Tuesday, July 31, 2007
by Wayne Besen
A weighty new study released last week suggested that if you can't make your podgy friends purge, you might have to purge your podgy friends. Harvard Medical School's Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that having a portly pal increased a person's chances of becoming obese by a whopping 57-percent. That's right, the weight of your friend Jim matters more than how much weight you lift in the gym.
The most amazing part of the research revealed that having a best friend who became obese increased your risk 171 percent, even if your chum lives hundreds of miles away. Who would have guessed that Twinkies were telepathic?
As you can imagine, the effects of this study reverberated as tons of people were kicked off "buddies lists" on My Space if they took up too much space. Some people even went further, having a "maximum friend weight capacity," like an elevator. Even Ronald MacDonald reportedly told Grimace he had to switch from shakes to salads.
The consequences rapidly filtered their way into the political arena giving an edge to the campaigns of Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barak Obama. Huckabee, who lost more than 100 pounds while Governor of Arkansas, unveiled his new campaign slogan: "Cutting Taxes and Tushes." Meanwhile, Obama's campaign revealed its motto: "Obama - More than Just a Thin Resume."
Meanwhile, the new study jeopardized Al Gore's ballooning presidential chances with a high priced consultant having been overheard telling the former Vice President, "Forget carbon neutral, people want a president who is carb neutral."
Of course, with George W. Bush we can all see the benefits of having a Commander in Chief who is physically fit. Not only is he a role model for our chubby children, but he actually looked like a model when he squeezed his svelte bod into that flight suit announcing our victory in Iraq on that aircraft carrier.
The timing could also not have been better for Bush's ideologue Surgeon General nominee James Holsinger. Holsinger is in a bruising Senate confirmation hearing and came under withering criticism by GLBT advocates for starting a Kentucky church with an "ex-gay" ministry. This new study helps him shift the message to his non-gay obsession, reducing childhood obesity, and lets him focus on the less controversial and more medically sound practice of praying away the pounds.
While I try not to use this column to be judgmental, (Well, maybe sometimes)the truth is, this epidemic had to start with one person before it spread like a virus. Personally, I blame the late Rev. Jerry Falwell for making America fatter and think he is Patient "Zero Bar."
Think about it. In 1980, he burst onto the scene with his Moral Majority and as his influence expanded, so did his (and our) waistlines. For those old enough, just ask yourself, weren't you thinner before you heard of Falwell? See, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.
What is depressing about this obesity study is that the same principles don't apply to other areas in life. Why can't hanging out with wealthy friends make us rich, for example? Or, why can't going to karaoke with talented friends make us better singers?
Unfortunately, this study can't easily be replicated because the data was mined from a prior Massachusetts heart study that consisted of 12,067 people and took over three decades to complete. The only realistic way to confirm the results is to stick Paris Hilton in a jail cell with Perez Hilton for six months and see if she covers him in whipped cream and eats him.
In the end, I'm not really sure what to do with such research other than ignore it or be paranoid my good buddies are consuming Nutty Buddies without having the decency to tell me that I won't fit into my new blue jeans by September.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
by Wayne Besen
In the wake of sex scandals involving children, the Roman Catholic Church should either change its mores or close its doors. Since 1950, the United States arm of the church has paid an astounding $2 billion to settle claims of childhood sexual abuse. Yes, that is billions with a capital "B" that could have gone towards raising orphans, housing the homeless and feeding the "foodless." Instead, the church has had to reach deep inside its pockets, because some priests can't keep their hands out of the pants of others.
About a quarter of the fortune paid to the unfortunate victims has come from the Los Angeles archdiocese. Its leader, Cardinal Roger Mahony, apologized Sunday to the hundreds of abused who will be compensated, as if you can put a price on the church's vice.
"There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them. The one thing I wish I could give the victims...I cannot," he said. "Once again, I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who has been abused. It should not have happened and should not ever happen again."
Of course, it will happen again, since none of the underlying structural problems have been addressed. The church simply cannot continue its practice of recruiting spiritual leaders from a pool of repressed, self-loathing, sexually and emotionally stunted men and not expect a sordid sequel.
An apology without genuine reform is an empty gesture and mere disastrous dogma that will continue to strip-mine more weeping souls. What substantial measure has the church taken to prevent future victims? Have they even once broken with orthodoxy or taken difficult steps that actually matter? The answer is an emphatic, shameful "no."
There are only three reforms that will alter the status quo:* Ending celibacy and allowing priests to marry* Ordaining openly gay people* Allowing women into the priesthood.
