The Country is a Little More Equal Now #LoveWins

Legally-recognized gay marriage is now the in the USA. There are still things that need to be done for gay and trans rights and respect, but at least this significant step has been taken. I wish it were not a split 5-4 decision but something stronger, but beggars can’t be choosers. For now, we can say that indeed, it has gotten better.

Gay pride flags are going up, and racist flags are coming down. The progress is slow and sometimes very painful, but we can point to progress. #itgetsbetter


Creationism and Evolution on Trial–The $10,000 Challenge

There has been some talk about the recent story in the UK paper The Guardian about a California-based creationist arguing for a debate on the subject of evolution and creationism in a legal context with $10,000 on the line. To be clear, the question would not be if a god had anything to do with the origins and development of life, but the question is about the scientific accuracy of a literal reading of Genesis. So we are talking about something we have known to be wrong for about 200 years.

Actually, more than that. A true literal reading of Genesis implies a flat earth with a sky dome holding back the waters of heaven, while windows are in place there to let rain in, while the land itself and the sky dome are held up by pillars. This is the sort of cosmogony that the ancient Babylonians had:

But when most Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) say a literal reading, then don’t me that literal reading. Because that’s obviously false. Then again, most of the people over at Answers in Genesis cannot read the words in Hebrew, so their literal reading is about as good as my literal reading of Finnish sagas.

In fact, it is worse than that. There is really the problem that we moderns do not know how to read an ancient book. Why? Because the way people wrote then and assumed about their audiences is different than now. We don’t understand how those ancient writers used chronotope and stereotypes and other literary tropes of the times without a lot of study. It’s almost like you’d have to get a degree in the subject before you knew what you were talking about. Heck, it could be that the authors of these books didn’t mean anything literally at all, no more than Plato literally describes a dialogue in The Republic. Now, if I remember correctly, there was this guy who taught in parables a lot. Hmm… Well, best not think about that. That means you’d have to change your mind, and we all know, God hates it when you think about things.

Now, in the particular version of this “debate”, the way the question is formed is also so confused I must wonder if the person is a functioning illiterate. According to the article, the contest be won by the person that “will prove in front of a judge that science contradicts the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.” Well, science is all about the consensus of experts on a subject. The experts have been almost unanimous in biology, geology, astronomy, and physics: YEC is wrong and not science. If we look at peer-reviewed publications, the number that support the YEC view over other theories: zip, zero, zilch. On that basis, can I have my 10 grand now?

As for the court room context, that’s also a loss before it begins. In courts, there is this thing called precedent: what decisions have been made before, especially by higher courts. Considering this issue of evolution and creationism has been before federal courts three times (including the Supreme Court), and in all three cases creationism was called religious and not science, while evolution did survive, then this lower court in this “minitrial” would have to agree based on that alone. So this shows that creationists understand neither science nor the law. All they want is the veneer of having the truth on their side. You can wear a lab coat, but that makes you nor more a scientist than when I put on a Batman costume it makes me a superhero. (BTW…I’m Batman *smoke bomb*)

But if all that wasn’t enough to make this a joke, apparently this same fool, Joseph Mastropaolo, has done this stunt before. Over at the Huffington Post, biologist and founder of the Clergy Letter Project Dr. Michael Zimmerman talks about his dealings with Mastropaolo in the past. Apparently, Mastropaolo will not actually use the definition of evolutionary scientists use of change in allele frequencies in populations over time, but instead he only wants to use his own convoluted mess of topics as the definition of evolution. In other words, he wants to make the debate subject the strawman he thinks it is right from the point of definition. As he wanted to define it, evolution was “the development of an organism from its chemicals to its primitive state to its present state.” Like Dr. Zimmerman, I don’t even know what this means. Then again, Mastropaolo doesn’t seem to know what an allele is since he thinks the definition scientists use (i.e. the real one) is “meaningless.” Well, considering there is an actual dictionary to use to define the word, that belies his ability to know what he’s talking about. (Note: an allele is simply a form of a gene, so allele changes can be seen at the DNA level; it is very measurable, and denying this is to deny DNA profiling and determining ancestors.)

After this point, it looks like any hope of a debate was killed when Mastropaolo said that the PhD biologist was not “competent to contend” for his prize. He also went on to say “Evolutionist hallucinators so out of touch with reality are psychotic by medical dictionary definition, and therefore not mentally competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.” So now, by his own admission, anyone that believes in evolution cannot attempt to win his prize money. Then again, he also shows he doesn’t know what words mean since he thinks psychotic people are out of touch and hallucinate. I guess that means he won’t be listening to the words of St. Paul who talks about having hallucinatory experiences, as did many in the churches he started and went to (cf. Galatians 1, 1 Corinthians 15).

So, this whole thing is a joke, at best. But it really just seems to be another example of how creationists are in fact dishonest. And in this case, not even a good one.

Update: PZ Myers also weighs in, showing that Mastropaolo is a well-rounded fool.

