May 2013

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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. I have gotten into the habit of leaving out full names and email addresses; I have had too many people think better of something they said fifteen years ago. If you want your name and email included, let me know. Flames, however, will be published with full name and email address.

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thank you so very much for Natural Rights Don't Exist. On April 2 in Bisbee, AZ we had a public "debate" on an ordinance to formalize civil unions. As you can imagine, every species of logical fallacy heard the clarion call and leapt from the woodwork to proclaim its authority. Roughly speaking, the affair divided itself between the religious proclaiments (against the ordinance) and the natural rights contingent (for the ordinance). While I am for the ordinance, I was disturbed by the sense of shifting sand in the latter's arguments.

You have given us a great deal of sense to help parse these issues.


I'm not sure if I have commented on this before, but I've come to feel that your Rags and Bones column is usually the best part of each edition of the Ethical Spectacle. I'm not trying to detract from any other articles you publish [especially my own ;-) ], but your short takes on various subjects, written in a concise manner, make me think more (in a thoughts-generated/written-word valuation) than any other part of the edition. Going through your article starts a fire in my idea boiler that makes me want to agree, disagree, or just comment on it. Of course, I usually don't have the immediate time to follow through, but rest assured that you have encouraged cogitation.

Vatican hierarchy vs. Jesus - Whenever such comments arise, the first thing that comes into my head are the lyrics to Woody Guthrie's song "Jesus Christ." ( It's interesting, though, that Woody used for a tune for his song one about Jesse James.

Floodgates - Given what you recount, it's a little surprising that no one (to my knowledge) has actively reminded the justices that they are, to steal a line from a James Bond film, "only appointed for life."

NY Times - My respect for the NY Times has plummeted, too. I always knew it was an establishment paper, but thought it was still worthy of respect. However, the caliber of the journalism has slipped. Even things like the lack of copy editing shows this, and the laziness of reporters who don't bother to use the dictionary. For example, a most irritating and increasing error (not just at the Times) is the misuse of the word "epicenter" as a synonym for "center." According to my Webster's New Collegiate, epicenter has one and only one meaning: the spot on the surface of the earth that is directly above an earthquake.

And then there is bias. On some topics it's to the right, on some to the left. And on some subjects that are neither right nor left, like gun control, it is just plain biased. Why can't the Times' reporters just make an effort to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

NYPD - I'd like to see some research done on which is worse, the NYPD or the LAPD. The LAPD also has a long reputation for violence against innocent civilians. Recently, in its hunt for Chris Dorner, the LAPD shot up two people, a woman in her 70s and her daughter, who were delivering newspapers. Dorner was driving a dark grey Nissan Titan. The women were driving a bright metallic blue Toyota Tacoma. A different police department shot at a guy in a truck a few blocks away. The police shot at three innocent people, Dorner shot at four! Not a big difference, especially when you look at the vehicles and realize that it was a miracle that any of the people the cops shot at survived. And that the many bullet holes in houses in the neighborhoods didn't result in any deaths!

I have a friend who has a pickup just like the two women. I was thinking of buying him a sign to put on his tailgate that would read "To LAPD: Don't shoot! This is not a dark gray Nissan Titan." But I figured he wouldn't use it for fear that the LAPD would shoot him just for posting the sign. I have another friend, on the Long Beach PD. I heard from him that lots of people on the force who had trucks even remotely dark or gray left their trucks at home and went to work by other means. And now the LAPD is trying to weasel out of the $1 million reward it posted.

Drones and assassination - In my article in the 11/11 edition entitled Killing Awlaki , I disagreed with you for what seem "practical" reasons. I'll take a stab at the moral approach. In this country, we have in our code of laws the crime of felony murder. This means that if one commits a serious crime and someone is killed, the criminals are guilty of felony murder and can be punished like any other murderers. If you think that this is immoral, then you need nor read any more of my argument. Else, please consider this example.

