aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Harvard cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker, in defense of dangerous ideas:
Do women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men?
Were the events in the Bible fictitious—not just the miracles, but those involving kings and empires?
Has the state of the environment improved in the last 50 years?
Do most victims of sexual abuse suffer no lifelong damage?
Did Native Americans engage in genocide and despoil the landscape?
Do men have an innate tendency to rape?
Did the crime rate go down in the 1990s because two decades earlier poor women aborted children who would have been prone to violence? [or lead]
Are suicide terrorists well-educated, mentally healthy and morally driven?
Would the incidence of rape go down if prostitution were legalized?
Do African-American men have higher levels of testosterone, on average, than white men?
Is morality just a product of the evolution of our brains, with no inherent reality?
Would society be better off if heroin and cocaine were legalized?
Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease?
Would it be consistent with our moral principles to give parents the option of euthanizing newborns with birth defects that would consign them to a life of pain and disability?
Do parents have any effect on the character or intelligence of their children?
Have religions killed a greater proportion of people than Nazism?
Would damage from terrorism be reduced if the police could torture suspects in special circumstances?
Would Africa have a better chance of rising out of poverty if it hosted more polluting industries or accepted Europe’s nuclear waste?
Is the average intelligence of Western nations declining because duller people are having more children than smarter people?
Would unwanted children be better off if there were a market in adoption rights, with babies going to the highest bidder?
Would lives be saved if we instituted a free market in organs for transplantation?
Should people have the right to clone themselves, or enhance the genetic traits of their children? [...]
...the rear-view mirror of history presents us with a warning.
Time and again, people have invested factual claims with ethical implications that today look ludicrous. The fear that the structure of our solar system has grave moral consequences is a venerable example, and the foisting of “intelligent design” on biology students is a contemporary one. These travesties should lead us to ask whether the contemporary intellectual mainstream might be entertaining similar moral delusions. Are we enraged by our own infidels and heretics whom history may some day vindicate?
The list is easiest to quote; the article is the long and provocatively well-reasoned preface to the book What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable.
Via Andrew Sullivan.
Youth to parents: can we talk sex? (reprised)
In response to my commenter’s question - What role should parents play in sex education? More or less than public institutions? What role did your parents play? - I’m reprising this entire post from March. My experience, 40 years ago now, was precisely the same (sans Internet) as these kids...
On Morning Edition [March 8, 2007], from Blunt Radio in Portland, Maine, produced by Youth Radio and reported by Johanna Greenberg:
Ms. JOHANNA GREENBERG (High School Student, Portland, Maine): I’m sorry to say this, but parents are falling down on the job when it comes to The Talk.
Have your parents given you the sex talk?
Unidentified Woman #1: No.
Unidentified Man #1: No.
Unidentified Man #2: No.
Unidentified Woman #2: I feel uncomfortable.
Unidentified Woman #3: No, they never did.
Unidentified Woman #4: No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GREENBERG: At school, when we compare notes, my friends and I realize we are learning about sex from the Internet and movies because our parents aren’t talking with us.
Unidentified Woman #5: They just assume that I did it already. But they didn’t talk to me about it.
GREENBERG: Have your parents given you a sex talk?
Unidentified Man #2: No.
GREENBERG: Nothing? They didn’t say anything about sex to you? Nothing at all?
Unidentified Man #2: No. None whatsoever. No.
We’re in Savannah
We’re heading to my nephew’s wedding in Harrisburg, PA; spending a few days in Savannah first. Blogging may be spotty.
Obama, Romney & sex ed
So Romney buttresses his conservative bona fides by bashing Barack on sex education:
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Republican Mitt Romney directly appealed to social conservatives in South Carolina on Thursday, criticizing Democratic rival Barack Obama for supporting age-appropriate sex education for children as young as kindergartners.
“Senator Obama is wrong if he thinks science-based sex education has any place in kindergarten,” Romney told some 150 people at a restaurant in the northern part of the state. “We should be working to clean up the filthy waters our kids are swimming in.”
