Friday, October 26, 2012

News You May Have Missed, No. 42

Stone Age Tomb Discovery

A 5,500-year-old tomb possibly belonging to a Stone Age chieftain has been unearthed at a megalithic monument in the shape of a ship called the Ale's Stenar (Ale's Stones). The tomb, in Sweden, was likely robbed of stones to build the Viking-era ship monument. We found traces,  mostly imprints, of large boulders, said lead archaeologist Bengst Söderberg of the Swedish National Heritage Board. So my conviction is that some of the stones at least, they are standing on the ship setting. Perched on a seaside cliff in the village of Kåseberga stands the Ales Stenar, also called Ale's Stones, 59 massive boulders arranged in the 220-foot (67-meter)-long outline of a ship. Most researchers believe the 1,400-year-old ship structure is a burial monument built toward the end of Sweden's Iron Age. Local legend has it that the mythic King Ale lies beneath the site. The Ales Stenar megaliths, some of which weigh as much as 4,000 pounds (1,800 kilograms), have distinctive cut marks similar to ones found at Stone Age sites. So researchers wondered whether the stones were stolen from an even older monument, Söderberg told LiveScience. In 2006, archaeologists used magnetic sensors and radar to map the area's underground terrain and found a larger circular structure about 541 feet (165 m) in diameter, with a 65-foot by 25-foot rectangle at its heart. The team finally dug a small trench through the center of the circle and unearthed the imprints of giant boulders that had been removed long ago. Though the team didn't find a skeleton, the imprints suggested the site was a Neolithic Age  burial chamber called a dolmen, several upright stones with a horizontal boulder on top in which a body would be placed.
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The Family Meteorite
The rock is nothing much to look at 33 pounds and oval shaped. If you didn't know its history, you probably wouldn't be surprised that Donna Lewis's family used it as a doorstop, later parking it in the front garden. It was even painted green for a time. As it turned out, this was no ordinary rock. According to Fox News, Donna and her husband George formally announced that the family rock picked out of a cow pasture in the 1930 is in fact a meteorite. Researchers from the University of Tennessee believe the ancient and very valuable rock came from a known meteorite strike that first turned up evidence in Tazewell, Tennessee, in 1853. According to Arizona State University's Center for Meteorite Studies, a meteorite is a solid body from outer space that has fallen to the Earth's surface. The Lewis meteorite is classified as a "find" by the center, since it was not observed falling to earth but rather was recognized after the fact by its distinct features. After confirming the rock's other worldly pedigree, Eastern Kentucky University purchased it, for eventual display in the school's new science building.
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Behavioral Disorder in Girls


The brains of teenage girls with behavioral disorders are different to those of their peers, U.K. searchers have found. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry study of 40 girls revealed differences in the structure of areas linked to empathy and emotions. Previous work has found similar results in boys. Experts suggest it may be possible to use scans to spot problems early, then offer social or psychological help. An estimated five in every 100 teenagers in the UK are classed as having a conduct disorder. It is a psychiatric condition which leads people to behave in aggressive and anti-social ways, and which can increase the risk of mental and physical health problems in adulthood. Rates have risen significantly among adolescent girls in recent years, while levels in males have remained about the same. The team found part of the brain called the amygdala was smaller in the brains of male and female teenagers with conduct disorder than in their peers. The amygdala is involved in picking up whether or not others feel afraid - and plays a role in people feeling fear themselves. Girls with conduct disorder also had less grey matter in an area of the brain called the insula  which is linked to emotion and understanding your own emotions. However the same area was larger in boys with conduct disorder than healthy peers, and researchers are not yet sure why that is the case.The brains of those with the worst behavior were most different from the norm. Dr Graeme Fairchild, of the University of Cambridge who also worked on the study, said there were potential uses for the finding. In the US, people are already using brain scans to argue diminished responsibility. I think we're too early in our understanding to really do that, but it is happening. It would also be possible to use scans where a person is at high risk of offending in the future.

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Gun for Votes

A hunting store in Marietta, Georgia (U.S.A.)is offering Georgians a chance to win a free gun for voting in the Nov. 6 election. He is implying that that they should vote Republican, "the Party of the Gun". The raffle is prompting one state senator to complain it violates a ban on providing money or gifts for voting. Eight billboards in the Atlanta area tell people to bring in their Georgia voter sticker for a chance to win a Glock handgun or Browning rifle. The store is in Smyrna in the city's northern suburbs. Democratic State Senator Vincent Fort of Atlanta filed a complaint Tuesday with the Georgia Secretary of State's office. Wallace says the raffle is open to all customers and he just wants people to get people involved in the political process.

