A Philosopher's Blog

Iraq: Celebrations & Explosions

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 30, 2009
A smiling Saddam Hussein sitting easily on a g...
Image via Wikipedia

As American troops have officially left Iraqi cities (aside from advisers, trainers, and others) the Iraqi people are celebrating a landmark  as a (mostly) sovereign nation. However, the celebrations have been marred by bomb attacks and these show that things are far from normal in the country.

Of course, the United States has not left the country. While the cities are (mostly) devoid of US forces, we still operate numerous bases in the country. As such, Iraq still has a ways to go before it can be considered a truly independent nation. Of course, the US does maintain forces in other sovereign countries (Japan, Germany, and South Korea being a few examples), so perhaps the US will be there to stay for quite some time. This can be a very good thing for the host country: the US picks up a part of their defense costs and dumps money into their economies.

While there is a long way to go in Iraq, it is important to acknowledge the progress that has been made. The country is far more stable than it was after the invasion and there are some vaguely democratic institutions now in place. While the American forces deserve an incredible amount of praise, there is still the obvious question of whether the invasion was worth it. After all, we found no WMDs, Saddam was a minor threat, and Iraq had no real ties to terrorists groups (ironically, the invasion gave terrorists the chance to get into Iraq). So, after destroying a despotic but functioning government, losing thousands of Americans, losing untold thousands of Iraqis, and pouring in billions of dollars we now see a somewhat despotic and somewhat functioning government. Hardly the shinning democracy that was promised. Of course, it could have been much worse.

My view, which has been held since the beginning of the war, was that the war was a bad idea and that we had nothing to gain from fighting it or occupying Iraq. So far, nothing has happened to change my mind about this. I am, however,  pleased that the Iraqi people and the American forces were able to finally turn around the disaster that had been created and restore a significant degree of stability. The fact that this is something that we should not have had to do takes nothing away from the honor and sacrfice of the brave men and women who have literally helped save the day. But, such a terrible price Iraq and America paid for this (Iraq most of all).

Some might see this success as a vindication of Bush. That would, however, be a mistake. To use an analogy, to say that Bush’ s plans led to success would be like saying that a frat boy who threw a party that wrecked a house had a successful plan because other people came and rebuilt the house he broke. Obama, of course, does not deserve credit for the success either. After all, the majority of the work was done before he arrived in office. The credit belongs, of course, to the folks in Iraq and the Americans that made this possible.

Of course, the future is still uncertain. Iraq is still shaky and might well fall back into despotism or fragment into violence. While we are supposed to only be there until 2011, we might well be there much longer.

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Quick Thoughts

Posted in Medicine/Health by Michael LaBossiere on June 29, 2009

Although the world is awash in events, I don’t have the time to write a proper blog. I started teaching my summer class today and it was great to be back to that. I did teach a while after returning from my quadriceps tendon surgery, but that was at the end of the semester. It even seemed a bit surreal-hobbling about in a brace with my leg wrapped in bandages, talking about Kant, the ethics of video games, truth tables and liberty.

So, some quick thoughts:

Michael Jackson: Cool music, creepy fellow…too bad he’s dead.
Bernie Madoff: 15o years…will they keep his corpse in prison? If so, who gets to be his cell mate?
Iran: A tiny recount that will amount to nothing. Any hanging chads?
Billy Mays: Who will sell us our Oxiclean? Is that ShamWow guy out of prison yet?
North Korea: Still crazy, after all these years.
Firefighters’ Suit: 5 to 4 ruling goes against her, but shows she’d fit in just fine…at least in the 4.
Sanford: Should call William Shatner to negotiate a cheap one way flight to Argentina.

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Easy Exercise I: Time

Posted in Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on June 28, 2009

There are two types of people: those who like to exercise and those who do not. If you have read some of my other blogs about running and my recent quadriceps tendon surgery, you know that I not only like to exercise, I am a fanatic. Well, a reformed fanatic these days-I finally accepted the fact that I’m no longer an indestructible running machine. This blog is for the folks who are not crazy like me, the folks who think they really should get around to doing some exercise, but have a hard time getting started and sticking with it.

Most people talk about getting into shape and some even try to start exercising. But, it can be tough. Exercise takes time and it is, for most people, painful and unpleasant. So, the main challenge in sticking with exercise is overcoming those two main hurdles: time and pain. I’ll focus on time in this blog.

