Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog
Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: July 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006

Collateral Damage of the War at Home (Part I of II)

It Could Happen to You
After a long day’s work of remodeling your brother’s home, you decide to spend the night. Suddenly, you awaken to a noise that sounds like gunfire. You look out the bedroom window and see that men dressed in dark fatigues have killed your two dogs. You run downstairs to exit the back of the house to call for help. One of the men notices your attempt to escape, orders you to the ground at gunpoint, kicks you in the side, and ties you up with a rope. The man then picks you up and takes you back inside the house with the gun pointed directly at your head.

The hostage-taker leads you into the front lawn where other men dressed in the same manner are congregated. You notice a faint symbol on one of the men’s sleeves which appears to be a sheriff’s patch. You then realize that your brother’s home is being raided by the police but have not been told why.

Suddenly, you hear gunshots inside, followed by automatic weapon fire, then the sound of a shotgun. You realize that your brother is still inside and you fear for the worst.

The gunfire stops and the police gain control over the situation. You learn that one of the officers saw his own reflection, mistook his reflection for an armed person and fired his weapon. These shots set off a chain reaction: other officers entering the home opened fire and your brother fired his shotgun which hit one of the charging officers in the neck and shoulder.

So much has happen in such a short span of time. Surely the authorities will realize they made a mistake. You have never been suspected of a crime; they should know you are only an innocent bystander…right?

Unfortunately for you, the nightmare is far from over. Even though you never fired a weapon and cooperated with the police, you find yourself before a judge being charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of first-degree assault on a police officer, and two counts of committing a crime of violence. You spend the next nine months in solitary confinement before a police cover-up is exposed. You are freed from prison but this experience continues to haunt you…

This is not a work of fiction and this did not happen in Red China. This real life terror occurred on March 26, 1987 in Jefferson County, Colorado. The name of the victim was Pete Garcia. Pete was not the primary target of the raid but his brother was suspected of drugs activity.

An Isolated Incident?
Is it possible that what happened to Pete Garcia is just an isolated incident? That depends completely on what you consider ‘isolated.’ Radley Balko of The Agitator has put together an interactive map (where you can find additional details about the above story) as a companion to his policy paper he completed for the Cato Institute titled Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids. Balko found some 292 botched police raids nationwide dating from 1985 to 2006. Of the 292 raids, 40 involved the death of innocent people, 22 deaths of police officers (including the Cory Maye case Pt. 1 and Pt. 2), and 20 deaths of non-violent offenders. Fortunately, not all of these raids ended in the loss of life; Balko further breaks the numbers down as follows: 143 raids of innocent suspects, 14 raids on doctors and/or sick people, and 53 other examples of excessive use of police force.

Sure, 292 bad raids over 21 years nationwide does not sound like a whole lot but how many of these kinds of mistakes are we willing to tolerate? Isn’t the death of just one innocent person, let alone 40, be enough for us to be concerned over the use such tactics? Isn’t this the sort of thing the Fourth Amendment is supposed to protect us from?

In the War on (some) Drugs, these incidents are merely collateral damage. The War on Drugs must be won at all costs!

For Part II of this series, click here.
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Sunday, July 23, 2006

The End of Faith (Book Review)

When was the last time you read a thought-provoking book which explores the realms of religion, reason, science, and philosophy? I had the pleasure of reading such a book while on my two week break from my online classes. I was so impressed with the book, I thought I would share my thoughts with my readers. Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (2004) fearlessly explores the many issues raised in the title. Understandably, many people of faith will likely want to avoid this book because Harris pulls no punches. The End of Faith is hardly a mindless Christian bashing book, however. Every religion or belief (including atheism) is taken to task using a reasoned approach. Harris commits very few (if any) logical fallacies backing up most every argument with solid facts.

