Friday, October 27, 2006

[The laptop is dead; Long live the laptop. With the salvage of some 'brain' matter from the old laptop, a couple of posts were ransomed and posted, along with a new one. Enjoy the three posted and keep an eye out for more soon, perhaps this weekend. -Editor]

Random Words Matter

You'd think that a common three-letter word wouldn't upset someone. Imagine being upset by the word "any". But that little word is the cause of a great deal of Sturm und Drang among the anti-abortion crowd of Virginia.

It comes down to one judge, one critical word, and one pregnant woman who shot herself as a form of self-induced abortion.

This mother, with little in the way of resources, beyond access to a gun, shot herself in the abdomen when she went into labor rather than face having yet another child, a child whose father was an abusive excuse for a man. A full-term child, who was about to make its entrance into the world, dead because its mother had really bad judgment all the way around.

Under Virginia law, "Any person who knowingly performs partial birth infanticide and thereby kills a human infant is guilty of a Class 4 felony." Is the mother "any" person? The anti-abortion activitists say yes; the judge says no. And rightly so.

If courts hold the mother accountable for an action that may lead in turn to the premature death of her fetus, then the courts would be opening the door to the prosecution of mothers who don't eat right, or enough, and her body rejects the fetus as a way of preserving itself. Or mothers who cannot seem to kick the habit of smoking while pregnant and the child is unable to come to term due to damage caused by that habit. Drugs, drinking, failure to follow doctors' advice, a fall down the stairs -- all could lead to the prosecution of the mother.

The human species is not generally known for its brilliance. We make piss poor decisions every day. Throw in some wildly fluctuating hormones into the mix and those decisions get even worse. As an example, take the recent report that pregnant teenagers in Great Britain are taking up smoking from the moment they find out they're pregnant in order to keep the baby's weight down and thus have a less painful labor. Not exactly Nobel Prize winning brilliance, that.

But back to our hapless mother with a bullet wound. I understand the need for such laws and the need to protect a pregnant woman from a man who's less than pleased with her and her pregnancy. This case goes beyond that. This woman was the victim of a lot of things, not the least of which was circumstance. Just like the rest of us, she should be held accountable for her actions. She should have been charged with discharging a firearm in a public place, or for making a false report. Instead, the D.A. chose to push for this Class 4 felony charge.

The judge rightly said that the woman was both victim and instigator; she does not count as just "any" person.

A look at the end of the law makes this a little bit clearer: "The mother may not be prosecuted for any criminal offense based on the performance of any act or procedure by a physician in violation of this section." Meaning that a woman may make the choice to abort late-term, but it is the physician who carries out the act who is legally responsible. As the mother, Tammy Skinner is absolved because she was not a 'physician' who shot the fetus.

All this has the moral conservatives in a tizzy. In their mind, no one, not even the mother herself, should be able to get away with shooting a pregnant woman in the abdomen, killing her fetus. To them, 'any' means absolutely any. To the D.A., 'any' means 'all'. To the court, 'any' means 'any', but not necessarily 'all' -- the mother would be included in 'all' but not in 'any' -- given the final section of the statute. If the legislature meant 'all', it would have written 'all' into the law.

Amazing the power of a simple, three-letter word.
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Cleaning out the Random

In the summer of 2005, the Socialist Government of Spain passed a new divorce law. In and of itself, that’s not too unusual. What was surprising was the addition of brand new grounds for divorce: lack of doing chores.

It is now mandatory for the newly married people of Spain to do their ‘fair’ share of the household chores. This new rule was added to the marriage contract signed in civil weddings, and if one of the partners feels that the other is not living up to the contract, then that’s a legitimate reason to call it quits.

Imagine the poor divorce judge who must decide what is a fair distribution of the chores in order to grant the divorce.

My own parents had worked out a fairly good system given that both worked full-time and jointly raised 4 girls. Dad would make sure the cars were in good running order, with enough gas to get everyone where they need to be each day, and kept the house in good physical shape. My mother did the laundry and a good portion of the cooking. Setting the table and cleaning up afterwards were done by us kids. Yard work was a joint parental project, whereas cleaning of the common rooms was a family effort. Each kid cleaned their own room and looked after their own pet. Being the much younger child, for a while there I was a chore that was rotated among the family members – until I was old enough to join in on the cleaning routine, as measured by the ability to reach the bottom of the sink while standing on a stool.

This system seemed fair enough for our family.

Spain, however, is the originating country of the Macho Male. Yet, the reaction among men toward the idea of legalizing the shared chores doctrine was mixed. Within a month of passage of the new divorce law, there were numerous ‘Chores Schools’: Places where men could go to learn how to do laundry and iron their shirts. To be taught how to be manly as they dusted. Enrollment has been steadily increasing over the past year. On the other hand, in the bars and cafes where the men come to be men, the older generation have grumbled that the law would change the cultural dynamics of the country, that the work around the house they’ve done for generations would now become undervalued. If a man is to be expected to wash and iron his own shirts, could he not expect that when he hands his wife the keys to the car she’d fix the ‘odd rumbling’ coming from the engine?

