I am Infinitely Less Holier Than Thou…

You know, people have given me a lot to think about. It is becoming more and more obvious that for many of you, the debate about religion vs atheism has little to do with actual rights, intelligence, violence, or anything of any relevance whatsoever, and more to do with being right, people trying to feel better about themselves, and, of course getting their own way.

I’ve heard some really stupid religiously motivated garbage. Non-believers should perish. The believer is more important than the non-believer. God told me to kill those people. God’s wants me to persecute them. It is impossible for a non-believer to be good. Associate with sinners and you’ll go to hell.

Dancing is of the devil. (no, I kid you not – life is stranger than fiction.) I’ve read a lot of religious texts. And I’ve realized that what many people get out of them is what *they* want to take from them. They are all written in a metaphorical style, and as a result, they are all highly subject to interpretation. And this is where, in this humble bloggers opinion, people go wrong.

That’s not to say that the other side is blame free. I keep hearing Atheists talking about having their rights violated by religious zealots. For things that are ridiculously just trivial. And then gleefully sliding down that slippery slope to whatever conclusions gets their knickers all a-twist. Yet the same people turn around and say that *nobody* should not be allowed to pray in schools, as if it’s an infringement of their rights if someone should dare say a few “Hail Mary’s” in their presence, or say Grace before a meal. Meanwhile, a person can cuss up a storm, regardless of who may happen to find swearing offensive, then stick their nose in the air and say “Freedom of speech!” and everyones lips snap shut.

And then theres things like this: “Why are atheist mad? Because it’s religions people are pretentious! It’s as if they think they are better than us!” Yes, I’ve actually heard that said. Meanwhile, The very same atheist are calling religious people stupid for believing in what they believe to be the equivalent of the tooth fairy. As if belittling anothers belief system was not at all condescending in any way. Yeah. Right.

It’s one thing to say that everyone should be given the choice whether to pray or not, but I hear some of you saying that ALL RELIGION must be removed from schools, hospitals, etc, and that is just going to the opposite extreme. Might as well ban cussing, swearing, spitting, eating red meat, smoking, drinking, etc, etc, etc. Yes it sounds extreme, but this is exactly the same type of legislation many atheists would like to see with respect to religion. And if that happens, you can all just call me Plissken.

Who is really looking down on whom, I wonder? My personal take? Both camps are being selfish, pretentious, illogical and intolerant. Religious folks cannot blame “sinners/nonbelievers” for all that is wrong in the world. I know many nonreligious folks who are much better, higher quality people, than quite a few Christians I know.

Conversely, atheists cannot blame “Religion” for everything either. The acts of a few fanatics do not represent “religion” as a whole, and and even if they did, proposing complete religious prohibition would still be prejudice. “Because it could possibly offend someone.” is not a good rational to make something illegal. Why do people not get that? Everyone is offended by something these days. If we follow that train of thought, everything would be illegal.

It seems very few people these days seem to truly understand the meaning of balance and tolerance.

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]

The RIAA Strikes Again!

In an interesting first, the RIAA has actually won an honest-to-goodness trial against a suspected file sharer:

 The Recording Industry Association of America won its first trial this week when a jury ordered Jammie Thomas of Duluth, Minnesota to pay $220,000 to six separate record companies — Sony BMG, Arista Records, Interscope Records, UMG Recordings, Capitol Records, and Warner Bros. Records. The amount covers 24 copyrighted songs illegally downloaded on her computer. – [Yahoo/TechWeb]

Now given the inconsistencies in her testimony, if I were a betting man, I’d say she was in fact guilty. However the damages were absolutely outrageous. And regardless of what anyone says, this win does not legitimize the tactics the RIAA has been using to hunt down suspect file sharers over the past 4 years. The moment they started suing people regardless of whether they were actually engaged in file sharing or not, the RIAA started committing extortion.

It is clear to me that the actions of the RIAA is no longer about managing copyrights. They are about income, plain and simple. And the damages are entirely out of control. Throw a bunch of people, half of whom might as well have been luddites, into a jury, and the RIAA can get away with anything.

