The Questionable Authority

Warning:

This post contains commentary on an issue raised at another of the blogs on this network. The topic material involves pedophiles and first amendment rights, and is not suitable for all audiences. I know for a fact that it makes me feel pretty damn uncomfortable.

A couple of days ago, Shelley Batts put up a post discussing Barack Obama’s attempts to take legal action against a self-professed pedophile who put a press release photo of Obama’s kids up on his website, along with commentary handicapping the 2008 presidential election based on the “cuteness” of the candidates underage daughters and granddaughters. If that wasn’t distasteful enough, a vocal proponent of “pedophile rights” has made an appearance in the comment thread of that post. Reading the comments associated with that post is enough to make me want to go grab a shower, but some – not much, but some – of the issues raised there are somewhat thought provoking.

First of all, there’s the original issue – the pedophile who was handicapping the race based on how “cute” he thinks the underage children are, and whether that commentary is protected by the First Amendment. As distasteful as I find the speaker, I have to admit that the speech itself is protected. Like it or not (and I personally vote for “not”), the image that a candidate projects receives a huge amount of attention during a campaign. Family, for better or worse (and I’m voting for “worse”), has become part of the whole image thing. The physical appearance of a candidate’s children has, unfortunately, been a factor in at least one recent presidential election – in 2000, McCain’s dark-skinned adopted daughter, coupled with some campaign tactics that set new records for slime, had a major effect on the South Carolina primary. Had the source of these comments been anyone other than an admitted pedophile, and had the word “cute” (with its associated sexual connotations given the source) not come into play, I don’t think there would be any doubt about the legitimacy of a discussion about the effect of the family portrait on a campaign. (There would be entirely legitimate doubts about whether such a discussion was in good taste or acceptable and what it says about where we’ve descended to politically, but that’s another issue.)

The second issue is what, given that the pervert does have the right to free speech, Obama’s attempt to get the material censored says about his own commitment to First Amendment rights. Some people, at least according to the article about the incident, seem to think that Obama was out of line, and that his conduct should be considered when picking a candidate:

No matter how distasteful the content of the website, Walters and Jonathan Katz, another First Amendment lawyer, were surprised that the Obama campaign had threatened legal action in this case.

“If Obama knows that his lawyer is doing this, then that’s one reason not to vote for him,” Katz said. “These are clear free speech issues.”

Well, this is a clear free speech issue, but I don’t think it is at all reasonable to hold Obama’s conduct against him on this one. I consider myself to be a very strong free speech proponent. (If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this now.) In this particular case, though, it’s a hell of a lot easier for me to be a level-headed, reasonable free-speech advocate than it is for Obama – I’m not the one who has a twisted pervert calling my prepubescent daughter “cute” on a public website. Were I in Obama’s shoes, I doubt that I’d be anywhere near this reasonable. It would be nice if Obama were better at controlling his emotional reaction to the situation than I would be, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect that of him.

Which leads me neatly to my third point: this is why it’s a good thing that our political system has checks and balances, and why it’s a good thing that we have non-governmental groups like the ACLU there to stand up for the rights of even twisted perverts. It’s the strength and power of a constitutional system of government – everyone, twisted and perverted pedophiles included, has basic rights. No one person can take those rights away, and when a person or group of people try to restrict the rights of even the most justly unpopular people, there are all kinds of barriers there to keep that from happening.

Those three points were, believe it or not, the easy part of this post – because now we come to Sam.

“Sam” is the name that is being used by someone, allegedly a member of our species, who is commenting over at Shelley’s blog. Sam is, apparently, a pedophile. He has taken to comparing the treatment of pedophiles to the treatment of jews and African-Americans. He claims that, “[t]his Child and Pedophile Liberation Front IS going to be the next big wave in civil rights.” He seems to believe that Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan contain pedophiliac elements. He views Lolita as, “one of the greatest celebrations of pedophilic aesthetic.” He wrote, in one of the comments that, “the intimacy between and child and his or her pedophile is ONLY beneficial, is only good for both the child and the pedophile, and it is ONLY good for society. He calls the refusal to allow children under 12 to consent to sexual activity “inhuman.” He makes me uncomfortable to the point of actual nausea, and makes me feel contaminated simply as a result of reading the vile, vile things that he writes. And, despite all of that, Sam still does have rights.

Among those rights is the right to hold those godawful positions. The right to try to persuade others that his views should be considered is another of his rights. He even has the right to lobby to have those age of consent laws that he hates (and that the majority of us are eternally grateful for) revoked. What he does not have – Thank Goodness! – is the right to actually do the things that he would like to do to children, or to plan to do those things, or to try to get others to do them.

