Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cease Fire: Good Or Bad Idea?

The current Israeli – Gaza Strip crisis is the latest episode of war-level conflict between Israel and Palestinian (notably Hamas-centric groups) forces. The state of the conflict between the parties is at a particularly high level of armed engagement with the associated number of fatalities that is logically a consequence of such a state of affairs. The laws of physics and probability just don’t allow for the enormous amount of explosive projectiles being deployed without the ‘cause and effect’ deaths that will result. Simply put, when two sides engage in attempts to kill the other there will be deaths.

In most situations where there are armed conflicts, the nations of the world will express some degree of concern or alarm about the conflict. The nature and degree of concern or alarm will vary across a number of dimensions; but one particularly salient factor that raises the level of concern and disapproval are situations where civilians, and especially children, are victims to the violence. If the majority of the causalities are civilians then the outcry to stop the violence reaches its highest levels. In response to the concern around those being killed, a typical call to action will be for the opposing sides to agree to a ‘cease-fire’; that is a cessation of hostilities, a truce, or creating a pause in aggressive activities. The duration of a cease-fire represents a secondary dimension of attempts to resolve or manage a resolution to a crisis situation.

So it is not surprising in the current Israeli – Gaza hostilities that the calls for a cease-fire and the offers or proposals for cease-fires are in the offing as if there were some competition with a prize for the winner of a chosen proposal. Most proposals are rejected by one side or the other. I think occasionally both sides reject a presented proposal. There have been some short cease-fire events agreed to, but they are either almost immediately violated or pass with the return to the state of war as if that is the preferred condition and the cease-fires are inconvenient interruptions in the opportunities for death and destruction.

Diplomats from different nations inform us that they are working with any and all parties that they can to arrange for a cease-fire that they can then build upon to ultimately bring about a resolution and lead the parties and regions to peace. Certainly an admirable goal and objective for our US diplomats and for those from other nations; but are they failing to gain traction on this front because there is no way to place an acceptable proposal on the table or they are stuck in presenting ‘same old’, ‘been down this road before’, or ‘nothing new under the sun’ versions of a cease-fire state that is not practical, workable, reasoned, or productive and thus leads to nowhere.

Is a cease-fire desirable because it makes the rest of the world more comfortable but does nothing to address the factors and issues that have sustained this conflict for decades? Is a cease-fire that is temporary and allows for triage but not for a cure anything more than delaying the death toll?


What is required by our world leaders, the parties directly involved, those acting behind the scenes, the diplomats, and the rest of the world’s citizenry is a more comprehensive approach to defining and implementing a path forward to if not stop hostilities to manage them. The lack of a plan and structure in which the conflict can be managed is where the diplomats are failing. They need to learn new techniques and approaches to conflict resolutions of this type. Just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean that the hammer is a salient tool that will be effective in planting a new crop. Trying to help is very humane and we would hope is what all nations would want to do here (though this is probably not universally true) so yes we are trying, but trying and trying and trying over again is likely an indication that the desire to succeed is not matched by the ability, competency or wisdom to succeed. This doesn’t mean that there are not effective and acceptable approaches to attaining a cease-fire and better yet a resolution to the conflict but that those engaged in defining and developing the solution are not properly equipped to do it.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

“I Believe” The Supreme Courts’ Own Pandora’s Box

The expected Monday ruling by the Justices on the ‘religious rights’ of companies versus federal laws has the potential to be ground-breaking decision. Regardless of the decision there will be lots of subsequent efforts that will enrich the lawyers. The problem that is facing the Justices may actually not be the one that they are ‘narrowing’ their sights upon. Do companies, even tightly held family businesses, have the right to indiscriminately apply their religious beliefs, tenets and views with exemptions from federal laws/regulations? The question is not whether the companies and their particular owners have religious views that conflict, in their opinion, with an aspect of a federal policy. This may be the issue that is discussed in the media, that the suit and its arguments are fashioned around, or that the parties involved want the issue to be; but the issue that the Court should be considering in its assessment of the suit ought to include the ‘unasked’ and ‘un-presented’ question of who and how does a ‘religious’ belief get defined and assessed as being a ‘valid’ belief?

