Category Archives: Politics - Page 2

Gay Marriage May Pave The Way For The Legalization Of Polygamy

In the US, marriage licenses were introduced the late 1800s in most states as a way to stop interracial marriages. By the early 1900s, the legal age of sexual consent was raised from 12 (roughly the age when puberty starts) to 16 — though some states still allow marriage as early as 14 years old. The marriage license was then also used to prohibit marriages with people that were too young. Also in the late 19th century, polygamy became illegal throughout the country in response to the rise of the Mormons, and marriage licenses were used to stop it as well. Finally, as homosexuality came out of the shadows in the 1970s, the licenses were used to prevent gay marriage.

marriage license

Since marriage is usually a religious rite, in a country with nearly unlimited religious freedom the government’s interest in marriage should only pertain to secondary issues of taxation and arbitration (inheritance, custody, distribution of assets, etc). Given that, the various prohibitions on marriage by government have never made any sense from the standpoint of civil rights. The issue first came to a head in the 1960s, when the Supreme Court invalidated miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Almost fifty years later, the Court is now poised to invalidate the prohibition of gay marriage. If it does, marriage licenses will only have the power to prohibit polygamy and violations of age of consent.

A federal suit challenging Utah’s polygamy law was brought in 2011 by the cast members of the Sister Wives reality TV series, and a decision should come soon. Regardless of the outcome, an appeal will likely be made to the 10th Circuit, and then the Supreme Court. Which brings us back to the current gay marriage case: Justice Sotomayor, who will likely vote for legalization of gay marriage, asked attorney Ted Olson, who is arguing that gay marriage is a fundamental civil right, if any restrictions on marriage can exist. His answer was a “yes”: polygamy can be banned because it’s a law prohibiting conduct, whereas gay marriage bans are based on discrimination of a class of people based on their status as homosexuals. Given that both arguments can be applied to both gays and polygamists, it’s a very weak one.

The Brown Family, from TLC’s ‘Sister Wives’


Prohibition of interracial marriages was based on racism — the view that non-whites were lesser versions of humans, maybe even sub-human, and it would thus be almost as morally wrong for whites to marry them as it would be to marry animals. The prohibition of gay marriage and polygamy is based on religious beliefs. The concept of age of consent is based on a parental desire to prolong the chastity of childhood beyond its natural end at puberty. None of these legal prohibitions have anything to do with the government’s monetary and arbitrative interest in the private, and usually religious, institution of marriage. All four prohibitions are based on the moral fashions of certain periods in our history — fashions which are now changing. In fact, marriage itself is increasingly being seen as an outdated fashion, made pointless by the ease of divorce.

It’s also important to note that legal prohibitions of marriage have little bearing on reality. Whether or not they’re allowed to marry legally, interracial, gay, and polygamous couples/triples/etc still act like they are married for all purposes that matter: they live together, they have sex, they share expenses and have children. The only differences are legal, and therefore artificial: they have to jump through hoops to get certain rights like hospital visitations and power of attorney, and are denied certain benefits, like sharing insurance plans. It’s reminiscent of other toothless prohibitions, like those on alcohol and drugs. If 20th century legislation has taught us anything, it’s that it is almost impossible to legislate morality in a free country: as long as they have the right to privacy, the people will do what they want in their own homes.

Of course, our right to privacy is increasingly being threatened by technology, and it is now easier than ever for a fascist state to impose moral dictates on its population. Which in turn means that it is now more important than ever that our laws not curb the freedoms upon which America was founded.

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via NPR

Nerdy Ways To Get Around Giant Soda Bans

New York City’s giant soda ban was supposed to go into effect tomorrow, but a judge today banned the ban, citing both the regulatory overreach of the city’s health board, and the ridiculousness of a ban that has loopholes as big as the sodas of which it tries to rid us. However, this is hardly going to be the last word on the issue — the city promised to appeal — so here are some interesting ways to still get your fix, in case the worst does happen:

Giant soda hacks

A Klein Bottle is a theoretical surface that cannot exist in our three-dimensional universe.

