Friday, January 19, 2018

Remove Arvin Vohra from the Libertarian Party

     Arvin Vohra, the vice chair of the Libertarian Party (L.P.) of the United States, is currently a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Maryland, potentially facing Chelsea Manning if she wins the Democratic Party's nomination. Several statements and social media posts by Libertarian Party (L.P.) vice chair Arvin Vohra have been received as troubling and even disturbing by many L.P. members, on topics related to the military, the poor, and statutory rape.
     These statements have generated much controversy, prompting demands that the party's leaders relieve him of his post. Several state chairs have already sent letters to the Libertarian Party National Committee (L.N.C.) stating their support for Vohra's resignation or removal. Vohra, currently a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Maryland, potentially faces Chelsea Manning in that race, if she receives the Democratic Party's nomination.

     In 2017, in a document entitled “An Open Letter to Current and Former Members of the U.S. Military”, Vohra made remarks which seemed to cast all military veterans as nothing more than hired killers. Given the significant proportions of military veterans in the party, and the fact about 95% of U.S. military enlistees ever see direct combat, this statement caused quite a bit of backlash.
     While it is fair to criticize American intervention in foreign countries without congressional approval, and even to call the country imperialistic, or recommend significantly changing our alliances (or ending them all for formal purposes), many party members felt that Vohra's remarks disparaged the military community. It's possible that Vohra doesn't understand the economic pressures people are under; some people don't have the privilege of being born near major employment hubs, and for them, the military is “the only option” (so to speak).
     Additionally, Vohra once suggested that he agreed with the founders of the nation that people who don't own property and pay taxes should not be allowed to vote. According to Vohra, this set of people includes welfare recipients.
     It must have escaped Vohra's attention that in almost all states, even welfare recipients pay sales taxes on nearly every item they purchase. You can argue all day that people can avoid buying things, but it would be difficult to do without saying that poor people who are in need of work should either sell what little they have, freeload off of others, or else go try to homestead or forage.
     The sentiment Vohra expressed in that statement could easily be used to suggest that private owners should be free to collude with one another to keep people poor, so that they have no property to protect or tax, forcing them to obey the government, despite contributing nothing to it, while enjoying no voting rights. The sentiment could just as easily defend taxing low-income earners, and even the unemployed and homeless, the most, because they supposedly receive the most from government. Which is not true, because of the trillions spent on bailouts for big banks and mortgage lenders.

     It's clear that Vohra is out of touch, and doesn't know when to stop. But as if that all weren't enough, on January 16th, 2018, 71Republic.com published an article written by Vohra entitled “Questioning Age of Consent Laws in America”.
     In the article, Vohra casts doubt on the effectiveness and desirability of state laws which prohibit legal recognition of consent to sexual activity below certain ages. Many in the L.P. feel that their party's vice chair went too far in this article, which seems to focus entirely too much on the idea that age of consent laws are both undesirable and antithetical to human liberty.
     Many in the L.P. feel that Vohra's age of consent article is “the straw that broke the camel's back”. Disparaging military recipients and welfare recipients tested party members' patience well enough. But this article is the last straw; it excuses and rationalizes child molestation, by attempting to theorize contrived scenarios in which sexual activity between adults and children could be acceptable and not harmful (or even beneficial) simply because it's not the worst thing that could have happened.
     Vohra does make some sound points in the article. Many members of the L.P. believe that age of consent laws are arbitrary in a sense, because calendar age and maturity don't always line up perfectly, and state laws are questionable because crossing a state border doesn't magically make you ready for sex. Vohra argued that point well, without controversy. So too do most of us agree that teenagers who have sex with each other, or share or possess nude photographs of themselves, should not have their lives ruined because of it by being required to register as a sex offender. Some feel that more states should have “Romeo and Juliet laws”, in which the state refrains from prosecuting teens for sexual activity with people very close to them in age. Unfortunately, this seems to be the extent of Vohra's agreement with most of the party on this issue.
     Based on where we left off, most of us might start talking about, say, the need for some states to raise the marriage age from 13 or 14 to at least 16. Or maybe a constitutional amendment formally establishing states' rights to set the age of consent to between 16 and 18, as they do right now without such an amendment. Perhaps we would be wondering aloud why 20-year-olds and 80-year-olds are free to marry each other, but first cousins of similar age may not. Maybe some of us think the federal age of consent to sex should be higher than 12 years old, or wonder why we're sending 14-year-olds to school with 18-year-olds who are legal adults. Proposals that respect adults' rights to sex, but also ensure protection of children. Things like that.
     However, Vohra goes the opposite direction, defending the idea that all age of consent laws and statutory rape laws are inherent limitations upon human freedom. For libertarians, this carries with it the implication that all limitations on human freedom are coercive, aggressive, and violent, and even that they resemble slavery. Whether the law is popular, whether it's administered at the state level like it's supposed to, whether it succeeds at protecting children from sexual abuse; none of these factors seem to matter to many such opponents of statutory rape laws. For them, either sex has absolutely no limitations, or we're enslaved to tyrants. This is an irrational approach to argumentation which in no way conforms to ethical norms of civil discourse; it's all-or-nothing, “my way or the highway” thinking, it's disingenuous, and it's manipulative towards the reader.

