While the Russians have claimed that Hamas is willing to talk peace, rockets continue to rain down on Israel.
On the face of it, firing rockets into populated areas seems like a clearly immoral action. However, I have had enough debates about such matters to know that some people regard such tactics as morally acceptable. Outside of academic types, clearly the people who are involved with firing the rockets find their behavior acceptable. Either that or they are somehow overcoming any moral reluctance they might feel. It is worth considering what arguments might be used to morally justify such acts.
One main argument is that the rockets are being fired in retaliation for Israeli wrong doings. As such, the rockets are intended as punishment. In general, punishing people for their misdeeds is morally acceptable and can be argued for in terms of deterrence and retribution (see John Locke’s arguments as good examples of this).
To counter this, punishment is something that should be directed at the guilty party and not randomly inflicted. After all, to punish the innocent would simply be to commit a crime against them and would not be an act of justice.
It might be replied that the people hurt by the rockets are (usually) Israelis and hence they are not innocent. However, being and Israeli seems to be a rather weak basis for justifying such attacks. To use a analogy, imagine that professor Sally is fired from her job at Big University so that the university President can give her boyfriend Sally’s job. Now suppose that, in revenge, Sally started randomly slashing the tires of students’ cars because they happened to be students of the university. While the students are associated with Big U, they hardly deserve her wrath. Likewise for the innocent civilians.
It could be argued that being a citizen comes with moral accountability such that each citizen is responsible for all that his/her nation does. So, the rocket attacks would be justified retaliation provided they killed only Israeli citizens (or other “guilty” people).
In reply, while citizens (at least in democracies) do bear some responsibility for the actions of their nation, such random attacks fail to take into account important distinctions. To be specific, surely not every citizen bears the guilt of every misdeed (or perceived misdeed) of a nation. For example, a random rocket attack could kill an Israeli who has worked for the good of the people of Gaza or it could kill a child. Surely such people do not deserve death.
Obviously, it could be argued that collective guilt somehow overrides all other normally relevant aspects (such as past actions). However, the burden of proof seems to be on those who would make this claim. On the face of it, such distinctions seem very important everywhere else. Why should this situation be different?
In light of these arguments, such random rocket attacks (and similar acts of terror) can not be justified as legitimate retaliation or punishment.
Christmas is supposed to be the time that people come together and exchange gifts. But, one gift has served to create division.
Chip Saltsman gave out music CDs featuring the parody song “Barack the Magic Negro” as presents to members of the RNC. Not surprisingly, this has not gone over well with some people.
Political satire has a long tradition in the United States and can often be regarded as harmless or at least acceptable humor. Both the left and the right have put out multitudes of comedy songs over the years mocking the other side. It is all part of the game of politics and a legitimate avenue for comedy.
Naturally, there is little (or no) outrage or media drama when comedy songs mock white male politicians. However, the “Barack the Magic Negro” song has stirred up things quite a bit because the song is about Obama. Some folks on the left are outraged because, of course, the left is supposed to be outraged about such things. Some folks in the Republican party are also expressing their outrage at this song and Saltsman’s decision to distribute it.
No doubt, some of the Republicans are honestly upset about the song and Saltsman’s decision. After all, the song can be seen as racist and hence Saltsman could be seen as expressing racist views (or at least bad judgment).
Also without doubt is the fact that some folks in the Republican party are exploiting this for political advantage. Not surprisingly, Saltsman’s political rivals in the party have been leading the charge against him in this matter. After all, this situation provides an excellent means for them to gain an advantage over Saltsman. There is, of course, a certain irony in these Republicans exploiting a situation created by a song popularized by Rush Limbaugh. It is also ironic that Republicans are using racial sensitivity as a piece in a political game.
This situation also raises the issue of whether the song is racist or not. On one hand, the song does include references to race and parodies both Al Sharpton and Barack Obama. The gist of the song is that Sharpton (in the parody) is saying that people will vote for Obama because he is a “magic negro” and not authentically black like Sharpton. As such, the song could be seen as racist and Saltsman’s gift could thus be seen as racist in nature.
On the other hand, the song is relatively tame and could be seen as bringing up the matter of race in a way that is legitimate political satire. In fact, a case could be made that the song is mocking the left for being so concerned about race. If so, it is ironic that some Republicans have become so suddenly concerned about the matter.
