Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

There was a one-day flap a few weeks ago over the NRA's plans to open a theme restaurant in Times Square. Numerous pious people denounced the idea, as they were entitled to do, and expressed hope no landlord would rent to the NRA.

What got lost in the discussion is that opening a restaurant is in this case a form of speech. The NRA's certainly is. Any intervention by the city of NY (none is contemplated as far as I know) or any other unit of government to prevent the opening would be a suppression of speech.

If we step back from ideology, an NRA theme restaurant in Times Square is a terrible business idea. Many theme retaurants in NY have failed and the NRA's would have the unusual feature of deterring many New Yorkers who would freely drop money in an NFL or NASCAR restaurant.

Looked at that way, I hope the NRA goes full speed ahead and sinks millions of dollars in the project. Its a far more innocuous use of the members' money than giving it to Congressmen. Hell, I hope they open NRA restaurants in all five boroughs. There's a great storefront here in Brooklyn Heights that's been empty for ages. Come to think of it, there's a nice large space available in the Hamptons, too, where three restaurants have failed in the past five years. Addresses provided upon NRA request.

I love receiving your email and can be reached, as always, at jw@bway.net

Dear Jonathan:

I liked the essay. I must say that I most resent it when lies are both blatant and ideologically motivated. Of course, it's possible to lie by omission, too.


In fact, through the miracle of e-mail I learned of the incident soon after it happened -- and that's the *ONLY* way I ever heard about it, AND I predicted the media-bias that would preclude any mention of it (I even have e-mail logs that PROVE that I predicted it).

When it's this easy to predict antigun bias on my part, it makes my role in the firearms debate just too damn easy. I never felt like I was going out on a limb when making my prediction, and if that's not blatant I don't know what is! Pointing out bias these days is, to use an old expression, as easy as shooting fish in a barrel!

As for "ideologically motivated," http://reason.com/0006/fe.ks.loaded.html does a pretty good job monitoring the media, IMO.

What do I miss? Something you've said wasn't a success (thankfully, you have kept The Spectacle discussing guns, anyway) -- honest debate on guns. Real debate, not some emotion-contest where having working ovaries matters more than knowing the facts. It's a pity "mainstream" media don't take a page from your publication and pit two advocates on opposite sides of a subject that's normally treated emotionally rather than logically against each other, in a setting that encourages thought rather than feeling. It doesn't take much thought to make a case for mediabias on guns these days.

I'd love to see less of the *obvious* astroturf (faked grass-roots) from groups like the "million" mom march, but until we see less mediabias, less swallowing obviously-staged events hook, line, & sinker, I predict we'll see more of the same. :(

James M. Ray jray@e-gold.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Fabulous piece.


Great stuff.

Thanks for writing it!

Betty G. O'Hearn msinfowar@earthlink.net

Dear Jonathan Wallace,

Thank you for this magnificent article on lying. Wonderful content and beautifully expressed. Clarifies a number of points for me.

What do you think about bluff? In a lecture I sometimes give to arbitrators I say that an arbitrator should never bluff. That is he should never deceive or seek to deceive by concealment of weakness.

But some worthwhile games and sports (such as poker) are founded on bluff. Or are they?

Again thank you, Bryan Niblett bryan.niblett@arbitration.co.uk

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I would like your opinion about the following situation. I am aware that extreme situations are a bad basis for making laws, but sometimes they do happen.

It is 1942. In Berlin. The gestapo comes to take the Grynberg family to a concentration camp. Most of the family is home but little Rebekkah Grynberg is down at the greengrocers standing in the turnip queue.

Mrs. Schmidt sees the Grynberg family being loaded into the vans. She just got home from shopping so she knows that Becky is down at the greengrocers.

She rushes out and brings Becky home and hides her. You know that the Grynbergs have been taken away, and you see Mrs. Schmidt sneaking Becky into her home.

The gestapo knows that they do not have Rebekkah Grynberg. They go knocking on doors asking if anyone knows where she is. They knock on your door. They ask you if you know where she is.

You have a choice. You can say "yes" or "no".

If you say "no", they will probably believe you as much as the gestapo ever believed anybody, since most people do not KNOW where the neighbor's children are at any given moment. They will probably go to the next door.

If you say "yes", then they will ask you where she is.

You have a choice. You can tell the truth, and both Becky and Mrs. Schmidt will be sent to concentration camps, or you can refuse to answer, and YOU will be taken away.

You may, while in custody refuse to answer: but "ve haf vays of making you talk". Can you withstand sodium pentathol? If so, how long can you withstand torture? Even sleep deprivation?

