We Need to Stop Executing Peoplel

Last night, the state of Georgia executed a man who was very likely innocent. Like PZ, I don’t care whether he was guilty or innocent. I care that my country is one of the few countries in the world that executes people.

From Wikipedia

I used to be a strong death penalty supporter. Some crimes, I thought, could only be adequately punished by death. I didn’t ever believe it acted as a general deterrent, but as former FBI agent John Douglas said in Mindhunter, it surely acts as a specific deterrent: that particular person will never commit a crime again. When you’re talking about serial killers, that seems like an admirable thing.

But we kill too many innocent people. We come close to killing far more, before luck and persistence and the existence of DNA evidence, uncovered by tireless investigators, come to the rescue. Those are the lucky ones. Those are the ones who aren’t denied the chance to prove their innocence. How many other people have gone to their deaths because no DNA evidence existed, or if it did was never found, or if found, never allowed to be presented? We don’t know. And it’s unbearable that we don’t know.

So what about those cases in which evidence of guilt is undeniable? Where we definitely have the right person, and the crimes they committed are horrific?

I still don’t support the death penalty. Not even for them. Oh, I may want them to die, and die horribly; that visceral emotional reaction, that righteous outrage, is certainly there. But a civilized society should restrain itself. All we gain is another dead person, another traumatized family, proof that we aren’t able to rise above bronze age ideas of justice. We engage in violence to punish violence, and make our civilization just that much more violent.

Life in prison, no parole, is enough to keep society safe.

We spend an insane amount of money on killing people. That money would be far better spent on improving the conditions that lead people to violence in the first place. A society that takes care of its vulnerable members has less to fear from them, and so much to gain.

Troy Davis should be the last person to be put to death in this country. We’re the last country in North America to execute people. It’s time we joined Canada and Mexico in recognizing what justice truly is.

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Blaming the Victims (Yet Again)

This sickens me so much I’m at a loss for words:

Fifteen year-old Larry King (no relation to the CNN interviewer) was shot twice in the back of the head by his classmate Brandon McInerney while sitting in school in Oxnard, California. Now that McInerney is on trial, the boy’s legal team and the school administration are using the tried and true “he was asking for it” defense. This is totally disgusting.
According to a story in the L.A. Times today, “McInerney’s defense attorneys… acknowledge that the boy pulled the trigger but say that he was pushed to the breaking point by King’s taunts.” Yes, it’s the tried and true “gay panic defense” that preys on juries’ homophobia to get confessed killers cleared for murdering gay people. It was even used against Matthew Shepard, when one of his killers said he was driven to kill the gay college student because he hit on him.

It only gets worse from there.

I know that defense attorneys have very few avenues they can take with an obviously guilty client. But this tactic is beyond reprehensible. What they’re basically trying to argue is that, should you suffer an unwanted advance, it is perfectly right and fine to shoot a person in the head. You should be able to murder a human being and walk free just because you were briefly inconvenienced and made to feel a bit icky.

I don’t imagine they’d be arguing that women have that blanket right to murder men who come on to them. But, y’know, gays. Ew. Of course it’s all right for a straight guy to shoot a transsexual or a gay dude, because that’s a threat to manhood. Kinda like when your wife sleeps with some other dude. It’s okay to shoot ’em in the heat of passion – why not be able to shoot queers, too?

One can only hope that the jury is not so morally bereft as to buy this argument. But we need to have a conversation, a very long and unflinching conversation, about the kind of society in which arguments of this sort can even be entertained. We’re supposedly a first-world nation, and yet there are not insubstantial numbers of people who don’t see much wrong with demonizing and victimizing gays, lesbians, and transsexuals. When a little girl gets raped, an entire town rallies round the rapists, because, y’know, she wore makeup and was obviously asking for it. How dare those sorts of people lure nice, upstanding young men into performing savage acts?