In addition to my (reformed) fanaticism, I am also lucky to have a job that allows me to fit in exercise quite easily. While I tend to work 50-60 hours a week, only 20 of those hours are fixed (12 hours of class and 8 hours in my office). So, I can easily fit in exercise. Most people don’t have such a flexible schedule.  I’m also divorced and don’t have kids, so that also gives me a great deal of time that married folks and folks with kids lack. But what if you don’t have such a flexible schedule? What if your week is packed with things that are keeping you busy? What can you do? Here are some ideas.

Television
Television is, in many ways, the bane of the body and the mind. It is so very easy to plop down with a bag of Cheetos and watch one reality TV show after another. Not surprisingly, people who tell me that they can’t find any time to exercise often have well used remote controls that are coated with Cheeto dust. While TV is thus often seen as the enemy of fitness, you can make it your fitness friend. While there are all sorts of fitness videos that you can watch, these would obviously interfere with your usual TV patterns. What works best is using the time you already have set aside for TV as exercise time as well.

The trick is to find an exercise that you can do while watching TV. Naturally, it has to be something that allows you to watch the shows while also providing exercise. Since people sit while watching TV, the most obvious exercise is to ride an exercise bike. These bikes are fairly inexpensive (although you can blow a fortune on gym grade equipment) and provide a reasonable amount of exercise. A treadmill is also a good choice, although a good one is more expensive than a decent bike.

The downside to exercising while watching TV is that most people find it difficult to keep up their workout intensity while watching TV. However, even lower effort exercise is better than no exercise.

Work
While some jobs provide plenty of opportunity for physical activity, most do not. For example, if you work 9-5 in sales, your main activity will probably be walking around the store. While working out seriously and building up a sweat is not an option at most work places, there are opportunities for exercise. Some of these are the obvious ones: take the stairs rather than the elevator and walk around at every legitimate opportunity. Some of these are less obvious. For example, there are some limited exercises that can be done while sitting down at work. These are mostly isometric exercises. If you have a lunch hour, you can get your lunch to go and go for a walk.

Getting to and from work also provides the opportunity for exercise. If you live close enough to work, then walking or biking can be a good option. In addition to saving you money, it will also improve your health. Of course, most people live too far from work to do this and most American cities tend to be very dangerous for biking. When I moved to Tallahassee, I thought I’d be able to bike to work year round. But, after several near death experiences (we did get bike lanes a while ago, but drivers use them as extra road space and a place to dispose of glass bottles) I finally gave up. Weather is, of course, also a factor. But, if you live in a bike and pedestrian friendly place, this is an excellent option.

Play
These day, many recreational activities provide little or no exercise. For example, playing video games or watching a movie do not do much for fitness. People do, of course, set aside time for entertainment. One way to work in exercise is to replace passive activities with more active activities. For example, rather than having the kids play a skating video game while the adults watch  sports on TV, the family could go for a bike ride, play tennis, or do some other activity that is truly active. If someone has time to play video games for hours, then they have the time to exercise. Yes, there are video games that purport to provide exercise opportunities. These are, of course, better than nothing. However, they are not better than doing real activities. While I do like video games, it always struck me as really odd that people would play games that involve things like skateboarding, soccer, running, or basketball when they could go and do these activities for real-thus having fun and also getting some exercise.

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Should Sanford Resign?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 27, 2009

While Jenny Sanford is far more concerned with her sons than she is with her husband’s career, it is unfortunate that Sanford was clearly not as concerned about his family. This seems to be indicated by the fact that he elected to go off to Argentina to see the other woman over Father’s Day weekend. That is, to say the least, rather ironic. He is, to say the least, a rather bad father.

Of course, being a good father and husband are not pre-requisites for being a good politician. Many successful leaders have been poor fathers and terrible husbands. While it is tempting to say that Sanford should resign because he is a bad husband, this would be unreasonable. After all, what matters is what he does as governor. To insist that he be fired over having an affair would be like saying that a mechanic or dentist should use his job because of an affair. While having an affair is not a nice thing to do, marital fidelity is not part of such job descriptions and hence failing at it is not a professional failing.

Of course, when Sanford took off for Argentina he failed in his duty as governor. He lied to his own staff and the people of his state. He left without taking the proper steps needed to ensure that the folks in the government knew what was going on. This sort of behavior was a failure of both judgment and duty. Thus, while the affair itself is not the concern of the people of his state, the fact that he effectively abandoned his office to have an affair made it their concern.

The question now is, of course, whether or not what he did justifies asking him to resign. On one had, his actions were erratic and irresponsible. If I just vanished from my job for a few days, I would be fired. That is true in most jobs. The same should be true of his job. Also, his actions are even more serious. If I vanished for a few days, the students would at most miss an exam and a few lectures. But, if a state governor takes off and there is a crisis, then that would be rather serious.