I think that it would be better if you had just said "no". Kant would disagree. Kant had never heard of Heinrich Himmler. Or of sodium Pentathol. And Kant, the absolutist, was a german. There is something about absolutes in the german soul. They tend to see things in terms of black and white. I can say that, since my father is german and I lived most of my adult life in germany.

In THIS extreme situation, would YOU lie?

By the way, I love your magazine.

Sincerely, Carsten Knepper carsten1@webtv.net

Dear Jonathan:

I read, and really enjoyed, what you wrote on the topic of telling lies.

What would, in your opinion, be the morally correct way to handle the following dilemma:

Assume I have a friend who recently broke up with his girlfriend. She still loves him, but the feeling is no longer mutual, wich has resulted in a break-up.

My friend gets romantically involved with a new woman. He tells me this under the condition that I do not let this information pass to his ex-girlfriend. He's afraid her feelings will be hurt.

Later on I'm confronted by the ex-girlfriend and she asks me if my friend has met someone new.

If I say "I know the answer to your question, but I cannot tell you", she will immediately take that as a "Yes".

If I say "Yes he has", my promise to my friend will turn out to be a lie.

Just to cover my back, I will claim that my friend would tell the truth to his ex-girlfriend if confronted.

Can this be solved in a lie-free way?

Great site.


Jens Matthies truth@starbreeze.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I like your "Lying" Story.

A couple of areas you don't address:

When is Lying Can Be a Moral Virtue?

And, How Can One Honestly have Multiple Sexual Partners?

Lying is a moral virtue when one is threatened and must save one's life, or to avoid harm in general. Say for example one is captured in a war, or one is held at gunpoint by a robber or potential murederer.

One can honestly have multiple sexual partners if the partners are honest with each other about one or both having more than one sexual partner and they agree in an open marriage, in polygamy, line marriage, group marriage, or in polyamory.

Hutchinson Persons hp@doitnow.com

Dear Jonathan:

It is perfectly moral to lie to a murderer seeking his victim, and you make the case for it.

As you note earlier in your essay, lying is a form of force. The only true sin is the *initiation* fo force;once it has been initiated, retaliation is not only moral, it is almost mandated. You note, correctly, that we do not NEEd to lie -- we may, for example, be able to attack the murderer, either to kill or simply to dissuade.

It is, of course, immoral to attack random strangers, just as it is immoral to lie. But when you are FIGHTING BACK, you are using *retaliatory* force, which is perfectly moral. If you have a gun, shoot the murderer. If you don't have a gun (which is what you advocate), lie to the murderer.


Wallace replies: Great punchline. Actually, I prefer to defend myself with withering sarcasm (as you do so well).

An Auschwitz Alphabet
Dear Mr. Wallace:

I just found your pages, and I sure am intrigued.

I was born in 1945, grew up in Graz, and came to California in 1962.

When I grew up, very few people talked about the war, almost nothing was said in school.

There was lots of action, for everything was growing, needed to be rebuilt. My father's family comes from Yugoslavia, they had to leave everything behind, when the Russians came in '44, fortunate enough to save their lives.

In 1962, we came to visit my grandparents in California, and my parents decided to stay. Only over the years did I become aware of the "racial problems" in the U.S., and also of the very different views the members of different religions have. Always very busy, I did not really have the time to study any of the causes, but I was always very observant. One thing I noticed very soon, that the "image" of how or what things are, are not exactly how they really are. And no one ever makes any serious effort, to bring these views together, although they somehow get "balanced" out.

One thing I also noticed, that people repeat whatever the public opinion is, and very seldom, do they really express their own opinion -- IF there even is one.

Words have become labels, and a searching for the truth, is almost non-existent. And that's why your page had attracted my attention, for it seems (and I have not read everything yet), that you really want to find some answers. And that is my goal too. And there are nothing but problems, once one starts asking real questions.

And it's obvious, that there is something wrong, for both sides, and apparently every field here has two sided set up, are not happy about any inquiry, which is deviating from the "truth" they already found.

Why we have so many problems, as a society and as individuals, is something no one wants to discuss either, for then everyone seems to be contend, and just explains, how much worse it could be, or is in other countries. No one really cherishes the Truth, and liberty , fairness, and Justice, are really only buzzwords, not more than shiny labels, but lacking any meaning. And people who looked into things, like Fromm or Frankl, or even George F. Kennan, not to mention Professor Chomsky, they are almost unknown by the majority of people, because the "free" press never made them popular.

of course, here in Los Angeles it might be more drastic than at other places, but in general, the same holds true; people here are pretty good follower, just as Adolf would have wanted them. Authority has such an influence on people's reaction, that it's pathetic! But at the SAME TIME, these very same people pride themselves of being independent; and nothing could be further from the truth!

