A Philosopher's Blog

Creating Terrorists

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 30, 2010
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Domestic terrorism in the United States is rather rare and, as such, it is hardly a shock that the arrest of Mohamed Osman Mohamud has gotten a lot of attention. The folks who have been backing the massive anti-terror machine can point to this one arrest and feel vindicated in their devotion to security.

I am, of course, glad that Mohamed Osman Mohamud was stopped before he could actually harm anyone. However, reading about the situation made me wonder whether he would have ended up in this plot without the active involvement of the FBI.

Based on the information currently available, Mohamed Osman Mohamud seems to have been the only actual terrorist involved in the plot. After all, the FBI provided him with the fake bomb and there has been no mention of anyone else being arrested. The background given for him (he drank beer, liked hip hop, and was reported as not being particularly devout) does not seem to fit that of someone who would mastermind a plot. As such, I do wonder how much the FBI actually motivated and guided him to the point where he was there to receive the fake bomb from the FBI. In short, I wonder how much the FBI had a hand in recruiting and shaping him into being a terrorist.

Obviously, he did make the choice to go along with the plot and hence is accountable for his choices. However, it is worth wondering whether he would have become a terrorist without the intervention of the FBI. That is, did they create the very terrorist that they arrested?

It is, of course, a reasonable and ethical tactic for law enforcement agents to pose as criminals and terrorists in order to gather information and make arrests. However, there are both ethical and practical concerns in regards to how much of a role such agents should take in urging people to commit crimes or acts of terror in order to gain information or to put people in situations in which they can be arrested.

On the one hand, if the person would not have committed such an act but for the involvement of law enforcement, then it would seem reasonable to hold the law enforcement personnel morally accountable. After all, they helped make the person into a criminal and if they had left the person alone, then the crime would not have been committed. As such, they would seem to be accessories to the crime.

Also, law enforcement should not be about creating criminals to arrest, it should be aimed at deterring crime and arresting those who chose to become criminals. To use an analogy, doctors should cure patients who are sick. To make a patient sick and then claim an accomplishment by curing the person would clearly be unethical.

On the other hand, it can be argued that law enforcement needs to be proactive. They cannot wait until they learn of a plot or, even worse, for a bomb to go off. They have to go out and seek potential terrorists and see if they would be willing to become real terrorists. That way they can guide their evolution from potential terrorist to actual terrorist and then arrest the person. It is not quite as good as having precognition of a crime (as in Minority Report), but it is still rather useful to be able to actualize the criminal and thus protect society from the criminal they helped actualize. Otherwise, a potential terrorist could become an actual terrorist with an actual bomb (not a fake supplied by the FBI).

Since this method works so well in the case of terrorists, it should clearly be expanded to include other crimes as well. For example, law enforcement agents should start operating in public schools and urge kids to use and sell drugs. They could assist the kids in setting up drug operations, motivate them, guide them and then supply them with fake drugs. At that point, they could arrest the kids and keep the schools safe. If this works, then they could expand to other crimes as well. This pre-criminal approach could revolutionize law enforcement.

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Debt Collection

Posted in Business by Michael LaBossiere on November 29, 2010
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Friday night I received a call from the Takhar Group saying that I needed to call them immediately or visit their web site. However, the call did not identify the purpose of the call nor did it specify who was being called, so I assumed it was some sort of scam.  I did decide to check the site and found out that it is a collection agency. Since I only owe money on my mortgage and one credit card (and my payments are up to date), I knew the call was not for me (or should not be for me).

I have gotten many calls in the past for people with my last name as well as for people with totally different names. I assume that the collection agencies just call anyone with the same (or similar) last name in the rough area or that the people who are in debt used my number in place of their own. Either that, or they had the number 18 years ago, before it was mine, and used that when getting into debt.

While I am not actually being badly harassed by such mistaken calls, it is annoying. For a while it was extremely bad-I would get a call or two everyday on my answering machine. In some cases I was able to call the company and convince them that I was not the person they were looking for. In other cases, the calls just stopped.

Because of these experiences, I think that collection agencies should be required to confirm phone numbers before calling. When calling, they should be required to identify themselves as collection agencies, state who they are collecting for, and state the name of the intended target. They should also provide a clear means by which the wrongly called can stop receiving these calls. Leaving a vague message to call is simply not adequate.

I do understand that collection agencies can be engaged in legitimate operations and that they need to use various means to find people and collect. However, I am tired of being annoyed by agencies trying to collect debts from people who are not me.

