It's been a long time since I was last sitting at breakfast, reading the Times and came across something that drove me to my blog. When I began my blog during a sabbatical a few years ago that's how it used to happen: Breakfast, newspaper, outrage, blog. Lately, though, I've been lucky to be able to even skim the headlines at breakfast, and as for time to sit down and blog, well, that's been nearly nonexistent. So it was refreshing to have the time this morning to casually read the paper and then stumble upon an outrageous statement, and then to have some time to blog about it.
Which makes it sound like I am happy to be outraged, which is not the case of course. I'm simply happy that given the outrage there was time to read, think and blog instead of just feeling frustrated and angry.
This morning's reaction was to an article with the headline "Pentagon Steps Up Talks On Don't Ask Don't Tell", written by Elisabeth Bumiller. It is a relatively short article with several sources of irritation.
The New York Times this morning reports on a meeting last Wednesday involving city and state elected officials including Christine Quinn (City Council Speaker) and Thomas Duane (State Senator representing parts of Manhattan), Brian Conroy (the NYPD's Vice Squad commanding officer), and LGBT rights activists. The meeting focused on whether or not the city is targeting gay men for arrest on prostitution crimes because of their sexual orientation.
That is the wrong question.
The more relevant questions are: Why is sexual activity - the buying and selling of pornography, the accepting of money for sex - being defined as a public nuisance in the first place? And, what does it mean that simply liking pornography and being in a porn shop is enough to make one the target of a prostitution sting?Click here for more.
Teens are not having more sex, nor are they having it earlier
The moral panic around teens and sex is uncalled for according to a story in today's New York Times. It is almost as newsworthy that the story, titled "The Myth Of Rampant Teen Promiscuity," by Tara Parker-Pope made it to the Times. Of course it wasn't front page news, but still. Here's what the article has to say:
"Today, fewer than half of all high school students have had sex: 47.8 percent as of 2007, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, down from 54.1 percent in 1991.
A less recent report suggests that teenagers are also waiting longer to have sex than they did in the past. A 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old girls had experienced sex, down from 38 percent in 1995. During the same period, the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group dropped to 31 percent from 43 percent.
The rates also went down among younger teenagers. In 1995, about 20 percent said they had had sex before age 15, but by 2002 those numbers had dropped to 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys."
(This doesn't mean there's nothing to worry about. There was an increase in teen pregnancy for the first time in more than a decade, which may mean that while teens are having less sex overall, some teens are having more and are not using contraception as often. ) Click here to read more
We won't find out by trying to separate biology from culture.
The cover asks "What is Female Desire?" and the story title, "What do Women Want?" seems to promise that scientists are getting closer to figuring out one of life's great mysteries. Daniel Bergner, in fact, does not attempt to answer those two questions (and the small subtitles make it clear that he isn't going to try) but rather he profiles the work of several scientists who are researching women's sexual response, their subjective sense of arousal, and the ways those do or don't line up.
It is a well-written article and a very interesting read. It takes on complex questions and, within its scope, attempts to address them without oversimplifying or sensationalizing (except for the first sentence of the article, in extra large and colorful print that reads "Meredith Chivers is a creator of bonobo pornography."). I would encourage anybody to take a look. But prepare to be frustrated as well as intrigued. Some readers will be frustrated, as was Meredith Chivers (a psychology professor at Queens University, and one of the scientists whose work is the focus of the article) because the answers are not clear and meticulous research takes so long and is so difficult to do, and because, as she is quoted as saying early in the piece, "The horrible reality of psychological research is that you can't pull apart the cultural from the biological."
Click here for my frustration.
Max Mosely, head of Formula One racing, won his privacy suit against the British tabloid "News Of The World." The New York Times reports:
The judge, Sir David Eady, awarded Mr. Mosley, 68, damages equivalent to about $120,000 and legal costs estimated to be at least $850,000 in his lawsuit against The News of the World.
Question: Because this was a lawsuit it had to be framed in terms of a legal question, hence the focus on "press freedom" v. "individual privacy", but wouldn't this kind of thing be better discussed in terms of journalistic ethics? Instead of worrying about whether this decision represents a limiting of freedom of the British press, should the British press be discussing ways to make sure its members adhere to ethical reporting standards?
I'm all for investigative journalism, but there has to be something in the public interest to justify it. Exposing a person's private, legal, consensual sexual activity is certainly not in the public interest. It may be very interesting to the public, but that's not the same thing!
I've always known that the New York Times is an elitist paper. Most national papers are pretty directed at the upper middle and upper classes. You can tell just by looking at their advertising. Million dollar studio apartments and thousand dollar watches are not for the masses, after all. And I learned from a beloved sociology instructor in college to recognize the significance of the fact that there is never a labor section but always a business section and that the Times has two "Style" sections a week where you can learn about the newest expensive trends. So it isn't like this is a revelation. But today's Metro Section really beats all:
...working for minimum wage? (And other problems of logic and evidence)
So according to Nicholas Kristof's op-ed today, Eliot Spitzer recently encouraged him to write a book about Spitzer's anti-sex-trafficking work. Perhaps he will. He certainly seems to buy the assumption that tightening penalties for johns will somehow help women who are victimized while working as prostitutes. Actually just the opposite is likely.