Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Ethics (page 1 / 2)

Palm Oil, Child labor, Evil, and Deliberate Decisions

This story breaks my heart and makes me angry.

Child labor in palm oil industry tied to Girl Scout cookies

10-year-old Ima helped harvest the fruit that makes its way into a dizzying array of products sold by leading Western food and cosmetics brands.

Ima is among the estimated tens of thousands of children working alongside their parents in Indonesia and Malaysia, which supply 85% of the world’s most consumed vegetable oil. An Associated Press investigation found most earn little or no pay and are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals and other dangerous conditions. Some never go to school or learn to read and write. Others are smuggled across borders and left vulnerable to trafficking or sexual abuse. Many live in limbo with no citizenship and fear being swept up in police raids and thrown into detention.

The AP used U.S. Customs records and the most recently published data from producers, traders and buyers to trace the fruits of their labor from the processing mills where palm kernels were crushed to the supply chains of many popular kids’ cereals, candies and ice creams sold by Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg’s, PepsiCo and many other leading food companies, including Ferrero – one of the two makers of Girl Scout cookies.

… Ima led her class in math and dreamed of becoming a doctor. Then one day her father made her quit school because he needed help meeting the high company targets on the palm oil plantation where she was born. Instead of attending fourth grade, she squatted in the unrelenting heat, snatching up the loose kernels littering the ground and knowing if she missed even one, her family’s pay would be cut.

She sometimes worked 12 hours a day, wearing only flip flops and no gloves, crying when the fruit’s razor-sharp spikes bloodied her hands or when scorpions stung her fingers. The loads she carried, sometimes so heavy she would lose her footing, went to one of the very mills feeding into the supply chain of Olivia’s cookies.

“I am dreaming one day I can go back to school,” she told the AP, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Child labor has long been a dark stain on the $65 billion global palm oil industry. Though often denied or minimized as kids simply helping their families on weekends or after school, it has been identified as a problem by rights groups, the United Nations and the U.S. government.

Let’s look closer at what’s going on. Above the story says that Ima’s father made “her quit school because he needed help meeting the high company targets”. The same thing is mentioned again, later in the article.

Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer and, with a population of 270 million, there is no shortage of strong backs. Many laborers migrate from the poorest corners of the country to take jobs that others shun, often bringing their wives and children as helpers in order to meet impossibly high daily quotas.

The company executives who set those high daily quotas, will wash their hands of the child labor saying that “it’s the parents choice to bring their children to the fields” and “we can’t stop that”. Of course, they could. Lower the daily quotas to a level that one person can meet on their own. Keeping the daily quotas high isn’t about preventing laziness or motivating hard work or incentivizing creative ways to increase efficiency. It’s about forcing people into impossible choices, all for the good of your own bottom line. It is, in short, greedy and evil.

I wonder if the Bible has anything to say about giving people high daily quotas.

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.

… But Aaron and Moses persisted. “The God of the Hebrews has met with us,” they declared. “So let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness so we can offer sacrifices to the Lord our God. If we don’t, he will kill us with a plague or with the sword.”

Pharaoh replied, “Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people from their tasks? Get back to work! Look, there are many of your people in the land, and you are stopping them from their work.”

That same day Pharaoh sent this order to the Egyptian slave drivers and the Israelite foremen: “Do not supply any more straw for making bricks. Make the people get it themselves! But still require them to make the same number of bricks as before. Don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy. That’s why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to our God.’ Load them down with more work. Make them sweat! That will teach them to listen to lies!”

These workers end up in a repeating cycle of poverty, because they’re kept out of school as children.

But the biggest obstacles faced by Alex and other child workers in the two countries are lack of access to adequate, affordable education and medical care.

Some companies in Indonesia provide rudimentary elementary schooling on plantations, but children who want to continue their studies may find they have to travel too far on poor roads or that they can’t afford it. In Malaysia, the problem is even bigger: Without legal documents, tens of thousands of kids are not allowed to go to government schools at all.

It’s such an extensive problem that Indonesia has set up learning centers to help some of its children on plantations in the neighboring country, even sending in its own teachers. But with such heavy workloads on plantations, one instructor said he had to beg parents to let their sons and daughters come for even just a half-day of classes. And many children, especially those living in remote, hard-to-reach areas, still have no access to any type of education.

“Why aren’t companies playing a role in setting up schools in collaboration with the government?” asked Glorene Das, executive director of Tenaganita, a Malaysian nonprofit group concentrating on migrant issues for more than two decades. “Why are they encouraging the children to work instead?”

And, yes, I use “kept out of school” deliberately. When children are prevented from going to school because they don’t have legal documents, presumably because no one will give them legal documents, someone is making a choice to deny them that which they need to get an education. And when companies are happy to pretend that they don’t see child labor even as they avoid setting up schools for the children that they know are on their plantations—well, that’s a choice too.

Are the companies which are buying and using palm oil acting responsibily?

The [Girl Scout cookies] bakers’ parent companies – Italian confectionary brand Ferrero and Canadian-based Weston Foods – would not comment on the issue of child labor, but both said they were committed to sourcing only certified sustainable palm oil.

Weston Foods, which owns ABC Bakers, would not provide any information about its palm oil suppliers, citing proprietary reasons, so the AP could not determine if its supply chain was tainted.

“Proprietary reasons”. I’m going to make my own decision. Weston Foods is guilty of using palm oil made by child laborers. That’s the most plausible explanation for why they won’t tell AP who their suppliers are.