We would, of course, have to be absolutely insane to consider actually changing any of the sexual consent laws. We would be equally insane if we considered pedophilia to be an acceptable variant of human sexuality, much less right in any sense of the word. Children, especially those under 12, are not usually mature in any sense of the word – sexual, emotional, or intellectual. They are not qualified to consent to sexual activity, and sexual contact between an adult and a child is considered, with very good reason, to be done to, not with, the child. It is, of course, understandable that people like Sam would want to change society’s perspective on this. Nobody wants to think that his or her sexual desires are wrong, or harmful to others. They are, of course, and society should not accept those desires as normal or acceptable. If Sam, or anyone else, were to act on those desires, he or she should face extremely severe consequences.

Finally, and this fits in under the heading of “rights that Sam (and others like him) don’t have,” we come to the topic of pedophiles, freedom of the press, and my press. I have a certain degree of admiration for Shelley’s willingness to allow Sam’s comments to remain on her blog. If nothing else, having material like that posted in a public place serves as a valuable reminder of just how twisted pedophile’s beliefs can be, and why it is so important to protect children from them. I am not sure if I am going to follow her lead in this or not, so it might be a good idea if I clearly state my policy on comments right now.

Sam and other twisted perverts do have the same right to freedom of the press that is enjoyed by every other American citizen. Freedom of the press does not, however, mean the same thing as freedom to my press. If you want to be certain that whatever you write gets presented to others, you will have to go get your own press. Although I will not change the wording of any comment that is left, I do reserve the right to moderate, block, remove, truncate, or disemvowel comments for any or no reason.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an irresistible urge to go and wash. Several times.

Comments

  1. #1 chezjake
    March 14, 2007

    Well said. I agree with you completely on all points.

  2. #2 Shelley
    March 14, 2007

    Mike, thanks so much for addressing this weird and revolting issue. I had to get a shower too….

  3. #3 Decline and Fall
    March 14, 2007

    Nice treatment of a difficult topic. I agree with you completely, nausea and all.

    I’m curious: what’s your position on sex offender registries? I find them appealing on a human level but appalling on a justice level, at least for those offenders who have already served their sentences.

  4. #4 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    Also a very good treatment of a difficult topic. Well done.

    I have one comment:

    Although I will not change the wording of any comment that is left, I do reserve the right to moderate, block, remove, truncate, or disemvowel comments for any or no reason.

    I hope it won’t come to that, but I do hope that if you do take an action which involves removing only part of a comment, you signify somehow that this has been done. This is your press, and you do what you like, but there’s something a little bit dishonest with trimming the context of a comment, because there’s always the possibility that what’s left may misrepresent what the commenter intended to say.

    Scienceblogs is full of examples of this from IDers, as you probably well know. I know you wouldn’t do it, especially not deliberately, but I’m just saying. And everyone knows, if you’re “just saying”, it’s okay!

  5. #5 Mike Dunford
    March 14, 2007

    I guess I had hoped that it would go without saying, but you’re right – I should clarify that.

    In the highly unlikely event that I edit part of a comment, I will clearly indicate that I have done so, why I have done so, and how much material has been removed.

  6. #6 Kelvin Wong
    March 14, 2007

    I am not supporting pedophile here, but just trying to working out some of the logic and arbituariness of the age of consent.

    You said that the age of consent is, say, under 12 years old… so does that mean that if one’s sex partner is above this age of 11, then that is not classified as pedophilia?

    If not, does that mean at if the person’s sex partner is just 5 seconds after his/her 12th birthday, that person is not a pedophile? Yet if it happens to be 5 seconds before his/her 12th birthday then that person becomes a pedophile?

    If yes, then at what age of consent would a person in your opinion be considered not a pedophile? So, given another age of consent, does that mean at if the person’s sex partner is just 5 seconds after his/her age of consent birthday, that person is not a pedophile? Yet if it happens to be 5 seconds before his/her age of consent birthday then that person becomes a pedophile?

  7. #7 Paul Schofield
    March 14, 2007

    As far as I am aware, pedophilia is not defined by the age of consent, but rather by the maturity level of the people they are attracted to (clumsy phrasing, sorry). If someone is attracted mainly to adolescents, they would be defined as an ephebophile. If they were attracted to infants and toddlers they would be defined as an nephiophile or infantophile. Pedophiles include both groups, but the term is mostly used for those attracted to prepubescent children.