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From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Unemployment Levels Are Taking 3x As Long To Recover

The chart below, from NPR, shows what happened to unemployment in previous recessions: each line starts at the time of highest employment level before a recession, and shows what happened in the next 60 months (five years). In all recessions before 1980, employment levels fully recovered in about two years. Since then, however:

  • The 1980 recession recovered all jobs after 3.5 years
  • The 1990 recession, after 2.75 years
  • The 2001 recession, 4 years
  • The 2007 recession: it’s been more than 5 years and we’re still not there yet
Speed of job recovery in recessions 1948-2012

NPR’s original chart is interactive — click on the image to go to it.

As we’ve seen before, the GDP (along with productivity measures) has pretty much continued to climb this entire time, unabated by the high unemployment levels. (The Dow recently hit record highs, having recovered all losses following the crashes of 2007.) What this means is that businesses are doing just fine with less employees, due in part to outsourcing, and in part to automation.

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From NPR

TSA Updates Banned Items List To Make Even Less Sense

After 9/11, the shoe bomber and the liquid explosives plot, the TSA did what any unimaginative, reactionary organization would do: it banned anything that was used in a previous attack, despite the fact that box cutters, shoe bombs and liquid explosives were never attempted again.

Now that some time has passed since the turmoil of the early 2000s, since bin Laden is dead, and since more and more people are starting to wonder how much sense it makes to ban some of the things on the TSA’s list, the agency has decided to chill out a bit and let us bring knives and sports sticks on board airplanes. Well actually, the official reason is that the Europeans are doing it — seriously. (No word on what the TSA would do if the Europeans jumped off of a bridge.)

TSA's small knives guide

But not all knives: just ones with a blade shorter than 2.36″ … because you gotta draw the line somewhere, people! Of course, if the knife has a molded grip, that somehow makes it more dangerous, so that’s still a no-no. And box cutters, that’s still verbotten: sure, their blade is like an inch at most, but their effectiveness in plane hijacking has been proven, whereas Swiss Army knives’ has not.

For the sports sticks: you can bring golf clubs — which are used quite a bit to beat people up — but you can’t bring full size bats… only bats that are less than two feet long. Because if you’re gonna beat the other passengers, they at least want you to do it with equipment from a classy sport like golf, not thug-ridden, steroid-laden baseball.

Update, 5 June 2013: Nevermind.

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From TSA, via NPR

Proof That Economists Make Wild Guesses, Not Forecasts

A study by the Reserve Bank of Australia found out that their economic predictions could’ve just as easily been done by a monkey throwing darts at a chart:

  • Only 70% of inflation forecasts were accurate
  • Unemployment estimates were as good as a roll of the dice
  • Economic growth predictions were somewhere in between

They looked at 20 years’ worth of forecasts for the year ahead to get that data. Bottom line: forecasting the economy is like trying to forecast the dice in craps, but instead of losing money to the casino, you get paid a high salary and get mentioned in the news every year. Why? Because we need to plan for something in the future… even if those plans are based on fiction.

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From Australian Broadcasting Corporation, via Slashdot


Amish Guy Gets 15 Year Jail Sentence For Beard Cutting Attacks

Not bear cutting: beard cutting.  At first, a 15 year sentence for cutting off someone’s hair may seem ridiculous — and strike fear in the hearts of barbers everywhere — but it’s a complicated issue. It all stemmed from a theological dispute between two Amish sects in Ohio, one of which decided to get violent. But not really violent, just home-invasion-for-the-purposes-of-cutting-off-their-enemies’-beards violent. Sixteen people were involved in follicular attacks on eight victims — some of them women, who got their hair shaved instead. Shaving someone against their will is pretty bad, of course, but it’s not worse than beating someone up — and that probably won’t land you any jail time, much less 15 years. But in this case, there are extenuating circumstances.

