the Horn Farm Paste Mob


a shot in the dark

South Carolina legislator Ralph Davenport introduced a bill in March banning the sale of sex toys. Speaking to a Columbia TV station in May, though, he elaborated:

Davenport admits he doesn’t even know what a sex toy is. Nor does he have a strong opinion about them. The bill, he says, will help the people he represents.

If the bill passes selling sex toys would be a felony. The punishment would be five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

It’s common for politicians to stereotype or disguise the people a proposed law would affect, but usually as a form of persuasion, unlike here. Davenport could have said, “I just don’t think the doctors of South Carolina ought to be forced to shovel coal into the maw of steam-powered vibrating tables” etc. But he didn’t even do that! Society has succeeded at protecting Ralph Davenport from information about sex toys and yet he can’t resist the temptation to write laws about them. So we have to ask, is writing laws more fun than actually having sex? If not, can we argue a fortiori that this shows abstinence-only education doesn’t work?

You can read the bill here. (It seems to have stayed in subcommittee so far.) It’s pretty sloppy work; the obscenity law it amends was written to apply to media– porn– not objects. Even the most realistic vibrators don’t “depict or describe” sexual activity.

For a good summary of a lot of relevant history, read Rachel Maines’ affidavit in an Alabama case enjoining the enforcement of an anti-sex-toy law. Maines says, among other things, that no American law ever banned vibrators until 1973 and that what federal regulation existed of vibrator sale (mostly related to electrical safety) was largely dropped in 1996.

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the war on you

Well, on many of you.

Mo. Town Denies Unmarried Couple Permit

When I first read about this, I assumed they had gotten turned down for domestic partnership registration, or maybe some kind of public aid. But no: The city council of a Missouri town declined to change– and the mayor suggested he might soon enforce– a rule forbidding four or more people from living together unless connected by “blood, marriage or adoption”. If you try, you can be evicted by the city.

(This came up when an unmarried couple with three children was refused an occupancy permit, which seems like an insane interpretation of the law in the first place; the kids are blood relatives of both parents, after all. Saying that any pair of people has to be connected directly to each other by blood/marriage/adoption would essentially forbid two people that each had a child in a previous marriage from getting married, even if both parents adopted the other’s kid– the children still wouldn’t be blood relatives.)

I have to ask: Are there unenforced laws like this all over the place which I just haven’t heard about? (Are there enforced laws like this, in which case I would feel very naive?)

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0 = 1 (now fuck me)

David Brooks’ column in yesterday’s New York Times is about a Tom Wolfe novel in which, I gather, a young woman goes to college and encounters a college culture that Wolfe and Brooks disapprove of. To both writers, this demonstrates something about the moral laxity of modern society. Brooks is prepared to be very smug about this; not having read the book, I can’t say if Wolfe is the same. But here’s the column’s big finish, the three sentences before the last-paragraph wrap-up:

Highly educated young people are tutored, taught and monitored in all aspects of their lives, except the most important, which is character building. When it comes to this, most universities leave them alone. And they find themselves in a world of unprecedented ambiguity, where it’s not clear if you’re going out with the person you’re having sex with, where it’s not clear if anything can be said to be absolutely true.

Those last two clauses are the most godawful use of parallel construction as a rhetorical scam that I’ve ever seen. And Brooks means it!

(In the name of intellectual honesty, here is the link if you want to read it, but seriously, it’s not worth it. If you do, Grimmelmann makes a good point about the column’s authoritarian motives.)

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two-party system

Asked if he was making any special preparations for election night, my officemate said, “Well, I figure I’ll buy one nice bottle of red wine… and one bottle of cheap vodka.”

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This is particularly interesting because so many people I know (including me) have been volunteering time to political campaigns this year, many (including me) for the first time.

The New York Times has an article about a study of voter mobilization techniques. The estimates given:

– Door-to-door canvassing yields one vote per 14 contacts ($7-19/vote).
– Leafletting brought one vote per 66 leaflets from a partisan campaign, and one per 200 non-partisan leaflets ($14-42/vote).
– Direct mail cost $60 per new vote.
– Phone calls cost from $45 per vote (for personalized calls) to $200 (for highly scripted calls).
– Recorded messages and emails had no measurable effect on turnout.
– Mailing negative messages to an opponent’s base to *depress* turnout cost $300 per vote suppressed.