Is the Supreme Court willing to rule that ‘religious’ beliefs trump law in any area? Or is the Court somehow going to try and carve out a small, narrow, and single-issue oriented decision that will fundamentally (not meant in a religious context) establish a crack in the foundation. A religious belief would seem to be recognized and honored by our Constitution as something an individual is allowed to have and live by within their own life without interference from the Government. However, at the very moment and boundary where the individual’s beliefs intrude into the lives of others, America decided that the Government and religion will take separate paths. So when the companies’ owners want to be exempted from the federal mandate on healthcare rules we are staring straight down the dividing line. The owners believe in a pro-life view which they now want extended to the lives of their employees.  It doesn’t matter if the employees have a comparable view; it doesn’t matter if employees’ view are also religiously based yet are pro-choice or if agnostic/atheistic are violated by definition from that of the owners.

Let’s set aside the question of the employee’s rights to their religious or non-religious views versus the owner’s, because I am sure every American will agree that a company’s views take precedent over their employees just like the feudal lords views superseded the serfs [I could have used a more American reference, but why muddy the issue?]. So let us look just at the dimension of ‘religious’ correctness of doctrine.

The ‘religiosity’ of a view being relevant in the applicability of our nation’s laws is the introduction of the very malicious cancer that the founding fathers were fortunately able to foresee and build into the social and civic structure of our government and society. Keeping religion out of politics has been a dismal failure, but keeping it out of our laws has been at least more often than not a successful ‘holding ground’ effort. When discussing the freedom of religion right, it seems that people think of and distrust the government’s intruding on our religious rights but there was as important (maybe even more feared) risk of religious intrusions on our government. This second dimension of religion and government is the one that the Court is placing on the altar of their wisdom. Whether they sustain the letter and spirit of the founders’ vision or sacrifice it to a vision that they have misunderstood will be at the center of their ruling. Each side of the argument will of course see their view as being consistent with the “original intent” argument which logically means that that view is not verifiable as a “true” intent. This decision must ‘look to the future’ because that is where the consequences will occur and that is where the wisdom or folly of the Justices will fall; that is also where the rest of us must live with their decision be it good or ill.

Now I always know what the right interpretation of religious views should be. That is because I know that my beliefs and faith are true, right and come from the gifts that God has granted me. So if the Justices could just assure me that my views were upheld and applied than I would have no objection or problem with ruling that ‘my individual freedom of religion’ rights were protected. However, since I find the religious views of others often in error of a rational religious doctrine, even one that is purportedly the same as my own, I do not see how others can be allowed to influence a public policy which has any impact upon me and my rights both religious and non-religious. Now being an open-minded person, it does occur to me that there might be at least one other person in the nation that may have the exact same view as me regarding their rights yet not agree with me on my religious views. This does create a certain irresolvable conflict of whose views are paramount. I of course think mine should be but perhaps you might think that yours are.

 Where might religious beliefs come into conflict with local, state or federal law? Could anyone possibly have a religious view that could be applied to an exemption or to a compulsion on:  taxation, government funding of programs, entitlement programs, medical research, criminal codes, property, drugs, …  [by now you may have a few of your own areas that you think the government may be in violation of your religious views and need to be exempted from something because of it].

Now what about the ‘who gets to decide’ if a religious belief is an accurate interpretation of a particular religion’s doctrine? What religions get recognized? Whose religion has precedence over others? If I share a religious faith but disagree with one or more members of that particular faith, who gets to decide? A recent study of Catholics in the US indicates that they don’t follow several of the positions of the general leadership of the Church. Even the Pope’s views are not absolutely concurred with by his hierarchy. The reason that there is a myth about Pandora’s box is that even a very long time ago there was a need to remind people that that are consequences to actions, and that sometime you can’t undo the action.