I thought of this a while ago when watching the Lone Wolf & Cub movies and finally got around to typing it up. To appreciate this, you’ll need to be at least vaguely familiar with D&D and the Lone Wolf & Cub movies.
Basket Hat (General)
You can wear a big basket as a hat.
Prerequisites: Having a head and a big basket.
Benefit: You can function normally while wearing a big basket for a hat.
Normal: People normally do not wear big baskets for hats.
Cool Name (General)
You have a cool name.
Prerequisite: Having a character.
Benefit: You get a cool name, like “Lord of Death” or “Lord of the Basket Hat”
Normal: People normally just write down a cool name on their character sheet rather than wasting a feat on it.
Dramatic Flair (General)
You have dramatic flair.
Prerequisite: None (you do not need to be gay).
Benefit: Your actions and words are marked with dramatic flair. When you swing a sword or throw a punch, it makes a dramatic sound. When you talk, sound effects accent your speech. You have your own theme music.
Normal: Most people lack dramatic flair, though some do have pieces of flair
You can keep saying useless and senseless things when you should be quietly dying.
Prerequisite: Dramatic Flair
Benefit: When dying (-1 hit points or less), you can spew out a monologue until you are actually dead. If you are dead, you get one round to monologue. The monologue must have no game effect nor can it convey any useful information or commands. It should be something like this: “The wind blows in trees. The rain falls in the East. I’ve been stabbed through the face, so I’ll be food for the beast. Justice shall be done by the power of the right. The sun will shine though it is the middle of the night. Ice, ice, baby.”
Normal: People who are busy dying usually shut the hell up.
Fountains of Blood (General)
When you stab or cut living things, they bleed a lot.
Prerequisite: The ability to stab or cut living things like people and monsters.
Benefit: When you do damage with a slashing or piercing weapon, the target fountains blood from its wounds. This does no additional damage, but looks gruesome. All creatures who can see this will say “holy s#$t, look at all the blood!” as a free action.
Normal: When characters stab or cut living things, they bleed. Just not quite so much.
Merry Christmas to all! Peace on earth and good will to everyone.
While getting gifts is nice, for me the best part of Christmas is the hope for peace’ love and goodwill. A world of hope and love would be, as Leibniz said, the best of all possible worlds. And, of course, the best gift ever.
I do appreciate those who have sincere faith and hope that the holiday brings them joy. I also appreciate those who are unsure about the theology, but who still love Christmas. That is, those who love more than just the gifts, cookies and eggnog. Of course, all that is pretty good, too.
It is, to be corny, a time to be with those we love and to think about loved ones we cannot be with. Whatever our particular faith or lack thereof, this is surely something we can all share.
The other day I saw a brief bit on CNN about Michael Vick’s rescued pit bulls. As most people know, Vick got into considerable trouble for his horrible treatment of dogs. He and some associates trained and fought them. The dogs that lacked the desire to fight were killed, often in rather brutal ways.
When the dogs were rescued from Vick, PETA and the Human Society took the position that the dogs were beyond rehabilitation and that it would be a poor use of resources to try to do so. The bit I saw yesterday showed a PETA spokeswoman restating that view: although the rehabilitation worked in some cases, the dogs should have been euthanized and the money should have been spent to help other animals.
While this view struck me as heartless, a case can be made for her position. She is, of course, presenting a standard utilitarian approach: the action that should be taken is the one that generates the most good. So, if the resources spent to help Vick’s pit bulls could have helped many more animals, then the money should have been spent on the other animals.
This approach does match the commonly accepted principle of triage. Put a bit simply, it is the principle that medical resources are to be spent saving the most lives. This can mean allowing some people to die, but this is justified because saving more lives is better than saving fewer lives. The situation with the dogs can be looked at as a form a triage: while it would be best to help all animals, if all cannot be saved, then we should save more animals even if these means that some are not saved. On this view, PETA is correct.
Of course, there are ways to take issue with PETA in this matter.