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Rare Wolf Almost Extinct

Fewer than 500 of Africa's only wolf species, the Ethiopian wolf, are thought to survive. And now, 12-year study of Ethiopian wolves living in the Ethiopian highlands has found there is little gene flow between the small remaining populations. That places the wolves at greater risk of extinction from disease, or habitat degradation. In a study published in the journal Animal Conservation, Dada Gottelli of the Zoological Society of London and colleagues in Oxford, UK and Berlin, Germany, quantified the genetic diversity, population structure and patterns of gene flow among 72 wild-living Ethiopian wolves. The team sampled wolves living within six of the remaining seven remnant populations, as well as from one population at Mount Choke, that has since become extinct. They found that genetic diversity was relatively high for a species that has declined to fewer than 500 individuals. That may be because discrete populations of wolves survived in Africa after the last glaciation period, which ended 18,000 years ago, and a number of rare gene types became fixed and maintained in these separate groups. However, this isolation is now working against the wolves. Researchers studied gene types at 14 separate locations on the wolf genome. They found that there is now weak gene flow between the Ethiopian wolf groups. That could be because, like other canids such as grey wolves and red foxes, Ethiopian wolves prefer very specific habitats and are unlikely to travel long distances. That makes it unlikely that the wolves will join other groups, which would provide an opportunity to mix their genes. More worryingly, the researchers also found that sub-populations within each population are also isolated. The Ethiopian wolf separated from its wolf-like ancestor 100,000 years ago when it colonized the Ethiopian highlands. Today it is adapted to life above altitudes of 3,000m, where it preys almost exclusively on high-altitude rodents.  But only six populations survive, with a further three having become extinct over the past century. Ethiopian wolves are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of rabies, a fatal disease that has reduced some populations by up to 75% within a few months. Another major threat to their future comes from habitat loss and fragmentation, which may be accelerated by climate change.

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Testicle Enhancement

For the first time, doctors in Mexico have used a silicone chin implant to give a man's testicles a more symmetrical look. The new surgery is a safe way to boost the body image of the growing number of men who have issues with their genitalia, researchers say. We are starting to have the same kind of problems that the ladies have with body image, said urologist and lead author Fernando Ugarte of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. There are many people who are probably not feeling satisfied with their testicular size, and now they have a new option. The 45-year-old man was born with a tiny right testicle that never descended, a condition called cryptorchidism. The doctors in Mexico originally removed that testicle, which was not functional, and replaced it with the largest implant on the market, Ugarte told LiveScience. But, that left his other testicle looking meager in comparison. So, the man was then plagued by body-image issues and diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, a preoccupation with a specific physical defect more commonly seen in those with anorexia or bulimia, Ugarte said. To even out the two testicles , Ugarte and his colleagues made a small incision in the man's groin and placed a silicone chin implant between the left testicle and several layers of tissue. Plastic surgeons frequently use this type of implant, a piece of silicone about a quarter of an inch thick (6 millimeters), to plump up the chin or the cheekbones. The patient resumed sexual activity about a month after surgery. The surgery is safe and doesn't reduce fertility or sexual function because it doesn't touch the testicle at all, Ugarte said. Since 2011, three men have had this type of surgery. The researchers, who published their findings online Oct. 22 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, say they wanted to get the word out because more men are contacting them with body-image issues. It's very well-known that most of the men's magazines have techniques or pills or products for penis enhancement, Ugarte said. But now, patients also want to have bigger testicles, not just the penis.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Politics of Rape

The number of rape-induced pregnancies per year for adult women in the U.S. is over 32,000.

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In the state of Indiana, The Republican Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, Richard Mourdock, said that he opposes aborting pregnancies conceived in rape because it is something that God intended to happen. The only exception I have to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother, said Mourdock. I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen. Abortion has been an issue in the Indiana Senate race with Mourdock accusing his Democratic rival of lacking strength on the issue because he backed the health care reform law which insures that women can get birth control even when their employer objects to contraception. Mourdock is ahead in the polls in Indiana and is likely to win.

Todd Akin, a Republican member of the U. S. House of Representative and a candidate for the U.S. Senate from the state of Missouri claimed that women who are victims of what he described as "legitimate rape" rarely experience pregnancy because of an internal mechanism in females which prevents it. The comments from Akin almost immediately led to uproar, with the term "legitimate rape" being taken to imply belief in a view that some kinds of rape are "legitimate" and that the many victims who do become pregnant from rape are lying about their claim. His statements about the likelihood of pregnancy resulting from rape were widely seen as being based on long-discredited pseudoscience with experts seeing the claims as lacking any basis of medical validity. Akin is ahead in the polls in Missouri and is likely to win.

In 1981, a Republican-controlled Congress changed federal law to no longer allowing the Department of Defense to create health coverage to pay for abortions for U.S. military women who are raped, thus forcing them to pay out of pocket. In 2001, U.S. Congresswoman Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat) first introduced an amendment to provide active-duty servicewomen the same rights to affordable abortion as the people they're protecting. It did not pass. In 2012, U.S. Representative  Joe Wilson (Republican), chair of the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, stated his opposition to the Shaheen amendment because it would be getting a foot in the door of taxpayer money being used for abortion. There were 3,191reported sexual assaults that were reported in the military in 2011. The number that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes actually occurred in one year is 19,000. The number of military rapes that were likely to result in pregnancy was about 950.

In 2012, Republican National Committee's platform committee chaired by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (who openly admits that his Catholic religious beliefs creates his political agenda) approved a plank opposing abortion that offers no exception for women who are raped. And, during his 15 years as a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly he introduced 35 separate bills to restrict abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Following public outcry, Governor McDonnell withdrew his support for a provision in a Virginia anti-abortion bill that would have required a woman seeking abortion to first undergo an intrusive  and unjustified vaginal probe. But, in the version of the anti-abortion bill that did eventually pass in Virginia with McDonnell's backing, 24 hours before receiving an abortion that a woman must now undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound. 52% of Virginia voters opposed the ultrasound bill.72% of Virginia voters who said the government should not make laws aimed at changing the minds of women seeking abortion.

Today,10 states have laws mandating ultrasounds for women seeking abortion.  They are: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Common denominator: All but one (North Carolina) have Republican governors and all have predominately Republican Party legislatures.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican) asked Akin to withdraw from the Senate Race. McConnell's bascially agrees with Akin's stances on reproductive rights and his score from NARAL Pro-Choice America for his voting record on reproductive rights is 0.