In the Christian faiths there is an answer to this issue in the Bible, it strange that no one has brought it up.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Absolute Knowledge of Politicians: Getting a Little Rand-ie

I won’t say I disagree with Paul Rand nor will I say that I agree with him regarding his position on the use of a drone in killing an American. It’s not that I don’t know where I stand; it is because I assess Rand’s statement as naïve and too commonly representative of the level and depth of intellect amongst politicians. I suppose it’s possible that Rand doesn’t absolutely or literally mean what he says and that he is merely expressing the general thesis of his position and that that may just be a politically expedient and popular sound bite. So if the statement is just a ploy to bolster his image among supporters and a hope to garner some people to his cadre who find this an attractive issue to obsess about then it is what we can expect and rely on politicians to do.

On the other hand, if Rand firmly has a conceptual framework of absolute surety and understanding then I can’t just disagree with him. Because by just a simple disagreeing position I would allow that others would carry with it a presumed logical inference that comes with just inverting the text of his position. That Rand cannot conceive of the foolish fallacy that such ‘absolute’ beliefs and doctrines represent and ultimately plague oneself on at some point in the future then he would seem to be yet another ‘principled’ politician who cannot cope with or deal with the complexity and nuance of reality.

Now I recognize that it is an American principle and Constitutional right to ‘due process’ and that the government should not be given the freedom to kill a citizen without adhering to our legal framework. But here is where I diverge from the absolutist view, the "There is no valid legal precedent to justify the killing of an American citizen not engaged in combat" would imply that you agree with the meaning of the statement, have a common understanding of the terms and the context of the statement, and that the statement is in fact true or factually correct. If on no other basis then the word ‘combat’, I would have to regard Rand’s view as simplistic. I don’t concede that even he knows what he thinks he means by combat. Do you know what he means? Do you know what you would mean? And if you are ‘absolutely’ sure about what you and Rand mean, and then are you also on the side that there are no circumstances or conditions under which the US government would be justified under our laws to kill an American citizen?

Lets’ assume you are and thus no American citizen can be justifiably killed outside of their engagement in combat. Is an American citizen overseas; completely inaccessible to US law enforcement or judicial processes or agencies; fully and totally committed to supporting, promoting and enabling violent actions against the US either domestically or internationally; and operating only indirectly through other individuals’ actions and never physically engaged in a direct act but perhaps only funding those activities which required that support so as to affect the killing of Americans; would the US government be violating our laws? If you think there is no legitimacy in such a governmental act than you are perfectly encamped in the absolutist world-view.

It may also mean that you are only able to consider and factor in one premise in evaluating a topic.  Are there no other Constitutional issues, obligations, requirements, rights and responsibilities that come into play on this question besides the single isolated discussion point that Rand is so earnest about?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fracking Earthquakes: Not a Qualification, But a Causal Connection

As scientific research into the causal connection between the oil / gas drilling’s fracking process and the production of seismic activity in neighboring regions will eventually lead to the increasing acceptance and understanding that fracking can and does increase earthquakes. Even if you don’t agree with the view for a religious, business or political reason (or all of these) I am not focusing on the ‘cause and effect’ relationship that fracking has to seismic events. Just for the sake of discussion let’s set aside the “proof” argument, let’s not worry about whether the practice of introducing high differential pressures in sub-surface geological strata bring about seismic conditions that would cause earthquakes. While this may be the very definition of the physics of seismic criteria for what causes earthquakes; there is no reason to apply western scientific methodology to reaching a conclusion that fracking must be an earthquake-like phenomena.

OK, so now that we are all ‘intellectually’ prepared to think about fracking causing earthquakes (remember you don’t have to really, really believe this); we can talk about the important issues and questions around the fracking-earthquakes that don’t seem are even being thought about.

