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]

Guns, violence, and you…

There’s an interesting case taking shape in Washington. It involves guns and the second amendment. Looky:

The justices are facing a decision about whether to hear an appeal from city officials in Washington, D.C., wanting to keep the capital’s 31-year ban on handguns. A lower court struck down the ban as a violation of the Second Amendment rights of gun ownership.

The prospect that the high court might define gun rights under the Constitution is making people on both sides of the issue nervous.

Are they now…?

Critics say the law has done little to curb violence, mainly because guns obtained legally from the district or through illegal means still are readily available.

And I just so happen to be one of those critics…

Heller said Washington remains a dangerous place to live. “People need not stand by and die,” he said in court papers.

And I would tend to agree…

He said the Second Amendment gives him the right to keep working guns, including handguns, in his home for his own protection. -[Yahoo/AP]

We shall see. To be perfectly honest, this whole debate makes no sense, and really overlooks the fundamentals of the problem at hand.

Removing guns from the picture will not remove the threat of violence. The Brady bunch seem to think that guns are a big problem in our society. They are wrong. Our society is jacked up. That’s the biggest problem with our society today. They need to focus on fixing our societal problems, not treating the symptoms of the these problems.

Even if they are to make all firearms illegal in the US, criminals who need weapons will simply get them on the black market. They are simply making it difficult for law abiding citizens to acquire guns. The criminal element doesn’t use legal channels to procure firearms anyway, so it won’t make any significant difference to them. And while this is a secondary issue, violating another’s rights just so your irrational fears can be assuaged is sheer, unadulterated nonsense.

And no matter what any law makers say, law enforcement officers cannot possibly protect everyone. The result? Law abiding citizens of the good old U.S. of A. will be left defenseless, while the criminals remain armed. If an armed robber breaks into my home while I’m in bed one night, I would consider being unarmed a darned bad position to be in. But somehow this group of illogical, emotionally blinded gun pacifists seem to think that this won’t ever happen if they make firearms illegal.

The funny thing about these people is that most of them are so focused on the “guns” that they don’t seem to be able to see anything beyond that. Let me give you an example to illustrate how some Brady folk think:

A man is robbed at gunpoint. When asked what the most heinous thing about the experience is, he responds: “Having that gun pointed at me was so scary. He could have shot and killed me! We need better gun control laws.” OK. That sounds rational doesn’t it? But wait, it gets better. A week later he’s robbed at knife point. When questioned again about the experience he proclaims “It’s a good thing he didn’t have a gun. He could have just shot me and taken my money!”. Aaalrighty then. I suppose knives can’t kill then. Right.

A week later this same man gets beat up, in the same area he was robbed twice before, by a high schooler with a baseball bat, then robbed, stripped naked and left bleeding in a ditch. Later, queried once again, he replies, “At least he didn’t have a gun. He could have shot me.” Heh. Sure thing. If you aren’t at least chuckling to yourself at the narrow mindedness of this perspective, you should slap yourself. Twice. Really, really, hard.

Seriously, the man was robbed three times, almost stabbed once, and beaten half to death with a baseball bat, and yet all he could think about is “I didn’t wanna get shot.” Yes, OK, you got me. This story is fictional. But it accurately illustrates the error of the many arguments gun control lobbyists are using. Guns do not cause violence. They are simply a tool, like a knife or a bat.

You are no safer if guns are outlawed because they can still be obtained illegally. And more importantly, you can still be killed, quite easily in fact, without the benefit of a gun. Banning anything that can kill you is a senseless endeavor. Even as you sit there now reading this, there are at least 10 non-firearm related items in your immediate vicinity, that can be used to kill you. Trust me.

Honestly, I think the only people that can make these arguments are people with a blind, abject, paralyzing fear of guns, unable to see nothing else. But the problem is that these people will still continue live in fear, even after guns have been make illegal, and will proceed to try and ban anything and everything they can think of.

