Friday, November 28, 2014

Grand Rapids, the test case for fluoridation

In January of 1945, Grand Rapids became the first city to introduce fluoride to its water supply. Was this a net positive or a net negative? It depends on who you ask.

The American Dental Association has established that a .7 parts per million solution of fluoride is the optimal for the prevention of tooth decay, and many West Michigan dentists agree. There is no doubt that the often catastrophic tooth issues that plagued our grandparents are much rarer in American society now, and there is certainly a correlation between children with access to fluoridated water and lowered rates of tooth decay.

The Center for Disease Control considers the fluoridation of American water supplies to be a huge public health victory. About 70 percent of American municipal water is currently fluoridated.

There are a number of groups that exist to advocate for removing fluoridation from water as well, and it's useful to consider their arguments before coming to any conclusion.

One of the biggest arguments against water fluoridation is that essentially it's a rather uncontrolled science experiment on a captive population. By dosing whole communities with fluoride governments ensure access to this chemical, but do these populations know what is going into their body? What grade is the fluoride being added? Apparently it's not pharmaceutical grade fluoride.

Secondly, consuming fluoride isn't necessary to reduce cavities - this is why topical use in toothpaste serves teeth adequately. Taking in regular amounts of fluoride over time has largely unknown long-term health effects, and they are largely unknown because they are largely unstudied. But there does appear to be some evidence that fluoride exposure increases risk for infertility, arthritis, lowered I.Q., thyroid issues, bone problems, and bone cancer.

What's more, not everyone's exposure to fluoride is the same, since people drink different amounts of water and children, particularly babies fed on formula have higher fluoride intake. Furthermore, while poor children without access to other sources of water such as bottled water are more exposed to fluoride in the water, they still have higher rates of dental decay than other children. Dental problems have steadily decreased in American populations, but they've also decreased in European populations without access to fluoridated water.

There are many more arguments against fluoridation, and few people are aware of them since fluoride is viewed as a wonder chemical and actively advertised. Grand Rapidians are increasingly interested in exploring options for better and more natural food options and healthcare. They care about what they put into their bodies. It would be worthwhile for them to be aware of what is going into their bodies without permission as well - and to ask questions.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Doings and Deeds, a Grand Rapids history, part 1

As the demographic composition of Grand Rapids continues to change, it’s easy to imagine the current influx of immigrants from other countries and elsewhere in the United States and Michigan is something new and uniquely challenging for Grand Rapidians. In reality, the area’s history is full of these kinds of changes.


The earliest identified settlers of the area were the Hopewell Indians, known primarily for the complex engineering of their large burial mounds. Grand Rapids has one of the best preserved of these earthworks downtown, although what remains is only a small part of what the Hopewell built. It’s uncertain what happened to the Hopewell peoples. Some historians speculate that their collapse was due to a greater use of the bow and arrow on the North American continent Since they left no written records, we can only interpret their culture through the ceremonial items they left in their burial mounds, the most common of which are chipped points and blades, celts and adzes, as well as some ceramics and ceremonial ornaments and jewelry made of shells, silver, copper, and mica. Many of the products they crafted were made of materials found far from West Michigan, so clearly there were cross-continental trade routes in existence at the time.

The sixth century saw the decline of the Hopewell, and during the Late Woodland period, a number of other smaller cultures appear and disappear in the fossil record, and by the 16th century, when the French began exploring the area, they found a number of different tribes living along the shores of Lake Michigan, including the Ottawa, the Chippewa, the Menominee, the Sauk, the Fox, the Mascouten, the Miami, and the Potawatomi peoples. They lived separately, spoke different languages (some of them dialects of Algonquin), and had their own cultural as well as food growing or gathering practices which were dependent in large part on the local climate. The Potawatomi and the Ottawa periodically encamped together.

During this period trade flourished among the many groups. The Ottawa (Algonquin for "to buy or sell") were particularly involved in this inter-tribal trade. By the mid-17th century, the Iroquois Indians began expanding their territory into the Great Lakes region in an attempt to monopolize the lucrative fur trade the Europeans had introduced. The Iroquois were fierce fighters, armed with rifles, and their efforts resulted in either the death, forced integration, or the out migration of tribes who fled the violence resulting from the Beaver Wars.

