May 2012

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Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. Send your comments to me at I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will do so. I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I really enjoyed Why I Hate Prosecutors.. took the words right out of my mouth keep up the good work.


Mr. Wallace,

I read your article Natural Rights Don't Exist and I thought it was very interesting with ideas I've never seen before. I actually came across your article because I have been pondering and thinking to myself the same thing.

I finished it and had one question I'd like to ask you, if you would not mind answering it:

You say that Locke and pretty much everyone else since have justified making rules and laws based on our 'natural laws', which are really just natural human instincts, desires, and functions that were arbitrarily named as 'rights'. This means that they are making universal laws that apply to everybody based on what they think are 'rights', which is foolish. I don't however understand what justifies us making laws and rules if we don't have arbitrary 'rights'. Do we just justify making laws and rules based on a 'rule utilitaianism' model? My question is: If you were in charge of making rules, what grounds would you base the rules off of... utilitarianism?

Thank you for your time, and I appreciate if you could clear up the discrepency between your and Locke's justification for making laws.


You are raising a very interesting question. I think rules are based on human convenience and custom, not on anything external. As such, there is a big fuzzy factor, so strict systems for explaining them (such as utilitarianism) don't quite work. In law school, I was fascinated by the Uniform Commercial Code, which as opposed to moralistic laws (against abortion, for example) or very deliberately complex and arbitrary laws (the tax code) was based on simple, practical considerations. The trade in goods is a very ancient human activity, and one that in itself can tend to promote peace and mutual understanding, and it leads to the formulation of rules about risk, means of payment, conflict resolution, etc, that can be eminently practical and easy to apply. If you ever roomed with other people, you may have generated a set of rules about who cleans or cooks when, how expenses are shared, etc. I regard all human moral rulesets as mere legislation. In order not to be killed, I agree to refrain from killing. I don't believe the ten commandments are God-given, but they make pretty good sense as consensual rule-making, as does Jesus' boiling them down to "Love thy neighbor as thyself". The prisoner's dilemma also gives insight into improvised, ever-adjusting systems that can give rise across a series of encounters to complex forms of cooperation. The evolutionary process by which organisms of different levels of complexity arrive at symbiotic relationships is also interesting.

I have also, much more vaguely, suggested in a couple of my essays that there is a level of morality beyond practicality which may be a form of art, because based on beauty. I once, for example, confessed to an acquaintance that ten years before I had wrongly accused her boyfriend of taking something from my house. I hadn't made the accusation to the cops, but just to her; the individual in question was chaotic and she half believed at the time it might be true; she had subsequently broken up with the individual and was no longer in contact with him. I could have kept my mouth shut, and she would never have known I made a mistake, and I would have suffered no consequences. So I told her a newly discovered truth (I had found the item in question in storage in my parents' basement, where I forgot I had put it) based on an obscure internal imperative, that by telling her, I would more closely approach a beautiful idea I had formulated, of the kind of person I wanted to be. This is a dangerous criterion, though, because (like the murderer in "Red Dragon" who loves the way blood glints in moonlight) there may be people with hideously distorted and quite lethal ideas of the beautiful.

Deazr Mr. Wallace:

I was reading your car wheel story after the same thing happened to me recently , I reckon its going to be on my mind for a while too

Cheers Champ


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Re On Lying:



This letter is in response to the articles covering the Justice Department's decision not to reopen the probe of the 1970 Kent State shootings.

Well, it appears the ghosts of Tin Soldiers and Nixon are coming back to the Kent State Campus.

First, your most ambitious students are being charged more money because they choose to take more credit hours {without any justification for the increased fees}. Second, the annual out-of-control beer party is put down by a armed SWAT team wearing similar uniforms as the Guardsman did 42 years ago {except that this time the tear gas is far more potent}. Now you have a Justice Department under the leadership of a Democratic President that decides they would rather look anywhere but at KSU or for that matter perhaps Dealey Plaza, the Lorraine Hotel and the Ambassador Hotel. Per the article: "The FBI's Cleveland office apparently destroyed the original Strubbe tape in 1979, according to the Justice Department." This begs the question: why wasn't it given to the Smithsonian Museum as a artifact of history? Why the rush to destroy the tape?

Per the article: "Some details of the altercation Allen identified on the recording seem similar to an incident involving Terry Norman, a Kent State law enforcement student who was carrying a concealed .38-caliber pistol during the May 4 protest. Norman was photographing demonstrators for the Kent State University police and the FBI. He claimed he was assaulted by angry crowd members and said he drew his gun to warn them away." Further: "Several witnesses said they heard a Kent State policeman who inspected Norman's gun exclaim that it had been fired four times." And finally: "Some Guardsmen claimed they had fired in reaction to gunshots, possibly from a sniper..."

Listening to the audio tape recording of what transpired that fatal day one can fairly easily trace the sequence of events. What prompted the Guardsmen to fire appears to be their hearing of pistol shots coming from the crowd of protesters.

Now given the hostile environment they got themselves surrounded by any type of nearby gunfire would certainly invite such a retaliatory response. Someone in a officer capacity ordered the Guard to shoot because they believed their troop was in harms way. What a bizarre series of events. All this time, because of a deliberately botched investigation by the FBI as with the other cases mentioned we the American People have been duped into thinking the deaths and injuries of thirteen students was the result of some rogue element within the Ohio National Guard where in fact it turns out that a under-cover spy sent in by the law-enforcement establishment inadvertently (or perhaps purposely) set off this chain of events when he was discovered by a angry few (who also helped set off the tragedy by their actions).

The Strubbe tape is the Zapruder film of this historic event; something the "authorities" didn't count on. One has to wonder if there were other audio or even video tapes that recorded this event only to be confiscated by "officials" as they were in Dealey Plaza. All four events have the same common denominator: do not mess with America's war machine because the consequences can be deadly. Perhaps one day other students {or faculty} will have the courage to come forward to tell what they know or perhaps tell what they were told not to say. Maybe KSU will have it's own "Deep Throat" hero emerge shortly before their death so they can reveal what truly happened. Boy would this make for a great Oliver Stone Film; a movie director who is rewarded financially by taking advantage of the lack of accountability by the United States Government. As Colonel Jessup {Jack Nicolson} in "A Few Good Men" shouts "You can't handle the truth" the response by the American people must always be "let us decide what truth we can and cannot handle" otherwise what is the point of the United States Constitution? We must get to the bottom of this tragedy before it is too late. Citizens of this great country: It's up to you.

Joe Bialek