Wine From Outer Space

Wine From Outer Space is intoxicating, unearthly and surprising. It's also where I write about whatever I choose, and that's nice.

26 July 2005

Lawsuits: Scourge of Democracy

Children who lack access to proper nutrition, shelter or education; citizens who daily face crushing economic despair; members of the "Greatest Country On Earth" who do not have even the most basic form of health insurance: these are likely groups that should receive attention and aid in the form of state and federal legislation, and consideration for financial hardship.

Another such group is currently being discussed in the United States Senate--a group near and dear to the hears of American politicians and many millions of voters alike--a group who by federal mandate requires protection from those who would seek to harm its members. Yes, that group is the gun industry of the United States.

Is there any other group in America today that has so soft a voice in this age of lobby-driven politics? Arguable, but doubtful. The Senate today started hashing out the possibility of providing additional (and perhaps nearly complete) protection from civil liability litigation. Lawsuits filed against gun and/or ammunition manufacturers in civil court are often (or have the potential to be) "frivolous and politically motivated," at least according to the gun industry.

I certainly don't want to and will not tolerate living in a country in which "frivolous" or "politically motivated" lawsuits are brought against individuals, organizations or corporations! Are lawsuits honestly something you envision when you think of like in modern America? Never! Thankfully, the U.S. Senate will seek to provide a shield against just such legal actions.

The White House threw it's support behind the liability legislation, noting that President Bush "believes that the manufacturer of a legal product should not be held liable for the criminal misuse of that product by others." This seems to make some sort of logical sense when you say it out loud and in passing, like a Dr. Phil bit of "horse sense" when ironing out the kinks and complicated social dynamics of, for instance, falling in love with a drug abuser.

Closer inspection reveals, however, that though the President may believe that manufacturers of legal products should not be held accountable for a product's criminal misuse, one should really concentrate on what that product's intention is in the first place. Cars, for example, are involved in the deaths of many Americans each year. Cars are manufactured with the express purpose of transporting ourselves or others from one place to another, be it for work or pleasure. Alcohol is another prevalent factor in the deaths of Americans, as is tobacco. The express purpose of manufacturing and consuming these products is because they make the user feel good--they provide a deleterious effect. Guns, of course, are manufactured not as a material testament to the Second Amendment; not as a corporeal tribute to freedom; not as an enduring symbol of rugged American individualism and pluck--guns are manufactured with the express purpose of killing things.

Killing is big in America. Killing animals is usually what the gun lobby wants the public to recognize as its members' most closely held concern and hobby. What, are you going to go out into the woods after a bear or an eight-point buck with a boomerang? A spear? An atlatl? A high-powered rifle or shotgun at the least, depending upon your quarry; for the more cunning animals you really need to go semi-auto or better. Home protection is a big factor in supporting the Second Amendment, too. You need a gun to protect yourself, because there are a lot of nuts out there with guns, and who knows what they're capable of doing . . .

Now these two very important and necessary aspects of life in modern America--hunting animals and protecting your home against crazed intruders--is why we have guns, and why we must keep them and our right to use them safe from "frivolous and politically motivated lawsuits."

Many so-called problems and "important issues" in our society (health care, mounting national debt, education, infrastructure, policies toward and relationships with non-Western European nations) are really just so much smoke and mirrors that cloud the things that COUNT in the U.S.--the things that MATTER. I'm talking about things like gay marriage, boobs popping out during Superbowl half-time shows, video games that contain secret sexual content! Our moral and national fibre is fraying at the edges and we're wringing our hands about the homeless? AIDS?? Social Security?!? Questionably motivated wars?!?!?!? Come on people . . . let's buck up and throw in with the team! It's all about lawsuits, and their frivolous and politically motivated natures.

13 July 2005

Ethics for Dummies

President Bush's stage Machiavelle and counselor/confidant Karl Rove is currently in the hot seat--some media outlets make his situation (and possible transgressions) to be much more dire than others'.

There is the suspicion that Mr. Rove, master architect of President Bush's re-election campaign, let slip CIA operative Valerie Wilson's name to certain parties. Her husband Joseph Wilson was a vocal detractor in terms of the Bush administration's war in Iraq, which helps to paint this sort of color-by-numbers picture of retribution: has Karl Rove taken on the role of Luca Brasi from The Godfather, a feared thug going after those who would hurt or offend his boss?

President Bush is mum on the subject, and has instructed his entire staff to keep their lips sealed. The President stated that he "will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports," an interesting comment considering he seems to pride himself on not reading any media reports whatsoever.

In the meantime, a reporter for the New York Times named Judith Miller was sent to the hooskow last week because she refused to name a confidential source. The judge stated that she was violating the law by refusing to cooporate with a grand-jury indictment. Ethics of two varieties lock horns here: ethical procedures by members of the Fourth Estate versus federal law. Law is arguably based on some set of ethics, but law represents more than ethics because it carries the force of the state in retaliation to those who do not obey it. If Judith Miller decided to forego her sense of ethics and give up the name of her source, then there would be no punitive consequence for her, at least meted out by the state, though her personal credibility and trustworthiness with future sources would probably be in jeopardy.