     In “Questioning Age of Consent Laws in America”, Arvin Vohra writes that if a 15-year-old boy worked, and saved up until he could afford his own place to live, and he became fully financially independent, then it would be acceptable for him to have sex with a 25-year-old woman, because they are supposedly equals as far as financial independence is concerned.
     Vohra fails to explain why financial independence automatically gives one the emotional and psychological maturity – much less the physical maturity - to handle sexual activity at a young age. If your calendar age, and what state you are in, do not “magically” affect how ready you are for sex, then how can being financially independent do the same? Does having a place to have sex, automatically make one ready for sex? Vohra seems to be defending the idea that it does, and that a person who lives on their own may have sex with someone of any age. His article certainly leaves room open for that; although in his clarifications, Vohra has stated unequivocally that it would not be permissible to have sex with a three-year-old.
     To support Vohra's idea that would be permissible for an independent 15-year-old boy to have sex with a 25-year-old woman, Vohra suggests an alternative: the 15-year-old boy having sex with someone his own age. As I explained, many party members hope to decriminalize that sort of behavior, because both people involved would be at similar levels of emotional and physical maturity. This idea seems to have escaped Vohra, who for some reason is arguing that same-age sexual activity is less acceptable than sex between two people born ten years apart.
     In his article, Vohra sets up a make-believe scenario, and presents a false choice – an ultimatum – essentially arguing that it is better for a teenager to be molested by someone in their mid-20's, because it would be worse if the teenager went and had sex with another teenager. This basically amounts to thoughtless trolling, and is no way for the second-in-command of our party to speak. Vohra might as well have tried to argue that it's fine for a 40-year-old to rape a 12-year-old, simply because if an 80-year-old had done it, it would be worse.
     In defense of his article, Vohra wrote, “If a 14 year old has a kid, I would prefer the other person to be an adult, with a job”, ending the short post with “#EndWelfare”. Given his anti-welfare stance, it's likely that Vohra means this. But his scenario begs the question: Why a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old woman, in particular? I suspect that, in the name of gender equality, Vohra would say this applies to people regardless of biological sex. I can say with near absolute certainly that Vohra also believes that if a 15-year-old girl becomes financially independent and gets her own place, then it's acceptable for a 25-year-old man to molest her.
     In fact, while defending his article on Facebook, Vohra did make that argument. He posted a comment which read, “Pick one”, followed by two statements: 1) “It's totally natural for two men to have sex”, and 2) “It's an abomination for a 25 year old man to have sex with a 15 year old women” [sic]. Not everyone would use the word “abomination” to describe that behavior, and not everyone would describe homosexuality as “totally natural”. Vohra knows this, and he knows his audience; he is using hyperbole to coerce the reader into considering the possibility that homosexuality is as harmful as child sexual abuse. In my opinion, this borders on the mentality that homosexuality is a “slippery slope” to pedophilia; if he had made this suggestion overtly, I would suspect that he is attempting to disparage the LGBTQ+ community.
     In choosing the first scenario for the article, Vohra seems to be deliberately obscuring the implications of his idea. This forces the reader to deal directly with his example; a woman and a boy together, while relegating the discussion of men raping young girls to a message board buried somewhere on the internet. It's possible that Vohra wants to see his readers pressured into making a judgment call about him, without having all the information necessary to make an informed decision.
     It seems likely that Vohra chose the scenario he did, rather than deal with the opposite possibility in a more open fashion, because in some people's eyes, a boy having sex with a woman is less offensive than a man having sex with a girl (due to the potential of pregnancy and vaginal tearing). But even if one behavior is less accepted than the other, that doesn't mean that neither of them are bad. If a teenage boy has sex with a female teacher – even if he brags about it, and believes that he consented to it - then the teacher still abused her position of trust, and violated her employment contract.
     Additionally, when the boy becomes truly mature enough for sex, he may begin to rightfully suspect that the teacher took advantage of him. Unfortunately, many people seem to think that increasing the duration of statutes of limitations on reporting sex crimes is the solution, rather than decreasing that duration, or repealing those limits altogether. The purpose of the government is certainly not to make it more difficult for us to bring lawsuits against people; the U.S. Code shows that its purpose is quite the opposite.