Of course we all want to reduce the number of sex offenders in the world; I’m sure Romney would propose more harsh but unproven, probably ineffective and definitely expensive sex offender laws. But what about sex education as a means to preventing juveniles from ever becoming sex offenders:
And last year, Mark Chaffin, at the University of Oklahoma, and other researchers published the results of a longitudinal study of 135 children ages 5 to 12 who had sexual-behavior problems and participated in a therapy program. The program took just 12 weeks, during which counselors addressed inappropriate sexual behavior, concrete sexual-behavior rules, self-control techniques and sex education. Given that the children were under 13, it’s hard to know if the results can be replicated with older adolescents, though Chaffin has just such a study under way. But in the study of younger children, the 10-year recidivism rate was 2 percent. “You can’t get a whole lot lower than that,” Chaffin said. “That’s a functional definition of a cure.”
Best, of course, would be stopping juveniles before they offend. While some sex education in schools includes lessons on how kids can avoid perpetrators, it is much less common for children to learn how to avoid committing sex offenses themselves. “It is morally wrong,” said Timothy Kahn, the Seattle therapist, “to do nothing to educate kids about the laws and then have them have to register as sex offenders and they haven’t even hit puberty.”
Juvenile sex offenders: “puberty in the first degree”
Continuing my look at the NYTimes Sunday Magazine cover story, How Can You Distinguish a Budding Pedophile From a Kid With Real Boundary Problems? and picking up where I left off, states have created tougher probation requirements for sex offenders. Requirements that do not distinguish between adolescents and adults:
Since juvenile courts were created more than 100 years ago, youths’ records have, with exceptions in some states, been sealed and kept out of the public’s hands. The theory is that children are less responsible for their actions, and thus less blameworthy, than adults and more amenable to rehabilitation. But by publishing their photographs and addresses on the Internet, community notification suggests that juveniles with sex offenses are in a separate, distinct category from other adolescents in the juvenile justice system - more fixed in their traits and more dangerous to the public. It suggests, in other words, that they are more like adult sex offenders than they are like kids.
They are not. They are very different from adult sex offenders:
Most have not committed violent assaults or abused multiple children repeatedly. Usually they have had sexual contact - from fondling to oral sex to intercourse - with a child who is at least two years younger than they are. Also, many of the juveniles have been sexually abused themselves, and as a consequence, they act out sexually, typically for a transitory period. [...]
Under the Adam Walsh Act, a 35-year-old who has a history of repeatedly raping young girls will be eligible for the public registry, and so will a 14-year-old boy adjudicated as a sex offender for touching an 11-year-old girl’s vagina. According to the law, the teenager will remain on the national registry for life. He will have to register with authorities every three months. And if he fails to do so - not an unlikely prospect for some teenagers, especially those without involved parents - he may be imprisoned for more than one year.
Also, under the proposed guidelines issued by the attorney general’s office in May, the law is retroactive: hundreds of juveniles who are on probation for sex offenses that preceded the law could be eligible for the nationwide registry.
Recidivism for juveniles is about 10%, “lower than most other juvenile offenses, including property and drug crimes. “
As Elizabeth Letourneau, the professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, explains, most adolescents don’t have the sexual deviancy that prompts an adult predator to offend repeatedly. “If you’re an adult child molester, you’re violating clear age and legal boundaries. You’re crossing over a lot of lines, so you have to be highly motivated,” she said. “Kids typically don’t cross as many lines when they offend; they do stupid things all the time because their brains aren’t developed.” [...]
The last part of the brain to develop is the frontal lobe, which is responsible for impulse control, moral reasoning and regulating emotions - the things that adolescents lack when they decide, if they make a conscious decision, to molest a younger kid. So, instead of being compulsive like pedophiles, adolescents tend to be impulsive, which means tactics like “grooming,” in which an offender woos a child for weeks or months before a sexual assault, tend not to apply to the majority of juveniles, Chaffin notes. It’s not that juveniles can’t distinguish right from wrong; it’s that they don’t perceive risks and consequences the way adults do - as parents of teenagers know all too well. “I’ve been arguing for a classification called ‘puberty in the first degree,’ “ said Timothy Kahn, a Seattle therapist who has treated and evaluated thousands of juveniles with sex offenses, “which gives them a break for what they do when they are 12, 13, 14.”