    The age of consent is a different issue. It is mostly judged as the age by which the vast majority of people are mentally mature enough to knowingly consent to sexual behaviour. Sexual maturity is required as well, but for the most part that comes before the mental requirements anyway.

    Some ephebophilic relationships, which may be defined as pedophilia by many, are perfectly legal when the adolescent is considered old enough to consent.

    The age of consent being set at an arbitrary level is more of a problem with statuary rape laws, and the issues they raise with sex offenders registers as mentioned above.

  8. #8 Mike Dunford
    March 14, 2007

    First of all, I did not say that 12 was or should be the age of consent. I said that children under twelve are definitely not mature. I used that particular age in part because Sam mentioned it in one of his comments over at Shelley’s blog and in part because I would hope that everyone can at least get behind the idea that it is not good for adults to have sex with 12-year-olds. This discussion is probably going to be bad enough without getting into an argument over the appropriate choice for the age of consent. (Personally, I favor an age of consent that is substantially older than 12.)

    Second, I do agree that there is absolutely no way of establishing an “age of consent” that is not somewhat arbitrary. Becoming an adult is a process that takes place over an extended period of time. There is no way to look at most individuals’ lives and pinpoint when they became an adult. There is definitely no way to do so in a way that would work for everyone. There are some pretty damn tall children walking around; there are some very mature pre-teens.

    An inability to set a precise, non-arbitrary cutoff point for the start of adulthood does not, however, mean that there is no such thing as childhood.

    Age of consent laws are used to define such things because the nature of the legal system requires fixed guidelines. It can lead to situations such as the one you describe, where sex is illegal a few minutes before the cutoff, but legal a few minutes later. That’s just the nature of the law. It’s important to recognize, however, that the law determines whether a person commits the crime of child molestation. It does not determine whether someone is a pedophile or not – that’s a psychiatric determination, not a legal one.

  9. #9 Azkyroth
    March 14, 2007

    Kelvin: I think the “five seconds” situation you describe would be best approached through “enforcement discretion” rather than actually changing the law…unfortunately, this sort of intelligence and decency seems to be a bit much to ask of our legal system.

    Mike: May I politely suggest that you avoid the “everyone knows” tone when discussing this issue and focus more on 1) the evidence that child molestation is in fact harmful and 2) your personal emotional reaction, clearly identified as such? No matter how strongly one feels about an issue, using a fallacious argument (the general tone of commentary on this issue tends to blend appeal to popular sentiment, appeal to emotions, appeal to sheer stridency, circular reasoning, and special pleading into a witch’s-brew concoction similar to the green stuff Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes is occasionally served) to reach a true conclusion is a mistake. If all we offer in support of our stance on age of consent laws and adult-child sex is exhortations of disgust, the day may come when “geez…that’s all they have to offer, is ‘it’s icky?’ Can’t be all that bad then…” becomes a popular sentiment, to the extreme detriment of society in general and minors in particular (as unlikely as this scenario is…what is to be gained by feeding it?)

    Incidentally, I’d be interested to hear your impression of my posts on Shelley’s thread, and your position on the issue of prepubescent children experimenting sexually with other children of comparable age, as opposed to adults. If you have time, some commentary on the posts I linked to would also be appreciated.

  10. #10 Sam
    March 14, 2007

    Mike, so you want to talk about pedos and kiddy sex, but you don’t want to talk to pedophiles or kids, hmm. Have a nice day!

    Azkyroth: “Incidentally, I’d be interested to hear your impression of my posts on Shelley’s thread, and your position on the issue of prepubescent children experimenting sexually with other children of comparable age, as opposed to adults.”

    LOL, I bet you would, Azkyroth, I bet you would! “Experimenting” ahh, the fascism of language, I love it!

  11. #11 Boosterz
    March 14, 2007

    LOL, I bet you would, Azkyroth, I bet you would! “Experimenting” ahh, the fascism of language, I love it!

    Someone’s grip on reality is getting sweaty.

  12. #12 brtkrbzhnv
    March 14, 2007

    Mike Dunford:

    We would, of course, have to be absolutely insane to consider actually changing any of the sexual consent laws.

    I can’t see how any of the usual definitions of change would allow for any not insanely unreasonable person to make such a claim. All laws are imperfect, and thus we should “consider actually changing” all laws.

  13. #13 Cameron
    March 14, 2007

    Mike, parts of that read like hate speech to me.

