The Supreme Court has struck down a federal law prohibiting sports betting. In 1992, a federal law prohibited states from authorizing sports gambling. This week, Justice Alito provided his reasoning in favor of protecting states’ rights, wanting to avoid the federal government interfering with state legislatures making their own rulings regarding the issue of wagering on professional and amateur sports, which is indeed legal in Nevada. Many states anticipated the Supreme Court ruling and have been mobilizing to profit on their newfound avenue for revenue. Citizens will be able to start wagering on sports in New Jersey, for instance, in the next two weeks or so.
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This May, the NFL announced a new policy—any team with a member who kneels during the National Anthem will have to pay a fine. The policy was decided by a vote of the team owners. Union representatives for the players were not aware of the decision until it was announced. This new policy is a change in tone from the attitudes the league expressed last year and is a further development in an ongoing controversy sparked by players’ decision to protest by taking a knee during the National Anthem. In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick made headlines for kneeling during the anthem in protest of violence perpetrated by police officers against people of color. Kaepernick no longer plays for the 49ers or any NFL team. Amnesty International recently honored him with the 2017 Ambassador of Conscience Award.
The new policy mandates that players on the sideline “shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.” It may sound as if the players are being forced to express respect whether they feel it or not, but one key feature of the new policy is that it doesn’t require players to stand during the anthem. Players who choose to protest may either willfully incur a fine on their team or may remain in the locker room while the anthem is played. Individual teams have the autonomy to decide how the fine is dealt with; the team can choose to pay it, or it can be imposed on the individual members who chose to protest. On May 24, New York Jets owner Christopher Johnson announced that fines would be covered by the Jets rather than by players who saw fit to protest. Moves like this by team owners are attempts to demonstrate respect for both sides of the debate. Players may continue to protest without fear of punishment at the level of the individual, but the NFL and its teams will not have to deal with being viewed unfavorably by the public.
Some critics of Kaepernick and other players engaging in the same behavior argue that, though protesting is certainly warranted under some circumstances, and perhaps even that it is warranted under these circumstances, the form it takes, in this case, is inappropriate because it is unpatriotic. The National Anthem is a potent symbol of our country. Kneeling while it plays disrespects the song and, by extension, the nation. Some argue further that the United States was the country that made it possible for Kaepernick and other football players to make millions of dollars playing sports. Protesting during the anthem of the country seems, to these people, to be ungrateful. They argue that this is simply not the forum to engage in this kind of behavior.
Supporters of the protest counter those claims in a number of ways. First and foremost, they argue that the injustices faced by people of color in this country are far more pressing than any concerns about patriotism. If injustices are happening (and they are), perhaps it is time that society at large stops telling people of color when and where it is appropriate for them to peacefully protest those injustices. In fact, to many, it sure looks like this is exactly the right forum—these protests have generated widespread national discussion about racial injustice in this country.
Supporters argue further that kneeling is not a gesture of disrespect. It’s not as if the protestors were extending the middle finger at the flag while the anthem played. After all, kneeling is a posture that many people take when they pray. Protesters did not engage in the most outrageous form of protesting. The simply assumed a prayer position rather than putting their hands over their hearts.
Many contend that it is not unpatriotic to exercise free speech rights. In fact, taking advantage of the right to peacefully protest is perfectly consistent with the fundamental values of this country. A smaller group of Kaepernick supporters argue that it is no real, justified criticism to refer to Kaepernick’s actions as “unpatriotic,” because blind patriotism isn’t something that we should value in the first place. Nationalism can be an ugly thing. When a person commits to being blindly allegiant to their country, they are often willing to overlook bad actions performed in the name of that country. It also becomes easier to behave as if the interests of those who live outside of that country aren’t important.
Another point made by critics of this form of protest is that it could have been done in a way that didn’t insult the troops. For many people, the act of holding one’s hand over one’s heart during the anthem is an opportunity to show support and appreciation for those who fought and risked or even sacrificed their lives in service of the country. In response to this argument, people are quick to point out that the National Anthem doesn’t have one and only one meaning. It means different things to different people. One of the most crucial guiding motivations behind the formation of our country was the value of freedom of conscience. People should be free to respond to the anthem in a way that is consistent with their values.