In 1998, former Arkansas U.S. Senate candidate Fay Boozman claimed wrongly that fear-induced hormonal changes could block a rape victim's ability to conceive.

In 1995,  North Carolina State an anti-abortion rights Republican Congressman Henry Aldridge claimed wrongly that people who are raped, who are truly raped,  the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work and they don't get pregnant.

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Rape is a type of sexual assault. It usually involves sexual intercourse initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. Rape is usually carried out by using physical force.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice document Criminal Victimization in the United States, there were 191,670 reported cases of rape or sexual assault reported in 2005. According to Rape in America: A Report to the Nation (1992) and United Nations Populations Fund, (2000), only 16% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police. One of six U.S. women has experienced an attempted or completed rape. More than a quarter of college age women report having experienced a rape or rape attempt since age 14.

It is estimated that there  are about 300,000 cases of reported and unreported rape a year in the U.S. According to the American Medical Association, sexual violence, and rape in particular, is considered the most under-reported violent crime. The rate of reporting, prosecution and convictions for rape varies considerably in different jurisdictions. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 90% of U.S. rape victims are female and 10% are male, with 99% of the rapists being male.

In a 2012 story, The New York Times reported,  ... according a survey by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural villages like Emmonak is as much as 12 times the national rate. And interviews with Native American women here and across the nation’s tribal reservations suggest an even grimmer reality: They say few, if any, female relatives or close friends have escaped sexual violence.

Rape by strangers is usually less common than rape by persons the victim knows, and several studies maintain that male-male and female-female prison rapes are common and are probably  the least reported forms of rape.

Internationally, the incidence of rapes recorded by the police during 2008 varied between a low of  0.1% in Egypt and a high of 91.6% per in Lesotho per 100,000 people.

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There are many types of rape. What they all share in common is forced entry without consent. The different types of rape include date rape, gang rape, marital rape, incest rape, child rape, prison rape, war rape, statutory rape and acquaintance rape.

There is no single theory that conclusively explains the motivation for rape. Several motives have been proposed. They are anger, a desire for power, feels of sexual inadequacy, sexual frustration, sadism, and the desire for sexual gratification. The most commonly cited motive is power.

Victims of rape can be severely traumatized by the assault and may have difficulty functioning. After being raped, it is common for the victim to experience stress, feel jumpy or be on edge, and they may find it hard to deal with their memories of the event. Often in the months following the assault, these problems may be so severe and upsetting, they may have a tendency  to relive the assault through repeated thoughts, memories, or nightmares; to blame themselves for the assault; have difficulty sleeping, and concentrating; and prevent the victim from revealing the ordeal to the police, family, friends or a doctor. Whether the victim is a male or female, they can acquire a sexually transmitted disease. Finally, if the victim is a female, the victim can become pregnant.

Victim blaming is a concept that holds the victim of a crime to be in whole or in part responsible for the crime. In the context of rape, popular attitudes maintain that certain victims and their behaviors encourage their own rape. These may include flirting, body type, and wearing what some consider to be sexually provocative clothing.  In some cases, victims are said to have "asked for it" by not having behaved "properly". In most Western countries, the defense of provocation is not accepted as a mitigation for rape. But, a global survey of attitudes toward sexual violence by the Global Forum for Health Research said that victim-blaming concepts are at least partially accepted in many countries including the U.S.

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The irony in all of this is that the Republican Party wants less intrusion by government in the lives of people. Yet, it has no problem with creating laws based on Catholic and Christian Fundamentalist doctrines regarding the most private issues and choices an individual confronts:  contraception, women's health, when life begins, and rape. To quote the king in The King and I, 'Tis a puzzlement.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Losing Candidate in The U. S. Election of 1972


George Stanley McGovern (July 19, 1922 – October 21, 2012) was an American historian, author and U. S. Representative, U. S. Senator and the Democratic Party presidential nominee in  1972. McGovern grew up in Mitchell, South Dakota, where he was a recognized as a skilled debater. He volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and flew a B-24 Liberator plane 35 missions over German-occupied Europe. Among the medals bestowed upon him was a Distinguished Flying Cross for making a hazardous emergency landing of his damaged plane and saving his crew. After the war, he gained degrees from Dakota Wesleyan University and Northwestern University, culminating in a Ph.D. in history. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956 and re-elected in 1958. He was elected U.S. Senator from South Dakota in 1962. He became most known for his outspoken opposition to the growing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The McGovern-Hatfield Amendment tried to end the war through legislation but was defeated both in 1970 and 1971.Some in Congress advocated using nuclear  weapons in Vietnam in order to win and bring the war to a fast conclusion.

McGovern's long-shot presidential campaign ended with his nomination but left his party badly ideologically split. In the general election McGovern lost to incumbent Richard Nixon, who claimed to have a "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam) in one of the biggest landslides in American electoral history. Re-elected Senator in 1968 and 1974, McGovern was defeated in a bid for a fourth term in 1980. Only one person of his party has been elected a Senator from South Dakota ever since.

Throughout his career, McGovern was involved in issues related to agriculture, food, nutrition, and hunger. As the first director of the Food for Peace program in 1961, he was instrumental in the creation of the United Nation's World Food Program. As chairman of the Senate Select Committee from 1968-1977, McGovern publicized the problem of hunger within the United States and issued the McGovern Report that led to a new set of nutritional guidelines for Americans. McGovern later served as U.S. Ambassador the United Nations for Food and Agriculture from 1998–2001 and was appointed the first UN Global Ambassador on World Hunger by the World Food Program in 2001.