On the other hand, people do have lapses in judgment or crazy moments. As human beings, we make mistakes and do stupid things. If these mistakes have serious consequences, then we have to be held accountable for them. Luckily for Sanford and his state, the only crisis that took place during his absence was, ironically enough, his absence. As such, he lucked out and there was only minimal damage.  Since we do not punish people based on what might have happened but rather on what did happen this bit of luck works out in his favor. To use an analogy, if someone drives drunk, they could do a lot of damage. If caught, they are punished. However, someone who drives drunk without hurting anyone is not punished as severely as when a drunk driver actually kills someone. Now, if a disaster had hit the state while he was away, then he would be in far more serious trouble.

A good case can be made that Sanford should resign. He is old and experienced enough to know better and hence youth and inexperience cannot be used as excuses. He also occupies a rather high office, which makes his actions even more serious. While the affair is not relevant to his staying governor, the fact that he decided to vanish to have his affair is relevant. By acting in an erratic and deceitful manner, he showed that putting faith in him is not a wise decision. Spitzer had the decency to resign and Sanford should follow his lead.

That said, Sanford a case could be made that he should be allowed a chance at redemption. As noted above, people make mistakes. I’ve made them and I am sure you have, too. I have managed to overcome many of these mistakes (but not all) and certainly appreciated the chances for redemption. If Sanford can overcome the damage he has done, then perhaps he should be given the chance to rebuild the trust of the people of his state. This is, of course, analogous to the situation with his wife.  Interestingly, while his own values condemn what he did, those who share his values often find the idea of redemption from sin very appealing. So, if he can show that he is redeemed (or create the appearance that he has been redeemed) then he might be able to keep his career going.

My considered view is that he screwed up in a very serious way. That his failure did not have any serious consequences for the state was largely a matter of luck. As such, he needs to redeem himself, but should be given that chance. Of course, he did not betray me-I live in Florida. As such, whether to keep him or not is a matter for the people of his state (and his wife) to decide.

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 26, 2009
:en:United States :en:Congressman :en:Marty Me...
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The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is an amazing bit of doublethink. One one hand, any homosexual who is honest about his/her orientation cannot serve in the US military. On the other hand, any homosexual who is discrete about his/her orientation and says nothing, can freely serve. So, the policy essentially says that it is okay for homosexuals to serve, provided no one says anything. That is, of course, rather weird.

A friend of mine recently presented his view of the matter. His approach was rather interesting and he looked at it in terms of practicality and human sexuality. He began by noting that the military does permit men and women to serve together, but still keeps the two sexes separate in many ways. Men and women do not share the same barracks areas and they do not shower together. The reasons for this separation is rather obvious: social norms about the mixing of the sexes and also the problems that would arise if young men were showering with and bunking with young women. In other words, it is a sex thing.

Homosexuals thus short circuit the system. Since a homosexual is attracted to his/her own sex, s/he will be bunked with and shower with the sex /she prefers. Allowing this would, of course, be on par with allowing straight men and women to shower and bunk together. As my friend contended, until human beings are able to deal with their sexuality, this will always be a problem. If men and women (well, mostly men) had an adequate handle on their sexuality, then men and women could freely mix. This would also permit homosexuals to be mixed in as well-after all, if men and women can be naked in the showers with each other with no problem, then homosexuals would be fine as well.

Sex is, of course, the problem. As noted above, the military handles the sex thing between men and women by keeping the two sexes separated in various ways. Thus suggests one rather awkward and jury rigged approach to the problem: gay soldiers could be separated out from the straight soldiers in the same sort of way. For example, there would be straight male showers and barracks, straight female showers and barracks, gay male showers and barracks, and gay female barracks and showers.  Of course, there are many problems with this approach. One obvious problem is that while the men who like women will be separated from the women who like men and the men who like men will be with the men (likewise for the women who like women). Naturally, putting the gay women with the straight men and the gay men with the straight women would not work well.

My own view is this. Since the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy went into effect, we know that a significant number of homosexuals have served in the military-mainly because some of them did tell. The main concern that people have expressed about allowing gays in the military is that doing so will create all sorts of dire problems. However, these problems do not seem to have ever manifested themselves. As such, homosexuals do not seem to be any more problematic than heterosexuals (and there have been plenty of problems between heterosexual males and females in the military). Thus, there seems to be little compelling reason to keep up the weird policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Of course, some people would argue that if gay soldiers told, then this would cause all sorts of dire problems. Many of these arguments are, of course, virtually identical to the arguments given against racially integrating the armed forces. Integration worked out well and there seems to be no reason why allowing gays to serve openly would be beyond the ability of the military to handle. After all, our soldiers are professionals and citizens of a democracy that endorses equal rights for all.