Harris opens the book with the all-too-common story of a young man with a bomb strapped to his chest boarding a bus. The bus is full of passengers of all ages. The bomber detonates the bomb and the bus explodes killing everyone on board as well as others in the immediate area. The bomber’s family, though saddened, celebrates knowing that their loved one will be going to heaven for sending so many infidels to hell. Harris doesn’t even bother to reveal the bomber’s religion because anyone who watches the news at all already knows the likely answer.

Only an irrational or insane person would carry out such a mission which would mean ending his or her life right? In one sense, the answer would be ‘yes’ but if you grow up believing that you are guaranteed a spot in heaven with beautiful virgins and can select a number of loved ones to go to heaven with you, does blowing up a bus full of people still seem irrational? Would the same person have committed this act of violence without faith? Doubtful.

How dare we be critical of a person’s religion regardless of what damage it does society! Harris goes into the territory of faith where few people want to go writing:

[C]riticizing a person’s faith is currently taboo in every corner of our culture […] religious beliefs are simply beyond the scope of rational discourse. Criticizing a person’s ideas about God and the afterlife is thought to be impolitic in a way that criticizing his ideas about physics and history is not. (p. 13)
In other words, we need to stop holding back criticism of religion when criticism is merited. This is one of the very refreshing aspects of this book; there is none of this ‘religion of peace’ or ‘the fundamentalists have hijacked a good religion’ nonsense. In the fourth chapter titled “The Problem with Islam” Harris finds much of the ‘problem’ with Islam directly in the pages of the Koran and the hadith which he quotes and references at length.

While it is true that Christians have mostly avoided violence against non-believers in the past century, it remains important to remember past transgressions to keep history from repeating. Perhaps the two darkest times in Europe occurred during The Spanish Inquisition that spanned over 300 years and The Holocaust. The Catholic church of that time, much as modern Islamofascits do today, drew inspiration from their holy book to justify the hunting and killing of witches from Deuteronomy 13:12-16. Much like the Koran, these particular Bible verses command believers to kill non-believers. As a result, some 40,000 to 50,000 suspected witches were executed (p. 87).

The Jews endured an even longer period of persecution from Christians and Muslims alike (p. 93). Christians reasoned that it was the Jews who murdered Christ (wasn’t this the supposed divine plan to begin with?), continued to deny his divinity (p. 94), and believed that Jews drank the blood of Christians in different occult-like rituals (p. 98). This built-in anti-Semitism among German Christians proved valuable to Hitler during the holocaust. Because Jews were considered the vilest of creatures, cooperation to identify and locate Jews in Nazi Germany was not a difficult task (p. 101 and 102). Certain high-level Vatican officials continued to aid top SS leaders (Adolf Eichman among others) after the war by helping them escape to the Middle East and South America. Harris acknowledges that certain Vatican officials also helped Jews escape from extermination during the war but points out that the aid was often contingent on whether or not the Jew had been baptized in the Catholic Church (p. 105).

Not everything involving religion is as obviously terrifying as the Spanish Inquisition or the Holocaust. Harris finds that some of the dangers of faith are much more subtle. Faith can be (often is) an obstacle to personal liberty. Harris points out that many of the ‘vice’ laws are based only on religious grounds. This means that prison overcrowding due to the war on drugs, prostitution, gambling, and other ‘victimless crimes’ have no other basis in reason (p. 158-164). Religion with the force of government also erects obstacles to scientific research (i.e. embryonic stems cell research), allows bigotry to become law (outlawing certain sexual practices; gay marriage), and determines what is ‘decent,’ ‘indecent,’ or ‘obscene’ (because we are incapable as adults to make our own choices).

In regards to many of his fellow non-believers, Harris is critical with how poorly many have handled the issue of morality allowing believers (of whatever religion) gain the moral high ground. Far too many non-religious people are moral relativists. Harris on the other hand believes that right and wrong can be determined, as in every other science, with reason. Much as technology and our understanding of the universe has evolved, so has our moral standards. America, for example, has gone from a country where it was once acceptable to own other human beings and regarded women as second class citizens to a country which evolved into the one we have today where minority voices are respected. Certainly we have more work to do; 100 years from now future Americans’ morals will hopefully be superior to ours.

