Thursday, April 26, 2012

Freedom of Speech

I am more than a little concerned about the tendency to immediately demand sanctions on people because they say something you don’t like.

Both the Left and the Right think it’s OK to demand people get fired for speaking their mind just because what they say isn’t what some group wants to hear.

The last time I looked, Freedom of Speech was still in the Constitution. That means the freedom to express unpopular, sexist, homophobic, anti-capitalism and even racist opinions. We can criticize people for saying that sort of stuff but we can’t punish them by throwing them in jail OR getting them fired from their jobs.

Now this is different from violating rules. If there’s a company policy that says no political buttons or no political posters on your office walls and you ignore that despite requests to comply, then get ready to pack your bags. But you shouldn’t be disciplined for something you say outside of work on your own time.

This also doesn’t include boycotts. If a company engages in a public policy that you disagree with, or does stuff you find offensive, then you are within your rights to shun their products and try to convince others to shun their products. That is a version of Free Speech.

No organization or company is exempt from criticism and that includes religions. Islam will never be compatible with Western Democracy as long as it teaches that criticism of Islam is a crime. At least for the moment, you cannot be both an obedient Muslim and a patriotic American. Luckily most Muslims ignore the more barbaric tenets of their religion in the same way that Christians ignore the ugly parts of theirs.

Even if you are championing a righteous cause, squelching the freedom of others to express different viewpoints violates the very core of what a democracy is supposed to stand for.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

If I wanted America to Fail

The group Free Market America released the anti-environmental video “If I wanted America to Fail” on Earth Day. The video is a concentration of right wing arguments starting with coal is good, drilling for oil anywhere is good, environmental regulations are bad, ANY regulations are bad and don’t worry Capitalism will take care of you.

You need to notice a few important things about this video. It presents no facts; it makes no arguments. It relies upon assertion, accusation and innuendo while not backing up with facts or data anything it presents. It argues from consequences and attempts to frighten you while not providing any evidence that what it says is correct or that there is reason for concern. It appeals to emotion and not reason or logic. It presents points that are known to be false and items that are the result of simple human error as some sort of nefarious conspiracy. In other words, it's a load of crap.

It also strongly implies that if you don’t agree with it, you’re somehow disloyal or a traitor of some kind. It presents the opposition as a conspiracy rather than just well meaning people who happen to be wrong.

The video doesn’t surprise me. It’s about what I expect from the right wing. However I continue to be amazed at the number of people, based upon the comments, that are taken in by this sort of nonsense. You learn nothing by watching this film for four minutes about anything.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tebow Booed at Yankee Stadium

Tim Tebow was at the Yankee game the other day and, when shown on the big board, was roundly booed by the crowd despite wearing a Yankees cap!

I have five possible explanations for this.

#1 – These are baseball fans who are sick and tired of football overshadowing their favorite sport.
#2 – They were mostly Giants fans who would have booed any Jet no matter who he was.
#3 – Mark Sanchez is a lot more popular in New York than anyone is willing to admit.
#4 – They’re all just sick and tiring of hearing about Tebow.
#5 – This is the Bronx Zoo we’re talking about. Since when do they need a reason to boo someone?

I had to stop and think what would have been my reaction. I think, based mostly on #2, I would have joined in the booing as well but it would have been good natured rather than mean. Hey, booing the other team is all part of the fun.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

George Zimmerman Charged

As expected a Florida state attorney yesterday announced that George Zimmerman would be arrested and charged in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman has been charged with Second Degree Murder.

I heard it in passing at the gym yesterday and my immediate reaction was that they’ve charged him with something they’re not going to be able to prove. I would have thought Voluntary Manslaughter would have been more appropriate.

Second-degree murder is ordinarily defined as an intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned, nor committed in a reasonable "heat of passion." Voluntary manslaughter is commonly defined as an intentional killing in which the offender had no prior intent to kill, such as a killing that occurs in the "heat of passion."