    I disagreed with Sam because he believed that it was acceptable to change the restrictions placed by age of consent laws. I am staunchly against allowing pedophiles to have romantic interaction with children. But to say that “We would be equally insane if we considered pedophilia to be an acceptable variant of human sexuality” is going too far.

    I never understood why Sam equated pedophiles to blacks and jews; lesbians and gays are a much better fit. Gay attraction is impossible for me to understand, but these days same sex attraction is a widely accepted fact of human sexuality. Sexual attraction to children exists, and that isn’t going to change whether we accept it or not.

    What is different, obviouslly, is that we can’t allow pedophiles to fulfill their desires with our children. Theirs is a tragic plight, and we should feel compassion for them. Compassion with one boundary, they cannot lay a hand on kids. Blindly assuming that someone who is attracted to children will act on those thoughts is tantamount to bigotry.

    It is fair to ask whether or not catering to a minority might, in this case, endanger children. After all, there are bound to be some child lovers that fall off the hands to yourself wagon. I think that if there was more widespread recognition of this as a problem, then healthy alternatives could be more readily available. As it stands, there are likely some pedophiles that own child sized sex dolls. A quick (yet mildly embarassing) search revealed that the Dilbert Blog has an article on sex robots ($10,000 aisle 5), where a comment asked about the morality of a child model for pedophiles. There is nothing inherently sacred about the form, so why not? I may not like the mental picture, but it addresses a very real need.

    The real question the Obama situation raised is should we censor child-love material from our youth. If we agree that our children aren’t mentally ready for relations- what kind of confusion does it sow when they see a man making out with his child doll, a child loving character on TV, or their sex appeal being rated on the internet?

  14. #14 Mark
    March 14, 2007

    It seems to me that criminality is an issue in this discussion. If a person is a practicing pedophile (in the commonly accepted use where it implies that the object of the attraction is below the age of consent), then that person is a criminal. If that person has been convicted of a sexual crime against an underage person, then that person’s civil rights may be limited as a condition of the sentencing, just as a computer criminal’s access to computers may be limited. I suspect the person in question has not been convicted of such a crime, and so is only an admitted pedophile. If that be the case, it does introduce some Constitutional questions into the issue. If I were in Obama’s sitution, at the very least I would apply pressure to the hosting company, and I would very carefully study the Web site in question for illegalities. Beyond that, it would be hard to censor such a Web site, however distasteful it might be.

  15. #15 jackd
    March 14, 2007

    I find it very telling that Sam praises Lolita, since its protagonist is the quintessential unreliable narrator. See post and discussion in the archives of Michael Berube’s late, lamented blog here.

  16. #16 Hamilton Lovecraft
    March 14, 2007

    I’d think Obama would have grounds for a restraining order against the guy, but that his speech, while distasteful, is probably protected. I agree with Mike that Obama’s reaction is natural if not ideal.

    “Sam”‘s statement that “intimacy between and child and his or her pedophile is ONLY beneficial, is only good for both the child and the pedophile, and it is ONLY good for society” suggests to me that Sam is a troll.

  17. #17 Franco Puru
    March 14, 2007

    you know, funny thing is, the bible does not mention pedophilia as an abomination.

  18. #18 Steve Benfield
    March 14, 2007

    Yea I wouldn’t hold this as a reason to not vote for Obama. He threatened the guy, he backed down a bit, and Obama got what he wanted. Its how things work these days. I’m sure a polite note saying ‘please don’t do this’ would not have worked.

    The question is whether Obama would have actually pursued a case–and i think probably not because it would have brought more light to the situation.

  19. #19 Oldfart
    March 15, 2007

    The problem is that our screwed up sex laws have real effects on real people – including destroying the very lives they were meant to protect. For instance, your 17 yr old son has been dating his 16 year old girlfriend for a couple of years. With or without your knowledge, they have become sexually active. Your son turns 18 in his last year in High School. WHAM! Her parents hit your son with a statutory rape charge. He goes to jail for a long time and is now a felon. (Not a real story – but I’m sure it has happened).

    An 11 year old girl has sex with several boys and men. The judge says “No child can consent to sex”. All the boys are charged with rape. Even the 13 year olds……………….(real story).

    A 35 year old teacher has consensual sex with a 17 year old student. The student moves away and then moves back. They continue the affair. She has turned 18 and the affair continues. He is charged with 22 felonies. The prosecutor proudly announces he might get 300 years in jail. They don’t even give murderers 300 years in jail. (real story).

    How old were Romeo and Juliet?