First, there is the fact that the PETA view is that the dogs should have been euthanized. As such, it is not a case of letting the dogs die in order to save more dogs. It would be a situation in which the dogs would be killed. In this sort of case, our moral intuitions tend to change. For example, consider a (possibly) similar situation: suppose you have five patients who need organ transplants immediately or they will die. You could kill a sixth person to save them, but most people would regard that as morally wrong. Perhaps the same is true in the case of the dogs.
Of course, it could be replied that the dog situation is a bit unusual. Unlike the organ case, the dogs would not being killed to take their organs to save other dogs. They would be killed because that would be regarded as more merciful than keeping them locked away. But, it could be replied that the two cases are alike. The pit bulls would be killed to take something from them that others need: the money and resources. As such, the cases seem alike in the relevant way. Intuitively, such killing seems wrong.
Second, there is the concern that acting in this way (euthanizing the dogs to free up resources) would have serious negative consequences. For example, to do so would (as Kant argued) tend to harden people’s hearts and make them more inclined to cruelty. Then again, perhaps it would not.
Third, there is the moral concern that the dogs are owed restitution for the wrong done to them. While the resources could have been used to help more dogs, Vick and his fellows wronged those dogs. As such, there is a debt that must be paid to those dogs and the evil done to them should be countered.
To use an analogy, imagine that a defect in a product maims dozens of people and that a law suit awards a large sum of money in damages. The money could probably do more good if it were spent to help other people. It could, perhaps, be used to fund preventative medicine. After all, it is far cheaper to help people avoid illness than it is to treat people who have been seriously maimed. By PETA’s principle, the money should not be wasted on the maimed people but spent so as to do the most good. This, however, seems wrong.
As such, to kill the dogs would have been one last crime against them. It would be analogous to murdering rescued survivors simply because it would be expensive to help them. That would be monstrous.
It might be replied that dogs lack moral status and hence cannot be wronged and cannot be owed a moral debt. Of course, this view would undercut the whole notion of treating animals ethically by making them morally irrelevant. As such, it would not seem to be a viable option for PETA.
From a practical standpoint, it seemed unwise of PETA to issue a statement saying that the dogs should have been euthanized. When I heard the PETA spokeswoman, my intellectual reaction was to consider the ethics of the matter. But, when I saw the photos of the rescued dogs with their families, my emotional reaction was to think “what a horrible thing she said” and I thought much less of PETA at that moment. Naturally, the news segment was calculated to do just that. I am sure other people felt as I did and that certainly does not help PETA.
Yes, the money could have probably done more good if it had been spent elsewhere. But here is some practical advice for PETA: never tell dog owners that it would have been better to kill a good dog. That does not go over well. Not well at all.
Holiday proof of my gaming nerd status. This is a copy of the Christmas “card” for my D&D group. Click on the images to see the full size versions, but be prepared for things that make no sense.
I have been thinking about Leviticus for two reasons. The first is the ongoing debate about same sex marriage. The second is that my Dad sent me some Maine lobsters for Christmas.
Why the link between lobster and same sex marriage?
Interestingly, male homosexuality and shellfish (technically all aquatic creatures lacking fins and scales) are both abominations.
In regards to the lobsters: “Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.” In regards to male homosexuality: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” And, just to be complete, in regards to sex with lobsters: “Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.”
I have no inclination to have sex with other men or with lobsters. But, I am rather fond of eating lobsters and would prefer not to think of myself as being involved in an abomination as I dip that claw meat into the butter (no, that is not a euphemism-I am talking about lobsters and lobsters alone).
When the rules in Leviticus were written it would make sense to regard shellfish as unclean. After all, there are many health concerns with them. For example, red tide can transform shell fish from a tasty treat to a toxic feast. Given the rather limited understanding of biology back then, such a sweeping injunction could be quite sensible. Now, if that is the reason behind the rule, then the rule would not really apply today. After all, with our better understanding of biology and health issues, we can consume shellfish safely.
Of course, some people believe that the rule is a direct command from God to never eat such things ever. As such, the argument that the rule was reasonable then but is no longer needed does not carry any weight. The question then arises as to what grounds the claim that such aquatic creatures are unclean abominations.
One possibility is the obvious one: they can be unclean in a very literal sense-they can be contaminated with toxins or other nastiness (bacteria, etc.). Of course, if they are not so contaminated (like the lobster I cooked and ate), then they would not be unclean. This, obviously enough, takes us back to the argument I presented above.
