"Ground Zero Mosque"

There has been a lot of uproar recently regarding the proposed "Ground Zero mosque". I agree that there are plenty of questions that need to be answered, such as where the money is coming from, but should the failure to answer those questions stop the construction of that mosque? In my opinion, no.

There are plenty of people who also feel that because there appears to be majority opposition to the proposed mosque that it should not be built. Torches and pitchforks appear to have been replaced by petitions, pens, screaming and bullhorns.

"It is the will of the people!" Pardon me, but, umm… the will of the people is not legitimate by default because we’re not a democracy.

Many say that the mosque, which will be a community center for which there will be an Islamic prayer center inside, is a celebration of 9/11 by Islam. One reason cited for this is because it will allegedly share its name with another mosque: the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Cordoba, Spain. However that mosque is actually called the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, or more simply the Cordoba Cathedral, and is the home of the Diocese of Cordoba.

Contrary to what has been said, the Great Mosque wasn’t constructed atop a church that was destroyed when Muslims conquered Cordoba. The mosque started life as the Christian Visigoth Church of St Vincent in approximately AD 600. Following the conquest of the Visigoths by the Muslims, the building was renovated and converted over several hundred years into a mosque. In 1236 Cordoba was captured by King Ferdinand III of Castile and the mosque converted back to a Christian church, also over the course of several hundred years with more Christian features added by future kings. Some remnants of its Islamic history do remain.

Another reason cited is its proximity to Ground Zero: approximately two blocks. Many who cite that may not realize that there is another mosque already in New York about four blocks from Ground Zero, called Masjid Manhattan, founded in 1970. Another mosque exists about 12 blocks from Ground Zero: Masjid al-Farah, founded in 1985. Both mosques are really little more than Islam prayer rooms that have routinely turned people away for lack of space.

So what’s wrong with one more Islam prayer center in New York?

Many have argued that a mosque should not be permitted near Ground Zero so long as a Christian church doesn’t exist near Ground Zero. In response to this let me ask this one question: does any religion have a right to claim Ground Zero as "holy land"? Plus, as I said, a mosque already exists four blocks from Ground Zero.

Now granted there is a church that was destroyed when the towers collapsed, and I agree that the church should be rebuilt. Why the City of New York hasn’t fast-tracked that is beyond me, but the church should be resurrected. Having some old-style architecture among the skyline of the world’s largest city… how can anyone say no?

But to call the proposed building a "mosque" because there will be an Islam prayer room is like calling a Catholic hospital a church because there’s a chapel.

But let’s get back to the point.

A building will be converted into a community center that will be open to the public. Inside this community center will be an Islam prayer room, a "mosque" if you will. The building is located about two blocks from Ground Zero. Perhaps I’m just blind, but where’s the issue? Why should this community center be forced to move? Seriously, where’s the problem?

Now as I said, the rebuild of the church destroyed on September 11, 2001, should be fast-tracked and permitted to commence. But to say that Muslims cannot have another prayer room until that occurs puts things on a slippery slope — the kind of "if you allow it once, what’s to stop you from allowing it again" kind of argument.

Let the Muslims have their community center and Islam prayer room, unless you want Muslims to stand up and start protesting the building of any further churches in this country. Actually the fact it’s been primarily Christians who have been protesting this proposed "mosque", you’ve already given Islamic groups greater right to protest the construction of new churches.

Let me pose this question: what if Jews wanted to buy the Ground Zero land and build a synagogue on it?

As an agnostic atheist, I don’t really like the spread of any religion. As a libertarian, I know it is every person’s right, however, to practice and preach whatever religion they want, including erecting buildings or adding and renovating rooms for that purpose, so long as what they are practicing and preaching doesn’t require anything that violates other people’s rights.

Speaking of which, converting this building and providing in it an Islam prayer room isn’t violating anyone’s rights.

Links and Resources

Barnard, Anne. (2010, August 13). "In Lower Manhattan, 2 Mosques Have Firm Roots". New York Times.

Great Mosque of Córdoba. (2010, August 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:52, September 1, 2010.


Rest peacefully, grandpa

On September 1, 2006, four years ago this day, my grandfather passed away at the age of 72. He was one of the persons after whom I was named: Kenneth Lee Ballard. I don’t share his middle name, but there are a few other things about him I do share.

Like my father, I share his seemingly unending curiosity into all things technical. My grandfather loved to tinker with electronics, even so much that he had a small electronics lab in his home. Radios and gizmos of various kinds littered a small area, and I remember when I was 17 seeing a radio antenna that, at least according to my grandfather, could pick up radio waves coming from lightning strikes a thousand miles away. Whether that was true I had no real way of knowing as I knew quite little about electronics and radios compared to my father and grandfather.