  20. #20 Mike Dunford
    March 15, 2007

    brtkrbzhnv:

    Poor choice of language on my part. I should have said “absolutely insane to consider eliminating” age of consent laws rather than “absolutely insane to consider changing.”

    Azkyroth:
    I have no intention of getting into a discussion of the harm that can be caused by pedophiles, or of sexual contact between pre-pubescent children, or about your comments on Shelley’s blog. None of that is, as far as I can tell, at all relevant to anything that I’ve said here.

    Cameron:
    We might only disagree in terms of language choice. In my view, it really isn’t possible to simultaneously say that pedophilia is an acceptable variant of human sexuality and that pedophiles can’t do things to real children. As long as that restriction is in place (and it should be), we are saying that pedophilia is unacceptable.

  21. #21 Any
    March 15, 2007

    “insane to consider actually changing any of the sexual consent laws”

    huh? You obviously haven’t read enough. How about the case down South where a teenage guy is facing 10 years in jail for getting drunk with a teenage girl and having sex? Age of consent should be 16 in the US. Period. Many people have completed their physical and emotional growth by that point. If it’s legal for Bill Clinton to have sex with a girl half his age, then it should be legal for a 18 year old male to have sex with a 16 year old female. Many of these laws are a clear violation of the Equal Protection clause.

  22. #22 Mike Dunford
    March 15, 2007

    As I just said, I chose my words poorly there. What I meant was more along the lines of “insane to consider eliminating age of consent laws.”

  23. #23 david
    March 15, 2007

    “In my view, it really isn’t possible to simultaneously say that pedophilia is an acceptable variant of human sexuality and that pedophiles can’t do things to real children. As long as that restriction is in place (and it should be), we are saying that pedophilia is unacceptable.”

    This strikes me as needlessly moralistic. I agree with everyone else that acting upon such impulses cannot be tolerated by society, but calling the impulses themselves “unacceptable” betrays a real lack of sophistication about human psychology. Plenty of people entertain all kinds of fantasies about doing deviant things every day, many of which arise involuntarily. Calling such feelings unacceptable is tantamount to saying there is such a thing as a bad or evil thought, and that punishment should follow. Understanding and insight would be more appropriate responses.

  24. #24 Azkyroth
    March 15, 2007

    Suit yourself….

  25. #25 Another One
    March 15, 2007

    To begin, let me critize the comment above by “Any” to point out that when there is a hard-line AOC law, there will ALWAYS be a case where one partner is over and the other is under the line. Whether that line is 18 or 16 or 13. The alternative is a “sliding” AOC, sometimes erroniously referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” law. For example, many states set the AOC 16 (except when both participants are within 3 years of age and there is no coersion or abuse of power). Simple, effective.

    There is always the issue of the actual punishment for the crime being so rigid. Years ago, it was basically discretionary. Violent rape of a toddler was punished much more severely than a 14 year old willingly engaging in “petting” with a adult of 19. However, today, with laws having “mandatory minimums” and “special exemptions” from normal judicial discression such crimes must be sentenced in much the same way as eachother, resulting in a sick dichotomy and a blur between things that are truely abhorrent and things which were merely a lapse of judgement, or misplaced expression of emotion.

    To get back to the topic at hand, the mere discussion where a pedophile says “this girl is cute” is no closer to child abuse than a man looking at an adult woman and saying “oooo I want some of that ass” is rape (aside from your “ick factor” variable).

    While they may be justified demanding a takedown because of copyright legislation (we won’t go into the faults of THAT today), the discussion that a commentary, especially a satirical, political one like this one, should be outlawed based on its “ick factor”, is really silly.

    The simple fact is that our society has a grossly out of proportion reaction to child sex. It has become a hot-button issue, beyond the scope of the real damage and danger it presents. There are teenagers serving time in jail for pictures taken of themselves. There is an 11 year olds on the sex offender registry in Texas (yes, his picture is up there) for playing “doctor” with a 9 year old cousin. There are cases rammed through the courts in which there is no evidence, where the ‘victim’ says nothing happened, where psychological reports find no evidence of anything and where, in fact, it cannot be proven that the “perpetrator” was ever alone with the “victim”, solely based on a second-hand testimony from a busybody within the community, totally destroying about 3 careers and fracturing a family and an entire community.

    Until the public hysteria over this topic dies down, there is very little good to come out of it and a great deal of harm that will ensue.

