My Views on Torrenting/Illegally Downloading/Stealing


I just read a fascinating article about torrenting and the various cliches surrounding it. The article is here, if you’d like to read it. I recommend that you do.

Like most people who are reasonably active on the internet, I download things from time-to-time. Yes, I used The Pirate Bay, and currently use a couple of other sites. I don’t download a lot of content, and I have a very specific set of rules.

1. I only download things that are either not legally available for purchase in the United States/region 1 (ie: the newest episodes of Top Gear), or that are broadcast TV shows that I missed watching that week (ie: The Simpsons, Family Guy).

2. As soon as those items that aren’t available for purchase in the USA become available, I buy them. I either pick up the DVD or blu ray (as in the case of Doctor Who, where I torrent in order to see it a few hours before it airs on BBC America), or I buy it on Amazon Instant Video (as is the case with Top Gear and Downton Abbey).

3. The only other items I torrent are things that are out of print. If the copyright holder can’t be bothered to put out a copy for purchase, well…

Now there is still no getting around the fact that even with this set of ethical standards, I’m still stealing. None of these shows are things that I actually need, and I could easily live without them in my life. It wouldn’t kill me to wait a few weeks for the new Top Gear episodes to pop up on Amazon Instant, or to wait a few months for the new Downton Abbey episodes to do the same. But, hey, at least I buy almost everything that I torrent, and I’m willing to bet that’s more than most people do.

Yes, I know there’s all those “studies” that say people who torrent the most also buy the most, but we all know that’s bullshit, especially as it relied on self-reporting and, as the article above points out, was done some time ago. It’s also important to think about this mathematically. If someone torrents $1,000 worth of stuff, and buys $500, then that’s great! That is way better than torrenting $1,000 worth of stuff and buying none. But unless you buy $1,000 worth of stuff, you’ve stolen whatever you haven’t paid for.

I know the moral argument won’t hold much sway with many people, so let me put it this way: If you continue to steal things, and don’t pay for them, companies and people that make those things won’t be able to continue to do so. Next thing you know, your favorite books or TV series or whatever, will be gone, and you’ll have only yourself to blame.

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Torture and the Pledge and the Meaning of America


"God bless America? No, god damn America!" - Jeremiah Wright

“God bless America? No, god damn America!” – Jeremiah Wright

Given what we now know of our government using torture, primarily through the CIA, and approved of by the White House, can someone still ethically consider themselves to be a proud American? And is it ethically correct to continue to say the Pledge of Allegiance?

Now I don’t say the Pledge anyhow. I consider it an odious little loyalty oath with religious overtones, and as an American, I’m happy to assert my freedom to not say it. But I know I’m an outlier here, so let’s consider this through the eyes of two Christian writers talking about our country and it great national shame.

Consider this from writer Benjamin L. Corey:

Still, even with the biblical arguments that I feel are straight forward (“I pledge allegiance to the flag” vs “…but I tell you, do not take a pledge”), some Christians are hesitant to let go of this tradition that as children we were indoctrinated to engage in– and I understand that. When you’ve had nationalism and tradition drilled into your head for years on end it can be hard to step back and realize that maybe we’ve been wrong– that’s how indoctrination works and why it’s so hard to break free from it. We grow up being taught that America is the greatest nation that has ever existed, that we are exceptional compared to others, that we are a “Christian” nation, and that whatever we do is good, right, and justified. And so, pledging to give our allegiance to such an entity is an easy sell, as the narrative we are given doesn’t seem on the surface to conflict with some basic understandings of following Jesus.

However, the release of the now infamous CIA Torture Report should be the final blow that closes the case on Christians reciting the pledge of allegiance. From reading the report, it should now be crystal clear to anyone who has read the teachings of Jesus as found in scripture that one cannot swear their allegiance to America while simultaneously giving our allegiance to the alternate way of Jesus. Absolutely, positively, impossible.

The contents of the report reveal what the US has done, and what has been done is anti-Christ– pure, absolute evil.

How a Jesus person could continue to swear allegiance to an entity that engages in behaviors that are so unarguably anti-Christ, sins against God, and crimes against humanity, is beyond me.