WaPo follows Isakson on the war
Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson is one of four lawmakers the WaPo is following as Congress wrestles with what to do about the war in the coming months. Isakson’s moniker for the series is the loyal Republican:
From Tuesday evening until the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Johnny Isakson sat at his desk on the Senate floor and listened as Democrats and Republicans alike took turns making speeches during a rare all-night debate on Iraq. Across the street, antiwar groups had organized a candlelight vigil, a scene Isakson would occasionally survey from the Senate balcony during breaks for sandwiches and doughnuts.
“It was,” he recalled, “all kinds of perfect theater.”
But it was theater with a purpose. Many Republicans mocked the all-night session, but it transfixed the GOP senator from Georgia, who was looking for signs of progress in Iraq if he is to continue to support the president’s war strategy.
“It’s obvious everybody’s getting more educated,” Isakson said. “The speeches have gone from reading something somebody wrote to give you, to where some people are going down there and talking about, ‘On my last visit,’ or ‘Remember when we said, now this has happened.’ And in the end, that’s a helpful thing.”
I’ll be following too.
LATER: Devilstower on the WaPo profiles, “You can’t really say that Republicans haven’t been plotting a strategy on Iraq. Not for removal of the troops, for avoidance of blame.”
On juvenile sex offenders
If you have any interest at all in the issues around the concept and problem of juvenile sex offenders beyond glib statements of your own cock-sure confidence that you know these kids are getting what they deserve for their transgressions, you absolutely must read the entire NYTimes Sunday Magazine cover story, How Can You Distinguish a Budding Pedophile From a Kid With Real Boundary Problems?
Juveniles account for about one-quarter of the sex offenses in the U.S. Though forcible rapes, the most serious of juvenile sex offenses, have declined since 1997, court cases for other juvenile sex offenses have risen. David Finkelhor, the director of Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, and others argue, however, that those statistics largely reflect increased reporting of juvenile sex offenses and adjudications of less serious offenses. “We are paying attention to inappropriate sexual behavior that juveniles have engaged in for generations,” he said.
The significant controversy isn’t whether there is a problem; it’s how to address it. In other words, when is parental or therapeutic intervention enough? What kind of therapy works best? And at what point should the judicial system get involved - and in what ways?
Longo and other experts have increasingly advocated for a less punitive approach. Over the past decade, however, public policy has largely moved in the opposite direction. Courts have handed down longer sentences to juveniles for sex offenses, while some states have created tougher probation requirements and, most significant, lumped adolescents with adults in sex-offender legislation.
Now I do not doubt that there are dangerous kids out there. Rather, I believe we have broadened the definition of sex-offender - most particularly in the case of juveniles - way beyond what it should be.
The story reports that TX has 3,400 people listed for offenses committed when they were juveniles; I hear reports in Georgia of anywhere from 1,100 to 1,300. Extrapolating those numbers means tens of thousands of kids are being locked up for what in many cases is nothing more than normal adolescent sexual exploration.
The consequence of this is not just those horrific individual injustices, the consequence is that it drains resources from addressing those real predatory kids out there. IF YOU CARE ABOUT KIDS, IF YOU CARE ABOUT JUSTICE, READ THIS ARTICLE.
In a furious effort to save their client from execution, lawyers for convicted cop killer Troy Anthony Davis are hinging much of their case on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony.
Racial bias, poor lighting, stress, alcohol, the passage of time, poorly conducted police lineups and other factors often play a role in misidentifications of criminal suspects.
More than 75 percent of the 205 people exonerated by post-conviction DNA evidence in the United States - including all six in Georgia - were imprisoned because of mistaken eyewitness identification. [...]
Concerns over faulty eyewitness identification have reached the state Capitol. Earlier this year, state Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) - on the heels of the exoneration of a man imprisoned 21 years for a wrongful rape conviction - tried to pass legislation that would bring uniformity and higher standards to the way law enforcement officials conduct live and photo lineups.
House Speaker Glenn Richardson said he liked the idea, but it was opposed by prosecutors and did not pass.
RELATED: The pope wrote a letter to the clemency board calling for Davis’ sentence to be commuted to life in prison without parole. And A Public Defender says Sara’s liveblogging of the oral argument is a must read (HT: Audacity).