Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Makes Us Human?

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Did Descartes have it right? “I think, therefore, I am”? Or maybe Twain’s observation that “humans are the only creatures who blush…or need to”? Fairy tales and speculative fiction are awash with the theme, of what it means to be truly human. Wooden Pinocchio wants to be a real boy. Silicone and steel android Data longs to know what it is to be human, despite the irony that the longing is itself a human emotion. He is curious about what it means to be curious. Curiouser and curiouser! Strange visitors from another planet are raised by humans to embrace a code of decency and honor. Others come and fall in love... does love make us human?

And what of those who, became somehow more than human? Radioactive spider bites, bombardment with gamma radiation, mutations of the human genome…at what point can it be said that a human transcends humanity and becomes homo superior?

Now imagine having those philosophical musings, discussing and arguing the respective points over the course of ten years. College boy conundrums? Speculation at a seminary? Meditations at a monastery?
No. A discussion about...the level of taxes on...toys.

The forthcoming Avengers movie, directed by Joss Whedon and expected May 4 from Walt Disney Pictures, depicts the Marvel superhero group teaming up to save the Earth from utter destruction.

Saving the world is ordinary fare for superheroes, especially teams like the Avengers and the X-Men. But one of the biggest battles ever fought in the Marvel universe took place in the real world, a historic fight that lasted 10 years and crossed America.

The clash ended quietly in 2003, with a monumental, six-figure legal ruling by the U.S. government: The X-Men and many other superheroes simply aren’t human.

Or more precisely, they’re not dolls, which, according to the U.S. Customs Bureau, represent “only human beings.” They’re toys, which represent “animals or non-human creatures.”

What’s the difference? Gazillions of dollars.

Even though it sounds like the sort of discussion the nerds on The Big Bang Theory might discuss, this was big business.

The U.S. government waded into the “mutant or mortal” battle 19 years ago at ports in Los Angeles and Seattle after Customs officials there classified several large shipments of action figures, including the X-Men, as “dolls” instead of “toys.”

But labeling the figures as “dolls” made importing the X-Men nearly twice as expensive as they would have been as “toys,” facing a 12 percent tax rather than a 6.8 percent tax.

...Recognizing the difference between toys and dolls, international trade lawyers Sherry Singer and Indie Singh saw an opportunity to save Marvel a lot of money by getting the X-Men, along with Marvel’s other action figures, including the Hulk, Spider-Man, and Iron Man, reclassified as toys.

At this point, one is hard pressed whether to laugh or cry. To think that for ten years lawyers have been working, on both sides, and expert witnesses have been testifying whether Barbie should be taxed at a higher rate than Wolverine, reminds me of another Bizarro world I read about when I was younger.

Does the government really have a vested interest in whether or not the Human Torch is more human than torch? I know it is in the DNA of every bureaucrat to micromanage every aspect of our lives, but at some point, can't we decide that the government we have is more than we really ever needed? When our toys are categorized, not by weight, or the amount of polystyrene or paint, but by the philosophical backstory of their characters???

I suppose I could have titled this "What is a doll?" But, would that have piqued your human curiosity and caused you to read this far? And would you have had as much of a surprise making the hyperspace leap from comic book heroes to taxes and tariffs?

This is but one more illustration of the bloated bureaucracy that nibbles away at our economic freedoms and attempts to regulate every aspect of our lives. It's way past time to start taking our country back from our wooden headed, would be masters and their arbitrary rules and regulations.

Equal rights for G.I.Joe! In the meantime, before we can roll back this overly burdensome and somewhat ridiculous over regulation, I suggest that Mattel put out a comic book where Barbie, Ken and Skipper all get bitten by radioactive spiders...

The folks at Mattel can show their gratitude to me with a small percentage of the tax savings realized...

Cross posted at LCR, Lady Cincinnatus , Say Anything.


  1. I had not heard of this... All I can do is shake my head.

    This is a sign that the federal government is too big if it can waste millions on something this trivial. All bureaucracies take on a life of their own and end up expending energy on self-preservation, to the eventual demise of the host it has attached itself to.

    This is useless people arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin as they stand on the deck of the Titanic...

    1. Shake one's head indeed. To have a discussion over some silly or inane hair splitting is one thing, or even an administrative hearing, but ten years of discussions, and/or litigation over whether or not Iron Man is human (which he is, BTW, even though he has an artificial heart device which coincidentally powers some kick-ass armor!) can only see ridiculous in its rear view mirror.

  2. .

    "In the meantime, before we can roll back this overly burdensome and somewhat ridiculous over regulation, I suggest that Mattel put out a comic book where Barbie, Ken and Skipper all get bitten by radioactive spiders..."

    Silly? Maybe if you do not own the legal copyright/patient.

    Onerous, overly burdensome and somewhat ridiculous over regulation? Not on your life.

    Regulation is an integral duty of government and is a cost of doing business. Assuring a dozen eggs means the buyer gets at least 12 is an integral duty of government and keeps business running smoothly. The EPA requiring international corporations meet published standards of clean air and water is an integral duty of government and helps protects the people of USA as well as the rest of the world.