Joe and two partners decide to rob a bank. Joe is the getaway car driver and waits at the curb. His buddies go into the bank. While inside, they kill a customer and a bank guard, and the responding cops kill the two robbers and capture Joe. Joe can be tried and convicted of the robbery attempt and four counts of felony murder, his two partners and the other two in the bank, even though he didn't fire a shot, wasn't in the bank, and was hoping that no one would get hurt.

How does this apply to the assassination question? Al Qaeda terrorists plan and/or commit various acts to force others to accept their religious views and to address various political/historical grievances that they have. Yes, their enemies might have done things that were wrong and offended Al Qaeda and others. Yes, they might have the support of others in their part of the world. No, this does not give them the right to kill other perhaps-innocent people that they hold responsible; that is immoral. No, they don't have the right to get away with it and to continue their practices; the governments have every right to stop them; that is moral.

These terrorists plan and execute their crimes while hiding amongst their supporters, who might not be actively involved or are children in those communities. Who is responsible when these bystanders get killed while the terrorists' enemies are hunting them - the governments on a moral campaign to stop the terror or the terrorists themselves? As in the case of felony murder, I say that the terrorists are responsible!

The terrorist hunters should make reasonable efforts to avoid killing bystanders, but the terrorists bear ultimate responsibility. It then falls to the "practical" situation of finding the most effective way to accomplish the goal. I don't think that assassination is an appropriate word to describe what the terrorist hunters do. They would arrest and try them if an efficacious way to do it could be found that didn't involve the sacrifice of the terrorist hunters' troops.

The issue of whether a particular terrorist is an American citizen is irrelevant. If a person is involved in a campaign against innocent people here or elsewhere and is *outside of the US*, the person can be treated like any other terrorist. Please see my other article mentioned above. If no safe and reasonable manner of capture is present, then "bye, bye and good luck!" (I am told that this was the standard closing remark of a Contra Costa County, California, judge upon sentencing a criminal.) (I interpret these circumstances narrowly and to not mean to give license to hunt any kind of person or activity that the big shots in the US government simply don't like.)

Technology and change - It seems that you and many others are simply resigned to the pace of technological change and are not willing to make a fight about it. Why is this? It would not make you Luddites, just reasonable, thinking people.

A New York trial - Protected speech? That depends upon whether he/she was inciting to violence, right?

First Sale and E-Books, reasoning by analogy - If First Amendment law applies today to electronic works, then doesn't the Second Amendment protection of the citizenry owning the infantry weapon of the day (then a flintlock rifle or musket) mean that any non-criminal, non-insane person can today own an M-16 machine gun? If it's reasonable to make serious restrictions on the latter, isn't it reasonable to do the same on the former?

Two thoughts about drones - I agree with you. However, I also agree with it in the opposite direction. The blame for any attack lies with the human and not with the tool. Guns don't kill people, people do. Don't try to take the tools away from the people who are *not* attacking anyone.

A thought about guns - I think that your logic is either fallacious or has holes in it. It is an axiom among people who legally carry a gun is that the best gun to carry is the one you have with you. If you are at home, feeling safe in your castle, and your gun is not being carried, you are out of luck.

I'm raising my hand. I think there would be even more of this kind of thing if there were stricter gun control. Such shootings might occur in regions where guns are more common than in New York or Boston, but locally, it's different. All of such incidents save one in the last X decades (I forget the exact number) happened in places that were declared to be gun-free zones. In one case down south, a school principal with a license to carry had to run 1/4 mile to where he parked his car outside of the gun-free school zone, retrieve it, and then ran back to the school, where he terminated the shooting. I don't fault you for not knowing this. Media bias determines what you read or don't read on this subject.

As to "how is your six or ten shot weapon going to defend you against a madman's 30 bullet clip and sacks full of reloads?", it partly depends upon who is the better shot. Also it is who got surprised by whom, who is more clever, who is wearing body armor, who can clear a jam more quickly, who goes to the range to practice more often, who has the bigger cojones, etc. I have heard that in Newtown 11 children were able to escape while the shooter changed magazines (*not* clips!!). That would have been a good, safe time to shoot him, if someone had been armed.

Remember, not all Newtown parents who lost a child support more gun control laws. Check out

Bruce Clark