One of Baldacci’s last acts: Morally outstanding

One of now former Maine Governor John Baldacci’s final acts was one I cannot help but admire so much.

In one of his final acts as governor, John Baldacci signed an order Wednesday pardoning a Portland man [Touch Rin Svay] who faced deportation to Cambodia because of a drunken-driving crash that killed his sister [Sary Svay] 10 years ago.

Although he had lived in the United States since he was 4, he faced likely deportation because he was born to Cambodian parents in a refugee camp on the Thai border. He does not speak Cambodian and has no ties to that country.

The sentencing judge said deporting Svay would be “a horrible and unjust resolution.” Svay’s immigration attorney, Beth Stickney, said Svay’s only way to stay in the country was a pardon, a rarely used power the governor has to forgive crimes.

Baldacci said in a prepared statement that he issued the pardon largely because of Sary Svay’s two children and Touch Rin Svay’s role in supporting them.

“He has complied with the terms of his sentence, and has turned his life around,” Baldacci said. “But, in my mind, he continues to have an obligation to his sister’s two children — his niece and nephew — to be involved in their lives and to explain to them his actions. He is actively involved in their lives, and his debt cannot be fully repaid unless he maintains that supporting role.”

The article continues that Svay was due a pardon in 2004, but he admitted to minor transgressions of his parole and that caused a delay (as well as another 5 months in prison). Other than that, however, Svay has been a model citizen since completing his original sentence and subsequent probation violation, holding a steady job and helping to care for his niece and nephew. I greatly admire Gov. Baldacci for his decision. Svay has no connection to Cambodia; deporting him would be nothing short of inhumane. The right call was made today.

(Gov. Baldacci also pardoned a second man who had served a morally trivial but legally significant conviction from 18 years ago. That man, who was not named in the article, faced a similar situation, with all his family ties existing in Maine.)

2010: FTSOS in review, April to June

Here is the second installment of the 2010 FTSOS review. See the first installment here.

April:
Easily the top post of the month (in fact, it is number 5 all time) was the one about the topless march in Farmington. It resulted in a lot of people clicking the Photography tab on FTSOS in search of all the topless women who were marching through the small town of Farmington up here in Maine. Because I guess topless women are rare.

When I set up this blog, I never had the intention of giving a good focus to quacks and charlatans. But I just had to write about the scumbag Lawrence Stowe. The guy was caught on a CBS special stealing from the sick and desperate. He was ought ruining lives and families, laughing all the way to the bank. The guy is easily one of the biggest pieces of shit about whom I have ever read.

There was also the issue of FTSOS commenter Jack Hudson chiding a family member of mine through texts. I made mention of the issue on his blog, but he very quickly edited my comment so as not to reflect his misdeed. As a result – and being someone who hates dishonesty – I had to make a post on FTSOS explaining what had happened. This caused Jack to first deny his actions and then vow never to return to this blog. I later granted the small possibility that he was not guilty, but that did nothing to dampen the hissy-fit. Of course, since the texts came from Minnesota (which is where Jack lives) and since they all referenced a specific Facebook interaction he had with my family member, I had to remain unwilling to retract anything. I stand by that.

May:
The big science news of the month was that Craig Venter created synthetic DNA that worked when put in a cell. It is a phenomenal technical achievement that opens up the door to a whole world of synthetic creations. We can now, at least in theory, go into a computer program, change a few amino acids and come up with new genes and gene products. I suspect this will prove invaluable to cancer research.

About midway through the month I decided to tackle, for the nth time, the idea of objective morality. The truth is, even if theists are right that there is an objective morality, they do not arrive at their conclusions objectively. People are always picking and choosing what they want to believe, how to interpret the things they use for their beliefs, and how those things fit into what they already believe. As I said back in May, even a claim of objective morality is a subjective position.

I also talked about the fact that atheism has never been responsible for an act of evil. Two things arise from this. First, people often go back to that old chestnut, “Ideas don’t hurt people! People hurt people!” Of course, this just ignores the fact that people are composed of ideas. If we are not willing to say that ideas lead to actions, then it is no longer clear that we can even say ideas are good or bad. And what does it even mean to say people – explicitly not ideas – are responsible for actions? If people are not just packages of ideas, then what are they? What does it mean to say “Joe punched Suzy” if we deny that underlying that statement is that Joe had the idea to move his fist towards Suzy? Second, people will point to Stalin, Hitler, etc and say “What about those atheists?” This is silly first because Hitler was an evolution-denying, Christian creationist. The silliness then continues when we look at Stalin (and any other leader who was an atheist) because atheism is not a normative position. Since it is purely descriptive, it does not result in any “ought” or “ought not”; it says nothing of what we should or should not do. Stalin and co never acted out of atheism. It is not logically possible.

