Archive for July, 2008

29
Jul
08

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]

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25
Jul
08

Calling off a wedding… A $150,000 mistake?

read something today that I found rather intensely disturbing. A Jilted Bride sued her former fiancee for $150,000 for calling off the wedding… and won.

You know, I’m not quite sure what to make of this. The details provided were rather… interesting.

The Bride claimed that she had lost a lot because she had left a $80,000 job for a $30,000 one so she could be closer to him.

For instance the fact that the husband-to-be broke up with her using a post it note stuck in the bathroom. I mean I’m no Casanova, but if I’m going to break up with someone I loved enough to get married to, it certainly wouldn’t be via post it note stuck on the bathroom mirror. He’s definitely got issues…

What is even more interesting was his reasoning for breaking up with her. Apparently he decided to call it all off because he found out she had a whole lot of debt… OK… LOL… Whut? Must be some serious debt!! That or there is something else wrong with this woman, besides a penchant for suing for being dumped.

Then there is the issue that the lawyer apparently argued that the whole marriage was a scam, and that he never intended to marry her. And yet it is on record that he paid off $30,000 of her personal debt, as well as buying her an apparently expensive ring. Doesn’t really sound like the actions of someone who wasn’t serious about getting married, but what do I know.

Am I missing something here? I may be a bit old fashioned, but this all sounds a little weird. There are a lot of good points all around, but it seems like there are a gazillion unanswered questions. Like how can you get married with someone and not know how much they owe in debt? And as a person up to their eyeballs in debt, why would you move from a high paying position to such a lower paying one?

And no, I loved him and wanted to be closer is not a good enough reason. Seriously, the debt conversation should have happened before the move ever occurred… If she knew how much debt she had, and still moved, of her own volition, despite this, and without disclosing any of this to him, then she has no one to blame but herself. You cannot go into a relationship and expect your significant other to suddenly take care of all of your financial obligations, especially if you have not been up front and honest about them to begin with.

I can understand she lost a high paying job on his account, but at the same time, he’s also paid of a sizable chunk of her debt. It has cost both of them a lot. I don’t really see how he now has to be liable for anything more of the debt that she racked up all on her own.

But what really gets me is this. The way jury’s determine lawsuits nowadays, the law and common sense don’t even seem to matter any more. Our society is so jacked up and self serving, that it will soon get to the point where it will be cheaper to go to a prostitute than it will be get engaged with someone and break up.

Because apparently, nowadays, in the eyes of a jury, nobody is responsible for their own actions any more, and any past debts and subsequent breakup pain can be subject to substantial punitive damages upon the other party. Any other party. No, really…. People will make money by just having drive-by lawsuits…

Hey don’t shoot the messenger… I’m just saying…

Jilted Bride Awarded $150K After Wedding Called Off – [WBSTV.com]

23
Jul
08

Breaking Down Stereotypes Starts at home.

Today I read a very interesting article about the racial achievement gap between Asian, Caucasian, Latino and Black students at a California high school. I found this article particularly interesting, because the LA Times took the initiative to talk with students about a very controversial topic.

The idea of racial profiling and stereotyping is a common and very touchy subject. I personally do not believe it stereotyping, however I do believe in statistics. Statistics, when used objectively, are great for clearly seeing patterns and trends that can provide valuable insights into a lot of things. Statistics do not lie, and assuming there is no bias in the way the statistics are collected, are entirely objective.

However the mistake people make is usually in how they use or interpret this data. Statistical data is a great generalization tool, but cannot be applied to specific individuals. This is where the problem occurs. Many people make the mistake of attributing a generalization to a specific case, and that is where stereotyping takes a wrong turn.

Now I’m not just raving about statistics for my own personal amusement. I brought it up because of an interesting statistic that appeared in the article I mentioned above:

Both the neighborhood and student body are about 15% Asian. And yet Asians make up 50% of students taking Advanced Placement classes. Staffers can’t remember the last time a Latino was valedictorian. – [LA Times]

The statistics do not lie. Clearly Asians generally do better academically than other demographics. But this is where it gets tricky. Why do Asians do better? How do we interpret this information? The same article speaks of the negative academic stereotype of the average Latino. And statistically, they are accurate. But is is because Asian people are smarter than other demographics? Or that Latino or black students are less intelligent?

How about the oft cited blanket “socioeconomic status” stereotype to explain why some do better than others? Nope. I think not. This should be obvious, as there are many kids from very, very poor families that are academically brilliant. But if my opinion is not enough for you, (and it really shouldn’t ever be) even the statistics do not support this explanation.

