Idle Commentary

One Man's Take On The World

Atom Smasher Loses Funding

One of the largest research tools (that you have probably never heard of) will be shutdown today due to a lack of federal funding. The Tevatron is one of the highest energy particle accelerators in the world. Only the Large Hadron Collider surpasses it. The Tevatron is responsible for many discoveries in the field of quantum physics, but most notable the discovery of the top quark. The loss of funding stems from budget cuts, which has affected many organizations in science and technology. Fermilab, the company that operates it, plans to continue it’s use on high intensity particles, just not high energy particles. 100 jobs are expected to be cut during these maneuvers.


Jail or Jesus?

In most states when you commit a misdemeanor (such as getting into a drunken brawl), you can assume there might be some jail time. Unless you’re in Alabama that is. The town of Bay Minette, Alabama has passed a policy where first time, non-violent offenders have the choice of going to church every Sunday for a year or going to prison. This is a diversion program focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment. It doesn’t sound that bad either. Instead of having to go through the stigma attached with going to jail, including losing your job, one can simply attend a church in the area. Too bad this program in entirely illegal.

To start off with, the only institutes of religion in Bay Minette are Christian churches. They have a population of around 7,000, which is predominately some form of Christian. They have no mosques or synagogues to speak of. If you’re agnostic or atheist you can probably suffer through giving up your Sunday morning for a year. But if you are Jewish, Muslim, or any other religion, it might not be acceptable to pray in a different house of worship. Even if those who aren’t Christian in the community did not have a problem with this type of diversion, the very premise of there being a program to keep people out of jail by way of going to church violates a multitude of values we have in this country. Like, oh say, the Establishment Clause of the Constitution?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”. A simple middle school analysis of this clause is enough to determine that the policy is unconstitutional. While Congress itself did not pass this law, it is an office superior to the town of Bay Minette, Alabama and as such this clause applies to the town.

No matter which way you want to look at it, a government agency in America has created a law that imposes a religion on a population. Proponents of the plan cite that they aren’t forcing anyone to go to church, and are just merely providing the opportunity. Nobody except religious people of other religions would turn down this offer. Ergo, this law is unconstitutional as it heavily pushes people into Christianity. Your thoughts?

Source 1 | Source 2

Was Justice Really Served?

No doubt that anyone who frequents the internet has heard of Troy Davis by now. He’s the man that was convicted of the murder of a police officer in Savannah, Georgia. After a twenty year legal battle to repeal his sentence of death, which culminated in a highly energized global rally this past week, Davis was executed without proof beyond a reasonable doubt of his guilt. Many people feel as though justice has been served for a cop-killer. Many others feel that an innocent man may have been murdered at the hands of the government.

Ultimately the decision belongs to twelve individuals who may have their own preconceived notions in place about the trial. Think back right now. Think of a time when you hear about a guy being arrested and your immediate response is “I wonder what he did.” At that moment you have already convinced yourself that he is guilty of some sort of crime. After all, why else would the police have arrested him? I’m not suggesting that the police go around and round up innocent people and charge them falsely, but I am suggesting that police are humans. We all are, and we all make mistakes. The very knowledge that we make mistakes should raise concern over the death penalty. When DNA testing began to be used, many inmates that were on death row were exonerated of the crimes. As of today, 139 individuals that have been on death row have been exonerated. That is a potential 139 individuals that may have been killed but were innocent of the crimes they were accused of.

Lets return to the status of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. This is a level of proof that must be met in order to convict anyone of a crime. Again, the power rests with the jury. If all twelve jurors believe that there are no reasonable doubts of a persons guilt, then they should vote guilty. This is what happened in Davis’s case. The prosecution put forth evidence in the way of testimony by nine witnesses and more tangible evidence in the form of bullet casings that matched the casings found in a previous shooting that Davis was convicted of. For most people, nine witnesses and evidence that the same gun used in one crime earlier was used here is enough to presume guilt without any reasonable doubt. Herein lies the issue everyone is up in arms about. Seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony. Upon appeals based on this evidence, the courts told Davis that it did not matter, and that the witnesses could be lying now. That is very possible, and the reason that their testimony should have been discounted. The fact that cannot be denied is that these seven witnesses were either lying then or now. Since we have no discernible ways of deciding when the lie occurred (polygraphs are buggy), we cannot give merit to their words.

Essentially this leaves the case as two witnesses and some casings. The logic of the justice system is that even this lesser proof, it still would convince a jury to his guild beyond a reasonable doubt (though some jurors have changed their mind since their verdict). If you consider that one of the two remaining witnesses actually was considered the prime suspect at first and has been reported as saying that he committed the murder while in a bar, you have an execution that is based on the word of one man and a shell casing. The ballistics expert they brought into the trial was able to prove only that the bullet was of the same caliber as the one Davis allegedly used in the prior shooting. Many guns share the same caliber bullet, and what’s not to say another person happened to have a bullet of the same caliber at the time?

So was justice served? Some say yes, and others no. It may very well be that Davis was guilty as guilty can be. But that does not discount all of the doubt cast on the original case. Even if he was guilty, are we really ready to take this same chance next time?