New column 2/8. (For the latest columns on gay sheep, made-to-order embryos, and shrinking people, click here.)
A federal study saysone of every 150 American kids has an "autism spectrum disorder" (ASD). It defines ASD as "significant impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests." Rates are higher in states that offer more evaluations and services for autism. Activists' conclusion: We need to look harder for autism and offer resources if your kid gets diagnosed with it, because it's becoming an epidemic. Cynical conclusion: It's becoming an "epidemic" because we're looking harder for it and offering resources if your kid gets diagnosed with it. (For previous updates on designating "compulsive buying" as a disorder, click here and here.)
San Francisco's mayor, exposed as an adulterer, said he'll seek treatment for alcoholism. The woman in question worked in his administration; so did her husband. This is the same mayor who 1) unilaterally authorized gay marriages and 2) recently "dated a woman who wasn't old enough to drink legally." His statement: "I will be a better person without alcohol in my life. I take full responsibility for my personal mistakes, and my problems with alcohol are not an excuse for my personal lapses in judgment." Supporters' view: Stipulating that booze is no excuse proves he's sincere. Cynical view: Stipulating that booze is no excuse is the first rule of booze-blaming P.R. (For Human Nature's takes on Mark Foley and Mel Gibson blaming the bottle, click here and here. For gay marriage and polygamy, click here.)
Indian women are renting their wombs to foreigners. Experts estimate 100 to 150 Indian surrogates deliver babies each year, with many more attempts failing. Many clients come from the United States or Europe. Critics say some are "educated working women turning to hired wombs to avoid a pregnancy affecting careers." Interest on both sides is growing. Buyers' reason: You can get a surrogate for less than half of what you'd pay in the West. Sellers' reason: "We could not manage even a meal a day. That is when I decided to rent out my womb." (For Human Nature's take on the baby-buying industry, click here.)
Ted Haggard, the national evangelical leader who resigned after admitting to "sexual immorality," has told counselors he is "completely heterosexual." A former male hooker says Haggard paid him for sex for three years. Rehab summary: 1) Haggard says he has undergone "a three week psychological intensive that gave us three years worth of analysis and treatment." 2) He says "the Holy Spirit has been convicting and healing me." 3) His counselors have asked him to continue "Christian counseling" twice a week. 4) They've urged him "to enter a 12-step program for sexual addiction." Counselors' spin: "He is completely heterosexual. That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing." Cynical spin: Acting out? Until you're out, you're acting. (For Human Nature's take on the ability to change sexual orientation, click here.)
Female genital mutilation is adapting to modern resistance. The good news: Public support is declining, and countries are banning it, because people are learning about the health risks. The bad news: 1) It's moving to clinics, where people think they can avoid these risks. 2) To avoid resistance from girls, parents are mutilating them earlier. Estimated number of mutilated women: 120 to 140 million. (For Human Nature's take on circumcision and genital mutilation, click here.)
The HPV vaccine is being tested against anal cancer. The vaccine has just been mandated for sixth-grade girls in Texas to prevent cervical cancer. Doctors think it might also block anal cancer, which "is most common among men with histories of receptive anal intercourse." Arguments: 1) "The cervix is similar biologically to the anus, so there's plenty of hope that it will work there also." 2) "The anal cancer rate for gay men is similar to cervical cancer rates before the advent of Pap smears." Doctors are advising some gay men to get routine anal Pap smears. The vaccine's producer, Merck, is testing it on 4,000 men, including a sample of 500 gay men. Film at 11. (For Human Nature's take on the risks of anal sex, click here.)
EBay banned auctions of virtual game assets. These assets "have no physical properties." Examples: blades for "World of Warcraft," shoulder pads for "EverQuest." Bids and sale prices for such items have reached hundreds of dollars apiece; an expert says total sales have topped $100 million a year. Rationale for the ban: Sales by players may be illegal because game companies require players to agree up front that anything created in the game is the companies' intellectual property. The ban doesn't apply to Second Life, because EBay says it's not a game. Reactions: 1) If a game maker won't let you sell what you create, maybe you should play a different game. 2) Maybe the company can't stop you from selling what you create, since it's "harder to confirm delivery" of something that doesn't exist. 3) Maybe you should take the hint and get a life. (For previous updates on virtual sex, virtual offices, and real money, click here and here.)
The Republican governor of Texas is ordering sixth-grade girls to get shots against a sexually transmitted virus. The virus, known as HPV, causes cervical cancer. The order applies to all 11- and 12-year-old girls unless their parents sign an affidavit opting out on religious or philosophical grounds. More than a dozen other states are considering similar legislation. Governor's rationale: The shots will save lives and money. Idealistic view: The governor stood up to activists who say the shots encourage premarital sex and usurp parental authority. Cynical view: He caved to drug-company lobbyists who are peddling the vaccine around the country to enrich its producer, Merck. Human Nature's view: Family values are for campaigning; pharma values are for governing. (For previous updates on HPV, mouth cancer, and mandatory vaccinations, click here and here.)
Latest Human Nature columns: 1) Gay sheep and human destiny. 2) More on gay sheep. 3) The power to shrink human beings. 4) The first human embryo factory. 5) The bum rap on cloned food. 6) Lesbians of mass destruction. 7) The Best of Human Nature 2006. 8) Unhealthy food outlawed in New York. 9) Food and sex without consequences.
TODAY IN SLATE
How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics
Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks
Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies
Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band
Can it be again?
Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive
Is he right?
“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse
Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.
Driving in Circles
The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.