A second possibility is that such aquatic lifeforms are intrinsically unclean abominations. However, if being unclean or an abomination are real qualities, they should be detectable in the biology or the genetics of such creatures. However, there seems to be no biological or genetic standards for what would be an abomination. As far as being unclean goes, that would seem to only mean that the creature is contaminated with substances harmful or unpleasant to humans. That could apply, but would take us back to the matter just considered.
A third possibility is that such aquatic lifeforms are metaphysically unclean or metaphysical abominations. That is, of course, to say that God made some nasty things. Of course, such metaphysical qualities seem to be undetectable. I’m a professional meta physician and I’ve eaten hundreds of lobsters. Yet, I have never discerned any metaphysical qualities relating to their being unclean or abominations. Then again, maybe that green stuff in them is the abomination or uncleanness. Naturally enough, if someone can show me the metaphysical uncleanness of a lobster, I’ll stop eating them. But, I’ve never even had a stomach ache from eating lobster-so,if they are unclean, most people seem immune to their uncleanness.
A fourth possibility is that they are unclean abominations just because someone says they are. In this case, being unclean or an abomination merely means being called that by whoever gets to label things in this manner. It is not that the creatures have any objective qualities that make them unclean or abominations. They are just those things because someone says so. This would be analogous to something being illegal because people in charge say it is so. For example, if I were to park in a reserved space at my university, I would be ticketed and my truck might be towed. This is not because the space has special qualities. Rather, this is because the people who tell the folks with the tickets and tow trucks say that is how it will be. Perhaps this is the same situation for lobster-everyone who has eaten such creatures will eventually get a ticket or something for breaking the rules.
What about same sex marriage? Well, I have no desire to be involved with that myself. But, some of what I said about lobster would probably apply to that as well.
Obama recently stirred up some controversy with his selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the presidential inauguration. The controversy is the result of the fact that Warren is quite clear in his opposition to abortion and same sex marriage. Obviously, Obama’s choice has some left leaning people somewhat upset.
Warren has had considerable influence in the dispute over same sex marriage and i thought it would be reasonable to sort out some of this.
Warren recently had the following to say about same sex marriage: “The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.”
As Warren seems to see it, same sex marriage runs contrary to the 5,000 year old definition of marriage and this presumably makes it bad. He further adds that it is on par with incest, pedophilia, and polygamy in regards to being a threat to the standard definition of marriage.
While Warren seems to be a well read fellow, the history of marriage does not seem to be his strong point. After all, the modern notion of marriage is just that: the modern notion of marriage. An examination of the historical reality of marriage shows that the concept of marriage has been redefined throughout the centuries. For example, modern marriage in the West (and other areas) treats men and women as equal. This is in contrast with the more traditional view in which women were regarded as markedly inferior and as being subservient to men. The shift towards marital equality seems to be a good thing, although it clearly changed the traditional definition of “marriage.” Also, men marrying very young women (girls, actually) has long been accepted and even today very young people can get married legally. In the United States (and other places), traditional marriage was between people of the same race. I will assume that Warren rejects that aspect of traditional marriage and does not consider mixed-race marriages a threat to the traditional definition of marriage.
Of course, it could be replied that Warren is focused only on one aspect of traditional marriage-that it has been between one man and one woman. All the other details, one might content, are irrelevant. Of course, questions arise as to why that one aspect is what matters and why it should be accepted as the correct definition of “marriage”.
Obviously enough, the mere fact that the definition is an old one is hardly adequate proof that it is correct. To accept this definition as correct based on its age would be to fall victim to a fallacy: an appeal to tradition. After all, people can be wrong for a very long time. As such, Warren’s appeal to tradition has no logical weight. It does, of course, have emotive appeal and that is no doubt why people use it.
Warren does more than just appeal to tradition. He notes that he has a general opposition to re-defining marriage. To be specific, he is opposed to incestuous marriage, the marriage of adults and children and polygamy. As he sees it, same sex marriage is on par with these other three. Of course, there is the question of whether this is true or not.