Of course, my annoyance pales beside the horror stories of people who have been subject to far more serious misdeeds and outright illegal activity at the claws of unscrupulous (or incompetent) collection agencies.

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The 3/4 Class

Posted in Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on November 28, 2010

As a professor I face various challenges in designing my classes. While some of these challenges are obvious (like selecting just enough material to cover), others are less so. One of the less obvious challenges I face is designing a class that maximizes education while minimizing my problems.

While I have fewer problems to deal with than K-12 teachers, I still face various problems. At this time of year (1 week before finals), the problems revolve around students who are doing poorly but have only come to realize (or accept) this. In some cases, students are just now picking up tests and papers from weeks or months ago. As I write this, I still have papers and tests that still have not been picked up. While most of them are passing or better, I do have some that are not-and some students who probably are unaware that they are not passing. While I do make the grades available online (securely), some students do not learn of that until the end of the semester, when they hear other students talking about it.

As far as the specific problems, the main ones are students who ask about extra credit (= points for nothing), students who ask about doing more work, students who want an incomplete, and students who want to be passed simply because they need to graduate/keep a scholarship or avoid parental wrath.

Naturally, requests for points for nothing or for passing grades because of a need to graduate or whatever, are easy to handle. I just offer a “no” and my sympathy, plus some advice about how to pass (if it is possible) or how to retake the class.

Incomplete requests are handled on a case by case basis. In most cases, students ask for them because they are failing. However, incompletes are intended for students who were passing but could not finish the semester due to some dire event (like major illness or military service).

As far as more work goes, my usual reply is that I would need to offer the same deal to all the students. I go on to note that is just what I do: my classes have a lot of work-4 tests, 15+ quizzes and 25+ assignments in Critical Thinking (as an example).  Also, if someone has been consistently doing poorly on the work, getting more work would probably not change that.

But, getting back to the design of my classes, I have also tried to counter/solve some of these problems with my 3/4 approach (picked mainly for the name rather than mathematical accuracy). The gist of this that I count roughly the best 3/4 of a student’s work. For example, in my Critical Thinking class, the best 3 of 4 tests count, the best 10 of 15+ quizzes count and the best 10 of 25+ assignments count. Each student also gets a small bonus as well to his/her quiz and assignment grades. In classes that have a paper, the paper does count-but it is done in drafts and students have a long time to complete it. Plus, each student gets +5 added to his/her grade on the paper.

When taking this approach, my hope was that it would reduce the problems I (and my students faced). While the students do have to do well consistently to get a good grade (as opposed to classes that have just a midterm and  final), the idea was to provide a “damage buffer” for cases in which students had problems that were serious enough to impact their performance. This way the “buffer” would handle such problems without a need for special problem handling at the end of the semester. Problems of a more dire nature would, of course, not be handled by the buffer-but these would almost certainly either qualify a student for a legitimate incomplete or allow a retroactive withdrawal.

When I was young and naive, I had hoped that this approach would eliminate such problems. After all, it seemed so generous that anyone should be able to get through a class with a modest amount of effort-even if they faced challenges and problems in the semester. Anything worse, I reasoned, would be easily handled by an incomplete or retroactive withdrawal.

Experience revealed what you, the reader, probably already guessed: I was somewhat surprised to find that the impact was far less than I expected. Every semester I still have students with the same problems and the reduction in problems seems rather modest. Of course, it must be noted that most of my students do well-they pass and have no problems. However, I had hoped for more success and wondered  why it had not worked as well as I had hoped.

One hypothesis is that the “damage buffer” is not big enough. That is, even more work must be offered so that the students will be able to do and pass the minimum needed. So, for example, perhaps offering 25 assignments and counting the best 10 is not enough. Perhaps 50 is needed. Of course, I do offer 15+ quizzes and that seems to get the same result as offering 25+ assignments. This suggests that it might be the required number that determines what people do. So, students look at the fact that there are 10 required quizzes and assignments and some just do less than 10, even though 15+ and 25+ are offered. Of course, if I increased the required work to 12 or 15, this would just mean that certain students would do less than 12 or 15. This leads to the next hypothesis.

Another hypothesis is one put forth by a friend of mine. His view is that problem students (his Peters’ Principle is that 20% of the students cause 90% of the problems) will be a problem no matter what a professor does. For example, if a class offers 10 assignments and requires 10, this sort of student will do just 5. If the professor offers 15 and requires 10, the student will still do just 5.  The same sort of hypothesis can be applied to society at large: no matter what you do, problem people will still be problems. You can, at best, reduce the numbers a bit.