Later the French resumed the fur trade, but conflicts with the Iroquois and the British, as well as an oversupply of furs, made it less lucrative over time. Eventually they abandoned their trading forts in the upper Great Lakes. In 1701 they allowed Antoine Laumet de Lamothe Cadillac to build a model trading post at what today is Detroit, and the French began encouraging the many tribes they had been trading with to do business with them in southeast Michigan instead. Combining these tribes together in one area had some less than peaceful results for the French. Eventually the British moved in on French territory and there were multiple players rivaling each other for dominance of the fur trade. The British treated the native tribes differently, however, and relations between the British and the various Indian tribes was never as friendly or cooperative, even during more peaceful periods.

Eventually the tribes we associate with Michigan history settled the previously emptied out areas. These were the people of the Three Fires, the Ottawa, the Chippewa, and the Potawatomi, who called themselves the Anishinabek, or “the Original People.” The numerous wars with the Iroquois, the French, the British, as well as inter-tribal conflicts had eliminated many tribes from Michigan, so while Europeans visiting in 1600 and 1800 would have seen territory controlled by Indians, there had been a significant amount of shake up as to who controlled what and when. Then, as it has been since, West Michigan's population was in flux.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jamarion Lawhorn's parents are charged with child abuse

Last week Anita Lawhorn and her husband, Bernard Harrold, were charged with child abuse for their treatment of Anita's son, Jamarion Lawhorn, the 12-year-old responsible for the stabbing murder of Connor Verkerke in August. 

After Connor's murder, details of Jamarion's home life came to light including past CPS involvement in the family's life. Child neglect and abuse reports were substantiated against both Lawhorn and Harrold which, in 2013, led to his being placed with his father in New York.  This spring Jamarion returned to Michigan for what was intended to be a short visit with his mother, and he remained there until August when police took him into custody.

Now Lawhorn and Harrold have each been charged with one count of third and fourth-degree child abuse. Lawhorn's other children were removed from their care and are staying with relatives. They are allowed only supervised visits with the children until the court can evaluate their progress. Currently they are cooperating with authorities and getting counseling.

I'm going to go off the Reservation of Objectivity here and say that, as another Grand Rapids parent of a young boy, I think these people should be charged, imprisoned, sterilized, and never allowed near their children, or any children, again. CPS deemed their home entirely unsatisfactory. Utilities were off, the rent overdue, the beds lacked bedding, food in the house was scarce, and drug paraphernalia was present in the bathroom. Additionally, Jamarion had bruises all over his body he said his stepfather gave him, and he was being threatened daily with more beatings. Lawhorn and Harrold also neglected to get him the psychological help recommended for his "significant behavioral issues." 

While I believe in human self-determination, it hard to think that, given Jamarion's extreme youth, Connor's murder wasn't the fault of these two. This is not the first proven instance of abusive parenting either. Anita Lawhorn lost custody of two other children in 1996. 

I don't care what kind of "progress" these two are making, they should be arrested, thrown into jail, denied bail until their trial, then put away forever. It's too bad we don't have the death penalty in Michigan. They're horrible people and awful parents. They created a killer. No doubt their other children have been abused and neglected as well.  

Children should have the right to be cared for by capable, nurturing adults. Despite the impression given by ad campaigns, it's actually a long, tedious process to become a foster or adoptive parent in Michigan. It takes hours of training, and the bureaucracy goes through your life with a fine toothed comb. And then, when you actually have foster children in your home, your life is subject to endless regulation and check ups by the state and you're on the leash of the preferences of your foster children's biological parents and family (so that someday they can be reunited with their proven abusers). It's a bit shocking that the system prioritizes this - micromanaging foster parents - when children all over the city and state are living in filth and danger, uncared for and abused, and ample evidence has presented itself to authorities in any number of cases. 

While Jamarion is an outlier because of his age and his chosen method of killing, he is certainly not alone in his despair and rage. How can we sufficiently punish and shame this kind of abuse enough to send a message to others that this kind of abuse is not acceptable and will not be allowed to continue? It seems like with all of its blessings, West Michigan should have the kinds of resources to make real change in the lives of these kids and prevent more violence in the future. How can we do that? 