For the cautious, we could always have some gays agree to come out and serve openly. Then we could watch for any dire consequences. If these do not arise, then more people can gradually come out of the closet. If that continues to be fine, then the process can be stepped up. Folks who are against gays being in the military should be fine with this approach. After all, this would give them the chance to have solid empirical evidence for their views. The only reason to be against such a test would be the fear that their views are actually unfounded and are mere prejudice-rather than being legitimate concerns about how gays would harm the military.

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Sanford & Sons

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 26, 2009

Jenny Sanford, the wife of Governor Sanford deserves praise for her response to her husband’s misdeeds. Rather than simply standing silently by her straying husband, she said “His career is not a concern of mine. He’s going to have to worry about that. I’m worried about my family and the character of my children.”

Jenny Sanford is in a rather unpleasant situation. Not only did her husband cheat on her, but the affair is now known around the world. While knowing that one’s spouse has been unfaithful would hurt a person, knowing that almost everyone else in the world knows must add significantly to the pain. Whenever she sees someone looking at her, it must run through her mind that the person knows what her husband did. Even worse, she has to worry about what her four sons might be exposed to via the media. For example, what might they see on television? While it is easy to say that is the risk one takes when one gets involved with a public figure, that assertion is hardly comforting.

She is doing the right thing in focusing on her children and leaving his career to him. After all, this situation is no doubt extremely stressful on the kids. She will also have quite a task explaining to them what has happened and be quite busy trying to raise them. Given her values and the values that Sanford professed, this situation will be especially problematic.

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Death in Iran

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 25, 2009
Neda's photo - June 20 Iran election protest i...
Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

The state run news has acknowledged that people are being killed in Iran, and the best known of these is Neda Agha-Soltan. The current official line is that she was shot by mistake. According to a CNN report, it has been claimed that “the marksmen had mistaken her for the sister of one of the Monafeghin who had been executed in the Province of Mazandaran some time ago.”

This explanation is hardly reassuring. Even if it is true, this would indicate that the government has authorized street executions. Neda was shot even though she was unarmed and not involved in any threatening behavior. This certainly suggests that the marksman was told to kill the sister of the executed Monafeghin on sight rather than apprehend her. This is rather worrisome. After all, women in Iran are required to cover themselves, thus making recognizing individual women more difficult. Perhaps other women have been murdered in the streets simply because they happen to look like someone else the government wants to kill.

It is also possible that the sniper shot was a terror tactic. After all, one way to “persuade” people to stay of the streets is to randomly shoot people who go out. Doing so is not as costly as mowing people down in large numbers and can be quite effective. Of course, the obvious risk is that shooting innocent people does tend to outrage people. Also it can create martyrs and they have a special power in Iranian culture.

It might also be the case that her death was purely a mistake-a random act of violence or a stray bullet. Perhaps an investigation will sort things out. Perhaps the government will lie. At this point, we do not know.

Of course, none of that matters now to her. Whatever the reason for her death, she will never see another day, she will never finish her degree and she will never get married. All that has been stolen from her. That is what oppressive regimes do-they steal what is most precious from their people. This is why, of course, such regimes must meet their ends.

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Iran’s Rulers Playing the “Foreign Card.”

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 24, 2009
Tehran
Image via Wikipedia

Faced with a massive popular uprising, Iran‘s rulers are playing the “Foreign Card.” This is done by placing the blame for the dissent on foreigners. So far, the Iranian rulers have blamed the Western media, the United States and their previous Satan, Great Britain.

The latest attempt to blame foreigners involves the claim that British passports have allegedly been found in the possession of some folks involved in the protests. This is, of course, a rather lame attempt at blame. First, if Britain were to send agents to provoke protests in Iran, they would surely not be carrying around British passports. Second, there are Iranians who live outside of Iran and have citizenship in other countries. As such, these passports might belong to Iranians who live in Britain. If this is the case, the hardly counts as a case of foreign intervention. Third, even if the passports belong no non-Iranian Brits, it hardly follows that they are acting at the behest of the British government. Fourth, the evidence seems to be clear that the protests are homegrown. Foreigners might be glad to contribute what they can to the protests, but there seems to be no evidence that Britain and the United States have had any significant role in what is happening in Iran.