Weston Foods is owned by George Weston Limited. It, in turn, is owned by the Canadian branch of the Weston Family. Galen G. Weston is the current chairman and CEO of George Weston Limited.

He sounds like a man who places profits far above people.

Weston has faced frequent criticism from the Canadian labour movement, including from unions representing his companies' workers and from organizations promoting workers' rights and poverty reduction more generally. On December 31, 2017 Galen Weston Jr. "won" labour organization RankandFile.ca's 2017 Scumbag of the Year award. The organization holds Weston responsible for opposing a $15 minimum wage, engaging in tax avoidance via offshore holdings, firing 500 workers and closing 22 stores in response to an increase in minimum wage, and being caught in a 14 year bread price fixing scam.

In June 2020, Weston confirmed the cancellation of an hourly $2.00 CAD wage premium to Loblaw workers, earning criticism from Unifor President Jerry Dias. The premium was paid to low-wage grocery store workers, who were deemed "essential" and required to attend work in dangerous conditions while most of Canada was shut down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why do I bring all of this up? Because evil is perpetuated by real people, specific people, who make specific decisions that make the world a worse place. And I may not be able to do much to change a man like Galen Weston, prick his conscience, or cause him discomfort. But I can do my tiny part to tell the truth.

Galen Weston runs a company that knowingly purchases palm oil that is produced with child labor. Galen Weston has the power, authority, and clout to make a real difference in the fight to stamp out child labor, to stamp out child illiteracy, to make the world a better place. And he chooses not to do it. He is not a good man.

Likewise, Girl Scouts of America chooses to contract with ABC Bakers, owned by Weston Foods, to make their Girl Scout cookies. They could make a different choice. So far they have chosen not to. They also share the blame for the child labor in Indonesia and Malaysia.

If you’ve read this far down, you now have a choice to make. Will you continue purchasing Girl Scout cookies? Or will you do your tiny part to make the world a better place?

Some Precaution on Pence’s Precautionary Principles

Some Precaution on Pence’s Precautionary Principles →

On the subject of Vice-President Pence's unwillingness to be alone with women other than his wife, I think Sarah Skwire makes a very good point.

It’s a cliché, but a true one, to note that the real work of many professions gets done at the bar or on quick lunches or dinner grabbed with a colleague, outside the formal constraints of official meetings. When that cliché is true, and to the extent that it is true, precautions like Pence’s, that cut women out from that kind of social interaction, also cut them off from at least one route to success.

Sauce for the Goose

I wonder, then, whether Pence and others who guard themselves in this way would consider extending their prohibitions on such private meetings with opposite gender colleagues to colleagues of the same gender. In other words, if Mike Pence won’t allow himself to meet with female colleagues for a casual private dinner or drink, then perhaps he should consider disallowing interactions like that with male colleagues as well.

I think, at a minimum, that considering that possibility will tell us a lot. If your immediate reaction to that suggestion is to think that it would be unfairly restrictive to men to tell them not to go golfing alone with the Vice President, or join him for an impromptu cheeseburger, or take advantage of a quick trip on a private jet in order to get to know him better and pitch him a few ideas…then maybe that policy is even more unfair when it is applied only to women.

If it is unreasonable to think that a woman’s career is damaged because the VP won’t meet with her privately, then it is unreasonable to think a man’s career would be damaged for the same reason. If it is not unreasonable to think that such restrictions damage a woman’s career, then Pence owes it to his female colleagues and constituents to ensure that their male counterparts don’t have better access to him than they do.

It is, at least, worth thinking about seriously.

When Tribes Have Different Moral Standards

When Tribes Have Different Moral Standards →

Earlier this year, Russ Roberts interviewed Joshua Greene, on the topic of how to solve dilemmas arising from people having different moral standards. Greene led off with a morality tale about differing tribes, with different moral standards.

[I]magine that there's this large forest. And all around this large forest are many different tribes. And these different tribes are all cooperative, but they are cooperative on different terms.

So, on the one side you might have your communist herders who say, "Not only are we going to have a common pasture; we're just going to have a common herd, and that's how everything gets aligned. Everything is about us".

And on the other side of the forest you might have the individualist herders who say, "Not only are we not going to have common herds; we are not going to have a common pasture. We are going to privatize the pasture, divide it up; and everybody's responsible for their own piece of land. And our cooperation will consist in everybody's respecting each other's property rights. As opposed to sharing a common pasture".

And you can imagine any number of arrangements in between. And there are other dimensions along which tribes can vary. So, they vary in what I call their proper nouns, so that is: Which leaders or religious texts or traditions have authority to govern daily life in the tribe? And tribes may respond differently to threats and outsiders. Some may be relatively laissez faire about people who break the rules. Other people may be incredibly harsh. Some tribes will be very hostile to outsiders; others may be more welcoming. All different ways the tribes can achieve cooperation on different terms. They are all dotted around this large forest.

And then the parable continues: One hot, dry summer, lightning strikes and there's a forest fire and the forest burns to the ground. And then the rains come and suddenly there is this lovely green pasture in the middle. And all the tribes look at that pasture and say, 'Hmmm, nice pasture.' And they all move in.

So now we have in this common space all of these different tribes that are cooperative in different ways, cooperative on different terms, with different leaders, with different ideals, with different histories, all trying to exist in the same space. And this is the modern tragedy. This is the modern moral problem. That is, it's not a problem of turning a bunch of 'me-s' into an 'us.' That's the basic problem of the tragedy of the commons. It's about having a bunch of different us-es all existing in the same place, all moral in their own way, but with different conceptions of what it means to be moral.