Obviously, Warren is not trying to make an argument by analogy: he is not arguing that same sex marriage is analogous to these other situations. While there could incestuous same sex marriages, same sex marriage would not automatically have the key qualities of an incestuous marriage. I make this point because I have heard people make confused arguments about same sex marriage and incest,etc. What they do is argue that same sex marriage is like incest. When I have asked them about how they are alike, they seem confused and then often say something like “well, they are both bad so they are alike. This is why same sex marriage is bad.” This begs the question.
What Warren seems to be doing is claiming that these four types of marriage are all bad and something that he opposes. His view that marriage is between one man and one woman does rule out marriage between an adult and a child as well as polygamy. It does not, however, rule out incest. Presumably an expanded definition of marriage would be that it is between one man and one woman who are not related.
Given this definition, same sex marriage would be on par with polygamy, etc. because it would involve marriage between two men or two women. Of course, it would be on par with the others in that it does not fit the definition. Whether it is morally on par with incest or pedophilia is something that would need to be argued.
While asserting that same sex marriage to polygamy, incest and pedophilia are on par does nothing to show that this claim is true, it does have significant emotional appeal. After all, most people react negatively to polygamy, incest and pedophilia and hence same sex marriage can be tainted by being associated with these. While this is rhetorically effective, it has no logical merit. What would be needed is an argument showing that same sex-marriage is actually on par with the other three.
If same sex marriage is morally on par with a marriage between a pedophile and a child, then it should not be allowed. However, I have yet to see a convincing argument in support of this.
I’ve never seen the need to defend traditional marriage simply because it is alleged to be traditional. Many of the changes to traditional marriage have been morally laudable. For example, treating women as equal partners and outlawing forced marriages both seem like very good things. As another example, allowing “interracial” marriages also seems good. Perhaps allowing same sex marriage would be another good change rather than a bad change. I am open to arguments either way: but I need good arguments and not just fallacies.
At a recent press conference journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at President George Bush. Bush adroitly dodged the projectiles and the shoe thrower was promptly wrestled to the ground and arrested. Given Bush’s lack of popularity at home and abroad, it is hardly surprising that there is considerable support for Muntadhar al-Zaidi and many Iraqis are calling for his release.
To me, shoe throwing seems like an immature way of expressing one’s views-a tantrum more than anything else. However, it is important to consider the cultural context: in Arab culture the throwing of a shoe is a form of insult. The intent is, apparently, not to do damage (though that would presumably be a bonus) but to express contempt. Perhaps it is on par with throwing rotten fruit at people to show dislike. Whatever the case, what is more important is whether Muntadhar al-Zaidi acted rightly or wrongly.
On one hand, Muntadhar al-Zaidi did attempt to give a “farewell kiss” to a “dog” by hurling his shoes at Bush. In addition to being an attempt at a physical attack, this action was also unprofessional. Muntadhar al-Zaidi is a journalist and presumably is subject to the professional ethics of journalism. These ethics certainly seem to include acting in a professional manner and keeping one’s own views in check. As such, Muntadhar al-Zaidi seems to have clearly violated the standards of his profession. These facts would certainly seem to support the claim that Muntadhar al-Zaidi acted wrongly.
On the other hand, the shoe throwing can be defended. First, the Bush administration bears a great deal of responsibility for the horrors that have occurred in Iraq since the American invasion. In reply to the obvious counterpoint: yes, Saddam was a very bad man and did very bad things. It is good that he is dead. But, the fact that the invasion got rid of him does not serve to offset all the evil that has followed for the people of Iraq. As such, it could be argued that Muntadhar al-Zaidi showed remarkable restraint in merely throwing shoes at Bush. Bush, many would argue, deserves much worse.
Second, there is a point when professional ethics and the requirements of professional behavior can rightly be set aside. Typically, this is when a more significant moral concern overrides a specific aspect of the professional ethics or requirements for professional behavior. In this case, it could be argued that Muntadhar al-Zaidi was right to set aside the restraints imposed as professional and act as an individual who believes that Bush has done a great wrong to his country and his people.