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But, all of that did not qualify him to be President in the eyes of the American people. Instead, they re-elected a lying criminal who was almost impeached and left office in disgrace. And by doing so, the American people prolonged a war that divided the nation, ultimately resulted in a humiliating defeat for the United States, and resulted in 2,000,000 Vietnamese deaths and 47,455 American military deaths.

However, in the end, McGovern was proven right and U.S. electorate was proven wrong.

Isn't America proud of its choice for President in 1972!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Unusual Religious Practices and Beliefs

Most religions have one or two unusual practices and beliefs but occasionally you find one which most people considered weird. Before you brand these new belief and practices as just plain weird, remember that millions of Catholics believe in trans-substation, the literal transforming of a of red wine and a small piece of bread into the blood and body of Jesus Christ even though they remain bread and wine. How weird is that?

In his book Through the Looking Glass (1871) by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), the White Queen says, Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. That quote is often used in mocking the ability of people to entertain certain beliefs which defy common sense, logic and facts- especially when it comes to religion.

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This list contains some unusual practices and beliefs found in some modern religions.

·       Mormon Beliefs: Mormons believe that 1. Mars and Venus have dry rivers and they were the source of the flowing rivers on earth; 2. Dinosaur bones come from other planets and that fossilized dinosaur bones are from creatures that lived on other worlds that were destroyed in the creation of the earth;  3. Native Americans are the remnants of the lost tribes of Israel; 4. After the Jesus' resurrection from the dead, Jesus visited America, performed miracles and taught the Indians; 5. God resides on the planet or star, Kobol, and when Mormons die, the will be united with God on Kobol.

·       Sacred Underwear: In some denominations of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (The Mormons), the temple garment (Garment of the Holy Priesthood) is a set of sacred underwear worn by adults who have taken part in a ritual ceremony known as the washing and anointing ordinance of the Endowment ceremony. Adherents consider them to be sacred and may be offended by public discussion of the garments. According to generally-accepted Mormon doctrine, there are marks in the garments which are sacred symbols. One proposed element of the symbolism, according to early Mormon leaders, was a link to the “Compass and the Square”, the symbols of freemasonry (The Masons), to which Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, had been initiated about seven weeks prior to his introduction of the Endowment ceremony.

·       The E-meter: An E-meter is an electronic device manufactured by the Church of Scientology at their Gold Base production facility. It is used as an aid by Dianetics and Scientology counselors and counselors-in-training in some forms of auditing, the application of the techniques of Dianetics and Scientology to another or to oneself for the express purpose of addressing spiritual issues. E-meter sessions are conducted by church employees known as auditors. Scientology materials traditionally refer to the subject as the “preclear,” although auditors continue to use the meter well beyond the clear level. The preclear holds a pair of cylindrical electrodes (“cans”) connected to the meter while the auditor asks the preclear a series of questions and notes both the verbal response and the activity of the meter. Auditor training describes many types of needle movements, with each having their own special significance. A 1971 ruling of the United States District Court, District of Columbia, specifically stated, The E-meter has no proven usefulness in the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease, nor is it medically or scientifically capable of improving any bodily function.

·       Exorcism: Exorcism is the practice of evicting demons or other evil spiritual entities from a person or place which they are believed to have possessed. The practice is quite ancient and still part of the belief system of many religions, though it is seen mostly in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Solemn exorcisms, according to the Canon Law of these churches, can only be exercised by an ordained priest with the permission of the local bishop, and only after a careful medical examination excludes the possibility of mental illness.

·       Maltreating and Killing Chickens: Kaparot is a traditional Jewish religious ritual that takes place around the time of the High Holidays. Classically, it is performed by grasping a live chicken by the shoulder blades and moving around one’s head three times, symbolically transferring one’s sins to the chicken. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor, preferably eaten at the pre-Yom Kippur feast. In modern times, Kapparos is performed in the traditional form mostly in Haredi communities. The ritual is preceded by the reading of Psalms 107:17-20 and Job 33:23-24. But, on the eve of Yom Kippur in 2005, more than 200 caged chickens were abandoned in rainy weather as part of a Kaparot operation in Brooklyn, New York City. Some of the starving and dehydrated chickens were rescued by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Jacob Kalish, an Orthodox Jew, was charged with animal cruelty for the drowning deaths of 35 of these chickens. In response to such reports of the mistreatment of chickens, animal rights organizations have begun to picket public observances of kaparot, particularly in Israel.

·       Shamans: Shamanism refers to a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world. There are many variations in shamanism throughout the world, though there are some beliefs that are shared by all forms of shamanism. Its practitioners claim the ability to diagnose and cure human suffering and, in some societies, the ability to cause suffering. This is believed to be accomplished by traversing the axis mundi and forming a special relationship with, or gaining control over, spirits. Shamans have been credited with the ability to control the weather, divination, the interpretation of dreams, astral projection, and traveling to upper and lower worlds. Shamans were used in Tibetan Buddhism as a form of divination by which the Dalai Lama was given prophesies of the future and advice.

·       Baptism of the Dead: Baptism for the dead, vicarious baptism or proxy baptism is a religious practice of baptizing a living person on behalf of an individual who is dead; the living person is acting as the deceased person’s proxy. It has been practiced since 1840 in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where it is also called temple baptism because it is performed only in dedicated temples. In the practice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, any living person, acting as proxy, is baptized by immersion on behalf of a deceased person of the same gender. The baptism ritual is as follows: after calling the living proxy by name, the person performing the baptism says, Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of [full name of deceased person], who is dead, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. The proxy is then immersed briefly in the water. Baptism for the dead is a distinctive ordinance of the church and is based on the belief that baptism is a required ordinance for entry into the Kingdom of God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints vicariously baptizes people regardless of race, sex, or creed. This includes both victims and perpetrators of genocide. Some Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and their supporters have objected to this practice.

