By a 75-59 vote, Minnesota’s House of Representatives approves same-sex marriage bill

The Minnesota House of Representatives has voted to permit same-sex marriage, clearing the way to add Minnesota to a string of states that have recently made it legal for gay and lesbian couples to wed.

The House, which is controlled by Democrats, approved the measure by a vote of 75-59, dividing mostly along party lines. In recent months, as the debate over same-sex marriage emerged in St. Paul, a capital newly dominated by Democrats, the outcome in the House had been seen as most uncertain. State Senate leaders say that the outlook is more assured in that chamber and that they expect to approve same-sex marriage next week. Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, urged approval and said he would sign the bill, which would allow same-sex marriages…

…Minnesota would become the 12th state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to permit marriages for gay and lesbian couples and the third to decide to do so, along with Delaware and Rhode Island, this month alone. Minnesota would also become the first state in the nation’s middle to make such a choice through legislative action. Elsewhere in the Midwest, Iowa allows same-sex marriage, but that was decided in the courts. In Illinois, which allows civil unions, State House members are considering a same-sex marriage bill already approved in the State Senate.

…Just a few months ago, in November, voters had cast ballots following a hard-fought campaign aimed at amending the State Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The amendment failed, and, with Democrats winning control of both legislative chambers in the same election, a renewed effort to allow same-sex marriage emerged…

“This is a historic day for Minnesota,” Representative Karen Clark, a Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, said as House members debated the issue before the vote and as advocates on both sides crowded into the Capitol, chanting and cheering. “Freedom means freedom for everyone,” she said…

In the weeks before the vote, supporters of same-sex marriage said they were hoping to win support from at least a few Republicans and from Democrats who represent more rural districts, where the issue was more contested, far from the Twin Cities. In the end, four Republicans voted for same-sex marriage, officials said, and two Democrats opposed it.

“Sometimes,” said Representative Raymond Dehn, a Democrat who supported the measure, “it gets down to doing the right thing.”

Predictably, the opposition lay most of their hopes on folks refusing that anything should ever change. But, that isn’t how civil rights have had to grow and become part of law in the United States. If it wasn’t so, we’d still be a slave-owning nation and women wouldn’t have the right to vote.

Not that many of those opposing this change – feel those changes were appropriate either.

Italy court upholds Berlusconi tax fraud verdict

ITALY — Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s tax fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence were upheld on the first appeal Wednesday in a case that could see him barred from public office for five years.

In Italy, defendants are legally considered innocent until all appeals are exhausted, and Berlusconi’s lawyers are expected to appeal the case to the nation’s highest Court of Cassation once the reasoning for the decision is published.

Still, the ruling, which comes just days before prosecutors wrap up closing arguments in his sensational sex-for-hire trial, raises the question of whether Berlusconi’s days as a political force are numbered…

The case already is tightly tied to Berlusconi’s political fortunes. He announced he was stepping aside just two days before the October lower court verdict convicting him in a scheme that involved inflating the price his Mediaset media empire paid for TV rights to U.S. movies and pocketing the difference. Shortly after the guilty verdict, he renewed his political campaign, and his lawyers began seeking a series of trial delays for his electoral commitments…

His lawyers had argued to move the Mediaset appeal and the sex-for-hire case to the nearby city of Brescia, arguing that Milan courts are partial. The high court denied the motion earlier this week…

The ruling also upheld barring him from managing any company for three years. Even if the jail sentence is confirmed, it is unlikely Berlusconi would serve any time for the tax fraud case because a furlough shaving three years off the sentence would likely be applied and one-year sentences are not normally served…

On Monday, the sex-for-hire trial will resume with prosecutor Ilda Boccassini wrapping up closing arguments that were started in early March, before the trial was slowed by delays over Berlusconi’s campaign commitments, his health and the motion for a change of venue. In that case, the media mogul is on trial in Milan on charges he paid for sex with an underage Moroccan teen during the infamous “bunga-bunga” parties at his villa and then tried to cover it up. Both he and the woman, Karima el-Mahroug, better known as Ruby, deny sexual contact.

Overdue. Which is typical in what passes for judicial proceedings in Italy if you have sufficient power and political clout.

Grandparents put child in car trunk to have enough room in the back seat for their shopping – WTF?

I survived my zombie grandparents

A Fulton, Missouri, couple was arrested this weekend in Jefferson City for putting their grandchild in the trunk of their car.

Police reports show at about 12:15 p.m. Saturday, officers were dispatched to Menards, 805 Stone Creek Drive, for a child endangerment call.

