Recent News

I’ve been busy with life over the past week or two, so my posting has been more limited than usual. I hope to change that a bit as I adjust to juggling everything. Let me start with some recent news, not all of which will necessarily be quite that recent:

DOMA is dead. This isn’t a huge shock, but it was obviously the right move – not that all this bigotry was going to stand much longer in California anyway. And, coming as even less of a shock, my prediction about Political Figure Antonin Scalia was dead on. Specifically, I cited a dissent he wrote in Lawrence v Texas where he said that the majority’s decision to keep government out of our bedrooms was predicated on the principle that government would have to recognize homosexual relationships (at least in certain capacities, though Scalia wrote broadly and vaguely here). I also pointed out his supposed adherence to stare decisis, which essentially is the idea that past decisions of the Court must be factored into future decisions. Clearly there is a conflict in his DOMA dissent: He can’t claim that he is duty-bound by decision X then turn around and ignore that decision in a case where it is explicitly relevant – at least not if he wants anyone to believe he isn’t merely making a personal, political decision.

Wendy Davis of Texas is pretty awesome. She managed to filibuster a shitty abortion bill the old fashioned way by standing and talking for a dozen or so hours. Now we just need to make that be a requirement again on the federal level.

President Obama has said he isn’t personally involved in the hunt for Edward Snowden. There are a few points I have on this. First, Edward Snowden is a god damned hero. We should give that a man a parade immediately after we strip the NSA of nearly all its powers. Second, my opinion of the President has sunk significantly over these privacy issues. I still support his economic policies (which would be successful if we weren’t forced into running that 3/4 Republican-style economy because Congress is composed of children), but I can’t get behind the destruction of the Fourth Amendment. Third, Obama said he isn’t going to scramble any jets “to get a 29-year old hacker”. Hey. Fuck you, man. The only reason for mentioning Snowden’s age (he’s now 30, by the way) is to denigrate him, as if being young is somehow a fault. It isn’t. Moreover, he was fucking right to reveal everything he did. Double moreover, he wasn’t and isn’t a hacker. He was a guy with administrative privileges as granted to him illegally by some secret kangaroo, warrant-rubber-stamping court.

A 19 year old teenager is sitting behind bars for exercising his First Amendment rights. The teen, Justin Carter, was playing a video game when another player called him insane. He then replied, “‘Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head, I’m going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts.” He then said “lol” and “jk”. (The article explains what these mean. Whereas I feel you shouldn’t be on the Internet if you don’t know their meanings, I will not explain them.) This is pretty obvious bullshit. It was sarcasm which was absurd and dismissed immediately as a joke. In no way could a reasonable person believe that Carter was making a legitimate threat, yet now he sits in jail, charged with the vague ‘crime’ of making “terroristic” threats. I doubt this would have happened to a well-to-do person in his 40’s. But, hey, it’s easiest to ruin the lives of young people. Here’s a petition to change this horseshit. I hope district attorney Jennifer Tharp is disbarred for abusing her authority, the officers and investigators involved are fire, and everyone who has played a role in this clearly unconstitutional arrest is themselves arrested and jailed. That would be justice.

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Thought of the day

Well, I think Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals deserved to go to the Bruins, not because I’m a fan, but because they played a far, far better game (minus one 20 second span). It seems wrong that this series didn’t go 7, but it was still a good season.

Besides, we can all take solace in the fact that the Penguins didn’t get further than they did, which would have given NBC and ESPN a chance to masturbate over them at every possible chance.

I’ll miss you, Fifth Amendment

In the Supreme Court’s continued efforts to destroy the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment just took a big hit:

Here are the facts from Salinas v Texas: Two brothers were shot at home in Houston. There were no witnesses—only shotgun shell casings left at the scene. Genovevo Salinas had been at a party at that house the night before the shooting, and police invited him down to the station, where they talked for an hour. They did not arrest him or read him his Miranda warnings. Salinas agreed to give the police his shotgun for testing. Then the cops asked whether the gun would match the shells from the scene of the murder. According to the police, Salinas stopped talking, shuffled his feet, bit his lip, and started to tighten up.

At trial, Salinas did not testify, but prosecutors described his reportedly uncomfortable reaction to the question about his shotgun. Salinas argued this violated his Fifth Amendment rights: He had remained silent, and the Supreme Court had previously made clear that prosecutors can’t bring up a defendant’s refusal to answer the state’s questions. This time around, however, Justice Samuel Alito blithely responded that Salinas was “free to leave” and did not assert his right to remain silent. He was silent. But somehow, without a lawyer, and without being told his rights, he should have affirmatively “invoked” his right to not answer questions.

Political Figure Scalia and Lap Dog Thomas went further and said Salinas didn’t have any right to silence whatsoever because he hadn’t be arrested or detained by police.