    Yes, this is a free speech issue and it must be maintained as such. There are too many people in the country (even a poster in this thread) who said “well yeah, free speech is cool and all, but pedos shouldn’t be allowed to speak their mind!!”. Once you start exclusing, categorizing and limiting, it’s no longer “free” speech, it is “regulated” speech. It may appear free to you, because you don’t wish to speak about regulated topics, but its not actually free. The hard-line that the US constitution sets on this issue is put in place for a reason…

    Power corrupts and once it is determined that exceptions to the constitution are allowed, there is no end. This is not a “slippery slope fallacy”, it’s a matter of judicial precidents and the destruction of the US constituion if those precidents are lost.

  26. #26 Seymour Paine
    March 15, 2007

    I’m not an expert on Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) but I think it is pretty clear he had a strong attraction to young girls, so, whether Alice is a paean to pedophila, it probably was written for such purposes (he conceived it while taking Alice and her friends on a boat ride). I don’t know about Peter Pan, but, c’mon, Lolita? Could it be more explicity erotic concerning Humbert and Lolita (she was 12)?

  27. #27 Wax Banks
    March 15, 2007

    Ignoring for the moment the merits of any claim you and the various commenters are making, Mike, this post comes off as immature and overwrought in its prose. It’s not necessary for you to prove your anti-pedophilia bona fides, nor to demonstrate repeatedly that you’re (understandably) put off by what pedophiles desire and do. In your post I count fully fourteen emphatic declarations that pedophiles are nauseating, or twisted, or perverts, or (the clear favourite) ‘twisted perverts.’ Plus a couple of cheerful echoes from the first commenters.

    I can’t help feeling that this kind of wording is damaging to your presentation. If you want to situate pedophilia in a matrix of sexual desire, it does no good to start from the premise ‘Pedophiles are monsters unlike everyone else and can not be understood in normal human terms.’ You say of ‘Sam':

    He makes me uncomfortable to the point of actual nausea, and makes me feel contaminated simply as a result of reading the vile, vile things that he writes. And, despite all of that, Sam still does have rights.

    Well, yes. But why is it surprising that human rights are granted in spite of one’s actions (up to a point)? That’s part of the definition of human rights, as I understand it. You’re not covering new ground here, and while I acknowledge that it’s important for you to do so, from a personal standpoint and for your own benefit, there’s already sustained serious dialogue going on about rights of sex offenders – within which it’s not necessary to keep reminded everyone how grossed out you are, unless you want to take that personal offense as the bedrock of your ethical claims about (e.g.) pedophilia. Which you’re welcome to do, of course, but such a viewpoint isn’t unassailable.

    I admire what you’re saying, but in matters of speech protection we can do better than revulsion as a prompt to action. We might call that one of the least interesting demands of liberal pluralism, indeed – whether or not that’s reasonable.

  28. #28 efgoldman
    March 15, 2007

    The general comments about pedophilia are pretty much right on. However, concerning the question of Obama (or anyone) trying to censor speech, there are two seperate issues:
    1) The idiot Sam does indeed have a first amendment right to publish whatever he wants to on his blog. Whatever, without limits. Any writing he does, or quotes.
    2) However, if he used *pictures* of Obama’s minor kids (or anyone else’s), I think that is actionable for the parents. I didn’t go to the site to see, but the implication I get from your opening pargraphs is that pictures were published.

  29. #29 Mark
    March 15, 2007

    efgoldman, I think it has been determined that although a person may publish without restraint (at least so far), a person may have some civil or criminal liability for what he publishes. If a person with a security clearance from the government knowingly publishes classified information , there is a good chance that he will go to jail. If a person knowingly publishes a false statement that another person is a sexual criminal, he is very clearly guilty of libel and may be sued for that. What the person in question published is not clearly (to me at least) actionable, but that is not to say that it might never be.

  30. #30 Travis
    March 15, 2007

    Free speech advocates are definitely made uncomfortable by gleeful pedophile characters like Sam. But, as awful as pedophilia is, it’s not worse than killing or torturing people. We blithely grant free speech to people who strongly believe that all Jews must be killed right now, or all Hindus will be eventually tortured in a Christian hell for all eternity. Let’s keep things in perspective, and remember that part of the queasiness only has to do with our response to the mental illness of someone like Sam. It’s separate from principles about free speech.

    In addition to Obama being a father, he is a presidential candidate. His actions are influenced by two other things. First, the revulsion that many Americans felt when presidential candidate Dukakis responded very coldly to a question about his wife being raped in a national debate. Rightly or wrongly, Americans wanted visceral outrage in his answer, not a lawyerly, reasoned response. Second, Republican politicking over the last 15 years has relied in part in the “bitch slap” theory, where they make outrageous lies about a candidate, then they decry how weakly he responded to these contemptuous charges. The swift-boating of candidate Kerry is the most painfully successful of these maneuvers.