Any way, I want to thank you for your effort,

and I'm hoping that many more Americans are beginning to think, instead of just following what their group or party "suggests," in one effective way or another.

Karlheinz A. Halter AustroCalifornia@email.msn.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Do not forget that for every ignorant person that seeks to deny the Holocaust there are many who were not born then but still have the sense to learn the lessons of history, who would not be silent and who would not stand by and watch it happen again.

I say this to you because they see these things as being beyond argument and therefore are the silent ones. It is the racists and the deniers of the past who shout loudest.

This is a great site.

Mark Groom bmgroom@cs.com

Dear Jonathan,

I cried as I read through your website. I cried not only for the victims of the Holocaust, but for you, as well. I cried because of your conclusion that there is no God. I' m not responding to argue with you, only to say that I know He is real.

I thank you for building such an informative website where I could learn more about the Jewish people and about the Holocaust. I wish you the best.

Mrs. Harrison ksharrison@veracom.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am an elementary school teacher completing my masters in ed. I have spent a semester reading as many selections of children's literature about the Holocaust as I could find for an independent readings course. Found your website and wanted to let you know how wonderful it is...your narrative along with the quotes from survivors provides a different perspective. As you can imagine, I have been overwhelmed with the horror of the stories I've read and can only hope that as a teacher and a mother I can use my knowledge to guide my students and children in developing an empathatic understanding of the Holocaust. Know that your hard work in developing this website and your willingness to share your personal history is much appreciated!


Laura Hardee kenandla@midwest.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

In your preface to "Auschwitz Alphabet," you mentioned a third path, putting yourself in the shoes of a Jew during the Holocaust. You worried about trivializing the experience.

I think that's a valid concern, but I believe with the sensitivity you showed through your work you could create an effective experience. Please keep it under consideration.

David Strobel davidstrobel@hotmail.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I just started reading your Auschwitz Alphabet.

The other night on our local TV, they had a programme in which Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was performed in the quarry at Mauthausen. I was compelled to write this.

They Played Beethoven's Ninth.

Mauthausen 2000.

The blood of many thousands
Has weathered off these stones
The worms reduced the corpses
To nothing more than bones.
The ashes of the innocent
Grows a copse of trees
The stench of death with no relent
Still lingers on the breeze.

The Warden sung his carols
His children to inspire
While Kapos fed less fortunate
To all consuming fire.
The chimneys now stand silent
They no longer reek
No more the gold is smelted
From many human teeth.

Rocks where children's brains were dashed
Are cleaned by time and rain.
The hanging and the torture cells
Still ring with cries of pain.
The stairs of death led to the pit
Where naked in the snow
The starving backs of the oppressed
The lash of race-hate know.

Beneath the stars that shine in shame
They came to sing a song
Descending down those steps they came,
They came to right a wrong.
While the ghosts of innocence
Heard, silent in their cry,
They dared to play Beethoven's Ninth
Where murdered children lie.

David Henry. 14/5/00

There are some who are blinded by the passage of time and there are some who will remind others that these horrors WERE perpetrated and must never be repeated.

David Henry oldavo@bigpond.com

Dear Jonathan,

I just say "what a beatiful site". I have been reading Primo Levi over and over and I was curious about your "Alphabet dedicated to Primo Levi".

Best Regards,
Anna Tramontini abct@vv.aurora.it

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am afraid I must challenge some of the assumptions in your article on the right to revolution. The founding fathers knew of a power capable of corrupting their country; a power behind the jurisdiction complained about in the Declaration of Independence. We are subject to it now. Is the Right to Revolution negated when the government revolted against is merely a puppet to a foreign dictatorship? What if every principal this country was based upon has been undermined?

"the machinery of a democracy must be based on the assumption that it will always function justly." is, itself an assumption. It is akin to, in just having created a superior machine, thinking it can never wear out. It is akin to the assumption that the Titanic CANNOT sink, because no ship was ever as well built (and none ever was).

Today, we are under foreign occupation. To explain to you how it happened would require a large volume, but I hope this website would serve as an introduction:


You said yourself: "Open resistance to an unjust law is a badge of honesty" Is the point of a gun honest? Do you follow your heart and be true to yourself, when you consent to participate in foreign wars designed to profit the dictator? Are you honest with yourself when you give any kind of support to what you know is pathology?

If you trouble yourself to get acquainted with the United States Code, you are liable to discover that many REAL laws go unenforced and unenforceable, while NON-laws are getting enforced with criminal penalties. (Ever wonder why the US has the highest per capita prison population in the world?)

