How can people be so blind?

So I was moseying around on YouTube a couple of days ago, and I ran into an interesting video. Obviously the guys in the vid were trying to make some point about gun control. However I think their perspective is entirely irrational. Here’s the video in question:

The comment I am talking about occurs at about 1:20. And I quote:

So this is the deal right, this is why there is so much instability in Somalia. The NRA’s got it wrong, like, guns don’t kill people, AK-47′s kill people.

Orly? I am constantly amazed by how much misdirection is fed to the general public by the gun control lobby, and those who claim that guns are the source of many of societies ills. AK-47s are the cause of instability in Somalia? So how about poverty? How about greed? Corruption? Apathy?

If any of these folks had actually lived in a poor developing country, gotten to know the people, and made even a token effort to understand how the economics of the country affects the people of any country torn by poverty, civil war and strife, they would realize that these guns are simply a means to an end. Survival. Protection. Control. Nothing more, nothing less.

And if you argue that the proliferation of “cheap” weapons makes it difficult to stabilize the region, then you are simply advertising your own ignorance. Before there were cheaply obtainable firearms, there were machetes, cutlasses and knives, and exactly the *same* amount of violence.  If not worse. It is the poverty, the need to survive, or to fight the oppression that results from corruption and greed, that creates instability. Not the firearms.

In fact, if we look at firearm ownership in the good ‘ol U.S. of A, you can clearly see that it is not simply the presence or abundance of firearms that cause problems. There are an estimated 250 million firearms in the country. And that is not counting military, law enforcement, unregistered, or black market firearms. Now here’s the thing. As of the time of this post there are an estimated 350 million men women and children in the country.

If we count every single gun in the country, that would easily make one firearm per household. In actuality, surveys show that most gun owners own multiple guns, who are estimated to make up anywhere between 25% to 50% of the US populace. And given the recent surge in gun ownership, my guess is that number is probably closer to 50%.

In contrast, in Somalia, for instance, over 60% of a population of roughly 10 million, live well below poverty. They couldn’t afford to buy a gun even if they wanted to. And I would be willing to bet that, out of the remaining 40% living above poverty, only a fraction of them make enough to own a firearm. But even if each and every Somali that could afford it owned a firearm, that would still mean that at most, 40% of Somalis own one.

So given the 10% greater (and that’s conservatively speaking) percentage of the American populace owning firearms, If firearms cause these problems, and lend to political instability, why are we not constantly engaged in constant civil war? Why is America relatively stable? Well, I’d argue that it’s because the guns themselves have no influence on the nature of the people. If the people for any reason, are moved to violence, then it doesn’t matter what weapons are available.

Somalia, and many countries like it, are in civil strife because of the environment, and the people. Not the guns. Poverty, religious beliefs, cultural strife, political power, greed and hatred are what motivate them. And they will continue to war with themselves until the learn how to overcome those internal conflicts. Regardless of whether they use AK-47s, machetes, or sticks and stones.

The truly observant will notice that the kinds of violence we see in poor developing countries only exists in isolated pockets of America. It is seen only in areas where the same level of poverty, strife, corruption and cultural tension exists. It is an easy pattern to spot, if you are really looking to solve problems, rather than chasing ghosts and looking for quick fixes or scapegoats.

It is always disappointing to see how much time, energy and cash the gun control lobby pumps into trying to get weapons off the streets, when the real problems are poverty, lack of education, prejudice, etc. These people are not about making the world better. They might believe that they are, however they are simply trying to eliminate anything that scares them, anything they do not understand. Regardless of how it might affect anyone else.

It is really a shame.

The Battle of Good and Evil…

Today I read (watched actually) the 666th post on the blog (or yolog) on the Blog of the Angry Aussie. For his 666th post, he decided to talk about the concepts of good and evil. Well worth listening to what he said if you have a few minutes, because he makes some excellent points.

If I understand what he is saying correctly, he feels that the ideas of Good and Evil are abstractions that have no real definable meaning, and that because of that, there is no such thing as absolute good, or absolute Evil. He raised some good points, with some compelling examples, such as the Nazis, and how none of them thought they were evil, and how evil actions are really a matter of perspective rather than any concrete idea.

