Monthly Archives: March 2014

Head Explode

Christian conservatives are complaining about the new Russell Crowe action movie "Noah" because it does not accurately depict the real-life flood as written in the Bible.


By the way, has anyone answered the question as to where all the flood waters went?  I mean, the whole planet was covered in water — higher than the highest mountain.  Where did all that water go?

Is Climate Change Real

Somebody went back and looked at all the articles about climate change in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

10,853 articles accepted that climate change is real and humans are the cause of it.

2 did not.

Graphically, that looks like this:

Can we stop the “debate” now?

The Hobby Lobby Case

Justice Anthony Kennedy, on whose vote the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS case rests, seems very concerned about the government forcing corporations to cover abortion:

WASHINGTON, DC — Justice Anthony Kennedy thinks gay people are fabulous. All three of the Supreme Court’s most important gay rights decisions were written by Justice Kennedy. So advocates for birth control had a simple task today: convince Kennedy that allowing religious employers to exempt themselves from a federal law expanding birth control access would lead to all kinds of horrible consequences in future cases — including potentially allowing religious business owners to discriminate against gay people.

Kennedy, however, also hates abortion. Although Kennedy cast the key vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upholding what he called the “essential holding of Roe v. Wade,” he’s left no doubt that he cast that vote very grudgingly. Casey significantly rolled back the constitutional right to choose an abortion. And Kennedy hasn’t cast a single pro-choice vote in an abortion case in the last 22 years.

So Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, the two companies claiming that they should be exempt from the birth control rules had an ace in their pocket as well. Their path to victory involved convincing Kennedy that their cases are really about abortion — and it looks like Kennedy convinced himself of that point on his own.

It was clear from the get go that the Court’s liberals understood that their best course involved highlighting the dangerous consequences of a victory for Hobby Lobby. Paul Clement, the de facto Solicitor General of the Republican Party who argued the case on Hobby Lobby’s behalf, barely uttered his first sentence before Justice Sonia Sotomayor cut him off to ask what other medical procedures religious employers could refuse to cover in their employee health plans. Justice Elena Kagan quickly joined the party. If Hobby Lobby can deny birth control coverage, Kagan asked, what about employers who object to vaccinations? Or blood transfusions?

When Clement tried to deflect this list, Kagan came armed with an even bigger what. What of religious employers who object to gender equality, or the minimum wage, or family medical leave, or child labor laws? If the Supreme Court agrees with Hobby Lobby’s brief, which argues that laws burdening a corporation’s purported religious faith must survive the “most demanding test known to constitutional law,” then there would be few laws corporations could not exempt themselves from following.

Clement’s argument time then took a number of detours, with the Court’s three women dominating the questioning. Justice Kagan pointed out that religious liberty cases have never applied the same strict constitutional rule applied in race cases. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wondered how the federal religious liberty law at issue in this case — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — could have passed almost unanimously if it lead to the deeply controversial results advocated by Clement. Justice Sotomayor wondered how it is possible for a corporation to exercise religion.

The justices also spent a good amount of time discussing whether Hobby Lobby faces any real burden at all, since they could always simply stop offering health benefits and pay a tax — a position first articulated in a blog post written by Professor Marty Lederman.

At the end of Clement’s first turn at the podium, Kennedy asked the question that will probably give most hope to Team Birth Control. What about the rights of employees who may be hurt by their employer’s decision not to follow the law? For the moment, it appeared that Kennedy was worried about the parade of horribles that could follow a decision for Hobby Lobby.

Indeed, not long after Solicitor General Don Verrilli took the podium to argue the government’s case, it appeared that he may ultimately emerge victorious. Clement spent much of his argument on his heels. The three women on the bench appeared quite confident in their questioning. Kennedy was silent for much of Verilli’s argument.

But then he made a statement that will likely doom the government’s case. “Your reasoning would permit” Congress to force corporations to pay for abortions, Kennedy told Verrilli. This was not the Anthony Kennedy that worried about conservatives imposing their anti-gay “animus” on others, this was the Anthony Kennedy that views abortion as a grave moral wrong. Shortly after Kennedy made this statement, Justice Kagan’s face dropped. It appeared that she’d just figured out that she would be joining a dissenting opinion.

It’s worth noting that Kennedy expressed a different concern than one offered shortly thereafter by Chief Justice John Roberts. Hobby Lobby objects to four forms of contraception on the mistaken ground that these contraceptive methods are actually forms of abortion — a brief filed by numerous medical organizations explains that they are not. Roberts, however, suggested that someone’s mere belief that something is an abortion is enough to trigger an religious exemption to federal law.

This is insane.