A further argument offered against the protests is that they are being done during work, not during the player’s private time. What an employee does during the time that they are at work reflects on their employer. In most any other job, if an employee engaged in a speech act in their capacity as representative of their employer and that message was not something the employer wanted to be conveyed, the employee would be risking their job. The new policy addresses this concern because it offers a third option. Players who don’t want to stand for the National Anthem don’t have to. They can stay in the locker room until it is over.
Major figureheads have weighed in on this controversy. In 2016, President Obama acknowledged the importance of the values emphasized on both sides of the debate but indicated that he respected Kaepernick’s exercise of his constitutional rights and encouraged both sides to listen to one another. President Trump has repeatedly criticized the protests, and Kaepernick in particular. Nevertheless, Trump has extended an invitation to Kaepernick to participate in a summit on race later this year.
In my last post, I explained that the IAAF has a new policy on testosterone testing for female athletes. See that post for the details. I presented an argument against testosterone testing in sport and now I’ll present an argument for it. Which is the better argument? You decide. (Full disclosure: I don’t know.)
The first thing we need to consider is why sports are gender-segregated. It’s not because there’s a need to segregate people with different gender identities (why would we do that?). Sports are gender-segregated for reasons having entirely to do with bodies. The crux of the matter is that people with female bodies would be at a tremendous disadvantage if they competed against people with male bodies. Averaging over different sports and different individual people, male bodies have a 10 percent advantage. With gender mixing, the female-bodied wouldn’t as often qualify for and win events. To enjoy all the goods associated with sport, people with female bodies have to compete amongst themselves.
Philosophy can be perceived as a rather dry, boring subject. Perhaps for that very reason, divulgers have attempted to use stimulating and provocative thought experiments and hypothetical scenarios, in order to arouse students and get them to think about deep problems.
Surely one of the most popular thought experiments is the so-called “Trolley Problem”, widely discussed across American colleges as a way to introduce ethics. It actually goes back to an obscure paper written by Philippa Foot in the 1960s. Foot wondered if a surgeon could ethically kill one healthy patient in order to give her organs to five sick patients, and thus save their life. Then, she wondered whether the driver of a trolley on course to run over five people could divert the trolley onto another track in which only one person would be killed.
The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) has returned to the policy that female competitors must have circulating testosterone under a certain level. The policy had been suspended as a result of a judgment by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, after a complaint was filed by Dutee Chand, an Indian runner with DSD (differences of sexual development, also known as being intersex). For now, the new policy will apply only to mid-distance events—400 meters to a mile—and to people legally recognized as either female or intersex (which presumably includes trans women). More details on how the policy will be implemented are here.
According to the CDC, 121 cases related to a potent strain of E. Coli have affected over half of the states in the US, with the main source stemming from romaine lettuce from the Yuma region of Arizona. The CDC has issued warnings to the public: “Do not serve or sell any romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region. This includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, baby romaine, organic romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. Restaurants and retailers should ask their suppliers about their source of romaine lettuce.” While authorities have not been able to link the outbreak to a single source, it’s clear that issues in growing, packing, and handling are potential contributors. Continue reading “The Future of Farming: Reconsidering the E. Coli Breakout”
On May 15, 2018, CNN reported that the U.S. Border Patrol, which is “tasked with tracking and trying to prevent border-crossing deaths,” has been undercounting the number of deaths of people who perished trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in contravention of U.S. Immigration laws. CNN reportedly identified more than 500 deaths over and above the Border Patrol’s official tally over the last 16 fiscal years. As CNN reports, undercounting deaths “minimizes the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis associated with illegal crossings” and “makes it harder for the United States to assess the full impact of a border policy, in place since the mid-1990s, that uses barriers and other enforcement tools to push migrants to more remote, deadlier crossing points.”