Some folks, otherwise decent, may claim that the defense attorneys are only doing their job. Sure, they have to blame the victim – how else can they defend their client? I don’t know the answer to that. I know this, though: that sort of tactic is devastating to victims, survivors, and the culture at large. There’s probably nothing we can do to prevent defense attorneys from using such tactics, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept them. We can speak out against them. We can tell our society that murdering a person because they made the mistake of flirting with a homophobic sociopath, that raping a girl because she wore makeup in the presence of men, is not justifiable. There are certain things you just do not do in a civilized society. There are some actions that cannot be excused on the grounds that the victim wasn’t a perfect, straight, chaste person.

This dehumanizing bullshit may be a tactic defense attorneys feel comfortable using, but society at large never should. Victims have shouldered too much of the blame. Time to pass that blame to those who have earned it: the victimizers.

Oh, Yes. Very Frivolous

A while back, our own Chris Rhetts asked me to unlimber the Smack-o-Matic and deliver an epic beatdown. He pointed me to this:

And I watched the trailer:

And I grew very, very angry. Verily, I wished to unleash the Smack-o-Matic upon the deserving. Because, you see, I’d been taken in by that: by the media and the comedians and all the rest who had made bitter fun of the woman who sued McDonald’s for spilling a cup of coffee. None of them ever made any mention of the fact that she’d suffered life-threatening burns in the process. They just laughed: silly wench. She should’ve known better than to spill coffee on herself. What a trivial thing to sue a corporation for.

When the corporation serves its coffee at 180 degrees F – 85% of the boiling point of water – it’s not trivial.

This is how not trivial it is:

Each year, approximately 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths occur in the home due to scalding from excessively hot tap water. The majority of these accidents involve the elderly and children under the age of five. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urges all users to lower their water heaters to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to preventing accidents, this decrease in temperature will conserve energy and save money.

Most adults will suffer third-degree burns if exposed to 150 degree water for two seconds. Burns will also occur with a six-second exposure to 140 degree water or with a thirty second exposure to 130 degree water. Even if the temperature is 120 degrees, a five minute exposure could result in third-degree burns. [emphasis added]

Go spill some water on yourself. I guarantee you will be exposed for more than two seconds. Now, imagine that cold water is 180 degrees, and you are elderly, and thus already vulnerable to burns. Look at the wet bits of you, and imagine this is what you see (don’t go below the fold if you can’t handle graphic):

Photo courtesy Brown University

Now imagine that is your face.

Corporations should know basic things like, “Even tap water can kill if it’s over 120 degrees. And even very cautious people can spill things in paper cups.” You would hope they’d then say to themselves, “Maybe we shouldn’t serve our coffee at nearly the boiling point of water, then. Our paying customers might get hurt.”

McDonald’s didn’t follow that train of thought. And when their product nearly killed a woman, they offered her a pittance, and a lot of people banded together to turn her into a laughingstock. People didn’t look at the temperature and the fact that McDonald’s was serving an ultra-hot product without warning that it was far hotter than what people normally expect their hot beverages to be, and their subsequent refusal to do anything approaching decent when the inevitable happened and someone got hurt. No, people just tittered over the fact that a woman had spilled coffee on herself and sued.

Well, she’d nearly died, she was left permanently scarred, but she gave them a chance to make things right. A multi-million dollar lawsuit turned out to be the only language McDonald’s could understand.

Tort reform in a country without meaningful regulations and a way outside of lawsuits for consumers to hold companies accountable for their actions is a sick, evil joke.

So yes, I would love to take the Smack-o-Matic to this subject in some depth, but I don’t get HBO, so I can’t do it in tandem with the documentary. But luckily, people with bigger Smack-o-Matics than mine are all over it. Go. Read.

And the next time someone tries to use an elderly woman’s nightmare as an example of a frivolous lawsuit, tell them that only native decency keeps you from suggesting they spill 180 degree coffee on themselves to prove how trivial it is.

Lying Liars and the Creationist Bastards Who Lead Field Trips

It’s be a while since we’ve had the Smack-o-Matic off the woodshed wall.  I shall now proceed to lift it down reverently, blow the dust from it, give it a loving polish, and proceed to administer it to some very deserving bottoms.

