viagra for salelicphilosopher.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/800px-Lake_Dukan_06-510×382.jpg” alt=”" width=”510″ height=”314″ />The recent news coverage of the three American hikers detained in Iran since 2009 raises important questions about ‘danger tourism’ and its role in foreign policy. The hikers’ trip to mountainous northern Iraq took an unpleasant turn when they wandered into Iran and were promptly accused of espionage by the Iranian government.
Media response to the event has been generally sympathetic to the hikers. But maybe they shouldn’t get off so easily. Consider their vacation destination. Kurdistan has many features that make it attractive for adventure tourism: it’s isolated, unconventional, and thrillingly dangerous. But there are many other destinations that meet similar criteria and are far less politically sensitive.
So why Kurdistan, and why the border region? Is it such a unique and lovely place that the hikers had to go there specifically? It was most likely chosen because of its political instability, not in spite of it. The State Department makes it very clear that travel to Iraq is inherently risky. It’s even reasonable to assume that hiking in Kurdistan is politically dangerous. Considering these travelers were appropriately warned, to what extent is the government obligated to protect them? Read more
A recent op-ed in The New York Times about wilderness areas raises important questions about the ethics of public access and environmental preservation in the national park system. Its author sharply criticizes what he feels is overzealous enforcement of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Citing cases of deaths caused by lack of signage and vast expanses of wilderness, the article suggests that the laws once intended to preserve areas of natural beauty and promote easy access to them have instead needlessly endangered lives. Further preservation efforts, enacted as recently as 2009, only exacerbate the problem:
“… agencies have made these supposedly open recreational areas inaccessible and even dangerous, putting themselves in opposition to healthy and environmentally sound human-powered activities, the very thing Congress intended the Wilderness Act to promote.”
There is significant ideological tension between encouraging access to wilderness and the efforts to preserve it. Activists talk about the vital importance of the wilderness experience, but realistically, the only way to preserve that experience is through limiting access to it. But how much space do we really need?
A conflict inevitably arises. On one side, there is a kind of wilderness elitism. Its goal is to maintain the purity of large swaths of the natural environment for the privilege of a select few. It is, on a basic level, impossible to sustain for everyone. Its counterpart is wilderness populism, which maintains that these natural areas should be easily accessible for everyone. This idea of mass access, while egalitarian, threatens to destroy the qualities that make the wilderness so precious to enthusiasts.
So far, the government has struck a good balance, and accomplished great things with wilderness preservation. Refusing to put up signs, however, needlessly endangers people. More than that, it isn’t helping anyone to more fully experience the solitude of the woods.
Image used under a Creative Commons Attribution License from Flickr user Jagger
Why banning realistic depictions of war in games is wrong
The BBC reported on Monday that British Defense Secretary Liam Fox has continued to defend comments he made calling for a retail ban of the newest Medal of Honor game. The publishers of the game, Electronic Arts, have defended it and accused Fox of portraying its content unfaithfully.
Fox denounced the game on Sunday, saying it was “shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban against British soldiers.” Fox also made an appeal to patriotism, arguing that this new installment of the franchise is a “thoroughly un-British game.”
His comments can be seen in the context of a larger crusade against objectionable content in videogames that has involved some of the best-selling games of all time, including the Grand Theft Auto series and the newest installment of the Call of Duty series.
Arguments against these games usually claim that their content is immoral, obscene, or in some other way objectionable. Additionally, this claim is often accompanied by the idea that the interactive aspect of a game has a special persuasive power. Read more
Republican leaders have reversed course after it was widely reported last week that some top Republicans are reconsidering the 14th Amendment right that guarantees citizenship to those born in the United States. In an Associated Press article, Jeff Sessions of Alabama was quoted detailing his party’s concerns about the amendment with respect to immigration policy:
“I’m not exactly sure what the drafters of the [14th] amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen…”
Similar comments from other Republican lawmakers have generated controversy, and Republican leadership has since backpedaled. Is challenging birthright citizenship merely partisan and discriminatory, or is it a
reasonable idea made indefensible by its controversial nature?
The ethics of counseling and freedom of religion
Last week CNN reported on a Georgia graduate student who is suing her university for forcing her to undergo remedial classes or face expulsion from its counseling program.
Jennifer Keeton claims the university violated her right to free speech and practice of religion by forcing her to undergo this extra program of classes, which was largely targeted at improving her tolerance of LGBTQ individuals. Keeton objected to completing this remediation program because she claimed that it would have forced her to alter her religious beliefs. Are Keeton’s objections to the remedial program valid?
Going through a remedial program designed to increase her exposure to individuals who might not share her religious beliefs is not in itself a way of forcing her to change those beliefs. Such a program might bring her to question those beliefs, but equally, Keeton could emerge from this sensitivity training with her religious convictions intact. This is a weak objection to completing the program.
Sam recently wrote about the ethical complexities that arise from the unsanctioned and rather unruly behavior of Wikileaks, a site that has gotten a lot of attention recently for its mass release of documents relating to the war effort in Afghanistan.
He cautioned that Wikileaks, as a non-traditional rogue outfit, should not expect the same standards of treatment in the U.S. that would be accorded to journalistic efforts that go through all the proper channels.
An article in the Wall Street Journal raises similar concerns about the legitimacy of Wikileaks. It portrays Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as “frustrated” that a large percentage of Wikileaks disclosures have been largely ignored by the public, and the latest leak (and accompanying media attention) as an attempt to reignite popular interest.