Whereas, on the other hand, there are actually some very tangible benefits to everyone being armed. I think a criminal would think twice about robbing some random people on the street, if they though there was a good chance they might get shot in the process. But that could just be me.

Now truth is, I don’t keep a gun cocked and loaded on my nightstand at all times in case of a break in. Primarily because my little cave isn’t likely to get burgled out here in the middle of nowhere. And also because nothing I own is irreplaceable. But I don’t see where I have the right to do anything to prevent others who live in more dangerous neighborhoods from taking steps to defend themselves against a break in. That just isn’t right. And that is where I have a problem with these people.

OK, I’ll stop preaching from atop my pile of automatic rifle crates now.

Supreme Court could take guns case – [Yahoo/AP]

Spotted!: Hello Kitty SpecOps…

You may remember a post I did a while back about Thailands “Hello Kitty” brigade. Well apparently, Hello Kitty operatives have been around for much longer. I finally have proof that there is actually an honest to goodness Hello Kitty anti-terrorist SpecOps team in operation:

Hello Kitty Ops XM-8
[view full size]

Here we see a highly trained Hello Kitty Operator with the highly experimental XM-8 HK, the Hello Kitty Variant of the new XM-8 combat weapon system. We have no information on where or when these pictures were taken, but it is apparent that these guys are highly trained and use the latest cutting-edge weaponry.

Hello Kitty Operator Training
[view full size]

Here we see a Hello Kitty Operator training a new SpecOps recruit. I dunno if that new recruit would feel particularly comfortable if he could see the look on the instructor operators face.

I don’t know about you, but these guys give me the willies. Terrorists had best flee. In terror. Soon even a glimpse of pink out of a terrorists peripheral vision will elicit uncontrollable fear. Yep, the tables have turned…

Contrary to what the evidence might suggest…

You know, one of the things I find amazing about the current administration is how flexible their definition of events and scenarios are. And how they see whatever they want to see, and declare whatever they see fit, ratified by presidential decree. Even when it is obvious as the light of day that the truth is actually contradictory to the presidents view of things.

Like the President declaring “Mission Accomplished” without having achieved any of the stated mission goals. Or that the national outrage about the war in Iraq is little more than the opinions of a focus group. Or even that global warming is a natural phenomenon. Or that you can win a war with terrorists using conventional warfare. Or that you can introduce national stability into a country torn by civil war using the aforementioned conventional warfare. I could go on, but I think the picture is abundantly clear.

But then again I’ve never governed a country. But when former presidents of said country begin to speak out against the current administrations actions then, well, hey there has to be some merit to it right? Apparently not.

Former president Jimmy Carter, in a recent interview, called out the president on the issue of prisoner torture and the violation of human rights, in regard to:

… secret Justice Department memorandums supporting the use of “harsh interrogation techniques.” These include “head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures,” – [CNN Politics]

The Prez’s response?:

Responding to the newspaper report Friday, Bush defended the techniques used, saying, “This government does not torture people.” – [CNN Politics]

The white house response?:

After reading a transcript of Carter’s remarks, a senior White House official said, “Our position is clear. We don’t torture.” – [CNN Politics]

Well OK then. I am by no means an authority in torture, however slapping a person upside the head until they sing like a bird, sounds like torture to me. I mean, it ain’t exactly the same as a swedish massage now is it? But if the President and White house officials say it’s not torture, well then I stand corrected!

But if I slap my next door neighbor cross-eyed while attempting to find out what he did with the lawn mower I lent him last year, I better not hear any lip about it from the peanut gallery. And I’ll sue whoever calls the police…

We Need BIGGER GUNS!

