Wednesday, May 2, 2012

More Gateway Sexual Activity

Just a quick update, just to prove I'm not making anything up. Newsy has put together a well sourced compilation on the story, and it includes actual people who actually think the law is a good idea.

The one thing I am really struck by, is how uncertain everybody seems to be when it comes to actually defining what "gateway sexual activity" is. The bill itself is described as one intended to make sure Tennessee's sex education classes remain focused on abstinence[1], and seems to penalize educators who encourage non-abstinent behavior or contraceptive use. Representative John DeBarry, a supporter of the bill explains:
“I think you and I both would know when we’re looking at a kiss, and when we’re looking at, for lack of a better way of saying it, someone who is trying to open the door to more activities,”
Somewhat related, TIME states that
Some detractors argue that it could unreasonably punish teachers for allowing students to cuddle, hold hands or even hug, whether in the halls between classes or at a school dance.
Even after Barry's explanations, we're right back where we started; with a bizzare tautology that makes a person liable or condoning an activity that is literally defined as condoning said activity. If all the bill's supporters have is vauge allusions to door-openings and and "more activities", then I'm not quite sure how this will withstand even the most cursory legal scrutiny.

[1] Surprise!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Social Networks and General Speech

We invest a lot of time and money into making communication faster, and our communication gadgets fancier. I don't think this is a bad thing at all, but I am also not convinced its is wholly a good thing either. I get text messages and e-mails sent to a device I carry in my pocket, a fact that continues to ever so slightly blow my mind. The internet and smartphones certainly improve people's efficiency and productive capacity.
But it also provides more opportunities to share things that aren't necessarily 'ready' for sharing, or weren't really meant to be shared in the first place. I continually resist the urge to share the latest cute cat picture on Facebook because, well, they're are enough cute cats all over the internet. Private thoughts tend to be best left to private places, and I think we're still working on what is private as participants in this developing world of social media.

Near the end of chapter 13, Vonnegut creates an extended section of Kilgore Trout fiction[1], which describes something remarkably similar to our current trajectory. In the fictional universe of Trout's novel, people from earth can gain steady work across the galaxy as "language teachers". Why? Well:
The reason creatures wanted to use language instead of mental telepathy was that they found out they could get so much more done with language. Language made them so much more active. Mental telepathy, with everybody constantly telling everybody everything, produced a sort of generalized indifference to all information. But language, with its slow, narrow meanings, made it possible to think about one thing at a time—to start thinking in terms of projects. (198 emphasis mine - JMG)
Some of you may remember an essay I wrote about Arendt's The Human Condition, in which I probed some of Arednt's ideas of 'the public sphere'. Arednt was specific on how speaking or thinking the public sphere entailed of shaping one's thoughts for public consumption, and more specifically;
[...] that everything that appears in public can be seen and heard by everybody and has the widest possible publicity (50 emphasis mine - JMG) 
Now, I want to make a few qualifications here; Arendt is talking about publicly available communications (in a political context). Vonnegut/Trout is envisioning an existence with universal mental telepathy, where all thoughts are by definition public. While I don't think we're anywhere close a grim future where we're all plugged into each other, a la The Matrix, but more and more communication tools are in the business of encouraging personal disclosure (e.g. Facebook, twitter). We are certainly entering a period of redefinition of what thoughts are acceptably public or private, and I do think that Vonnegut's imagination should serve as a cautionary example of unfettered exchange.

[1] Vonnegut's use of science fiction within his own fiction reminds me of Alan Moore's "Tales of the Black Freighter" within Watchmen.

A Man of Principle

Massachusetts junior Senator Scott Brown has thrice voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but he has told the Boston Globe that "of course" he includes his 23-year-old daughter on his congressional health plan.

For those who are unfamiliar with the details of health law and policy, prior the the Affordable Care Act, the health insurance industry's standard was that dependent children were no long eligible for coverage under their parent's plan upon college graduation.

As someone who only has insurance coverage because of the current Massachusetts law, and could only get coverage in other states because of the national law, I find Sen. Brown's callous insistence on voting to revoke healthcare coverage for his constituents, while glibly acknowledging how he and his family benefit form the very law he supposedly opposes on deep philosophical grounds, to be a microcosm of everything wrong with conservative legislators.