John Jensen jjensen@bak.rr.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I'm looking at your "Ethical spectacle" site. There's some interesting stuff. I agree with a lot of it, and that which I don't has at least set me thinking.

I was reading the sentence "Professor Catharine Mackinnon, in her thought-provoking book Only Words, made the point that it is hard to get an objective adjudication on pornography in a world where doubtless at least some judges are pornography users." when the thought struck me:

"How could you get a fair adjudication if at least some of the judges *weren't* pornography users"? By that logic, you would risk 'objective adjudication' by letting black jurors into any trial with a black defendant.

Just a thought.



Downright amazing ...

The reason I found your most amazing web scribblings was that I have found myself in a first-class windmill-tilting with my congressional delegation re "campaign finance reform."

Long ago I had concluded that what was needed was not so much reform of the sources of the money, but the use of the money, i.e. TV mass-market advertising. I took the trouble to write at length about this to my congressional delegation, one of whom (Jon Kyl, Jr. Senator from Arizona) seems to have actually read my long letter and took the trouble to reply personally.

You can not imaginge my amazement at having discovered that your very first issue of Ethical Spectacle contained a brief note on this very topic!

I did go a bit farther. In addition to "No paid political advertising" I said "Separate the political forum from the marketplace." The instrumentatlity would be mandated "First amendment channels" accessible to every halfway credible candidate/issue/advocacy group. If you don't like the word "channel" substitute or modify the notion. But preserve the basic idea: Political, first-amendment protected speech is FREE to all comers (somehow). No political advertising on commercial media whatsoever. The commercial forum (selling soap, beer, automobiles, etc.) is for pay. There is a Chinese wall between them.

This obviously is a notion fraught with ALL SORTS OF PRACTICAL/POLITICAL PITFALLS & SHORTCOMINGS, but I think something like it will be needed to stop our slide down the slippery slope.

I have turned into a bit of a fan of David Broder due to his recent book re the "popular" initiative as circumvention of the Constitution. We have one of those coming up here in Arizona on "Medical marijuana" again, sponsored by the same big out-of-state money as the last couple of times. Third time, I think it is. What this is obviously about REALLY is legalization of narcotic drugs, to which I, and a whole lot of folks are deeply opposed. I, as well as the county attorney to whom I spoke a few days ago at the state Republican convention, think this likely has its roots in global narco-business. Downright frightening.

After thinking about this a bit more, I have come to believe that it maybe it is time for a "Freedom of Communication" constitutional amendment. It could address this, among a whole lot of electromagnetic spectrum-related issues. Obviously a constitutional amendment is not something that should be undertaken lightly, but electricity was not well understood in the eighteenth century when the founding fathers were doing their thing, much less gigabit-rate communication on every desktop/in every pocket. James Clerk Maxwell figured it out at about the time of the Civil War. The electronic media now have this profound impact on the way the world works - first became significant with the advent of broadcasting in the 1920's, and now more profoundly with blindingly fast digital networks of various kinds. I think it's probably time that the freedoms associated with electronic communication & information be explicitly addressed in the foundation of our system of government (some easy example issues: Privacy, access, identity).

I have waxed philosophical about the more technical side of this in a submission to the FCC two years ago, but looking past my technical arguments, that too was about a sort of "fair access" notion too.

You ever heard any rumblings from the hustings along these lines?

Your stuff is just absolutely amazing. I am in awe.

-- Best regards,

Dr. Arthur H. M. Ross a.ross@ieee.org

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thank you for your thoughtful article on the Elian Gonzales matter which appeared in your Ethical Spectacle.

The majority of Americans seem to be under the impression that all of us non hispanics in Florida would like the Cuban Americans to go back to Cuba. Nothing could be further from the truth. The facts brought out in your article and that of Robert Mykoff's are quite correct and seem to be ignored by the mainstream.

There was absolutely no reason for this despicable raid.

One of our prominent Jewish business men, Mr. Braman, ran a full page in the Miami Herald right after the raid, asking Jewish people to remember their own history before condemning those folks risking all to reach freedom.

Thanks again for your article. May we send it on to others ?

Capt. Ron strays@bellsouth.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I just ran across your article on Karla's execution. When the state killed her I was torn. It's about time women started being held responsible just as men are for their crimes. Still, I'm sick of the death penalty. It's no solution. Society was just as safe before we killed her as after. The death penalty only furthers the careers of DA's and some cops who will to anything-including lie on the stand-to increase their conviction rates. The system in Texas is terribly messed up. I strongly believe in life without parole yet many of our legislators will not support it because it might "weaken the death penalty". I am ashamed to be a Texan. Anyone in this state who thinks they can't wind up on death row because the system works are gambling with their lives.