While it is not irrational for the Iranian leaders to suspect US or British involvement (after all, we have done it in the past), they seem to be either largely making up their claims of foreign involvement or simply seeing the protests as being foreign controlled because they are seeing things through the distorting lens of their ideology.

The Iranian rulers do, I think, want the US and UK to get involved in the protests. Naturally, they do not want the United States or Britain to take action that could actually overthrow the regime. But, clear evidence of British or American involvement in the protests would give them a propaganda tool and an  excuse to crack down even more. After all, they would claim that they were fighting a foreign foe, the Great Satan. This would also garner them sympathy from states that are less than friendly with America and Britain.

Unable to find hard evidence of such involvement, the rulers are currently trotting out the old claims that America and Britain are involved. I suspect that it is only a matter of time before they start fabricating evidence of involvement. They might even luck out and find a few individuals from the US or UK that they can pass off as government agents sent to destroy Iran.

The rulers do, of course, point to the BBC and American media as being instigators in the protests. This does have some merit-after all, people do get ideas when they are exposed to relatively free outside sources of information. But to claim that the media influences are causing the protests is implausible. While people do attribute a great deal of power to the media, these folks are hardly prime movers in the Iranian situation. If the Iranian leaders want to find the root cause of the peoples’ dissatisfaction, they need only look in the mirror.

This situation does, of course, keep the US and the UK in a bit of a dilemma. On the one horn, if we stay out of the situation, the rulers of Iran can act with impunity against their own people. At least until the protests become too large to contain or substantial portions of the police and military go over to the protesters. On the other horn, if the US and UK get involved, then the Iranian rulers can use that as effective propaganda and also use it to justify escalating the violence against their own people.

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Another Wild Governor Story

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 24, 2009

The Governor Sanford story has been quite an event. At first, it seemed like he had just vanished-perhaps into the woods. Perhaps into some sort of alien spacecraft. Then it was claimed that he had gone on a hike on the Appalachian trail, perhaps to do some writing away from his family. Then it was revealed that he had gone to Argentina to visit a woman. Apparently Sanford had been having an affair with her.

This is, of course, yet another odd politician story. It is odd, in part, because a successful politician has, once again, thrown away a promising career. Sanford was considered as a possibility for the 2012 Presidential race. However, his recent actions have most likely Spitzered his political career. His wife, whom he claims has known about the affair for months, has taken the standard approach of the political wife and has not (as of this writing) condemned her husband’s actions. Such situations must be horrible for the wife and family. Not only does the wife learn that her husband is cheating on her, she also has to face the fact that his affair is a matter of national news. That has to hurt.

Such revelations naturally lead people to wonder why a politician would throw away a career for an affair. Naturally, psychologists will speculate about this and toss out various theories about men in power and so on. On the face of it, choosing to have an affair seems to be fundamentally irrational. After all, politicians seem to be caught fairly regularly and this, except for Bill Clinton, often turns out to be a career ending move. Sanford seems to be especially irrational-after all, he created a mystery that attracted nationwide attention and resulted in his affair being revealed. This action seems to be somewhat on par with Gary Hart’s challenge to the press to follow him. They did and got the now famous “monkey business” photo of Hart and Donna Rice. In contrast, Bill Clinton has largely gotten away with his affairs, remaining very popular with Democrats and foreign leaders.

It would certainly be interesting to sort out how some politicians get away with affairs while others doom their careers. Part of it no doubt depends on the personality of the politician. Bill Clinton is able to charm people and is regarded as having been successful. People are, no doubt, more inclined to forgive such people. Clinton also seems to have managed the aftermath of his affairs much better and he also did not have a holier than thou attitude or a self-righteous image (quite the contrary-he was quite clearly a slick Willy).  Spitzer, in contrast, had such an attitude and hence his involvement with a prostitute destroyed his reputation.

I’ve noticed this pattern all through my life. Charming folks who are known womanizers tend to be judged less harshly than less charismatic folks who are supposed to be of “a better sort.” Sanford is not charming like Bill Clinton and he is supposed to have conservative values, so I expect he will take quite a beating.

Getting back to the question of why, the easy answer is to point out the obvious: when a person has a career risking affair, they either think they can get away with it or they value what they are getting from the affair more than what they are risking. Or perhaps they are merely being stupid.

From a political standpoint, this is a fairly serious blow for Republicans. The odds are that Sanford will be replaced by a Democrat and, as noted above, Sanford was being considered as a presidential candidate. While the Democrats have lost a governor or two recently, the can better afford such losses.