     As members of the third largest party in the country, any party members who agree with Vohra ought to understand that Vohra is acting like the Democrats and Republicans: presenting us with two bad options, and forcing us to choose. Arvin Vohra seems to have fallen into the very same trap as Jake McCauley, another Maryland resident who identifies as a libertarian; the assumption that financial independence makes a person ready for sex. It's clear that some self-described libertarians have a fixation on making room for legalized sex between adults and children, including for pay.
     Jake McCauley is a presence on several libertarian and anarcho-capitalist Facebook groups. Using his own name, the pseudonym Charles Stratton, and using the account of his girlfriend Ashleigh Hines, he makes frequent posts defending child rape and promoting child prostitution, and has even published an article about his views on the matter on Steemit (entitled "Why I Am Against the Age of Consent"). Aside from posts on this topic, McCauley has trolled his own friends on social media by making them appear to approve of being incest victims, and once boasted about supposedly coming up with a solid defense for raping a woman. But I'll return to Vohra and McCauley shortly.
     While it's not out-of-line to question whether federal child labor laws are constitutional (in the strict legal sense of being an enumerated power), some libertarians take this idea to the extreme, and rationalize children selling their hands for money. Similarly, while there are some reasonable arguments against the continued criminalization of prostitution, some libertarians rationalize even the prostitution which occurs under conditions of economic pressure, and even fear for the safety of the prostitute.
     Apparently blind to the welfare of children and victims of the sex trade, many people who espouse both these views jump to the conclusion that in a voluntary, stateless society, the prostitution of children would be normalized. If not that, then the conclusion that under a limited government, child prostitution would be legal, regulated, taxed, licensed, and maybe even unionized. This line of logic may have caught the reader off-guard, but to the pedophilia apologist attempting to cloak his perversions with libertarianism, the flow of one idea into the other is just second nature.
     Some libertarians take their rightful opposition to unconstitutional federal child labor laws to a more extreme conclusion, almost as if to say that if a law is unconstitutional, then whatever it prohibits must be good, because the state is always wrong. Children being put to work, or expected to do hard work, is a problem, and voluntary association and mutual aid are better ways to solve the problem than the state. But people who want to say child labor laws are bad are rarely prepared to give any suggestions as to how that might occur.
     It's fair to argue that legal minors ought to have a little more freedom to work - or even start a business - as long as they're fairly compensated, and don't do work that's physically exhausting or puts them in danger. However, I would caution my readers to be wary of any self-described libertarian who criticizes child labor laws too vehemently, might be searching for a legal or ethical rationale for sex between children and adults. So their twisted logic goes, if prostitution is a victimless crime, and some minors can consent to sex, then it should be legal or acceptable for a 16-year-old to become a prostitute.
     Despite Vohra's underhanded suggestion that to use homosexuality and child molestation in the same example is to compare apples to apples, this issue is much more full of “slippery slopes” than the legalization of same-sex marriage. Last year, Dennis Parsons, an official with the Liberal Democratic Party of the United Kingdom, resigned after telling a group of teenage students that school career officers should be allowed to suggest prostitution to students as a legitimate career. What's next; high school field trips to legal brothels? As former L.P. presidential candidate John McAfee (and prostitution client, or “john”) said in a 2016 debate, prostitution is not a victimless crime; the victim is the prostitute. That is, the prostitute often becomes a victim (of a pimp or a john), and often starts prostituting out of poverty and desperation.
     While it's fair to applaud the State of California for ending its practice of jailing underage prostitutes (less well known by what they actually are; that is, sex-trafficked children), that does not mean that nothing coercive occurred in the course of the actions the prostitute undertook. Someone has just raped a child, and someone has just profited off of offering a child up to be raped. Child victims of the sex trade should not go to jail for being prostituted; if they should be sent anywhere, it should probably be the hospital. These are the kinds of ideas the party should be entertaining about statutory rape laws; not the idea that people who pimp children, and people who pay to rape children, should go unpunished.