Does Obama Hate German Home-Schoolers? The Deportation Case of the Romeikes

The conservative news and blogosphere has been exploding because of the story of Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, a married couple from Germany with several children. Back in 2006 the family was resisting the German government’s law that all children must attend public schooling. The Romeikes instead preferred homeschooling, which meant they were going to be fined per child, per day, and they may lose the custody of their children. The most useful webpage about the case I have found has numerous, long quotations from the US legal decisions that detail the history of this case, which you can find here.

A few details to note are that the family did go to court in Germany, but there they lost their cases. The fines were becoming very large (7000 euro, while the family had an income of 12,000), so in 2008 the Romeikes fled to the United States for political asylum. In 2010 a US immigration judge, Lawrence O. Burman, granted them asylum. Then in 2012, the decision was repealed by Immigration Board of Appeal. There was also a peer-reviewed paper back in 2011 about the case, which you can read here. You will also be able to read the case the Romeikes (more correctly, their lawyers) made in their opening statements here, the DOJ’s responses here, and a response to that response here.

So, the basics of the case are if the Romeikes have a case for political asylum, and that means they have to show that they are escaping a sort of political persecution, in this case by the German government. They contend that the law forcing their children to attend public school is not religiously neutral, hence it is biased against certain religious practices, and this is a violation of human rights. To make the case that their religious practices are being persecuted, they argue that they are a “particular social group”, the subject of the legal paper I mentioned above.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is arguing that the Romeikes cannot show that they are the sort of social group that is the subject of such persecution. They make the points that not many religious people in Germany argue to homeschool their children (only 500 in a population of 82 million actively homeschool), and not all who want to homeschool are doing so on religious grounds. Some argued that they worried about bus routes, others that the material wasn’t sufficiently challenging, or there were noisy classrooms; all these groups were fined as the Romeikes were. This suggests there is not a homogeneous “particular social group” that the Romeikes belong to that makes them the subject of persecution, so their appeal for political asylum is invalid. (It should also be noted that the European Human Rights Court back in 2006 decided on a similar case, agreeing that Germany has the right to force all children to attend public school; you can read that decision here. That decision also pissed off conservatives in Europe.) Continue reading

My Day in Court Part 2

This is a continuation about my experience as a recent juror. The back story begins here.

As I talked about, I was in the jury pool of 20 people, 10 of which would be part of the jury proper, though eight would decide the case (two being the alternates). I was the ninth name on the list, so unless some of the 1 through 8 jurors had to leave, I was not part of the main group. But before that, we had some wonderful waiting time. When you take 20 people, put them in a small room with only about 10 chairs, close the door, and leave for a while, it gets a bit warm. Conversations happen, but they can be very divergent, and several times it would die in its tracks. (That may have been my fault in moving the conversation forward, but I’m irresponsible and won’t believe that.)

Eventually we were taken into the court room. The judge’s bench was at the back wall by the door we entered in, and the legal teams on either side. Opposite all this was a semi-circle with the 10 chairs for the main jurors, with more chairs behind for the remaining potential jurors and any interested audience members. Our seating was pre-determined, but we actually had to reverse it since one of the lawyers had the seating going from left to right (from the juror’s perspective) rather than the other way. After a bit of musical chairs, we began the voir dire process. The judge asked the first questions, some of them basic but necessary (i.e. can you read and understand English?). One of the prosecuting attorneys then started asking questions, some asked of all the jurors, some of individuals. Most of the questions made sense when it comes to figuring out if someone isn’t what they want in the box making decisions (i.e. what do you think of the police (the primary source of testimony)? have you had a DUI in the past (the case was related to this)?). No question was directed at me by name, though when the attorney asked if we knew what circumstantial evidence was I was the only one that claimed any such knowledge. Fortunately I didn’t embarrass myself.

After this, the main defense attorney asked a series of questions. While the prosecutor was methodical and systematic in his process, the defense was less so, basically being personable and getting along with the jurors. Again a series of general and specific questions were asked, and only then was I singled out. He wanted to know what I was a student of, which was a bit surprising to him, and he asked if I ever baked anything. My guess is he wanted to see if I was someone that would follow instructions, but that isn’t certain.

Once the questioning was over, the attorneys came up to the judge for some private discussion while we all sat there. Afterward I realized they were deciding who wasn’t going to be a juror. I was suspecting that I was going to be off. Continue reading

My Day in Court

From what I have gathered, the US is an interesting place when it comes to its legal process. For better or for worse, America has a jury system that randomly picks people in the voter registration rolls to be placed on juries for trials. Other places seem to be more picky about who can be a juror, and some nations aren’t good on having fair trials. But up until yesterday, I was a potential juror in my county. This was a unique experience for me, and most people I know haven’t been called themselves. Also, some states and counties do things differently here in the US. So, I want to talk about my experience.

It all began with a jury summons in the mail. Mine came back in late November or so, and I was supposed to get available for a two-week period. This was a problem because I already had plane tickets to get out of town before that period was over. But fortunately, the system allows you to defer your service one time to a later date. I didn’t know what was the best time to do this, but I chose January to make sure I got it out of the way as early in the year as possible and get to my research and other work. That period began the Tuesday before last after MLK day. Continue reading