But while I agree with a lot of what he said, I do disagree on some of the fundamental implications of his position. Hence this post. I do believe there is a universal definition of Good and a universal definition of Evil. And no, I’m not talking about universal good/evil in relation to, (for Instance) God, and the forces of good fighting against the devil and the forces of evil. I’m talking about how we define the basic earthbound humans daily battle with the moral and ethical questions that drive our actions.

There are a lot of things that are universal in this world. Laws of energy, nature, physics, etc. are inviolate. When we break one of those laws, it isn’t because we really broke it, but rather because we didn’t truly understand it to begin with. I think that universally applicable concepts of good and evil exist in the same way.

I believe that there must be some universally acceptable idea of good and evil, otherwise we would not be able to recognize the individual instances of one from the other, regardless of our individual beliefs. I think that this is a very important point. I think our problem is that we really do not understand the idea of what “Good” or “Evil” truly means at a universal level.

What this means to me, is that the biggest mistake people make with respect to defining good and evil is that they apply too specific a filter on what they consider good and what they consider evil. It is often a function of their cultural or religious belief system, or their cultural morals, or social normalcy, or any random thing they were brought up to believe.

None of these, from my perspective, are good ways to determine the benevolence or malevolence of a person or action, because they are all rooted in a human way of thinking that assumes the thinker understands the difference, or is the good guy. I believe that in order to truly define good and evil as universal concepts, we must learn to think outside of our petty differences, and in terms of a much, much broader picture, otherwise our definition of Good and Evil will, by definition, not be universal in any way, shape or form.

But then the question becomes, is it possible for a human to think in such broad terms? Well, I think so. After all, there are social laws that are universal. Laws that do exist, in one form or another, regardless of religion creed or belief system. A typical example is “The Golden Rule”. Do unto others and all that jazz.

Lets take Mr. A and the example of the Nazi’s. Sure, Nazi’s Germans never woke up every moring and said, “Today would be a great day to be evil.” No, they justified what they did using some altruistic sounding, though heinously misguided, rationalization.

Clearly, your average German walking the streets of Germany today would consider what the Nazis did evil. But why did the Germans of the time not think so? Was it because of a different perspective? And if it was, was that a reasonable perspective?

My answer to the first question is: because they were lying to themselves. And to the last two: No. No way in hell. Why? Because they violated the golden rule. Unless it makes sense to you that if another culture considers yours inferior, that they ought to take the initiative to wipe yours off the face of the earth, nobody can argue that it was a “good” thing.

It’s amazing how quickly peoples perspectives become irrelevant if you correctly apply the Golden Rule to the scenario. Things that people say makes sense suddenly contradict themselves under that paradigm, and the theoretical complications brought about by “differences in perspective” suddenly don’t mean much.

My point here is this. If a concept as simple, as straightforward and easy to apply (if you aren’t lying to yourself) as the Golden Rule, can be applied so universally, regardless of culture, creed and/or belief, then there must be some universal way to define actions that fall in line with the golden rule, and actions that violate it.

And if that exists, then, to my thinking, it follows that there must be some concrete definition to universal Good, and universal Evil… I think that most of us are usually just too egocentric to properly define it…

666-The nature of evil – [Angry Aussie]

Warrantless Wiretapping and You…

I must say, I was rather blindsided by the recent warrantless wiretapping move by Bush and the Justice department. I have been even more intrigued by the many varied and interesting takes on it’s legality. However after looking at all the different sides of the argument, I am confronted by some rather disturbing points that lead me to a rather disturbing conclusion.

Among the articles I read was an interesting article by a Harvard Political Review writer who makes the seemingly irrefutable claim that not only are warrantless wiretaps legal, but they are necessary. The article makes a strong argument for the legality of the new law, however I couldn’t help but notice that it made some rather glaring assumptions in two important aspects. It seems to make the president entirely immune to the law, and it does not actually explain why this is even necessary…

Is the president not subject to the law?

First, the fact that any legislative change had to occur for this would indicate that it was not legal prior to the enactment of these changes. This would mean that Bush had, in fact, committed a crime, and is In effect, rewriting the laws to make his actions legal after the fact.