    Remember, free speech absolutists like myself are not the majority of America. The 1st Amendment usually does poorly when polls are taken on what offensive speech should be outlawed. All the candidates must respond to that reality, whatever principles they themselves have.

  31. #31 Sam
    March 15, 2007

    Travis,
    Responses like yours make my day because it proves EVERY point I’ve made in this debate so far.

    Mark,
    I am not in any connected to Lindsay Ashford. So please take back that assertion.

  32. #32 Travis
    March 15, 2007

    Sam –

    Oh, gross. I don’t want to make your day. I think you should either get therapy or kill yourself. You strongly desire things that grievously harm innocent people. From my limited understanding of pedophilia, you will always have these desires. Now, you have twisted your hateful fantasies into the dream that your desires are good for the children you want to molest. That mental twist probably makes you happier, because you don’t have to feel ashamed that you’re a child molester. With that comforting inversion of logic, you can even take on the mantle of a victim, and compare yourself to other civil rights groups.

    I know you will probably respond to this message, because trolls like you seek to reach a wider audience to convince them that maybe you have a point. But you don’t. You want to molest children, and you want by dint of constant repetition to convince other people to think that that’s ok. But they are not. I was defending ONLY your right to say whatever sick fucking thing you want, the same way that I defend Nazi’s right to say whatever sick fucking thing they want.

    Your desires will harm real people if you act upon them. Get therapy or kill yourself.

  33. #33 Raging Bee
    March 15, 2007

    Anyone who tries to hold this incident against Obama is an idiot, and such an attempt will probably backfire on whoever does it. Obama was reacting as a caring parent against a comment that could easily be seen as a threat to his daughter’s integrity and/or image.

    Such sexual innuendos tend to be hurtful or embarrassing, especially insofar as they are heard by ignorant people who may tend to believe them, and form their opinions about their object accordingly. Parents are right to be concerned about how such talk affects their kids’ reputations, and thus how their kids are treated.

    Comments of that sort are routinely censored and self-censored, even when the object of the comment is closer to the age of consent. I’ve had thoughts about fifteen-year-old girls that I have no reason to voice to anyone. Having the right to voice such thoughts does not make it right to voice them, or to allow one’s newspaper or blog to be used to publish them.

    People who make such comments do so at the risk, not of legal action, but of some anger or contempt from those who read/hear them. And if a parent of an underage person hears a sexual comment about his kid, then the commenter should not be surprised to find his ass kicked.

  34. #34 el polacko
    March 15, 2007

    age of consent laws in the united states and around the world vary greatly. currently, several states set the age at 14 and a number of countries set it at 12 or 13. historically, the age has been set much lower for marriage and often there were no age restrictions at all for sexual relations (hence the lack of admonitions in ‘the bible’)and often, older/younger relations were even encouraged. we do know that the percentage of both young males and females who have had some sexual contact with an older person is quite high. however, we do not know how many of those people have necessarily been harmed by those experiences since i know of no studies into child/adult relations that do not start from a position of victimization. today, there are those who advocate for virginity until marriage, preferably at the age of 20 or 30, or lifelong abstinence as in the case of religious admonitions for homosexuals. our current laws regulating sexual behaviors are completely arbitrary and based solely on what someone felt was their threshold for ‘icky-ness’. whether or not certain romantic or sexual attractions are ‘right for you’, there is no doubt that the website and its commentors have the free speech right to express views that happen to have the weight of both modern law and human history to support them (not that that is a necessary requirement). using a publicly available photo of mr. obama’s family to illustrate someone whom they think is “cute” may creep him out, but he has no right to restrict their speech nor, selectively, to disallow them use of a photo that, let’s face it, was released with the intention of saying, “look at how cute my family is.. vote for me.”

  35. #35 Frumious B
    March 15, 2007

    Those first amendment lawyers cited in the news article must have slept through their Consitutional law classes. The first amendment protects speech from censorship by the government, not by ISP’s, not by individuals. While Obama is a senator, he is filing a lawsuit, not making a law. His actions in no way jeapordize anyone’s freedom from government suppression of their speech.

  36. #36 David in NYC
    March 15, 2007

    Some commone sense(which seem to be in short supply here):

    — Laws in the Western world defining “age of consent” have set that age as low as 10. The current law in Canada is 14 (it was 12 until 1890); in Mexico, it is currently 12.