According to a study of census data, 84% of the Asian and Latino families in the neighborhoods around Lincoln High have median annual household incomes below $50,000. And yet the Science Bowl team is 90% Asian, as is the Academic Decathlon team. – [LA Times]

So what is it? Is there a race related intelligence deficiency at play? Cultural biases? What? These are thorny questions that need to be discussed in order to get answers. The problem, of course, is that there are too many unwilling to even ask the hard questions.

Apparently some educators walked out when it came time to discuss this aspect of the problem, apparently due to concerns about making sweeping generalizations and reinforcing stereotypes. But from my perspective, those people fail as educators. If you are unable to see how to address a problem like this in an honest, open and objective fashion, then frankly, in this bloggers humble opinion, you should not be anywhere near a classroom, let alone teaching kids.

Clearly, making any sweeping generalization is the wrong thing to do. And would, in any case, be inaccurate, since high achieving students from every demographic are not rare. So obviously something else was to blame, and during the course of the discussion, I believe they nailed it down. Really well, I might add. It is kind of simple actually:

Asian parents are more likely to pressure their children to excel academically, the students agreed.

George said his mother, a Mexican immigrant, has high expectations for him too, but she is not so white-knuckled when it comes to school. She wants him to do well — he’s now thinking of college — but the field of endeavor is up to him.

“She said, ‘I came here to do better for you,’ ” he said. “But that’s about it. Being happy and getting by, that’s what she wants.”

For Carlos Garcia, the one with the knack for math, the message from his parents was to focus on school. Neither got to finish grade school in their native countries. – [LA Times]

There are several similar statements printed in the article, but they basically all make the same reference to how the expectations of their parents, teachers, and even other students, determined how much work they put into their academics. From this, we can make one basic inference. It would appear that how well a student does is directly proportional to the expectations of their parents and their community.

In effect, it is not that any demographic is inherently smarter or dumber than another, but rather that the attitudes of the members of that demographic, and specifically of a students parents and guardians, determine how important academia is to any given student.

This, is actually a much more reasonable explanation than that of socioeconomic status, or inherent racial or genetic predisposition. And it confirms something that I’ve believed for a long time. Parents are perhaps the single greatest influence on a students ability to excel. In anything. Yes, parents are subject to the expectations of the community they live or were raised in, but the one thing that this article does prove is that even cultural expectations can be overcome by parental determination.

We can see that in many Asian households academic achievement is a high priority, where as in many Latino house holds, just working, or getting by is the priority. And yet, where the parents desires clashed with the cultural status quo, the student often defied the cultural stereotype.

So there are two thoughts I would like to leave you all with.

The first is, we all need to learn how to put our plethora of various sensitivities on the shelf, and learn not to shy away from a difficult discussion. We’ve all grown so super sensitive about so many issues that we tend to avoid them, and lash out at anyone who tries to get anywhere near those hot button issues, all the while failing to realize that true resolution and the breaking down of stereotypes and walls, only comes from putting our fears and biases aside, and talking openly and honestly about them.

The second, is for the parents. It cannot be stressed enough how much your attitudes affect your children, and our future. You are the most important influence on your kids. If you want your kids to excel, you must expect them to, you every word or action should demonstrate that you believe they can do better. This actually works for everything, from them misbehaving to teaching them about life. You attitude, your life, even the things you don’t say are as important as the things you do. Kids pick up on them all. So when you see something going wrong with your kids, please look at yourself first for the solution.

Much like in the move “The Matrix”, you may find that it is impossible to bend the spoon. So bend yourself instead…

Why do Asian students generally get higher marks than Latinos? – [LA Times]

14
Jul
08

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]

03
Jul
08

Clues that your society may be going down the drain…

I’m sure you’ve all read about the numerous cases where folks have died in their homes not to ever be discovered until years later. I’ve always contended that the increasing frequency of this particular scenario in the United States was a sure fire indicator that our social and interpersonal humanitarian skills were no longer in rapid decline, but in all out free fall.

I will personally admit to not being the most social creature on the face of the planet, and were I to die in my sleep one day,  I would not be surprised if I were not found until a year later. That’s not to say I ignore every one else. I try to be friendly and neighborly on those occasions I do interact with others, though the (often illogical) habits of humans (in general) tend to frustrate and confuse me, so i keep such interactions to a minimun in order to preserve my sanity.

However if one of my neighbors, who I see regularly, should suddenly disappear, I would definitely start asking questions. Even more so if they are older or infirm. I’ll also help a person stranded on the roadside if  I can, though I’m finding out I am a minority in that regard, as apparently, this is not standard procedure for everyone else. To a degree, while still quite unsettling, I can understand where this attitude comes from.

We, as a society, have become so individualized and self absorbed in our ways that we often fail to even notice anything outside of what is immediately relevant to us, let alone consider how and where we can help. However there are some things I will never understand. Like how easy it is for many of us to ignore people who may need help that are right in front of us.