     This is not the first time the Libertarian Party has faced controversy over matters related to pedophilia. In 2008, a former biomedical researcher named Mary Ruwart ran for the party's presidential nomination, losing to Bob Barr.
     In April 2008, Libertarians began to criticize comments which Ruwart had made in her 1998 book Short Answers to the Tough Questions. In her book, Ruwart wrote that “Children who willingly participate in sexual acts have the right to make that decision as well, even if it's distasteful to us personally. Some children will make poor choices just as adults do in smoking and drinking to excess. When we outlaw child pornography, the prices paid for child performers rise, increasing the incentive for parents to use children against their will.”
     Many in the L.P. felt that Ruwart's statements excused, or even promoted, pedophilia and child pornography, but in an April 2008 article entitled “Ruwart on Children's Rights”, libertarian philosopher Roderick Tracy Long defended Ruwart, saying that she was “clearly not” “defending pedophilia and child pornography”. Long pointed out that Ruwart was attempting to describe the effects of state intervention on child prostitution and child pornography, insomuch as there is market demand for them.
     This is not to say, however, that we are talking about legitimate market activities, however; anarcho-capitalists and market-anarchists view these as a “red market” activities (actions which are immoral regardless of whether the state approves of them, such as rape of adults, kidnapping, and murder-for-hire). Ruwart was pointing out that if you look at these activities solely in terms of supply and demand, a government ban on child prostitution and child pornography causes a decrease in “supply”, thus leading to increases in the prices paid for them, which, as Ruwart said, increases “the incentive for parents to use children against their will.”
     It would take a big leap of faith to expect anyone - outside of a handful of libertarians, and maybe a few conservatives - to understand how the analysis of government effects on markets could have anything to do with such a horrendous set of behaviors. That's why it was unfortunate, but predictable, that Ruwart would fail to sufficiently explain and clarify her statement. Failing to explain with whom it is acceptable for “children” to engage in sexual activity, was certainly a misstep.
     During a 2016 debate for the Libertarian Party's nomination for president, candidate Darryl Perry asked the moderator whether he was referring to children in the medical definition or the legal definition. In her book, Ruwart uses the word “children” without clarifying whether she means pre-pubescent, pre-teen children, or whether she meant to refer to all people who are legally classified as adults (meaning, more or less, everyone under the age of 18).
     Given her medical background, it's not clear which definition of “child” Ruwart was using. But if she meant it in the legal sense, then she would not have been saying something too controversial, as it is legal for 17-year-olds to participate in sexual activity in more than 30 states, and legal for 16-year-olds to do the same in a handful of states, despite the fact that they are perceived as children (especially by people living in states in which the age of consent is 18). Although Ruwart's 1998 statement is unclear, her explanation of that statement today is that when she used the word "children", she was using the word in its legal sense.
     Ruwart seems concerned that government laws prohibiting child pornography and child prostitution aren't working, and that the way they're being enforced is making things worse. She seems to have said what she said out of a healthy suspicion that the state usually fails to protect children when it tries to do so; out of the need to point out the problem and draw attention to the fact that we might need a back-up plan in case the government fails or refuses to do its job.
     In my opinion, Ruwart's statement is much more problematic than Vohra's, as Ruwart's statement comes nowhere near promoting or excusing sex between children and adults, while Vohra's does. Her statements reflected nothing more than a desire to protect children from rapists, and to do something to lower parents' incentives to prostitute their children or force them to appear in child pornography. In fact, in her book, immediately before saying children have the right to engage in sex, Ruwart said, “Children forced to participate in sexual acts have the same rights and recourse as a rape victim. We can and should prosecute their oppressors.”

