Greek Man is Proud to Be a Lesbian, Will Sue Anyone Who Says Otherwise

June 10, 2008

And, in fact, he’s 100% correct: he is a total lesbian. No, really (best part is at about one minute in).

HT: Gene Expression.


New Study: “Abstinence Only” Education Fails Again? Or Not.

June 8, 2008

Ed Brayton is making the case that a new study of high school students provides even more evidence that abstinence-only education has failed in its primary purpose: the reduction or delay in teen sex and disease transmission. The study, which looks to be quite good in terms of dataset and design, basically shows that the steady decline in teen sexual activity and the steady increase in condom use have both leveled off, and both changes came during the time in which abstinence-only education came into its heyday (the early and mid 2000s).

I’m no fan of abstinence-only policies, which are essentially a “pro-ignorance” approach to education. But I’m not so sure we really can take any clear policy conclusions away from this data.

The main reason is that, in the social sciences, we’d expect just about ANY trend to level off naturally whether there were other policy effects or not. Whatever the cause for the decline in teen sex since 1991, there’s only so much you can reduce teenage sexual activity in the first place before diminishing returns set in. The more you reduce teenage sexual experimentation, the harder and harder further decreases become.

This especially makes sense in terms of teens and sex. If we imagine that there is a sort of standard cohort of teens with a natural range of character traits and attitudes towards sex in each generation, then any external effect (like the AIDS scare) which reduces sexual activity is going to be more effective on some students, less effective on others. As this effect increases its influence on each cohort of kids, you’ll effect all the low hanging fruit first (the kids most scared of disease and ambivalent about sex to begin with), and the trend will be fairly large. But as you proceed, you’ve already dropped the sexual activity of many of the prudes down to 0 (and can’t go any further with them), and now what you have left to work on are the kids that are amongst the hardest to convince not to have sex in the first place. Even if the original effect increases dramatically (i.e. AIDS gets more and more scary), it still might not be enough to effect enough of the horniest kids fast enough to keep up the overall trend, year after year.

For all we know, this could be what’s going on here: major social changes in the early 1990s (AIDS, widespread contraception knowledge and availability) spent a decade spreading through the population, and now they’ve pretty much done as much as they can do. Buried underneath these larger trends, abstinence education could have had a positive effect, negative effect, or no effect at all.

All we really can say for certain, from this data, is that abstinence-only education hasn’t sparked any sort of dramatic or obvious revolution in teen prudishness. Other studies, which more directly compare the effects of abstinence-only education to other programs or no program at all, are far more relevant to the debate than this one.


Gay Marriage Today: Why Not Polygamy Tommorow? …Here’s Why

May 20, 2008

Advocates of gay marriage are often far too glib about their institutional goals. Myself included. We dismiss all sorts of slippery-slope and social fears as simply being based on bigotry (and perhaps we luck out there, because we often turn out to be right, even if it was just a knee-jerk accusation). But many of those fears do make logical sense, particularly when social changes are made by judicial rulings based on distressingly broad and unmoderated principles.

One of the most legitimate of these fears has always been that judicial rulings about gay marriage that are based on bare notions of equality and fairness would carve a path towards the legal recognition of, well, polygamy. And with a polygamist cult controversy still driving news cycles, and HBO’s Big Love back for another season, polygamy can no longer be casually dismissed as an esoteric issue.

That doesn’t mean, that it can’t be dismissed though. It just means that it’s going to take a lot of serious work and argument to do it.

And so, over at Volokh Conspiracy, Dale Carpenter has penned a must-read “Cliff’s Notes” version of some of the best arguments against the “gay marriage/polygamy” connection. Personally, I find them convincing. I’d appreciate any arguments concerning why I should not.

As to the recent California gay-marriage decision itself, I’m of two minds. It should come as no surprise that I like the result. But I also have very strong sympathies with the view that the judges in this case (most of whom were Republicans, by the way) are using methods that overstep important boundaries in our system of government.

On the other hand (again!), I have slightly less sympathy given the fact that people often write constitutional and legal language that claims to be based on lofty moral principles and language… but then whine when someone actually goes and takes those principles seriously, rather than merely conventionally. If you don’t want constitutions to be treated any differently than literal regulations and craven contracts of social convention, then don’t write them as if they were shining beacons of truth and justice.

For all the gay couples who will finally be able to codify their partnerships in the law of our society, there’s little to offer aside from congratulations.

Update: Over at Dean’s World, Dean links to law prof John Witte Jr. and his take on the issue. Among other things, though, Witte notes that one of the traditional reasons that polygamy has been verbotten in the West is that is “routinizes patriarchy.” I’m no women’s studies stooge, but that particular reason strikes me as a little implausible except as a very, very recent development.


Eight Year Old Requests a Divorce. Seriously. And It Only Gets Worse

April 14, 2008

I’m not now and never have been a cultural relativist. When you measure the success of a society by the degree and wide availability of human happiness and liberty, as well as the avoidance of screwupedness, some cultural, political, and ethical structures fail to measure up.

And arranged marriages, particularly those that involve promising children (almost always girls) to adults… they just aren’t a good idea. In addition to the simple tragedy of coercing and constraining your children’s future and choices, there’s also just the deeply creepy aspect of it… something which recently found its most horrible expression in Yemen recently.

Simply put, some guy, allegedly with mental problems, forced his eight-year old daughter to “marry” a 30 year old man. Yemeni law apparently allows the arranged marriage of underage girls, but restricts sex “until she is ready or mature.” This restriction, unfortunately, didn’t stop her unrepentant “husband”:

Thamer is in jail now. “Yes I was intimate with her, but I have done nothing wrong, as she is my wife and I have the right and no one can stop me,” he said. “But if the judge or other people insist that I divorce her, I will do it, it’s ok.”

