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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Father Doesn’t Know Best

By Published: May 22, 2012 (The New York Times)

Your parents spill a few secrets as they get older.
One night at dinner with my mom, I ventured that the rhythm method had worked well for her, given that there were six years between my sister Peggy and my brother Kevin, and six more between Kevin and me. She arched an eyebrow. “Well, sometimes your father used something,” she said.
My parents were the most devout Catholics I’ve ever known. But my dad came from a family of 16 in County Clare in Ireland, and my mom’s mother came from a family of 13in County Mayo. So they balanced their faith with a dose of practicality.
After their first three kids, they sagely decided family planning was not soul-staining. So I wasn’t surprised to see the Gallup poll Tuesday showing that 82 percent of U.S. Catholics say birth control is morally acceptable. (Eighty-nine percent of all Americans and 90 percent of non-Catholics agreed.) Gallup tested the morality of 18 issues, and birth control came out on top as the most acceptable, beating divorce, which garnered 67 percent approval, and “buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur,” which got a 60 percent thumbs-up (more from Republicans, naturally, than Democrats).
Polygamy, cloning humans and having an affair took the most morally offensive spots on the list. “Gay or lesbian relations” tied “having a baby outside of marriage,” with 54 percent approving. That’s in the middle of the list, above a 38 percent score for abortion and below a 59 percent score for “sex between an unmarried man and woman.”
The poll appeared on the same day as headlines about Catholic Church leaders fighting President Obama’s attempt to get insurance coverage for contraception for women who work or go to college at Catholic institutions. The church insists it’s an argument about religious freedom, not birth control. But, really, it’s about birth control, and women’s lower caste in the church. It’s about conservative bishops targeting Democratic candidates who support contraception and abortion rights as a matter of public policy. And it’s about a church that is obsessed with sex in ways it shouldn’t be, and not obsessed with sex in ways it should be.
The bishops and the Vatican care passionately about putting women in chastity belts. Yet they let unchaste priests run wild for decades, unconcerned about the generations of children who were violated and raped and passed around like communion wine.
They still have not done a proper reckoning, and the acrid scandal never ends. In the midst of a landmark trial in Philadelphia charging Msgr. William Lynn with covering up sexual abuse by priests and then recirculating the perverts, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Sunday that two priests in their 70s who worked in parishes and hospitals had abused minors at some point and were unfit for ministry.
This follows five priests sidelined earlier this month because of substantiated claims of sexual abuse or other violations, plus 17 others suspended after last year’s sickening grand jury report on rampant sexual abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Some leading Catholic groups endorsed the compromise struck by the Obama administration that put the responsibility for providing the contraceptives on the insurance companies, not religious institutions. But others wanted to salute the Vatican flag and keep fighting. On “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday, the pugnacious Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York rejected the compromise and charged that the White House is “strangling” the church. Interpreting the rule in the most extreme way to scare Catholics, he said: “They tell us if you’re really going to be considered a church, if you’re going to be really exempt from these demands of the government, well, you have to propagate your Catholic faith and everything you do, you can serve only Catholics and employ only Catholics.”
The Archdiocese of Washington put an equally alarmist message in the church bulletins at Sunday’s Masses, warning of apocalyptic risk:
“1. Our more than 600 hospitals nationwide, which will need to stop non-Catholics at the emergency room door and say, ‘We are only allowed by the government to heal Catholics.’
“2. Our schools, which will be required to say to non-Catholic parents, ‘We are only allowed by the government to educate Catholics.’
“3. Our shelters, on cold nights, which will be required to say to the homeless who are non-Catholics, ‘We are only allowed by the government to shelter Catholics.’
“4. Our food pantries, which will be forced to say to non-Catholics, ‘the government allows us only to satisfy the hunger of Catholics.’ ”
The church leaders headed to court hope to undermine the president, but they may help him. Voters who think sex is only for procreation were not going to vote for Obama anyway. And the lawsuit reminds the rest that what the bishops portray as an attack on religion by the president is really an attack on women by the bishops.