Monday, September 29, 2014

ArtPrize from the view of middle schoolers

What gorgeous weather Grand Rapids has had this year for ArtPrize. September is quite often our most enjoyable month, but all of this sunshine and warmth must be great for downtown venues and vendors - and tourists!

While the adults in our family have been to ArtPrize once or not at all, our fifth grader has been three times: once with his school class, once with friends, and once with his mother. He tells me that he doesn't need to see this much art, but it is still fun to view this huge event through his eyes.

One of the interesting things I realized when I was driving downtown with him was that even though this is only the sixth time ArtPrize has been held, he doesn't remember Grand Rapids before this event. Nor does he remember a time when people had to take cameras or just view large spectacles like this and try to remember them. In his mind there have always been iPods and smartphones and people have always been whipping them out whenever anything moved or even twitched.


When he came home after his class trip, I asked him what he liked best, and he had no comment. Browsing the photos taken on my camera, I noted that half of them were pictures taken of his friends in goofy poses. There was some art - a stained glass church window, a large painting with a cow, but any greater meaning or vision the art on display held seems to have largely passed him by.

I encouraged his friend and him to tell me what they saw. Here is conversation the had:

Friend: "Some of the exhibits were completely inappropriate."
My son: "There were a bunch of naked people."
Friend: "Well, naked women. I think the guys had underwear on."
My son: "No, they didn't."
Friend: "Yeah, they did.
My son: "They didn't have underwear on."
Friend: "And one of them - her boobs were all saggy. It was totally disgusting."
Son: "It was gross."
Friend: "I don't know what those artists were thinking!"

According to both of them, the men in bunny suits in the river piece was "Messed up!" When I told them it was a self-portrait, they just looked at me funny.

My son really wanted to take a selfie with the penguin statue next to the horse made out of old mechanical parts, though. And both boys were impressed by Dominic Pangborn's 3-D Michigan in Motion. We looked at that one for awhile from all of the different angles.

They collected the cards from the artists too and tried to decide which cards were more better and more tradable: "This one has +5 attack damage." "This is a get out of jail free card!" And they went back to the #U piece to get the temporary #U tattoo.

It would appear, then, that whether you like or appreciate art, people watching, walking around downtown Grand Rapids in September, or none of these, ArtPrize still may have something enjoyable to offer.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gearing up for the August 5th Primary

Kent County residents are beginning to get bombarded with campaign literature related to primary elections, millages and ballot proposals as the August 5 date approaches. For some this means nothing more than more flyers to pitch into the recycling, while for others the tension heightens as they speculate about tax revenues, loss of services or employment, or just undesirable political representation.

Locally, it's obvious that some people are shaken or made nervous by what recent polling has revealed. Election yard signs have been destroyed or stolen, and political polling and pamphleting has been ramped up considerably. Several candidates have announced and held town halls to further dialogue with their potential electorate. Some of this outreach has been largely smear tactics as with an apparently Brian Ellis-financed telephone poll that begins with questions that seem objective and then lists a series of statements and accusations about Justin Amash designed to manipulate the polled citizen rather than measure any upcoming vote. Amash is a polarizing candidate, and his beliefs and stances often clash with the interests of many in his congressional district, but questions framed like, "If we told you Amash owns an expensive house in [X], would that make you more likely to change your vote?" "Much more likely?" seem crafted to exploit and arouse negative emotions, not measure political opinions.

In Kent County, but not in the City of Grand Rapids, voters will be asked to decide on whether to vote yes on a millage to continue funding Kent District Library. If this millage does not pass, the library system will not be able to continue operating into 2015. For many people who depend on library services for education, entertainment, or job searching or who work for the KDL system, this is a nailbiter issue.

Proposal 1 will appear on all ballots because it's a state-wide attempt to eliminate the Personal Property Tax, which is an annual tax levied on business equipment and machinery, and replace it with a Local Community Stabilization Share Tax. Many business owners object to paying annual taxes on aging equipment, but some municipalities rely heavily on income from the PPT and would have to significantly limit services if it were simply eliminated. Proposal 1 aims to stem the flow of Michigan owners selling their businesses or moving them to states with lesser tax burdens.