Suppose I had the "mere belief" — religiously held — that black people evolved from mud and white people were descendents of Adam and Eve, and had a rightful place in heaven and on Earth?  And in my place of employment?

Of course, you don't have to go that far.  No Muslim or Jewish employer gets to demand that their employees not get coverage for, say, illnesses resulting from eating pork. No Hindu employer gets to restrict health coverage for people who eat beef or were born to the wrong caste.  Why do Christians get a pass?

We have actually addressed this issue before, in 1990, in Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Resources vs. Smith.  In that case,  Smith and Black were fired by a private drug rehabilitation organization because they ingested peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, for sacramental purposes at a ceremony of their Native American Church. Their applications for unemployment compensation were denied by the State of Oregon under a state law disqualifying employees discharged for work-related "misconduct."

That case involved the same question: what happens when one's religious belief runs up against a generally-applicable law?

And the answer was: Tough.  Here's what Scalia — yes, Scalia — wrote:

We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition. As described succinctly by Justice Frankfurter in Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594 -595 (1940): "Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities (footnote omitted)." We first had occasion to assert that principle in Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145(1879), where we rejected the claim that criminal laws against polygamy could not be constitutionally applied to those whose religion commanded the practice. "Laws," we said, "are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. . . . Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself." Id., at 166-167.

Emphasis mine.

There simply is no reason why abortion is entitled to some special category of religious exemption, where peyote and polygamy were not.

But it looks like this is where the Supreme Court is headed, and as Scalia notes, it will be throwing aside centuries of jurisprudence in doing so (Scalia is likely to be one of the justices contraditing himself).

Very sad.  And a very dangerous precedent.


How To Talk About Rape In High School? Censorship.

Cardinal Columns is a student newspaper at Fond du Lac High School, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  In last month's issue, a student wrote an article entitled "The Rape Joke", a thoughful article about the rape culture that percades high schools and youth.

You can read the article here.  And once you do, I hope you'll agree that the student should have received some honor.

But that's not what happened.  The Fond du Lac school board freaked out.  This was not a topic for students to write about, they said, and urged greater oversight of student publications.

Which, of course, is dumb.  Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault, according to RAINN.  44% of sexual assault victims are under 18 years old.

So, no, I don't think high school students are too young to read about the subject.

The latest:

In response to the new layer of administrative control, students launched an online petition earlier this month asking Sebert to overturn the policy. The petition has garnered nearly 5,500 signatures and has gained national attention among free speech advocates.

“All the negative attention drawn to the Fond du Lac School District can be changed to a positive by the Board of Education returning the district to its previously defined policy before Superintendent James Sebert and Principal Jon Wiltzius aggressively suppressed students with prior review,” said Sandy Jacoby, state director of the Journalism Education Association and president of the Kettle Moraine Press Association, an organization dedicated to the support of scholastic journalism in Wisconsin schools.

Without the intervention of the Board, Jacoby believes that student journalists may self-censor as they struggle to gain approval from (administration).

“If our children cannot learn the practice of responsible press at Fond du Lac High School, then where? If our children cannot learn to grapple with the most challenging issues faced by their generation under the guidance of intelligent and experienced advisers like Matthew Smith, then where?” Jacoby asked. “If our children cannot provoke thought, encourage discussion, arouse public concern and action among teenage peers and parents through the school paper, then where?”

School board reaction

School board member Eric Everson said he wasn’t surprised by the widespread attention the article has received in the media.

“This type of thing garners big news because you have a very active and involved minority of people who are very sensitive to the word censorship,” Everson said. “We’re not dealing with censorship, we’re dealing with adult oversight.”

Kumar said the widespread support of The Rape Joke article has received from media outlets and First Amendment advocates has been encouraging.

“The school board has to realize how many people care about this issue,” Kumar said. “The whole school has been truly brought together behind this cause. (Administration and the school board) just can’t ignore it.”

School board member Mark Jurgella doesn’t believe the new guidelines will be used to censor future student work.

“I’m pretty comfortable that there will be little to no change in what students’ work product will end up looking like,” Jurgella said. “I do hope, however, if we need to have dialogue (with students) we’ll have it and clarify both sides’ point of view on this issue.”

Incredible opportunity

Sex assault survivor Dr. Anna Nelson said Kumar’s article was especially appropriate for a high school audience.

“(Administration) is concerned that students might be too immature for the subject matter; you’re not too immature to learn about rape. One of the girls interviewed was assaulted when she was 5!” Nelson said. “Perpetrators need to know what rape is also. They need to know that once someone says no, that’s it.”