RIAA Victory Sends Message But Won’t Stop File-Sharing – [Yahoo/TechWeb]

The Southwest Airlines morality police…

You know it never ceases to amaze me how seem to think that immorality can be controlled by censorship. Censorship breeds ignorance. Nothing more. And if one day those who have been shielded from the  vices of life should come face to face with it,  do you think that their ignorance will provide them with the mental tools to deal with it correctly? I If were to hazard a guess, I’d say… no.

Americans are really quick to claim to our “individual freedoms”. However too often it seems like everybody thinks that the term “Individual Freedoms” extend no further than their own person. On an almost daily basis I see people trying to enforce their view of morality upon others, and in the process,  trample underfoot the very values they claim to hold dear, restricting what others can and cannot say, write or, for that matter, wear:

 23-year-old woman who boarded a Southwest Airlines plane in a short skirt for a flight to Arizona says she was led off the plane for wearing an outfit that was considered too skimpy.

“You’re dressed inappropriately. This is a family airline. You’re too provocative to fly on this plane,” she quoted the employee as saying.

The employee felt the outfit “revealed too much” but was placated after Ebbert made adjustments that included covering her stomach, Mainz said. – [Yahoo/AP]

Now this raises so many issues in my head that it’s almost mind boggling.  Like who determines what is considered too revealing? Too revealing for who? Is there wording in the airline contract that prohibits skimpy clothing? Did this employee have any legal right to even say anything to a passenger about this? Was this employee speaking for the company or was the employee using the airline to back up their own individual moral code?

Now these are all very important moral and legal questions. But what is not so obvious are the underlying assumptions that go into a statement like “This is a family airline. You’re too provocative to fly on this plane.” Are we to assume that family values prohibits the exposure of ones midriff on a plane? And whose values might those be?

And more importantly, shouldn’t the parents of said hypothetical “family” be able to explain to the youth of that family the right and wrong with any given attire? What I am asking, in a kind of round about way, is this: Why do people feel the need to shift the responsibility of parenting to everyone else but the parents? Why did this lady have to endure the humiliation she did?

Notwithstanding that fact that a persons dress code is not an accurate indicator of their morals, I believe that any responsible parent should have taught thier children what is considered appropriate clothing in that particular household, and so this should not have been an issue.

And I mean no offense, but it is only those parents who have not taught their kids what is right and wrong, and how to tell the difference, or who are afraid to openly discuss these topics when they come up (say, while buckling in for a short plane ride) that will have problems with this. And that will be because they are not parenting properly, not because of how someone is or isn’t dressed.

Others should not have to bear the burden of parents who don’t really understand what being a parent means. It is not easy. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But no parent should have the right to impinge on anothers’ freedoms just to make the job easier. The end result will be ignorant children, living in a confusing world, without the tools to make the right decisions when faced with crises.

Airline tells woman her outfit won’t fly – [Yahoo/AP]

Our Rights: The Overlapping Gray Areas…

I just read an interesting article that illustrates a common, but not so visited aspect of our much valued “personal freedoms”. They are not as clearly defined many like to think:

For Dwight DeGolia’s neighbors, the last straw was the fake palm trees.

The 62-year-old retiree had spent years fixing up the sliver of sloping land outside his home, adding two putting greens that were almost 30 feet long, a small creek and a gazebo.

But the 8- to 12-foot palm trees made it impossible for neighbors to ignore DeGolia’s project anymore, a passion that they said was making the neighborhood look tacky and led them to take DeGolia to court.

Cities and neighborhood associations have struggled for years with how to handle situations in which eccentric people with a penchant for lawn decoration get into fights with nearby homeowners.

The battles often feature issues that are far from straightforward, such as whose property rights are more important — the woman who fancies dozens of cupid statues on her front lawn, or the next door neighbor who has to look at it? – [Yahoo/AP]

I thought I’d talk about this because it’s one of those areas that I think that American culture just doesn’t give enough attention to. The first and most important thing to remember is that, human beings are, at the same time, social, and very, very different.