Samuel Mullet Sr, the leader of the beard cutters. Photo by Amy Sancetta/Associated Press

Samuel Mullet Sr, the leader of the beard cutters. Photo by Amy Sancetta/Associated Press


First, beards are a sacred thing for the Amish: they’re a symbol of their manliness and their religion, and having no beard is probably as embarrassing for them as walking around naked would be for us English. This concept actually goes back to Biblical times:

So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away. When David was told about this, he sent messengers to meet the men, for they were greatly humiliated. The king said, “Stay at Jericho till your beards have grown, and then come back.” — 2 Samuel 10: 4-5

Second, besides the physical assault, there was home invasion. Third, because it was a group crime, there are conspiracy charges. The leader got 15 years, but the other 15 people got sentences ranging from one to seven years. (Most of the leader’s extra sentence was because he also punished his male followers for ogling non-Amish women, while pressuring his female followers to have sex with him.) Fourth, — and this is the more controversial part — the attacks were classified as hate crimes, because of their religious nature.

The legality of hate crime laws has always been controversial, because it amounts to punishing someone for their thoughts: if Nigel beats Fin up because Nigel is racist and Fin is Irish, should Nigel get punished more than if he were to beat up another Englishman? If so, why? The end result is still the same: someone got beaten up in either scenario. But then again, intent is a major component of criminal law: if Nigel accidentally pushed Fin down the stairs and he died, Nigel would get charged with manslaughter. But, if he intended to kill him, he would be charged with murder.

So the hate crime issue is complicated. And besides that, there are the breaking and entering and conspiracy aspects. But at the end of the day, putting aside abstract violations of the law, a number of people are in jail for years and years because they cut off other people’s hair.

From The New York Times, via NPR

Thai Guy Convicted Of Insinuating Something About His King

First, some background: Thailand‘s government is not exactly the poster child of stability, and coups d’état happen about once a decade. But the country has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, and for most of that time, they’ve had the same king — the world’s longest-reigning monarch. Also, like most countries that aren’t America, unfettered freedom of speech is as foreign to them as Phuket is to us. Case in point: there’s a law, which gets used quite a lot, making it illegal to insult the king. Most of the time, the accused pleads guilty and they get a pardon for saying they’re sorry.

Red shirt protest in 2010 in Bangkok, like the one this guy attended


In 2010, an adviser to the Commerce Ministry took part in a protest against the administration and gave a speech in which he listed a number of people that were against the dissolution of the administration. which is something that happens in parliamentary democracies. At the end of the list, he said there was one more person to name, but that

“I am not brave enough to say it. But I know what are you thinking right now. So I will keep my mouth shut.”

The insinuation being he was talking about the king without actually talking about the king, so that he wouldn’t be guilty of insulting the king — because apparently saying the king is a proponent of the administration is some sort of insult. Well, the authorities weren’t just going to let him skirt the law by not actually committing any crime, so they arrested him anyway. And then a judge convicted him, because his silence spoke volumes. In the Newspeak from 1984, this was known as thoughtcrime. He’s currently awaiting an appeal, after which he can get up to 15 years in prison — for not saying something.

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From The New York Times, via Slashdot

Where The Unexpectedly Huge National Debt Came From

As we’ve seen before, in the year 2000 the Congressional Budget Office, which does official economic forecasting for Congress, predicted that by 2012 the national debt would be wiped out. What actually happened is that the debt increased five times over. To explain how that once-likely prediction became just another unrealistic dream, the left-leaning Center For American Progress broke down the numbers in a short video; of the 12 trillion dollar difference between projected and actual revenue:

  • 4.7 trillion (40%) went to extra Bush spending (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, increased Medicare coverage, increased domestic security, debt repayment)
  • 3.3 trillion (26%) disappeared due to two economic downturns — the Internet bubble in 2001 and the real estate bubble in 2008
  • 2.3 trillion (20%) went to pay for Bush tax cuts
  • 1 trillion (8%) went to extra Obama spending (continuation of Bush tax cuts, new Obama tax cuts and other policies)
  • 0.7 trillion (6%) went to the 2008 stimulus to bail the country out