If you are one of those people prone to troll about “tone” and has to look for a fainting couch whenever a Gnu Atheist is the slightest bit mean to those poor ickle Christians, you’d best exit the cantina now.  I have now prepared the Smack-o-Matic for maximum smackage, and I am about to be very Not Nice.

Check out this dastardly bunch of outrageous liars:

In almost every way, the “Garden of the Gods at Colorado Springs” excursion at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) last year was a normal — even enjoyable — field trip. Standard geologic terminology was used in the accompanying field trip guide, and throughout the trip itself. The trip leaders discussed past events in terms of millions and billions of years. At each stop along the trip, the guides relied on orthodox geologic thinking, including a standard examination of sedimentary features and the nature of contacts between units.

But in reality, the trip was anything but a normal geology field trip. Instead, it was an example of a new strategy from creationists to interject their ideas into mainstream geology: They lead field trips and present posters and talks at scientific meetings. They also avoid overtly stating anything truly contrary to mainstream science.

But when the meeting is over, the creationist participants go home and proudly proclaim that mainstream science has accepted their ideas. 

Who led the field trip? 

Lesse… we had not one but two buffoons from the Institute for Creation Research: Steve Austin and Bill Hoesch.  Marcus Ross, formerly of that noxious bunch of anti-evolution fucktards who plague my beautiful city of Seattle, also known as the Discovery Institute.  He’s currently teaching at Liberty University, which is so anti-intellectual I’m not sure how anyone calls it a “university” without laughing themselves to death.  John Whitmore, who’s with Cedarville University in Ohio, stuffing liberal Christian students’ heads with nonsense.  Lest you be persuaded by the “liberal” part that there must be some sanity at that school, consider this factoid: “Cedarville’s official doctrinal statement declares, ‘We believe in the literal six-day account of creation’ and requires that all faculty ‘must be born-again Christians’ who ‘agree with our doctrinal statement.'”  Oh, yes, liberal.  Liberal stupidity, perhaps.

The last, Tim Clarey, gets hardly a mention in the article, so I did a quickie on Google.  All I can say is, Delta College in Michigan must be really fucking hard up for geology professors if they let the editor of  “Proceedings of the Second Conference on Creation Geology” (.pdf) teach.  Oh, but he’s fun and stuff and he doesn’t make you use the text book.  I wonder why that is….

I have something against these arseholes.  No, it’s not because they’re the kind of dumbshit Christian who tries to shoehorn 4.5 billion years of geology into 6,000 years and one really big flood (instead of “God did it!” at every turn, with creationist geologists, you hear “the Flood did it!”  All. The. Time).  They’re welcome to be as stupid as they like.  They can play with their Magic Sky Daddy and believe the Bible’s really really real and true and totally accurate even in all those bits that are flat-out wrong or completely contradict other bits of the Bible.  They’re even welcome to come to conferences and present their “science” along with all of the supposed data they’ve amassed.  Go on, give us a laugh.  And if they’ve got real data, solid data, data that proves what they’re saying beyond a reasonable doubt, bring it!  It’s science, baby. 

Now, they haven’t got that data and the chances they ever will are roughly on par with my waking up tomorrow and actually deciding that my day job is the best job in the whole universe, but still, let ’em try.

No, what I have against them is the fact that they’re lying little shits who do their damnedest to snow everyone.  They’re deceptive ratfuckers who, when among the real scientists, pretend they’re down with this millions-of-years stuff.  They use the big geology words and sometimes even salt their bullshit with a little actual geology to disguise the taste of what they’re serving up.  Just check this out:

Field trip 409 was not the first such creationist-led geology excursion at a GSA meeting. At the 2009 annual GSA meeting in Portland, Ore., four of the five trip leaders (Austin, Whitmore, Clarey and Ross) organized a field trip to Mount St. Helens to examine catastrophic erosion resulting from the 1980 eruption. After that trip, the Institute for Creation Research ran a headline bragging, “Christian Geologists Influential at GSA Meeting,” noting that Austin’s “peer-reviewed manuscript was published by GSA.”
In truth, every field trip guide that year was published in the book “Volcanoes to Vineyards.” Austin’s guide, “The dynamic landscape on the north flank of Mount St. Helens,” followed normal geologic thinking and contained no direct creationist arguments — though attempts to link Mount St. Helens to the Grand Canyon erosional processes might have proved puzzling to attendees. 

