Ramblings

Usually drunken.

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Stop the War!

Sep 19, 2009, 11:55 am by Paul Stiverson

I’ve been thinking about making this post for a while, but when I read why that Iraqi reporter threw his shoe at George Bush it sealed it. What he wrote fully cemented my pro-peace sentiments. We are, thankfully, on our way out of Iraq but we are ramping up forces in Afghanistan so this post is still very relevant.

If you want to know how people are able to commit such unthinkable acts as occurred on 9/11 then you really need look no further than why the shoe was thrown. It is a perfect snapshot of the (probable) feelings of millions in Iraq right now who are upset at seeing their homeland turned to Swiss cheese for the last 6 years. Millions of people who have witnessed their neighbors, friends, and relatives burnt, dying, dead, or rounded up for questioning; and not all of them have the luxury of throwing their shoe at the person most directly responsible. It is entirely plausible that some clever Iraqi will find a more harrowing way to lash out at those who invaded his homeland, and it is a complete certainty that organized terrorist groups are gaining recruits as direct result of our invasion of Iraq.

But wait, our invasion of Iraq was to remove Saddam Hussein, we were liberating Iraq from an oppressive regime! Those ungrateful bastards were supposed to greet us as liberators! Well, here in reality people don’t like it when uninvited foreigners tell them how they should be living, their disdain for outsiders meddling is increased with proximity. We have a ready example here at home, just look at the vitriol and hatred coming from the right about a perceived outsider—not an actual outsider, just somebody from a different party—meddling with their government. There are preachers praying for Obama’s death, and he is our duly elected president. Imagine for a moment that there were direct evidence that Obama hailed from a different country, not just tenuous rumors that he was born in another country, but imagine that he was wearing another nation’s flag on his shoulder every day as he administered our government and “kept peace” with an army of jack-booted thugs likewise from another country. Imagine the hatred that would emanate from nearly every American in that situation. That is the sort of thing you don’t soon forget.

But wait, Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and he was hell-bent on using them on Americans! Our strike was a pre-emptive one! LOL.

The simple fact is that we had no right to go into Iraq, and that our presence has not been universally well recieved. Our intensions might have been noble (I don’t believe that they were), but we put our big dick in the sand of somebody else’s desert and it is going to have consequences. Hopefully those consequences will be mostly shoe-throwing related, and not involve explosive ordinance.

But wait, Afghanistan is different, those people attacked us! We deserve our revenge need to make the world safe from terrorism! Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were from SAUDI ARABIA, in fact not one of the hijackers was from Afghanistan. To be fair, the central planning did go down in Afghanistan, but that doesn’t change the fact that a large-scale invasion is not the appropriate way to combat organized or decentralized terrorism. Counter-intelligence and public relations are effective ways to fight terrorism. Public relations to prevent people from hating us enough to attack, and counter-intelligence to thwart those who would attack us. It is the case that 9/11 could have been prevented by following up on data known at the time.

I do think that stopping terrorism is a noble cause, but I do not think that fighting a war is the right way to do it. “For not by hatred is hatred appeased, hatred is appeased by non-hatred only.” Bin Laden is heart set on attacking us, and that cannot be denied—we have the evidence—but let us not forget that we are the ones that elevated Bin Laden to his current status by employing him to fight the Soviets. Going into Afghanistan to kill thousands isn’t going to heal any wounds, it is only going to create new ones and facilitate future hatred. Let us do the right thing, turn the other cheek and put this old hatred to bed (and pay attention to future security briefings, and follow up on good intelligence).

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.

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.

Twitter Kills

Jun 19, 2009, 9:31 am by Paul Stiverson

There is an epidemic, nay a pandemic, spreading like wildfire across the globe, I speak of twitter: the blue menace.

“But Paul, why do you hate Twitter so much? You, yourself, keep a blog (as is evidenced by this bullshit post), how could you be so vehemently opposed to the notion of rapid-fire short and essentially meaningless online communication?”