While I do suspect that expanding the buffer would marginally reduce the number of such problems, this would create other problems. One problem would be that I would have to do more work-every extra quiz, assignment or test is one I have to create and grade. Another problem is that if the buffer is too large, a student could pass without learning enough of the material, which would undercut the educational value of the course. At this point, I think the buffer is large enough to offer reasonable protection for the students while at the same time being small enough so that the proper academic standards are still met.

As a final point, another reason I designed my classes with a buffer is for my own peace of mind. By offering such a buffer, I can honestly believe that I have given the students a very fair chance at doing well in the class and that a student who fails actually fails himself/herself. True, I could probably have a smaller buffer (or none at all) and still be justified in believing that the students have been given a just and fair chance to pass. However, I like to have a bit of a buffer for  myself.

One of the most dramatic vindications I had of my approach occurred after a final. One student was complaining loudly about his grade and how unfair I was for “failing him.” Another student, who had already earned a solid A,  looked at him and said “You’d have to be a total f@ck up to fail this class. He gives you every chance in the world. If you fail, it’s your own damn fault.”  While I would not word it that way, that is how I design my classes-so that people get what they deserve.

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Profiling

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 27, 2010
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Currently, the United States does not use profiling in regards to airport security. True, there is a no fly list-a list that has included people who are obviously not terrorists (like American children and a well known CNN journalist) and has generally failed as  method of providing security.

It has been claimed that profiling is not used in the United States because of political correctness. While that might be true, some reasonable arguments can be given against profiling.

One argument is that profiling could be misused in order to target people for harassment on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, nationality and so on.  For example, suppose that Arabs were flagged as higher risk. This would allow security agents (like TSA folks) who do not like Arabs to harass them under the cover of these profiles (“I didn’t pull Abdul out for a special search because I hate Arabs, I did it because he fits the profile”).  This is, of course, the argument used against racial profiling by the police: it results in certain people being targeted more and also provides a cover for harassment.

This is a legitimate concern and is supported by the history of racial profiling in the United States.

Another argument is that  profiling is inherently unfair. After all, such profiles treat a person as a suspect based on factors such as ethnicity and religion rather than on the person’s actual actions. To, for example, pull all darker skinned people out of line for special screening because they have dark skin and let white folks go on through normally would be unfair. While profiling might result in increased security, it is no more justified than allowing the police to pull people over for DWB (Driving While Black).

While these arguments are well worth considering, there are also arguments in support of profiling.

In theory, it does seem possible for profiling to be an effective means of determining threats. After all, terrorists (and other threats) do not arise out of nothing. There are causal factors and other factors that would seem to be connected to such people. Also, there are factors that would tend to indicate that a person is not likely to be a terrorist or threat. To use an obvious example, an FBI agent travelling with her infant son is probably not going to try to take the plane down. In contrast, a young man from Saudi Arabia who is flying in from Yemen who spent a few years in Pakistan is more likely to pose a threat.

The profiling I will be arguing for is not just any sort of profiling. Rather, it is profiling based on proper research and statistical models. It also needs to be subject to rigorous assessment. I do consider the possibility that proper profiling might be beyond the capacity of today’s behavioral sciences and thus that at this time profiling might not be accurate enough to be justified as a security tool.

One argument in favor of profiling is that it enables a more effective use of resources. Rather than randomly pulling people out of line, people who are more likely to be threats can be subject to more attention. This would increase the likelihood that such threats would be caught. To use an analogy, rather than having the police just pull people over at random to check for drunk driving, it makes more sense to look for indicators of drunk driving, such as swerving about.

A second argument in favor of profiling is that it reduces the violation of rights and liberties. Under the current system, everyone is treated as a likely terrorist and subject to body scans or pat downs. With profiling, people who are more likely to be threats can be subjected to the more invasive means of checking.

It might be argued that singling people out would violate their rights. However, it can be countered that the current system is a greater violation. The current system is to treat everyone from the toddler to the grandpa as an equal threat. As such, if singling people out would be a violation, then it would seem that targeting everyone would be an even greater violation. To use an analogy, having the police randomly pull over any driver seems like a greater violation of rights than having the police pull over people who are most likely to be driving drunk.

Naturally, it could be argued that it is more unfair to single people out based on their being more likely to be a threat. After all, they are being treated differently than other people even though they might have actually done nothing to warrant such suspicion-that is, they meet the profile but are not actually a threat.