But an appreciation of and curiosity for electronics is something that seemed to run in his blood, and it’s something that arguably runs through my own, though you probably won’t find a soldering iron in my hand any time soon, whereas my grandfather seemed as at home with one as a surgeon with a scalpel. He was also a veteran of the United States Navy, having served during the Korean War. I knew my grandfather was a libertarian, but I didn’t know he was an avid supporter of the Second Amendment and owned a pretty good collection of handguns and rifles.

Obviously, I could not have known that when I saw him in August 2006 it would be for the last time. I saw him for a few days at his home in McRae, Georgia, the first time in 8 years that I had seen him, and just three weeks before he passed away September 1, 2006.

Rest peacefully, grandpa.


Congressman Steve King

Congressman King,

Let me say this in advance of everything else: I hope you lose in November, but I fear you might win re-election. The people of Iowa, and particularly the Iowa 5th Congressional District, are poorly served with you as their representative.

You appear to care more about making headlines than you do about actually accomplishing anything of value. You’ve been in Congress since 2003, yet you have not accomplished anything more than garnering the, mostly negative, attention of the press.

Add to this the little honor and unending arrogance you have displayed on the campaign trail and I really start to question how you keep getting re-elected, as I doubt your constituents are as low as you, and I certainly hope I won’t be proven wrong. I personally know several constituents in your district, including my own parents, plus I used to live in your district, so I know not everyone in your district is as low as you.

However, I never voted for you. And even if the opportunity were to arise again wherein your name is on a ballot I am to fill out to exercise my right to vote, your name won’t be getting the checkmark.


In 2004 and 2006 someone I knew professionally and was pleased to call a colleague was your Democrat opponent for your seat in Congress: E. Joyce Shulte, a former staffer with the Student Support Services office of Southwestern Community College in Creston, Iowa. In 2004 I voted for Joyce, but in 2006 I had moved to Boswell’s district so was unable to vote against you.

Do you remember what you said on the campaign trail about Ms Shulte? You didn’t consider her a "real candidate".

Add to this recent reports that your current opponent hasn’t "earned" a debate.1 Excuse me, Mr Congressman, but when do your opponents earn debates? It’s part of the normal political process, something that, as has been pointed out by your opponent2, you’ve stealthily evaded for the entire time you’ve been running for Congress.

But that’s not the extent of your arrogance. Oh no, no, no… as much for Iowa’s sanity I wish it were, it’s only an ice cube compared to the ice berg you’ve managed to create.

Let’s see… you

  • equated Democrats to Pontius Pilate3, the man who sent Jesus to the cross,
  • called for getting rid of the IRS (okay, a good idea) and imposing a national sales tax (uh, no thanks)4, while also saying you could "empathize" with the killer who flew a plane into an IRS building5,
  • misconstrued a hate crimes bill as providing "special protection for pedophiles"6,
  • said that Matt Shepard’s murder had nothing to do with his homosexuality7,
  • made a pretty stupid "birther" joke on the House floor8,
  • said that illegal immigrants can be detected by "sixth sense"9,
  • said that Muslims would be dancing in the street in greater numbers than they did on 9/11 if Obama were elected President10,
  • called same-sex marriage "socialist"11, and said pushing for it is part of the push for socialism in the United States12,
  • called Iowa a "gay Mecca" following the Iowa Supreme Court decision overturning the Iowa’s marriage license restrictions regarding same-sex spouses while calling gay couples who go to Iowa to get married "altar shoppers" who are hurting society by getting married13,
  • were the only Congressman to vote against a resolution having the Capitol Visitors Center display a plaque recognizing the role slave labor played in building the Capitol building14, saying you voted against it to protect America’s Christian heritage15,
  • referred to the scientists who support the current scientific consensus behind anthropomorphic climate change as "frauds" 16,
  • referred to the extension of unemployment benefits as turning "a ‘safety net’ in to a hammock"17

among many, many, many other examples pointed out by bloggers and journalists. You’ve become a running gag on many different web sites and blogs, most of which are liberally-aligned, I will admit, but that’s because conservatives seem to be glossing over much of what you say.

Wow you make me glad I never voted for you. Come Election Day, I’ll be drinking a toast to your defeat. Yeah, it’ll likely be in vain, but a man can dream, right?