I ran into another interesting article this morning about a mother who decided to defend her son from bullies. At gunpoint:

The police report says 40-year-old Johnna Briggs pointed the gun at other students getting off the bus and said, “Does anyone have something to say?” – [Yahoo/AP]

Now call me a pacifist if you will but I would have opted to have a few “words” with the bully and his/her parents instead…

But it might be interesting to see the parent of every kid that got bullied in school show up packin’ heat.¬† It’d be an impressive sight. That’s right. Yeah. Go ahead. Make My Day. Punk…

Mom allegedly flashes gun at bus stop – [Yahoo/AP]

Mission NOT Accomplished…

Today, I read an article that, I think, basically confirms what I’m sure most of us already figured out.

¬†Congressional auditors have determined that the Iraqi government has failed to meet the vast majority of political and military goals laid out by lawmakers to assess President Bush’s Iraq war strategy, The Associated Press has learned. – [Yahoo/AP]

I’m not going to go into all that much detail about it because it’s all in the article (the link is below)¬† But I will say this. As an American citizen I feel that we have been mislead, lied to, and flat out treated like imbeciles, by our government. No matter how much spin you put on a deception, it is still a deception.

The fact that our president could brazenly claim “Mission Accomplished” when so many of the goals we believed he intended to achieve had not been reached, is to me, showing a lack of respect for the citizens of this great nation. We have not accomplished our mission. I say we have been party to an “Epic Fail”.

Little progress seen on Iraq goals – [Yahoo/AP]

The signs of successful terrorism. Or irrationality. You decide.

I keep running into stories that either prove that terrorism has truly changed our way of life, or that people aren’t particularly familiar with Occams razor.

Two people who sprinkled flour in a parking lot to mark a trail for their offbeat running club inadvertently caused a bioterrorism scare and now face a felony charge.

Umm,… OK…

New Haven ophthalmologist Daniel Salchow, 36, and his sister, Dorothee, 31, who is visiting from Hamburg, Germany, were both charged with first-degree breach of peace, a felony.

The siblings set off the scare while organizing a run for a local chapter of the Hash House Harriers, a worldwide group that bills itself as a “drinking club with a running problem.”

“Hares” are given the task of marking a trail to direct runners, throwing in some dead ends and forks as challenges. On Thursday, the Salchows decided to route runners through the massive IKEA parking lot.

Sounds innocent enough to me…

Mayoral spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the city plans to seek restitution from the Salchows, who are due in court Sept. 14.

“You see powder connected by arrows and chalk, you never know,” she said. “It could be a terrorist, it could be something more serious. We’re thankful it wasn’t, but there were a lot of resources that went into figuring that out.” – [Yahoo/AP]

Riiiiiight. Basically what they are insinuating is that, were your average international terrorist, bent on distributing a biological agent to the largest possible group of random people in the USA, would make sense that I pour the distribution agent out in a neat trail through an IKEA parking lot, with and use chalk arrows to indicate for the obviously stupid Americans the best places to contaminate themselves…

I am going nuts here! Am I just really stupid? (Don’t answer that. Please.) Am I missing something? Does this sound plausible to anyone? And then we have the City planning to request restitution? For what? The chalk? The flour? Being paranoid? And exactly what resources were be required to figure out that flour and chalk does not a biological agent make? Especially given that the one who put it there came and told you himself?

Obviously someone panicked. And because of that persons fear, Dr. Salchow and his sister are facing felony charges. For pouring flour in an IKEA parking lot. How stupid is that? Knowing how this happened, how could anyone justify charging these people with a felony? And even more ridiculous, how can the city hold them liable for their over-reaction?

If every time we see a shadow, a forgotten lunch box, a broke down car in a parking lot, discarded groceries, etc we cry “Terrorists!”, then the terrorists have achieved their goal. To make us into a whimpering, frightened, paranoid and internally unstable country. I don’t know which is worse. The fact that people don’t seem to want to think rationally anymore, or that the terrorists may have already gotten what they wanted all along.

Running club members face felony charges – [Yahoo/AP]

War is waged both externally and internally.

