Ramblings

Usually drunken.

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On Francis Collins

Jul 29, 2009, 9:44 pm by Zach

Francis Collins, Director NIHPaul sent me a link to this NY Times article about Obama's pick for national director of the NIH, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. Most non-scientists are probably pretty in the dark about the NIH, but it's a Very Big Deal. They head up lots of biomedical research and are responsible for giving out lots of grant money to scientists across the US.

Collins is a Christian and a scientist. Without knowing much about him, I'm sure most liberals would roll their eyes and consider this a step backwards. Collins is actually pretty good about separating religion from science. In fact, I'd say he's a great model for demonstrating how the two need not be mutually exclusive. He doesn't promote "intelligent design" and his CV is pretty impressive. He headed up the National Human Genome Research Institute, which will prove to be an invaluable tool for treating genetic diseases. I actually met him once at a lecture at SMU when I was in high school and he was a great speaker.

However, as outlined in the NY Times article, he has said some things that make people like me cringe--that at some point in our evolution, god inserted a soul. Of course, no science can prove this. The nature of science is to answer how, when and what, but never why. Collins has said, however, “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence”, which any scientist would agree with.

The question remains as to whether or not someone who is religious can ever be a truly good scientist. To say not would be as intolerant as the religious right is known to be. Logically, science and religion answer different questions (or different sides of similar questions), and a truly great scientist's work would never be swayed by their spiritual beliefs. Historically, this is almost never true. Lots of us hope that Collins is level-headed enough and will make a great director of the NIH, but part of us worries that NIH funding might change directions and support scientists who hold his religious beliefs. I personally don't think this will happen. I think he will end up doing a great job. Your thoughts?

One thing we can all agree on, though, is homeboy needs a new haircut. Do he and Bill Gates see the same barber? Damn!

Jury Rights, or The disappearance of the Jury Veto

Jul 27, 2009, 9:37 am by Paul Stiverson

Jury duty is arguably the only civic duty that any American is still obligated or compelled to perform. Despite the enormous privilege of a system which ensures the right to a trial by jury, people dread jury duty. I can fully appreciate why, who wants to take a day off of work to hear the gory, or worse the mundane, details of somebody else’s alleged wrongdoings. (There are better things anybody could be doing, like watching that marathon of CSI: Miami) They make you sit in an uncomfortable chair, the lunch they feed you isn’t going to come from the deli you like and will probably have Mayo on it despite your explicit instructions. Typically the result of whatever trial you are hearing will not affect you, your family, or society as a whole, in the least. To top it all off you have to pay attention ALL DAY, and they aren’t even going to pay you a fair wage for your day of work.

I understand not wanting the burden of jury duty, because as a juror you are typically not asked to actually weigh in on the case, you are given the evidence and asked to determine who is telling the truth. In most criminal trials there is a pretty strict guideline as to the decisions of the jury. The judge, or some other authority, tells you the letter of the law that should be adhered to. He says, “There are three criteria which need to be met for the defendant to be guilty, if these three criteria are met in your estimation then you must deliver a guilty verdict.” There is no room for their opinion on whether delivering a guilty verdict is actually delivering justice to the defendant. The jury is restricted to judging the facts, not the law, or so they think.

It is actually well within the rights of the jury to offer their opinion on the law itself.1 It is the juries’ unique right to say, in spite of the evidence of crime, that the accused is not guilty. Not guilty because the law itself is not fair. The jury is legally protected in their decisions, they cannot be punished for not executing the letter of the law. When this awesome responsibility is re-integrated2 into jury duty, then it will cease being a boring obligation that deserves to be unquestionably shirked. It will once again become a obligation that should be honored, because it could allow you to issue a referendum on the laws we live by.

Before you pass off this idea as ridiculous please consider the following hypothetical. You are asked to serve on a jury for a prostitution case, and throughout the trial it is made completely clear that the defendant did sell sexual favors thus roundly violated the law. It also becomes clear that the defendant was sold into slavery to pay off a family debt, and if the defendant refused her “Owners’” command to work the streets then she and her family would surely face bodily harm, however the law doesn’t regard coercion as justification. As a juror, do you think that convicting the defendant would be just?

The ‘Jury Veto’ is an extremely useful tool for jurors to offer a dissenting opinion on the law itself, and while their veto doesn’t actually remove or revise the law it does provide justice in the case they are hearing. The fact is that public opinion can be gauged based on these jury vetoes, and the legislature can change the law to reflect the will of the people (see prohibition, some 60% of cases involving alcohol during prohibition showed evidence of a jury veto).