Monday, March 19, 2012

When Spring has Sprung

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of the gray, dingy, cold, depressing, miserable, disappointing Winter of our discontent. The last few days have been saying, "Well, the wait is just about over."

We orbit the Sun every 365.24+ days each year. Think of a clock face, with the Winter Solstice at 12 o’clock, and the Summer Solstice at 6 o’clock. Our planet moves counterclockwise on the clock face. Earth is now very near 9 o’clock, the Spring, or Vernal Equinox for the Northern Hemisphere. At 3 o’clock there is the Autumnal Equinox. (The Southern Hemisphere reverses these: they are entering their fall.)

If you join 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock with a line you have the major axis of our elliptical path around the Sun. Join 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock with another line you have the minor axis. If you could draw a circle with a very large compass (placing its point at where the two lines cross each other and the pencil at 9 o’clock), the area of the resulting circle would be 98% of the area of the ellipse: our orbit is said to be a 98% ellipse.

Now, the Sun and the Earth are moving rather quickly, so the exact moment of the Vernal Equinox for us this year will be at 5:14 am Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on March 20. (The Sun and the whole Solar System are moving in an orbit around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at a velocity of 828,000 km/hr, making one rotation in about 230 million years.)

“UTC is the basis for time in many places around the world. It uses a 24-hour time scale, which is determined using highly precise atomic clocks. Time zones around the world are expressed as positive or negative offsets from UTC. The hours, minutes, and seconds that UTC expresses is kept close to the mean solar time at the earth's prime meridian (zero degrees longitude) located near Greenwich, England” ( We are 5 hours earlier than UTC, so the Vernal Equinox will occur at 12:14 am local time. (The folks in the Southern Hemisphere will enter Autumn, and will have to wait until September 22 for Spring.) Yes, the Sun – in

Cultures throughout history have celebrated the coming of Spring, thanking the gods for delivering them from the miseries of Winter. Sacrifices, feasts, wild parties and lots to drink were accessories to this time. It was important to know when Spring arrived so farmers knew when to plant their crops. The atmosphere was one of joy and rebirth.

Among the oldest such festival is Passover, a Jewish celebration of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. Christian Easter, the most important celebration in their calendar follows from this. Jesus was crucified after the Passover feast of Seder, in 30 CE. (See my column of 3/7/2011 for the problem with anno Domini.) Easter is a moveable feast, which means that it does not occur on the same date every year.

The Council of Nicaea (325 CE) set the date as the Sunday following the paschal full moon, which is the full moon that falls on or after the Vernal ( or Spring) Equinox.

Returning to our clock face, the Moon orbits Earth with one half always in sunlight. We see it as “full” when the centers of the Sun, Moon and Earth line up. The full moon after March 20 will be at 3:28:26 pm on April 6 this year. (They’ve got that down to the second!)

Easter Sunday for Western Christians falls on April 8, 2012.

Christian churches use March 21 as the starting point in determining the date of Easter, from which they wait for the Sunday following the next full moon. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox  Churches continue to use the Julian calendar. Their starting point in determining the date of Orthodox Easter is April 3 in the Gregorian calendar. In addition, the lunar tables of the Julian calendar are 4 days (sometimes 5 days) behind those of the Gregorian calendar. The 14th day of the lunar month according to the Gregorian system is only the 9th or 10th day according to the Julian. The result of this combination of solar and lunar discrepancies is divergence in the date of Easter in most years. Orthodox Easter will be on April 15.

Spring is certainly a worthy time.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

TransCanada Keystone Pipeline

Source: Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2012, page B1.

Extending the Keystone pipeline that the TransCanada Corp. uses to transport crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta, to storage hubs in Patoka, IL and Cushing, OK would increase the amount of oil exports. The company and the White House recently announced that the 435 mile extension south of Cushing to Port Arthur and Houston would be completed by 2013 and will transport 700,000 barrels per day. At present the pipeline drops south from Hardisty toward the Canadian border, east toward the eastern edge of North Dakota then south to Cushing, with a branch from Steele City, Kansas east to Patoka.
A “short cut” in this pipeline from Hardisty to Steele City would increase capacity. The White House has delayed the start of this stretch to complete an environmental study on the impact on Nebraska’s aquifer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rush Limbaugh’s Apology?

