Let the Presidential Race Begin

Sometime later this year I’ll begin tracking candidates for the 2012 Presidential election. If you remember from the 2008 election, I did two things: I kept track of the delegate count in the Democratic and Republican primaries and I had links to the web pages of 3rd party and independent candidates. I didn’t keep delegate counts for the 3rd party candidates because most of them weren’t really races.

We’re 22 months from the next election but already some Americans are announcing that they’re running. While we were on our trip to Yosemite I read an article in USA Today about people who have already announced their candidacy. What can I say? We stayed at a hotel that dropped a copy of McPaper out our door.

It’s actually pretty easy to run for President. According to the U.S. Constitution, you only need be born in the United States and be 35 years old. For the next election you have to have been born here before January 20, 1978. Federal law says candidates are not official until they raise $5,000 but anyone can file a “statement of candidacy” at any time.

I don’t normally count someone as a candidate unless he or she has a web page, but USA Today claims 76 people have filed paperwork to start raising money, but they list only these candidates:

  • Rutherford B. Hayes (no relation to the 19th President)
  • Randy Crow of North Carolina
  • Dennis Crill of Arizona, who actually has a web page

Keep posted, I’ll find more candidates.

Yosemite 2011

If you’ve been reading this post, or if you get our Christmas newsletter, you know that every year we spend a week at Yosemite National Park. They have a program where they bring in chefs from gourmet restaurants who do cooking demonstrations and cook a magnificent feast; it’s called Chef’s Holidays. This year was no different, and we recommend this for anyone who wants to see a truly magnificent park in the winter and loves cooking/eating.

Because of the length of the trip we rent a van, and we’ve settled on Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Last year we got a Toyota Sienna and loved it. Alas, this year we got a Dodge Caravan; it was a good vehicle but not as good as the Sienna. Maybe next year.

Last year we got caught in a snowstorm and had a hard time getting out of the park. It was a winter wonderland, and except for the exit it was wonderful. This year it was warmer and drier, not as beautiful but not as eventful. We’ll see what 2012 looks like.

Autism and Vaccines: Scaring Parents for Fun and Profit

For the past 12 years a former physician from England, Andrew Wakefield has been on a campaign to convince parents that there is a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. The vaccine is normally given once at 12 to 15 months, with another dose before entering school (age 4 or 5). In 1998 Wakefield published a study in the British Medical Journal The Lancet claiming that a child who receives the vaccine has an increased risk of developing autism. In the first few years after the article, vaccine rates plummeted as parents of young children suddenly had to worry that they were trading protection against these diseases for a lifetime of autism.

Normally when a study of this importance is published, other scientists attempt to replicate it. This makes sense as anything true should be able to be replicated. But here’s where it started to unravel. Nobody who used Wakefield’s methodology came up with his results. Wakefield, being Wakefield, offered this theory: anyone who disagrees with me must be in the pockets of the drug companies who will lose money if their vaccines are shown to be harmful.

In 2004 Brian Deer, a journalist for the Sunday Times of London found that there’s more to the story than Wakefield is telling.

Wakefield claims this is about money and he’s been targeted by the drug companies. But the truth is very different. Wakefield has received $674,000 from lawyers who represented the parents of children with autism. At this point I strongly recommend that everyone buy and read a book called Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure by Paul Offit, MD. Dr. Offit shows that Wakefield was approached by lawyers who represented parents of children with autism. They were looking for a reason their children had autism and Wakefield began to look for a reason. Simply put, he couldn’t find one so he made one up.

He set to work falsifying the data. The study was conducted on only 12 children and he claimed 8 of them developed autism shortly after receiving the vaccine. Of the 12, it has since been shown that 5 of them showed symptoms of autism before the vaccine, and three of them never had autism. When these facts came out 10 of the coauthors on the study had their names removed. In February of 2010 the Lancet retracted the article and three months later Andrew Wakefield’s medical license was revoked. He now lives in the United States but does not have a license to practice medicine here.

There is an excellent CNN article on this. The British Journal BMJ has an article that claims this was not just bad science or histrionics, it is fraud.

In short, Wakefield was not mistaken or careless, he was fraudulent. He scares parents for fun and profit.

What If I'm a Christian and There's No Parable For This?

If you survey Christians and ask how we decide between right and wrong, many of us will point to our faith. I’m happy about that, but what do we do when people of the same faith come to different views of the same issue and both claim to be right?

It’s happening in many places with many issues, but a story in the Los Angeles Times on Friday struck my interest. The story is about immigration, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), Stephen Sandstrom and Tony Yapias.

Both live in Utah, both are Mormon, both look to their faith to decide moral issues, and they disagree on immigration. Mr. Sandstrom was born in Orem, Utah (and is a citizen by birth). He believes that being a Christian means following the rules and obeying the laws. Someone who enters this country outside of the law violates this and should be deported. As a state legislator he introduced a bill, patterned after a similar bill in Arizona, which requires the police to determine the immigration status of people they stop and suspect may be undocumented. He is quoted in the LA Times story: “This country is the greatest nation on Earth because God had a hand in its formation. A lot of that is because . . . we obey the rule of law. Turning a blind eye to illegal immigration jeopardizes the rule of law.”

Tony Yapias was born in Peru and when he was a child his father came to the U.S. to forge a better life for his family. Tony and the rest of his family were able to join his father when Tony was 14 but the strain of the separation was too much for his parents’ marriage. As an adult Tony joined the LDS church in part because of their emphasis on family.

Which one is right? The issue of immigration has divided many groups, but most Christian groups support immigrants and oppose laws like the one Mr. Sandstrom advances. But most Christian groups aren’t like the Mormons. They are hesitant to view any law as wrong. In the LA Times article it talks about how they are Pro-Life, but discourage anything that protests legal abortions. They counsel their people who live in Communist countries to obey the laws, even the ones they disagree with.

This is one reason I’m not a Mormon. I don’t see God’s hand in many of our laws. I don’t think God is present in Dred Scott or Plessy v. Ferguson and I think there is a strong case to be made that our government continues to need the voices of our prophets. I believe the prophets answered Dred Scott with the 14th Amendment and Plessy v. Ferguson with Brown v. Board of Education. If you’ve read a previous post you know where I stand on homophobia.

I believe it’s more important to be faithful than obedient, and I believe it’s more important to follow my conscience than my intellect. I am many things: I am a married man, I am an American, I am an inhabitant of Earth, and I am a Child of God. The fact that I’m bound by God matters more to me than my connection to the United States (whose 14th Amendment tells me we who were born here are all citizens). If someone born 40 miles south of where I live wants to make a better life for his children, I get it. My grandparents moved south (from Canada to Massachusetts) to make a better life and I benefit from that. If they cleaned hotel rooms and carried luggage so I can be who I am, I am grateful.

And I refuse to deny that to the next generation from now. The next man, woman, or child I meet may well have a hard time speaking to me in English. That’s OK because my grandparents had a hard time with English too. If that person is cleaning my house, mowing my lawn, or waiting for work outside a hardware store, I admire hm (her) for making a better life for his/her children. And I pray that his/her descendants are grateful.

And with respect to Mr. Stanstrom, I think he’s wrong.