  1. http://www.kcci.com/r/24818312/detail.html []
  2. http://www.kcautv.com/Global/story.asp?S=13069744 []
  3. http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2010/08/05/king-compares-democrats-to-man-who-sent-christ-to-death/ []
  4. http://www.radioiowa.com/2010/08/17/campbell-congressman-king-too-divisive/ []
  5. http://tpmlivewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/02/steve-king-to-conservatives-implode-irs-offices.php []
  6. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/may/14/steve-king/rep-steve-king-claims-federal-hate-crime-law-would/ []
  7. http://thinkprogress.org/?p=63851 []
  8. http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2010/06/24/steve_king_birther_joke []
  9. http://www.towleroad.com/2010/06/rep-steve-king-illegal-immigrants-can-be-detected-by-sixth-sense.html []
  10. http://crooksandliars.com/2008/03/08/bamas-name-says-al-qaida []
  11. http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/9/22/785288/-GOP-congressman:-Same-sex-marriage-is-socialist []
  12. http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/60007-congressman-same-sex-marriage-part-of-push-for-socialism []
  13. http://gayrights.change.org/blog/view/rep_steve_king_the_gays_are_invading_iowa []
  14. http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/07/gop-rep-steve-king-is-only-vote-against-recognizing-history-of-slave-labor-in-capitol.php []
  15. http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/07/steve-king-i-opposed-yet-another-bill-to-commemorate-slavery-in-order-to-protect-judeo-christian-her.php []
  16. http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2010/08/18/rep-steve-king-unloads-on-climate-change-scientists-frauds-practicing-modern-version-of-the-rain-dance/ []
  17. http://www.bleedingheartland.com/diary/3680/steve-king-idiocy-of-the-week []

"That’s obscene, and I’m offended!"

What do John Stagliano, Lizzy Borden, and Rob Zicari have in common? All three were prosecuted under Federal obscenity laws. Lizzy Borden and Rob Zicari were sentenced to 1-year prison terms while Stagliano’s indictment was dropped by the Court.

ReasonTV recently did a story on the idea of obscenity:

The idea of obscenity is, in my opinion, a preposterous idea, even more so than blasphemy. Basically by having obscenity laws, among other anti-sexuality laws, people are attempting to assert a right against being insulted or offended, though no such right exists.

The notion also flies in the face of personal liberty. Basically if you are going to try to tell me what I can and cannot view, read or write, I must have the same liberty to say the same to you. If I can’t read or write erotica or watch pornography, you can’t read your Bible, write about Christianity, or watch anything about Christianity. Seems fair, in my opinion.

Arguably the largest problem with obscenity laws is in defining obscenity in a legal context. Most of our criminal statutes strictly define a crime, with set criterion that are non-negotiable. In a court of law in a criminal trial, facts are weighed against these rigid criteria beyond reasonable doubt. The facts presented at trial either apply to the charge or they don’t, along with any defenses that are raised. There is little room for the juror to make a judgment call or ruling based on their opinion. Think of any crime and you’ll find a set definition in criminal codes.

That is, until you come to obscenity.

In the legal context, the most widely used definition of what material is obscene derives from the “Miller test”, so named because it was created in the United States Supreme Court decision Miller v. California1. Arguably the largest criticism of the Miller test is its relegation to “community standards”. This means that the criminal definition of obscenity is little more than an ice skating rink. It also allows juries to use their own individual opinions on whether something is obscene rather than referring only to facts and set definitions and is a clear definition of “prior restraint”, which itself is a violation of the First Amendment.

This means that a finding regarding whether something is obscene is likely to differ where the makeup of the jury differs — younger juries or predominantly male juries may be less likely to convict on an obscenity charge than older juries or predominantly female juries. Where you are less likely to have inconsistencies with juries is where the Sixth Amendment and violations thereof can come into play.

Quoting John “Buttman” Stagliano in another video by Reason.tv on obscenity (embedded below):

The first thing is, you know, that we’re a government of laws and not men. If you don’t, if you don’t have a law that’s written that says, that okay, if you do this you will go to jail, then, then that’s a good law. If you have a law that says, well, you know, we might say that this is obscene or we might say that’s obscene, but we don’t really know in advance, we’re just gonna maybe decide to prosecute you, that’s the first number one bad thing about this situation is that I didn’t know I was breaking the law.

Quoting Nick Gillespie (same above video):

Will Storm Squirters 2 be considered a cinematic masterpiece in 50 years? Maybe not. But here’s hoping that the guidelines governing free expression will have disappeared completely, or at least evolved to a point where nobody’s livelihood or freedom depends on the random opinions of 12 strangers called to serve on a jury.

Pornography and erotic literature should be fully permitted within society for one simple reason: when you purposefully seek it out and expose yourself (no pun intended) to that kind of material, you are literally confronting your current notions about sex and sexuality and expanding your horizons beyond what you currently know into realms you may find curious, arousing, or maybe just eye opening, or possibly downright disturbing.

It also shows to the world that sex is not something of which to be ashamed and forces you to confront your own sexuality. How is this not a good thing?

The freedom of speech is about forcing people to confront their own pre-conceived and long-held notions. Consider the longest-running animated program on television, and one of the most controversial in its earlier seasons, The Simpsons. In 1997, a television program that is arguably worse showed up on Comedy Central: South Park. Quoting Marty Klein, one of the speakers in the above video:

The right to see South Park, may actually depend on the right to watch Butt Busters 3… If people want to have the right to do what they want to do, they have to protect the rights of other people to do what other people want to do.

I would actually go further than this into a slightly different direction: your right to watch motion picture productions regarding religion and politics is also dependent upon another person’s right to watch The Simpsons and Virgins of the Screen.

