Tag Archives: freedom

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

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

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

The Problem With Required High School Classes

The Washington Post has an op-ed piece by a guy asking why his son is required to take chemistry. He goes through the normal arguments you hear and debunks them:

  • We need to produce scientists and other nerds for the good of the economy. Sure, but forcing a kid who hates science to balance equations is just going to make him hate it more.
  • Kids need a general education that includes things they don’t like. Yeah, but a whole year of it, during which you learn the electron configuration of atoms (Lithium’s is 1s2 2s1) is overkill.
  • The skills they learn apply to other areas of life. Of course, but there are other subjects that will teach the same skills that have the benefit of being of interest to the kid.
  • They don’t get a choice in school because that’s how life is. Or maybe life is like that because, as kids, we’re indoctrinated with not having choices.

Warren Buffet


He also mentions the opportunity cost of required classes: because we were forced to take chemistry instead of economics, most of us know that air is composed of nitrogen and oxygen but have no idea what an opportunity cost is. This, despite the fact that 99% of us will never need to know about the composition of air, but we all deal with money every day. Whenever we forego doing one thing in favor of another thing, we lose the opportunity to do that first thing. If you took another job instead of the one you have, maybe you’d have gotten a promotion and would now be making more money — that’s the opportunity cost. Same goes if you bought a different car that broke down less often, or painted and sold a portrait instead of going to the movies. And the same applies to high school: by requiring classes that are useless to the student, it may actually hurt their education. It gained nothing for Warren Buffet to take chemistry, but learning economics made him a billionaire.

The same author has another very interesting article on even more disruptive education reform: that of not forcing all children to learn in the same way, at the same rate. If you have a kid with ADHD, it’s definitely worth a read.

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From The Washington Post, via Slashdot

The NYC Big Soda Ban Is Really Toothless

Filmmaker Casey Neistat made an interesting video explaining New York City’s proposed ban on sodas over 16 oz. At first glance, sodas at most fast food restaurants will be banned since, with some exceptions, most small sodas are somehow still over that size. The large ones are sometimes four times over the allowed size. But, the ban has a few caveats:

  • It only applies to restaurants that the city regulates. Fountain drinks at stores like 7-Eleven are not covered by the ban. Or you can buy a two-liter of Coke at Duane Reade and put a straw in it.
  • It only applies to sugar added by the vendor: you can still pour all the sugar you want into an unsweetened iced tea, coffee, or whatever.
  • It doesn’t apply to beverages containing more than 50% milk, so sugary lattes of any size are still fair game.
  • And of course, you can always buy three 16oz sodas and drink them one after the other, or even all at once.

So in effect, the only thing the ban does is to make it slightly harder for people to buy a lot of soda. What’s the point of it then? According to Mayor Bloomberg, it’s to educate people. Which begs the question of why laws are being used to educate people, rather than maybe a public health campaign. It’s kind of like banning unprotected sex to educate people about social diseases. Unfortunately, even though traditional means of public education have been proven to work quite well, more and more we see politicians passing morality laws in an effort to be our mom: they don’t just tell you that your choices are bad for you (not anyone else), but also add a penalty or ban, because the nanny state can’t trust you to make your own decisions about your own life.

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From YouTube, via Laughing Squid

Buckyball Magnets Are Now Banned Too

Buckyballs are very strong rare-earth magnets in the shape of a ball. They’re incredibly fun, and can be used for all kinds of neat tricks, including making an electric motor using only Buckyballs, a battery, and a wire. Yesterday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned them, because a dozen kids had eaten some over the past three years and required surgery. One of these was a 4-year old boy who ate three of them because he thought they were chocolate candy. (How did he mistake not one, but three of them, for chocolate? Was he inhaling them? Does he think chocolate is made of metal?) A 3-year old ate 37 of them.


The problem is the magnets are so strong that once inside the body, they are attracted to each other and can pinch intestines if two of them are in different parts of the digestive system. And 37 of them can form a giant metal rock in someone’s stomach.  Surprisingly, none of the kids died, and the magnets are marketed for ages 14 and up, have ample federally-required warnings on them, and are obviously made of metal which is not edible. There are somewhere around 60 million kids under 14 in the US, making 0.0000002% of them the cause for this ban. This is why we can’t have nice things.

The American Academy of Pediatrics praised the ban, and presumably would like to ban other products they list on their website as choking hazards: latex balloons, coins, marbles, toys with small parts, pen or marker caps, small button-type batteries, and medicine syringes. They also have a separate list for foods like hot dogs, nuts, grapes and raisins. No word on ammonia, cherries or pebbles. However, the CPSC — which is headed by three commissioners that answer only to the president — can’t ban many of those things anyway, since they only have jurisdiction over a narrow subset of products, which includes toys and coffee makers, but not food (regulated by the Department of Agriculture and the FDA), guns (ATF), cars (NHTS), uranium (NRC), and a lot of other things. If other agencies get ban-happy though, GeekMom from Wired has a list of seven things the feds could ban next.