Well, gentle reader, I’m glad you ask. The reason Twitter’s proliferation offends me so is because it perpetuates and even necessitates the bastardization of our language. Or to put it differently: “bcuz it kills r words”. With their 140 character limit they make it impossible to formulate and convey a coherent thought, to even try requires a loose understanding of phonics. There are those who claim that spelling, grammar, and usage are unimportant so long as the reader understands the central meaning of the text. If that were the case then why did we, as a species, progress past grunting and pointing at our genitals? (I suppose not all of us have, looking at you Long Island) Could it be because simple communication lacks the nuance that allows us to express complex or abstract ideas?

It was perfectly acceptable when this mode of communication was primarily employed by teenybopper girls and potheads who think they are blowing their readers’ minds, but when legitimate news outlets (the legitimacy of CNN is sadly dwindling at the speed of light) are using Twitter as a means of news gathering then it has gone too far, it is too mainstream. It must be stopped before irreparable damage is done to our common language.

Axioms: Meta-Nature's Candy

Feb 24, 2009, 11:16 pm by Paul Stiverson

The following is a guest post made by my roommate, Tim.

Sometimes in philosophy and math, it becomes requisite to acknowledge that certain "facts" are unverifiable. Assumptions are made, and arguments use these assumptions as a starting point. There's not a question of them being right or wrong, as they're either "self-evident" or just light from the proverbial void. I point this out in reference to a statement that "2+2=4" is "always completely verifiable". It's not that it's a bad assumption to make, but it's being somewhat abused to make a point about morality or birth control... or something.

Let's start with what doesn't have anything to do with scientific fact (in this case, because it isn't scientific). Firstly, the afore-mentioned "2+2=4" is a special instance of what is called the law of identity (e.g. a = a). For certain arguments, this so-called law has been used as the assumption upon which various blitheringly stupid arguments have been made (see: Ayn Rand). Basically, science doesn't enter into it. Science is all about figuring things out based on empirical observation (called "a posteriori" knowledge), and the law of identity is self-asserting, not based on experience (called "a priori" knowledge), but draws its truth value from the claim itself. 2+2=4 is neither a scientific claim nor a scientific fact.

That being said, let's talk about another thing that doesn't have anything to do with scientific fact (in this case, because it isn't fact). It's true that scientists of a sort became aware of a possible health danger exists in the consumption of eggs. Researchers (people who experiment and analyze results) discovered a link between the amount and type of cholesterol in egg yolks and a dangerous increase in LDL cholesterol levels in the human blood stream. The researchers in question work in biomedical science, which at this point is far softer science than something like chemistry, making it particularly difficult to verify the veracity of claims made. At very best, there was fairly compelling evidence that the assertion could be true. The link was popularized, and many people did accept as "gospel truth" that "eggs gon' kill us". This speaks more to the fickleness of the general populus and less to the claims made by "science". As happens with things that may or may not be true, studies have been done that suggest the exact opposite; that eggs in fact lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. The absolute truth of the matter is arguably difficult to pin down, and as long as people keep immediately believing anything published on paper, people will continue to scapegoat "science" for giving us lowly commoners "facts" that later end up not being true. To clarify, the Houston Chronicle's "health" section doesn't count as science, as far as any vaguely accurate definition is concerned.

Now, let's change things up completely and talk about why scientific fact doesn't have anything to do with what was said (in this case, because the term "scientific fact" doesn't make a damned bit of sense). The "facts" (I'm just going to discuss the laws of thermodynamics as the strongest possible objection to my own argument) that science currently possesses are very strong, but no matter how strong they contend to be, there's an implicit assumption that they are correct and that they are just so compelling that they're almost certainly true. I'm not going to disagree, as they are very, very compelling. Despite that opinion/fact, there are various contingencies in which science's strongest facts manage to be actively false (e.g. our context isn't as clear as it seems, there are forces at work we just flatly can't currently see... There are more. But don't take my word for it!).

I've managed to pretty bluntly avoid my real problem with the obviously referent argument. The morality/ethics/religion/science battle royale being waged earlier was convoluted enough that I'm not sure that any of the parties involved were necessarily sure what was even being argued. But I suppose that's content for another headache.

I suppose it's pointless to mention that THIS MATTERS.

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