After spending three days on his radio show calling Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who testified in front of Congress about the importance of health insurance coverage, names like “slut” and “prostitute,” Rush Limbaugh did something unusual: he apologized.

Just kidding!

It’s being reported as an apology, but if you actually read it, it’s not.

In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

In other words, Limbaugh is saying that there’s nothing wrong with his belief that women who use contraception---that is, 99 percent of American women---are immoral, filthy sluts. He just wishes that he had chosen better euphemisms, perhaps “hussy” and “lady of the night” while arguing that the only proper course for women who don’t want to get pregnant is to abstain from sex completely. (Limbaugh very pointedly doesn’t suggest this to men. On the contrary, he demands that women provide sex tapes if they dare use contraception, so he can masturbate to them. While celibacy is required for women in Limbaugh’s world, he has no problem with male sexuality. Or Viagra coverage, for that matter.)

By the way, we’re already aware that he wasn’t just making a personal attack on Fluke. Since 99 percent of American women use contraception---and since contraception is already covered by insurance and subsidized by the government---Limbaugh was using Fluke as a stand-in to argue that every woman who has ever had sex for any other reason than procreation is a bad person. In other words, pretty much all women. Which is a way of saying that Limbaugh wasn’t attacking Fluke, but just using her for a punching bag to express his hatred of all women.

The non-apology involved him doubling down on this argument:

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities.

Worth repeating that Limbaugh continues to only detest the “sexual recreational activities” of women; Viagra coverage continues to go without a whit of criticism. But let’s break this argument apart. First of all, Limbaugh is acting like insurance coverage of contraception is a new idea; in fact, it’s been around for decades now, so his supposition that women who use it are prostitutes really is universal to women. Second of all is his claim that “American citizens” are the ones on the hook when we’re debating private insurance coverage of contraception. Well, I suppose American citizens ARE on the hook. After all, the women using the contraception are the ones paying for it and they are American citizens.

Conservatives keep arguing about this as if private health insurance were some monetary redistribution program. In fact, the health insurance women use to pay for these services is theirs, just as surely as their wages are theirs. Insurance you get through your employer is paid for by you through a combination of labor and money. Limbaugh’s claims that he’s paying for my contraception when I use my insurance to pay for it make as much sense as Limbaugh taking over my checking account and declaring it’s his money. It’s true that taxpayers subsidize access to contraception for low-income women through programs like Title X and Medicaid---rightly, since public health is a concern of the taxpayer---but that’s not actually the money in dispute here.

We can safely say therefore that money thing is just a distraction technique. This is just Limbaugh using the occasion of contraception being in the news to wage all-out war on women who have sex for pleasure, instead of grimly enduring it to make babies. The fact that he believes that more sex is more wicked confirms this, as did his assurance than any parent of a grown woman would be mortified to discover that their daughter acts like the vast majority of people her age and has sex.

Will Limbaugh get away with having this taken as an apology, even though he’s still arguing that all women are sluts (while just apologizing for the word, probably vowing to use “hussy” in the future instead)? Sadly, I have to guess so. Conservatives have become masters at playing the “who me?” game, insisting that you can’t label even the most egregious racism and sexism for what it is unless they manage to utter certain words. Unfortunately, the mainstream press has gone along with this.