According to the caller, she heard a voice from within the trunk of a car that had pulled into the lot and what sounded like a child’s voice frantically yelling “let me out!

The caller observed a couple exit the vehicle then open the trunk, at which point a 5 year-old girl climbed out.

Officers responded and made contact with the suspects, Marc and Mary Vaucher of Fulton who admitted purchasing two tables at another location and not having enough room to place the tables in the trunk so they opted to place their granddaughter in the trunk to allow for transport.

The Vauchers were arrested for endangering the welfare of a child and the child, who was unharmed, was released to another family member’s custody.

One of those times I not only wonder which species I belong to – but, what planet I live on?

Dream of glowing trees assailed by timorous elite

Kyle Taylor and Antony Evans

Hoping to give new meaning to the term “natural light,” a small group of biotechnology hobbyists and entrepreneurs has started a project to develop plants that glow, potentially leading the way for trees that can replace electric streetlamps and potted flowers luminous enough to read by.

The project, which will use a sophisticated form of genetic engineering called synthetic biology, is attracting attention not only for its audacious goal, but for how it is being carried out.

Rather than being the work of a corporation or an academic laboratory, it will be done by a small group of hobbyist scientists in one of the growing number of communal laboratories springing up around the nation as biotechnology becomes cheap enough to give rise to a do-it-yourself movement.

The project is also being financed in a D.I.Y. sort of way: It has attracted more than $250,000 in pledges from about 4,500 donors in about two weeks on the Web site Kickstarter.

The new project’s goals, at least initially, are similarly modest. “We hope to have a plant which you can visibly see in the dark (like glow-in-the-dark paint), but don’t expect to replace your light bulbs with version 1.0,” the project’s Kickstarter page says.

But part of the goal is more controversial: to publicize do-it-yourself synthetic biology and to “inspire others to create new living things.” As promising as that might seem to some, critics are alarmed at the idea of tinkerers creating living things in their garages. They fear that malicious organisms may be created, either intentionally or by accident.

Two environmental organizations, Friends of the Earth and the ETC Group, have written to Kickstarter and to the Agriculture Department, which regulates genetically modified crops, in an effort to shut down the glowing plant effort.

The project “will likely result in widespread, random and uncontrolled release of bioengineered seeds and plants produced through the controversial and risky techniques of synthetic biology,” the two groups said in their letter demanding that Kickstarter remove the project from its Web site…

This would be a good time to rant against FOE and their peers. Forty years of supporting environmental activism hasn’t lessened my contempt for upper middle class twerps who spend their spare time limiting public participation in their hobbies, e.g., most wilderness legislation – and in fear and trembling over any sort of science which might tamper with their noble savage view of anything more sophisticated than Birkenstocks.

But, I tire of the sport. They’re useless in politics, even less so when questions might result in progress on a democratic scale. Consequently, they end up pigeonholed with the tinfoil hat brigade. Where they often deserve to be.

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Blood pressure benefits from the sun may exceed cancer risks

The health benefits of exposing skin to sunlight may far outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer…Edinburgh University research suggests sunlight helps reduce blood pressure, cutting heart attack and stroke risks and even prolonging life.

UV rays were found to release a compound that lowers blood pressure.

Researchers said more studies would be carried out to determine if it is time to reconsider advice on skin exposure.

Heart disease and stroke linked to high blood pressure are estimated to lead to about 80 times more deaths than those from skin cancer in the UK.

Production of the pressure-reducing compound, nitric oxide, is separate from the body’s manufacture of vitamin D, which rises after exposure to sunshine.

Researchers said that until now vitamin D production had been considered the sole benefit of the sun to human health…

Dr Richard Weller, a senior lecturer in dermatology at Edinburgh University, said: “We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer.

“The work we have done provides a mechanism that might account for this, and also explains why dietary vitamin D supplements alone will not be able to compensate for lack of sunlight.

“We now plan to look at the relative risks of heart disease and skin cancer in people who have received different amounts of sun exposure.

“If this confirms that sunlight reduces the death rate from all causes, we will need to reconsider our advice on sun exposure.”

I tend to approach most health questions within the context of the anthropology of evolution. Diet, exercise, sex – all parts of a species evolving over time in widely differing environments; but, similar questions leading the analysis of that evolution. That we live longer than our nature-oriented forebears certainly skews the analysis – and even the ailments we now encounter, like skin cancer.

Still, I have to lean easiest into the context that defined our environment over millennia – and how we responded to that environment.