·       The Church of Euthanasia (CoE), is a political organization started by the Reverend Chris Korda (pictured above) in the Boston, Massachusetts area of the United States. According to the church’s website, it is a non-profit educational foundation devoted to restoring balance between Humans and the remaining species on Earth. The CoE uses sermons, music, culture jamming, publicity stunts and direct action combined with an underlying sense of satire and black humor to highlight Earth’s unsustainable population. The CoE is notorious for its conflicts with Pro-life Christian activists. According to the church’s website, the one commandment is Thou shalt not procreate. The CoE further asserts four principal pillars: suicide, abortion, cannibalism, and sodomy. Slogans employed by the group include Save the Planet, Kill Yourself, Six Billion Humans Can’t Be Wrong, and Eat a Queer Fetus for Jesus.

·       Nude Monks: Digambar (aka: Digambara) is one of the two main sects of the Jain religion. Senior Digambar monks are ascetics and wear no clothes They do not consider themselves to be nude because they say that they are wearing the environment. Digambaras believe that this practice represents a refusal to give in to the body’s demands for comfort and private property. Digambara ascetics have only two possessions, a peacock feather broom and a water gourd.

·       Black Supremacist Religion: The Nation of Yahweh is a predominantly African-American religious group that is the most controversial offshoot of the Black Hebrew Israelites line of thought. They were founded in 1979 in Miami by Hulon Mitchell, Jr., who went by the name Yahweh ben Yahweh. Their goal is to return African Americans, whom they see as the original Israelites, to Israel. The group departs from mainstream Christianity and Judaism by accepting Yahweh ben Yahweh as the Son of God. The group has created controversy because of the legal issues of its founder and has also faced accusations of being a black supremacist cult by the Southern Poverty Law Center and The Miami Herald. The SPLC has criticized the beliefs of the Nation of Yahweh as racist, stating that the group believed blacks are “the true Jews” and that whites were “white devils.” They also claim the group believed Yahweh ben Yahweh had a Messianic mission to vanquish whites and that they held views similar to the Christian Identity movement.

·       White Supremacist Religion: The World Church of the Creator (aka: Creativity) was started by Ben Klassen with the publication of the books Nature’s Eternal Religion, The White Man’s Bible, and Salubrious Living. It maintains fosters concepts which are racist, anti-Semitic and anti- Christian. Their main belief is that a white man should do nothing but what it is good and helpful for the whites while participating at the advance of black people is considered treason of the white race. In addition, Klassen denies that Jesus  ever existed and attacks many biblical stories. Following the suicide of its founder, the religion was not eradicated, but several organizations, such as The Creativity Movement and The Creativity Alliance emerged.

·       Veiled Women: A niqab is a veil which covers the face, worn by some Muslim women as a part of sartorial hijab. It is popular in the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf but it can also be found in North Africa, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The niqab is regarded differently by the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence known as madhahab. Some see it as obligatory, or fard , while others see it as recommended, or mustahab, and a few see it as forbidden.

·       Anti-Transfusions: A fundamental doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses teaches that the Bible prohibits consumption, storage and transfusion of blood, including in cases of emergency. This doctrine was introduced in 1945, and has been elaborated upon since then. Although accepted by a majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses, evidence indicates a minority does not wholly endorse this doctrine. In 1964, Jehovah’s Witnesses were prohibited from obtaining transfusions for pets, from using fertilizer containing blood, and were even encouraged to write to dog food manufacturers to verify that their products were blood-free. Later that year, Jehovah’s Witnesses doctors and nurses were instructed to withhold blood transfusions from fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses. But, the administering transfusions to non-members, The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses magazine) stated that such a decision is left to the Christian doctor’s own conscience.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cults, Mitt Romney and Billy Graham