Lately, people have been talking about President Donald Trump deserving the Nobel Peace Prize. Everything about that sentence is chilling, but that’s what people are saying. Even some of my liberal friends are saying that if Trump’s talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un lead to reconciliation between North and South Korea, denuclearization, or other good results, he’ll be a contender. Less surprisingly, there’s a group of 18 Republican Congress members lobbying for him to win the award. But no. This is ridiculous, and here’s why.
In October of last year, the Boy Scouts of America announced that the organization would begin admitting girls. Cub Scouts, the organization for youths 7-10 years old, will begin welcoming girls this summer. The program for youth 11-17—The Boy Scouts—will change its name to Scouts BSA and will begin accepting girls, providing a pathway for young women to become Eagle Scouts.
Eric Schneiderman was the New York Attorney General since 2011 and a strong opponent of President Trump’s policies to end DACA. Most recently, he sued the Weinstein Company over sexual harassment and civil rights violations while being a vocal supporter of the #Metoo movement. His clear stance as an advocate for civil rights, and specifically feminist goals, has made the circumstances of his recent resignation particularly frustrating. Schneiderman resigned as New York Attorney General the first week in May in response to claims that in four past relationships, he had physically assaulted his partners.
From “It’s On Us” to the MeToo campaign, sexual assault on college campuses and the world at large has garnered a great deal of attention in the past 10 years. Many universities have begun focalizing their commitment to Title IX and their no tolerance policy for sexual assault. Title IX enables the majority of sexual assaults that occur on these campuses to stay within the campus community and university judicial process, and this avoidance of the public criminal justice system is not immune to criticism. However, surrounding communities, whether it be through alienation or gentrification, are not always quick to get involved in campus crimes. Indiana colleges are no different, but an incident that occurred on Purdue University’s campus in February 2017 has many in the surrounding community, and the nation, upset. In an article titled “Bangert: Sex, lies and … wait, that wasn’t rape in a Purdue dorm?” Journal and Courier columnist Dave Bangert reacts to the acquittal of ex-Purdue student Donald Grant Ward, who admitted that in 2017 he knowingly had sex with a student under the false pretences that he was her boyfriend. Ward’s trial and subsequent comments by his lawyer have sparked a debate around the large question: Is rape by deception rape? And possibly more importantly, should rape by deception be considered a criminal offense?
To give some context, Purdue University saw 37 reports of rape during its 2016 school year, and though the 2017 statistic have not yet been released, it is likely that Ward’s case will be considered in these statistics, in light of the university’s reaction. Though 12 Indiana jurors found Ward not guilty of rape in February 2018, Purdue University barred Ward from campus immediately following the incident in February 2017. In other circumstances, such a discrepancy between Purdue’s campus policies and the Indiana criminal justice system could have Indiana citizens frustrated, considering the fact that Purdue is a state-funded University. However, members of the local community — and even prosecutors — seem to take the University’s side over the courts.
But what exactly is rape by deception? And how is what Ward did not considered a criminal offense? In a 2017 article in the Yale Law Review, Luis E. Chiesa explains the legal riddle of what many call “rape by deception.” Chiesa explains, “When people lie to obtain money, we call it theft. When they lie to enter private property, we call it trespass. When they lie to obtain sex… we have no idea what to call it.” Though there is no broad legal consensus about rape by deception, countries like Israel have successfully tried those convicted of it. However, detractors could use these very cases to point out why a rape-by-deception law could have unintended consequences. In 2010, Israeli Arab Sabbar Kashur was convicted of rape after having sex with a woman that was under the impression he was Jewish. Some argue that this case was racist and in part fuelled by tensions between Jewish Israelis and Muslim Israelis. Increasing the penalty for any crime could fuel and contribute to existing inequalities in the criminal justice system, with the potential for uneven and unjust enforcement.