And:

Personally, I can think of no more of a compelling reason to close the case on Christians reciting the pledge of allegiance: we can pledge our allegiance to Jesus and his way of enemy love (which he said was a requirement to become God’s children), or we can pledge our allegiance to the empire who tortures and kills its enemies (the opposite of what Christ tells us to do, thus being an “anti-Christ” nation). But, I don’t see how one could do both, as they are complete opposites. As much as I hate lines, I don’t see how this isn’t one: we can follow Jesus, or follow America, but we cannot follow both Jesus and America at the same time as they are busy doing opposite things.

We also have the following from Kyle Cupp, writing in response to Corey:

Fidelity to any organization will at times mean aligning oneself with institutional evil, remotely and materially if not formally. If you belong to an organization, you will have to tolerate evil, sometimes very grave evil. No organization is exempt from structural sin–not the state, not the church. Nevertheless, some evils are so intolerable, so embedded in an institution, that you cannot in good conscience pledge allegiance to that institution.

And:

The United States of America receives no special graces or blessings that keep it mostly on the side of Christ. It’s not and never has been a “Christian nation.” It is not the world’s savior. American Christians do not owe their nation permanent loyalty.

It’s really an interesting question. Can you be a good and decent Christian (or Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu, or whatever), and still pledge loyalty to a country that has engaged in such ruthless, beyond-the-pale evil as the United States? If you do, can you pledge equal loyalty? Which is more important, your god or your country? Can one man effectively serve two masters?

The religious aspects of this aren’t important to me, really, since I’m an atheist. But the moral arguments remain. I don’t say the Pledge, but I do participate in other aspects of American life. I quite happily pay my taxes, for example, and I would serve on a jury if asked.

But…can I continue to do those things, thus supporting my country, while at the same time, that country has engaged in something so hideously evil and immoral?

I think I can, but only under certain circumstances. If we eventually bring to justice those involved in torture, and punish the guilty as they deserve, then, yes, I absolutely can continue to support my country and do so with a clear conscience. In fact, I’d be quite happy, because it would show that the self-correcting mechanisms we have in our country are working.

But what if we don’t prosecute? What if we just shrug, and let the international community do it for us? Well, in that case, if we at least extradite for trial those involved (up to and including Bush and Cheney, and even Obama if he participated in a cover-up), then I’ll be less happy than I would be if we handled it ourselves, but least we would have allowed others to take up the responsibility. A valid argument could be made that perhaps that’s what we should do.

Suppose, though, that we fight war crimes trials every step of the way, and don’t allow the international bodies to bring to justice those who so richly deserve it? What do I do then?

I don’t really know. I think the answer might be that I’d have to step away from supporting this country. I’m not entirely sure what that would mean. It might mean, for example, refusing to pay my taxes, knowing full-well that I’d go to prison for doing so. It might mean making it clear that I won’t serve on a jury, or ever vote again.

I don’t know what I’ll do. Hopefully I won’t have to find out. It’s been only six days since the torture report was released. Let’s see where I’m at when it’s been 60 days, or 600. Then I might have some idea of what I’ll do.

Droning On


Not an unmanned arial drone.

We have started using unmanned drones in Libya. Or to put it in a more alarming way “Terminators to Tripoli!” (note: exclaimation point added for obnoxiousness)

I know these vehicles are a problem for those on the right and on the left. I can kind of understand this, because basically everyone has seen The Terminator and we all “know” that the robots are out to destroy us (see here, here, here and just about every major science fiction film of the last twenty years).

I can understand this, but keep in mind: these aren’t robots. They are remote controlled vehicles. They are under human control flown by human pilots in a room in, I believe, Missouri. This is no different than a human pilot flying an airplane over enemy territory except, oh, wait, you don’t have that human pilot’s life in danger.

To me that is an important thing. While I don’t want us to have the hugely bloated military that we have right now, I do want the people in it to be as safe as possible. This is why I haven’t any problem ethically we us using these remote controlled vehicles. Why should I? I’m quite happy that we have a way to fly missions that doesn’t endanger the lives of the people flying them. I think that’s a good thing.