Bill Brown drwillie812@webtv.net

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thanks for a great web site - I return here regularly and have put up a link on my web site at http://home.telia.no/bastrup


Olav Rune Ekeland Bastrup orbas@aa.telia.no

Dear Jonathan,

I have not covered your entire web site yet, but I plan to. I am interested in your notion that catholics and protestants feel as if "jews killed our Lord". In my 50 years of being a protestant, I have NEVER heard those words from anyone that was not Jewish. I grew up in Plainfield New Jersey where 1/2 my friends were Jewish. We believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that He came here to die. You think, if we believe He was God incarnate that ANYONE???? could kill Him? He was the spotless lamb that was sacrificed for our sins. Back in the Garden of Eden God began to reveal His plan us to redeem us again to Himself. This is foretold in each of your holidays and ceremonies. Jesus was descended from Abraham and King David. Anyway, as a nonjewish person, I apoligize for what things have been done to your people. I believe Satan HATES God's chosen and and will use whatever and whoever he can to persecute your people. Think of the miracle of who you are! Not actually a race, not actually a religion, but still a definite entity that has survived thousands of years of perscution. So many have tried to wipe Jewish people off the face of the world. Yet here you are, you think by chance??? God is working out a plan for His people and it is exciting to watch and learn. God Bless you and your family read and study His Word. Get to know the God of your forfathers....he loves you!

Emeline Wright ene12@bellsouth.net

Dear Jonathan:

Just found your site today, and the article about Schindler's List being a remake of ET. Based on my cursory browsing of other articles you've posted, you seem like a smart guy who can turn a good phrase. Glad you're out there speaking to the "masses."

Keep up the good work.

A penpal in Seattle,

Christine Felton felton@shootingiron.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I read the debate on guns that you conducted with the NRA spokesperson (his name escapes me). I really good effort, I belive this is a really good way to conduct a debate. Through the exchange of letters. That way both sides have a chance to really think things through, and are able to present their opinion much better. I only wish there was a rule that required questions from one side to be adressed by the other.

I was born and live in Sweden (wich is why I probably fail to spell correctly on occation). We get along fine without guns. I even dare say that a Swedish citizen is more free than an american. For example: Everyone can go to college, good public service radio/television, strong unions, no restrictions on language and sex in media etc.

My point is that since we never felt the need to carry guns we don't have a debate about it.

Despite this, I find the american gun debate very interesting and try to follow it when I can. I have a couple of questions that more than likely has been adressed in the past and was because of that not included in your debate with what's-his-name. None the less, these are questions I'd love to have answered by a gun-advocate.

1. I claim that the old saying "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" lacks in logic. If I understand it correctly, this means that if a person really wants to kill another he/she can do it with a properly sharpened pencil. The gun itself matters not.

My question is: Why would you possibly need one then? If you really want to defend your home from a burglar you can do it with a properly sharped pencil.

The fact is that a gun is a tool specifically made for killing. It makes killing easier. It makes justified and non-justifed killing easier. Just like a hammer makes carpentry easier, no matter what house you're building.

Death rates increase with guns around, because without them killing is less efficient.

2. I claim that without laws against guns aggressors are rewarded.

I simply find it more likely that an agressor would have the upper hand against a defender, gun or no gun. If I want to rob, rape or kill you I will ambush you. I'll have my gun in my hand while yours is still in your pocket. Guns assist the defending party only if the aggressor has none. I, however, find it more likely that the aggressor will buy one sooner than the defender.

Since most violent scenarios, in my opinion, will give the aggressor the upper hand, I prefer guns not involved. Because guns makes inflicting damage easier.

3. I claim that the statement "We need guns to protect us from our own government" is without merit.

America is a democracy. In other words, the government does what the majority of the people want. The above statement seem to claim that the government (acting on behalf of the people) should be threatened into obedience by a gun owning minority. Notice how this is the opposite of democracy.

You might say that the government can not be trusted. That democracy is a joke. That it is quite possible that the government will become a dictatorship sooner or later.

If that happens, do you really think you can stop the air-force, tanks, nuclear weapons or what have you with the Magnum you keep in your closet?

I suggest spending the time you invest at the shooting-range, on reinforcing the democratic system. I recommend fighting to keep your freedom rather than buying a gun that is next to useless should your government turn on you.

Have these statements ever been adressed properly by the gun-advocates? If you have the time, please enlighten me Jonathan.


Jens truth@starbreeze.com