That, my friends, is despicable.  It’s behavior beyond the pale.  These people pretend to be really real scientists, if slightly weird ones, with nary a mention of their Young Earth beliefs and their 6,000 year timeline and they don’t breathe a word of Noah’s Flood, all so that they can get their photo taken with actual really real scientists and pretend they’ve wowed ’em – and they lie about their supposed publications, and they deceive the folks back home, the poor innocent little fucktards in the pews, into thinking actual fucking geologists respect their Biblical bullshit.

Just one more example shall suffice to show what two-faced ratfucking rat bastards these assholes are:

“Millions of years” was a phrase that also appeared in Ross’ talk on Late Cretaceous marine stratigraphy; many of his slides used normal geologic time, with millions of years clearly labeled on axes. Nothing in his 15-minute talk hinted at nonstandard geologic thinking. Because most of the audience probably did not know Ross’ background, it must have been puzzling to them when the first question following Ross’ talk challenged him on how he could “harmonize this work with [his] belief in a 6,000-year-old Earth.” (This question came from University of Florida geology professor Joe Meert, who blogged about the exchange.)

Ross answered the question by saying that for a scientific meeting such as GSA, he thought in a “framework” of standard science; but for a creationist audience, he said, he used a creationist framework. Judging from the reaction of the audience, this answer caused more confusion than enlightenment. Ross pointed out that nothing in his presentation involved Young-Earth Creationism. But he then volunteered that he was indeed a Young-Earth Creationist.  [Outraged emphasis added]

Is it just me, or is that an insult to both the geological profession and the Christian faith?  I mean, seriously.  Is there anyone they won’t lie to?

That’s the reason I have not refrained from using the naughty words in abundance when referring to this merry band of despicable fucktards.  They don’t even have the courage of their convictions.  They can’t stand up and say, “I believe this, and here’s the evidence I’ve found that might support that believe if you squint a lot and drink some Drano and pretend that radiometric dating doesn’t exist.”  They have to lie to us, and then they lie to believers who have no idea how science works but get a thrill up their leg when they think that their Bronze-Age beliefs are validated by actual scientists.  And that offends me on so many levels I can’t explore them all.

The writer of the article describing this atrocity thinks we should allow them to continue to infest conferences.  And I say, “Yes.  By all means – if they are required to proclaim, baldly, up front, and without prevarication, just precisely what it is they believe.”  None of these games where they play the Serious Scientist at professional, mainstream geology conferences and then spew Young Earth creationism all over the Christian circles back home, all the while proclaiming that because they didn’t get run out of the conference on a rail, that means genuine scientists believe them.

But they’ll never be honest, because they know real geologists will never accept them if they tell the truth.  So the liars for Jesus will continue to lie.  And geologists, like biologists, will have to expose their Trojan-horse antics before, like termites, they undermine the foundations.

The Morality of Religion: If This Is Morality, I’d Rather Be Immoral

I’ve been planning a set of posts on atheism and morality for some time now, but kept kicking the can down the road because I’ve had easier things to write about.  I’m still busier than a one-legged woman in an arse-kicking competition, but it’s time to open me gob on the whole subject.  Consider this the prelude.

There’s this perception among too many people that being religious automatically equals being moral.  Do yourself an experiment: hit random people up with a scenario.  They’re on a jury, and have to decide who is the most convincing character witness for the accused.  Would they place more weight on the testimony of an atheist or a pastor?  Based on how atheists are viewed in other surveys, I’d be willing to be the vast majority of the public would plump for the pastor.