In the year 2006, not every country is up to the same technological standards. The same is true in regard to moral codes across cultures. Here Harris makes a very politically incorrect assertion that some cultures are morally superior to others. This is one area were he parts company with the Left, the blame-America-first, and peace-at-all-costs crowd. Not only is pacifism in the face of tyranny cowardly but also immoral.

Harris also takes aim at Noam Chomsky’s common moral equivalence notions that the U.S. is just as bad as the 9/11 hijackers because of a failed foreign policy. Even if we accept the premise that the U.S. foreign policy has lead to deaths of many innocents, unlike the terrorists, the taking of innocent life is unintentional. Harris then raises the question of a perfect weapon; a weapon which would only destroy the intended targets. Would a pacifist be willing to use such a weapon? Harris concludes that a pacifist would not even if it meant bad people would continue to hurt innocent people.

Now consider how this perfect weapon might be used in the hands of George W. Bush vs. Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden (or any of these other thugs Bush has recently been compared to by the extreme Left). Would Bush use the weapon the same way as any of them? Harris does not appear to be someone who likely supported Bush in either election but concludes that anyone who would suggest that Bush would use this perfect weapon in the same way as any of these war criminals are not being honest. Does anyone really think that Bush would target civilians with such a weapon? How about Hitler, Hussein, or Bin Laden? Had the Hussein invaded Washington D.C. (instead of coalition forces invading Baghdad) would he have taken the same measures to limit civilian casualties? We know the answers to these questions, therefore; America is not equal to these rouge regimes (p. 142-143).

Can mankind continue to survive with such strong religious differences in the nuclear age? Harris closes his book with the following conclusion: “The days of our religious identities are clearly numbered. Whether the days of our civilization itself are numbered would seem to depend, rather too much, on how soon we realize this.” But can we truthfully live without faith and rely solely on reason? Will we miss our gods of the past? I believe we can live without faith and no, I do not believe we would miss our gods of the past no more than we miss Zeus or Poseidon. No god, whether real or imagined, deserves our praise who would have us persecute or kill others who do no believe. Faith has thwarted man’s advancement to a better world for far too long; an end to faith is way overdue.
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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Paying for Other Peoples' Risky Behavior

Despite the dangers, many Americans decide to travel to parts of the world which are very hostile. The Middle East is a great example. I do not know why anyone in their right mind would freely go to such places such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan; these places all have a history of violence and are generally hostile to Westerners. I suppose some Americans have families in these places and others pursue lucrative contracts to build infrastructure. Personally, if I came from one of these hell holes, I seriously doubt I would ever want to come back, even for a short visit. Before accepting a contract to work in one of these places, I would have to consider the extreme risks versus the rewards of doing the work. I do not think I could be paid enough.

These of course are my preferences. I do not begrudge another American the right to travel anywhere in the world as long as he or she is willing to do so at his or her own risk. As a policy, the United States does not negotiate with terrorists. This means that if in your travels outside the United States you are captured by some terrorist group you are on your own. The same ought to hold true if the country which you are visiting suddenly is under attack by another. Enter the current war between Israel and Lebanon. The A.P. writes:

An eight-deck cruise liner carrying more than 1,000 Americans sailed out of Beirut’s port Wednesday, the first mass U.S. evacuation from Lebanon since Israeli airstrikes started more than a week ago.


Many of those aboard were relieved to depart, after complaints of slow action by the United States compared to European countries that sent cruise ships, ferries and warships over the past three days to move out thousands.
Here we have a bunch of Americans who willfully left the relative safety of U.S. soil to visit a Middle Eastern country, which no one could ever consider ‘stable,’ and are now complaining that the U.S. government is not coming to their rescue fast enough? Who the hell do these people think they are? It gets even better. The article continues:

Despite the increased efforts, some expressed frustration.