In her work as a public prosecutor, former state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager says she has worked with many victims of sexual assault, and believes Kumar’s article was an “incredible opportunity to have a conversation about something impacting the lives of the students at Fond du Lac High School.”

“A commonality among sex assault victims is their fear of speaking out. Ms. Kumar was able to articulate for them on their behalf the horrors of what happened to them,” Lautenschlager said, referring to the three female sex assault victims in Kumar’s story. “And then some days later Ms. Kumar finds out that she (and her fellow writers might occasionally) be silenced because somehow her speaking out on behalf of these victims was inappropriate for school conversation.”

Back into the shadows

Kumor fears that the stepped up policy may silence a reticent victim back into the shadows.

“It took a lot for these three girls to speak up about something truly awful that happened to them. I don’t want them to think that the administration is administering this policy to shame them back into their silence,” Kumar said. “I want them to know they have a voice no matter what happens with this issue.”

Fellow Cardinal Column staffer Austin Klewicki says the new guidelines have caused student writers to question future topics.

“We’re not sure what they’ll choose to censor. But we’re committed to putting out hard-hitting stories that deal with issues important to students like depression and suicide. Our stories raise awareness among students so they can reach out for help,” Klewicki said. “Right now we’re fighting for the younger generations coming up behind us. If (the administration) stops us, they stop them.”


“Justified Shooting”

That's what the chief of police in Albequerque, NM calls this.

There is a verbal confrontation between James Boyd, 38, a homeless and mentally disturbed man camping out in the mountains of New Mexico… and the armed police with attack dogs.

But eventually, Boyd agrees to gather his stuff and go.  He does not make a move to the officers.

And then the police shoot and kill him.  Read the full story here, but mostly, watch the video:



It Took A Spill, But NC Voters Finally Came Around

Good news:

The Sierra Club on Tuesday released the results of a poll it commissioned from Hart Research Associates that shows broad bipartisan support for regulation of coal ash among voters in North Carolina.

Hart polled 600 North Carolina voters earlier this month, and found that 83 percent of respondents want coal ash regulated as a hazardous substance and 90 percent think that Duke should clean up all coal ash sites in the state. Seventy percent of those polled thought Duke Energy was at least mostly at fault for the Dan River spill and 57 percent think that stronger regulations could have prevented the spill.

Voters also indicated that they were prepared to let politicians know where they stand on this issue at the ballot box with 70 percent of respondents saying they would be more likely to support a candidate who “favors strong regulations and enforcement…to prevent future spills.” Just 17 percent of voters would be more likely to support a candidate who says that having more regulations and enforcement will hurt jobs and the state’s economy.

“You can throw the coal industry’s conventional wisdom out the window,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, in a release. “As we saw in West Virginia, this North Carolina coal spill has been a wake up call for voters about the need to protect our water from toxic coal pollution. This poll is yet another indication that Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in coal states want leaders who will stand up to big coal companies and enact common-sense initiatives to protect our air, our water, and our families from toxic coal ash and pollution.”

Apparently There’s Still A Debate About This?

Give it up, science deniers.  You don't get equal time:

Sunday's episode of Cosmos was all about evolution. It closely followed the rhetorical strategy of Charles Darwin's world-changing 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, beginning with an example of "artificial selection" by breeders (Darwin used pigeons, Cosmos used domestic dogs) to get us ready to appreciate the far vaster power of natural selection. It employed Darwin's favorite metaphor: the "tree of life," an analogy that helps us see how all organisms are living on different branches of the same hereditary tree. In the episode, Tyson also refuted one of the creationist's favorite canards: the idea that complex organs, like the eye, could not have been produced through evolution.

Over at the pro-"intelligent design" Discovery Institute, they're not happy. Senior fellow David Klinghoffer writes that the latest Cosmos episode "[extrapolated] shamelessly, promiscuously from artificial selection (dogs from wolves) to minor stuff like the color of a polar bear's fur to the development of the human eye." In a much more elaborate attempted takedown, meanwhile, the institute's Casey Luskin accuses Tyson and Cosmos of engaging in "attempts to persuade people of both evolutionary scientific views and larger materialistic evolutionary beliefs, not just by the force of the evidence, but by rhetoric and emotion, and especially by leaving out important contrary arguments and evidence." Luskin goes on to contend that there is something wrong with the idea of the "tree of life." 

Tell that to the scientists involved in the Open Tree of Life project, which plans to produce "the first online, comprehensive first-draft tree of all 1.8 million named species, accessible to both the public and scientific communities." Precisely how to reconstruct every last evolutionary relationship may still be an open scientific question, but the idea of common ancestry, the core of evolution (represented conceptually by a tree of life), is not.