But supporters of a rape-by-deception law see it as no different from laws that protect property. In New Jersey, one legislator proposed a rape-by-deception law in 2014, after a grand jury found a William Allen Jordan, who lied about his professional status, nationality, and marital status to have sex with Mischele Lewis, not guilty of sexual assault by coercion. Though Jordan actually admitted to defrauding Lewis, the jury still decided he had not broken any law. Singleton aimed to remedy this by introducing a bill that recognized “sexual assault by fraud” and defined it as “an act of sexual penetration to which a person has given consent because the actor has misrepresented the purpose of the act or has represented he is someone he is not.”
Assemblyman Singleton supported this measure, telling those who opposed the bill to ask themselves: should the law “afford less legal protection to a person’s body than it does to that person’s property?” After all, he asked, “if it is a crime to deceive individuals out of their property, how can it be lawful to deceive them out of their bodies?
When Singleton’s bill was introduced, it did not even make it out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. This could be in part due to the attention it garnered in the media, with fervent anti-rape-by-deception articles being written in the months leading up to the 2014-2015 legislative session. Many who opposed this bill, and the concept of rape by deception in general, ranged from defence attorneys to actually defence sexual assault survivors. Lafayette Attorney Kirk Freeman, the Defence Attorney who represented Donald Grant Ward in 2017, was vocal about his opposition to a rape-by-deception law in an interview with local news station WLFI. Freeman argued that what Ward did — sneaking into his peer’s bedroom and pretending to be someone else — is “not rape just in the fact that lots of women this weekend are going to have sex with Navy Seals, going to have sex with football heroes, going to have sex with guys that rescue kittens from the middle of the interstate, and are going to have sex with men who tell them I love you and I’m ready for a commitment. Just because they are lying or being deceptive doesn’t make it rape.” Some might argue that Freeman’s statements are insensitive, facetious, and even sexist. However, does Freeman have a point? Would expanding the law to include rape by deception really open the door to legally prosecute anybody who lies for sex?
Some legal scholars, such as Jed Rubenfeld, would argue no. Rubenfeld believes that the problem with defining sex by deception as rape is the fact that modern American rape laws fail to correctly define or uphold the concept of consent. In his essay “The Riddle of Rape-by-Deception and the Myth of Sexual Autonomy,” Rubenfeld uses the example of rape defined as sex with an unconscious person. The idea behind this statute is that somebody without consciousness is unable to consent, but if one takes a closer look at many of these laws, one notices that “rape will be found only if the intoxication was not self-induced.” In effect, modern American law still puts the burden of not getting raped on the victim, and Rubenfeld argues it is exactly this legal problem that influences legal attitudes toward rape by deception. Rubenfeld, in the end, contends that “courts have held for a hundred years in virtually every area of the law outside of rape, a consent procured through deception is no consent at all.” This idea could in part explain why Jordan was found guilty of fraud, but was not found guilty of sexual assault by coercion in 2014, and by Ward was acquitted in 2018.
From speeding on the highway to jay-walking in the city, many would agree that just because something is a crime, doesn’t make it morally wrong. However, Defence Attorney Kirk Freeman also asserted that “Just because something is not right doesn’t make it a crime.” Though many critical of rape culture might applaud the very idea that rape by deception is even considered unethical, Freeman’s statement unveils a deeper problem. What is the line between what is considered unethical and what we think should be illegal? This question, and the cases of both Jordan and Ward, demands we decide who and what the law is designed to protect, and how much value our ethical conscious holds in the laws that govern us.