I thought it was a good illustration of why I think that there should be a small, central government with very few areas of responsibility and many local governments, with much greater areas of responsibility. People will disagree about what forms of behavior are moral and just. They should be free to live in communities that reflect their values, without being forced to live according to the beliefs of whichever groups outnumber them.

Why I'm Teaching My Son To Break the Law

Why I'm Teaching My Son To Break the Law →

J.D. Tuccille, writing at Reason.com:

My wife and I used it as a starting point for telling our seven-year-old why we don't expect him to obey the law—that laws and the governments that pass them are often evil. We expect him, instead, to stand up for his rights and those of others, and to do good, even if that means breaking the law.

Read the whole thing.

Questions for Our Pro-Abortion Friends, Church Leaders, and Politicians - Desiring God

Questions for Our Pro-Abortion Friends, Church Leaders, and Politicians - Desiring God →

So when does a human being have a right to life?

Shall we say size matters? Is the unborn child too small to deserve our protection? Are big people more valuable than little people? Are men more human than woman? Do offensive linemen have more rights than jockeys? Is the life in the womb of no account because you can't hold him in our arms, or put him in your hands, or only see her on a screen?

Shall we make intellectual development and mental capacity the measure of our worth? Are three year-old children less valuable than thirteen year-olds? Is the unborn child less than fully human because he cannot speak or count or be self-aware? Does the cooing infant in the crib have to smile or shake your hand or recite the alphabet before she deserves another day? If an expression of basic mental acuity is necessary to be a full-fledged member of the human community, what shall we do with the comatose, the very old, or the fifty year-old mom with Alzheimer's? And what about all of us who sleep?

Kevin DeYoung asks a lot of good questions.

This entry was tagged. Abortion Ethics

Ah'm ah Bubba?


Are you tired of politics?

God knows, I am. As big a politics junkie as I used to be - in my time as a flag-wavin', God-fearin' Republican there wasn't a Townhall.com update I didn't read, nor an issue of _The Economist _I didn't completely consume for more general news before moving on to a host of blogs - these days I can barely finish a simple newspaper article without feeling that despicable strain that comes from forcing my poor brain to endure the consumption of totally repetitive and irrelevant information (for those of you who aren't Bible geeks like me, think of how you feel when reading the Book of Leviticus). Unless that newspaper article details the sexual exploits of one of our holders of higher office, anyway, because at least the secret life of Mark Sanford appeals to the voyeur in me.

But what the heck am I supposed to find interesting about Washington today - or indeed the world? No thoughtful debate of current issues exists within the federal and state levels of U.S. authority. Bills are written at absurd length and then submitted to the floor for approval on days when reading them, much less discussing them is impossible - and often include "blank checks", entire sections which are simply to be "filled in later" without returning for reconsideration. Which might be averted had our so-called representatives the huevos to simply vote down bills they've only just learned about, but Congress is utterly beholden to the unions, corporations, foreign governments, and associations which purchase its members' elections - the work of passing a bill doesn't really have anything to do with what's in it, so much as who is for it and who is against it. Indeed, at least in many sessions the leader of a party has simply informed his party's other members how they are to vote using hand signals - one for "yes", another for "no", an occasional third for "vote your conscience".

Oh, I suppose there is a little bit of discussion about the choices before us, now and then. Remember the most recent presidential debates? When an Ordinary Citizen would ask a pointed question and both Obama and McCain would simply ignore it, just make a vague statement about the economy or the Earth or Change instead? Just like their campaign managers demanded, I'm sure, because being boring and non-specific is how Poli-Sci wizards have determined one wins elections. There's a reason no president of our country has delivered a speech worthy of the Gettysburg Address in a very, very long time.

What is the American government that I am supposed to want to engage in it? Let's momentarily push past the oft-quoted reminder that "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch" (Benjamin Franklin is often incorrectly cited as the author, but in fact nobody can find evidence of the observation been written prior to '92). Let's note instead the unchallengeable fact that even the laws established both by the Unites States Constitution and our government are ignored whenever they get in the state's way. The government has a "compelling interest" in ignoring our property rights. It prosecutes people and expressly denies them the right to raise funds for their own defense. It goes to war without declaring war. It spies on us. It imprisons people indefinitely after they are found innocent of the crimes with which they were charged. It takes my money and gives it to the people who voted for and contributed to whoever is in office.

So I should work to change all that, right? I should start a movement. I should convince others of my position. That's what Democracy is all about.

Sure. That's the ticket. I'll just convince a bunch of first-class thieves to pass a bill which forbids them from stealing. Perhaps something along the lines of what Dan Carlin repeatedly suggests: a bill that requires a politician to excuse himself or herself from voting on any bill that affects an industry from which he or she has taken donations. If I campaign tirelessly for its passage, I'm sure it will only be a matter of time. Say, the rest of my life.

And really, that's a point I think needs to be brought up more often: the unknown amount of time I have on this planet and how much I can do with it. I have so many dreams. How much of this surely limited lifespan I have am I supposed to use up defending myself against these politicians and their supporters? These people hell-bent on owning me because they've bought into a utopian religion.