Regardless of our intentions, so long as we have to interact with others whose beliefs, backgrounds, upbringing, etc., may be worlds apart from our own, we may do things to offend. Unfortunately, this can happen, even when we are exercising our “personal freedoms”.

Any good American will say that we all believe that our personal freedoms should be protected, and must remain inviolate. And in theory, this is good and admirable. Except for one, very large, problem. The idea of isolating and protecting an individuals personal rights is not always a realistic (nor universally practical) goal, since, in any social community, the areas of each of our individual rights overlap. Massively.

And unfortunately, being the litigation happy people that we are, we forget some of the lessons our parents taught us when we were growing up. You know, the ones about compromise? Sharing? We have become so selfish, that we will fight, tooth and nail, to the death, to do what we want to do, claiming justification under the flag of our “Individual Rights”.

We tend to completely ignore the fact that the person we may be in contention with, may have an equally valid right to say, do, or express whatever it is they feel the need to do at the time. Now I honestly believe that, with freedom, comes great responsibility. And, unfortunately, equally great sacrifice.

Everybody wants to have their freedom. But nobody wants to bear the responsibility, or have to be the one to sacrifice something. I believe that the idea of individual freedoms isn’t about each if us getting what we want. It is about trying to make sure that everyone, not just you, has a chance to get what they want.

We have to learn to compromise, be considerate of others. Try and resolve our differences. Be willing to listen. Be willing to compromise. Everyone should be willing to sacrifice something. Perhaps a little more this time, maybe a little less next time. It will change from case to case. And there are not perfect solutions.

But the willingness to compromise should be there, if we really all truly believe in the concept of individual rights. No ones rights should exist to exclusivity of all others. And until we learn that lesson, I think we will all just be going through the motions, and paying lip service to the concept of “Individual rights”. It will be a catchy phrase, nothing more.

And I don’t think we really want that as a nation. But that’s just my opinion.

Yard art is in eye of beholder and court – [Yahoo/AP]

What kind of kids are we raising?

I think that America, as a culture, we have started down a long slippery slope towards self imprisonment. We are stripping away from ourselves the very freedoms we hold dear. I see it every day. Even in some of the most innocuous things:

On the playground of a northern Colorado Springs elementary school, tag is not “it.”

The touch-and-run game and any other form of chasing was banned this year at Discovery Canyon Campus’ elementary school by administrators who say it fuels schoolyard disputes.

“It causes a lot of conflict on the playground,” said Assistant Principal Cindy Fesgen. In the first days of school, before tag was banned, she said students would complain to her about being chased or harassed.

Fesgen said she would hear: “Well, I don’t want to be chased, but he won’t stop chasing me, or she won’t stop chasing me.” – [The Colorado Springs Gazette]

Is this what we want our kids to do? How do we expect our kids to learn anything about people and life, if every time they run into a problem we ban it wholesale? How are they going to learn how to deal with each other? Learn how to handle people and their idiosyncracies? When will they understand that not everything is going to go our way, and that not everything is under our control?

And even worse, how do we teach those kids what they can and cannot do? How do we teach kids that you cannot harass someone just because? Banning tag isn’t going to teach that. All this teaches them is if you don’t like it, get it banned. No tolerance, no patience, no  understanding. Nothing else will be learned by this action. The playground will have one less game, and the children will have one less avenue  to learn about others and themselves.

 Nationally, several schools have done away with tag and other games because of the accidents and arguments they can lead to. It’s a trend that has rankled some parents and childhood experts who say games such as tag contribute to children’s social and physical development. – [The Colorado Springs Gazette]

Apparently, even childhood experts can see the flaw in this way of thinking. And yet we have schools, communities, cities, states and even federal legislation that allow exactly the same thing to happen on a national level. What’s the betting that this is all fueled by the same mentality? People don’t seem to be able to see the big picture. It may sound like an unlikely slippery slope, but at the rate we are going, sooner or later, we will legislate ourselves out of our own personal freedoms.

