a broadcast it called "The Gay Marriage Game Plan, From Both Sides." The commentator Neal Conan, interviewed William Eskridge, a law professor at Yale University and Maggie Gallagher, President of the National Organization for Marriage. Consistent with many other media productions, the comments reflected the doubletalk and propaganda language of the Gay Rights movement. During the broadcast, Mr. Eskridge, who supported Gay Marriage consistently referred to "Gay couples, many of them with children." Almost every time he referred to Gay Marriage he particularly referred to couples with children. Especially near the end of the broadcast began referring to the Marriage Amendments in California and elsewhere as "anti-marriage" amendments. Amazingly, Mr. Conan, made no attempt to correct this blatantly biased way of addressing the issues, even though Mr. Eskridge repeatedly used the term, "anti-marriage."

The NPR site has an interactive map showing the present status of passage of constitutional amendments and Defense of marriage acts. Looking at the map you can see the overwhelming support for traditional marriage in the U.S. despite the proponents of same-sex marriage who consistently represent themselves as in the main stream of the U.S. this is just not true. Although it is true, that if those who support traditional marriage do nothing the supporters of same-sex marriage will ultimately prevail and will not be content with just destroying traditional marriage but extend the attack to religion.

By and large the broadcast pointed up the fact the only way the Gay Rights movement can overturn, what Mr. Eskridge called the "anti-marriage amendments," was to change the people's opinions, doing this, of course by doubletalk and propaganda.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Would I deny equality to all men?

One of the comments made on a recent post accused me of denying "equality to all men" apparently for the reason that I do not support same-sex marriage. This raises the issue of what is meant in our legal system by equality and do I believe that supporting the traditional view of marriage would deny equality to all men?

Referring one of the most fundamental of all documents, the Declaration of Independence, we read the following: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

We learn first from this statement that men are created equal and then endowed (gifted) by their Creator." Unlike those who reject religion out of hand and seek to establish a secular humanistic America, I happen to believe the principle set down here in the Declaration of Independence, that men were "created" and that their unalienable rights come from that Creator. These are not rights that are conferred by a secular government or by godless judges, but fundamental rights, tightly related to each person's relationship to that Creator.

This truth is not something that must be proved, because, again in the words of the Declaration of Independence, these truths are self-evident. This means we don't have to keep going back to the legislatures and and the courts to prove these truths to anyone in the world. Where do we go if we wish to know more about these rights? We go back to that Creator. He defines and gives these rights to mankind. We cannot selfishly claim the gift and then reject the gift giver.

I also believe that governments are instituted by that Creator and are subject to Him, or better said, accountable to Him for they way they conduct their affairs. I also believe, as stated in the Declaration of Independence that our actions should be based on the concept of the equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle us and to a decent respect to the opinions of mankind. This means that my ideas are entitled to a decent respect, just as are yours. But that the equal station (state of equality) we all possess comes not from our own individual beliefs, but from the laws of nature and of nature's God.

How then are men equal? They certainly are not equal in any physical sense, some have more of the world's goods and services than other. They are certainly not equal in health, physical beauty or strength. They are not equal in any secular humanistic way at all. They are all equal before God, their Creator, and they are all judged by that God by the same set of rules, the laws of nature and of nature's God.

If you reject nature's laws and nature's God, you will also reject equality, not a counterfeit equality where everyone is reduced to the same base level, but an equality where all are fairly treated and where the laws of nature and of nature's God are respected and observed. Because we, as a society, have standards does not destroy equality before God. What does destroy that equality, is a lack of traditional standards based on a true relationship to God.