Donald Glover has become a global phenomenon. As a comedian, Glover has left audiences laughing with his standup. As an actor, he captured audiences with his antics on the television show Community and continues to capture them through his television show Atlanta. But Glover’s comedy and filmography is not the only reason that he’s famous. Glover has an alter ego. As Childish Gambino, he gained repoire as a rap artist through successful projects such as Camp, STN MTN/ Kauai, and Because the Internet. As of late, Glover has been focusing on his filmography due to his show Atlanta and the fact that he plays Lando Calrissian in the new Star Wars Solo movie. But this past weekend, Glover made a return as Childish Gambino with his latest song, “This is America.” The song drew attention when Glover dropped a visual to accompany the song. It’s full of relevant and powerful imagery that has characterized a part of the United States recently. Could Gambino’s new song be the wakeup call that America needs? Continue reading “Childish Gambino’s “This is America”: Why It Matters”
In the opening week of May, homes in Hawaii are being threatened by a notable volcanic eruption. Over 1,500 people have already been evacuated as lava flow inches only hundreds of yards away from subdivisions, sparking fires and releasing dangerous amounts of sulfur dioxide. Expert volcanologist Erik Klemetti is concerned about the new fissures on Mount Kilauea, especially since the volcano has long, sloping sides and is over 20 miles in diameter at the base. Unlike stereotypical conceptions of how volcanoes erupt, Kilauea is not erupting from the top, but from multiple fissures along the slopes. And although Kilauea has been regularly erupting for the past three decades, new fissures are appearing in an area “where there hasn’t been an eruption since the 1950’s.” These startling developments are a reminder that climate change concerns not only gas emissions or carbon footprints, but will likely increase the occurrence and scope of natural disasters, as well. Continue reading “Natural Disasters? Earthquakes, Eruptions, and Climate Change”
Earlier this year, I wrote about the violations of human rights by the Iranian regime and its impacts on the “Iran Deal” as a framework to restrain Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. The conclusion of that analysis was to push leaders to start delving into question of what will achieve security and safety for all on the global stage. Today, I will revisit with a different approach, through examining the impacts of the long discussions regarding the future of Iran Nuclear Deal. Two questions arise: Why are the European allies devoting so much attention to the future of the deal, and what are the implications of backing out from the agreement? Continue reading “The Iran Deal: Shaky Future, Uncertain Repercussions”
This article has a set of discussion questions tailored for classroom use. Click here to download them. To see a full list of articles with discussion questions and other resources, visit our “Educational Resources” page.
NPR recently reported on the efforts of scientists who are growing small and “extremely rudimentary versions of an actual human brain” by transforming human skin cells into neural stem cells and letting them grow into structures like those found in the human brain. These tissues are called cerebral organoids but are more popularly known as “minibrains.” While this may all sound like science fiction, their use has already led to new discoveries in the medical sciences.
The impetus for developing cerebral organoids comes from the difficult situation imposed on research into brain diseases. It is difficult to model complex conditions like autism and schizophrenia using the brains of mice and other animals. Yet, there are also obvious ethical obstacles to experimenting on live human subjects. Cerebral organoids provide a way out of this trap because they present models more akin to the human brain. Already, they have led to notable advances. Cerebral organoids were used in research into how the Zika virus disrupts normal brain development. The potential to use cerebral organoids to test future therapies for such conditions as schizophrenia, autism, and Alzheimer’s Disease seems quite promising.
The experimental use of cerebral organoids is still quite new; the first ones were successfully developed in 2013. As such, it is the right time to begin serious reflection on the potential ethical hurdles for research conducted on cerebral organoids. To that end, a group of ethicists, law professors, biologists, and neuroscientists recently published a commentary in Nature on the ethics of minibrains.
The commentary raises many interesting issues. Let us consider just three:
The prospect of conscious cerebral organoids
Thus far, the cerebral organoids experimented upon have been roughly the size of peas. According to the Nature commentary, they lack certain cell types, receive sensory input only in primitive form, and have limited connection between brain regions. Yet, there do not appear to be insurmountable hurdles to advances that will allow us to scale these organoids up into larger and more complex neural structures. As the brain is the seat of consciousness, scaled-up organoids may rise to the level of such sensitivity to external stimuli that it may be proper to ascribe consciousness to them. Conscious organisms sensitive to external stimuli can likely experience negative and positive sensations. Such beings have welfare interests. Whether we had ethical obligations to these organoids prior to the onset of feelings, it would be difficult to deny such obligations to them once they achieve this state. Bioethicists and medical researchers ought to develop principles to govern these obligations. They may be able to model them after our current approaches to research obligations regarding animal test subjects. However, it is likely the biological affinity between cerebral organoids and human beings will require significant departure from the animal test subject model.