So, it seems to be a matter of whether it is better to treat everyone as an equal threat or to consider some people as greater threats based on profiling.

As noted above, there is also the open question about the effectiveness of specific profiling methods. It might be the case that the behavioral sciences are not up to the challenge of creating an effective system. It might also be the case that even an effective profile method might be misused enough or employed poorly enough to make it unjust or useless.

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The Principle of Security

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 26, 2010
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While I am sometimes accused of being “soft on terror” because of my views of the war on terror (or whatever it is called now) in general and airport security in particular, I consider my approach to be a rational one. Since I am often cast as an “intellectual”, I feel somewhat obligated to do the intellectual thing and present a principle rather than just taking a view based on how I feel about one thing and then holding an inconsistent view on a similar thing just because I happen to feel differently about that.

My general principle for security is that a security method should be assessed based on the effectiveness of the method, the probability of the threat the method is supposed to counter and the degree to which it violates or infringes on legitimate rights/liberties, the relevant consequences, and the cost of the method. As such, this is a cost benefit analysis. If a method counters a likely threat effectively and does so without a disproportionate violation of rights/liberties and cost, then the method would seem to be acceptable. Otherwise, there would be reasonable grounds to reject the method.

Obviously, I do not have an exact formula and specific methods can be subject to reasonable debate. For example, I think that the full body scans could be effective, that the threat they counter is very unlikely, that the method violates privacy rights too much, and the scanners are too expensive. As such, I am against the full body scanners. However, all these points can be argued.

As another example, I am opposed to the employment of 3,000 (or so) “behavior detection officers.” While I suppose that it is good that these folks are employed, they seem to be rather ineffective: of the 266,000 referrals made since 2006, only 0.7% have even led to arrests. Hardly a high success rate for the cost. Given that “behavior detection” is, at best, an infant science, this is hardly surprising. As such, my view is that this is not a wise use of limited resources. Naturally, this is subject to debate as well.

One thing I have found rather interesting about security is that many people seem to operate on at least two standards: one is for things like the war on terror and the other is for almost everything else.

For example, someone who might balk at a law that prevents parents from smoking in the car with their kids (thus putting their kids at risk for various serious health problems) might think that full body scans and pat downs are acceptable because they help keep use safe from a threat (however incredibly unlikely the threat might be). This, however, seems inconsistent. After all, if the state has the right to violate rights to counter threats, then this right would seem to apply to both situations.

As another example, someone who is opposed to the state getting involved in health care (even though lack of health insurance leads to many deaths), restricting pollution (even though pollution is harmful), or regulating business  (even though many business have shown an unrelenting tendency to behave badly, such as acting in ways that wrecked the economy) might be fine with things like enhanced interrogation, secret prisons, and assassinations. This, however, seems inconsistent. After all, if the state is in the business of keeping us safe, then this should apply to keeping us safe from not only terrorists but also diseases, pollution, and dangerous business practices.

In my own case, I use my principle consistently to assess whether a security method is acceptable or not. So, for example, I assess state regulation of business based on the efficiency of the method, the likelihood of harm, the possible violation of rights/liberties and the cost. In the light of the catastrophic damage done to the economy that can be causally linked to business practices, it seems reasonable to impose regulations on such behavior. Letting business regulate itself in the hopes that they will act responsibly or be “corrected” by market forces is on par with removing all airport security and hoping that the terrorists will self-regulate or that the invisible hand will sort things out. The fact of the matter is that bad behavior generally requires an active counter.

Of course, the counter has to be weighed against the rights and liberties it infringes upon. So, for example, business folks do have rights and liberties that should be taken into account. Also, there can be relevant consequences in regards to limiting business too much. As some folks argue, business folks need a degree of freedom in order to make profits and keep the economy going. Likewise, the way people who travel by air can be treated should be limited by their legitimate rights.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on November 25, 2010
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As usual, I’m setting aside politics, philosophy and all that to focus on what really matters: turkey.

I’m attempting to cook the turkey on my own this year. I’ve done it successfully(once) before, so I should be able to pull it off. However, I did buy a smoked turkey and have it as a backup in case there is a repeat of the infamous Imploding Turkey of Infinite Death episode (don’t ask…this is still classified as “Ultimate Turkey Secret”).