No, I really want nothing to do with any of it. I don't want to read another lie on the front page - and there is always a lie on the front page. I don't want to waste an hour or more of my day voting so that the next thief-in-chief to come along can say he has a mandate from me (or alternatively that he does not, but too bad).

But what options does rejecting this political arena, this total lie, leave me? Two, really: one is to resign myself to being at the mercy of whatever greedy power possesses the military might to hurt me and try to live my life as best I can anyway. The second is to succumb to what some commentators are snidely calling "the Bubba Effect" because they envision white rednecks from the South when they think of it (and incidentally, um, they're spot-on, 'cuz I am one). According to Glenn Beck's definition of the term (there seems to be disagreement), communities of like-minded individuals tend to form when citizens become disillusioned with the idea they are going to be able to live decent lives under their out-of-control government. Militias, for example. Or Christian Exoduses. Or Free State Projects.

I ask myself on a fairly regular basis these days if I have the courage to choose the latter and live a life of civil disobedience, as well as at what point the former would become unbearable (after Hate Speech Legislation? After socialized medicine? When my taxes reach a certain level?). Fortunately for me it's an academic question for now. I've the next several years of my life planned out and they mainly involve overseas work, living as a guest in other countries. My decision will remain deferred 'til my return.

And then, what?

Stalin = Hitler


"It is is depressing that it even needed to be discussed," begins The Economist latest Europe.view column. From that opening sentence it proceeds to inform us of the Russian reaction to a resolution by the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) equating Stalin with Hitler.

'...the OSCE resolution prompted outrage from Russia. Indeed, under the new law criminalising the “falsification of history”, anyone who voted for it, discussed it or publicised it in Russia would risk a jail sentence of up to five years.'

It's a response I think anyone with their head on straight must find indefensible, but a comment on the article from another reader did adequately explain for me the psychology behind it.

'For better or for worse, human beings look to a few major events in national history for one of the most central components of identity building (the other typically being religion). As such, these are the places that hurt the most. All great events and all great leaders have their dark sides. We are all human. And yet, in some cases those dark sides are acknowledged but not played up. Jefferson's slave ownership (and, indeed, his diddling of some of those slaves) is not played up. July 4th does not focus on genocide of Native Americans. FDR is not the man with dictatorial aspirations who packed the SCOTUS. Truman is not celebrated for nuking hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. The names on the Vietnam War Memorial do not have bracketed numbers to indicate the number of innocent people those individuals might have brutalised.

'It is well known that for Russians, their victory (and the fact that it was a victory, rather than a defeat is hugely important) in WWII, which came at great cost (in no small part by virtue of Iosif Vessarionovich's incompetence) is the defining moment of their modern history. Stalin is only tolerated, for all his warts, because he personifies this victory. And now you want to tell them that they were no better than those they fought against and that it was all down to luck anyway?'

The poster, an Aiden Clarke, disdains "foreigners gloatingly belittling the cornerstones of [Russia's] national identity." I see his point and think his logic is pretty clear, but I've still not enough interest in preserving Russian pride to excuse any defense of the evil man - and what Aiden belittles with his comments is the full weight of Stalin's crimes. Furthermore, Aiden might be right in saying that the resolution is merely an exercise in "poking a wounded animal" by politicians, but the Russian reaction shows that it's nevertheless an exercise worth doing, for if the fact that the world would be better off if Stalin were never born is not common wisdom in every room of the Kremlin itself, then that fact bears more repeating.

Russians need to spend less energy protecting the nonexistent honor of its homegrown monster, more coming to accept and grieve the destruction he wrought.

This entry was tagged. Civil Liberties Ethics

Reforming Louisiana

It looks like a charismatic politician just might be able to [drain a swamp after all]](http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/28/us/28jindal.html?ex=1361854800&en;=071abe8eb67bfd6d&ei;=5088&partner;=rssnyt&emc;=rss):

Downstairs, legislators gnashed their teeth, while upstairs at the Capitol here this week, the new governor claimed victory against the old customs down below.

Six weeks into the term of Gov. Bobby Jindal, an extensive package of ethics bills was approved here this week, signaling a shift in the political culture of a state proud of its brazen style. Mr. Jindal, the earnest son of Indian immigrants, quickly declared open season on the cozy fusion of interests and social habits that have prevailed among lobbyists, state legislators and state agencies here for decades. Mostly, he got what he wanted.

The new requirements will force all state legislators, as well as most other elected and appointed officials around the state, to disclose all sources of income, real estate holdings and debts over $10,000. (Judges are exempted.) Lawmakers and executive branch officials will no longer be able to get contracts for state-financed or disaster-related work. Lobbyists will also have to disclose their sources of income and will be limited to spending no more than $50 per elected official, per meal; splitting the tab, say among other lobbyists or legislators, will also be prohibited.

In a town where legislators have been known to proclaim paid-for meals a principal draw to public service, this was an especially unpopular move. Last week, State Representative Charmaine L. Marchand of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans said the limit would force her and her colleagues to dine at Taco Bell, and urged that it be pushed to $75 per person, to give them "wiggle room."

No public groundswell took up her cause, and the $50 limit held.

For Louisiana's sake, I certainly hope he can keep up the good work.

Its troubles are over, Guys

Cow at Peace

Test: Can you tell whether this cow was treated well or not?