Evangelicals and  other Christians have been handed one more hint that it’s all right to vote for Mitt Romney, whose Mormon faith has long been considered beyond the pale of American Protestantism.
This week, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed Mormonism from its list of religious cults. The reclassification follows Romney’s visit to Graham’s mountain home last Thursday, a meeting that also included Graham’s son Franklin, who now runs the association for his 93-year-old father…. An article on the Graham website had classified Mormons, along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Unification Church, Unitarians, Spiritists and Scientologists, among others, as cults. “Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Ken Barun, the evangelical association’s chief of staff, said in a prepared statement. “We removed the ( cult) information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.” Mark DeMoss, head of an Atlanta public relations firm and a close adviser to the Franklins, has acted as a liaison between traditional evangelicals and the last two Romney campaigns for president.- from The Charlotte Observer, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Nowhere do the Grahams  or other Evangelicals explain their reasoning for concluding that Mormonism is not a cult after maintaining the idea for over a 150 years.
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The dictionary defines the word cult as a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular deity, person or object or a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded as strange or sinister by non-believers. So, by definition, every religion is a cult. Some are just bigger than others.
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Evangelist Billy Graham and his heir apparent son, Franklin Graham, are both Republicans. They want Mitt Romney to win the Presidency but they cannot get people to vote for him while at the same time preaching demagoguery against his religion. So if the next Republican candidate is a Jehovah’s Witness, Scientologists or a Muslim, will Franklin Graham rethink his stand on these religions too? That will likely be the case because in the Grahams' case politics trumps religion every time. As with the pronouncements of the Catholic bishops, Pat Robertson and a host of Fundamentalists preachers, this is not a very disguised attempt to cloak politics in religious terms. And, it ultimately leads to the question, whatever happened to the concept of separation of church and state?
Billy  and Franklin Graham's careers has less to do with religion than most people think. They have created a family business and enormous wealth out of religion. But, is that what Jesus' message was all about when he said, It is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
Billy Graham remained silent during the Civil Rights movement. He is staunchly anti-gay rights. He supported  every Republican for the Presidency since the 1950's and supported Richard Nixon until he left office in disgrace. He supported the Vietnam War. He supported George W. Bush, his war of convenience in Iraq, and his massive transfer of wealth from the poor and  middle class to the wealthy. He has not uttered a sound about attempts by Republican to suppress and prevent minority voting. And, now he is supporting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan who both want tax breaks for the super rich (which he is), cuts in Medicare, cuts in school lunches, privatizing Social Security and Medicare, etc. I’m sure God is rolling his eyes. What Bible are the Grahams reading? One which the rich will automatically inherit and run the Kingdom of Heaven? Are they reading the Bible according to St. Greed?
And, who can forget Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and her trip to Haiti after the massive earthquake with Franklin Graham because she was such "a caring compassionate Christian".  They got their photo op, left Haiti, and both never spoke  another word about Haiti and never did anything about the devastation there. But, many Haitians believe and practice Voodoo. And Christians believe that too is a cult.
Perhaps, the Grahams' version of Christianity is also cult. It certainly fits the definition of a cult. And, if that is the case, we have got one cult that classifies another cult as a cult, and then when a preacher comes along from the second cult whose political ideology agrees with the other cult, the first cult decides to give the second cult a pass on being a cult, not because of a consensus on religious belief, but just to help the guy get elected. No wonder organized religions have increasingly gotten fewer adherents and gotten a bad name.
Politics makes strange pew-fellows. How much is the evangelical movement willing to compromise in their stated beliefs? All the Baptists who explained for years how Mormonism is a cult have had a mysterious sudden conversion experience. The most segregated hour (10:00AM on any Sunday) in America is a still hallmark of the Southern Evangelicals. And, let’s not even get into the historic treatment of Blacks as second class citizens by the Mormon church. Now it  is suddenly okay to vote for what the Fundamentalists previously called a satanic cult member for President who believes that an imaginary planet or star, Kolob, is where God lives and when he dies he will be united with God and live on Kolob too.
But, none of this really matters. The fascist  and religious right will take a Mormon over a black guy any day of the week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Power: An Analysis

The Nature of Power

Power is frequently defined by political scientists as the ability to influence the behavior of others with or without resistance. The word "authority" is often used for power perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be seen as evil or unjust, but the exercise of power is accepted as endemic to humans as social beings. And, the use of power need not necessarily involve coercion, force or the threat of force.

All power is temporary and fleeting.

Much of the recent sociological debate about power revolves around the issue of the enabling nature of power. It can be the cause of constraining actions but it also make actions possible. Much of this debate is centered around the works of the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926–1984) and the Renaissance Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527).

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People use more than rewards, threats, and information to influence others. In everyday situations people use a variety of power tactics to push or prompt others into particular action. There are plenty of examples of power tactics that are quite common and employed every day. Some of these tactics include bullying, collaboration, complaining, criticizing, demanding, disengaging, evading, humor, inspiring, manipulating, negotiating, socializing, and supplicating. These power tactics can be classified along three different dimensions: softness, rationality, and laterality.
Soft and Hard: Soft tactics take advantage of the relationship between person and the target. It is more indirect and interpersonal (e.g. collaboration, socializing). Conversely, hard tactics are harsh, forceful, direct, and rely on concrete outcomes. However, they are not more powerful than soft tactics. In many circumstances, fear of social exclusion can be a much stronger motivator than some kind of physical punishment.

Rational and Non-rational: Rational tactics of influence make use of reasoning, logic, and sound judgment, whereas non-rational tactics rely on emotionality and misinformation. Examples of each include bargaining and persuasion, and evasion and put downs, respectively.

Unilateral and Bilateral. Bilateral tactics, such as collaboration and negotiation, involve reciprocity on the part of both the person influencing and their target. Unilateral tactics, on the other hand, are enacted without any participation on the part of the target. These tactics include disengagement and fait accompli.

People tend to vary in their use of power tactics with different types of people opting for different tactics. For instance, interpersonally oriented people tend to use soft and rational tactics. Machiavellians, however, tend to use non-rational tactics. Extroverts use a greater variety of power tactics than do introverts. Men tend to use bilateral and direct tactics, whereas women tend to use unilateral and indirect tactics. People will also choose different tactics based on the group situation, and based on who they are trying to influence. It is interesting to note that people also tend to shift from soft to hard tactics when they face resistance.
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Thoughts about Power
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. - Lord Acton (1834-1902)
Power corrupts. Absolute power is kind of neat. - John Lehman (born: 1942) 
If absolute power corrupts absolutely, does absolute powerlessness make you pure? -Harry Shearer (born:1943)
It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power. - David Brin (born: 1950)
And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. - Lord Acton (1834-1902)
Knowledge is power. - Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.  - Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
No matter how rich you become, how famous or powerful, when you die the size of your funeral will still pretty much depend on the weather. - Michael Pritchard (born: 1969)
You see what power is - holding someone else's fear in your hand and showing it to them! - Amy Tan (born: 1952)
The most powerful factors in the world are clear ideas in the minds of energetic men of good will. - J. Arthur Thomson (1861-1933)
Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.  Simone Weil (1909-1943)
Desire creates power. - Raymond Holliwell (1900-1986)
Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself. - Elie Wiesel (born: 1928)
Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power. - Seneca (5BC- 65AD)
Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. - Epictetus (55AD-135AD)
I have found power in the mysteries of thought. - Euripides ( 484BC-406BC)
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A One of the Greatest Statement Ever Written about Power

They were some of the most powerful rulers of their day. But, who exactly was: 1. Nabu-apla-iddina, 2. Commodus, 3. Kheperkheperure Ay, 4. Liu Xin, and  5. Paul I?