Is the increase in seismic activity associated with fracking a bad thing? I know that the concept of earthquakes would immediately lead one to believe that it must be dangerous and deadly to the public, but that’s a simplistic conclusion and a blind leap that all earthquakes are bad. If you consider that the number of earthquakes that occur every year is 1.5 million (about 4,000 a day) then you have to ask yourself – REALLY?  Given this, is your view on the badness of earthquakes perhaps now dependent upon the question of “well how big a quake are we talking about?” We should be able to take some comfort in the fact that if fracking does lead to more earthquakes that doesn’t mean that it harms us. It doesn’t mean that fracking doesn’t pose a hazard either but we are at least starting to comprehend that like most things the fracking / earthquake issue is not subject to resolution by the simple-minded (and I don’t just mean politicians).

What about the possibility that fracking-induced quakes are actually beneficial? Now an earthquake is the process of the earth’s crust releasing stresses and pressures through the shifting, breaking, fracturing (note the commonality of terminology here) and/or shearing of the rock strata. This release of potential energy does produce some kinetic effects that vary in magnitude with the (here we go again) magnitude of the seismic event. Now what if fracking enables these stress release events to occur more frequently at lower energy levels? What if it eliminated the “Big One”? In other words, fracking may reduce the risk, danger and damage that normal naturally produced earthquakes might represent. Are a thousand small quakes that are hardly even noticed better than, equal to, or worse than one seismic event that brings down the house?

We should ask the geologists, particularly those heavily vested in researching and studying earthquakes, whether the active creation of mini-quakes in say Ohio could reduce the intensity of stresses in Colorado which reduces pressures in California? Maybe Ohioans could help the good people of California by accepting the inconvenience of a bunch of small tremors every day. Of course there is the possibility that all these little fracking quakes could actually trigger the “Big One”, maybe even contribute to the eruption of the Yellowstone caldera. Ohioans may not be as negatively affected by the one as the other but you would think they would have some degree of self-interest and consideration to at least want someone to explain the risk to them. Ok, I have to admit, I don’t know that much about the people in Ohio. I’ve lived near Ohio both to the east and west; and I’ve driven through/across Ohio a couple times. But I can only speculate that the people of Ohio would expect the question of fracking and earthquakes to be considered, assessed and reacted to based on a scientific understanding not upon the wishful thinking and attitudes that some prefer to apply to state and national issues.

In addition to these aspects of fracking-quakes there are second-tier issues that would be related to the consequences of increased tremors and quakes to the environment, for example pollution of ground water.

These oft ignored questions only look at the practice of fracking along the dimension of their propensity to affect the frequency, magnitude and consequences of earthquakes. Other dimensions of fracking remain with their own questions and are equally worth of being examined and understood by competent and informed individuals (again not applicable to politicians).

You can now go back to your personal view of does fracking cause earthquakes? And if you think that is the only question of importance then it probably doesn’t matter whether it does or doesn’t.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

American Intelligence Test #18 – Weed: Don’t Get Lost in the Smoke and Mirrors


American Intelligence Test #18Weed: Don’t Get Lost in the Smoke and Mirrors


The Governors are torn by the issue of marijuana: to legalize or not to legalize, that is the question; but that is where the Governors go wrong and fall off the log. Granted that is a question, and that question is at the center of the issue. Legalization is key question to any decision they make because they are debating how the law deals with the subject of the topic, marijuana; and is thus unavoidably and inseparably linked to the future of marijuana in America. It may be at the center of the debate but legalization is not the big or biggest question, rather it is the least of all the questions. This could be why the Governors had such a difficult time of it with the question; they were confused by its irrelevance.

Now, here’s the dope (to use a bad cliché) that the Governors, state and federal legislative bodies, and everyone should be dealing (I couldn’t help) in. The broad topic is what is the role of government regarding such substances as marijuana, what are the costs and benefits of the policy adopted, what is the responsibility and accountability of various parties, and to what extent and how are policies and laws to be carried out?  So with all these questions and others besides, doesn’t it seem like another intelligence test is in order? As with any such test, don’t you think it may be highly informative not just for the Governors but for everyone else as well? Just making a decision for or against is not worthy of our leaders or ourselves if those decisions don’t stand up to even the most shallow examination.