I don’t know about you, but I was not aware that as president of the United States of America, you were allowed to do whatever you wanted. Yes, as president, you are vested with much more power than the average citizen. But You are still a citizen, and STILL beholden unto the law. In fact the president should be even more so than the average citizen.

I find it irritating that Bush is treating the law of this country like his own personal diary, and Ignores and rewrites them to suit his purposes. This last act is just another in a long string of actions to legitimize actions that would clearly have been illegal had he been subject to the same laws as everyone else. If the president of the United states is simply allowed to change laws whenever it suits their fancy, then the laws become meaningless.

Is it really necessary?

Now even if we disregard the legality of his actions, there is still the issue of the actual need for such a law. This new legislation ostensibly makes it OK for anyones privacy to be invaded without explanation or accountability, so long as it is for the purposes of international surveillance. Here’s what makes no sense to me. The whole purpose of the warrant, as I see it, is to demonstrate a valid need for such an invasion of privacy to occur. This step is needed in order to prevent the abuse of innocent civillians on a random whim. It is there to prevent the needless violation of an American Citizens rights.

Why, exactly, would the government see the need to be able to wiretap anyones phone without a warrant? I do not get this part. Is the government unable to carry out wiretapping programs because of the current laws? And if so, why would that be? Perhaps because they would be illegal otherwise? And is there not a good reason for it’s illegality? Why is it so damaging (according to Bush) to have legal oversight of his international wiretapping programs?

Lets face it, these wiretaps are primarily going to be on US soil, so don’t kid yourself, this is just as much about the legalization of the violation of the rights of American Citizens as it is about fighting terror. Personally, I see no advantages of warrantless wiretaps. And what’s even more telling, is that in spite of the massive media coverage on the issue, there is precious little discussed by anyone, about why, exactly, warrantless wiretaps are a useful, effective and necessary anti-terrorism tool. In fact, I could find no articles that convincingly covered any good solid benefits to it. None. Not one.

Don’t beleive me? Try it yourself. And I’m not talking about the possible benefits of wiretaps on US soil. I mean any concrete reasoning and or evidence/proven benefits for warrantless wiretaps as opposed to the judicially approved warrant based approach. Go look for yourself. And please come back and tell me I’m wrong. Because what really bugs me (pun intended) is that this law effectively also opens the door for a wide range of other wiretap programs that they need not tell anyone about. You do the math.

My conclusion…

There are only two possible advantages I see to this, and neither of them are particularly encouraging good.

First, there is effectively no legal accountablility. None. If you are not required to get a warrant, you don’t have to justify your actions, and you can effectively do whatever you want. This is not a good thing. That process exists to prevent mistakes, keep people in authority in check, and most of all, make sure no laws are broken. Now… Nada.

The second, and rather galling reason, in this bloggers humble opinion, is that under the new law, Bush can no longer be held liable for his illegal actions. My take? There is no need for Warrantless Wiretaps. The prez is simply trying to avoid massive lawsuits…

Obama’s support for the FISA “compromise” – [Salon.com]
Senate Approves Bill to Broaden Wiretap Powers – [New York Times]
Bush’s Wiretapping: Legal and Necessary – [Harvard Political Review]
NSA WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE PROGRAM – [Federation of American Scientists]
Three Media Mistakes on Warrantless Wiretapping – [Electronic Frontier Foundation]
The Threat to our Freedoms: President Bushs Authorization of Warrantless Wiretapping – [Espionage Unlimited]

Be careful what you say in kindergarten. It might come back to haunt you…

Well I thought I’d seen it all, but in the realm of political dirt slinging, this is the most hilarious thing I’ve ever read:

 Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign has used words attributed to Sen. Barack Obama from when he was a kindergartner — and from when he was in third grade — to accuse him of “rewriting history” when he says he hasn’t been planning for a long time to run for president. -[USA Today Political Blog]

So apparently Hilary Clinton’s latest round of mud slinging is citing an essay Barack Obama wrote while in an Indonesian kindergarten. In kindergarten folks. Kindergarten.  Apparently this is proof of his disingenuity, since he claimed to have started his political drive for the presidency much, much later in life. She might as well have said “My dad can beat up your dad”, given the juvenile quality of that argument.