Now, these numbers could be very, very squishy. (In particular, the article implied that they had pay rates in mind for each task, but didn’t say if an hour of a person’s time cost the same no matter what they were doing.) But this is a topic I hadn’t even run into a shred of data about before, and I am curious to read the book that the authors of the study have just put out.

I sure hope it becomes the conventional wisdom that pre-recorded phone calls don’t do campaigns any good, because getting phone calls from robots drives me nuts.

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Wimblehack

Here’s something I found about half cool and half horrible; your assessment may vary.

The New York Press has announced Wimblehack!, a Wimbledon-style elimination tournament meant to pick the absolute suckiest from the 32 worst campaign reporters working today. Each round will be decided on the basis of one week’s published stories, with the last match decided based on the two finalists’ post-election coverage. The competitors have been pressed into service involuntarily and will only be allowed to drop out if they bribe the judges or submit a videotaped confession of their journalistic sins.

Mainstream election coverage desperately needs gadflies, and Wimblehack author Matt Taibbi, unrestrained by the need to seem fair, stabs at many of the the most pathological things about contemporary campaign reportage. However– here’s the horrible part– he’s also apparently obsessed with slamming female reporters that look too masculine, which makes three or four of the 16 segments unreadably awful.

If you want to get a feel for the piece without the sexist bullshit, read the intro and then skip down to “George Will (7)”, the beginning of the Greedy Conference (other sub-brackets: Mendacious Conference, Vapid Conference, Pompous Conference). The James Bennet quotes are delightfully meaningless.

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YOU FORGOT POLAND

“Is this site pro, or anti?” my coworker asked. But that’s not the question. The question is,

You forgot Poland!

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They’re investigating at least five deaths of Iraqi prisoners in connection with abuse and torture.

When this scandal first broke, I heard that something like two dozen deaths were under investigation. Thought it was strange that didn’t get more press, but then, we didn’t have pictures. The article above says “twenty-seven of the abuse cases involve deaths; at least eight are believed to be homicides.” I’m not sure I understand what the other 19 cases are — certainly, people can die while in US custody without it being suspicious or blameworthy, but when an abuse case “involves” death, aren’t you talking about homicide? I’m also not sure what distinguishes the five cases given headline status from the other 22.

What we have, in at least one case, is not just murder but a cover-up: a prisoner was asphyxiated by an interrogator, and the surgeon’s report — “asphyxia due to smothering and chest compressions” — glossed only as “natural causes” by the Pentagon in their official statement. Though there’s no indication anybody on the inside was actually confused about what took place, I find it eerie that this means of killing someone was widely touted by the Lurid Violent Kids in my middle school (the ones who watched Faces Of Death and had ninja throwing stars) as ideal because of its untraceability. “Everyone will think you died of natural causes,” they said.

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sex mad

Romney’s administration doesn’t know the difference between 10-year-olds and gay people. Columnist Rich Lowry doesn’t know the difference between the crimes at Abu Ghraib and amateur porn. And Rush Limbaugh, who’s previously compared Abu Ghraib to a frat hazing, reveals that it also reminds him of some of the gay porn sites he’s apparently subscribed to (last few paragraphs here).

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Is Rummy sandbagging us?

Donald Rumsfeld has said there is yet more evidence of crimes committed at Abu Ghraib coming, and that some of these crimes surpass what we’ve already seen and learned. I don’t know exactly who’s getting their information from where, but rape and murder figure prominently in every specific breakdown I’ve seen of what to expect.

Consider this:

– The Bush administration tends to stick with a consistent arsenal of political maneuvers. (Lately, among others, they’ve been running with “I was never formally informed that was a problem,” but that’s not the move I’m thinking of now.)

– Bush and his people, in the past, have been fond of floating outrageous proposals which allow them to then “compromise” at a position their critics never would have accepted originally. Moving the goalposts.

– The Bush administration has by NO means stopped the process of furiously spinning things for their own political survival. Rumsfeld in particular has led the way, starting with his “it’s abuse, not torture” speech.

– Rumsfeld’s announcement of worse horrors to come doesn’t look like a political boon on its face. Maybe you can reduce the impact of announcing a funding cut if you hint at it beforehand, but images of US soldiers raping a prisoner that’s supposed to be under their care? Nah, those are still disturbing.

I can’t help suspecting from all this that the awful pictures Rumsfeld has warned us are coming… aren’t. Or they’ll depict something different, and categorically less shocking, than Rumsfeld’s warnings suggest, yet still bad enough that someone wanted them minimized.

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