It’s going to be especially tough in Florida because there SEcond Degree Murder requires acting with a “depraved mind showing no regard for human life.”

That’s going to be really hard to prove especially since that doesn’t seem to have been the case. Manslaughter in Florida is defined as “Committing an act that was neither excusable, nor justified that resulted in the death of another person.”

That sounds much more to the point. If Zimmerman was defending himself as allowed under the “stand your ground” statute then the act was justified. If not, then he’s guilty of Manslaughter but not necessarily murder. Second Degree Murder sounds like the wrong charge.

This sounds like political horse pucky. Yes they’re going to arrest and charge him but with a crime he probably won’t get convicted of.

Can the jury acquit him of Second Degree Murder but convict him of the lesser charge of Manslaughter? I suppose, but that just adds to the complexity of the case doesn’t it? I see a plea bargain coming.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rick Santorum suspends Campaign

Rick Santorum has announced that, given his daughter's illness, he has suspended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and conceded to Mitt Romney.

This is good news.

The fact that Santorum managed to get this far given that his head is wedged up his rear end on so many issues speaks ill for the future of the Republic. But at least he got no further.

Now on to the main event!

If the election were today I would vote for Obama although I'm not happy with his apparent lack of a strategy to address the serious financial issues facing the country. I could be convinced to go otherwise IF someone managed to put such a plan on the table AND could convince me it wouldn't cost turning the social progress clock back 100 years.

Sanchez or Tebow?

According to a Quinnipiac poll, New Yorkers say, by an overwhelming majority, Mark Sanchez. 43% overall, 61% of football fans and 66% of Jets fans say Sanchez should start. Only 16%, 17% and 19% respectively say Tebow should start.

I agree. Sanchez is the better choice. At least for the moment.

Luck or RG III?

With draft day rapidly approaching it’s a sure thing that Andrew Luck from Stanford and Robert Griffin III from Baylor will go 1-2. The question is who will be 1 and who will 2?

The Colts have the first pick and most people seem to think they’ll pick Luck but some rumblings out of Indianapolis have suggested that may not be a sure thing. The Redskins traded for the #2 pick with the clear intention of drafting RG III but if the Colts cross everyone up, I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to get Luck instead.

These are the kind of decisions that can break a GM. Think back to how many sure fire QB picks turned into complete busts. Let’s remember the last time there were two sure fire franchise QB picks. The Colts got Peyton Manning and the Chargers got Ryan Leaf.

So, if I were the Colts, who would I pick?

I think I would take RG III. He just strikes me as the kind of guy that will adapt better and have more impact sooner.

Of course that would be hell of a risk by the Colt’s GM in going against the conventional wisdom but I wouldn’t be surprised. I'll be at MetLife Stadium on April 26th for the draft party when it happens. Should be interesting.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Death Penalty Update

I stopped doing these because they tend to depress me. My last death penalty post was in September of 2011 shortly before the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia.

The big news is that Connecticut is poised to abolish the death penalty despite polls that claim 62% of the population think that would be a mistake. The State Senate passed the bill on April 5; the House is expected to follow and the governor is expected to sign the measure. However the legislation is not retroactive and would not affect the eleven men currently on death row. Connecticut has only executed one person since the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976 and that was what is known as a “volunteer,” someone who foregoes the full appeals process.

Connecticut would be the fifth state in five years to abolish the death penalty joining New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois and New York. It would leave only New Hampshire and Pennsylvania in the Northeast Region with the death penalty. New Hampshire hasn’t executed anyone under its current statute and Pennsylvania has executed three, all volunteers.

There were a total of 43 executions in 2011, down from 46 in 2010. Of the 43, 31 (72%) were in the South and 13 (30%) were in Texas. There have been 12 executions so far in 2012, 10 (83%) of which have been in the South and 4 (33%) of which have been in Texas.