Now before everyone gets all up in arms, I’m aware there are videos out there of a prurient nature that also double as evidence of other crimes. One that readily comes to mind are so-called “crush videos”: videos that show a woman dressed in a seductive manner, likely also wearing what I call “porn heals”, crushing small and young animals to death, all with the intent of getting off the person watching it. Those are absolutely disgusting and also, as I said, evidence of another crime.

I’m also certainly not going to advocate pornography or erotica depicting under-age teenagers and prepubescent children. Like “crush videos”, child pornography is also evidence of more serious crimes.

But the fact that there are words that cannot be said in certain combinations and in certain contexts and certain actions that cannot be filmed is the very definition of censorship. Criminal sanctions for “obscenity” equate to censorship, and is something that should be eliminated from our criminal codes post haste.

The Miller test actually overrode a lighter standard for obscenity that basically relied on whether the content was utterly without any redeeming social value. As I’ve described herein, erotic materials, whether visual, audio or written, have a lot of social value because it forces you to confront your own ideas and your own notions, the very idea protected by the freedom of speech.

Now you may not want to seek out these materials, and no one is forcing them upon you. But not liking something doesn’t give you the right to tell others they can’t have it either.

Oscar Wilde once said, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” He also said that ideas not considered dangerous should not be considered ideas. Ironically, Oscar Wilde was a homosexual who was prosecuted and jailed for homosexual acts.

But how far has the idea of obscenity in the United States gone? If you want a recent glance, look no further than the fictional series His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. In the third book of that trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, in the chapter called “Marzipan”, some language describing Lyra’s reaction to a story she was being told were abridged. Wikipedia has the details.

My fiancée and I have a copy of a trilogy edition of His Dark Materials. In learning of this censorship of the third novel in the series, I was glad to find a copy of the UK text at a local used book store.

Other famous previously-censored books in the United States were published long ago, such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence in 1928 and Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure written by John Cleland in 1748, commonly known as “Fanny Hill”. You can find Fanny Hill on Project Gutenberg. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is still under copyright in the United States, so it can be found at your favorite local or online book store.

Where are we as a society that we are so willing to prosecute people for material that might be objectionable? Are we any better than regimes where merely questioning the government is a risk to life and limb?

Pornography questions more than government and law. It questions the very notions of what we find acceptable in society. Yet rather than confront their own personal views on sex, sexuality, and pornography, many in society would rather cover it up with their own prudishness guised as criminal laws, and that is as much a detriment to society as taking Glenn Beck off the air.

The charges against Stagliano have since been dropped, but the fact that criminal charges were pursued at all is disturbing.

Other videos by Reason.tv:

  1. 413 US 15 (1973) []

Freedom of Conscience

On his show Tuesday night, Glenn Beck talked about a plan by the Obama administration to repeal the "Freedom of Conscience Act", which gives health care workers the option of refusing to participate in medical care they find objectionable.

Known formally as the "Provider Refusal Rule", sometimes referred to improperly as the "abortion rule", it went into effect January 20, 2009, the day Obama was sworn in as President of the United States. Much of the focus on this rule is with abortion, but the rule goes much farther, and applies to everyone applicable in the delivery of health care by setting up a rule wherein the health care institution may not:

Require any individual to perform or assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity funded by the Department if such service or activity would be contrary to his religious beliefs or moral convictions.

— 45 CFR § 88.4(d)(1)

"Individual" is defined in 45 CFR §88.2 as "a member of the workforce of an entity/health care entity". Not just physicians and nurses. Any member of the workforce of the health care entity. And in case you’re wondering, "funded" includes reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.

Congresswoman Diana DeGette [D-CO(1)], one of the more vocal opponents to this rule, said "That rule was so broad that even the cashier at Walgreens could refuse to provide medication for somebody if the cashier decided they have a religious objection." Whether that is true is, as far as I know, yet to be seen.

The press correctly called this rule "far reaching" because it allows health care workers to legally refuse to "perform or assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity", including, but not limited to, abortion.

Many States already have laws providing that pharmacists don’t have to fill prescriptions ("scrips") that violate their moral conscience. The language of the law was specifically aimed at the "morning after pill" and hormonal contraceptives, but it can be far more reaching than that.

My fiancée, I will confess, is on hormonal birth control, and we obtain those pills through Planned Parenthood. Why? Because we know that we will have no problem or issue getting those pills at a Planned Parenthood clinic. We won’t have to worry about some pharmacist having a "morality moment" and saying to us "No, I won’t fill that prescription because it violates my conscience."

It’s already happened numerous times — Google it.

But why would a pharmacist refuse to fill a birth control prescription? Hormonal birth control works in two parts. First, it tricks the body into thinking it is already pregnant, thus preventing an ovum, or unfertilized egg, from being released into the fallopian tubes. If the pill fails to prevent this and an egg is fertilized, the pill’s secondary purpose is to prevent the egg from implanting into the uterine wall.