Seriously, how many of you wanted to be president when you were in kindergarten? Please by show of hands. Put your hand up dagnabbit. Yes, you, in the tee shirt, I’m talking to you. We all know you wanted the presidency when you were in kindergarten. And you are clearly not raising your hand. Yes, I can see you ya little dweeb. Raise that grubby little paw or I’ll come over there and do it for you. And I can guarantee you don’t want that. And you, yes you in the dress shirt, you too… Thank you. You can all put your hands down.

OK now by show of hands, (don’t make me call you out again. You know who you are…) how many of you ran for the presidency after when you became a legal adult? After you bought your first car? First house? Got married? Had kids? After the kids left for college? Uh huh. That’s what I thought…

You bunch of low down, dirty, conniving, lying, scum bags…

Clinton digs into Obama’s kindergarten musings – [USA Today Political Blog]

Naked Politics. Ummm… No.

First we have an obsession with Hilary Clintons cleavage, and now the political “full monty”? Is this what politics have come down to?:

More Australian voters would like to see Labor Opposition leader Kevin Rudd naked than their current prime minister, John Howard, a poll showed on Sunday just two weeks out from a hard-fought general election. – [Yahoo/Reuters]

Granted this was an Australian poll, but still, somehow, politicians and nudity in the same sentence? Just not working for me. Seriously. Some people have waaaay too much time on their hands…

Which politician do voters want to see nude? – [Yahoo/Reuters]

More car crushing idiocy…

It would appear that Australia is taking a page from Californias law book of senseless and excessive practices:

Street racers in Australia will soon see their beloved cars being deliberately smashed by the authorities in videos posted on the Internet.

The often flashy, souped-up vehicles will be wrecked in crash tests under laboratory conditions, the New South Wales state government announced. – [Yahoo/AFP]

Now I’m sure some of you out there are thinking “Serves them right!”, but I assure you, this law is not a good thing. There is a reason this hasn’t been done in the past. This is technically a violation of an individuals rights. When convicted killers go to prison, even they do not have their belongings destroyed. They may be confiscated and cataloged, but they get them back when they get out. If they get out.

So how exactly can anyone think that this is a fair penalty for any lesser crime? I’d rather impose this penalty for drunk drivers, rather than street racers. At least the street racers are actually in full control of their faculties, and some of them (let me iterate the *some*) are actually really good drivers. The same cannot be said for drunks. But the kicker is that ultimately, as a deterrent, it wouldn’t work for that either.

These kinds of knee-jerk, intimidation-based legislative decisions set very dangerous precedents that could have very profound future ramifications. And to top it off, it’s not like this is going to deter anyone from street racing anyway. Most of the folks who street race will do it regardless of the penalties. Literally. These laws are little more than public displays to make others feel like something is being done about the problem, when in fact, it will have little effect on any hard core racers.

However to their credit, the Australians have adopted a better use for the vehicles than just crushing them. They will be used for crash tests. Which is orders of magnitude better than Californias pointless “crush ‘em all” solution. But both laws are seriously troublesome. The law will have to be very specific on what constitutes “street racing”, and even then I’m sure many police officers will still abuse it, much like how the “aggressive driving” box is seemingly checked on tickets at will, as opposed to, let’s say, the tickets of drivers who actually meet the legal definition of “aggressive driving”…

Aussie street racers to see cars crashed by govt – [Yahoo/AFP]

Laaaaaaaw, is a many splendored thiiiiiing… Not.

OK, forgive my musical refrain. I ran across an article today that kinda illustrated how important it is that the laws be objective, not morally motivated, and constantly revised to stay current with the changing times:

Dying in parliament is an offence and is also by far the most absurd law in Britain, according to a survey of nearly 4,000 people by a television channel showing a legal drama series.

And though the lords were clad in their red and white ermine cloaks and ambassadors from around the world wore colourful national costumes, at least nobody turned up in a suit of armour. Illegal. – [Yahoo/AFP]

Obviously many of these laws probably had some practical logic to them when they were made, and merely suffered from being too broad or too specific in scope. However the same is true of many of the laws on the books today. They are based on historical or social standards that are either obsolete or irrelevant today.