June:
The most popular post of the month had to be the one where I told people not to talk to the cops. If the police suspect a person of something, it serves the interests of the police, not the suspect, to get a discussion going. The job of the police is to find out information they can use against people. And even innocent people are at risk. The best way to avoid the whole mess? Don’t talk to the cops. Seriously.

In the race for governor of Maine, we learned that the eventual winner of the election, Republican Paul LePage, is a creationist. He later danced, obfuscated, and dodged the issue. The fact is, the guy is not going to object one bit when some Maine school board thinks it will be a good idea to teach creationism to students.

In skin cancer news, researchers found a certain drug, ipilimumab, which allows the immune system to run free and more effectively fight cancer. Responses to the drug were impressive for those with late stage skin cancers and it is hoped that the treatments can be improved. It was thought the FDA might approve the drug for use this year, but it looks like the decision date is going to be March 26, 2011.

Expect July to September tomorrow.

It seems like everyone is endorsing Eliot Cutler

Every time I open up Facebook or check the local links Yahoo! sends me, it seems I see a new endorsement for Eliot Cutler for governor of Maine. I’m thinking that everyone is feeling the emotion-driven anger at the establishment right now, but unlike redneck conservatives, all these papers are actually putting thought into who they want to lead Maine. Cutler is the clear choice – he has a masterful grasp of all the issues and he offers realistic solutions. (I know, I know, conservatives…a smart guy?! What an elitist!)

Vote for Eliot Cutler.

New poll on race for Maine governor

A new poll is out on the race for Maine governor.

The Maine Poll, conducted for MaineToday Media by Critical Insights, had 30 percent of likely voters supporting Mitchell, compared to LePage at 29 percent. This represents a significant change in a race where LePage has consistently led polls by 12 or more percentage points. In Critical Insights’ last poll, released Sept. 19, LePage had 38 percent voter support and Mitchell had 25 percent.

The 405 registered voters, all of whom said they were likely to vote in November, were surveyed on Monday. The poll has a margin of error of 4.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. That means that if the poll were repeated 100 times, in 95 cases the results would be within 4 percentage points of those reported.

Perhaps voters are starting to realize that – aside from his horrible ideas of teaching creationism and giving away college degrees to high school students – Maine probably doesn’t want the Rage of LePage at the helm.

This isn’t California or Florida. Maine prefers rational candidates.

U.S. science and math education ranked 48th

A lot of Americans are hostile towards science. With political parties like the Republicans and Teabaggers, it isn’t any surprise. (Of course, the Republicans are a contributor to the hostility; the Teabaggers are a result.) But at the root of these ugly movements is, naturally, religion. It’s fair to place a lot of the blame on religion because, for starters, it teaches that faith is a virtue. Of course, faith most certainly isn’t a virtue and it has only been made into one by the religious out of necessity, but the idea that it’s good to believe without evidence is ingrained into many American minds via religious rhetoric.

We’ve always been a religious nation, but there were times when we managed to lead in science and math. We can attribute a lot of that to economic superiority or importing scientists from elsewhere or, especially during the Cold War, nationalism. But I think we can also attribute a lot of it to the fact that historically it hasn’t been obvious to a great many people that there is a deep conflict between science and religion. Without people being widely aware that God is not only not evident but also not needed for the Universe and for life, there’s little reason to view science with any great hostility. Unfortunately, while science has been the tool man has used to make the greatest achievements ever seen on Earth, it has also revealed that a lot of people are just plain stubborn. People will favor their long-held beliefs over accepting a conflicting fact from science. (In fact, it’s 64% that will do that in America.) That’s why we have religion to blame for results like these.

Stagnant scientific education imperils U.S. economic leadership, says a report by leading business and science figures.

Released Thursday at a congressional briefing attended by senators and congressmen of both parties, the report updates a 2005 science education report that led to moves to double federal research funding.

Nevertheless, the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” review finds little improvement in U.S. elementary and secondary technical education since then.