Don’t be focused on what you want the answer to be, think about it first. We can only hope that the Governors will do the same, rare an occurrence as that may be.

Time to test yourself.
Question 1:   The Role of Government regarding marijuana. Which, if any, is the government reasonably expected to be protecting?

A.      Individuals from harming themselves
B.      Children from being harmed by others or themselves
C.      Society from predation by criminals
D.      Apply a societal moral/ethical judgment relative to drugs
E.       Citizens from harming other citizens
F.       General welfare of the people

Context:  The rationale for having legal restrictions on marijuana must be based on some principle of harm/damage that would result if it were allowed to be unrestricted. So simple enforcement of it being banned by the law is not a sound basis for why the ban exists in the first place. So the answer(s) to this question are relevant to defining the government’s raison d’être of the law.
Question 2:  Costs and Benefits. For each area below, answer if the cost or the benefit is from criminalization (C) or legalization (L)?

Cost:

A.      Law enforcement
B.      Healthcare
C.      Taxes
D.      Education
E.       Security

Benefit:
      A.      Healthcare
B.      Crime
C.      Taxes
D.      Employment
E.       Safety

Question 3:  Responsibility and Accountability. If use were to become legal would use in combination with each of the following be treated as a violation of the law?

A.      Driving
B.      Military on-duty status
C.      Government employment
D.      Healthcare provider on-duty
E.       Employee activities
F.       Education worker on-the-job
G.     Any distribution or sale to a minor
Question 4: Execution of the laws and policies if marijuana remains criminalized. How do we insure that the laws and policies are effective and beneficial, being applied uniformly and justly, and aren’t corrosive and corruptive to the enforcement processes?

A.      Depend upon Congressional oversight
B.      Trust our political leaders
C.      Political appointees as administrators
D.      Public oversight and review boards
E.       Each state will figure it out
F.       All of the above
G.     None of the above

Question 5:   No matter what the government does, there will be consequences on all sides. Are the consequences better (B) or worse (W) if we retain criminal status for use, production or distribution/sale?

A.      Addiction
B.      Under-age use
C.      Progression to other drugs of more serious consequence
D.      Gangs and criminal organizations
E.       National Security

The Special Question “X”:  Who profits from legalization (L) and who profits from criminalization (C)?
A.      Public
B.      Politicians
C.      Corporations / shareholders
D.      Criminal entities
E.       Terrorist organizations

DONE. While there are many more questions, if you or the Governors don’t have reasoned responses for these it probably doesn’t matter. To help assist in assessing your responses; you can at least view mine.
QUESTIONS: ANSWERS

1:  B, E, F
2:  Costs: all are Ls;   Benefits: all are Ls
3:  A through G
4:  G
5: A – E = W
“X”:  A=L, B=C, C=L, D=C, E=C

 The challenge to the Governors and the country is not whether marijuana is legalized or not, not even if just legalized for medical use. The challenge is that you have to have positions and policies that deal with all the consequences and ramifications of whatever positions and policies that are adopted. Are the sane and rationale approaches to the marijuana conundrum in America? Yes, there are. Would you bet that our politicians are adequate to the task?  I won’t provide my answer to this question, I don’t see it as part of the test or even a test question at all.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Choosing Your Social Problems Is Easier Than Solving Them

The issue of marijuana legalization in New Jersey or any other state will be fought over questions that will excite and evoke the loud vocal groups that will be for or against it. Their positions will represent any number of perspectives, including but not limited to: it’s no worse than smoking or alcohol, it’s a gateway drug to more serious drugs, legalization will reduce crime, legalized use will raise revenues, it will reduce abusive disproportionate punishment under the law, law enforcement efforts can be applied more effectively to more serious crimes, and it will lead to the corruption of our youth.

