The Societal Stigma of Sex Offender Registries

In response to Match.com’s recent implementation of sex-offender screening on its website, Tracy-Clark Flory wrote about why its proposed security measures would be ineffective. In a follow-up, she writes about why overly broad sex offender registries may further place a burden on those trying to recover:

Our registries desperately need to be reformed, and we could greatly benefit from better data about recidivism for different sex offense types — but that’s a much bigger task than simply screening on Match.com. On that front, maybe I am making perfect the enemy of good. Eliminating some high-risk predators from the online dating pool is better than nothing. Still, Match.com’s approach of banning all registered sex offenders — even those who are low-risk or who committed minor offenses — strikes me as unjust. In the case of Georgia, the site’s ban means restricting access to 95 percent of registered offenders who are not “clearly dangerous” and two-thirds who are low-risk. That seems an inept way to screen out men who pose a serious danger to women — especially when you consider that most assaults go unreported and most sex crimes are committed by those without a sex crime record.

The Misguided Attack on the Online Poker Industry

MSNBC has a horror story about poker players who’ve had thousands of dollars frozen due to recent federal action against online poker companies:

The government has blocked U.S. gamblers from logging on to the offshore sites, which are accused of tricking and bribing banks into processing billions of dollars in illegal profits. Now gamblers who dreamed of enormous prizes in Las Vegas, or even used online poker to make a living, can’t access online bankrolls that in some cases reach six figures

This war against the online poker companies is stupid in every respect. First of all, there’s the blatant hypocrisy of allowing actual, legalized gambling in the U.S., yet penalizing the online component. How can that possibly be justified, except out of some severely misguided sense of morality? Furthermore, there are billions worth of untapped revenue that the U.S. government could make simply by explicitly allowing online poker to operate in this country and then taxing the services.

The always-fascinating Nate Silver also has a great analysis of this issue at his NYTimes blog.

No Immediate Benefit

Ross Perlin discusses how colleges are complicit in providing companies and organizations with free student labor(via Rachel) :

Colleges and universities have become cheerleaders and enablers of the unpaid internship boom, failing to inform young people of their rights or protect them from the miserly calculus of employers. In hundreds of interviews with interns over the past three years, I found dejected students resigned to working unpaid for summers, semesters and even entire academic years — and, increasingly, to paying for the privilege.

As someone who attends a university that facilitates these sorts of internships, I’m also wary of paying for the privilege of working for someone. Sadly, there are few incentives for universities to change these practices, even as better alternatives exist.

Eating Animals Is Wrong Under Most Circumstances

B.R. Myers writes (with incredibly florid language) about the disturbing hypocrisy and amorality of foodies such as Michael Pollan and Anthony Bourdain:

Even if gourmets’ rejection of factory farms and fast food is largely motivated by their traditional elitism, it has left them, for the first time in the history of their community, feeling more moral, spiritual even, than the man on the street. Food writing reflects the change. Since the late 1990s, the guilty smirkiness that once marked its default style has been losing ever more ground to pomposity and sermonizing. References to cooks as “gods,” to restaurants as “temples,” to biting into “heaven,” etc., used to be meant as jokes, even if the compulsive recourse to religious language always betrayed a certain guilt about the stomach-driven life. Now the equation of eating with worship is often made with a straight face.

Some good responses to this piece in Time magazine and in The Atlantic itself.

Our Country’s Growing Income Disparity Will Come To Haunt the Rich

Leave it to the genius Joseph Stiglitz to put into plain language what we’ve all been thinking about the widening income disparity in American society:

Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.

The Inhumane Treatment of Bradley Manning

David House’s recounting of his visits with friend Bradley Manning is a must-read for those concerned with how the U.S. is upholding its own rule of law. The entire piece is tragic but this excerpt stuck out to me:

Riding the overnight train, one of the things House says he tries to put out of his mind is the hate mail resulting from his part in the campaign to support the solitary young man accused of being the “hacktivist” behind all the notorious recent publications of Wiki-Leaks. “I receive probably 10-15 pieces a day. It’s quite a lot, but only one or two a week are actual death threats.”

When the best part of the hate mail you receive is that “only one or two a week are actual death threats,” then you know the odds are skewed against you.

The Atrocious Sexual Assault Reporting of the NYTimes

The New York Times recently published a piece by James C. McKinley about the brutal gang rape of an 11-year old girl. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The police investigation began shortly after Thanksgiving, when an elementary school student alerted a teacher to a lurid cellphone video that included one of her classmates. The video led the police to an abandoned trailer, more evidence and, eventually, to a roundup over the last month of 18 young men and teenage boys on charges of participating in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in the abandoned trailer home, the authorities said…

Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said. “Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. “How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?”

Even on its face, the implication that the victim might have somehow been responsible for her own assault seems abhorrent in such a story (conveniently, the people explaining her proclivities are relegated to the anonymous “some”).

Emily Long explains why she thinks this article is a pretty poor piece of reporting:

And here we have another variation on blaming the victim, which is blaming the victim’s parents. For one thing, the girl’s mother did not grant permission for a child to be viciously assaulted. We have no background on what was going on in the victim’s private life (which is as it should be; she and her family deserve anonymity). For all we know, the girl was no more supervised at home than she was in the Quarters, and the reasons for that could be any number of possibilities. Within the article, that makes for two quotes working against the victim, and none against the accused beyond statements about how devastated the community is by the attack as a whole.

Mary Elizabeth Williams chimes in with a thoughtful, well-written analysis (as usual):

The question, however, is not what that girl or her mother did to bring this on. And it’s sloppy journalism for a reporter to run a story that casts a victim and her mother as somehow responsible for an attack, especially without including a single quote from anyone in town with a more sympathetic view of the family. That’s far from the balanced journalism the Times aspires to. The girl’s mother, identified only as Maria, told the New York Daily news this week that the family has received several angry phone calls, and that the child has been moved to foster care for her protection. “These guys knew she was in middle school,” she said. “You could tell whenever you talked to her. She still loves stuffed teddy bears.” Where’s that quote in the Times story?

It’s a painful thing to contemplate that a girl’s circumstances may have made her more vulnerable to attack. But being vulnerable does not put the burden of what happens on the victim. No 11-year-old deserves a word of questioning or doubt on that front. No one who has ever been sexually assaulted, and certainly none who has ever been sexually assaulted in such a sustained and inhumane way, deserves to have her makeup or clothing brought into the conversation, regardless of her age. And how demoralizing, how outrageous, how sickening that once again, when a female is brutally and inhumanely attacked, the issue of what her multiple assailants apparently did somehow pales next to the curiosity over what she must have done to provoke it.