Now I know these things are a PR nightmare and have accidentally killed civilians. But that happens when we have real pilots and when we have people on the ground who have been known to even accidentally kill people on our side from time to time (side note: god, I’ve always thought that hat looks so stupid). Accidents happen in wartime no matter who is behind the controls. But frankly if we can at least keep our side safe, I’m happy with that.

Now I suppose the next question is: what if we do develop autonomous robots that can engage in combat? Should we send them into battle? Is the Pope a Catholic who covered up decades of child rape by priests? Yes. So yes. As long as there is oversight by a human, why not? This not only eliminates the physical danger to our troops, it also lessens the psychological nature and, frankly, makes the conflict just that much more terrifying for whomever we are fighting, thus making them more likely to surrender sooner and saving their lives, too.

The use of robotic devices and remote controlled vehicles in warfare is likely to only increase, and I’m just fine with that. Saving the lives of our soldiers is more important than giving into the fears of people who think those movies and TV shows linked to above are documentaries.

Why Do the Faithful Avoid Church?


How many Christians do you know? Me, I know several. My mom, one of my friends, pretty much all of my extended family. They all consider themselves to be Christians. Yet here’s the interesting part: very few of them actually attend church on a regular basis. Oh, they might pop in for Christmas Eve services or Easter, but otherwise? They don’t go every Sunday. They don’t even appear to go on other days of the week.

Turns out they aren’t atypical. According to an article on Slate, a large number of Christians don’t actually attend church and the fun part is they say they do. Yes, they lie (bear false witness?), and say they attend church regularly, but don’t.

What’s up with this? Why do people lie about going to church? I think, and others seem to agree, that what’s happening is that people are constantly told that to be a good person, you must attend church. The people who lie about going know they are good people and want to appear as good people, so they figure a little white lie to firm up the image of them as a good person isn’t a big deal.

I think there are also a lot of people out there who really don’t believe in God anymore, but can’t quite take the step of viewing themselves as atheists. They certainly don’t want anyone else to know they don’t believe anymore, so they lie and exaggerate and claim to be religious and claim to go to church when they aren’t and don’t.

It’s an interesting disconnect, but one that I expect won’t last much longer. America is becoming more and more secular and in time we won’t have so many people feeling the need to pretend. They’ll discover the real freedom that comes with being true to themselves.

Bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki


Back on August 6, 1945, the USA dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Act two was a few days later when we did the same thing to Nagasaki. People have debated the morality ever since. People I respect deeply, like PZ Myers, think it was very wrong. Others think differently.

My take on this is that is was a very evil, unpleasant act. It was also necessary. It’s abundantly clear that the Japanese Military wasn’t going to surrender. The Emperor may have wanted them to and the civilian populus may have wanted them to, but it wasn’t going to happen.

I also believe it saved lives not only for us but for the Japanese soldiers and civilians. Yes, about 150,000 people died in the two bombings. I’m sure it would’ve been far, far more had we invaded. That’s not even going into the lives of American soldiers who weren’t killed in action.

It’s also worth noting that while it was clearly a war crime on our part, it paled in comparison to the incredibly evil things the Japanese did in the war. Everything from the Rape of Nanking to the way they treated POW’s was brutal, nasty and unpleasant. Now their evil does not excuse ours, but our committing a relatively small amount of evil to put a stop to far greater evil is morally acceptable.

There’s also an excellent argument to be made that had we not used the bombs, and had to invade, the Soviets would’ve also invaded and wanted their pound of flesh. I can guarantee you that they would’ve tried to take and hold northern Japan, much as they did with East Germany. Imagine how nasty it could’ve been to have a communist north in Japan, especially since the Soviets were still smarting over the Russo-Japanese War. An occupation by them would’ve been really, really nasty. Ending the war when we did, as opposed to dragging it out for another year or so, prevented this.