While Muntadhar al-Zaidi did commit a crime, I think it should be treated as an act of protest rather than an attempt to actually harm Bush. After all, a shoe is hardly a lethal weapon and Muntadhar al-Zaidi’s intent seems quite clear. Of course, it can be argued that attacking someone with an ineffective weapon is still an attack and hence Muntadhar al-Zaidi should be taken to task for this. Obviously enough, George Bush should also be taken to task for what his administration did to Iraq.
Although friends of mine had already been seduced back into the World of Warcraft, I held out until shortly after the release of the Wrath of the Lich King. Although I have two level 60 characters, I ended up starting a new character-that was “the plan” I agreed to with my friends Dave and Ron.
When I first started playing WoW a few years ago, I approached it like an online version of D&D: I tried to get immersed in the story, I sought the toughest challenges and brought my loot back to the vendors to sell. As such, I tended to miss out on the true brilliance of the game.
This brilliance is not the story, the setting or the game system. The story is standard fantasy with some sci-fi elements thrown in. The setting is quite familiar-a fantasy world with plenty of things to kill and loot. The game system is based on the usual class and level system (plus all sorts of hidden math that would, no doubt, boggle my mind). The brilliance of the game is in its power to suck people in to play, play and play some more. To do this, the folks at Blizzard have made brilliant use of the classic mechanics of seduction and addiction. As such, WoW can bee seen as akin to Las Vegas, only with elves, loot, and instances instead of hookers, gambling, and fancy hotels. Oh, and throw in some eBay/QVC in there as well.
I could write volumes about the psychological mechanics Blizzard has used in the game, but I’ll just briefly hit on three.
First, there is the frustration/reward system. This is a classic mechanism in which the frustration of a task is finely balanced against a reward. The challenge is to make the task frustrating enough so that there is a feeling that the reward is earned but not so frustrating that most people just give up. This is the same sort of approach used in those county/state fair games of “skill” in which you play dozens of times in order to win a crappy $2 toy. Dating also involves the same sort of thing. In WoW, you have to grind through kill after kill to get decent treasure or to finish many quests. For example, you might need to get 8 gnoll paws from gnolls. But it turns out that the gnoll tribe you have been sent to decimate is mostly made of pawless freaks: you kill and kill, but they have no paws to loot. Just as you are about to give up, you find a paw. So, you keep on going until you are just about sick of it, then another paw drops. The whole game is full of this sort of stuff and this keeps people playing and paying.
Second, there is the auction house. When I first started playing, I didn’t visit the auction house. It seemed a bit weird to my classic D&D mindset and I also did not find the idea of playing eBay very appealing. But, my friends were sucked into it-they spend hours buying and selling fake items for fake gold in the auction house. This no doubt provides the same charge people get from buying and selling on eBay. So, people will spend hours gathering up things to auction off to other players and then use the gold to buy things that other players are selling.
Blizzard has brilliantly designed the game so that most people will not find what they need while playing. For example, I worked my night elf druid to level 60 and found only fairly weak items in the course of adventuring. Put crudely, my equipment and weapons were crap. Meanwhile, my friends were buying top of the line gear at the auction house. The genius of this system is that some players play for countless hours to get the very rare good items. They then auction them off to other players who have less luck or less time. To buy the good items, you need lots of fake gold, so the other players need to do other time consuming things to get the gold they need to buy the stuff they want. So, everyone is playing and paying for a long time.
Third, the game has various professions such as the mundane ones like, mining, fishing and cooking (really) to more esoteric ones like enchanting and alchemy. Some of the professions involve gathering-you go around mining or picking flowers to gather ore or herbs, for example. Some of the professions involve creating items and these require every rarer raw materials. So, you need to get all the stuff you need to make things and then spend time making them. This creates a virtual economy in which people spend hours working at gathering fake resources and making fake items. Pure brilliance on the part of Blizzard. In real life, you have to pay people to do that sort of stuff. In WoW, people pay to do it.
Of course, Blizzard did not come up with the system overnight. The previous games of Diablo, Diablo II and the Warcraft series gave them perfect test beds for the various systems. For example, Diablo II showed that people would play countless hours hoping that good treasure would pop out of a dead monster.
Yeah, I do play WoW. But, I do my best to avoid getting caught up in the stuff that merely eats my time without being really fun. What I do enjoy is adventuring in a group and being able to play a game without being the one who writes up the adventures and runs the game.