How much histrionic handwringing about this beef recall do we have to endure? From The New York Times, presumably nicknamed "The Gray Lady" because it's gone senile, writes:

"A nauseating video of cows stumbling on their way to a California slaughterhouse has finally prompted action: the largest recall of meat in American history... A lot of that beef has already been eaten, and so far, thankfully, there have been no reports of illness. But the question Congress needs to ask is how many people need to get sick or die before it starts repairing and modernizing the nation’s food safety system?"

Am I the only one to ask the question of how cows being killed "inhumanely" (and that's really an interesting term to apply to the death of something that isn't human, isn't it?) results in beef that is not fit for consumption? Even if we waterboard the things before putting them through the grinder, their meat is still meat. A stressed cow does not equal a poisonous cow.

Slap a fine on the meatpackers to appease the heifer-huggers and serve 'em up. Send some to my house.

Quoted for truth

One of The Economist's recent blog entries reminds me of why I like the magazine as much as I do, notwithstanding its faults. Can you see any mainstream American newspaper making this comparison?

"IMAGINE Nazi rule in Germany surviving for decades, with Hitler undefeated in war and succeeded on his death in the early 1950s by a series of lacklustre party hacks who more or less disowned his “excesses”. Imagine then a “reform Nazi” (call him Michael Gorbach) coming to power in the 1980s and dismantling the National Socialist system, only to fall from power as the Third Reich collapsed in political and economic chaos.

"Imagine a shrunken “German Federation” suffering ten years of upheaval, before an SS officer (call him Voldemar Puschnik) came to power, first as prime minister and then as president. Under eight years of rule by Herr Puschnik, Germany regains economic stability, largely thanks to a sky-high coal price."

Readers who chose to comment on the above description can be broken down into righteously indignant "whataboutisms" from Russians and your typical anti-Westerners, those who angrily noted an even more accurate parallel - Turkey - and a couple of level-headed chaps who simply by virtue of their existence make living in this world much more tolerable.

Fear Chinese imports

Made in China

Well, the Chinese have stopped even pretending concern for the welfare of the foreign peoples to whom they export. As if shipping potentially hazardous tires, dolls, wooden art sets, and even faulty fortune cookies wasn't enough, now they're selling people missiles.

But Saudi Arabia, a country so renowned for being concerned with safety that it still doesn't allow women to drive, has taken a stand. Its own Interior Ministry recently

"made its largest terror sweep to date, arresting 208 al-Qaida-linked militants in six separate arrests in recent months... The ministry said members of [one] cell were planning to smuggle eight missiles into the kingdom to carry out terrorist operations, but it did not say what kind of missiles or what the targets were. [The newspaper] Okaz reported Sunday that the missiles were already inside Saudi Arabia [when they were confiscated]."

A Minor Thoughts source also confirmed that lead-based paint was used to decorate the weapons.

Kill the Seals and the Dolphins!

Dear Reader, some mornings I wake up and ask myself: "Self, how much are hated, really hated?". Invariably the answer that comes back is "Not nearly enough". This morning, I'm going to take the first step towards changing that.

Over the weekend, I saw this video of pretty people trying to save pretty animals, dolphins in this case. Seems that the Japanese like to catch and eat dolphins. Several actors, including Hayden Panettiere -- better known as Claire Bennet, to fans of NBC's "Heroes" -- tried to swim out and save the dolphins. They were shockingly unsuccessful. Apparently Japanese fishermen don't hold actors and surfers in the same high regard that Americans do.

After her brush with evil, Hayden had this to say:

It was so incredibly sad. We were so close to them and they were sky hopping, jumping out of the water to see us. One little baby dolphin stuck his head out and kinda looked at me and the thought that it's no longer with us is really hard to take."

She broke into tears at this point.

Here's where I draw the hate (if I haven't already!). I see no moral distinction between killing cows, chickens, pigs, or eels and between killing dolphins. I've never eaten eel or dolphin, but I have eaten chickens, cows, and pigs. They're all quite tasty. I'm not a fan of seafood, generally, so I'm not optimistic about dolphins or eels. But I see absolutely nothing wrong with killing them -- or with baby seals for that matter.

I think that seals and dolphins attract an inordinate amount of love solely because they're cute. I'll acknowledge it: they are cute. But if cuteness is our sole defining criteria of what life is worthy to save and what life isn't, we are messed up in a major way.

Right now, there are poor kids in Vietnam whose parents would love to sell Vietnamese catfish to American diners. They can't, because American trade regulations are designed to protect catfish sellers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Hayden, do you cry for those poor children nearly as much as you cry for the cute baby dolphin?

Let the hating begin.

Waterboarding is Torture

I have to admit that I've been on the fence for a while about whether or not waterboarding constitutes true torture. Mainly, I was ignorant about what waterboarding really was. And I was blissfully ignorant. I passed up many opportunities to find out what it really was.

This morning, my ignorance ended and my certainty began. Waterboarding is Torture… Period (Updated) (SWJ Blog):

  1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one's duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.

  2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim's face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

The Futility of Politics

Your Typical Voter

A hypothetical: a friend of yours asks you for relationship advice.

See, he and the gay lover for whom he abandoned his pregnant, live-in girlfriend can't agree on which window treatment they prefer for their new apartment, and despite all the other personal differences they've managed to amicably settle - like your friend's being an Anglican Christian and his lover being a warlock in the First Order of the Antichrist - the issue is threatening to drive a wedge between them, just (this is eerie) as it drove a wedge between your friend's father and his father's own gay lover over thirty years ago.