In the spirit of the holiday, thanks to all the folks who visit this blog and even more thanks to those who comment. While we don’t always agree, I enjoy the discussion-even when I get called out on my claims.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Korea

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 24, 2010
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While the TSA continues to scan and pat looking for underwear bombs, trouble is brewing between North and South Korea. While there have been various incidents in the past, the most recent events are matters of grave concern. After all, North Korea is not just a few terrorists dreaming about getting an underwear bomb past the TSA. South Korea has a real military and even nuclear weapons. Plus a leadership that often seems to somewhat north of sanity.

Of course, shooting incidents along such borders do occur without escalating to actual war. Given that there will be a change of leadership soon, North Korea might be playing a violent form of political maneuvering to make some sort of point. Or perhaps this is yet another attempt to gain some leverage in negotiations (“do what we want or we will do crazy things”).

While North Korea is a smaller player than China (or Japan) it has the potential to create a great deal of chaos. While China and North Korea are not the best of friends, China has an established history of sending troops to aid North Korea (we killed a lot of Chinese in the Korean War). Also, China has a clear interest in keeping Korea divided and the United States as far away as possible. Of course, China also has an interest in not having a war break out nearby. China almost certainly does not want to be engaged in a shooting war with the United States. While this is a remote possibility at this time, the United States will fight to defend South Korea and these operations could result in incidents with China.

From a rational standpoint, it makes sense for America and China to cooperate to prevent a war from starting. While China does benefit from North Korea being an enemy of the United States, China benefits far more from being on decent terms with the United States and there not being a shooting war in the region.

It makes good sense to work at getting China to see that having a stable and less crazy North Korea is in its best interest. But, as noted above, a divided Korea is in the interest of China (at least relative to a unified Korea that is allied with America). As such, China will probably be willing to tolerate North Korea’s actions. Hopefully, this will not encourage North Korea to start up the shooting war in earnest.

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The Value of Diversity

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on November 23, 2010
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Diversity, we are constantly told, is a good thing. It is something to aim for and it is something that the law should compel or at least facilitate. Unfortunately, folks are not always clear or precise in regards to what is meant by the term and just why it is a good thing.

The easy and obvious view of diversity is a variety in ethnicities in an area or group. For example, people speak of the military as being diverse because there blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and so on. Another common form of diversity is cultural. This, obviously enough, involves a variety of people from various cultural groups (which may or may not also involve ethnicity as a factor). A third common form is gender diversity. Traditionally this involved having a mix of males and females, but has been expanded to include sexual orientation (straight, bisexual, gay, trans, and so on). Other forms of diversity (ideological, for example) are also possible.

It is commonly assumed in some circles that diversity is good. However, it is reasonable to inquire as to the nature and extent of this value.

The value of diversity is typically presented as extrinsic: diversity is supposed to have various positive effects.  In the case of communities, diversity provides a greater variety of restaurants and is supposed to make the area more interesting. In the case of the military, diversity is supposed to provide useful things such as a variety of language skills, understanding of different cultures, and other things that can be useful in operating in other countries. In the case of academics, diversity is supposed to bring in a variety of opinions and perspectives other than those held by the white males of the old academy.

One concern with this sort of view is that it seems to rest on the assumption that individuals represent their groups. So, for example, adding an Hispanic woman to the faculty will provide a perspective that must be distinct from those held by a white male (who represents his ethnicity and gender) or a black woman (who also represents her ethnicity and gender). To assume that a person must somehow represent or instantiate the perspective of his/her group or even be different from others seems to rest on stereotyping. In fact, it might be suspected that this sort of view is analogous to racism/sexism/etc. in that it assumes, uncritically, that people will or will not have certain qualities based solely on their membership in a group (ethnic, gender, cultural or other).

That said, it is not unreasonable to believe that people who differ in ethnicity, gender, and so on will tend to be be different in other ways. But, whether these differences are significant or valuable is another matter.

The value of diversity is also put forth as being an end in and of itself. That is, it is presented as having intrinsic value. So, for example, having a diverse faculty would be valuable even if the diversity had no discernible effect on education. While I will admit that arguing for intrinsic value is tricky, it seems unlikely that diversity is valuable in and of itself. Rather, as noted above, its value seems to stem from its consequences.

People also argue for diversity in terms of equal opportunity. That is, we should strive for diversity as a means of creating more equal opportunity and to reduce discrimination. In this case, the end is not to achieve diversity, but to end discrimination. This should, in theory, create more diversity by removing unfair obstacles. Of course, some people do take diversity to be the goal. That is, the end is not to allow equal opportunity but to ensure that the population in question is divided among certain groups. In general, the usual idea is that the diversity of the specific population (for example university faculty) matches the diversity of the general population.