This is all very disturbing. As Ken of Popehat tells us, a prosecutor cannot mention a defendant’s decision to remain silent. If we allowed the authorities to get away with such garbage – and we do now – then the right to remain silent wouldn’t, in fact, be a right. It would simply become this thing people try to do in order to protect themselves, but without any success. “I don’t know, fellow jurors, the police said the guy got shifty and uncomfortable when they questioned him. Then he clammed up! Sounds guilty to me.”

(Know why that last part isn’t a good analogy? Because it just fucking happened.)

I had more to say on this matter, but my time is currently limited. I leave you with this excellent piece of advice:

Christianity in Russia

Russian Christians have essentially passed one whopper of a bill:

A bill that stigmatizes Russia’s gay community and bans the distribution of information about homosexuality to children was overwhelmingly approved by the lower house of parliament Tuesday.

More than two dozen protesters were attacked by anti-gay activists and then detained by police, hours before the State Duma approved the Kremlin-backed legislation in a 436-0 vote.

The bill banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” still needs to be passed by the appointed upper house and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, but neither step is in doubt.

This is what happens when Christian ‘morality’ overtakes the thought that is necessary in secular morality – the latter being the morality that has driven the modern world to its most prosperous, most free, and least violent times.

Before the vote, gay rights activists attempted to hold a “kissing rally” outside the State Duma, located across the street from Red Square in central Moscow, but they were attacked by hundreds of Orthodox Christian activists and members of pro-Kremlin youth groups. The mostly burly young men with closely cropped hair pelted them with eggs while shouting obscenities and homophobic slurs.

From time to time I will hear it asked, ‘If you were walking down a dark street alone, would you ever find yourself afraid of an approaching group of strangers if you knew they had just come from a late night Christian meeting?’ Well, here’s the answer to that manipulative, assumption-filled, horseshit argument. I would be petrified if I was a member of whatever minority that group happened to hate based upon their necessarily subjective interpretation of the Bible.

And that’s the real problem here, isn’t it? The unavoidable fact of subjectivity that comes with a text as flimsy as the Bible encourages this sort of inanity. And, really, that’s merely the icing on the cake, for the ultimate ill of the world is the very premise of this sort of ‘thinking’, and of religion as a whole: faith. An effectively random way to believe, faith has only the power to harm, and anything good that relates to it is incidental. It’s like driving without using the steering wheel. Sure, you might end up parked perfectly in your driveway at the end of the day, but there’s no good reason to expect any sort of specific result like that. It’s far more likely that you’ll end up in a ditch or, worse yet, colliding with another driver.

I never have a bad day hiking

Or, in this case, I never have a bad weekend hiking.

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A victory for science at the Supreme Court

In the most “duh” decision in who knows how long, the Supreme Court ruled today that large, profit-driven corporations (or anyone, for that matter) cannot patent naturally occurring genes:

Pronouncing what may seem like a patent truism, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that biotech researchers have to create something to get monopoly protection to study and apply the phenomenon. Because Myriad Genetics, Inc., “did not create anything,” the Court struck down its patent on isolating human genes from the bloodstream, unchanged from their natural form. Because Myriad did create a synthetic form of the genes, however, that could be eligible for a patent, the Court concluded.

The decision was a major blow to a company that believed it had a right to be the sole user and analyst of two human genes that show a high risk, for women found to have them in their blood, of breast and ovarian cancer.

This is a huge win for science, future research, and, frankly, human lives. Aside from the obvious dubiousness of patenting something that isn’t man-made, it was unconscionably unethical for Myriad Genetics to pursue this case at all. They should feel nothing but shame and moral grief at the human life they were inherently putting at risk. This was a rare excellent decision from the SCOTUS. (Surprisingly, they didn’t randomly and arbitrarily decide, for no discernible reason whatsoever, to also declare that any of the genes involved were people.)

Those poor devils

Tasmanian devils are notoriously nasty, even to each other. They have teeth and aren’t afraid to use them. As a result, they tend to bite and nip at the faces of their brethren. And unfortunately, this has resulted in the spread of a contagious form of cancer that has wiped out 70% of the population.

But there is good news. Researchers have discovered that the reason the tumors are able to spread so efficiently (escaping immune system detection) is that its cells lack major histocompatibility complex molecules, or MHC molecules. The Tasmanian devil’s immune system can’t ‘see’ what’s coming. This, of course, isn’t unique amongst cancer cells, but what is a little different is that these MHC molecules aren’t simply broken via mutation. They are actually turned off due to regulation. This means they are intact and can be turned back on. (It also means that, in conjunction with the contagious factor, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to consider this cancer a separate organism, however parasitic.)

There is hope for the Tasmanian devil, albeit far down the road. Until then, quarantine and luck are the only viable solutions for saving this animal from extinction.