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From YouTube, via FAIL Blog

In Europe, Governments Have To Approve Baby Names

On the heels of finding out that Europe still has blasphemy laws, the Associated Press has an article about an Icelandic girl whose mother is suing the government because it will not approve her name, “Blaer”. In Iceland, parents can choose from about 1800 names for each gender, from the country’s Personal Names Register. Through a clerical error, “Blaer”, which means “light breeze” in Icelandic and is on the list of boys’ names, was initially approved — but then the priest who baptized her noticed it wasn’t on the list of approved names for girls. She’s now 15, and on official documents she’s referred to as “girl” because of this error.

Volcanic eruption at Einhyrningur, Iceland


And Iceland is by no means alone in having a naming law: Denmark has a similar one, though their naming registry is about twice as big. Germany has a similar list, while Iceland and Sweden ban names that are offensive, shameful, too long, or otherwise unsuited to being a first name. No word on why a government bureaucrat is better suited than parents to decide what a proper name should be. But in many European countries, which have a long history of living with monarchy’s absolute power and heavy state involvement in citizens’ personal lives, such laws are not necessarily seen as invasive. Ditto goes for China and Japan, which have restrictions on the characters that can be used in names; in China, the only requirement is that they can be machine-readable.

One more interesting fact about Iceland: people’s last names are their father’s name, followed by “son” or “daughter”. So if your name were Madison and your father’s name were Arnold, you’d be Madison Arnoldsson. Or Madison Arnoldsdaughter. This is called a patronymic name, which reflects an immediate male ancestor, rather than the family lineage. Because of this practice, people are known primarily by their first names, to the point where even phone books are ordered by first name.

Update, 31 Jan 2013: Blaer won her court case, and can keep her name.

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From AP

Hard Times Are Causing Blasphemy Laws To Be Used Again In Europe

When you hear the term “blasphemy law”, the countries that come to mind are probably Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. But in reality, most European countries also have blasphemy laws. That rather large group includes Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, and Greece. (Until recently, the UK and the Netherlands also had blasphemy laws.) Still, just because outdated laws are on the books, it doesn’t mean they get used. In most of the countries above, the last prosecutions for blasphemy were decades ago. Not in Greece though. In Greece, they had two of them in the past year. Spain also had one in 2012, Finland’s last prosecution was in 2008, and Germany’s in 2006.

The prosecutions in Germany and Finland were against people that made comments about Islam, probably in retaliation for terrorist attacks. The more recent ones in Spain and Greece were against people that made comments about Christianity. What’s interesting about this is that in both Spain and Greece, the unemployment rate is as high as it was during the Great Depression: 26%. Times are hard, and during hard times, people turn to religion, and then use religion as a “righteous” channel for their anger to form mobs against the infidels who are drawing God’s wrath and destroying the economy. During the Great Depression in Germany, Hitler won a lot of support in part by blaming the Jesus-killing Jews for the country’s problems. After Afghanistan’s devastating war with the Soviets, the Taliban also blamed the infidels, and instituted Sharia law. Yemen, another haven of religious tolerance, has an unemployment rate of 35%.

NPR has an article highlighting the two blasphemy cases in Greece:

  • One was against a 27-year old scientist who created a Facebook page making fun of a famous monk
  • The other was against the author and cast of a play, called Corpus Christi, which portrays Jesus and his disciples as gays in modern-day Texas

The scientist faces six months in jail, and the author, two years. In October of 2012, the Greek neo-fascist party Golden Dawn led a mob — which included priests — to a production of the blasphemous play, where they screamed about God’s love and threw forgiveness at the patrons. Just kidding: they screamed obscenities and threw rocks — because their hearts are filled with Jesus, not hate.

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” — John 8:7, the verse that Golden Dawn forgot

via NPR