A military report stated statistics that soldier suicides are the highest they have ever been for 26 years:

The report, obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its scheduled release Thursday, found there were 99 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers during 2006, up from 88 the previous year and the highest number since the 102 suicides in 1991 at the time of the Persian Gulf War.

The suicide rate for the Army has fluctuated over the past 26 years, from last year’s high of 17.3 per 100,000 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.

Last year, “Iraq was the most common deployment location for both (suicides) and attempts,” the report said. – [Yahoo/AP]

I always find it sad that we even have to have an army. I realize that humans being the creatures we are, it is sometimes necessary to use force to defend against force. But in this case, I don’t believe it was warranted, and the kinds of mental trauma we put our faithful troops through is really not a just payment for their service.

It is really a crying shame.

Army suicides highest in 26 years – [Yahoo/AP]

The latest oxymoron… “Military Progress”

In this bloggers humble opinion, following in the uncompromising traditional paradox of “Military Intelligence” and “Military Solutions” follows the idea of “Military Progress”:

Even some critics of President Bush’s Iraq war policies are conceding there is evidence of recent improvements from a military standpoint. But Bush supporters and critics alike agree that these have not been matched by any noticeable progress on the political front.

Despite U.S. pressure, Iraq’s parliament went on vacation for a month after failing to pass either legislation to share the nation’s oil wealth or to reconcile differences among the factions. And nearly all Sunni representatives in the government have quit, undermining the legitimacy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite.

OK, so apparently there has been no real governmental progress in Iraq, no political stability. What they do have is a stalled legislature, parliament on vacation and the mass departure of all Sunni reps. But that troop surge sure is is going good!! Yay for “Military Progress”!! So that’s why we are there is it? Military progress? Huh?

Actually, read the second paragraph of the excerpt again… I think the real reason we are in Iraq is hidden in there. I’ll give you a hint… Black Gold… And notice that it comes before the reconciliation of the different factions… Yeah…

Petraeus asserted that “we are making progress. We have achieved tactical momentum in many areas, especially against al-Qaida Iraq, and to a lesser degree against the militia extremists.” Still, he told Fox News on Tuesday that “there are innumerable challenges.”

Yeah. Innumerable. Like the fact that terrorists are guerrillas whose modus operandi usually does not include toe-to-toe battles with conventional armies. We can’t beat terrorism with sheer force of numbers people. Wake up!

“Barring a miracle, there will be very little political progress to point to in mid-September,” Cordesman said Thursday in a briefing on his trip.

Michele Flournoy, a former Pentagon defense strategist and now president of the Center for a New American Security, said that “the clock in Washington is running down pretty fast. There’s sort of a wall next March-April. That’s when they’ll have to start replacing units, which will hit the 15-month mark.” Bush recently extended tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months.

“They’re going to have some very tough choices then. Either the ‘surge’ will de facto end and they’ll start bringing people out because there’s no units to replace them. Or you’re going to have to have a presidential decision to extend tours from 15 months to 18 months,” Flournoy said.

Yeah. Lets just keep increasing the tour lengths. Throw more troops out there. Keep on burning our tax dollars on a fruitless pursuit of terrorists hiding on their own turf with home court advantage. They will keep hiding until we leave. 6 months from now, a year, it won’t matter. And just think, in the interim we can create more terrorists by racking up civilian casualties engage and eliminate insurgents. You know. While we are in the neighborhood… Yeah. Great plan.

“The problem is that nobody in the United States sees any significant progress on the political front. The Shiites and Sunni factions in the government don’t seem to be able to get along. And that makes Congress wonder whether we’re making any real progress. Because, even with better security, the country can’t figure out how to take care of itself,” Thompson added. – [Yahoo/AP]

Thank you! Finally! A voice of reason. We can chase terrorists till we are blue in the face. If that country is unable to maintain a working, self regulating government, all on it’s own, it will all have been for naught. We should have thought of that before we even went in there. Oh. That’s right. We let the military do the thinking…

Iraq critics concede military progress – [Yahoo/AP]