Take, for instance, how conservative insistence that it can’t be racist unless you utter the infamous N-word works out so well for them. Limbaugh is a good example. But for his avoidance of the N-word, it would be easy to mistake Limbaugh’s show in recent months for speeches made at KKK rallies. On a near-daily basis, Limbaugh has been ginning up outrage that black people live in the White House, making it utterly clear that he believes their race should prevent them from having the nice things he himself enjoys. He argues that Obama’s race means that the President is trying to destroy this country, spinning paranoid conspiracy theories about how Obama is leading some kind of black takeover as an act of “revenge.” While Limbaugh miraculously avoids the N-word on a daily basis, however, he has played around with the racial epithet “Oreo,” and also describing Michelle Obama with the loaded word “uppity.” There hasn’t been a national outrage around this, because our discourse has lost all interest in nuance and context, and everything has been reduced to policing for certain words. Absent those words, apparently, any kind of racism or sexism is just fine.

The response of some politicians confronted with this speaks clearly to this problem. Mitt Romney, when asked about this, said, “I'll just say this which is it’s not the language I would have used,” which sounds like he’s agreeing with the contention that all women who use birth control are sluts, but he just prefers to use euphemisms to advance the basic argument. Rick Santorum dismissed the whole thing as “absurd,” even though he’s made the same idea---that 99 percent of American women, including his own wife, are deviants who are bringing ruin to this country---a major talking point of his campaign. Regardless of what word you use to paint the whole of womanhood as disgusting creatures whose sexual desires make them monsters, it still should be treated as unacceptable. I don’t have much faith that will happen, however.

by Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Check

Saturday, March 3, 2012


 When Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law School student, testified before Congress to protest rightwing attacks to limit women's access to birth control, Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" and a "prostitute." Here's what Limbaugh actually said: "What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute... She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception."

1. Unfortunately, what Rush Limbaugh says matters. He has a bigger audience than any other commercial radio host in the country, and what he talks about on air has the power to drive the Republican agenda — an agenda that is already obsessed with radical backslides of womens' ability to protect their own health.

2. Tell Rush Limbaugh's advertisers: Stop Supporting Rush Limbaugh's attacks on women.
Sandra Fluke's testimony before Congress included important points about why access to affordable birth control is so crucial, including the story of a friend who had lost an ovary because she couldn't afford the birth control needed to manage her ovarian cysts. Rush's unforgivable translation of that was "slut" and "prostitute." Sandra Fluke rightly has called Rush Limbaugh's comments "an attack on all women."

3. We agree. Every American enjoys the right to free speech, but that doesn't mean that advertisers who are accountable to their customers should pay people like Rush Limbaugh who make such appallingly hateful and sexist comments. Already the mattress retailer Sleep Train has pulled its advertisements, explaining in a Tweet: "We are pulling our ads with Rush Limbaugh and appreciate the community's feedback."

4. Rush's other advertisers need to hear from us loud and clear — if you advertise on Rush Limbaugh, you are supporting his reprehensible attacks on women. Tell Rush Limbaugh's advertisers: Stop Supporting Rush Limbaugh's attacks on women.

 In the fight against the Susan G. Komen Foundation we proved that when women and the men who support them fight back against those who would restrict women's access to healthcare, we can win. And MSNBC's recent firing of commentator Pat Buchanan after a campaign protesting his white supremacist rhetoric shows that there will be consequences when certain lines are crossed. Rush Limbaugh has a long history of hateful rhetoric. But with his comments this week, Rush Limbaugh has crossed the line at a moment when women, and the men who believe in equal rights for women, are more organized than ever and are ready to fight back. We will not let the rightwing take away women's access to birth control. We will not let Republicans brand women who assert their right to health care as "sluts" and "prostitutes."

Becky Bond, Political Director CREDO Action from Working Assets

Sunday, February 5, 2012

CMU Students Build Benches for Art Reach Chair Affair

Dr. Alan Papendick and students from the CMU Engineering & Technology Club designed and built benches for the 2011 Art Reach Chair Affair. They were so well received that Dr. Papendick and some ofhis students were hard at work on Saturday, February 4 building 15 more for the 2012 Chair Affair.

The students include Dr. Papendick’s son, Brian, Ryan Lewis, Garrett Mancillas, David Nadeau, Angela Grisdale, and Jillian and Jayson Raymond.

Later this Spring local artists, art educators and their students will decorate them for the event.