Some pro-life pharmacists and physicians refer to that also as an abortion because even that fertilized egg is a baby in their minds.

Pretty soon, family planning clinics will be the only place you can have access to any birth control method except "pulling out". Hell, Planned Parenthood provides condoms for free — take as many as you want. And they have a shelf life of 5 years, so no worries there if you take an entire jar full.

And this refusal to fill scrips goes further than birth control and Plan B. Got a scrip for Viagra or Cialis? Pray your pharmacist doesn’t have a "morality moment". ADHD medication? Yep, allegedly pharmacists have refused to fill those scrips as well.

Prescriptions are medical orders. As such, unless the pharmacist has a medical reason, the pharmacist should not have the legal ability to refuse to fill that scrip. Medical reason could include several things, such as a conflict with another medication currently on file for that patient. But moral objections are not medical reasons.

And now the Obama administration wants to scale down this rule, and pro-lifers are screaming. "How dare they force doctors to perform abortions?"

Better yet, the question should be: how dare the Bush administration allow so many people along the chain of care to refuse to provide their portion of the chain of care because of their "morality"? And I’m not talking about doctors and nurses, and not even just pharmacists (though they’ve gotten much of the press).

What about obstetricians refusing to perform pap smears on unmarried women? Catholic physicians refusing to correct an ectopic pregnancy, a medical emergency, since the only correction is to terminate it? Worse still, what if these doctors refuse to provide a referral or bring in another physician for fear of appearing complicit?

I’m not talking about patients refusing care or opting for "complementary or alternative medicine", but physicians or nurses refusing to provide care and pharmacists refusing to fill scrips purely based on "morals", and this is happening worldwide.

Does no one see the issue with this?

* * * * *

Links, References, and Resources


Children of anonymous sperm donations

Men donate sperm for one of any number of reasons, and likely the top reason is simply money since sperm banks tend to pay their donors. A lot of the samples are likely to be discarded: they were either not viable to begin with, or they aren’t used within their viability period.

But for the comparatively few samples that are used and that do also actually result in a pregnancy that is carried to term, what of the children?

Most sperm donations are made anonymously. If the donation results in a child, the donor doesn’t want to know, nor does he wish to meet the child. There are also legal barriers in place protecting him from claims for child support, also courtesy of the wall of anonymity. The women who go into a sperm bank also go into it realizing that they may never know the identify on the other side of the semen sample, and I believe most are content never knowing.

But let’s fast-forward twenty years down the road.

Certainly all men who donate sperm know there is the possibility their donation could result in a baby. This is something to be kept in mind as part of the "donor decision", because once you hand the cup of sperm over to the attendant and accept the check for the donation, there is no going back. It’s certainly a mental anguish I could not see myself going through.

But then there’s the child.

In virtually every sperm donation situation, the child will not have any right to seek the identity of their donor fathers until they are 18, the age of majority in the United States. Seeking out the donor father is needed if there are any special medical concerns, so obtaining the medical history of the donor is definitely warranted, something clinics twenty and thirty years ago may not have always obtained in advance of the donation.

But what if you just want to know who the donor father is?

According to a recent article published by the Associated Press, there is a push by sperm donor children to end the practice of anonymous sperm donation by outright banning it, thus bringing back into the forefront that if there is a practice occurring that you don’t like, push for legislation. Talk about another one-sided argument.

Okay let’s look at this from all angles.

There are actually four sides to all sperm donor stories: the sperm bank, the donor, the recipient or surrogate, and the child. Of this equation with four variables, only one is pushing for the end to the practice of anonymous sperm donation so they can learn the identities of their donor fathers.

I can certainly understand their concern. Many children, not just "cryokids", as some have called themselves, grow up not knowing their father, or possibly their mother or both parents, something that can occur for one of several reasons — the parent may have died, simply just walked out, or anything else.

But let’s look at the other three variables of this equation, and it’s really quite simple. Anonymous, paid sperm donation is what keeps the sperm banks in business. However every market has both a supply and demand: the paid donors are the supply, and single mothers and lesbian couples are much of the demand. End the practice of anonymous sperm donation and you’ll likely see that market dry up.

Plus there is the matter of respecting the privacy of the donor. Yes, every sperm donor knows there is the possibility their sperm will result in a baby. However in signing the paperwork handing over their sperm in exchange for the cash, they have opted to remain entirely anonymous, and the sperm bank has an obligation to protect that privacy. But as I said, the women go into it as well knowing the donation is anonymous.

In the AP article, a question was posed by Wendy Kramer, who runs the web-based Donor Sibling Registry:

It’s always the rights of the parents, the donor, the clinic. Why is it that the rights of donor-conceived people aren’t even considered in the equation?

This is certainly a reasonable question to ask, but it takes the definition of a right to a whole other level. Do the children of sperm donors have the right to learn the identify of their fathers? At the same time, do men have the right to donate sperm anonymously?

