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On Kenya’s New Polygamy Bill

Broken Heart

Oh look, while I was busy plotting to take over the world another corner of the internet, Kenyan politicians have come up with another one of their gems that force me to come out of my self-imposed purdah. This time, it’s a doozy: polygamy without consultation!

First, I note that polyandry seems to be missing from the bill. If women are equal citizens, why are women not allowed to have multiple husbands? That smacks of a double standard. If men are allowed a harem, women ought to be allowed a troupe of taut, oiled dancing boys – or something similar – to amuse them when hubby is too tired from work or dealing with his other wives. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, after all.

And while I haven’t read the bill in detail, it appears to make a distinction between civil marriage and customary (read: tribal) marriage. That is a problem. Say a man has taken on a number of wives, but only one of them is registered as “legit”. Are household assets and income split equally or is one favoured over the others? When the wives are in dispute over the treatment of themselves or their children, to whom do they have recourse?

What I can predict with a degree of certainty is that this legislation will lead to the death of romance and the rise of cold calculation where marriage is concerned. A thinking woman, when considering a “come we stay” or marriage proposal, will demand the following as a show of good faith:

  • A formal written proposal outlining the arrangement she is entering into
  • A guarantee as to her status in the relationship going forward
  • Assurances as to the status and support of any progeny arising from the relationship
  • Provisos for restitution should the relationship sour

Congratulations, Kenyan lawyers! I do believe that our legislators have just made pre-nups, post-nups and new-wife-appearing-nups a thing! All it needs is the right test case and the floodgates will open for an entirely new cohort of people seeking legal advice about their relationships. Think of the fees! And when the relationships break down? Just think of all the billable hours that could be charged! Without any pre-existing arrangements, divorce cases are about to get awfully complicated. And just imagine what happens when the father of such a brood dies without leaving a comprehensive will. It is going to be a bonanza out there. Start advertising now!

If Kenyan legislators had thought about this in any depth before voting for the bill, they would have laughed it out of the chamber, because unintended consequences can be serious and detrimental to everyone. But they didn’t, because the majority are men, and so are convinced that having more than one wife is what their Sky Daddy wants for them (your flavour of Sky Daddy may vary; mine is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, preferably with carbonara sauce). So while some Kenya men celebrate the idea of unlimited spouses, women quietly see the deckchairs being moved on the Titanic, and wonder whether marriage is worth the bother at all. Those with money plot silently to fly to foreign sperm banks with sane legislation should they wish to have children. Good Kenyan men of quality have effectively seen their lawmakers make them redundant.

Kenyans: a nation of lions led by donkeys. Only this time, some of the lions are happy to follow.

(Image by Free Grunge Textures)

War on Drugs: Have the Hippies Won?

Occupy PosterLater this month, at the Summit of the Americas, a number of Latin American presidents are expected to call for a change in global policing of the drugs trade, labelling the current approach “a failure.” In the words of Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina,

The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated.

So, have the hippies won? Are we about to witness the legal right to get out of our gourds on whatever substances take our fancy?

Before you fire up the bucket bong or head out for a new syringe to celebrate, slow down. First of all, this is only a conference, a talking shop where our “betters” will mutter about needing to do something before heading home to try and get re-elected. You seriously think Barack Obama is going to start making noises about needing a more effective drugs policy? This year? Put that pipe down, I think you’ve had enough.

A dirty little secret is that in addition to the War on Drugs being a failure, it is also highly profitable for certain people. Think of the task forces who get extra equipment and funding, the extra legal fees that can be charged by lawyers, or the fees that private prisons can generate from incarcerating drug users. That is not small change, and invested parties would be loath to see that revenue stream dry up. It may be cheaper for addicts to receive treatment and counselling, but those private entities who have built their business models on a never-ending (and it is never-ending) supply of drug offenders are not going to put down that cookie without a fight.

Then, despite the fact that tobacco and alcohol are arguably at least as harmful as illicit drugs, there is the moral panic aspect. Say that you’re thinking of decriminalisation and some Nervous Nellies will think that you’re going to start forcing toddlers to snort cocaine at kindergarten, or teach high school students how to correctly identify magic mushrooms in biology class. Empirical facts or no, there will be some people who will see any loosening of drugs laws as a sign of the coming Apocalypse.