Below are photos of the prototype bench and students at work. The dim circles in the pictures are sawdust particles in the air.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bats in Our Belfry

Bats are extremely valuable animals, too often feared by those who don’t know them. All in Michigan eat more than their weight in harmful insects each evening. Web sites are included for more detail.

Bats are the only true flying mammals. Like humans, they give birth to live young and produce milk with which to feed them. Unlike humans, father bats sometimes do the nursing. Bats belong to the mammalian order Chiroptera, which means "hand-wing." The bones in their wings are similar to those found in human hands and arms, only they are elongated and connected by a double membrane of skin. The tragus, which resembles a pointy satellite dish in front of the ear, helps them interpret returning sound waves during echolocation.

There are 9 species of bats in Michigan. All Michigan bats use echolocation to search for food, and feed exclusively on insects.

Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fucus)

A colonial bat that prefers hot attics, shutters, bat houses and trees for roosting. The big brown bat is the most common bat to be found in Oakland County and surrounding areas. Colonies of females tend to form in the spring and summer and number 20-500 members. Males typically roost alone or together in groups numbering less than 4 or 5. During the night, they may roost on porches as they take a break from feeding. During the winter, months, this species is commonly found hibernating in walls and attics. They periodically awaken (every couple weeks), and can accidentally get into the living quarters.

During the summer, the Big Brown Bat usually emerges from its roost about 20 minutes after sunset to forage for insects. The big brown bat can be identified by a 13 inch wingspan and a reddish brown to dark brown coat. Additionally, they appear to be puffy around the nose when compared to the little brown bat.

Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)

A colonial bat that is found throughout Michigan, however is frequently observed in the more northern parts of the state. They are commonly observed to be using echolocation to capture insects that are flying over lakes and ponds. They can be identified by a 10 inch wingspan with a reddish brown to dark brown coat. Large colonies consisting of hundreds or even thousands of members commonly take up residence in hot attics or cabins.

Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)

A solitary bat with a 12 inch wingspan. The coat is bright orange to yellowish brown. There is unusual white marking on the shoulders. The females raise between 1-4 young and spend most of their time in trees. Although this species is common in Michigan, it is not normally found in homes, due to its preference to roost in trees. On occasion, this bat may enter homes through open windows. However, since this bat species is solitary, it would not indicate that a colony is present.

The Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus)

A solitary bat that can be quickly identified by dark hairs tipped with white. The wingspan is approximately 15 inches. The bat also has a yellow to orange throat. This bat spends most of its time in trees and is not commonly observed in Michigan homes.

Tri-Colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus)

Formally known as the Eastern Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus) , but reclassified in 2008. A colonial bat that is found in the upper peninsula. The wingspan is approximately 9 inches. The bat is one of the smallest species found in the United States. On occasion this bat is mistaken for a large moth. It is rare for this species to colonize in buildings.

Silvered Haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans)

A solitary bat sporting a black coat tipped with silver. The wingspan stretches 11 inches. They typically roost behind loose tree bark, but may roost on tall buildings or churches. This bat is uncommon in Michigan.

Indiana Bat (Myotis solidalis)

This species of bats numbers less than 300,000 in the world and is an endangered species. The Indiana bat can be identified by its dull brown to grey fur with a pinkish tale membrane. They look similar to the big brown bat, however their fur extends beyond their toe nails. They tend to roost in dead or hollow trees in the summer, and form large winter colonies in limestone caves.

Evening Bat (Nycticeius humeralis)

A colonial bat with a 10 inch wingspan. It can be confused with the big brown or the little brown bat, however the evening bat can be identified by its blunt tragus at the base of the ear. This bat's upper range includes the very southern parts of Michigan. This is a threatened species.

Northern Long-eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis)

Female Northern Long-eared Bats form small colonies, while the males roost alone during the summer. This bat sports a pale to dark brown coat and has a 10 inch wingspan. The Long-eared bat typically flies in forested areas and will capture insects in flight or on the ground. They prefer to roost in hollow trees or under bark, and are rarely found under shutters.