     The approach of Dr. Mary Ruwart and Roderick T. Long is very different from the tortured lines of logic which Arvin Vohra and Jake McCauley pursue. While most libertarians don't want to see teenagers' lives ruined for having sex with each other, Vohra and McCauley seem to latch onto that idea, and use it to argue that because a person is ready for sex, it must mean that they're ready for sex with anybody, and of any age. Their failures to address inconsistencies and gaps like these, or to otherwise account for them, are every bit as irresponsible as the original statements which implied them.
     While Vohra and McCauley agree that it's acceptable for a child to have sex as long as the child is self-supporting and independent, Vohra's argument is “better”. But that doesn't mean it's good. Vohra's argument is only less disgusting than McCauley's because Vohra appeals to the libertarian's sense of financial responsibility, while McCauley sloppily reasons that sex with a child is consensual as long as the child gets paid.
     McCauley has even defended the idea that children who are starving in the third world should consider performing sexual favors for billionaires in order to get by. In McCauley's mind, why they are poor in the first place, doesn't have much to do with anything, and any talk of exploitation is paranoid. McCauley additionally believes that it is unacceptable to use “violence” in defending a child from a rapist, or in stopping a child from joining a cult, as long as the child believes that they want to do what they're doing. I don't understand what's so unreasonable about suggesting that a child would have to be manipulated or threatened in order to assent to doing those things. Giving consent – truly informed consent, being of sound mind and body - is not the same thing as ceasing to struggle against someone who's raping you.
     It should generate no controversy to wonder whether an emancipated 16-year-old might be more likely to be able to give truly informed consent than a 18-year old college student; especially if the older teenager is inebriated and/or sexually inexperienced. But to point out scenarios like these, and moreover to devote time to making them up, is to point out a lot of exceptions to the rule. Yes, a sexually active sober emancipated minor is probably able to handle sexual activity, but that doesn't mean all sexual activity with 16-year-olds is acceptable; especially not if they're drinking or on drugs.
     Another issue that creates doubt would be if the person is not emancipated, and is still legal minor. But the idea that someone isn't an adult just because the state says they're an adult, is yet another point that seems to escape the libertarian pedophilia apologist. Some of these people even go so far as to claim that children can be ready for sexual activity if they are especially intelligent. Many of them stretch this logic, in order to conclude that if an adult is at the intellectual level of a child (rather than the child being as intelligent as an adult), then sexual activity between them is “on the same level”. Of course, this is to suggest that it's perfectly fine for a grown adult to rape a child as long as the adult is mentally retarded or under the influence of drugs. This is utter nonsense.

     Sex can only be healthy and enjoyable - and happen without regrets, fear, or pressure – if the parties involved are sexually mature enough to physically handle the sexual activity; emotionally healthy and intelligent enough to psychologically process the experience; and well-informed as to the consequences of sexual activity (such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases).
     While Vohra is correct to point out that financial independence (including, most importantly, the ability to raise a baby if one is conceived) helps take precautions against the potential burdensome negative consequences of sex, financial independence alone should not be the benchmark to determine consent. To say it should is almost like saying that any child who earns a million dollars, or somehow learns to live alone, or gets married, suddenly becomes able to process sexual activity emotionally and psychologically, let alone physically.
     Anyone who is familiar with the Non-Aggression Principle ought to understand why a person who tricks someone into sex, removes their condom during sex, or fails to disclose S.T.D.-positive status, has committed fraud against that person. These are hardly “victimless crimes”; they are “crimes” even in the strict legal meaning of the word. If this makes sense to you, then it shouldn't be difficult to imagine how easily a child could be tricked into sex; or even work, for that matter.
     Even an adult can be tricked into sex. Near the end of his article, Vohra asked: At what age can someone no longer be tricked or pressured into sex? After considering and dismissing 25 as the age of mental maturity, he perhaps sarcastically suggests 60, with little explanation, while failing to consider that some states have laws protecting people over 60 from people exploiting their senility for sex (through punishing taking sexual advantage of the elderly more harshly than raping a younger adult). Vohra seem to have failed to consider that children and the elderly are both vulnerable segments of society.
     That topic aside, only thing that could possibly justify Vohra's and McCauley's rationalization of the exploitation of children for sex, is if money and financial independence are the only objective measurements of human value; the only ways to measure maturity. They only make sense if protecting the safety and innocence of children – weak, vulnerable members of society whom are expected to trust adults – isn't as important as making money.
     Don't get me wrong, money makes it easy to buy things, but only in the sense that Chuck E. Cheese tokens make it easy to get prizes. Money isn't a human need; it doesn't directly doesn't sustain any life process in the same way that food, water, and air do. You don't die from running out of money. If you do, then it's because someone has made it the law that you have to use that money. If someone can make you falsely believe that money is one of your basic needs, then that person can make you do anything in order to get it. According to Arvin Vohra, “anything” means hard work. According to Jake McCauley, “anything” means prostituting yourself and your children.