For local citizens unaware of what will be on the ballot August 5 or unsure of what the proposals or millages may mean for them, Mlive just put out a voter guide designed to help. The guide pulls up election choices by address and is a good place to begin assembling information on candidates and issues. The length of the guide varies by location, and it would be a good idea to look at it earlier, rather than later, in order to make more informed voting choices.

See you at the polls on August 5th!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tornado touches down in Kentwood

We've had a spate of serious weather in the last year or so for the normally more temperate West Michigan. First we had the Great Flood of 2013 and then a bitterly cold and snowy winter, and now the summer of 2014 is turning out to be wet and stormy - with an actual tornado touchdown in Kentwood! Some of the neighborhoods the tornado passed through were previously drowned out in the flood, so it's a second round for those people. A friend's house was struck by lightning in the storm Sunday night - thankfully, it didn't burn down.

It's feeling a little apocalyptic in Grand Rapids these days. Maybe the next time the sky darkens we should grab Grandmother's jewelry, the flash drive full of photos, and get the heck out of Dodge. 

Fortunately, no one was killed, but it will be awhile before all of the property damage is repaired. In addition to the tornado damage, parts of West Michigan have gotten 10 inches of rain this past month which means some fields - and basements - have flooded. Everything not washed away is nice and green, though, which is a change from two years ago when we were in the middle of a drought.

In fact, the water levels of the Great Lakes have done a sudden turnaround, rising from well below normal to average levels for the first time in a decade. This time last year there was a whole chorus of doomsayers, from environmentalists to economists to tourist industry businessmen worried that the end was nigh. And now who knows what the future will bring? For now, though, you can easily get your boat in and out of most of Michigan's more than 10,000 lakes, and there's plenty of water for the fish to swim around in.

Tornadoes are truly frightening, though, and our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who suffered loss this weekend.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is sex trafficking a serious problem in West Michigan?

There has been a surplus of strange sex crimes in the news in the last few days.

Shawn James Jarrett was arraigned in Grandville District Court Monday for first-degree home invasion and first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He is accused of entering an elderly lady's house on false premises, then assaulting her and stealing an unstated amount of money and bicycling away. In a similar crime, he murdered a 64-year-old woman in 1983 and served 30 years in prison for that crime. He was released in 2012, and authorities considered him dangerous enough to warn his community that he would be living among them now. Sadly he wound up here and police now consider him a suspect in the murder of Yolanda Reyes, a woman who went missing in April and whose body was found last month at a construction site.

As disturbing as that is, Shawn Jarrett seems to be a violent individual who is likely never to see freedom again. Judge Peter Versluis denied Jarrett bail yesterday and remanded him back to the Kent County Jail.

More troubling is the idea that a system for human trafficking has been set up in the area and functions to funnel the vulnerable to the predatory. Nicole DiDonato reported Monday on this "hidden crisis," asserting that, according to experts, thousands of minors are sold right in our own communities: "...in West Michigan alone, there are 2,400 minors for sale at any given time, mostly on the internet."

For those who scoff at the idea, look to other news headlines. This morning Mlive reported that Douglas Davalos Jackson was arrested for the human trafficking of a 15-year-old girl whom he intended to sell to other men. He was also charged with criminal sexual conduct and the felony use of a firearm.

And last week radio host John Balyo was arrested on the suspicion of child-sex assault and has admitted to assaulting at least one 12-year-old boy whom he paid Ronald Moser to procure. His arrest Friday at a Christian music festival was a result of a federal investigation.  He was being held on a $500,000 bail bond, but that has since been revoked. His two previous employers, Christian radio station, WCSG, and the Kent County Traffic Squad have since disassociated themselves from him.

The fact is there are large numbers of children and teens in Kent County whose home lives are chaotic and unsupervised enough for predators to have easy access to them. How many hours after school is the average middle schooler unattended? How many kids wander the streets looking for something to do all summer? All of those kids are at increased risked to be exploited. And, sadly, in our modern sex-obsessed society, it's not unsurprising that there are plenty of people who will exploit them. Some communities have more safeguards in place to help protect their children, but others do not. How can we make sure that people in our community are not being trafficked?