They shouldn’t.

Being religious doesn’t automatically make you moral.  We’ll explore that in some depth in upcoming posts.  But for now, I just want to present a case study.  This is what one of the big theological thinkers had to say about genocide, infanticide, et al:

By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.  It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.  God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.  The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God. 
Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.
So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli[sic] soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli [sic] soldiers is disturbing.

This comes only after William Lane Craig claims God “has no moral duties to fulfill.”  And an enormously long passage of nonsense that snipes at Richard Dawkins apropos of nothing, presents one of the lamest “logical” arguments for God’s existence ever put forth by someone who purportedly possesses a functioning brain, and then childishly claims atheists have proven God exists if they say the God of the Old Testament did something morally reprehensible in commanding the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman and child in Canaan.  William Lane Craig has proven my (and my Christian best friend’s) point that too much prayer completely rots a person’s brain.

Now, better thinkers than me have given William Lane Craig’s reprehensible “reasoning” the disrespect it deserves.  Greta Christina sums up his argument succinctly and without all of the flowers and frills that might make it look attractive to someone trying to reconcile the violent, jealous fuck of a rat bastard deity evident in the Old Testament with the loving, compassionate God they think exists:

And he said that as long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to kill pretty much anybody. It’s okay to kill bad people, because they’re bad and they deserve it… and it’s okay to kill good people, because they wind up in Heaven. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to systematically wipe out entire races. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to slaughter babies and children. Craig said — not essentially, not as a paraphrase, but literally, in quotable words — “the death of these children was actually their salvation.”

That’s what he’s saying.  And the reason why he’s saying it is because the Bible is supposed to be inerrant, and God is supposed to be good, ergo there must be some reason why God can order genocide without being placed in the same category as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Milošević, among other homicidal maniacs of history, and still be considered anything approaching good, much less perfectly good.

If you are an honest person, this is impossible.  If you’re a lying fucktard or a believer desperate to believe, then you come up with this ridiculous shit.  And then you go on to feel sorry for the poor, pathetic killers:

Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli [sic] soldiers is disturbing.

PZ responds:

No. No, I can’t imagine that. I can imagine parts of it: I can imagine a long, heavy piece of sharp metal in my hands. I can imagine a frightened, unarmed woman in front of me, trying to shelter her children. The part I can’t imagine, the stuff I’m having real trouble with, is imagining voluntarily raising my hand and hacking them to death. I have a choice in that situation, and I know myself well enough that if have to choose between killing people and letting them live, I’d let them live, not that it would be a difficult decision at all. I also have no illusion that, in this imaginary situation where I have all the power and my ‘enemies’ are weak and helpless, I am the one who is being wronged.

That’s the morality of an atheist, as opposed to the morality of a Christian theologian.  Which do you believe is the more moral?

Really, what it comes down to for believers is this question: is the kind of God who would tell you to pick up a weapon and hack a baby to death because that infant would supposedly cause you to turn away from God if allowed to grow up really a God worth worshiping?  Do you have a moral obligation to obey such an order?  Will you be able to salve your conscience by saying, “I was just following orders?”

Can you trust the “morality” that emerges from such a deity?  How?

Eric MacDonald is right: “Cruelty does not become something else, just because it is imagined to be the command of a god.”  And if you have to perform such contortions, if you have to twist morality until it breaks and bleeds to get it to fit your concept of a loving, good god, then you’re following the wrong damned god.  And you are destroying your own moral foundation in the process.

I’d like to finish out this post with another bit from Greta Christina’s post (although I suggest you read it in its entirety):

See, here’s the thing. When faced with horrors in our past — our personal history, or our human history — non-believers don’t have any need to defend them. When non-believers look at a human history full of genocide, infanticide, slavery, forced marriage, etc. etc. etc., we’re entirely free to say, “Damn. That was terrible. That was some seriously screwed-up shit we did. We were wrong to do that. Let’s not ever do that again.”
But for people who believe in a holy book, it’s not that simple. When faced with horrors in their religion’s history — horrors that their holy book defends, and even praises — believers have to do one of two things. They have to either a) cherry-pick the bits they like and ignore the bits they don’t; or b) come up with contorted rationalizations for why the most blatant, grotesque, black-and-white evil really isn’t all that bad.