Anything short of these dramatic changes is mere window dressing that will lead to future problems.Celibacy:
This largely discredited idea of "sexual purity" rarely works in practice. It may succeed for people with unusually low sex drives, but for normally functioning males, it is seldom a viable way of life. Sex is a natural drive and love is its magnificent emotional counterpart. To deny this aspect of one's humanity over an extended or indefinite period of time is wishful thinking. Until priests can get married and experience human touch, they will be dangerously out of touch. Sometimes, such deprivation leads to a twisted mindset that drives priests to take advantage of vulnerable people - such as altar boys.
Allowing marriage will also help end the priesthood as a place where self-loathing gay people can shield their true identity. Homosexuals (and heteros too) with such unresolved internal conflicts do not belong in the priesthood, as their repression may sometimes manifest in unhealthy ways.Openly Gay Priests:
Once the Church has weeded out emotionally disturbed closet cases, it can attract morally and spiritually secure gay people. To do this, however, Rome would have to allow marriages - or commitment ceremonies - for gay priests. Sadly, the Pope seems more interested in blaming gay people for the churches' scandals and calling them "disordered."
It is insulting for the morally compromised Catholic Church to blame gay people for its own dishonorable record. After all, if homosexuality alone was responsible for child abuse, it would be the gay rights organizations getting sued, not the Vatican. Rome's anti-gay campaign might be good politics, but it will also foster the perpetuation of pedophilia, even as they apologize for past transgressions.Women Priests:
The primary reason to allow women into the priesthood is because it is fair. Rome should terminate its archaic and discriminatory policy of sexist exclusion and send sisters to seminary. A secondary reason to admit women is that it will end the bad boys club that currently exists. Having women giving mass will make it more difficult to have mass cover-ups. Of course, this is common sense, which is a commodity in short supply if you consider the blithely blind child abuse record of the Holy See.
Unfortunately, there is a moral vacancy at the Vatican, so the drumbeat of denial goes on. Some "Good Fathers" will continue to fondle, the hierarchy will hide the horrors, Rome will retreat from reality and spin its festering sin. I don't have the faintest idea of where God resides in this dreary drama. But, faux apologies aside, it is my impression that Rome has yet to really go to confession.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
by Wayne Besen
James W. Holsinger's controversial nomination for U.S. Surgeon General never made much sense. The last thing Bush's shattered presidency needed was another battle on Capitol Hill at a time when support for the war in Iraq was eroding among key Senators. However, after Bush's former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona blasted the Administration
this week for politicizing the office, the logic behind the Holzinger pick has become crystal clear.
Bush had to select a new Surgeon General who was a loyal apparatchik and unquestionably conservative, so the president's official policy to oppose sound science would never be questioned. Bush needed a willing crony he believed would filter the facts and selected a holy singer from the same right wing hymn sheet.
The testimony from Carmona in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee vacillated between disturbing and alarming. On nearly every crucial pubic health issue, Carmona was told either to spout the party line or make a beeline away from the topic.
"I was told to stay away from those [controversial issues] because we've already decided which way we want to go," Carmona testified.
In 2001, Bush made great theater when he visited top scientists pretending to be soliciting their advice on stem cells. This charade continued throughout his presidency, but Carmona confirmed that Bush was never truly serious and often muzzled him when he wanted to discuss a topic that held the promise of helping thousands of Americans suffering from debilitating illnesses.
"I was told to stand down and not speak about it," the former Surgeon General said. "It was removed from my speeches."
What remained in his public addresses, however, was mandated praise for the President and his policies. Carmona was command to mention Bush at least three times on every page of his speeches, according to The New York Times. Carmona was also ordered to "water down" a groundbreaking report on the dangers of secondhand smoke that was deliberately delayed for years. Additionally, the administration pressured him into ignoring the risk of global warming, with officials taking the position that the crisis was a liberal hoax.
Not surprisingly, Bush's grossly irresponsible and potentially murderous policy of "abstinence-only" education was suppressed. Carmona said he tried to stress the importance of contraceptives, but was rebuffed.
"However, there was already a policy in place that did not want to hear the science but wanted to preach abstinence only, but I felt the science was incorrect."
In a sickening turn, Carmona recounted how administration officials urged him to snub the Special Olympics because the Kennedy family was involved.
"I was specifically told by a senior person, 'why would you want to help those people?'" he recalled.
So, this pro-STD spreading, pro-global warming, pro-secondhand smoke, pro-Bush ass kissing, anti-stem cell cure, anti-Special Olympics administration needed a Surgeon General to parrot its political agenda. Into this filthy, dirt sucking villainous vacuum emerged Holsinger, a peculiar, homosexually-obsessed Holy Roller who started a Kentucky trailer church with an "ex-gay" ministry.