Notes:

  1. State of Georgia v. Brailsford (U.S. Supreme Court, 1794), Sparf and Hansen v. U. S (U.S. Supreme Court, 1895), Also protected under the Constitution of the state of Texas.
  2. It never actually left, however it is not discussed in the courtroom. If jurors don’t know about their rights then they cannot be exercised.

Jimmy Carter, Fuck Yeah!

Jul 24, 2009, 9:36 am by Paul Stiverson

I happened across an article that I found interesting and I want to share it with you all.

Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States of America, has always been a man of extraordinary character. He recently decided to speak out in protest against the Southern Baptist Church for their passive mistreatment of women, saying the following:

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

He is bravely making the connection between the global mistreatment of women to patriarchy within his own social circle. I, for one, am extremely glad to see somebody in the public eye that is willing to execute this necessary criticism; I am especially glad to see that it was executed by the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps his bravery will embolden others to say what needs to be said.

Religion in Iowa Schools

Jul 12, 2009, 2:38 am by Paul Stiverson

There has been a recent proposal in an Iowa school district proposing to allow prayer as an option in commencement exercises, it would also call for the creation of two new elective courses: “The Bible in History and Literature,” and “Critique of Darwinism, A Scientific Approach.” The proposal would also permit teachers to answer questions about their religious beliefs, as well as allowing students to distribute religious materials. The stated purpose of the proposal is to educate about religious faith, and to promote dialog. I cannot say that I am completely opposed to such a measure, if it were enacted it could actually benefit students by allowing for real and diverse religious expression. The proposal clearly states that “[The] School will not discriminate against private religious expression,” so if there are teachers of varying religious backgrounds then it could elucidate the fact that not everybody is a Christian, and it could give refuge to students who are exploring or questioning their own religious beliefs. The proposal would also allow distribution of dissenting literature thus allowing students to inform their classmates about other religions.

Some other folks have said that this proposal is a thinly veiled attempt at thrusting the Christian notion of god back at the fragile and impressionable minds of our youth, complaining that the district is not calling for the creation of any other “The [religious text] in History and Literature” classes. I do agree with them that the classes being added are somewhat one sided, but I don’t think that the critics have considered all aspects of the proposal. The proposal is very clear in its anti-discrimination verbiage, so—while there might not be any classes—there will be discussion of the spiritual alternatives to Christianity. If the proposal is intended as an endorsement of Christianity (I certainly believe this is the case), then it will backfire the first time a student hands out anti-Christian (or non pro-Christian) literature. Handing out this literature—or the refusal to allow it to be distributed—could spark a debate of a much larger scope than just the district. If this proposal is just an attempt to re-enroll god in Iowa schools (if it should pass) then it will quickly be found out and eradicated, but not without shining a national spotlight on how not-far we have come since Scopes. If the proposal’s intentions are true then it is a positive step.

I hope the proposal does pass, and I hope that there are non-Christians who are ready to walk through the flames—so to speak—to endorse their beliefs. If there are then the debate on religion in the public sphere might finally be coming to a head, and the public discourse on religion could get very interesting in the next few months.

Texans for Kinky

Jul 9, 2009, 9:27 am by Paul Stiverson

Those of you who know me personally know that I was an ardent supporter of Kinky Friedman during his run for Governor of the great state of Texas in 2006. He was running as an independent, and he came in dead last. He has announced that he plans to run in the upcoming gubernatorial election, but this time as a Democrat, which I think is where he should be to offset some goober like Chris Bell from stepping in and not even trying to run a campaign against Rick Perry (as happened in ’06).

I believed then, as I do now, that our state needs somebody like Kinky in the Governor’s Mansion. We need Kinky because he is not from the political institution, and he can break up the cronyism that has plagued our government for the last decade. In these tough times we need somebody who will actually stand up for the working poor and offer them the support (not necessarily monetary) that they need. We need somebody who will place education in the forefront and pull us up from the bottom 5% in education quality. We need somebody who will re-instate funding for those who care for the mentally and physically handicapped. We need somebody who will speak for needs of every Texan. We need a rebel to bring back the international glory and mystique that Texas once held.

Don’t get me wrong, I think he was better as an Independent, but he can win as a Democrat. Afterall, it isn’t the label that is important, it is the man. And, friends, Kinky is the man for this time and place.

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