The sometimes eerily prescient Onion predicted this twelve years ago, in an article entitled “Fun Toy Banned Because Of Three Stupid Dead Kids,” which you need to read because it hits the nail on the head:

Each of the deaths was determined to be the result of gross misuse of the toy, an incredibly cool device that could shoot both plastic missiles and long jets of water, as well as maneuver over the ground on retractable wheels.

“I know the overwhelming majority of American kids who owned an Aqua Assault RoboFighter derived many hours of safe, responsible fun from it,” CPSC commissioner Mary Sheila Gall said. “But, statistically speaking, three deaths stemming from contact with a particular toy constitutes an ‘unreasonable risk.’ Look, I’m really sorry about this. Honestly. But our agency’s job is to protect the public from hazardous products, even if those who die are morons who deserved what they got.”


From The Consumer Product Safety Commission and Reuters, via NPR and Slashdot

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Bloomberg Is Banning Giant Sodas In NYC

Somehow, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg got it into his head that the people of New York elected him to be their nanny — and maybe they have, since he’s been re-elected twice, and once since he banned smoking in some public places like parks, as well as banning trans fats in restaurants. Riding that wave, after a failed attempt to institute a state-wide soda tax, his latest idea is to ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16oz in restaurants in the city. This largely applies to sodas, but also to sweetened juices and coffee drinks. It does not apply to diet drinks, even though those don’t seem to be good for us either. And while it’s quickly becoming clear that sugar, in the quantities we consume it, is toxic, it’s not clear at all if taking away freedom by instituting sales bans is an effective way of limiting consumption — even if it were the right thing to do.


Mayor Bloomberg with sodas and the equivalent amount of sugar cubes in them. Photo by The New York Times.


A few months ago, a group of scientists proposed treating sugar like alcohol, and this measure would certainly be a nod in that direction, but limiting the sale of alcohol has certainly not slowed down its consumption, and the same goes for cigarettes and illegal drugs. The only thing that has ever worked is education: most people like doing what’s good for them, but many don’t like being forced to make choices, good or bad. And as members of a free society, we should be able to make all the bad choices we want, as long as they don’t harm others.

Update, 1 June 2012: Jon Stewart had a funny reaction to the news that the ban would “combine the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect”:

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From The New York Times, via NPR

Scientists Say Sugar Should Be Treated Like Alcohol

In April of 2011, Robert Lustig was featured in a New York Times article as leading the charge that sugar, in the quantities we are consuming it, is toxic. He is a neuroendocrinology professor at UCSF, and his theory is that the amount of fructose we get from the excessive quantities of sugar we eat (sugar is half fructose) wreaks havoc on various systems in our bodies, most notably the cardiovascular and endocrine ones. This in turn is responsible for the Western epidemic of heart disease (the leading cause of death), diabetes (7th leading cause of death) and some cancers (2nd leading cause of death). To bolster his theory, in late 2011, a study verified that eating a lot of sugar causes heart disease even in thin people.

Robert Lustig


A couple of weeks ago, Lustig and two other scientists from UCSF wrote an opinion piece in Nature (paid subscription required — Time has a good synopsis) arguing that sugar is dangerous enough that it should be regulated like alcohol: sale to minors should be curbed, a sin tax should be enacted, and vendors should be licensed for the sale of sugar.

It’s an unfortunate habit that America has gotten into:

  1. Discover something is bad
  2. Ban or regulate it
  3. Problem solved

It definitely worked with the War on Drugs. But consuming half a cup (1/4lb) of sugar a day is also an unfortunate habit America has gotten into it. Of course, turning to the nanny state because we have no sense of personal responsibility is not the answer to kicking that habit. Education, however, is a good answer, and for example, is probably the sole reason smoking rates are half of what they were 50 years ago: no one ever quit because smoking was too expensive, just like no one ever gave up heroin because they ran out of money.

Morgan Spurlock ate over 30lbs of sugar while filming Supersize Me


People quit or cut back because most humans want to live as long as possible; and the ones that don’t care if they die tomorrow, that’s their prerogative as members of a free society. But while their political recommendations may be misguided, the scientists’ hearts are certainly in the right place: sugar is bad news, and it’s time to quit.

And if you’re still on the fence about the science, Lustig has a good hour and a half lecture on YouTube. It’s been viewed 2 million times.

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From Nature, via Time