“Our nation’s outlook has worsened,” concludes the report panel headed by former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine. The report “paints a daunting outlook for America if it were to continue on the perilous path it has been following”:

•U.S. mathematics and science K-12 education ranks 48th worldwide.

•49% of U.S. adults don’t know how long it takes for the Earth to circle the sun.

•China has replaced the United States as the world’s top high-technology exporter.

One of the most interesting facts in the research, though a bit of an outdated one, is that in 1999, 69% of 5-8th graders received instruction in the physical sciences from teachers lacking a major or certification in any physical science. It makes me wonder how many high school students are also receiving their education from un- or low-qualified teachers. We know they’re out there (which is one reason D.C. fired a bunch of them recently), but I’m not sure on the stats. I think there would be interesting implications for Paul LePage’s plan to give away degrees.

LePage questions health of Mitchell

In a recent campaign event, creationist Paul LePage took a jab at the well-being and vitality of Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell. (That link may or may not be broken at any given time. Try here.)

And though LePage said in an interview on the train that he wants his campaign to stick just to the issues, he wasn’t shy about throwing the crowd a little red meat during the stop in Bath.

“Libby (Mitchell) had her 70th birthday a few weeks ago and I’m concerned about her,” the 61-year-old said with a chuckle. “We should send her home.”

Really? Really?

Here is a picture of Paul LePage.

This guy wants to take jabs at the health of others? He’s got to be kidding.

One of the few things I liked about Dubya was the fact that he was a workout fiend. When his doctors told him he should cut back on his runs because of his knees, he took up biking instead. I had a high respect for Bush’s concern for his personal health.

But LePage clearly does not have that concern. At 61 he ought to be doing everything he can to make the final leg of his life as happy and productive as he can. It’s people with attitude’s like his that make the American health care system one of the most inefficient in the world.

Compare, for a moment, Paul LePage to both Michelle Obama and Mike Huckabee. The former is making significant efforts to reduce childhood obesity by promoting better eating and more exercise. The effectiveness of her message is helped quite a bit by the fact that she is in great shape. Who thinks a fat Michelle Obama could get her message across? It would be like Laura Bush trying to get kids to read more while being illiterate (and subsequently unconcerned). Then there’s Mike Huckabee. When he took office, he was obese. Once his doctors told him he would be dying shortly if he didn’t act right away, he shed over 100lbs pretty quickly. It surely wasn’t easy, but his life mattered more to him than his taste buds. Now he has written a book, participates in marathons, and frequently discusses health issues. He’s a better person for what he did for himself (and his family), and his message is effective because he made an honest effort that yielded honest results.

Next time Paul LePage wants to bad mouth the vitality of someone else, he ought to take a look in the mirror.

More creationist canards

In my post on the continued dishonesty of the LePage campaign I skipped over a few creationist canards from LePage’s creationist supporters. (As he is an ardent creationist, believing it is okay to tell children that dinosaurs and people walked the Earth together, he has many creationist supporters.) Here’s one of the most common from Christopher Bowker. (Scroll down to the question from Matt Ellis – I cannot link directly to the wall post in question.)

I have a BA in Zoology from the Univeristy of Maine. I am also an evangelical christian, believe me when I say you can believe God created the world, and species can evolve from other species, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I say be tolerant of each other, this scientific theory take a bit of assumption or faith, as much as believing the biblical account. Learn as much as you can and make your own judgement. People who believe in the Genesis account aren’t forcing their beliefs on anyone. Keep an open mind!

He starts out okay – people can believe God created the world while also accepting the fact of evolution. Unfortunately, he quickly takes a wrong turn. The two are mutually exclusive as a matter of philosophical compatibility. One is an ancient sheepherder’s myth while the other is established science. Bowker may as well say it isn’t mutually exclusive to believe in gravity while also believing the Earth rests on the backs of turtles.

What is actually true is that plenty of people can believe two distinct, conflicting ideas. Everyone does it. In fact, as with Bowker, Christians who accept any science whatsoever are constantly doing it. But that isn’t an important point in the whole compatibility debate insofar as the question of whether these things are true or not is concerned. I know, I know. Then why do Christians constantly point out all the scientific authorities who manage to hold biblical and scientific beliefs? It’s because they’re bad at argumentation. No, really. It’s that simple.

Yes, people can hold two beliefs. No, this does not mean they are not in conflict. Internal harmonization of the world does not equate to external harmonization.

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