Bernie Ebbers, head of Worldcom and "creative accountant" extraodinaire, picked up 25 years today for perpetrating the largest pecuniary fraud in American history. He used to be a milkman. We in the U.S. all enjoy those "something from nothing" stories, almost as much as we like the "fallen hero" tales. I think Mr. Ebbers had nine counts against him; the minimum sentence for these criminal counts was 30 years. Mr. Ebbers was a generous soul, you see--he engaged in a great deal of charitable works, so his sentence was reduced slightly because of his big heart. Of course it's quite easy to be a giving person if there is some unknown, unaccounted for trove of funds with which you can dispense. Nevertheless, Mr. Ebbers is going to prison (most likely the sauna and squash court variety) for a long while because of his infraction of ethics as well as law.

The House Ethics Committee is finally moving towards an investigation into the actions of Congressman Tom DeLay, whose travel and staff payroll expenditures and "soft money" political contributions are under scrutiny. Representative DeLay has not been implicated in any wrongdoing--the investigation will help to answer questions about the legality of his alleged misconduct. Here is a possible case of ethics being overtaken by arrogance (DeLay) versus the ethics of the acceptable and honorable conduct of members of a governing body (the House of Representatives). Yeah, I guess that last part of that sentence makes me laugh too.

What is the sum of all of these examples? Ethics, a body of conduct and practices and ways of behaving and interacting with others and within a society, is something to which most of us adhere to a greater or lesser degree since we learned to speak. Ethics instilled by your parents, family members, friends, peers, religious or spiritual convictions, political or governmental or social sensibilities: ethics are our "interactive manners." Ethics are stronger than cultural mores but weaker than laws (in terms of direct enforcement), but ethics seem to be greater than both because they speak to how one acts as a human being.

It's interesting that we can get into trouble for either straying so far away from an ethical center that we hurt others, or for clutching so tightly to our ethics that we can get in the way of (supposedly) acting on behalf of the greater good.

Here I've only discussed examples of people whose career paths have taken a steeper incline than most: top government officials, captains of industry, reporters for world-famous publications.

It is not my sense that corporate offices are natural incubators for ethical conduct; a friend of mine works for a publisher, some of the practices and employees of which he lampoons in his blog. Three of his co-workers (one being his boss) discovered the blog and are now keeping a very close eye on my friend's behavior. The writing does not name anyone or the company, and is not libelous or defamatory, but is certainly unflattering. My friend now fears passive-aggressive harrassment (moreso than is the norm in that office, I suppose) in response to his creative outlet which he maintains on his own time.

What about my workplace, or yours? Do you see a sense of ethical engagement from those with whom you work? Are acceptable ethics outlined or encouraged or enforced where you work? Or does your management think that ethics is the name of a British band, or maybe some new kind of fad candy?

Ethics for Dummies as a book idea seems funny to me, but I have to think that if such a book existed it would sell vast numbers--not necessarily because so many people are interested in ethics, but because seemingly so many people need a refresher course on proper conduct.

11 July 2005

Scared Kitty

. . . Of Robots and Vikings

Deconstructing and providing background regarding one's screen name or e-mail address can, in some instances, reveal personal information. It seems to me the Digital Age equivalent of rifling through your wallet or purse, examining the detritus to glean what I can about the owner. Robovike, my screen name, is a simple combination of Robot and Viking--two things I enjoy immensely.

I like robots, of the 1950s and '60s sci-fi variety, which in my archetypal ideal are boxy, stiff, menacing, and speak in a loud and pinched monotone. In my world, robots are self-aware and aggressive, if slow moving. These robots have pincers or claws, perhaps terrible saw-like instruments as appendages, and emit light rays with devastating effects. These are robots that, as is the popular rule in sci-fi, "turn against their masters and run amok." The Japanese are developing robots to help in factories and around the home. I even saw something on the news about a dance partner robot. These are all fine first steps, but until the first of these models goes berserk and rampages through the warehouse or across the dance floor, I will remain dissatisfied.

Vikings: the professional Minnesota football team, though several detractors from Wisconsin and elsewhere may question the "professional" part. The team members are paid, however, so I guess the definition fits. No Randy Moss this year, but personally I don't mind--I'm sure he wants to get a Superbowl ring (and as hopeful as I am I don't see one right around the corner in Minny), and frankly I feel what he was paid did not come close to what he was supposed to produce on the field. Kleinsausser returns this season, which is exciting, and I look forward to the new roster of players. We have a new owner (Zygi Wilf) and new plans for a new outdoor stadium (the Twins are getting one too, so I don't know if that means the time is ripe). I can only guess as to whether he will further penalize or even fire head coach Tice for scalping those Superbowl tickets last year--the NFL fined Tice $100,000--but as far as I know there are no viable candidates out there at the moment.

Oh, and as for the "Wine From Outer Space," I think it first appeared as the title of a mix tape I made. It seemed more interesting than something like "Mix Tape" or "Mix." I always thought that it would be a good name for a band (as would "Robots vs. Elves"), but seeing as how I have no musical talent and no patience to learn an instrument (or even a 303, for God's sake), I use it here.

Anyway, following posts will deal with whatever catches my fancy, and it's my nature as a cruel despot and brutal petty tyrant to foist on you, dear readers, whatever I feel like foisting. Commentary on events of the day, political wrangling, religion vs. spirituality, culture vs. kulture, technology, books, movies, music, and yes, even robots (and perhaps elves) are some of the topics likely to see installment here.

Thanks for shopping!