What I find interesting is the fact that even in this country the old question still exists: “What’s the difference between a cook and a chef? Gender.” What, exactly, is “women’s work” and “a man’s job” – in the modern world there hardly seems to be much difference between the two. That being the case, imagine the person or persons who must come up with some sort of exchange system: Three cleaned and ironed shirts is equal to one mowed lawn. One mopped kitchen is equal to one vacuumed livingroom. One fed and walked dog is equal to one fed and groomed cat. One dirty diaper is equal to one spit up cleaning. And so on.

While I applaud the Spanish Government in trying to generate more gender equality, I hardly think making chores legally mandatory is going to improve the lot of women. If anything, it will make life for them harder – sons won’t want to move out and get married if Mom is already doing all their chores for them. The better solution might be to establish mandatory pre-nuptial agreements in which the couples would outline the division of chores for themselves. Chores are like vegetables: they’re good for you, but no one wants to deal with them, and everyone has a preference. I’ll trade you my peas for your spinach; Clean dishes for a clean bathroom sink.

On the whole, the mandated 50% split of chores that the Spanish Government has put into place might be a good thing, in the long run, but for now it makes me wonder if there might not be some poor person who counts sex as a chore. For what chore would they be willing to trade?
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Virtually Random

I’ve been amazed for sometime by the ‘strict interpretists’ when it comes to the U.S. Constitution. There are more things in this modern world, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Take virtual child porn, for example.

When the Mark Foley scandal broke, folks like Matt Drudge went about saying that sending sexually explicit requests to minors by way of Instant Message doesn’t count as sexual harassment nor as moral corruption of minors. Yet, I’m willing to bet that if you asked him, he’d be up in arms at the idea that the same modern technological communication device can be used to transmit pornography. After all, he’s a member of the same crowd that was irritated with the Supreme Court for ruling, in Ascroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002), that virtual child porn – pictures that have been computer generated without actual children involved – is not covered under previous rulings on child porn, such as Massachusetts v. Oakes (1989), which made illegal the sexual abuse of real children and the documentation of that abuse for the purposes of profit.

These strict interpretists may very well say that the Constitution tells us that we citizens have the freedom of expression, but that pornography isn’t a protected form of expression. What they need to realize is that we live in a brave new world, one that the Founding Fathers never envisioned: A world in which mass communications allow us to send just about anything instantaneously around the globe. The Constitution was written at a time when it took Thomas Jefferson months to get from the newly formed United States to Paris, France; to expect the Constitution to have been written in such a way that would preclude internet porn is just plain silly. After all, pornography goes back millennia. If the Madison and his ilk had planned to say “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of expression, except in cases involving pornography”, they would have.

But they didn’t. Because they weren’t stupid.

They knew that once you start talking about specifics, it becomes a narrow path that leads to nowhere quickly. They believed that each generation would come to a new understanding as to what that document means for each era; that it would lead to national debates and discussions as to how best apply the Constitution in new situations. Now is the time for the debate as to whether virtual pornography is a legitimate form of expression.

Perhaps the Free Speech Coalition has it correct, that to make virtual child pornography illegal would have a chilling effect on the entertainment industry. Their point is that making it illegal would cause studios to stop making films such as American Beauty, which showed a minor engaged in a sexual act. The actress herself was not a minor, only played one in the movie, but because of her very believable performance, one could very well believe that it was indeed a minor having sex on film.

If the moral conservatives have their way, then those of you who watched that film have now been corrupted by virtual porn. If they’re correct, then the viewing of such ‘porn’ will cause you to believe that it’s okay for minors to engage in sexual activities – and that puts you just one step away from becoming a predator yourself.

That argument seems silly to any rational person. However, the very real debate rages on over the question of where we draw the line between the sexual abuse of a minor and entertainment. Between morally repugnant behavior and free expression. If a man taking photographs of his nude fourteen-year old step-daughter is a child pornographer, but a man making a film involving a woman pretending to be a teenager having sex is merely an entertainer; If a man convicted at the age of 19 for having sex with his 16-year old girlfriend should be registered for life as a sex offender, but a man sending sexually explicit messages to underage Congressional pages is merely ‘mentoring’, then we need to look very carefully, not at what the Constitution mentions or doesn’t mention as being legitimate forms of expression, at what our value system really is.

This is why I support such people as my friend who runs people who push the boundary of what is expression, because they put the debate front and center. They push the envelope in hopes getting the rest of us out of our comfort zones and question what is, exactly, expression. They find the most horrifying, grotesque, perverted, and weird items to put on their websites, just so that the rest of us will stop taking our Constitutional freedoms for granted.

The Founding Fathers would be proud, just don’t ask them to look at the stuff.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

[La Professora's laptop had a second stroke, is under the care of the resident geek, and will hopefully be up and running soon so that you can enjoy the ranting once again. - Editor]