The answer is No on both counts.

Sperm donor children have no more of a right to learn the identity of their fathers than does a child who was conceived during a one-night stand where the woman cannot remember with whom she had sex. If both have equal right to learn the identity of their fathers, then the former can compel the sperm banks to hand over identifying information against the wishes of the donor, presuming their records are still accurate, and the latter can compel a court to DNA test an entire city.

Do children have any right to know the identities of their biological parents? No. The fact that most children do know this information does not equate it to being a right. The fact that some children go their entire lives not knowing this information shows it is not.

While it is unfortunate that most children of sperm donors may never know the identities of their biological fathers, they need to realize that if the donors wish to be discovered, they would make themselves available to be discovered. As such they also need to respect the desires of the sperm donors to remain anonymous.

Even if they are fortunate enough to learn the identity of their biological father, if that donor does not wish to know or become involved in the life of their donor child, that should also be respected. Again most children grow up not knowing the identity of one or both parents, which means that children of sperm donors are no more special and have no more or any special rights over any other child, something that also needs to be realized.

* * * * *

Article: "Sperm-donors’ kids seek more rights and respect", Associated Press

Movie: Made in America (1993), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson


Tom & Jerry

image.pngCensorship with the vintage Tom and Jerry cartoons is a horse beaten so far beyond death that flies are buzzing around horse pulp instead of a carcass. As such, I’m not going to discuss the censorship per se, but instead provide some information for collectors.

I have all three volumes of the Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection plus the Chuck Jones collection. All told, of the vintage Tom and Jerry cartoons, I have all but two: “Casanova Cat” and “Mouse Cleaning”, released in 1951 and 1948 respectively. Why were these not included? Because their content was deemed to be “too offensive” to the black community.

In any detailed discussion of the history of race relations in the United States, that should be all the more reason to actually include those cartoons. If people today are offended by two cartoons made 60 years ago, have we truly progressed racially in this country? But I digress…

Now you can readily watch those cartoons on YouTube if you search around (I won’t link to them here). You might just find the uncensored releases as well. But what if you are a collector looking for a copy of these cartoons? Well you’re in luck, courtesy of some of my recent searching.

image.pngIn 1990, Warner Bros released a 50th birthday collection of Tom and Jerry cartoons in 3 volumes. On Volume 3 of that release is “Mouse Cleaning”. In 1992 Warner Bros release another small collection of Tom and Jerry cartoons called “Tom and Jerry’s Cartoon Cavalcade“, on which you will find “Casanova Cat”. As of the time of this writing, you can find both on Amazon’s Marketplace. Be sure to buy them used as the “New” price is just… yikes!

Now as you can tell by the release dates, both of these are on VHS, not DVD, but if you’re skilled enough with certain hardware and software, it should not be difficult for you to create a DVD from the VHS, something beyond the scope of this article.

And of course is the big question: why was I looking for those to begin with? The answer is simple and two-fold.

First, I wanted a complete collection of the vintage Tom and Jerry cartoons. Looking for any release, DVD or VHS, that had the remaining two cartoons was necessary to complete the collection.

Second, I want any children I have to grow up with Tom and Jerry. They are cartoons from a far gone era of our history, and in having my children grow up with Tom and Jerry, along with learning our history from the 1940s and 1950s, I hope they will gain a full understanding of where things were in our history compared to where we are today and tomorrow.

I feel it would actually be in Warner Bros. best interest to release a special DVD with just “Casanova Cat” and “Mouse Cleaning” with an insert or special feature on why those cartoons still do matter today from a race standpoint. Other censorship has taken place with Tom and Jerry — thankfully almost all of the Spotlight Collection is uncensored — but purposefully omitting two full cartoons to avoid offending people is nonsense, and that sentiment has been repeated at length by many of Tom and Jerry’s most ardent fans.

Update: It appears that in the new Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection, “Mouse Cleaning” will be included on Volume 2. No word yet on whether “Casanova Cat” will be included, but if they’re including “Mouse Cleaning”, I think there is good reason to believe “Casanova Cat” will be included as well.

Correction to previous update: Volume 2 of the new Blu-Ray collection has been indefinitely suspended due to intense negative feedback (specifically the immense number of 1-star reviews on Amazon.com) about the decision to not include “Mouse Cleaning” and “Casanova Cat” in the collection.

Additional update: One part of the entire Tom and Jerry series I completely forgot were the episodes created by a production company in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovak). That became available last year on DVD as the Gene Deitch Collection.

So it’s possible to obtain everything but “Mouse Cleaning” and “Casanova Cat” on DVD, and you can get those remaining two episodes on the VHS collections provided above.

(Tom and Jerry title card created by “crolyss”)

Links and References


Being Libertarian

Earlier in my life, I knew my late grandfather was a libertarian. Back then, before I got my head on straight, I thought that libertarianism was on par with anarchism — completely anti-government, not just wanting the government to leave you alone.