Additionally, research into consciousness has not nailed down the neural correlates of consciousness. As such, we may not necessarily know if a particularly advanced cerebral organoid is likely to be conscious. Either we ought to purposefully slow the progress into developing complex cerebral organoids until we understand consciousness better, or we pre-emptively treat organoids as beings deserving moral consideration so that we don’t accidentally mistreat an organoid we incorrectly identify as non-conscious.
Cerebral organoids have also been developed in the brains of other animals. This gives the brain cells a more “physiologically natural” environment. According to the Nature commentary, cerebral organoids have been transplanted into mice and have become vascularized in the process. Such vascularization is an important step in the further development in size and complexity of cerebral organoids.
There appears to be a general aversion to the prospect of transplanting human minibrains into mice. Many perceive the creation of such human-animal hybrids (chimeras) as crossing the inviolable boundary between species. The transplantation of any cells of one animal, especially those of a human (and even more especially those of the brain cells of a human) may violate this sacred boundary.
An earlier entry on The Prindle Post approached the vexing issues of the creation of human-animal chimeras. It appeared that much of the opposition to chimeras was based in part on an objection to “playing God.” Though some have ridiculed the “playing God” argument as based on “a meaningless, dangerous cliché,” people’s strong intuitions against the blurring of species boundaries ought to influence policies put in place to govern such research. If anything, this will help tamp down a strong public backlash.
Changing definitions of death
Cerebral organoids may also threaten the scientific and legal consensus around defining death as the permanent cessation of organismic functioning and understanding the criterion in humans for this as the cessation of functioning in the whole brain. This consensus itself developed in response to emerging technologies in the 1950’s and 1960’s enabling doctors to maintain the functioning of a person’s cardio-pulmonary system after their brain had ceased functioning. Because of this technological change, the criterion of death could no longer be the stopping of the heart. What if research into cerebral organoids and stem cell biology enables us to restore some functions of the brain to a person already declared brain dead? This undercuts the notion that brain death is permanent and may force us to revisit the consensus on death once again.
Minibrains raise many other ethical issues not considered in this brief post. How should medical researchers obtain consent from the human beings who donate cells that are eventually turned into cerebral organoids? Will cerebral organoids who develop feelings need to be appointed legally empowered guardians to look after their interests? Who is the rightful owner of these minibrains? Let us get in front of these ethical questions before science sets its own path.
In April of this year, scientists from the Alfred Wegener Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research reported finding record amounts of plastic particles in the Arctic sea. Ice core samples were taken from five regions in the area. Up to 12,000 pieces of micro-plastic particles per liter of ice were found in the samples. Scientists believe that much of the plastic, cigarettes butts, and other debris came from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of floating waste occupying 600,000 square miles between Hawaii and California.
Plastics in the sea pose substantial dangers for ecosystems and marine life. As evidence of this fact, earlier this year, a dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Spain. Scientists concluded that it was death by garbage—64 pounds of plastics and other waste were found in the young whale’s stomach.
I’ve always thought there was a problem with cheerleading. However great they are as athletes and dancers, cheerleaders give the impression that a woman’s place on an athletic field is to cheer on the men. But now we’re learning that there are also problems for cheerleaders. NFL cheerleaders are subject to a truly bizarre list of conduct requirements, as well as regular sexual harassment.
The story has been told in a series of New York Times articles (April 4, April 10, April 17, April 17, and April 24), but perhaps most compellingly in this interview of Bailey Davis, a former New Orleans Saints cheerleader, on the New York Times podcast, “The Daily.”
For nearly 30 years, The Simpsons has been making tongue-in-cheek jokes and chronicling, albeit satirically, the American way of life. As the longest-running cartoon in American television history, the show has had generational range in its influence, which is a rare feat in a modern, Netflix-binging society. In many ways, The Simpsons set the precedent for satirical cartoons and sitcoms to come, with its exaggerated depictions of the stereotypical American family. But it is not only the American family that The Simpsons has stereotyped in the last 29 years; they have also targeted characters ranging from CEOs to clowns. Continue reading “From Minstrel Shows to The Simpsons: Racism in American Comedy”