Believe it or not. Your choice. But I have seen enough insanity to tell me that it’s possible. I can only hope we either come to our senses, or I’m not around when we finally lock ourselves in and throw away the key…

Springs elementary gives tag a timeout – [Colorado Springs Gazette]

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]

The RIAAs Worms Turn!

The RIAA seems to be a prominent fixture in the online media these days. And given that they seem to have adopted the rather short sighted strategy of knowingly suing both guilty as well as innocent members of the very demographics that they could have been legitimately making a lot of money from, it isn’t hard to see why. But now it seems that they may truly be getting ready to experience a full size serving of their own brand of justice:

In cases which should by rights have been initiated by the Bush government on behalf of innocent families across America, falsely attacked by Warner Music, EMI, Vivendi Universal and Sony BMG, RIAA victims Tanya Andersen and Michelle Santangelo are determined to make the Big 4, as well as companies involved in the sue ‘em all morass, pay, literally and figuratively, for the distress they’ve caused and are still causing.

Go Tanya and Michelle! Though I have some reservations about the long term repercussions of Michelles’ legal approach, ( I think the justification for her claims and the resulting targets are only half right) , I was suitably convinced by Tanya’s list of complaints:

Her amended complaint is impressive. She’s citing negligence, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, federal and state RICO, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, trespass, invasion of privacy, libel and slander, deceptive business practices, misuse of copyright law, and civil conspiracy. – [p2pnet.net]

Wow. It looks like the RIAA is getting ready to have the book thrown at them. As I have said on many occasions, I have always felt that the big entertainment industries had all the right in the world to try and protect their business from pirates.

However I think they crossed the line when they started attacking any technology that could be used for file sharing, especially when these same technologies have proven so beneficial for so many other legitimate purposes. Even more heinous was the decision to sue people, en mass, without any kind of conclusive evidence, and use their legal and financial clout to extort them into settling.

What was the worst was when it became obvious that they were knowingly subjecting innocent people to this form of legalized extortion. I kinda think that they were definitely asking for this. And to be honest, the first line of the article actually echoes my sentiments exactly. Why has this obviously monopolistic corporate activity been ignored by the federal government? I am really interesting in seeing how this turns out.

RIAA named in first class action – [p2pnet.net]

The “Pirates” take a stand…

An interesting movement seems to have spawned the desert of Utah. The US arm of a group calling themselves the “Pirate Party”, has proclaimed their intent to become a legitimate political party:

Yesterday, the Pirate Party of the United States announced its intention to register as a political body in Utah, its first move into American state politics. The fledgling Utah operation is now accepting “statements of support,” needing 200 voter signatures for official registration.

“Our basic mission is to restore a lot of the civil liberties that have been eroded in the name of profit, including privacy, free speech, and due process,” Ray Jenson, the interim administrator for what may become the Pirate Party of Utah, told El Reg.

He has his sights set on the DMCA, the U.S. law that protects online intellectual property, and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade group that quite likes the DMCA. “Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, there have been numerous erosions of liberties since it went into effect almost a decade ago,” Jenson said. “Number one on the list is the RIAA’s litigation” against P2P services and the people who use them. – [The Register]

Given the amount of abuse the entertainment industry has been dishing out lately, it is almost no surprise that this group exists, though I will admit I had never heard of them until today. However, I honestly believe that the entertainment industry, in particular the MPAA and the RIAA have been abusing the law.

I do agree that the RIAA and MPAA have the right to take actions to protect their investments. However I also believe that they have been using this as an excuse to violate the rights of others. They have embarked on what is little more than an extortion campaign, or litigation terrorism, in the name of curtailing piracy.

While I agree that piracy is a problem, it seems like nobody has been looking out for the innocent victims that have been needlessly terrorized by the MPAA/RIAA. While groups like the ACLU have been vocal about the issues, it appears that their efforts have done little to helped those who have been the unjust focus of the entertainment industries legal might. It’s about time there was an organization dedicate to this cause. I will be watching these “Pirates” closely…

Pirate Party invades Utah – [The Register]