I just read an article today about a woman who keeled over in a New York emergency room, and was left to lie there, splayed on the floor, for an hour, before anyone lifted a finger to see if she was OK. Now heres the kicker. By the time anyone had come around to see if she was OK, she was… Dead. Yep. D. E. D. Dead.

Now having lived in New York, I must admit, I’m not entirely surprised. People keel over all the time in New York. Often from being physically compromised by sharp and/or pointy objects. Or by these little metal slugs, ejected from brass shell filled with a potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulphur concoction from a hand held firing contraption. Quite ingenious actually, though I’d much rather they be used differently.

But I digress. The point is, where it comes to total strangers, New Yorkers are the Kings of Apathy. If you live where there are a gazillion people, all in a small space, who all have so much going on, all at the same time, you learn to tune it all out. Or go nuts. I can understand this.

However if you are in the ER waiting room of a hospital and someone keels over, chances are, there may be something a whole lot worse going on than a momentary fit of narcolepsy. Now seeing as how your average adult human does not just keel over for no good reason, the obvious (to me anyway) humanitarian thing to do would be to check and make sure they are still with us.

But here’s the gotcha. In our society, you can actually be sued as a result of trying to help someone. That’s right. Should you, with no medical training, deign to wag a finger in the vicinity of the incapacitated person, you run the risk of being the target of massive litigation efforts for your trouble, should they be successfully revived.

Now ain’t that a kick in the cowbells? I’m beginning to think the US government should just make caring for and helping others a federal crime, so we can all be on the same page, and fewer greedy bastards get to benefit from the humanitarian nature of others… But then again that could just be me…

Woman Dies on ER Floor as staff watch – [P2P.net]

02
Jul
08

Your Brain. Use it or Lose it. It’s that simple.

OK, I’m not trying to be flippant about the recent rather horrific tragedy involving a 17 year old boy who was decapitated after he jumped two fences in order to gain entry into a restricted area of the GA Six Flags roller coaster he and his church group were visiting.

It was very much a tragedy, and by all accounts this was a good if a little rambunctious kid. He did, however, make a rather terminal error in judgement that ended his life and left behind traumatized witnesses and family members, some of whom may spend a good portion of their lives trying to recover from the loss. It is a tragedy no matter how you slice it.

But this is not what has me posting today. What Irked me were a couple of videos and posters on youtube who I saw talking about how Six Flags should be sued for insufficient signage and fencing…

LOL… Whut?

Now looky here. I’m sorry, this was indeed a tragedy, but honestly, lets look at the reality of what happened.

This kid ignored multiple signs, and jumped over two fences, for reasons we may never know, to enter an obviously dangerous part of the roller coaster ride. If any of you are thinking “Oh well maybe it wasn’t obvious..” Or “Maybe the signage wasn’t clear enough…”, I’m sorry but you are not using your head.

At least not any more than this kid did. You look both ways before crossing the road right? And watch for trains at a railroad crossing, right? This is no different. In fact there is less preventing you from proceeding across a railroad crossing, than there was between these kids and the restricted roller coaster area, even when a train is approaching.

And yet some people have the ignorance to suggest that maybe there should have been more signs. Or more explicit signs. Or taller fencing. And that Six Flags should be sued. Always blame someone else. That’s our MO these days. We try to blame everyone else for our own laziness, ignorance, failings and weaknesses.

Seriously, how difficult is it for a reasonable person to surmise that if you happen to be standing next to, beneath, below or even just in the vicinity of the rails of a roller coaster, you may be injured if it should come by at the breakneck speeds they are all very well known for? Is that such a leap of logic? Perhaps too challenging a mental exercise?

No. We all know fully well that this kid, for whatever reason, was not thinking about any of that, and was bound and determined to do whatever it is he and his buddy were trying to do. More signs, larger signs, more explicit signs, neon signs,  taller fences, a 10ft florescent colored effigy of Krusty the Clown standing there mindlessly repeating: “Don’t jump the fence, or you’ll end up brain dead, like me!” it won’t matter. Unless you want your amusement parks to look like prison camps, there is not much more they can do.

Please, let’s stop trying to place blame where it doesn’t belong. This kid either lacked the common sense or discipline to prevent him from making what turned out to be a fatal mistake. It is what it is. That is either his fault (youth can be reckless), that of those who raised him or of anyone who was supposed to be watching him. Nobody elses.

I wish these people would put this amount of energy into coming up with ways of making our kids behave better and act smarter, rather than on how to make money from tragic incidents like these…

Teen Decapitated by Six Flags Coaster – [AOL News]




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