On the other side of the coin, there are laws placed on the books, that are simply poorly thought out. Most often emotional the result of knee-jerk reactions by over zealous lawmakers. For instance banning baggy pants? No tag in school? No hugs?!? Seriously, how is banning baggy pants supposed to reduce the crime rate of a city? (see <Dumb Laws.com> for a big list of really wacky laws… Fair warning, you may laugh yourself into oblivion :) )

But on a more serious note, the law has become a means for activists to push their own agendas, as opposed to protecting the society at large, and no, the two are not the same thing. An equitable legal system does not discriminate against anyone on the bases of race, color, creed, beliefs, etc, so it is absolutely ludicrous that any one should have to face prosecution simply because of their choice of clothes. What we are seeing is an abuse of the legal system. And it really needs to stop.

Die and you’re under arrest! Britain’s most stupid laws – [Yahoo/AFP]

Contrary Clergymen

You know, I am fully aware that priests are human beings, just like everyone else. But I’d hope that, once you became a man/woman of the cloth, you would at least try to leave behind the things that us regular folks are prone to do. But given some of the news I’ve been reading lately, I’m not sure there is any significance to being a priest anymore.

You have perverted priests, priests being annoying, bell ringing farts, priests engaging in petty feminism, and even priests who are, apparently, not above a little drinking, driving and brawling:

Priest Manuel Raul Ortega, who was not wearing clerical dress but was clutching a prayer book when captured, launched himself at the traffic cop who pulled him over earlier this week.

“The individual became very violent because they were going to tow away his car. He attacked a policeman and was taken away,” said transit department spokesman Hector Lozano on Thursday. – [Yahoo/Reuters]

Yes the Church welcomes everyone with open arms. I know. They are only human. Indeed. And they aren’t cops or government officials. But members of the clergy are often looked up to as the moral pillars of a community, and I’m beginning to think that, much like that Indian judge who was sentenced to take law school all over again, these clergymen/women might benefit from another stint in seminary school…

Drunken priest punches cop, jailed – [Yahoo/Reuters]

Presidential ignorance is a curse…

You may remember many moons ago I posted about American citizenship, and whether or not a citizenship exam should include questions on things like sports, world events, and cultural awareness. Now in this bloggers humble opinion, these things are not a true measure of whether or not a person will be a good American.

I would rather have every aspiring American citizen take an ethics test and be done with it. In fact I’d like to see every young American, not just immigrants be required to take a federally mandated ethics test when they reach legal age, before they are allowed to be considered a legal adult. I think the country would benefit from this more than anything else. The rest of it is almost inconsequential by comparison.

Almost. There are many positions where I think a broader, more comprehensive test of ones knowledge, ethics, social awareness and general knowledge of world events and character should be a mandatory requirement. High ranking police and military are a couple that come to mind some of them. Even your average street cop should ideally have comprehensive periodic psych evals, as well as more ethics and social training. But most important of all, President of the United States of America should be one of those positions that requires all of the above.

Before you ever get to see elections, or even start running for president, I think you should, at the very least, be able to demonstrate significantly above average ability on an IQ test, as well as a comprehensive knowledge of social, political and world issues. This should be a requirement for the position.

Why? Because ignorance has absolutely no place in a presidential office. No self respecting IT department would hire a professional bricklayer for their server administration. Nor would a construction company hire a nerd for manual labor. Why does the same not apply for the oval office? People with that kind of power need to know how to use it intelligently. And when I read some of the (many) questionable things our outgoing president has to say, It is clear to me that he is lacking in that department:

In a speech defending his administration’s Iraq policy, Bush said former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s brutality had made it impossible for a unifying leader to emerge and stop the sectarian violence that has engulfed the Middle Eastern nation.

“I heard somebody say, Where’s Mandela?’ Well, Mandela’s dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas,” – [Reuters]

Saddam killed all the Mandelas?!? You know, any country as great as this one really ought to be run by someone who has a modicum of awareness about important world leaders, events, issues, etc. I’m all for presidency being open to any American citizen, but shouldn’t there at least be some sort of IQ requirement? World knowledge? Social awareness? How about the basic ability to form coherent, meaningful and intelligent sentences?

