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My Fact-senses are tingling—someone’s getting bad advice!

Found them:

I checked my boyfriend’s online history (okay, invaded his privacy) and saw he’d been looking up porn all day yesterday and the day before while home with the flu. I freaked! We’d talked about porn before. He said he watched it in his younger days, but didn’t anymore, so I was surprised. I confronted him, and he said he’d been bored and curious, but doesn’t watch porn regularly. I don’t know whether I believe him. I’ve heard people get addicted to porn. Beyond that, there are the unrealistic images of women. The fact that he initially lied makes me worry he has a problem. — Smut Patrol

Well, the first problem is that Smut Patrol looked through her boyfriend’s browser history. Unless they’re using the same computer, she has no excuse, and frankly, even if they are using the same computer she probably shouldn’t, unless it’s doing something weird and she thinks he might be to blame (that applies irrespective of the sexes of the people involved).

Now, I’m not going to say, as Amy Alkon did, that men’s penises go online to look at porn without our participation. I don’t believe I have gone to any sites with pictures of naked people in years, at least, unless you count this. But presumably he’s been doing this all along, and the relationship is reasonably healthy, so clearly it’s not causing any problems.

I too am concerned that he lied about it. Hiding something from your partner, unless only by omission, is almost always worse than whatever it is you’re hiding. But even if it’s a dealbreaker for her, she really needs to trust him when he says he doesn’t look at porn unless there’s some specific reason—”he’s male” doesn’t count as a reason—to doubt. It will make the relationship easier for everyone.

Today the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 (pdf) that an Arizona school district was wrong to strip-search a then-13-year-old student suspected of having over-the-counter painkillers tucked away in her underwear.

There were several factors that undoubtedly influenced this decision, not least that the school district was in the wrong. Savana Redding was a girl, and so considered more vulnerable to nudity than a boy. She wasn’t “holding,” meaning the whole thing was a waste and thus all the more outrageous.The only drug they were even looking for was ibuprofen, which is legal for all ages, commonly used, and largely harmless (though not to me personally, as it happens).

Perhaps not surprisingly, I’m finding no real people echoing Clarence Thomas’s warning in his dissent that the decision lets teenagers know they can safely hide things in their underwear, like they didn’t know that already. Most people, it seems, recognize zero tolerance for what it is; a form of control, requiring children to be obedient for obedience’s sake and making sure they don’t step out of line. Zero tolerance means not having to consider students as people with needs and motives, only as cogs in the machine of the school.

It also means gross injustices such as what happened to Redding. While in theory these harsh penalties apply to all students, in practice they’re generally used against those who don’t “fit in” and are considered likely to be on drugs anyway, since after all they’re “bad kids.”

That‘s what the Supreme Court chipped away at with today’s decision: the notion that “bad kids” can be subject to humiliation for vague and flimsy reasons.

As a single American man over 30 (by nine months), I was a bit startled to learn that 30 percent of us have paid for sex. I haven’t, and I don’t expect to, if only because I’m put off by the stereotypes.

But if I wanted to, should I be able to? Perhaps.

The system is brutal to sex workers, encourages corruption in cops, and wastes tax money on useless enforcement. No matter what you think the goal of prostitution policy ought to be, the US policy fails.

That prostitution is illegal makes those in the profession vulnerable to employers and clients in a way people in legitimate professions can only imagine.

At the same time, people practicing prostitution legally can face their own forms of exploitation. While Nevada’s brothel-based sex trade ensures workers a place to practice their profession safe from legal sanction, the system does permit abuses by brothel owners. In particular, women are attached—one might say indentured—to a particular house, with little opportunity or ability to leave a bad situation. The facilities, situated in the ample Nevada desert far from cities or even large towns, allow rampant mistreatment as a practical matter.

The common justification given for outlawing prostitution is that it’s degrading and exploitative, with Nevada being held up as an example. But prostitution in Nevada is regulated, heavily, in a way that suggests the goal is to hide it from “normal people”—an approach that’s only technically distinct from outright prohibition. Exploitation simply isn’t cut and dried; arguably anyone who has to work for a living is exploited, after all, and few people would openly suggest that women (which most prostitutes are) are incapable of making decisions, either in general or about sex.

A new law designed to enhance the safety of America’s food supply is speeding through Congress. If passed, it won’t work, but it might in its failure do lasting damage to the quality and healthfulness of the food we eat.