Finally, much as it might suck to bring up this argument, can you imagine the political fallout if Truman had not used the bombs to end the war, and hundreds of thousands of Americans had died taking Japan? Impeachment would’ve been the least of what would’ve happened to him, and rightly so. It was his job at that point to win the war with as few American deaths as possible, and doing otherwise would’ve been seriously wrong.

And I do feel the need to point out one rather obvious, but important, fact: we didn’t start the war. Japan started it. They can claim that it was necessary on their part to secure natural resources denied them by a trade embargo, but that embargo came about because of their actions in Manchuria.

It’s sad that thousands of civilians died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I’m not without empathy for them, especially those who died of radiation poisoning or cancer later in life. It’s an ugly, unpleasant way to die. But I strongly doubt the world in general, and Japan in particular, would have been better off if we’d had to invade.

Ethics and Catholicism


I have just finished reading James Caroll’s article on the recent political moves by the Catholic Church here in America. These are moves designed to frighten and intimidate and to oppress and harm, and they are being done in the name of God.

The list, from the article:

• Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence “respectfully” tells Congressman Patrick Kennedy to refrain from receiving communion, a harbinger of what every pro-choice or pro-gay-marriage Catholic politician faces.

• Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington threatens to cancel Catholic provision of services to the homeless and poor if the D.C. City Council passes a law giving equal rights to gays.

• The Vatican, uneasy with the relative liberalism of American nuns, launches an intimidating investigation of U.S. religious orders of women, which, when criticized by Maureen Dowd, prompts New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan to complain of anti-Catholicism in the New York Times.

• In October, Rome violates a generation-long tradition of inter-denominational respect to invite disgruntled conservative Episcopalians to join a special new wing of the Catholic Church. Hostility to gays and rejection of equality for women trump theology, tradition, and even courtesy.

• Last week, more than a dozen of the most influential U.S. Catholic bishops (including Dolan and Wuerl) join far-right-wing Evangelicals like James Dobson in “The Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.” Its co-author Chuck Colson (of Watergate fame) describes “a hierarchy of issues,” but the Catholic Church now has an issues hierarchy.

• On Capitol Hill this month, the Catholic bishops make clear their readiness to scuttle the entire package of health-reform legislation if they do not get their way on abortion restrictions. Health-care reform hangs in the Senate by a thread, which the bishops prepare to cut.

The Church has long since abroggated any moral authority as far as I’m concerned. They have a long legacy of evil that begins with the latter days of the Roman empire and extends all the way up until now. One need only look at the threats made to the DC government on charity work to see behavior that is un-Christ-like in the extreme (the same Christ who, according to myth, tended to everyone, even Romans).

Caroll believes this recent set of moves on the part of the church are primarily about deflecting attention away from things like the various rape and abuse scandals worldwide, particularly in places like Ireland.

The Catholic Church is such a fundamentally evil, immoral and all-around fucked-up organization that I’m seriously curious about something: for those of you who are Catholics, and who are against some of the tactics of your Church or some of the things they preach (like not allowing condom use and the like), how do you justify staying with the Church? Why not shop around and go to a church that’s more in line with what you believe to be right than continuing to support a church that does so much that’s wrong?

The only thing that pleases me about this whole story is that the more the Church does shit like this, the more support they lose worldwide, especially in places like Europe. I sincerely hope I live to see the day the Vatican has to file for financial bankruptcy. Their moral bankruptcy has already happened.

Wow, Some People Are Very Stupid


People like Indonesian Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring who blamed Indonesia’s recent string of natural disasters on television programs that “destroyed morals”.

From the BBC:

His comments came as he addressed a prayer meeting on Friday in Padang, Sumatra, which was hit by a powerful earthquake in late September.

He also hit out at rising decadence – proven, he said, by the availability of Indonesia-made pornographic DVDs in local markets – and called for tougher laws.

Right, that’s why America, which probably has a billion times the amount of porn, is currently being wiped off the face of the map by all these earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and the other things that aren’t really happening on a national scale.

This is like Pat Robertson blaming 9/11 on the gays, except that this guy is a government official.

To the good people of Indonesia, who I know read my site, please get together and find a way to get this ass out of your government. You deserve better.