Since 1976 there have been 1289 execution. 1058 (82%) have been in the South; 150 (12%) have been in the Midwest; 77 (6%) have been in the West and 4 (0.3%) have been in the Northeast. 481 (37%) of the executions have been in Texas. Nine of the ten states with the most executions are in the South. The tenth state is Ohio, in 8th place with 46 (3.6%).

So, have the murder rates in the four states that have eliminated the death penalty sky rocketed? Nope, there hasn’t been any significant change. If anything they’ve gone down as part of the general trend of the murder rate going down.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Death of Darwinian Evolution

The collapse of Darwinian Evolution may well be on the horizon.

No, I haven’t suddenly embraced Creationism and I’m being more than a little overly dramatic, but the science of Epigenetics may well cause us to rethink a lot of our current ideas about evolution.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarcke (1744-1829) had hypothesized that animals could pass on traits they had acquired during their lifetime to their descendents. This idea for an evolutionary mechanism was abandoned when Darwin proposed Natural Selection. Now however scientists are taking another look at Lamarcke due to what is known as Epigenetics.

Epigenetics deals with how strongly, or weakly, genes express themselves due to environmental factors through what are known as “epigenetic marks.” These differences in gene expression appear to be controlled by the cellular material, the “epigenome,” that sits on top of the genome.

Environmental factors such as diet, stress and prenatal nutrition appear to be able to impact the epigenetic marks and turn genes on, turn them off, and adapt how strongly they assert themselves. Even more interestingly, it appears these marks can leave an imprint on genes that can be passed to succeeding generations at least temporarily.

This is pretty wild stuff. It means that adaptation to severe environmental changes, which would be a form of stress, could occur within a generation and the adaptation could be passed on to succeeding generations as long as the environmental change persisted and perhaps even longer.

This would also explain many of the observed differences in identical twins despite the fact that they have the exact same DNA.

This adaptation occurs without changing the gene so no mutation is required. The question of course becomes can these epigenetic adaptations become permanent or can they guide or influence genetic changes to match the epigenetic adaptation as a sort of directed evolution?

This could reduce the time scale of evolutionary change from millions of years to a few generations and allow rapid adaptation to a rapidly changing environment.

Of course, before we get carried away here, there is as yet no evidence that epigenetic adaptations can be permanent or can direct genetic change. But that sure would resolve some issues with how some life managed to survive rapid environmental change.

I can hear the creationists now saying how epigenetics allowed the emergence of the millions of individual species from the “Kinds” that were loaded on the Ark and, interestingly enough, that would be a better argument than the super evolution they claim at the moment.

Epigenetic adaptation lines up better with Punctuated Equilibrium than Phyletic Gradualism so, possibly, two points for Gould and Eldridge.

Of course Natural Selection doesn’t go away, it simply gets another new partner to help strengthen the Theory of Evolution.

Two for the Road

The Right never seems to tire of coming up with new and increasingly sneaky ways to accomplish their objectives without a frontal assault.

The latest are laws in Tennessee and Mississippi dealing with evolution and abortion.

In Tennessee the governor is ready to sign a bill that protects teachers that allow students to criticize scientific theories. Read that allows the bashing of evolution and global warming in the classroom while nodding stupidly. The sponsor of the bill claims it’s not religiously based. Aside from the fact that I’m not stupid enough to buy that one, and neither is the ACLU or NCSE, what then is the purpose?

In Mississippi, hospitals tend to not extend admission privileges to doctors that perform abortions so the Mississippi legislation thinks it’s a great idea to require doctors that perform abortions to have admission privileges at as local hospital. Can you say Catch-22 fast three times?

The sole remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi says that it may be forced to close if the bill passes although it may challenge the law first in court. Fat chance with that one.

That means that women in Mississippi that want an abortion either need to travel to another state or they have to do it the old fashioned way along with all the risks that entails.

After a while you just get tired of the sheer arrogance of ignorant people.