Now I’m sure we’ve all taken those political alignment quizzes that try to determine if you are conservative or liberal. Every time I took one, no matter where I took one, I always came out dead-center, sometimes slightly liberal or slightly left of center. Never did I come out slightly right of center or slightly conservative.

It really wasn’t until last year or two years ago that I discovered the real meaning of libertarianism. And in discovering actual libertarianism, I’ve also discovered that I’ve pretty much always been libertarian and just didn’t know it.

Thomas Jefferson can probably be called the original libertarian, though he would easily compete with Thomas Paine on that title as well. Quoting Thomas Jefferson on government:1

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

In other words, where injury or harm to others can be shown, the power of government legitimately extends to that harm. Where no legitimate harm or injury can be shown is where no legitimate power of government exists. Glenn Beck recently quoted Thomas Jefferson’s words when asked by Bill O’Reilly why Beck doesn’t cover cultural issues on his show, "I believe what Thomas Jefferson said. If it neither breaks my leg, nor picks my pocket, what difference is it to me?"

Libertarianism’s foundation is the word’s foundation: liberty. In the dictionary of the English language, 1797 edition, by Samuel Johnson, liberty is defined as2:

1. Freedom as opposed to slavery.
2. Freedom as opposed to necessity.
3. Privilege; exemption; immunity.
4. Relaxation of restraint; laxity.
5. Leave; permission.

Notice that the first two definitions refer directly to freedom, also defined in the dictionary as:

1. Liberty; exemption from servitude; independence
2. Privilege; franchises; immunities
3. Exemption from fate, necessity, or predetermination
4. Unrestraint
5. The state of being without any particular inconvenience
6. Ease or facility in doing or showing any particular thing

Many of these words should be familiar to you if you are at all familiar with the Constitution of the United States. Looking at these definitions, we clearly see around what the Constitution was designed: the very concept of liberty, the idea that the reach of government extends only to protect the rights of the people. Government cannot create rights, only protect the legitimate rights of the people who are or become subject to her jurisdiction, and in case you’re wondering, this means more than just citizens of the United States, but all people who are in this country, legally or not.

Where no legitimate harm has occurred, government is to be hands off. Where legitimate harm can be shown, government is to provide for a redress of grievances, civil or criminal, even when that harm has been caused by the very government that is to be protecting the rights of the people. Beyond this, the government, acting in its role as protector of rights, must defend those subject to her jurisdiction from the harm of foreign states and foreign nationals where possible.

One thing that appears to have been lost, or conveniently overlooked, for some time, and it still occurs today, is the line that divides the government from the people. Government has become so ubiquitous in our lives, so interwoven with our daily affairs, that this line has been almost erased. Whether this is part of some grand plan by a particular political segment of our society, as some such as Glenn Beck have alleged, remains open for debate, but one thing is obvious: we are beyond the point where the people fear the government instead of the other way around.

When governments fear the people there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny.

— Attributed to Thomas Jefferson

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.

— Patrick Henry

Government is not there for the people or for the benefit of the people. And I’m referring not only to the Federal government, but also to State and local governments. If the government is here for the people and for their benefit, then the people can sway government to give them whatever benefit they desire — the very foundation of tyranny. This benefit can mean the suppression of rights for one class of people that gives you a tingly feeling between your legs, or exorbitant taxation that does little to boost the unfortunate and much to bring down the fortunate.

To borrow the words of Henry David Thoreau, "government is best which governs least."3 If you want to see this particular idea in action, consider the local governments for most municipalities in the United States.

Being libertarian requires understanding the legitimate role of government, but it goes further than that and also requires understanding that while you might not like certain things that occur in society, unless you can demonstrate actual and legitimate harm, you have no right to call for government intervention, including legislation. Being libertarian requires you to ask one question with regard to each action the government aims to take: is it legitimate?

And the will of the people is not legitimate by default. Finishing with Thomas Jefferson again, from a letter written in 1819 to Isaac H. Tiffany:

…rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our own will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.

That is libertarianism at its core.

  1. Jefferson, Thomas. (1787). Query XIV. In J.W. Randolph (1853), Notes on the State of Virginia (p 170). []
  2. Johnson, Samuel. (1797). A dictionary of the english language. [Google Books] []
  3. Thoreau, Henry David. (1849) "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience". Quote: "I heartily accept the motto, ‘That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically." []

Rights of marriage

Here’s an interesting question that no one seems to be asking in this enormous debate on gay marriage: do you have a right to get married?

Now if we were to go by the definition of a right that I have presented several times1, the answer is a definite No, you don’t have a right to get married at all because marriage is not really an individual right. Instead marriage is an extension of a right we all have: right of association — i.e. you have the right to pick your friends, lovers, acquaintances, and colleagues.

So how does marriage come into play?