Now, seeing as how you're a man of God, he says, surely you can give him good advice on how to properly and lovingly resolve the question. Should he (A) compromise on the window treatment issue (even though his lover picked a really icky color) or (B) stand firm, because this is important?

Well? How do you answer?

Believe it or not, the above scenario isn't too dissimilar from some questions I truly have been asked "as a man of God" - although in the worst situation I've ever been presented, the friend asking me for advice was a registered sex offender who quite literally believed himself to be a werewolf and (again, I am not making this up) now found himself blackmailed into a homosexual relationship with a Catholic missionary to Mexico.

In such situations, the base problem is the same: namely, is even bothering to answer at all a good idea? After all, the real problem here obviously isn't your friend's ridiculously petty feelings about household decoration; that's just the smallest symptom of the many, many totally selfish, wrong moves he's been making, each and every one of which dwarfs in importance the issue at hand. He shouldn't be dating someone who doesn't believe in the Christ Jesus. He shouldn't be in any homosexual relationship. He certainly shouldn't abandon the future mother of his child to start one. And he never should have had sexual relations with her in the first place, seeing as how she was not his wife. And - well, let's see here. Anything else?

Oh yeah, wait: and the reason all of this happened in the first place is because despite your friend's declarations to the contrary, he obviously doesn't care what the Christ Jesus thinks of his life.

Well, if you're like me, you tell your friend that the drapes have received way too much attention already and you're not going to give them yours too. Maybe your friend doesn't like this very much, says "If you were really concerned about me, you'd help me", but you answer that if he really wants help, you're perfectly willing to provide it; you'll help him move his furniture out of the apartment, play the part of Best Man at his wedding to the chick, and drive him to church every Sunday. But playing into his delusions won't help him out a bit, so as his friend, you won't do it.

And, if you're like me, you feel pretty much the same way about our country's problems.

Terrorists' rights: An apology


Above: "Achmed, they've just subpoena'd Osama!"

You could quite justifiably tell me I'm a little late to discuss whether captured terrorists should be allowed full trials according to American law; after all, the Supreme Court ruled the answer to be a big old Yes well over a year ago now.

But I've got something to get off my chest, so I'm gonna give it to the old college try anyway.

Even if you don't remember the reactions to the verdict, I'll bet you can probably imagine them without any help. The Democrats crowed over their latest victory; the Republicans jeered that the Democrat candidate's slogan for 2008 should be "The Party for Terrorists' Rights".

I wasn't one of the jeerers. I certainly wasn't on the side of the Democrats, though, either; despite being apolitical due to my religious beliefs, I still have a bit of the old soft spot left for the grand U.S. o' A, and that being the case, I've always tended to sympathize with Americans more concerned for their own safety than-... well, the safety of people who hate them and are trying to kill them. I'd write "That's not so hard to understand, is it?", but for today's Democrats, the answer stupefyingly seems to be yes. Their own soft spot for Lady Liberty hardened over a long time ago, it seems. Bring on the Socialist States of America.

I digress. I didn't want to support the bozos; I didn't quite feel right about supporting the conservatives. So I never entered into that particular debate.

I really should have. The answer was clear from the get-go - and the answer is, quite embarrassingly, exactly what the bozos and the Supreme Court justices have been saying all along.

It's also right there in the United States' Declaration of Independence, written in simply lovely penmanship:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

The conservative argument for terrorists' lack of speedy trial and non-Geneva treatment has always been, at its core, that the terrorists are (a) not playing by the rules which guarantees them protection by the law and (b) are at any rate not Americans, thus not subject to its laws.

But the second objection is obvious poppycock, because one of the most beautifully brazen acts of the Declaration of Independence is not simply to declare Americans endowed with inalienable rights, but men (and later, we logically extrapolated "men" to include women). It's not just a smack in the face to anybody who would oppress us; it's a smack in the face to anybody who oppresses anybody else!

The first objection likewise doesn't hold up to any logical scrutiny. Basically, the Geneva Convention is a set of agreements amongst nations to treat each other's soldiers well, should they end up fighting, since those soldiers are fighting on behalf of their governments. It's a special dispensation of extra rights to soldiers ("Your uniformed citizens can kill ours without being criminally charged if our uniformed citizens can kill yours."). A theoretically good idea.

However, you can't enforce such a contract except by - er, force, which is a fairly useless threat in circumstances where the revocation of the Convention is an issue in the first place. That being the case, if one army decides not to play the game by Convention rules, the only proper response is to hit them with what the Geneva Convention was meant to protect them from: criminal charges.

Thus losing coverage under the Geneva Convention simply returns a killer to civilian status, to be tried under civilian law.

There, now. It all makes sense, doesn't it?

Yes. I think so, too.

I just wish I'd thought so before now. Sorry about that, Libs; score one for you.

The seat of power

President Bush

Courtesy of The Jerusalem Post's Blog Central:

"Yale’s chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon, another fraternity, garnered infamy in 1967 for branding new pledges with hot coat-hangers... The Yale Daily News reported the incident, quoting one DKE brother who called the branding ‘insignificant’."

That brother lived on, of course, to be our 43rd president, Mr. George W. Bush, Class of '68. Which raises the following fascinating possibilities:

1: When President Bush claims the US does not treat terrorists inhumanely, and human rights activists claims the US does, is it possible this is all simply a misunderstanding, and what most of us wimps would call "torture", President Bush just thinks of as good old-fashioned hazing? Is the liberal media withholding photos of Iraqis chugging beer by executive order?