The most far-reaching effect of the bill is a new annual registration fee of $500 in 2009 dollars1 imposed on all producers—effectively killing off small and struggling farms (the bill has an exemption for “farms,” but on closer inspection, the exemption turns out to refer only to those farms that don’t sell any food). The accompanying documentation must be submitted electronically, notwithstanding a farmer’s religious objections, something I suspect the Third Circuit is going to take a rather dim view of.

The actual safety part is addressed by a government-bureaucracy-style labyrinth of hazard analyses and prevention controls that will, like the fee, impose an equal burden on all producers and therefore a proportionately greater burden on smaller producers (that is, Lexcorp Agricultural Enterprises can simply hand the forms off to its Form Filling Out Department, while Ma and Pa Kent have to take time away from their actal lives to do it).

In general, in fact, the bill suffers from the FDA’s tendency to treat small organic farms the same as large conventional ones. The FDA, as Michael Pollan documented in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has a bit of difficulty getting its metaphorical head around the notion that there are ways of doing things other than Big Agri’s. Smaller and organic farms, then, have to scramble to keep up or have to make their case to an unsympathetic government agency.

It’s really kind of a shame, in fact, that many of the people coming out against this bill are crazy. The Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which has a rational and lucidly written Web site, is against this billl for the logical reason that ” it would adversely impact small farms and food producers, without providing significant reforms in the industrial food system. [The current version of the FSEA] does not address the underlying causes of food safety problems, including industrial agriculture practices and the consolidation of our food supply.” I mention this because it’s easy enough to discredit a position by noting its adherents’ rants on, say, the government trying to take your car away if you put groceries in it, or Monsanto taking over the FDA.

It’s bad enough that the bill violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and threatens small farms and organic food production. Don’t let crazy people scare you into acting against your own interests.

1Or $1000, depending on what Web site you read.

Advice Without Consent is a new occasional (i.e., when I can’t find anything else to write about) feature here at Sifwitmify. This is when I take a question from an advice column and give a better answer that the querent won’t, alas, see. Naturally, this is for entertainment purposes (mostly mine) only and shouldn’t be relied upon, used without permission, close cover before striking, this tag not to be removed except by consumer, if erection lasts longer than four hours get fresher jokes.

So, here we go:

Dear Prudence,
I’m 26, and for three wonderful months I have been dating a woman five years older than me. When we first met, neither of us realized the age difference. We share common values, and she gets along well with my friends and brother. The trouble is my parents. They find her “charming and lovely” but are appalled by our age difference. My mother has termed our relationship “weird” and “odd,” which hurts me. They point out that I have not had many serious relationships. I love her and want to see how our relationship fares. It seems to me that this requires a long time, perhaps years. But my parents claim that I must decide within three months whether to marry her or not, since it would be cruel to waste her time on an ultimately futile relationship. Are my parents being reasonable here? Do I have an obligation to decide quickly whether I want to marry this lady? And, should I decide not to pursue this relationship, is there any way I could end it without hurting her?

Oh, good heavens, five whole years! Whatever do they find to talk about? Ahem. This question resonates with me, sort of, because my beloved Deadly Stealth Frogess is an ancient crone six years my senior1, and naturally we represent two totally diferent eras. For example, she saw Star Wars in the theater, while I was born the next year.

Ahem. No one terms our relationship weird or odd, and no one outside our bloody relationship is giving us ultimatums, WTF? Nor does anyone find it apalling. From my parents’ perspective, we’re about the same age. So no, “Not Quite Benjamin Braddock”‘s parents are not being remotely reasonable, or even especially probable—I have a feeling most of this is in the young man’s head. I suspect that, as the one who, after all, invoked The Graduate, the letter writer has a bigger problem with the relationship than he cares to admit, and so hears every evn ambiguously critical remark as being a condemnation, and of the “age difference” in particular. Even the supposed marriage deadline may be no more than a typical anxious mother.

Which is understandable. Even nowadays we tend to expect a man to be older than his partner, as part of the old-fashioned sexist view of a relationship (marriage) as being led by the man. A gap that wouldn’t be worth mentioning if it’s in his favor becomes huge when it’s in hers. Prudence points this out in her own answer: “five years is an insignificant age difference—your parents would hardly be appalled if you were 31 and your girlfriend 26.” So he’s hyperfocused on it, and assumes everyone else is too.

Prudence’s own answer is more about parental overinvolvement. I’ll give her that. If this dude’s parents truly are as nagging as he claims, he needs to tell them to get off his back. I just suspect he’s blowing things out of proportion from needless guilt.

1I don’t really think you’re an ancient crone, sweetheart.

