July 26, 2006


Unbelievable story (http://msnbc.msn.com/id/14024565/?GT1=8307). Homeless man finds 21,000 USD in bonds while going through thrash. He returns them to the shelter, and they find and return the items to the owner. The owner gives the guy $100!!!!

Yeah, so the community thought that was despiccable too, and rallied to donate about 4,000 up to now, mainly from a few big donors. But the headline reads
"Homeless man finds best reward is honesty". That's stretching things a bit. If he cashed in the bonds, he'ld be 17,000 USD ahead. That's a nice car.

Anyway, I always thought that if someone returns you money, you should give them at least 10% of it. In this case, we're not talking about an accidentally dropped wallet that one might hope to recover, but bonds that were thrown out. How does that bond owner live with himself?

Selfish greed knows no bounds.

July 18, 2006

Pedophilia - age of consent

Well, everyone is having a blast with the Dutch judge throwing out the request to bar a pro-pedophile party from running in the elections. Why shouldn't I...

The party advocates lowering the age of consent (AOC), from the current level of 16 to 12. It's not clear from the blurbs whether this is a full age of consent, or whether they would allow for limits on the age difference of the partners.

So here are some thoughts:
1. AOC in Canada is 14, although under some circumstances (largely age of partner), sex over 12 is not a crime. Countries as diverse as Albania, China, Chile, Columbia and Croatia do not criminalise sex if the youngest partner is over 14. Germany also doesn't see sex over 14 as a crime, if the older partner is under 18. Similar in South Carolina, Missouri and Iowa. Countries like Zimbabwe, Uruguay and Syria have even lower ages of consent (12 or 13). Odd countries? Perhaps, but age of consent is also 13 in Spain and South Korea. In Mexico, the laws are complicated but don't necessarily criminalise intercourse over the age of 12 (again depends on age of partner, but also many local laws apply). So when this party advocates lowering the age at which sex is by definition a criminal act to 12, it is not completely beyond the pale.
2. I am at least as appaled by 70-year old businessmen playing at 20-year old waitresses as by 20-year olds hitting on 15-year olds. It may be legal in most places, but it really doesn't seem right. One has to assume that these relationships are unbalanced. And in the end, AOC rules are all about protecting the weak from the powerful, aren't they? Quite a few of these laws take into account relative age differences. That makes a lot of sense to me.
3. What is the point of criminalising any and all sexual behaviour of, say, 13-year olds? It's not like that will stop them from doing it. Or does anyone really believe that people in Tunisia don't have sex until they're 20? If you want to prohibit the 40-year old creep with a penchant for 12-year olds from acting on his impulses, you criminalize it. But you don't need to criminalize all sexual contacts of 12-year olds in order to achieve this. And yeah, I think most 12-year olds don't know what they get into when they start having sex (and they do, unfortunately). I also don't think most 16-year olds have a clue, and a good lot of 20-year olds seem to be barely sentient on the matter. But as with most social laws, you need to be exceedingly careful and target them as accurate a possible.
4. I like the idea of having these guys in a party. At least you know who they are. Probably keeps them on the straight and narrow...

In the end, the judicial ruling was largely on technicalities. Judisprudence, being more than half "prudence" is right to let these guys run. As the judge said, moral outrage is not sufficient grounds to ban a party. I think few parties would survive a moral purge, in the Netherlands or anywhere else... And as long as we're talking about a 3-people party, there's not that much to worry about.

For the record, I don't think that sex under 16 is a good idea, no matter how mature the kid seems. But I don't think that it should be illegal unless there is a good reason for it. Without having made a deep study of the matter, I would peg the first level of AOC at 13, with a progressive limit on the age difference between the partner. Full AOC would be 25. Rental agencies don't let you drive cars without extra insurance until you're 25 either... And sexual relationships with people that are younger than your own children or older than your own parents should be illegal as well.

Just my 2p.

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July 04, 2006

Why the internet rules and stinks.