While this is hardly a rational pick for the nation's "Top Doctor" it is ideal for the Bush Administration. Having just had its credibility battered by Richard "Dr. No" Carmona, the president desperately had to find a "Dr. Yes." A cheerleading lackey was needed to rubberstamp Bush's anti-health policies. Based on Holsinger's backward views, he may fit the bill. I'm afraid if confirmed, Holsinger's press releases might sound like the Toni Basil song "Mickey."
"Oh Bushie your so fine, science we will undermine, hey Bushie!"
This week, Holsinger's nomination is scheduled to go before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) Presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) sit on this committee.
The biggest hurdle to Holsinger's confirmation is an amateurish 1991 paper
he wrote for the Methodist Church titled "Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality," which portrayed homosexuality as more unnatural than Michael Jackson's face and more dangerous than a hunting trip with Dick Cheney. The report had all the scientific validity of the propaganda spit out by tobacco companies and the puerile voyeurism found in the Starr Report, detailing Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
I suspect that Holsinger will try to dodge this troubling paper by attempting to refocus the hearings on his advocacy of reducing childhood obesity. However, America needs to know if his devotion to fat is really just political cover for serving as a malleable mouthpiece in an Administration with a science policy that has no meat.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
by Wayne Besen
The past few weeks my work has taken me to Chicago and New York and I'm leaving for Los Angles tomorrow. I was very fortunate to be asked to speak at the Center on Halstead, a spectacular new GLBT community center that is a national treasure. The $20 million gem has a basketball court, a computer lab, a technology center, an organic grocery store, a cafe, a magnificent theater, and a number of other fantastic gathering venues. Plus, views of Chicago's legendary skyline make The Center a tribute to how far the gay community has come.
Of course, it did not take long for Focus on the Family to exploit the price tag of the Center in their on-going effort to smear gay life. Caleb Price, a Focus "research" flunky, said the center illustrates the "deception of homosexual activists" who regularly present themselves as a "disadvantaged community."
"However, with this new $20 million gay community center in Chicago we see more evidence that, in fact, the homosexual community is one of the wealthiest, most privileged and powerfully influential groups in the country," Price said. "Yet they continue to demand special rights and recognition from society at large - all based on their self-identification with sexual behavioral preferences."
You have got to be kidding me.
Focus on the Family is the bitchiest, whiniest pack of victim-mongering babies on the planet. If a fundamentalist so much as stubs his toe, they are kvetching and ready to call their army of lawyers. This behemoth unceasingly portrays itself as a "disadvantaged community" that is surrounded by radical homosexuals, secular humanists and the ACLU. Yet, they have a cavernous Colorado Springs kingdom that consists of five massive buildings with 1,350 employees and runs on an annual budget of $150 million a year.
Nonetheless, they have the gall to pick on Chicago’s center - a building that would likely fit in James Dobson’s basement. It is amazing that an organization made of fine crystal castles should balk at the supposed extravagance of a glass house.
What Focus on the Family also failed to point out is that many of the people who visit the center each day are truly disadvantaged and use the site as a lifeline. Focus on the Family consistently makes sweeping generalizations about issues and people, without doing their homework to see if what they are actually spewing is true. When is the last time you have been asked a question by a Focus on the Family "researcher"? If they don’t go into the communities they are "reporting" on, what do they actually spend their time researching?
Next, I was in New York at the Gay Pride Parade. While I had a great time and met some fascinating people, I have to admit, it wasn't as wild as I remember in the past. The weekend ended with a frustrated news photographer who was distressed because there were not enough bizarre people to photograph. Sure, this is progress, but watching marchers in polo shirts is kind of boring.
Next stop, LA!
Once on the West Coast, I will be part of a conference sponsored by SoulForce and BeyondExgay.com that will highlight the stories of ex-gay ministry victims. It will be a time of healing for those abused by these groups, as well as a stage to showcase the message that ex-gay groups ruin lives. Christine Bakke and Peterson Toscano, co-founders of Beyond Ex-Gay, have invited the ex-gay leaders of Exodus International to a private dinner June 29.
I suggest Bakke and Toscano take antacid before they sit down so they can stomach the ex-gay leaders pretending that they actually enjoy sexless existences. If you thought your last date was awkward, imagine the conversation at this meal!
Fortunately, Toscano is a comedian, so if it gets too stressful he can deliver a one-liner and ease the tension. I hope he prepares a good monologue, just in case the ex-gays start trying to cast out demons before dessert. I'll be sure to remind our contingent not to order Devil Food cake, just in case.