They were: 1. Ancient Babylonian Emperor (888BC-855BC),  Ancient Roman Emperor (177AD-192AD),  3.  Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh (1324BC-1320BC), 4. Chinese Shang Dynasty Emperor (1766 BC and 1122 BC), and  5. Russian Tsar (1796-1801).

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Ozymandias is a sonnet written by English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822), and published in 1818. It is probably Shelley's most famous short poem. The central theme of Ozymandias is the inevitable decline of all power, leaders and the empires they built.   The name Ozymandias represents a transliteration into Greek of a part of the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II's throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re. The sonnet paraphrases the inscription on the base of statue as related by the Ancient Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus (dates unknown) in his Bibliotheca Historica (c. 60BC-30BC), as  King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.

Ozymandias
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Nuts Are In Charge: U. S. Politics


 The Catholic Bishops
The United States Roman Catholic bishops (all unmarried and all males) lashed out at Vice President Joe Biden after the October, 2012, Vice-Presidential debate saying he was wrong in the way he described a healthcare mandate that would require contraceptive services for employees of some Catholic institutions. The statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was the latest volley in a heated fight between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration over a mandate published early this year by the Department of Health and Human Services, a battle that the church has framed as a struggle for religious freedom. The administration has characterized it as being about women's reproductive rights.
At the Vice-Presidential debate, the first ever between two Catholics, the candidates were asked how their faith shaped their views on abortion. Both said they were opposed to abortion, although Biden said he would not impose his views on others. Republican Representative Paul Ryan said he would support abortion restrictions. In his answer, Ryan took the opportunity to attack Biden and the Obama administration for  infringing on religious liberty. Biden said Ryan was wrong.  He said, No religious institutio , Catholic or otherwise … none has to either refer to contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact. The bishops' conference, representing the leadership of the church in the United States, supported Ryan's position.
Women’s rights groups have pointed out that many employees of Catholic hospitals and universities, the majority, in some cases, are non-Catholic, and that a overwhelming majority of Catholic men and women (estimate: 98%) in the United States use contraception, despite church doctrine banning it.
A message sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from a former Catholic read: The Catholic Bishops have once again taken a stand against contraception. They all but endorsed Ryan over Biden. 60% of Catholics vote Democratic. 98% of Catholics ignore the Catholic bishops and use contraception. So, 98% of Catholics are sinning, should be excommunicated and will burn in hell. Wow!  And, heaven will be occupied by a group of Catholic bishops, "good Catholics" like Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum (who ignore church teachings on mercy, the poor, capital punishment, just war, children, dignity of labor, and charity) and a former Nazi Pope! By the way, how many bishops covered up  for pedophile priests now and for the last 1000 years? Are they going to heaven too?
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Astounding Ignorance
Parents of Encinitas Union School District in southern California have slammed the district’s twice-a-week yoga program, accusing it of religious indoctrination, the North County Times reports. The program was launched at half of the district’s schools over the last couple months thanks to a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, an Encinitas-based group that promotes Ashtanga Yoga. Seven parents and a lawyer complained to the district’s trustees, claiming the program encourages Hinduism and violates religious freedom.
Yoga practices and poses are not merely exercise; they're religious practices, said Marsha Qualls, who has a student at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School. She said the techniques were a kind of prayer. Some parents have asked that their children be removed from the yoga classes rather than allow them to be indoctrinated by this Hindu religious program, according to Andy Vick, whose three daughters attend Mission Estancia. Because of this, you're forcing me to segregate my children, he said.
Superintendent Tim Baird told KSWB that there are no religious aspect to the lessons, and the program is part of a greater endeavor to encourage students to keep active and eat healthy. We believe the yoga program will actually have academic benefits, and in fact there is research out there that shows that, Baird said.
In an op-ed for the North County Times defending the program, columnist Brigid Brett cites a 2003 study by Cal State Los Angeles that found that yoga improves students' behavior, physical health and academic performance, as well as attitudes toward themselves. Research also indicates that the benefits of yoga are especially evident among children with special needs. We are living in an era when children are overstressed, over-bombarded by technology and overmedicated, Brett writes. Who wouldn't want their children to be able to calm themselves in a safe and natural way?
A 2012 study found that students who did a 10-week yoga physical education class had fewer mood and anxiety problems than those who didn’t do yoga in their PE class. In addition, the teens who didn't practice yoga reported more negative emotions while the teens who did do yoga reported fewer negative emotions. Researchers reported that almost 75 percent of the teens who did yoga said they would like to keep practicing.
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Science Committee Congressman Denies Science.
God's word is true, Broun said, according to a video posted on the church's website. I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior, said U. S Congressman Paul Broun, a Republican from Georgia. Broun is a medical doctor by training who is on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and is running unopposed for another term as a congressman. He made his anti-science statement in an September, 2012, address at a banquet organized by Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia.
Broun also called the Bible the manufacturer’s handbook. … It teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in our society. That’s the reason, as your congressman, I hold the holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that, he said. In the same speech, he said that he believes the Earth is about 9,000 years old and that it was made in six days. Those beliefs are held by fundamentalist Christians who believe the creation accounts in the Bible to be literally true.