2: Does our commander-in-chief have a question mark on his bum?

President Bush has cannily refused to comment, possibly in an attempt to increase interest in his forthcoming presidential library. Only conjecture is therefore currently possible, and even too much of that probably wouldn't be healthy. But comfortingly, it can be safely said that the truth will eventually come out, as while men of power in America may opt to take their secrets to the grave, we know our representatives in the media are perfectly willing to follow them there.

Living on Stolen Money

Tim Challies is a Canadian blogger. Therefore, he's uniquely qualified to discuss the positives and negatives of the Canadian healthcare system. He doesn't much like the utopian image painted by Michael Moore.

Now that Sicko, Michael Moore's latest film has been released, Americans are bound to hear a lot about the wonders of the Canadian health care system. As I understand it, Moore's ultimate proposed solution to the American health care conundrum is to adopt a socialized system similar to what we enjoy in Canada. The truth is, though, that the Canadian system simply isn't all that and a bag of chips. The system works, but it comes with a cost that most Americans would be unwilling to pay: a heavy tax burden.

... Our health care system is good, but it has some serious problems. It is certainly not the ultimate solution, and especially so if you dislike 45% tax brackets.

One of his commenters complained about his characterization of the Canadian healthcare system and included this:

I'm an immigrant to Canada. I've travelled extensively and have family all over the world. I'm convinced that God, in His providence, brought me to live in one of the best countries in the world. As Seniors on government pensions, we have more disposable income than we ever had on a Pastor's salary and no worries about paying for medications and health-care as we age.

...I thank the Lord that I live in Canada.

Ms. Compton: you and your husband are living the high-life on Tim Challie's salary. The Canadian government takes nearly half of his income to fund your healthcare and your pension. This isn't a voluntary contribution made out of the goodness of his heart. If he ever failed to send in his taxes, the government would put him in prison. Millions of other Canadians face the same "choice".

I'm sure you do thank God that you live in Canada. It's quite a good deal for you. How do you walk down the street each day, knowing that most of the people you pass are paying half of their income to support you? More than that, those people are not voluntarily supporting you. And you know it. If it ever came to a vote, you would vote to force those people to keep supporting you. From where I sit, that looks like legalized robbery -- not loving charity.

I thank God that I don't live in Canada. I'd rather keep that extra 25% of my salary (my taxes are roughly 20%) and spend it on my family or donate it to the charities of my choice.

My wife and I take great pleasure in sending nearly 14% of our gross income to others. We enjoy sitting down each money and selecting various charities to give to. We increase our giving whenever our income increases. If we increased our taxes whenever our income increased, we'd lose out on that pleasure. We'd lose out on the joy of voluntary giving if we lived with greater taxation.

Here's what Jesus said about giving.

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

I'm thankful that I have money to give away. It's fun. Every month we end up wishing we had even more to give away. That's why I'm thankful that I live in a country that allows me to keep more of my money.

The Unrighteous Poor

Today's Capital Times had a heartwarming little article about homeless activists and their endless crusade to wring money out of everyone else.

Members of the Tenant Advocacy Group, or TAG, already know about homelessness. Each was once homeless, or narrowly escaped being out on the street. "We learned these things from the inside out," said Cynthia Travis, coordinator for the group.

That's good. These people are uniquely situated to help the poor and the homeless. Their goals are absolutely praiseworthy. Unfortunately, their methods are not.

The group entered the fray of state legislative politics this year by sending a letter to Secretary of Commerce Mary Burke requesting a $1 million-a-year increase in state funding for homeless shelter and transitional housing services grants. The Commerce department administers the grant program, funding for which has been $1.5 million a year for some 15 years.

They even saw some initial success as Governor Doyle put an additional $1 million into his budget, for their cause. Then action stalled in the Joint Finance Committee:

As Joint Finance Committee actions on other issues proceeded, it unfolded that any additional funds for homelessness services would need to be funded through an increase in the real estate transfer tax. That didn't fly.

They decided to use an appeal to pity as leverage for their demands:

"I slept in a Ford station wagon for six months," Morris King recalled. The way to help unsympathetic legislators get their priorities in order, he said, is to ask them: "Do you want potholes? Or do you want people sleeping on the street?"

Here's the thing. The legislature doesn't hand out free money. Every penny that the legislature hands out has to come from somewhere and someone else. Increasing the real estate transfer tax would make it more expensive for Wisconsin residents to buy a home. Increasing the gas tax would make it more expensive for Wisconsin residents to drive. Increasing the sales tax would make it more expensive for Wisconsin residents to purchase everything. Increasing the ... well, you get the idea.

Every time the government increases taxes, it becomes more expensive for poorer people to survive on their own. For those living the closest to the financial edge, a tax increase may be the difference between survival and failure. Ultimately, these crusades are counter-productive.

It will ultimately prove fruitless to use the government to confiscate the resources of others and redistribute them to your group. You will merely drive up the cost of living in the State leading to an endless cycle of increases in government aid and increases in the cost of living. Focus on creating wealth that you can use to help others, rather than confiscating wealth.

Feminists, Exposed

Women in Muslim countries are routinely beaten, raped, stoned, and murdered by the men around them. As such, the Muslim world is the main front in the battle for sexual equality. Of course, you wouldn't know it by the way that American feminists act or speak.