That is some of what I believe about equality.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Iowa Supreme Court -- Politics not law

The recent Iowa Supreme Court opinion in the case of Varnum v. Brien filed April 3, 2009 is a classic study in politics and how judges can write an opinion justifying any position they wish to take by ignoring facts, the law and good sense. The Court dismissed traditional marriage by saying:
First, the County argues the same-sex marriage ban promotes the “integrity of traditional marriage” by “maintaining the historical and traditional marriage norm ([as] one between a man and a woman).” This argument is straightforward and has superficial appeal. A specific tradition sought to be maintained cannot be an important governmental objective for equal protection purposes, however, when the tradition is nothing more than the historical classification currently expressed in the statute being challenged. When a certain tradition is used as both the governmental objective and the classification to further that objective, the equal protection analysis is transformed into the circular question of whether the classification accomplishes the governmental objective, which objective is to maintain the classification. In other words, the equal protection clause is converted into a “ ‘barren form of words’ ” when “ ‘discrimination . . . is made an end in itself.’ ” Tussman & tenBroek, 37 Cal. L. Rev. at 357 (quoting Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33, 41, 36 S. Ct. 7, 10, 60 L. Ed. 131, 135 (1915)).
In other words, by doubletalk.

The Court decision, overruling Iowa's statute defining marriage as a union between a man and woman, is rife with emotional and political content, but very little actual law. Ignoring the very nature of the same-sex relationship, the Court says, in one example, "Society benefits, for example, from providing same-sex couples a stable framework within which to raise their children and the power to make health care and end-of-life decisions for loved ones, just as it does when that framework is provided for opposite-sex couples."

I have written previous posts that address both of these issue extensively. One comment, there is nothing in either a same-sex relationship or a opposite-sex relationship that insures that a child will be raised in a stable framework. Using this kind of argument has nothing whatsoever to do with equal protection and everything to do with propaganda.

The entire argument of the Court is based on a fallacy, analyzing the constitutionality of the statute based on sexual orientation discrimination. The fallacy is simple; How do you prove sexual orientation? What is the test that a member of the supposed "class" must pass in order to legally become a member? Apparently, unlike any other suspect class, all the person has to do is say that they are a member of the class. Unfortunately, this is not the test for religious discrimination. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases, involving, for example, the military draft, where someone had to prove they were of a certain religious persuasion. But here the Iowa Court would allow anyone, without any qualification whatsoever, to "belong" to the suspect class based on an undefined "sexual orientation."

Although the Court discusses, at length, whether or not sexual orientation is immutable in a legal sense, it does so without ever defining sexual orientation at all. The Court, after examining all of the arguments, makes its decision based on justifying its position and dismissing all counter-arguments as irrelevant.

More later

Friday, April 3, 2009

Marriage to between a man and woman violates Iowa's constitution

Iowa's Supreme Court rules [link to the actual case] that marriage to between a man and woman violated Iowa's constitution. In a news article on AzCentral, the Court said, "We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective. The Legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification."

By using the term "historically disfavored class of persons" the Court demonstrated the extent to which Gay Rights' Doublespeak has entered the national psyche. The commentary referred to the passage of the Marriage Amendment in California as a "right-wing ballot initiatives." This ruling joins the other rulings in finding way to overturn legislative action through judge made law and hold that gay couples are a "class" without ever defining the class.

As an example of the bias of the Court, I would refer to the Court's reference to the fact that "lesbian and gay people continue to be frequent victims of hate crimes. See Criminal Justice Information Servs. Div., FBI, Hate Crime Statistics 2007, http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2007/victims.htm (according to FBI-collected data, the only hate crimes occurring more frequently than sexual-orientation-motivated hate crimes are crimes based on race or religious bias).

Please look at the report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 2007, the FBI reports 9,006 "Hate Crimes." of that total number, in the entire U.S. they report a total of 1,460 offenses. Iowa reported 5 incidents of bias motivation due to sexual orientation in 2007 in the entire state. This is the number of incidents, not the number of offenses.

To give some perspective on this number, there were 904 forcible rapes in Iowa during 2007 and 6,551 aggravated assaults.

What does the Court mean by "frequent?" Is it a frequent crime that out of a population of 2,988,046 there are FIVE incidents attributed to "bias motivation due to sexual orientation?"

We have come so far and have gotten so far from reality that we can justify overthrowing a basic structure of our society because there were five incidents of bias against an undefined class. The Court buys into this entirely disconnected and unsupported language of the Gay Rights movement and makes it into law!