What a gracious concession!

While Yemeni prosecutors are trying to line up charges against the two men involved in this scheme, the local laws on arranged marriage clearly demand some further examination.

Shatha Ali Nasser confirmed that item number 15 in Yemeni civil law reads that “no girl or boy can get married before the age of 15.” However, this item was amended in 1998 so parents could make a contract of marriage between their children even if they are under the age of 15. But the husband cannot be intimate with her until she is ready or mature,” said Nasser.“This law is highly dangerous because it brings an end to a young girl’s happiness and future fruitful life. Nojoud did not get married, but she was raped by a 30-year old man.”

And there’s nothing much more to say than that.


Roving Bands of Eunuchs Seek to Steal Your Johnson: We Thought We Had it Bad With “Gay Panic”

March 31, 2008

I didn’t understand half the cultural concepts mentioned when I first read this article: why there are roving bands of eunuchs in India at all, what a “male issue” is (an elaborate term for baby boy?), and why, exactly a group of eunuchs would forcibly chop off some poor kids’ private parts. To be honest, it sounded much like yet another element of the so-called “penis panics” that have from time to time erupted in some Asian cultures.

But from this news of the weird tidbit I stumbled onto yet another intriguing wrinkle in culture and sexuality I’d been completely ignorant of.

Read the rest of this entry »


I’m Done With Hillary Clinton: Two Unavoidable Unacceptables for a Democratic 2008

March 31, 2008

I’m a Democrat. I give money. I’ve work campaigns, both as a volunteer and as paid staff. I’m realistic and critical of my party (and open to criticism in return) but when it comes to fellow Democrats, candidates and activists, loyalty still matters a great deal to me. The party doesn’t reflect everything I believe in the way I believe, but it is the direction I want the country to head, and that’s what it comes down to. I have no apologies.

No matter what, I will vote for a Democrat this November: Clinton, Obama, whatever. I began this political season almost irritated that I had to make a choice between two candidates that rated about even in my book in nearly every way. Both have unique strengths and correspondingly worrisome weaknesses. I could have staked a claim on either one of them.

But at this point, I’m simply done with the Clintons. Not just for this race, but period. No matter what happens from here on forward, I’ve just had enough. I have friends who are dedicated to her, and whose political careers are linked to her fate. And it’s been truly difficult to get to this point.

Read the rest of this entry »


Totally Made Up, Unilateral Blog Carnival! (And a Tiny Bit on Expelled!)

March 27, 2008

It’s time for another survey of stuff worth reading on the internet, so let’s pretend that I’m hosting some sort of esoteric Blog Carnival. Topic? ME! (And for those readers who are getting sick of Expelled musings, good news: I’ve exiled them to the end of this post)

Anyway, let’s get this thing started with a review of the home-birth-homage film “The Business of Being Born” from someone who might know a little about the subject: family practice doc Harriet Hall. Personally, I think she’s nuts to worry about all the hospital-hate in the film. Doctors are dangerous! That’s why I’m planning on going for an “all-natural” coronary artery bypass when my time comes.

Next, Ed Darrell over at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub points us towards both Cracked list of 11 Movies Saved by Historical Inaccuracy (in which we learn that Mel Gibson’s Patriot hero was, in real life, a notorious slave rapist) and Yahoo’s own similar listing of Greatest Historical Goofups (in which we learn that Mel Gibson’s Braveheart hero would have had to have sex with a three year old to make any sense). Both lists need to apologize for the ridiculousness of calling 2001: A Space Odyssey “historically” inaccurate. It’s called Science-FICTION, guys.

Over at Exploring Our Matrix, religious religion prof James F. McGrath asks “Can (the story of) Noah’s Ark Be Saved?” I’m not sure if his answer is yes or no, exactly but I’m pretty sure that whatever it is, it’s the right answer. The stories of Noah and Job cannot be reconciled any better to modern morals than they can to modern science. That doesn’t mean that we cannot learn things from them (whether believers learning about God, or even non-believers learning about believers).

Then we have Hemant at Friendly Atheist who sees Jesus everywhere he looks. Fair warning though: be prepared to squint.

To pad out my fake Carnival, I’ll also note Bug Girl’s submission to the all-too-real 83rd Skeptic’s Circle/Carnival. The title is simply irresistible: Pubic Lice: “Sea monkeys in your pants” Speaks for itself, right?

Finally, if you want to know more about my sense of humor, here’s Exhibit A: new internet sensations FAIL blog and Stuff White People Like.

Oh, and in case you yourself had PHAILed to notice it, that big honking graphic over on the top right goes to Expelled Exposed, the soon-to-be official National Center for Science Education response to that expelled movie thingy everyone has been going on and on about. I highly recommend other bloggers doing something similarly prominent to get the word out: feel free to steal my graphic if you’re lazy.

It’s also worth noting that, for some unknown reason, this teensy blog is actually the or at least amongst the top results when you search for information on the film, which is pretty odd, because I almost never post about the darn thing. While I’m flattered, Internet, I can’t help but think that other science sites should be up there instead.

Finally, as I noted over at Skepchick, what is probably one of the most crucial Google search terms in this little PR war, “expelled movie,” didn’t have a single critical, pro-science site on the all-important first page of results. But then, lo and behold, the very day after I complain about it, Phil Plait and I break into the big time! Somehow, I have gained the power to move digital mountains.

Beware!