William Lane Craig plumped for option b.  Too many believers do.  And the results are horrifying.  Far too much evil gets done because people believe God is on their side.

 As Blaise Pascal said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

I’ve seen religious morality.  If that’s what morality actually is, I’d rather be immoral.

Taking it Personally

The party of “life” strikes again:

House File 1467, which ought to be called “Shoot First,” will be heard in the House Public Safety Committee this Thursday. It would allow the killing of anyone who enters another’s yard, even when the person is unarmed and posing no threat; and it would allow the killing of anyone in a public place who seems threatening — again, even if the person is unarmed, and even if walking or driving away is a safe option. 

This is how cheap the Republicans in Minnesota think life is.  This is how little they value it.  What this bill would mean is that no one, anywhere, is safe at any time.

Think about what kind of society that is.

Back when I worked at a bookstore in the Phoenix metro area, a woman came into the store.  She needed a book on grief.  Could I recommend any?

I was too young to know what grief is, not even twenty.  I’d only suffered a few losses: my grandmother died of breast cancer when I was seven, my grandfather of complications from diabetes a few years later, my uncle the same way when I was fourteen.  But they lived half a continent away.  I’d felt pain, briefly, but their loss hadn’t been a constant hole.  What did I know about grief and mourning?  Nothing.  I took her over to the proper section, tried to make a few recommendations based on what other people had bought, rang up her purchases.

That’s when she told me why.

She’d had a son.  A little younger than me, just a teenager, on his way home one evening.  He took a shortcut through a neighbor’s yard.  He knew the neighbor, didn’t think it would be a big deal, nothing he hadn’t done before.  But that night, the neighbor picked up a gun.  Went to the door.  Didn’t bother with a warning, didn’t bother to identify, just shot.

Her son died.  The neighbor faced no consequences.  The kid had been on someone else’s property, after all, and it didn’t matter to the fine people of Arizona that he was a kid who hadn’t done a single threatening thing.  I believe there was a trial, but the jury wouldn’t convict.

And if the Republicans in Minnesota had their way, there wouldn’t even be that much.

What do you say to a woman whose son had been murdered, shot down by someone they knew, and who had been denied justice by a jury of their peers?  What will you say to the people who will lose loved ones, because their “crime” was stepping on the wrong bit of property or maybe looking too closely at some trigger-happy shit at the local park?  What will you say when the person who pulled the trigger walks away without facing a single instant of jail time for taking a human life?

But that’s not all:

Also buried in this bill is a loosening of concealed-carry permit laws to recognize all other state’s pistol permits in Minnesota, even states with lax background checks that issue permits valid for life. It also makes it harder for local law enforcement to prevent prohibited purchasers from getting permits to buy guns, and limits law enforcement’s ability to confiscate weapons in domestic violence situations. 

So that means guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.  And guns in the hands of abusers.

Basically, what the Republicans are saying is, if the police get called out on a domestic, they can’t take the guns away from the very upset, demonstrably violent person who might then decide to reassert his (or, less probably, her) dominance by taking one of those non-confiscated weapons and putting a bullet or few through the head of the person they’ve been busy abusing.  According to the Republicans, this is right and good and how things are supposed to be.

Am I taking it personally, despite the fact I don’t live in Minnesota?  You betcha.  Not only are there people in Minnesota I quite like and would prefer to see survive, but Republican insanity has a distressing tendency to spread to other states.  It’s like measles, or smallpox, and there appears to be no vaccine.  There are plenty of people in the great state of Washington who think living in the Wild West is an ideal, not a problem.

So, Minnesotans, make sure your reps know you don’t agree that life is so fucking cheap.  And as for the rest of us, we’d best be on our guard.

We’d better be taking it personally.