Well marriage is a construct. It is not something that exists naturally; it is something that had to be created in order for it to exist. In modern society marriage is more a construct of law than a cultural tradition, and as such has the force of law backing it.

With that force of law come certain benefits to encourage individuals to seek out a partner and get married. These include:

  • Rights of survivorship — property rights in everything you own automatically transfer to your spouse upon your death, unless otherwise overridden by contract (including a will or trust) or lien
  • Power of attorney — if you are unable to make your own decisions regarding medical care, finances, and your estate, your spouse has automatic power of attorney, though this power must be exercised purely in and for your benefit, and this power can be overridden or stripped if not exercised appropriately
  • Insurance and other employment benefits — your spouse can be included in your benefits, if you so desire, and in many States your spouse can take advantage of your benefits automatically for a period of time after your marriage without any additional incurred cost to the owner of the benefits
  • Tax benefits — this is limited. If you file your taxes as the status "Married filing jointly", then you can take advantage of a higher standard deduction that could overall reduce your tax burden or increase your tax refund. This can be especially true if you or your spouse doesn’t work, or if there is otherwise a significant gap between incomes. But there comes a point with income where this benefit basically vanishes and the only benefit to filing jointly is reducing paperwork. I’ll explore this in a later article.

So as you can see there is a large legal framework surrounding marriage, providing many legal benefits to encourage others to get married. But it is still nothing more than a legal construct, a relationship status recognized by law instead of one that is readily recognized as a construct of nature such as the parent-child relationship. In creating this construct of law, certain "rights" were created as well.

However in the construct of law, it has been established to be immediately exclusive to only certain couples. Previously it used to be even more exclusive than it is today, not allowing for any non-white person to marry a white person, regardless of what the couple actually wanted, so-called anti-miscegeny laws. The one interesting thing about many anti-miscegeny laws is that non-whites could marry other non-whites, but whites could only marry other whites.

These laws were overturned unanimously by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case Loving v. Virginia2. Today the exclusion rests only with couples of the same sex.

Albeit the exclusion is of couples recognized to be a minority, it is still exclusion, and this exclusion, in my opinion and recently the opinion of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, is in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

  1. "What are rights?" — March 4, 2010
    "Do you have a right to healthcare?" — April 3, 2010
    "Who grants rights?" — August 6, 2010 []
  2. 388 US 1 (1967) []

Independent health insurance

One thing in this health care debate that has frustrated me to no end is how both Republicans and Democrats make it seem like unless you have a job you cannot have health insurance at all. Well this is kind of true as without the job you can’t pay for insurance, but they make it seem like your only option of having health insurance is through your employer.

Quoting the Republican platform (page 38):

To empower families, we must make insurance more affordable and more secure, and give employees the option of owning coverage that is not tied to their job.

Quoting the Democratic platform (page 10):

Families and individuals should have the option of keeping the coverage they have or choosing from a wide array of health insurance plans, including many private health insurance options and a public plan.

Employees already have the option of getting more affordable coverage not tied to their job without the need for a "public option". It’s called shopping around and doing the math. You are not required to go with whatever your employer provides. Most choose to do so simply because of the convenience of not having to shop around and also the convenient deduction from their paycheck.

I have my own health insurance plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City instead of my employer. Why?

My employer is self-insured. This means there is an insurance division of the company itself, and part of my paycheck goes to fund the insurance I had. When I first started with the firm, I was coming off a lengthy unemployment, so I signed up with the company insurance plan just to get insurance right away. I even qualified for and received a $1,000 discount off my annual premium.

Later in the year, notices went out of upcoming changes to the insurance plan, changes I didn’t like. But I didn’t have to live with it. I had other options, and I exercised them by shopping around for something else to see if I could find something better.

And I did.

And in November of last year, I signed up with the policy I currently have. I have a lower deductible and better prescription drug coverage, plus I can walk into almost any doctor’s office or hospital in Kansas City, and pretty close to almost any doctor’s office and hospital anywhere else in the country, and be covered.

All of that for slightly higher than what was being deducted from my paycheck, even with the discount I was getting.

And my insurance is not tied to my job. So if I leave the company voluntarily or they lay me off, I still have my insurance for the same rate I pay now, and I don’t have to worry about trying to pay an astronomical amount through COBRA to keep the same coverage.

Now there is one caveat: I cannot deduct my health insurance premiums on my taxes unless I itemize, and even then my insurance premiums must exceed 7.5% of my adjusted gross income (that’s some expensive insurance, for me at least given my annual income). For lower income families, however, this might still be an option, and it’d be a consideration as part of doing the math.

So Republicans and Democrats, if you want the people exercising their options with health insurance, allow them to deduct independent health insurance premiums without having to meet a minimum threshold and without having to also itemize.

But then again, as we all know, the health care reform law has little to do with health care, and even less to do with reform. It’s all about seizing and consolidating power.