Eve Ensler takes this line of reasoning to equally ludicrous lengths. In 2003 she gave a lecture at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University in which, like Pollitt, she claimed that women everywhere are oppressed and subordinate:

I think that the oppression of women is universal. I think we are bonded in every single place of the world. I think the conditions are exactly the same [her emphasis]. I think the nature of the oppression--whether it's acid burning in one country, or female genital mutilation in another, or gang rapes in the parking lots in high schools of the suburbs--it's the same idea. . . . The systematic global oppression of women is completely across the globe.

That's from Christina Hoff Sommers' article in this week's edition of the Weekly Standard.

Feminists are also completely unable to tell the difference between American Christians and Afghan Taliban:

Katha Pollitt, a columnist at the Nation, talks of "the common thread of misogyny" connecting Christian Evangelicals to the Taliban:

It is important to remember just how barbarous and cruel the Taliban were. Yet it is also important not to use their example to obscure or deny the common thread of misogyny that connects them with Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition. . . .

Soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Katha Pollitt wrote the introduction to a book called Nothing Sacred: Women Respond to Religious Fundamentalism and Terror. It aimed to show that reactionary religious movements everywhere are targeting women. Says Pollitt:

In Bangladesh, Muslim fanatics throw acid in the faces of unveiled women; in Nigeria, newly established shariah courts condemn women to death by stoning for having sex outside of wedlock. . . . In the United States, Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists have forged a powerful right-wing political movement focused on banning abortion, stigmatizing homosexuality and limiting young people's access to accurate information about sex.

Ah, yes. Limiting young people's access to accurate information about sex is exactly the same as having acid thrown in your face. Christina explains, in her article, that none of America's feminists are willing to help out Muslim women:

One reason is that many feminists are tied up in knots by multiculturalism and find it very hard to pass judgment on non-Western cultures. They are far more comfortable finding fault with American society for minor inequities (the exclusion of women from the Augusta National Golf Club, the "underrepresentation" of women on faculties of engineering) than criticizing heinous practices beyond our shores. The occasional feminist scholar who takes the women's movement to task for neglecting the plight of foreigners is ignored or ruled out of order.

As a result, she has some fairly harsh words for American feminists:

Muslim women could use moral, intellectual, and material support from the West to improve their situation. But only a rational, reality-based women's movement would be capable of actually helping. Women who think that looking like a pear is an essential human right are not valuable allies.

Extremely true. Is it any wonder that many people would like to marginalize American feminists and do everything possible to keep them away from the reigns of power?

It's unfortunate that American feminists are unwilling to join the battle in any meaningful way. Sexual equality in Muslim nations could go a long way towards ending the cycle of terrorism that infects those nations:

Women's equality is as incompatible with radical Islam's plan for domination and submission as it is with polygamy. Women freely moving about, expressing their opinions, and negotiating their relationships with men from a position of equal dignity rather than servitude are a moderating, civilizing force in any society. Female scholars voicing their opinions without inhibition would certainly puncture some cherished jihadist fantasies.

Read the entire article in this week's edition of the Weekly Standard. It's well worth your time. You'll discover the America is just as harsh towards women as Uganda and Pakistan. You'll also discover organizations like the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equity (WISE) which work to help Muslim women in oppressive societies. Consider donating to the cause. Unlike America's feminists, I think these women are worth supporting.

Prostitution: Different from Adultery?

Earlier this week, Reason Magazine columnist Cathy Young asked why is it still illegal to pay for sex?

Yet prostitution is perhaps the ultimate victimless crime: a consensual transaction in which both parties are supposedly committing a crime, and the person most likely to be charged"”the one selling sex"”is also the one most likely to be viewed as the victim. (A bizarre inversion of this situation occurs in Sweden, where, as a result of feminist pressure to treat prostitutes as victims, it is now a crime to pay for sex but not to offer it for sale.) It is sometimes claimed that the true victims of prostitution are the johns' wives. But surely women whose husbands are involved in noncommercial"”and sometimes quite expensive"”extramarital affairs are no less victimized.

Another common claim is that prostitution causes direct harm by contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. However, that may be the reddest herring of them all. In Australia, where sex for money is legal, the rate of HIV infection among female prostitutes is so low that prostitution has been removed from the list of known risk factors in HIV surveillance. In the U.S., reliable data are more difficult to come by, but a 1987 Centers for Disease Control study likewise found very low infection rates among prostitutes.

Why is prostitution illegal? From a Biblical perspective, I have a very hard time distinguishing between prostitution and plain old adultery. In one case, one person directly pays another for sex. In the other case, one person indirectly pays another for sex through dinners, compliments, movies, and other outings. Why should it be illegal to pay a someone for a sex, but not illegal to take a co-worker out for dinner and drinks before going back to their apartment for sex?

I think the common answer is that sex should only be enjoyed within the context of a loving relationship -- that it shouldn't be commoditized and sold like any other service. I would agree that sex shouldn't be routinely bought and sold. I'm not at all certain that all prostitution occurs outside of a loving relationship. After all, some women would certainly leave a man if he didn't provide enough expensive gifts. Why should we classify cash payments any differently? I am certain that not all adultery occurs in the context of a loving relationship. Many men and women will commit adultery purely out spite and not because they love the person they are committing adultery with.

Simply put, I think there can be a lot of overlap between prostitution and adultery -- and adultery are equally morally objectionable. I don't see the distinction that makes one worthy of criminalization and the other "merely" worthy of scorn.

I'll talk later about whether I think adultery should be criminalized.