Broun's spokeswoman Meredith Griffanti told the Athens Banner-Herald that Broun was recorded speaking off-the-record to a church group. But, it seems unlikely that Broun's remarks were supposed to be kept private. The banquet was advertised, Broun spoke before an audience and the video of his remarks was posted on the church's website.

The congressman’s remarks about science have drawn attention online, with critics taking aim at his role on the science committee. Bill Nye, a mechanical engineer and television personality, said , Since the economic future of the United States depends on our tradition of technological innovation, Representative Broun's views are not in the national interest. For example, the Earth is simply not 9,000 years old. Broun is, by any measure, unqualified to make decisions about science, space, and technology.

The Gallup Poll has been tracking Americans' views on creation and evolution for 30 years. It's  latest findings (June, 2012), which showed that 46% of Americans believed in the Biblical account of creation, 32% believed in evolution guided by God,15% believed in atheistic and/or scientific evolution, and 7% hold no opinion on the subject.

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Congressman: Slavery is Better for African-Americans

Trent Franks is a congressman from the U. S. State of Arizona. Although he has been elected to the Congress 6 times and is sure to be re-elected to a 7th term,  has long been one of Congress' most embarrassing members.

In October, 2012, Franks was speaking with blogger Mike Stark about civility and the public discourse. Unprompted by Stark, the congressman started reflecting on the African-American community, and his belief that African-Americans may have been better off under slavery  today because of a legal system that permits legal abortions.

Franks said, In this country, we had slavery for God knows how long. And now we look back on it and we say 'How brave were they? What was the matter with them? You know, I can't believe, you know, four million slaves. This is incredible.' And we're right, we're right. We should look back on that with criticism. It is a crushing mark on America's soul. And yet today, half of all black children are aborted. Half of all black children are aborted. Far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery. Franks added that he can sometimes say things that are "intemperate," but added, I don't want to hide from the truth.

Franks is the same lawmaker who described President Obama as an enemy of humanity who acts un-American  and doesn't want people to see his birth certificate. (Interestingly, Franks home state of Arizona does not issue birth certificates.) And, relying on a strange book published by a fringe website, Franks also asked the House Sergeant at Arms to start looking for Muslim "spies" on congressional committees.

A spokesperson for the Democratic Party said, To compare the horrors and inhumane treatment of millions of African-Americans during slavery as a better way of life for African-Americans today is beyond repulsive. In 2010, during the second year of our first African-American President, it is astonishing that a thought such as this would come to mind, let alone be shared. However, there was a conspicuous silence by the Republic Party, its spokespeople and other Republican politicians about Franks' statements.
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Legitimate Rape
On August 19, 2012, Todd Akin, a Republican Congress and candidate for Senator from the U. S. State of Missouri, claimed that women victims of what he described as "legitimate rape" rarely experience pregnancy from rape  because something happens in the female victim to prevent pregnancy from happening. The comments from Akin almost immediately led to uproar, with the term "legitimate rape" being taken to imply belief in a view that some kinds of rape are legitimate and/or that the many victims who do become pregnant from rape are likely to be lying about their claim. His assertions about the likelihood of pregnancy resulting from rape  are based on long-discredited pseudoscience. Iowa Republican Congressman Steven King supported Akin' views. Akin apologized after making the comment, saying he "misspoke", and he stated he planned to remain in the Senate race in spite of calls for him to withdraw. He has never admitted that he was wrong and in September he implied that he was right but phased his comment poorly. This response was attacked by many commentators who saw the initial comments as representative of his long-held views rather than an accidental gaffe. Polls in October suggest that he is likely to win the Senate seat.

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Ethnic Slander

U.S. Republican Senator Scott Brown of the U. S. State of Massachusetts challenged his opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, over her claim of partial Native-American heritage.  based his assertion on no real evidence and only on her face. He did so twice in debates with her and the unfounded remarks kept coming from his campaign after the debate ended. In the debates, Brown looked at Warren squarely, and said she had presented no evidence to show she has Cherokee and Delaware ancestry which she has claimed for years. She checked the box claiming she is Native American, and clearly she is not…. I think character is important, Brown said. Warren responded that she has answered all questions about her claimed heritage and said I never used it, never used it for getting into college, never used it for getting into law school. There’s nothing else there, the question has been asked and answered. I think the senator just doesn’t like the answer.

After  one debate,  a few Scott Brown aides interrupted a rally for Elizabeth Warren creating mocking stereotypical pseudo Indian war whoops and making phone tomahawk chops in an apparent attempt to disrupt the rally and to mock Warren's  claim to be part Cherokee and part Delaware Indian, a claim rooted in what her mother told her. The disruption was video recorded. Asked about the video, Brown said, that he hadn't seen it but it is certainly something that I don't condone. He added, though, that the "real offense" is Warren's use of her Native-American heritage. No staffer was fired over the incident.

Elizabeth Warren has not attacked  Brown for appearing nude in Playgirl centerfold.

Important: Legally, in the U.S., anyone can claim any heritage or combination of heritages that they chose. Ethnic heritage is often a tricky issue in the U.S. because of intermarriage, immigration and lost records. For many Americans, it is sole based on handed-down family information and recollections.