Is it still just sex?
Last Friday, Craigslist censored the Adult Services section of its website after attorneys general in 17 states accused the site of aiding human trafficking and prostitution. By all accounts, the move is almost entirely symbolic. There are still plenty of thinly-veiled references on the site to erotic services. And Melissa Grant at Alternet condemns the singling out of Craigslist as hypocritical and counterproductive.
The crimes that Craigslist is accused of abetting – human trafficking and prostitution – are separate but related. One is the unlawful movement of people for exploitive purposes, namely forced sex or labor. The other is the unlawful involvement of people in sex acts for money. Read more
Why banning realistic depictions of war in games is wrong
The BBC reported on Monday that British Defense Secretary Liam Fox has continued to defend comments he made calling for a retail ban of the newest Medal of Honor game. The publishers of the game, Electronic Arts, have defended it and accused Fox of portraying its content unfaithfully.
Fox denounced the game on Sunday, saying it was “shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban against British soldiers.” Fox also made an appeal to patriotism, arguing that this new installment of the franchise is a “thoroughly un-British game.”
His comments can be seen in the context of a larger crusade against objectionable content in videogames that has involved some of the best-selling games of all time, including the Grand Theft Auto series and the newest installment of the Call of Duty series.
Arguments against these games usually claim that their content is immoral, obscene, or in some other way objectionable. Additionally, this claim is often accompanied by the idea that the interactive aspect of a game has a special persuasive power. Read more
Equality butts heads with freedom
Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith write at Politico that a new debate about first principles and the role of government has replaced the social issues at stake during the “culture wars” of the last three decades.
This dispute over first principles is deeply entwined with questions of national identity and the appropriate role of the government in the economy.
On one extreme is a minimalist state, in which the government is responsible for little more than upholding the rule of law and providing for a common defense. On the other extreme is a socialist state in which the government manages all facets of economic activity.
Neither extreme applies to any industrialized country today. Rather, the modern world is populated by welfare states of various stripes.
Net neutrality and competing claims of free speech
According to The Hill, a coalition of thirty-five tea party groups has sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, asking the agency not to impose net neutrality rules on the Internet. Roughly speaking, net neutrality prevents Internet service providers from favoring some content over others by speeding up or slowing down traffic to certain sites, or charging users a fee to access web content.
Tea Party opposition to net neutrality stems from a fear of growth in government power. According to the article, they think this power infringes upon free speech:
The free-speech argument holds that, by interfering with how phone and cable companies deliver Internet traffic, the government would be thwarting the free-speech rights of providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.
What is most striking about this debate is that the pro-net neutrality side also claims to be protecting free speech. Senator Al Franken, for example, says:
Well, our free speech rights are under assault — not from the government but from corporations seeking to control the flow of information in America. […]“Net neutrality” sounds arcane, but it's fundamental to free speech. The Internet today is an open marketplace. If you have a product, you can sell it. If you have an opinion, you can blog about it. If you have an idea, you can share it with the world.
I’m going to have to side with Senator Franken and company here. I think the type of speech the Tea Partiers claim to be protecting is less worthy of protection than the type Franken is trying to protect. Read more
Last Friday, President Obama weighed in publicly on the mosque at ground zero. In doing so, he has joined Mayor Bloomberg as one of few major political figures who have openly voiced support for the project on the basis of freedom of religion.
However, polls indicate that Americans as well as New Yorkers overwhelmingly oppose the mosque’s construction to the tune of 68 percent. The poll reaffirms a truism that the writers of the Bill of Rights were grimly aware of: freedom often runs afoul of democracy. As one opponent of the mosque argues: ‘…[Obama]'s lost sight of the germane issue, which is not about freedom of religion,” she said. “It's about a gross lack of sensitivity to the 9/11 families and to the people who were los
Except the germane issue is exactly the balance between sensitivity and principle, and whether, as Jonathan asked yesterday, something can be “legally harmless but unpleasant enough for us to rightly or morally require legal intervention at the cost of others’ legal rights?” Namely, do people have a right not to be offended? Do they also have a right for their faith, beliefs, or values not to be challenged?
Greg Gutfeld of Fox News clearly believes not. In one of the most creative responses to the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, Gutfeld argues for both supporting the mosque's construction and opening a gay bar next door. Now that might take equal opportunity offending to an extreme. But in a society in which we value both the principles of religious freedom and the “marketplace of ideas,” should we want it any other way?