These are stances from which politicians or anyone can base their arguments and defend their decisions, but these are not the reasons to be for or against legalization; at least not reasons worthy of an informed and one would hope intelligent society. Now I have to concede that starting with the proposition that ours is an intelligent society is pressing the limits if credibility but what else can one do but hope. The question on the table for our society and our form of government is how to efficiently and effectively manage the social issue of drug use be it marijuana, alcohol or tobacco. The situation with each of these drugs is currently that we are failing in our responsibilities to ourselves, our children and each other. As a consequence we are failing with respect to other more destructive drugs and behaviors in even more serious ways.

So what is the issue regarding marijuana and its legalization that the politicians, the media, the religious factions, our capitalistic business elite, social advocates, and the public at large should be determining? The issue is how to best manage and deal with the implications of marijuana (and we should apply equally to alcohol and tobacco) in our society given that it is nothing more or less than one of the realities of the world we live in; and the simplistic view that allowing its use or making it illegal is the smart, sane, rational and prudent solution is unworthy of us as a society. Simple solutions usually don’t work for a simple reason; if the problem is overly complex and many faceted the simple is quite literally out gunned and inadequate.

With this issue in the hands of politicians and special interests the best we can expect is that marijuana should be relegated to the comparable status of alcohol and tobacco. It should evolve to a regulated and managed substance. This will not be easy or with its dependence upon political influences accomplished well, but it may be the only solution that avoids the abysmal failures that treating it as if it can be decided by the powers that be once and therefore forever as a forbidden substance when the society has neither the will nor the means to abolish it from our culture.
Along with this approach will be a societal requirement to set responsibilities and accountabilities for those who choose to use, produce, oversee and regulate it. The fact that this will not be easy does not alter the inescapable obligation that we have to our society to do far better than we have done to this point. You can choose to bury your head in the visions of what you want to be real but the ‘laws of physics’ of the world we live in do not bow to your visions.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Juggling the Protection of All Freedoms


This issue about religious freedom and the opinion that the ACA infringes upon it is only presented in the context of the religious side versus the government's side. I don't think I have heard anyone in government, from the religious groups that feel so threatened by it, from the media, from the political parties that use this issue as just another fund raising trinket to attract the attention of their core groups, or from the public at large about the "third party" involved in this issue. If you don't instantly recognize who the third party is then I would contend that that exemplifies that this issue is not being discussed or examined in the proper and necessary context that it not just deserves but that is required if the public's constitutional rights are to be adequately addressed and protected.

After all, while there is a desire to make and keep politically sensitive issues as a one-facet issue that cleanly and clearly divides people onto one side or the other; there is almost never only one dimension to such issues and in the case of the ACA versus religious freedoms example it is not and never was a one-dimensional issue. This is true even if no one involved seems to have comprehended that the complaint about the ACA forcing religious groups to violate their personal religious views and beliefs involves more than those religious groups' First Amendment rights. I am sure that as you read this comment you yourself immediately recognize the other important third party, so given that how do you see their Constitutional rights and interests playing into this issue?

As is often the case when there are points of contention between Constitutional rights and freedoms or rights versus governmental authority the decision that the Supreme Court is to render must of necessity include a determination of precedence of one right relative to another, or of a proper balance between the two if one doesn’t have an absolute priority over the other. Now if by some chance Justice Sonia Sotomayor (or any of the other Justices) doesn’t or hasn’t recognized the importance of the third party to this issue then how will this factor be properly accounted for and included in the decision making and judgment of the Court?

Will the rights’ of the people of the United States be served if the rights of all the people aren’t considered? Will my freedom be protected if my interests are not considered? Will your’s?

We should be more demanding of those in politics, the media, the courts and well the public when these issues are being dealt with. Maybe we should just be more aware that when these issues surface in our political environment today that the public’s interest and need to know is not just under-served but that the information that is presented is likely being provided without any competency from our elected officials and media outlets.