Every so often, a politician gets religion. This has in the past manifested itself in attempts to put ten arbitratry commandments (out of at least 613 in the Bible) on a great huge stone in an effert to get people to stop killing and stealing and fucking around and disrrespecting their parents and working on Saturdays. Now, the courts tend to frown on this, but they can’t object to a nice patriotic display, can they?

Following the same line of reasoning, Rep. Daniel Lungren (R–California), following the lead of Sen. Jim DeMint (R–South Carolina), has introduced a bill to have the nation’s motto engraved in the Capitol Visitor Center.

Now, turns out the nation’s motto is the arguably religious “In God We Trust.” But Congress clearly doesn’t intend anything religious by it, as demonstrated by the fact that they’re also having the Pledge of Allegiance (to “one nation under God”) placed alongside it. So this has nothing to do with DeMint’s complaint that the CVC “portray[s] the federal government as the fulfillment of human ambition and the answer to all of society’s problems” and is generally insufficiently God-obsessed.

Fortunately, for a mere $150,000 in the middle of a recession, that can now be fixed. It’s certainly vital that Congress act on this ugent matter, this separation plaguing church and state, now that all this country’s other problems have been fixed

Just be glad I’m not telling you all about the southern sea otter

Robots are getting closer to integrating into human society. Last week a robot deveoped by Willlow Garage (co-founded by a developer of Google) passed through eight doors and plugged itself into nine outlets. Going through doors is basic to sentient beings but difficult for machines, and imperative for robo-domestic staff and robo-pages in office environments. Plugging itself in is necessary, of course, for power.

It’s not quite robot butlers (or Pintsize), but it’s a step, as it were, in that direction. So where will this lead? Robots are already encroaching on unskilled labor—in factories, for example—and skilled but low-level jobs are a natural next step. And once they’re in our houses, it won’t be long before they move into our bedrooms.

Once the dust has settled and same-sex marriage is recognized nationwide (except New York, at this rate), human-robot relationships are going to be on the radar. Loebner Prize winner David Levy argues (somewhat) convincingly in Love & Sex with Robots that when robots can simulate love, people will fall in love with them. A minority, to be sure, just as a minority of people today are promiscuous as a sexuality, or see prostitutes exclusively, or mate for life (or are gay, for that matter). But there will be some people who find that it’s not humans of any description but robots who excite them; or they may simply happen to meet that special robot who makes them happy.

You may recall that on Tuesday I declined to talk about my sex life. Well . . . no, I’m still not going to, except to say that I have one. However, according to an interview posted to Tara Parker-Pope’s blog in the New York Times, around one in every seven married couples don’t.

Some of these, I’m sure, are happy couples. Different people have different sex drives, and it’s far more important that they match than that they be going at it like rabbits. According to advice columnist Dan Savage, “sex is a metric for assessing the health of a relationship, but it’s not the only one. When two people come together who love each other and are compatible sexually—which can mean a shared interest in sex or a shared disinterest in sex—the angels sing.” The researcher whom Parker-Pope interviewed noted that “there is no ideal level of sexual activity—the ideal level is what both partners are happy with.” However, he still found that most people in sexless marriages are trying to get out of them.

Is this shallow? Well, sex is a flimsy basis for starting a relationship, or for continuing one. But if sex is not happening and no satisfactory agreement can be reached, it is not at all shallow to end the relationship—just as it’s not shallow to walk out on someone who refuses to celebrate when you get a raise or a promotion or a contract. To say otherwise is to say that intimacy (or sharing in your partner’s successes) is not a part of a relationship, even if only as an absence.

If you’re on the Internet, as you know, you’re a nerdy loser with no social skills.

However, according to an article in the New York Times, some senior citizens who have little opportunity to interact with people are finding social networking sites such as Facebook help them stay engaged with the world.

The average age of my Facebook friends appears to be mid-30s, but I can certainly see how it might be beneficial to the housebound elderly. Indeed, social networking is useful to all manner of marginalized populations

(And even the shy: I met my first partner on Usenet, years ago, which indirectly led to meeting my current partner on LiveJournal in 2004.)

A quote I’ve always treasured is “on the Internet, everything and nothing is normal.” This was meant as a dig at people who try to outweird each other (and at people into freaky-ass shit who take refuge in the fact that there are others like them, as though finding a community of phryneroticists makes doing toads not be weird.) But there’s also a positive side. It is useful for making people feel less alone, and gives people who feel stigmatized—e.g., by illness or old age—a place to find their fellows and interact with their peers.

(I could have written about orgasms, but no. In my defense, that would inevitably led to my talking about my sex life, and neither of us wants that.)

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