Additionally, even if all currently illegal drugs were legalised, tomorrow, what makes the politicians and lawmakers think that the cartels would cede control over supply and distribution? They have been running this business for time, making bank and living very well off the back of it, thank you very much. You think a couple of laws here and there are going to change much for them? Like I said, put down that pipe.

The global trade in illegal drugs in a business, and no matter how many initiatives are launched to educate, counsel or treat victims, the War on Drugs is destined to continue. And to fail. Until the production, distribution and sale of these drugs are fully legalised, control still lies with the criminals, and no amount of legislative fiddling will change that.

I don’t take illegal drugs. Not only do I not like the idea of getting arrested, but I would also be mortified to end up as a warning portrait on Faces of Meth. But I do recognise that the system is broken. Will it change, after the Summit of the Americas? Well, that would require the entire United Nations to agree on something. Good luck with that.

(Image by Occupy* Posters)

Your Freedom of Speech Ends Where Your Paycheck Begins

Freedom of Speech, by [togr] at FlickrDo you have freedom of speech? Of course you do! And can you exercise it? Of course you can! But does that mean you can’t be fired from your job? Sorry, no.

Two sackings over the Easter weekend, which I normally would barely have noticed but for the gnashing of teeth from various bloggers and Twitterati. Did these two men deserve to lose their jobs? A quick look at the cases:

First up was US Marine Gary Stein, who had previously been associated with a Facebook page called the Armed Forces Tea Party. A Marine Corps review board on Saturday recommended that he be given a “less than honourable” discharge for postings he had made, one of which apparently said that he would refuse to obey orders from Barack Obama. US Marines take an oath when they enlist, promising to obey their commander-in-chief, who just happens to be the President of the United States. Under the circumstances, the Marine Corps review board decided that Stein’s postings made him…. possibly not the best team player, and so they decided to cut him loose.

Next, fearless iconoclast/professional troll (pick your political poison) John Derbyshire found himself booted from the National Review. From the looks of things, he embarassed his fellow writers there so much that he couldn’t be kept on. His downfall began with an article he wrote elsewhere, but as a growing backlash repeatedly referred to him as “a National Review writer”, they had to take action. Fellow writers disowned his article on Twitter, and on Sunday, the National Review editor Rich Lowry confirmed that Derbyshire had been jettisoned, describing the offending article as “so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation. ”

Cue cries of “Freedom of speech! First Amendment!” echoing around the internet, and those are just the more measured reactions. On the wilder fringes of the blogosphere, you can probably find someone trying to tie these cases to a Marxist conspiracy, the Illuminati and the coming Rapture.

So who is right? That’s for the lawyers to decide (it’s  always for the lawyers to decide). I am not a lawyer, but I would probably want to be paid upfront before taking on either of Gary Stein or John Derbyshire as a client in a case of unfair dismissal.

When you sign up to the military, you sign certain rights away, and one of those is being able to flap your gums whenever you feel like it, in whatever context you like. Don’t get me wrong: you still have freedom of speech, it’s just constrained. There are certain things you can’t say in uniform, or as a representative of the military. Them’s the rules, and you’re expected to follow them. If you don’t, there’s inevitably going to be consequences. Gary Stein does have lawyers and free speech advocates who are working on his behalf, so this one could run and run. Make extra popcorn!

John Derbyshire is equally easy, in my view. As a high-profile National Review writer, when his article generated such controversy, it reflected badly on his main employer. Bringing the bosses into disrepute? That’s grounds for dismissal, especially if you tack on public shunning by colleagues, and this not being your first ride on the controversy carousel. Derbyshire will probably be fine; he’s an established writer with a body of work behind him. I’m sure he’ll pop up somewhere soon enough.

The overall message, however, is this: when you are dependent on somebody else for your income, they will probably have a number of expectations about what you need to do to get that money. Doing what you are told (Stein) and not making your boss look bad (Derbyshire) are probably pretty high on the list of obligations. So, before firing off a quick blog post bemoaning your HR department, or sending a tweet about the capaciousness of a workmate’s bottom, stop. Think. Are you setting yourself up to lose your job?