The presidency should be open to everyone, but at the same time, becoming president should be a highly selective process. I don’t believe that it should be solely the domain of highly educated aristocrats though. Lord knows we don’t need more classism. But I think that maybe the presidency shouldn’t be an option for your common, average everyday ignoramus either…

Mandela still alive after embarrassing Bush remark – [Reuters]

Killers: Life, death, and the gray paradox in between…

Given that earlier today, I posted my opinion on what I think the criteria of a true “killer” is, I find it ironic that I should run across an article dealing with the ethics of the death penalty for a person who meets the legally circumscribed definition of a “Killer”:

“The European Union notes with great regret the upcoming execution in the State of Texas,” the Portuguese presidency of the 27-nation bloc said in a statement.

Texas is expected to hit the 400 mark on Wednesday — putting it far ahead of any other U.S. state — with the execution of Johnny Ray Conner for the 1998 shooting of a grocery store clerk.

The European Union, which on Tuesday called the death penalty “cruel and inhumane,” is opposed to all capital punishment and has called for its worldwide abolition.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the use of the death penalty serves as a deterrent against violent crime,” the statement said, adding that its irreversibility meant that miscarriages of justice could not be redressed. – [Yahoo/Reuters]

What I find most interesting about this article, is the EUs objection to the death penalty on the grounds that it:

  1. Has not proven to be a deterrent against violent crime.
  2. Is cruel and inhumane.

Oh really? I might actually have bought reason one, if the sole purpose of the death penalty was to be a deterrent to violent crime. But most of the people whom I think would think deserve the death penalty are people who could watch someone getting brutally massacred right before their eyes without batting an eye, and proceed to enjoy a steak dinner like nothing happened and then sleep like a baby that night. IMHO The death penalty is not a deterrent. It’s cleanup.

That’s not to say that the death penalty couldn’t be a good deterrent for the more normal types of killers. It’s just that nobody thinks it’s going to happen to them unless they actually see it happen, up close and personal. Humans are visual creatures. If you really want to make an impression on them, you have to show them. How many people you know have actually ever seen an execution occur? I’m willing to bet few to none. So how exactly is it intended to be a deterrent?

And point 2 is laughable at best. Is life in prison supposed to be less cruel than death? Sure you’ll be alive, but it won’t exactly be a picnic either. Many who get life ending up serving a reduced sentence anyway due to bing killed in prison. And inhumane? There are such things as humane executions. Is death by lethal injection inhumane? I don’t think so. If I had to go, what better way than to just fall asleep an never wake up again. Quick and painless. I don’t think it gets any more humane than that.

Now obviously, I have no intrinsic objections to the death penalty. There are some people who will never be able to function in a socially constructive way, and can never be rehabilitated. And I think these people only pose a continuing threat to the well being of everyone else, and can safely (in my opinion anyway) be removed from society. But there are problems.

The biggest problem, is the only valid objection I saw in the article. The fact that the death penalty is irreversible, and if there is a mistake there is no way to rectify it. I can’t argue that, because our legal system has many flaws. Innocent people are found guilty and the guilty walk free. On the basis of that alone, we ought to abolish the death penalty. Not because it’s not a good solution for eliminating incurably violent criminals from society, but because the system too flawed to accurately determine who really deserves that penalty.

The legal system, for all of it’s massive and highly detailed rules and regulations, is still run and decided by living, breathing, human people. Each person has different belief system, different ideas of right and wrong, and different thresholds and tolerances for things. And few cases feature objective and irrefutable evidence like a video camera or an audio tape that tells the whole story in an accurate and objective manner. The judge and jury often has to make assumptions and decisions based on assumptions. It’s just isn’t morally or ethically responsible to base anyones death on human assumptions and feelings.

But even if the system could determine with 100 percent accuracy who should get the chair, we can’t kid ourselves about what we are doing. There is a paradox to this way of thinking. We are, in effect murdering a person in cold blood. Yes, we are doing it to save the lives of others that we know could be killed if the killer is allowed to continue to live. But we are being killers ourselves, simply because do not have, and cannot come up with, a better solution. Imagine that. We have no imagination…

EU urges Texas to halt executions before 400 mark – [Yahoo/Reuters]