ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Friday Mailbag: Is porn protected speech? Is voting by mail good for democracy? Should we pay attention to celebrity hot takes? Are all the coronavirus deaths caused by coronavirus?

Election ballot mail in.jpg
Stutsman County residents will be voting in this year's June primary election via the mail. John M. Steiner / The Sun
We are part of The Trust Project.

MINOT, N.D. — It's Friday and, gosh, what a week it's been.

Let's get right to it as you slide into what will hopefully be a peaceful and enjoyable weekend.

Remember, if you want to submit something for this column, email it to rport@forumcomm.com. Submissions may be edited for clarity and brevity.

Bob writes: I was with you until you seemed to defend pornography. Being the avid reader/researcher that you are, I do not need to repeat any of the arguments that have been made about the collateral damages of pornography: addiction and victims and on and on. You know them as well or maybe even better than I do. Defending pornography as free speech is akin to defending the rioting and looting as free speech.

In a recent column defending online speech , I wrote this: "The 20th Century brought us panics over television, multiple genres of music from heavy metal to rap, not to mention violent video games and online pornography. The scolds told us the unwashed masses needed to be protected from these things, or else our kids would grow up to be Satan-worshiping sociopaths. Somehow, we survived without the censorship they demanded."

ADVERTISEMENT

It's Bob's opinion that pornography shouldn't be protected free speech, that it's a crime on par with looting, but he's wrong.

Pornography is art. Some may find it crude, with no redeeming value beyond titillation, but we don't define art by whether or not a given person likes it. One might argue that our commitment to the idea of free expression is defined by our willingness to defend expression we do not like.

As for pornography's harms, there are two ways of looking at it.

On the one hand, despite predictions of social decline from the anti-porn crowd, the rise of ready access to smut made possible by the internet has coincided with a decline in sex crimes. Not just in the United States, but in countries around the world . I'm hesitant to suggest that ready access to pornography can reduce sex crime rates, but at the very least, I think we can conclude that porn doesn't incite those crimes.

On the other hand, there are genuine problems with abuse within the porn industry itself. Many of the performers have some level of violence or sexual trauma in their backgrounds, and there is plenty of abuse happening in the industry itself. That's unacceptable, though I would argue that what has made a lot of that abuse possible is the way porn has operated in the shadows of society.

Bringing pornography into the mainstream as an accepted, if controversial, industry helps protect those working in the industry.

Porn performers are adults, and as long as everyone in a given performance is safe and consenting, what's the problem?

Erin writes: Your vein of thought (on voting by mail) says then that we should be do nothing in life that makes a task easier to perform. In that vein, should we still do longhand multiplication, go to the bank each time we'd like to deposit a check? Pull out the encyclopedia each time we need to find information about a topic? Voting is a right, and it's very presumptive of you to assume that because a vote at home is less meaningful.

ADVERTISEMENT

Erin is responding to my column about voting by mail, in which I suggest that it inspires casual voting .

I'm not making a Luddite argument, though, given genuine fears about the potential for hacking voting machines, I like the idea of keeping the technology involved to a minimum. It's hard to hack a piece of paper and a pencil.

But I digress. Back to Erin's criticism. Voting is one of the most important things we do as citizens. The process should have some gravity to it. How you cast that ballot matters. It impacts people's lives. The more we make it a casual thing, the less gravity it will have.

This election cycle there is a group (the same one dishonestly collecting signatures under a false premise of making military voting easier) suing our state government to eliminate the need for in-person signature collections for initiated measures. They want to be able to propose laws on the ballot by way of an internet petition.

This seems like madness to me. What's next, eliminate the Legislature and vote for laws on Facebook?

Process matters. Voting should mean you go down to your polling location, and you cast your ballot shoulder to shoulder with your fellow citizens. If we need to improve the number of polling places and for the sake of accessibility, let's do that, but I don't know if we're going to be governed well by people voting from their couches.

Paige writes: Labeling them as "men who play with balls for living" is disrespectful towards Brees, Kaepernick and all athletes involved. We do not need more disrespectful words in our media. Their choice of career does not remove or invalidate their right to care about policy and politics, nor does it make their opinion less than, no matter what their advice may be. People look up to those (stars and athletes) because they have a platform, and having a platform gives them the power to incite change. Their platform gives them the ability to share words and ideas of those who are left unheard. Many kids look up to athletes as heroes because they can see themselves in them. They are not just men who play with balls.

Paige is referring to my column about the controversy over professional quarterback Drew Brees saying he still doesn't support Colin Kapernick's kneeling protests.

ADVERTISEMENT

She's right that Brees and Kaepernick and every other celebrity under the sun has the same right as the rest of us to weigh in on any given topic. And, hey, anyone is capable of making a good point about something, whether they spend their days as a barista or a professional athlete.

My problem, in the aggregate, is that celebrities get big platforms -- their social media followings, the coverage they get in the news media, etc. -- for things like their expertise at acting or their acumen at ball playing. But then they use those platforms to weigh in on something they often know little about.

Here's an example that's perhaps better than Drees and Kaepernick: Jenny McCarthy.

She earned a massive online following for her work as a model and actress and then used that platform to promote utterly stupid and false junk science which linked vaccinations to autism. At one point, McCarthy even wrote the foreword to a book by the disgraced British researcher Andrew Wakefield , whose 1998 study published in The Lancet medical journal was the source of much of the conspiracy theories against vaccinations.

McCarthy's activism, juiced as it was by her modeling career, mislead a lot of people.

I'm not saying anyone should be silent, but I do think we need to consider as a society how much we care about celebrity hot takes.

Rich writes: Why does North Dakota count the number of people where the main cause of death is not listed as COVID-19 in the total deaths? If I test positive for the virus and then died in a vehicle accident, would I be added to the total count?

The answer to Rich's question is, "yes, you would be." The Department of Health's website defines the death statistic as the "Number of individuals who tested positive and died from any cause while infected with COVID-19."

Though, to be fair, the state has provided some breakdowns to their COVID-19 deaths statistic, which makes it more transparent.

As I write this, the DoH is reporting 66 deaths from the coronavirus . Of that total, 55 are people for whom the cause of death on their death certificates was the virus. Another eight are folks whose death certificates "list something other than COVID-19 as the official cause of death," and there are three deaths that are still pending a death certificate.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
What to read next
As incredible as it sounds, there effectively is no penalty in North Dakota for suspects who run away from police. That has to change.
Republicans apparently think everybody hates public education as much as they do, which is far from the truth in Minnesota
Downtown Fargo has to offer more than bricks, asphalt and concrete. The city should be creative and strategic about providing green spaces downtown.