    Ema Nymton

    1. Ema: How can I say this politely? What a stupid comment!

      "Silly? Maybe if you do not own the legal copyright/patient.(sic)"

      For starters, have someone read my post to you and explain all the big words. This has nothing to do with copyrights or patents. It has to do with whether or not a human appearing figurine is a "doll" or a "toy" for tax purposes. It also has nothing to do with the EPA or whether or not a consumer gets a dozen eggs.

      "Assuring a dozen eggs means the buyer gets at least 12 is an integral duty of government and keeps business running smoothly."

      An integral duty of government??? Are you high? An integral duty of government is national defense. Want to make sure you got a dozen eggs? Buy a dozen, and if you can count that high, check it for yourself. If I do business at a store or pharmacy or service that short changes me on what they deliver, I take my business some where else. The market will take care of that function nicely. It is NOT an "integral part of government" (our government, maybe, but not rational government.)

      BTW, did you know that the government regulates the size of the holes in your Swiss cheese? In addition to checking the weight and the purity, etc., if the holes are not of a certain size, the cheese cannot be marketed as "Swiss", even though it tastes exactly the same! Gosh! I feel safer already knowing that the government is protecting me day and night from the consequences of under dimensioned holes in my Swiss cheese! It figures that only a government bureaucrat with Swiss cheese for brains, or Ema Nymton, (but I repeat myself), would seek to "protect us" from that!

      "helps protects (sic)the people of USA"

      Want to try to explain to us in plain English (stop laughing!) why classifying the Hulk as human or non human, for the purposes of taxation, "helps protect" the US? That was, since you seemed to have missed it, a point of the post. I was not advocating the elimination of all regulation. What is it with brain dead liberals (but I repeat myself) that any time anyone suggests making government smaller they give us an argument about how we should not eliminate all government? Are you guys stuck on stupid? Or when your knee jerks, does it not allow you to consider anything in moderation? Because some government regulation is good, then all government regulation must be good? Please! Come back when you have something that resembles an argument.

      May we assume that the reason you had to reach for examples in the FDA and EPA was because the difference in taxing dolls at a different rate than "toys" is equally indefensible to you, too?

      Figures. (pun intended)

  3. Aw, what a bureaucratic web we weave. Freedom in the eye of a bureaucrat is nothing more than an unwilling subject.

    1. And we have a member of the Far Left Peanut Gallery telling us that without regulating whether or not SpiderMan figurines are dolls or toys, millions will die! We will become Somalia!! Drones like Ema Nymton might be unemployed!!! Heh.

  4. .

    Your sophistry not withstanding, the issue boils down to, 'Hurray for job security for lawyers.'

    How much is this case different from USA mining corporations using the courts to stop/slow down installing required safety equipment for miners? While the fight goes on in court, lawyers get paid, corporations make money, and people are put at risk/die.

    Where would USA be without law and regulations? Somalia???

    Ema Nymton

    1. Again with the reducio ad absurdum! Do you really want to say that people's lives are put at risk because Sue Storm figurines are taxed as toys, but not dolls?

      Tell us again how that makes us Somalia? Ask to pretty nurse to see if your meds might need adjusting...

  5. .

    "... before we can roll back this overly burdensome and somewhat ridiculous over regulation, ..."

    "Because some government regulation is good, then all government regulation must be good?"

    Do we need to remind ourselves that the original post was sniveling about 'over regulation? Need one be reminded that taxation/taxes are the ultimate game of hair-splitting. Money is serious business. Paying taxes require all sorts of arcane rules/definitions/traditions. Diesel oil for automobiles are taxed at a different rate than diesel oil for home heating.

    Toys, dolls, or vibrators all hang on definitions and differentiation.

    Some government regulation is silly, then all government regulation must be silly?"

    As Forrest Gump said, "Silly is as silly does."

    Ema Nymton

    1. Do you have trouble with adjectives, or is it all parts of speech you have problems with? When I say, "overly burdensome and somewhat ridiculous over regulation", which part of "overly burdensome" and "over" regulation didn't you understand? Can you fathom that there might be a difference between "regulation" and "over regulation" just from the words I choose?

      "Need one be reminded that taxation/taxes are the ultimate game of hair-splitting." If you are making the case for simplifying the tax code, I'm with you. If you are making the case that government shouldn't be in the business of picking winners and losers, you may have a point. If you are trying somehow to justify this Brobdingnagian and Byzantine hair-splitting tax code, then you, like your brain cells that have gone before, are doomed to failure.

  6. Arguing with the brainless vermin who worship government while waiting to be whisked away on the Hale Bop comet is a waste of time. not my NamE is a lobotomized robot who actually imagines that government is a creative force.

    Pity is in order.

    1. I think Ema Nimrod is a perfect example of truth in advertising. By choosing the screen name she/he/or it chose, people know to expect the comments to be completely backwards as well.