Image from Flickr user Johnnie Utah used under a Creative Commons Attribution license
Should the poor be allowed to choose?
The New York Times reports that malnutrition and starvation remain stubbornly entrenched decades after India’s Green Revolution, which modernized agricultural practices, massively increased agricultural yields and eliminated the specter of famine.
The existing government food distribution system relies on bureaucratic rationing, through which the poor are given ration cards to purchase food from government-run distributors. It is notoriously inefficient and plagued by corruption. Some reform proposals emphasize improving monitoring and delivery within the system. Others favor entirely dismantling the system, replacing it with vouchers or cash payments to the needy. Read more
The State Senate of California recently voted to strip serpentine of its title as “State Rock” on the grounds that the rock contains asbestos, and is therefore an unwelcome harbinger of asbestos-related cancer. Many geologists, however, contend that the dangers posed by serpentine are grossly exaggerated and that the symbolic move by the California State Senate is an example of political correctness gone awry, with serpentine being used as a bugbear by certain political interests.
In some ways, this could be considered analogous to the “zero-tolerance” for violence policy of many public schools. Last month, a child in Rhode Island was arrested for wearing a hat decorated with an American flag and plastic Army men, on the grounds that the inch-long M16s wielded by the toys violated the school’s no-weapons policy.
Neither serpentine nor plastic army men, it seems, are so offensive as to deserve public condemnation. They do not obviously promote hate, aggression, self-destruction, or any other undesirable tendencies. Some symbols undoubtedly have such grim associations that public disapprobation seems appropriate, but plastic figurines and serpentine are hardly in the same league as Swastikas or conical white hoods.
It’s conceivable that just about any image could be considered offensive to some person, but in the interests of free speech, where do we draw the line? Moreover, is it ever appropriate for free speech (and policies that limit it) to be used to score political points?
Image used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user Laughing Squid
Apparently, the Knesset has cheap viagra online without prescription
d-to-pay-dearly-1.301968″>approved the initial reading of a bill that would essentially fine persons who initiate or incite boycotts against Israel. Predictably, Israeli academics are indignant over the possibility of this new law, presenting a petition signed by over five hundred academics.
At first, this seems like a standard case of the interests of national security vs. civil liberties, but the argument presented by Israeli lawmakers is slightly different. “The state must protect itself from the increasing processes of delegitimization,” coalition chairman Zeev Elkin explained. It seems that Mr. Elkin thinks the very foundations of the state can be damaged through what amounts to political dissent, a claim I find suspect. After all, if this is true, then the state's legitimacy must already stand on very shaky ground.
Photo by Flickr user ChrisYunker used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
The Muslim burqa and equal rights
On The New York Times’ The Stone, its new philosophy commentary series, University of Chicago Professor Martha Nussbaum wrote in response to Spain’s recent, narrow rejection of a ban on public wearing of the Muslim burqa. She gives a quick history of what Western political philosophy has said on the topics of equal rights and free exercise before examining five arguments commonly made in support of this sort of ban.
Her responses to the arguments are certainly convincing. Nussbaum effectively demonstrates the inconsistency or hypocrisy in Western resistance to burqas, and anyone who reads the piece is more likely to dislike the idea of banning burqas.
But her most compelling point is also the most unique: Westerners cannot seem to recognize the inconsistency of their arguments against burqas because they are Westerners, burqa-wearing is not traditionally Western, and burqa-wearers are not viewed as traditionally Western.
Or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the gun
On Monday, the Supreme Court’s majority decision in McDonald v. Chicago affirmed, with some qualifications, that the individual right to bear arms may not be infringed by state or local governments. Was the Court’s decision appropriate? Does the right to bear arms deserve the same special consideration as other civil liberties, such as free speech, assembly, religion, and due process?
Two possible approaches to this constitutional question are the originalist and consequentialist ones. Originalists probe the texts of the Framers of the constitution and their contemporaries for textual evidence favoring or opposing giving such equal standing to the Second Amendment, while consequentialists are more representative of “living” constitutionalism and examine the empirical impact of gun policy on crime, domestic violence, and accidents.
Both approaches face problems. Read more