February 7th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Stalling-for-Time Quicktakes

I may have some minor news later in the day, so rather than tackle anything time consuming, let me post a couple of stalling-for-time Quicktakes, short comments about stuff I saw in the news or otherwise out on the Internet.

Ouch. Somebody passed along a link to an article that originally appeared in the roleplaying gamer magazine Shadis, "The Truth -- Obviously" by Phil Masters. They were passing it along, I forget if it was in response to something about gaming or something about hoaxes or something about Lovecraftian fiction, as the definitive article on how to create your own article or book that could plausibly pass for somebody's real conspiracy theory. I cringed when I read it. Despite the fact that I spend more time debunking conspiracy theories than I do passing them along, well, umm, that is how I write, normally. Ouch. I guess all those years studying conspiracy theory as a broad target, as one of the major subsets of Forbidden Lore, caused that dry, heavy-handed, polemical writing tone to rub off on me. I don't know what to think about that, let alone what to do about it.

And for the Newest "Banana Republic," for Which It Increasingly Stands. Part the umpty-first in the list of things that makes me cringe because it's a vivid reminder of the extent to which this country's political, cultural, and economic level are being dragged down to third-world levels, from Monday's Reuters news wire: "Mayor: New Orleans will seek aid from foreign nations," by Michael Depp. Actually, the headline failes to convey the full horror of the situation. They didn't have to seek it. France and Jordan (Jordan!) felt sorry enough for us that they've voluntarily stepped in and offered to help rebuild neighborhoods that the USA obviously can't afford to help on our own. Do any of my fellow countrymen still feel like we live in "the last super-power"? I'm telling you again, there are no super-powers left, and if there are, we aren't one of them.

Teens Having Sex with Each Other? Oh, Noes!!111one1!!! I thought it was an interesting coincidence, and something I thought I'd have more to say about, when I bookmarked two news stories from last Tuesday, the 31st's New York Times, both on the subject of teenage sex. The first one, I'm kind of glad I hadn't gotten around to yet, because there was more movement on it since then. The original story was by Jodi Rudoren, "Trial Opens in Challenge to Law over Teenage Sex;" the Associated Press had a follow-up story a couple of days later by John Hanna, "Kan. Court Blocks Abortion Records' Access." The actual story, as made clearest by the follow-up, is (while aggravating) boring and quite mundane. Kansas attorney general (and anti-abortion activist) John Kline is trying to make abortion clinics give him a list of every minor who shows up for an abortion; he is presumed, even by the court, to want this for bad reasons (to find an excuse to make as many of them public as possible, and maybe to leak the rest, to shame the girls), not least of which because he didn't demand the same records from hospitals where teenagers gave birth. Just the sort of thing you'd expect in Kansas, really.

No, the interesting part, to me at least, was his legal theory for why he was entitled to these records, which depended on a law that left me scratching my head: according to Kansas state law, any sex involving a 15-year-old or younger is statutory rape, even if the person doing so is also 15 or younger. According to the first article, this isn't even unique to Kansas. I spent a lot of time, by my standards, scratching my head over that one, trying to figure out who would they charge? Can you actually charge both partners to a sex act with raping each other simultaneously? I didn't have access to the case law (is there any?) from any of the states that have this law, but I think I can guess how this would be applied. In most sexual relationships, it was one partner's idea first; hardly ever do both of them offer sex to each other simultaneously. So presumably they would charge the person who "talked the other person into it" with having raped that person. Charged them as a juvenile, I suppose, or at least I should hope, but still. The idea makes my brain hurt.

The other story that came out the same time in the New York Times was a medical-news article by Jane Brody, "Children, Media, and Sex: A Big Book of Blank Pages." It actually managed to startle me with its conclusion. As reported in the journal Pediatrics, Congress and the CDC and the University of Texas collectively gave a grant to S. Liliana Escobar-Chavez to compile a review of all of the known peer-reviewed scientific and/or statistical studies that attempted to determine if exposure to sexually-oriented material in the mass media has any effect on children's and teenager's sexual behavior. The startling conclusion? Nobody seems to have even asked. Everybody assumed, just as I would have, that given a question where everybody and his dog has an opinion, and where hardly any two people chosen at random agree, and with so much politically and economically at stake from any conclusions that could be drawn, and with so many people seeking thesis topics, and with so much grant money running around, that somebody must have studied the question! Apparently not, or if so, she couldn't find their studies. I guess everybody thought that somebody else was doing that study.