“I can’t believe the Americans,” said Danni Atiyeh, a civil engineer from Kansas City, Mo., waiting earlier Wednesday with his pregnant wife and sons, ages 6 and 10, for a bus to take them to the cruise ship. “Everybody else has gone home ... We’re still here.”

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday it had dropped a plan to make Americans reimburse the government for the transport, but Atiyeh said he and others were asked to sign promissory notes to pay for the trip before they could leave.

How irresponsible! We are supposed to feel sorry for this jerk for bringing his pregnant wife and two young children into such an unstable environment? I’m just sorry that the two childrens’ father is such an incompetent ass! Even more insulting is this notion that this man expects, no demands, that his fellow citizens pay the bill for getting him and his family out of a region they had no business being in in the first place. If he was evacuating his home in Kansas City due to an attack on his life, liberty, or property, then he and others would have a legitimate claim to be promptly rescued.
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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Celebrating Life, Liberty, and Property

On July 4, 1776, perhaps the world’s most inspiring document declared the birth of a new country by dissolving the ties from the old country. This document of course was the Declaration of Independence authored by none other than Thomas Jefferson. Upon the signing of this bold statement of independence, those who were willing to inscribe their names for the entire world to see knew they were placing their very lives and fortunes in danger (as it turned out, many who signed the Declaration lost their fortunes, their lives or both). As we celebrate with our families eating hot dogs, drinking beer, and lighting fireworks, we should all take a moment to reflect on the significance of this day. What would this day be like had Washington’s Continental Army failed to be victorious over the British? Would we be drinking tea and eating crumpets (whatever the hell that is!) and be singing ‘God Save the Queen’? Who knows, but we certainly would not have many of the freedoms we presently enjoy. Yes, Great Britain ultimately did come around and become a much freer nation since their revolutionary defeat but I tend to believe that Great Britain would not be the country it is today had it been victorious.

As a small salute to Independence Day, one year ago today the Life, Liberty, Property community launched Carnival of Liberty I hosted by Brad Warbiany of The Unrepentant Individual. Appropriately enough, Brad is once again hosting the Carnival of Liberty (LII) on its first anniversary. Following Brad, 22 others hosted the Carnival of Liberty. As someone who has had the honor of hosting two of the carnivals (CoL VI and XVIII), I can tell you it is a great deal of work (very rewarding work). It is my hope that the Carnival of Liberty continues long into the future. Here is a breakdown of the first year’s carnivals by host (starting with each host's first appearance): Brad Warbiany (I, XIX, and XXXVI), Dan Melson (II, VIII, XVI, XXIV, XXV, XXXVIII, and XLIII), Eric Cowperthwaite (III, IV, VII, XIV, XVII, and XX), Owlish (V and XXXV), Stephen Littau (VI and XVIII), Kay Harrison (XXI, XLI, and XLVI), Doug Mataconis (XXII, XXIII, XXVIII, XXXIX, XLV, and LI), Gullyborg (IX), Mike Landfair (X and XXX), Gunner (XI and XXVI), Sunni (XII), Obi-Wan (XIII and XXXVII), R.G. Combs (XV and XXIX), Kevin Boyd (XXXI), Matt Barr (XXXII and XLVII), Peter Porcupine (XXXIII and XLII), Kentucky Dan (XXXIV), Michael Hampton (XL), Ed a.k.a. Robot Guy (XLIV), Indian Cowboy (XLVIII), Liberty Corner (XLIX) and Dave of TuCents (L).

Each host contributed his or her unique style to make the Carnival of Liberty’s first year very successful in spreading the message of Life, Liberty, and Property as fundamental rights of every human being. Of course none of this would be possible without all of those who have contributed posts to further this cause. What will year 2 bring? I think we are just getting warmed up.
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