The Seminal Moment at the Academy Awards

Philip Seymour Hoffman and his mother Marilyn O'Connor in separate photos.

I watched the Oscars last night even though I haven't seen a single film for which an actor, director or screenwriter was nominated. I have to go all the way down the list to "best achievement in makeup" before reaching a winner that I've seen, the Chronicles of Narnia.

I had the same experience with musicians at the Grammys and TV actors at the Emmys. At some point raising young kids and working obsessively have robbed me of all pop culture that isn't aimed at children. I was more excited to see Chicken Little and Abby Mallard present an award than any of the big winners.

This lack of entertainment knowledge could have been a good thing, but I took all of that empty space in my brain and filled it with the minutiae of blogging. I can't wait to find out what Joshua Micah Marshall and Jason Kottke wear to the Bloggies. If Mark Nottingham and Robert Sayre don't win for "best achievement in specification" it's a complete traveshamockery.

My favorite moment last night was best actor Philip Seymour Hoffman making the capstone of his acceptance speech a thank you to his mother for raising four children on her own. My parents divorced and primary custody went to my mother, so I go blubbery whenever someone with an award in his hand praises mommy.

Hoffman's mother Marilyn O'Connor is a family court judge in New York, where she issued one of the most controversial rulings in a custody case in state history. In 2004, she ordered a homeless drug-abusing couple not to have any more children until they were capable of regaining custody of the four they already had:

It is painfully obvious that a parent who has already lost to foster care all 4 of her children born over a 6-year period, with the last one having been taken from her even before she could leave the hospital, should not get pregnant again soon, if ever. She should not have yet another child which must be cared for at public expense before she has proven herself able to care for other children. The same is true for the father and his children. As to both parents, providing care for the children includes providing financial support. This is a practical, social, economic and moral reality. In effect, Bobbijean was born to a "no-parent family". She is for all practical purposes motherless and fatherless. This is not acceptable.


what's the big freaking deal? SOunds like a good idea to me.

Again, what was your "seminal moment"? I read this as a simple dose of reality. For another one, talk to your local neo-natal ER doc about crack babies.

The question is more complex than it appears on the surface:

Is having children a right?

Should the government have any say over a person's reproductive organs?

Is the right to bear children protected by the Constitution? (Pun fully intended.)

If the government can order people not to have children, what are the criteria for it?

Does an unborn child have any rights? Can it make any requirements of a parent?

Is this eugenics? Is the purpose to "build a better society," because that never ends well for some group.

It should be taken a step further and they should be nuetered. Both of them.

If we allow people to get pregnant with no intention of caring for the child emotionally and financially, we will soon have to allow them to kill the children for the sole purpose of convenience ... oh wait we already allow that ... .please disregard.

as they say in my native toungue... mazel tov to this wise lady. or are you one of those annoying white-reactionary liberals who make all us other left wingers want to beat up and down the block with a pogo stick. she was dead-on! makes me wanna root for her son, knowing he has such a solid, cool ma. gee, i hope he wins!!!

I'm one of those liberals who recognizes that the right to bear a child is not one the government could or should be able to take away in a free country, as much as I appreciate O'Connor's sentiment that demonstrably unfit parents should stop having kids.

First, I don't see what the big deal about eugenics is anyway. If a nation can improve its average genetic stock vis-a-vis other nations it will be more competitive. Morality is nice and all but let's keep it real with realpolitik.

That said, I feel much more comfortable with carrot eugenics than stick eugenics. For instance, I'd be all for giving per-child tax incentives to parents based on something that measures relatively objectively their productivity in society, such as perhaps their level of advanced degrees, etc. The details can be debated, but there are certainly scientific ways to separate genetic chaff from genetic wheat.

As for this case, I'm all with the judge. In all likelihood, the situation is that two stupid people in have now produced four stupid babies who will probably do the same kind of stupid crap their parents did. Now we've got the problem and we should try to nip it in the bud for these poor children, but preventing a fifth and a sixth is the way to go.

The real question is whether or not you consider the right to bear children in a vacuum. If you do then the right is absolute and the judge was wrong. But the right to bear children doesn't start and end with the parents. It isn't a right where the parents are the only ones affected when they use that right. It ripples out to the children they bring into the world. I think that right has to be considered in the context of what the impact will be on the child. I think that's what the judge did here. If I get enough traffic tickets and get in enough accidents my drivers'license could be revoked. Same if I drive drunk. We revoke the right to protect others. I think if parents continuously harm children you might not want to allow them to harm even more children. One of the problems both liberals and conservatives have is that they tend to attach sinsiter motives - "Is this eugenics? Is the purpose to "build a better society,"' - where they don't exist just to further the arguement on one side of the other. I don't think the judge's intent was to limit the right to bear children in order to build a better society, I think she was protecting children from people who had a track record of harming children.

I for one would never bear a child in a vacuum.

Well not these days, but some of the older canister models would hold two or three.

I must admit, that's pretty funny.

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