In researching the previous post on Obama's speech, I came across "Faithfull Progressive", a blog that claims that Obama was criticizing the Religious Right as much as the Democrats. I don't think that that is correct, although he clearly defines ground rules for a dialogue between conservative christians and progressives that would not please the cynical exploiters that are prominent among the Religious Rights' leadership. But it seems to me that he addresses his two audiences - Democrats and strongly religious people - in a positive manner, urging cooperation. He's not trying to get the Religious Right to change what it's doing...

Fine, that is a disagreement in analysis. But, having just read the speech, I noticed that "Faithful Progressive" (FP) isn't exactly faithful in quoting the speech (which he does link to at the end). He quotes Obama as saying:
"While I've already laid out some of the work that progressives need to do on this, I that the conservative leaders of the Religious Right will need to acknowledge a few things as well."(sic)

The speech that he links to actually says:
"While I've already laid out some of the work that progressive leaders need to do, I want to talk a little bit about what conservative leaders need to do -- some truths they need to acknowledge. "

Now, I don't know what possessed FP to change the quote. Perhaps the transcript on the website changed in stead, since FP's quote is clearly incomplete and was perhaps cleaned up? Without authoritative sources, I can't judge who's right. But from the entire tone of the speech, I sincerely doubt that Obama was attacking the Religious Right, the actual political organisation. He was talking more broadly than that, I think. So I suspect that the transcript on Obama's web is more true to the actual speech.

In any case, it's a good example of why you can't trust what you read. Especially when it's on the internet...

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July 03, 2006

Obama talking sense

If you haven't heard, Barak Obama (senator of my IL) has summoned the courage to tell Democrats that if you keep ignoring 40-odd % of the electorate, indeed make it a point of pride and test of partisan loyalty to ridicule and offend them, you're going to have a tough time winning elections. Seems like a reasonable point, no? Democrats are keen to take into account the opinions of small minorities, racial, sexual and religious. How can it be controversial to suggest that we should also find common ground with larger groups? Our agenda's aren't that different, in the end.

Well, did that sound like a thousand other blogs you read recently? It could be. While I agree with the analysis, Obama's speech is not that mercenary at all. It's a great speech, one you should read.

In it, Obama discusses his own religious beliefs, in a way that I'm sure will box the ears of some of my atheist friends in Chicago - who worked hard for his campaign:

Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts.

You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

That's a path that has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans - evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at certain turning points in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives their beliefs and their values.

And that is why that, if we truly hope to speak to people where they're at - to communicate our hopes and values in a way that's relevant to their own - then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.

Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

But he goes quite beyond arguing for a more effective rhetoric and a more courageous approach to engaging the American public:

Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical, though. Our fear of getting "preachy" may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.

After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness - in the imperfections of man.

And some of it is a (rather more eloquent) version of what I've been saying for years:

But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of "thou" and not just "I," resonates in religious congregations all across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal.

He actually went ahead and laid out the ground rules for conservative christians to engage with the political system:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

And further:
Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

Now, the following passage deserves to be committed to memory by most progressives, which Obama uses to illustrate the previous point:
We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his only son, and without argument, he takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.

Of course, in the end God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute, and Abraham passes God's test of devotion.

But it's fair to say that if any of us leaving this church saw Abraham on a roof of a building raising his knife, we would, at the very least, call the police and expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away from Abraham. We would do so because we do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that we all see, and that we all hear, be it common laws or basic reason.

Anyway, you should read the speech, if you haven't already.

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I used to read whatreallyhappened daily. I also read Coulter's column back then. In both cases, my interest was in the little gems that you could find there - a bit of information you hadn't heard, a perspective you might have missed, a flash of humour (intended or not). I stopped reading both of them since they became grating, repetitive, shrill. Freak shows are like that. But even now, whenever I feel too sure that there is nothing nuttier than what the Republicans are saying these days, a quick jaunt over to whatreallyhappened is enough to put things back in perspective. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right...