Setting aside questions about the sensitivity of Wikileaks content and its lack of traditional journalistic methodology, it’s perhaps more troubling to think of this latest leak as a publicity stunt. While the leak itself has generated tons of news, its contents have doubtlessly remained largely unexplored by the individuals Wikileaks purports to serve. Its revelations (the war isn’t going as well as we thought?) are far too banal to justify a media craze about their release.
Wikileaks’ intention in leaking this information is just as important as the information itself. If they did it largely to draw attention to themselves, their actions are both unprincipled and dishonest. Before they continue to blow the whistle on the U.S. government, Wikileaks should take a look at its own practices.
Wikileaks would have a far easier time convincing the public of its fidelity to the principles of open democracy if it acted less carelessly with its information.
Image used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user jenny8lee.
A look at the debate over the new common core standards
The N.Y. Times reports that many states have quickly adopted national education standards. While this is surely due in part to the money awarded to those states that adopt the standards by August 2nd as part of the Race to the Top competition, the question of whether the U.S. should adopt national standards for education has been and continues to be a fundamental and divisive issue independent of any excitement caused by the new funding.
Supporters of national standards for education traditionally cite great variation in the levels of competency between different states under state-regulated standards. Pushing for national standards, they argue, will ensure that children in all states receive uniform education, instead of the wide discrepancies in knowledge base and competency symptomatic of state-regulated education. Local control of education is seen as a formula for mediocrity. One education scholar adds that “a child deemed a ‘proficient’ reader by officials in Texas is reading at the below basic level in Massachusetts.” National standards threaten to expose this kind of discrepancy.
An article in the L.A. Times reports that the Obama administration plans to greatly increase spending on the nuclear arsenal. Obama has made the reduction of nuclear weapons a serious and oft-repeated promise both during his campaign and throughout his time in office so far. Indeed, the plan calls for a reduction in the amount of weapons in the arsenal. Unfortunately that reduction in number is accompanied by $175 billion over the next twenty years to spend on new weapons, testing facilities, and increasing the longevity of the weapons we already have.
It also comes as a rather unpleasant surprise that administration officials defend the spending by “argu[ing] that even as they reduce the number of U.S. warheads, they need to bolster the government’s ability to increase weapons production quickly if a new threat arises.”
It’s time to proceed with a full program of nuclear disarmament. The current policy and future plans are merely an empty gesture. Those who fear that such a comprehensive program would do irreconcilable damage to our national security should realize that the last time nuclear deterrence was thought of as a sound policy was during the Cold War. More importantly, every promise we break on nuclear policy damages our international reputation.
The Obama administration has consistently taken the stance that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a danger to everyone and vowed to do its fair share in reducing that danger. The new budget is a sign that they have not remained true to that stance. Reducing the number of warheads while drastically increasing the budget and researching new weapons is a hypocrisy that cheapens the value of our voice in the international community, particularly those statements we have made concerning the danger of nuclear weapons and the necessity of their strict control.
This kind of discrepancy between words and action is not only wrong; it will also hurt our credibility as a worldwide, often aggressive advocate for nonproliferation.
As a world leader, the U.S. needs to send a stronger message about the use of nuclear weapons.
Image used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user mightyohm
What is the ethically appropriate stance towards meat-eating?
An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education makes a strong case against the practice of Veganism, arguing that vegans are entangled in a futile practice with no meaningful goals. Taking the stance that we are ethically implicated in the killing of life forms simply in virtue of our existence as humans, the author denounces Veganism as a mainly narcissistic exercise. Instead, he suggests that Vegetarianism is a far more practical, and thus admirable goal. Vegetarians, he goes on to argue, have a realistic understanding of the world with “fewer cosmic pretensions.” Instead of an overly optimistic ideal that exists only to support a fragile notion of moral innocence, Vegetarianism adopts a modest stance far more appropriate for the world in which we live.
Is this an effective argument against Veganism? And what do we make of his stance towards vegetarians? If we’re going to go through the trouble of purposely avoiding meat, going vegan can seem like a natural extension of that. An attempt to further minimize animal suffering would then be seen as laudable, rather than foolish. Why applaud vegetarians and not vegans? As I understand it, each choice represents varying degrees of effort in an ethical stance he sees as admirable, but ultimately futile.
Image used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user Sunfox
The New York Times report on the use of robots that resemble baby seals to treat patients with dementia is sure to provoke heated debate. While ordinarily artificial intelligence lacks the power and sophistication to deceive humans, it certainly feels disturbing that this technology is so readily embraced by the caretakers of those diagnosed with mental illness.
Leaving all considerations of the creepiness of this situation aside, Paro, as the robot is popularly known, gets tangible results. Its cuddly demeanor designed to support, nurture and comfort has been used with great results in some patients. It works. Yet Paro is deeply troubling. Offering comfort is felt to be a task best suited for humans. While Paro is no evil android, it has achieved great success at turning a relationship traditionally based on empathy and love toward the province of the synthetic. One patient acknowledged that Paro was only a machine, yet went on to praise the “natural” feelings he received from it. Indeed, it is difficult to even refer to the robot without using humanizing language to describe it.
These, of course, are not new complaints about robots. But it is not simply the fact that Paro is a robot; instead, Paro is a robot easily able to outperform humans at a job once believed to be fundamentally human. The true nature and quality of these interactions is perhaps the most difficult issue. It is certainly true that Paro would be considered an inappropriate development if it did not garner such positive results. But even given its efficacy, is Paro really legitimate therapy? Does it even matter that Paro is a piece of machinery if it can comfort or offer solace to distressed patients? Can a machine ever be a good outlet for human love and affection? Is Paro doing a good job at providing comfort, or only a simulation of it?
Photo by Flickr user TDR1 used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.