One obvious concern with this sort of approach is that it can directly conflict with non-discrimination and equal opportunity. For example , individuals could be excluded from a job based on their membership in an over-represented group rather than on the basis of their qualifications for that job. It is, I think, rather well established that denying a person a job on the basis of race, gender and so on is unjust. Excluding someone in the name of diversity is no more right than excluding someone in the same of uniformity.

This was a suggested topic. You can suggest another topic here.

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Blackout Ban

Posted in Ethics, Law by Michael LaBossiere on November 22, 2010

While drinking until the blackout state is not uncommon among college students, products such as Four Loco changed the drinking game a bit.

What makes drinks like Four Loco special is that they blend a relatively high (relative to beer anyway) alcohol content with a relatively high caffeine content. They also tend to be very cheap relative to other drinks and come in rather large cans relative to the standard beer.

Because of the cheap price and the size of the can, drinkers can get a lot of alcohol for relatively little money and this enables them to drink more. However, what makes them especially dangerous is the caffeine. This enables drinkers to keep on going past the point at which they would normally be forced to stop drinking. This is, of course, why such drinks were making the news: college students were being found blacked out. In some cases, they were originally thought to have been drugged but the damage turned out to be self-inflicted. It is because of the risk posed by these drinks that some think they should not be sold.

On one hand, this seems to be a reasonable and morally correct view. After all, this sort of product has been shown to present a clear danger and the state has a moral duty to protect citizens from harmful products.

However, banning the blackout cans would have but a slight impact on the number of drinking disasters, since students will continue to drink excessively as they have done in the past. The main change is that students will have to go back to getting drunk the way they did before the Four Loco style products hit the market. Also, now that many more students and other drinkers know about the power of caffeine, they can easily make their own blackout drinks by mixing energy drinks with their alcohol of choice. As such, the ban on the blackout could be seen as a mere gesture intended to address a  very specific matter that momentarily made headlines. The underlying causes of the excess drinking and the means to engage in it would remain untouched by the ban. In effect, the drinkers would be only slightly inconvenienced.

To use an analogy, this would be a bit like trying to stop gun deaths by merely banning the sale of preloaded guns, but still allowing people to buy guns and bullets.

It could be replied that the ban will help protect some people: those who do not really understand the power of the blackout can or those who are too lazy to mix alcohol and caffeine on their own. So, perhaps the ban would provide a slight improvement. At least until the next drinking fad comes along.

On the other hand, it could be argued that the ban infringes the rights of the drinkers and the manufacturers of the blackout cans. If it is accepted that people should have the liberty to consume/sell alcohol and caffeine, then it would seem that banning the sale of a product that combines them would violate such liberties. After all, the combination of the two does not create a new drug (like meth) and people still retain the right to mix their own. This would be like arguing that while people have  a right to buy Gatorade mix and water, they have no right to buy pre-mixed Gatorade. So, it could be argued, consistency requires that either the ban extend to all alcohol and caffeine or that the ban be lifted on the blackout cans.

In reply, it could be argued that the blackout cans present a special danger that is not presented by alcohol, caffeine or home made mixes of either. As such, banning it is legitimate since it would protect some people who would otherwise be harmed by the blackout cans.

As noted above, there are probably some drinkers who did not realize exactly what they were getting into when they started drinking from the blackout cans and who did not want (or were too lazy) to mix caffeine and alcohol on their own. These are the sorts of people who would be protected by the ban.  In this case, the state would be limiting liberty to protect those who have poor judgment (or who are lazy).

However, this sort of ban would have a fairly minimal impact. As has been argued, it would only protect those who would only be harmed by the blackout cans and not by other ways of getting drunk. Those who will continue to drink stupidly would not be protected. As such, it would seem to be inconsistent to ban the blackout cans to protect people without banning alcohol and/or caffeine.

This sort of limited ban is, of course, to be expected. These sorts of problems are “addressed” by very limited means aimed at whatever happens to be getting media attention. Meanwhile, the underlying causes and means remain in place.

Topic Suggestions

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on November 21, 2010
Suggestion Box (6/365)
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Magnus recently put in a comment asking if I could have a thread in which people could suggest or request topics for me to write about. So, I will start it with this blog.

I’ll check the comments regularly and respond to interesting suggestions.

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