     The Libertarian Party is the fastest-growing political party in the United States, and the third largest by votes and members. This arguably makes it the most likely party to unseat the political establishment dominated by the two-party duopoly.
     Now, at a time when the American public is more keenly aware of sexual assault by politicians and celebrities than every before, when high-profile officials of both major parties are suspected of sexual harassment (and even a few suspected of child sexual abuse), L.P. vice chair Arvin Vohra's article “Questioning Age of Consent Laws in America” couldn't have come at a worse time. But of course, rationalizing legalized or normalized sex between adults and children can never come at a good time.
     A day or two after the publication of Vohra's article, Alaska state chair Jon Watts wrote a letter to the L.N.C., stating that it it the view the L.P.'s Alaska state board that Vohra be removed from his position. Watts wrote that “On an intellectual level, some logic may exist in his arguments, however the topics and conclusions he forwards repeatedly result in discredit to the LP.” Watts continues, “Our leaders must be ambassadors as well as philosophers. One role cannot exist at the expense of the other. The LP is not a hermetic association for the advanced study of arcane philosophical concepts, but a political organization with the intent to guide and influence our government and citizenry”, adding that Vohra must not understand that.
     Watts is correct; each of our leaders must be an ambassador, as well as a philosopher. I personally see no reason why the Libertarian Party should not study philosophy in an advanced way; that could only help libertarians and non-libertarians understand how free people would solve problems without the state. The state's abuse of children ought to show that as much as we may support the intended effects of statutory rape laws, the state usually makes things worse when it intervenes. Prosecuting youths for breaking vice laws (prostitution included), sending them to for-profit juvenile detention facilities, and coercing them into forced labor or the sex trade after legally kidnapping them into the family law court system, are all examples of these failures.
     In 2016, the two leading U.S. presidential candidates were a pussy-grabber, and a woman who surrounds herself with men who prey on much younger females. The last thing that American voters want to see as their third choice is the leader of a party that appears to promote the normalization of enticing children into the sex trade (among other crimes).

     With this article, I hope I have pointed the discussion of this issue in the right direction. I believe that this issue can be solved, both politically and for the purposes of a voluntary society. But before that can happen - and long before a “deeper” (read: nihilistic) questioning of this issue becomes appropriate - people will have to make great strides towards making the sexual exploitation of children a thing of the past, through peaceful activity that is both mutually beneficial and voluntary.
     Until then, it will suffice to urge my readers to admonish anyone promoting the legalization of prostitution in tandem with child labor, and anyone citing the need to decriminalize sex between teens to defend adults taking advantage of children.
     And finally, that anyone who would like to follow this story, and keep up on news regarding the process of relieving Arvin Vohra of his post as Vice Chair of the national Libertarian Party, should request to join the Facebook group “Remove Arvin Vohra”.
     Late breaking developments related to this story include allegations that the producers of the documentary “I Am Gary Johnson” attempted to pay 14-year-old girls to appear in pornographic videos (which appears to have been either a smear attempt or a simple case of mistaken identity), and the revelation that Vohra may intend to endorse Chelsea Manning for U.S. Senator from Maryland. If true, this could very well be a ploy to sabotage Manning's campaign with an endorsement by a party official who's steeped in controversy, and seems to think that freedom can only be achieved through disparaging our veterans, our children, and the poor.

     Sadly, it appears as though women, and homosexual and transgender individuals, may be next on Vohra's list.
















Originally Written on January 18th, 2018
Originally Published on January 19th, 2018
Edited on January 23rd, 2018
Edited and Expanded on January 19th, 21st, 25th, and 26th, 2018

Original Images Created Between January 21st and 23rd,
and Added on January 23rd, 2018

No comments:

Post a Comment