[Image by [togr]]

#SOPAStrike and the Great Internet Blackout

Save the Internet, by Steve RhodesHow are you doing today, with some of the world’s most popular websites shutting down in protest at proposed US regulations?

I’m doing OK, I guess. Mainly because I had a lie-in and then spent a couple of hours doing lots of offline work that didn’t need any internet access at all. I’m not taking part, beyond having this blog hosted on WordPress.com (who are), and agreeing with the strikers.

Let’s get one thing straight: SOPA and PIPA, the legislative acts that are being proposed, are not only muddled, wrong-headed and overly punitive, but they could have the perverse effect of making the internet more dangerous for ordinary users by potentially breaking the DNS system. And that should terrify everyone, not just US citizens.

ICANN, the body that basically manages the internet, is based in the United States. It has to adhere to US law. Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, many other of those websites striking today are in the same position. Just because they have a global reach doesn’t mean that their size will protect them from what’s going on on their home turf. This is despite the fact that the US by no means makes up the majority of global internet users, despite the power of Silicon Valley.

Should the rest of us be worried? Obviously. If the websites that we have come to rely on (no matter how incidentally) become vulnerable to malicious and vindictive regulation, it affects not only their US users, but their global audience. So what is to be done? Well, aside from encouraging everyone to move to Iceland, which is planning to position itself as a bastion of internet freedom, we can fight for internet freedom on our own turf. We have to agitate against action we see being taken that might undermine internet freedom elsewhere.

Above all, we must support those who are willing to take a stand, whether or not it causes us a minor inconvenience for a few hours. So lobby your local politicians, threaten to move your domains if your webhost looks wobbly, and join the virtual picket against shoddy lawmaking.

[Image by Steve Rhodes]

Are Internet Comments Getting More Stupid?

Brainfart, by DragonAssBabeI think internet comments have suffered a collective loss in intelligence. Originally, I was going to write about how nobody bothers leaving blog comments any longer, and that maybe therefore it’s not worth leaving your blog open to comments, especially if you write on a fairly mundance topic. But I realised in my browsing that there are still plenty of people leaving comments. I’m just not sure they’re worth reading these days.

The fact is, the internet is (for now) more open than ever, giving everyone the opportunity to “speak their brains” on any topic they fancy. Now, I’m not demanding they be experts, but is a science article really the best place to start railing against the government? Does your personal anecdote mean that there is a worldwide police conspiracy to issue as many parking tickets as possible?

Don’t get me wrong; there are comments on blog and newspaper articles that are on-topic, articulate and can help to move a discussion forward. Unfortunately, they are outweighed by the sheer volume of rushed, ill-considered invective because some people insist on shoehorning their personal prejudices and bugbears into their comment, whether they have read the article or not. This can happen anywhere, but is especially apparent on US political websites at the moment. I know it’s an election year, but I don’t think 2012 will be won or lost by how many times people can accuse “Obummer” of being a Kenyan* socialist.

Perhaps the freedom of commenting has led to a coarsening in tone. It’s a well-observed phenomenon that people will be far ruder when they are anonymous than they would ever be in person, with a few exceptions for the clinically obnoxious. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and I don’t want to shut anyone up. They’d only come back shriller and more hysterical than ever. What I would like to see is a raising of tone, an improvement in standards, and that is the responsibility of website owners.

Weak, irrelevant comments should be treated the same way as spam. No really, I mean it. If somebody can only provide a “LOLwut?” to a lengthy piece on FGM, that comment doesn’t need to be displayed. When a comment wants to talk about military recruitment underneath an article on deficit reduction, that’s off-topic and can be sent to the trash bin.

Is this censorship? No. People are free to comment, provided their comments are on-topic and substantive. If they want to, they can start a blog of their own to put across their own point of view. Nobody’s rights are being violated; there is no guaranteed right to be a jackass on the internet. This is a plea, a plea to site owners and moderators to pay more attention to quality control on their properties. Not every comment has to go through. Sift for quality, banish the stupid, and send them to belm into the void elsewhere.

*Seriously people, what is up with that? Even with changes to the Kenyan Constitution, the man remains as Kenyan as a Smurf.

[Image by DragonAssBabe]