    — You say Sam “seems to believe that Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan contain pedophiliac elements”; “seems to believe” is a construction intending to indicate that Sam doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Good god, man, what do you suppose these works are about? Have you read them? Do you know anything at all about Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll)?

    — If children under the age of 12 cannot have “informed consent”, why is it OK to show the Little League World Series on national television? How about Jon Benet Ramsey-type beauty pageants? How about child actors?

    — Sam’s contentions that pedophiliac activities are “ONLY beneficial” and “ONLY good” are no more absurd on their face than your implied position that they are “ONLY detrimental” or “ONLY bad”.

    — Finally, the idea that we should write our laws based on what you or anyone else finds “disgusting” is utter nonsense. That’s what leads us to laws against miscegenation, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies, and any number of other instances of bad public policy.

  37. #37 Metro
    March 15, 2007

    I confess I haven’t been to the website. Just not interested in participating in that discourse even silently.

    I do find it interesting how much context plays its part here.

    If the person posting the pic of Mr. Obama’s kids hadn’t self-identified as a paedophile, would this discussion be happening?

    That is, if it had been posted by some unknown schlub who wrote “Aren’t those cute kids?” would we perceive any threat?

    What if it had been David Duke?

    Which leads us to the next question: what exactly was the purpose of posting those pictures? What did this person want?

    Mme Metro has a saying: “Don’t feed and water your bastards.” If someone’s out to get your goat, ensure your goat cannot be gotten.

    Unfortunately that option isn’t really available to Mr. Obama either as a presidential candidate or as a father. I think he did the best he could under the circumstances, and that free speech was also respected. Much as that might be regrettable in this particular case.

  38. #38 Mark
    March 15, 2007

    So David, what age should be the age of consent? If not 16, then what? Twelve? Ten? How about 6 months? Oh, is that too extreme? Then how about the age when we let children decide what clothes to wear? My point, if you can’t see it, is that the concept of an age of consent is perfectly reasonable, not only for sexual behavior but for other types of behavior, like drinking alcoholic beverages or signing legal contracts. There is obviously an age below which children cannot be expected to make a decision about what is good or bad for them. We decide what foods our small children eat. Why not at what age they are old enough to make a rational decision about having sex? We have to set that age somewhere, and whatever age that is in a given state, that’s what the law is. You are going to have a hard time arguing that there are benefits to allowing adults to have sexual contact with children below the age of consent, especially if you want to push that idea below any reasonable age at which a child might reasonably have some idea what’s going on. In any event, the concept is reasonable.

  39. #39 Sam
    March 15, 2007

    Travis: “Get therapy or kill yourself.”

    LOL!! I was wondering how long it would take for death threats and hate speech to enter the conversation. I must admit I’m surprised it took this long!

    Travis, thank you again for helping me make my points! I couldn’t ask for a better response. :) Cheers!

  40. #40 Marph
    March 15, 2007

    Hi, Sam. Enjoying your trolling? Way to take Travis’ (extremely reasonable) comments out of context. And note that he said “kill yourself,” not “I’ll kill you” so there’s no hate speech involved. But good try in once again trying to paint yourself as a misunderstood victim. It’s actually pretty entertaining to watch.

  41. #41 Travis
    March 15, 2007

    Sam – Gosh, how sophisticated. Yes, I’m sure there is a tedious sameness to the conversations you have concerning pedophilia, whether in person or online.

        Sam: I like to fuck children!
        Human being: [horror]

    I don’t hate you, I feel sorry for you. I do not believe sexual preferences can be altered, once formed. As a pedophile, you have a sexual preference, just like many mass murderers, that causes significant pain and suffering to other people if it is actually followed. So, I believe you can either get therapy to control your urges, and permanently stay away from children; or you can kill yourself. It’s not hate speech; it’s more like bug control.

    You are responding with obvious glee to written discussions of your situation. You appear to enjoy being loathed by others. Perhaps you do feel that way, and not with the crawling discomfort that other people feel. It hardly matters, since either way you’re a provocateur in these discussions.

  42. #42 Mike Dunford
    March 15, 2007

    The topic and contents of a number of the comments in this thread have moved beyond my comfort zone. I will also be unpublishing some of the comments within the next hour or two. In particular, I will be removing the comments that focused only on pedophilia and not on the free speech issues, as well as the comments that that included suggestions that people inflict injury on themselves, and those that use phrases like “bug control.”

    After I finish removing comments, I will put a post up on the blog’s main page explaining what I have done and why. Any complaints may be left there.

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