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RIAA Strikes Again

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on June 23, 2009
The RIAA Logo.
Image via Wikipedia

The RIAA has struck once again, winning a $1.92 million settlement against
Jammie Thomas.

A few years back, I wrote the following sample ethics argument for my students. While the specific numbers are different from the current situation, the basic reasoning still holds:

While the music industry put an end to Napster some time ago, peer-to-peer networks, such as Kazaa, arose to fill the void. These networks enabled people to share files via the internet. While file sharing can be used for legitimate purposes, such services were used to swap files without the consent of the copyright holders. In response, the RIAA has launched an attack on the file-swappers. Using the equivalent of hired guns, the labels in the RIAA has hired professionals to send out “spider” software to search for the digital signatures of songs in the users’ shared folders. When the songs were located, the hired guns would send their employer the users’ names, playlists and IP addresses. The company would then subpoena the swappers’ ISPs to acquire their real names and bring the swappers to court. In the first round, 261 swappers were targeted by the RIAA including a 12 year old and a 14 year old. Under the laws of the time, the RIAA could demand up to $150,000 per song. While the legality of this sort of thing is a matter for the courts, three arguments will be presented to show that the RIAA’s actions are morally unacceptable.

First, the method used by the RIAA is morally unacceptable. As noted above, the RIAA finds it targets by having its agents intrude into the hard drives of the music swappers. Presumably, the RIAA regards such intrusions as justified because they suspect the file swappers have stolen property on their computers. Using the same reasoning, it would seem that the RIAA should be allowed to hire people to plant microphones and cameras in the homes, apartments and dorms of people who have purchased CD burners. After all, if being involved in file sharing marks one as a potential music file swapper, then buying a burner would mark one as a potential CD swapper. However, our intuitions tell us that this sort of intrusion would be morally unacceptable.

It might be thought that an additional argument is needed to support of the claim that people have a right to privacy against corporate intrusions. However, it seems more reasonable to hold that the burden of proof is on the corporations to show that they have the right to make such intrusions-and they have yet to give a good reason. Thus, it must be concluded that the virtual intrusions are also morally unacceptable.

Second, there is the matter of proportionality. If it is believed that a wrongdoer is morally obligated to make amends for doing wrong, it seems to also follow that the punishment should be proportional to the misdeed. After all, if the original wrongdoing creates a debt that must be repaid, forcing the wrongdoer to pay beyond this would create a new debt-this one on the part of the agent or agents extracting the punishment. Thus, it certainly seems morally wrong to inflict a punishment that goes beyond what is proportional to the offense.

In its first round of action the RIAA claimed it was entitled to up to $150,000 per pirated song found in a shared folder. Using this figure, 14-year-old Courtney Fitzgerald could owe up to $120,000,000 for the 800 songs located on her computer. It is inconceivable that Courtney Fitzgerald did up to $120,000,000 worth of damage to the RIAA members. This certainly seems to make their punishments disproportional.

To be fair, the RIAA generally did not push for the largest amount. For example, it demanded only $2,000 from the mother of 12-year-old Briana LaHara for her file swapping. This might seem proportional, but consider the following. There were an estimated 80 million people using services like Kazaa at the time. If we assume that only 1 in 80 users have illegal music files and we assume that each did $2,000 dollars in damage, then the RIAA would have sustained $2,000,000,000 in total damage from them. If we assume 1 in 8 people have illegal files, then the damage would be $20,000,000,000. Given that the RIAA members are still in existence and still making rather large profits, it seems unlikely that they have sustained that sort of damage. Thus, they are inflicting punishments that are disproportional to the damage being done, which is immoral.

Third, there is the matter of the harm being created by their actions. One point of concern is that if the RIAA is allowed to continue using its intrusive methods to find illegal files, this will set a legal precedent that can be used to further erode privacy rights. History has shown that inroads into rights tend to lead to further inroads, though this typically takes time. Such inroads would most likely be harmful. After all, corporate behavior, from the robber-barons to Enron, has generally been detrimental to the people. Given the potential for such harms, the actions of the RIAA are immoral.
A second, and ironic, point is that the RIAA could well be harming itself with its actions. The people under attack and branded as criminals are the very customers whose dollars the RIAA hopes to acquire through music sales. Angering them seems to be an obvious way to decrease sales. This will simply increase the harms that the RIAA’s actions were intended to curtail.

Thus, it seems safe to conclude that the RIAA’s actions were immoral.

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