Imaginary girlfriends, real rape, and real divorce.
(For discussions of the latest topics, check out the Human Nature Fray.)
Sexual couplings in Second Life are fraying real marriages. Counselors are "seeing a growing number of marriages dissolve over virtual infidelity." One wife says her husband's avatar's marriage to another woman's avatar is cheating; he says he isn't. His arguments: 1) It's just a game. 2) He has never met the woman behind the other avatar and doesn't plan to meet her. 3) His participation in Second Life is no different from his real wife watching TV. Her arguments: 1) The virtual marriage includes a joint mortgage, dogs, and spending hours together. 2) The husband and the other woman spend real money on each other's avatars. 3) The other woman says, "There's a huge trust between us. We'll tell each other everything." 4) The husband met his real wife online in the first place. 5) His virtual avatar is all about lingerie, nude dancers, and redheads, which is fake wife is but his real wife isn't. 6) He's spending all day in Second Life and ignoring his real wife. Wife's summary: "When it's from six in the morning until two in the morning, that's not a hobby, that's your life." Human Nature's view: Leave him. (WSJ link requires subscription. Related column: Is cybersex real?) To get away from your spouse and join the discussion, click here.
Jurors acquitted a man of rape on the grounds that "sexsomnia" made him do it. Circumstances: He, the 15-year-old victim, and others went to sleep separately after a drunken house party. She woke up to find him on top of her, naked. His defense: "I laid down to go to sleep. The next thing I knew I was … completely naked in the middle of the street." Hypothesis: Sexsomnia, a disorder that "causes people to commit sex acts in their sleep." Evidence: 1) His fellow soldiers had nicknamed him "Night Rider" because he walked in his sleep. 2) His girlfriend says he previously "fondled her in bed while asleep." 3) He allegedly "had once punched his girlfriend during a bad dream, but had no recollection of it. " Number of women on the jury: 5. Deliberation time: 2 hours. Skeptical views: 1) "I would think it was extremely difficult to perform such a complex maneuver as having sexual intercourse while asleep—especially if the other person is unwilling." 2) "There are a lot more people who will get off lightly using the same defense." (To comment, join the Fray.)
Farming is becoming a booming energy industry. 1) The U.S. corn crop increased 24 percent in a year, setting a new record. Reason: High corn prices, driven by ethanol prospects, inspired farmers to plant the most acreage in 63 years. Global corn output is projected to increase 10 percent from last year. 2) U.S. farmland prices have increased 14 percent in a year, setting new records. Nebraska prices are up 17 percent; Iowa farm rental prices are up 10 percent; Illinois farmland values have increased by two-thirds over five years. Reason: Buyers are "giddy with the promise of corn-based ethanol." Cynical view: Good luck eating all that corn when the ethanol industry turns to more efficient switchgrass. (Related column: Why biofuel makes sense but corn doesn't.)
Involuntary GPS surveillance is spreading: 1) Companies are selling GPS devices to track lost Alzheimer's patients, as well as sensors that "sound an alarm when someone strolls too far." One company is implanting GPS chips in sneakers. 2) "Over 200 paroled burglars in Connecticut will be fitted with global tracking devices as part of the state's response to last month's horrific home invasion." 3) Mitt Romney is demandinglifetime federal GPS tracking of anyone who has used the Internet to commit a sex offense against a minor. Human Nature's question for Romney: If we're talking about the subset of perverts who do their prowling in cyberspace while sitting still in real space, doesn't it make more sense to track them on the Web? (Related column: Why felons should be grateful for GPS monitors.) To comment, join the Fray.
Another Egyptian girl has died from female genital mutilation. This is the second death in three months. Six years ago, according to a survey, nearly every Egyptian woman of childbearing age had been subjected to the procedure. The usual lethal risks are hemhorraging, infection, and childbirth complications—did we mention the mutilation? This time the cause of death was apparently related to anesthesia. It's been nine years since the government officially banned the practice and two months since it issued a similar decree, but apparently it's not doing the job. Legislation is in the works to stiffen the penalties. (Related column: male and female genital mutilation.) Question: Should we stamp out male circumcision, too? To comment, join the Fray.
Brain scans have found a second mentally functional patient trapped in his own skull. Previous scans had showed near-normal brain activity in a woman who had been diagnosed as vegetative because she didn't respond visibly to stimuli. The active core of her brain had lost its connections to her body. Scientists have tried the same scans on 10 other patients; one shows "exactly the same responses." Caveats: 1) Don't get the idea that every vegetative patient is awake inside. 2) The cases so far suggest that patients with brain trauma have better odds than those with oxygen deprivation. Questions: How many others are locked inside? What are our obligations to find and free them? Have we already terminated some of them? (Related column: Buried alive in your own skull.) Join the discussion here.
Chinese police are installing 20,000 surveillance cameras and creating a network of 200,000. The cameras "will soon be guided by software … to recognize automatically the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity." The government is also 1) using cell-phone signals to track officers on a computer map and 2) requiring chip-implanted identity cards that show the carrier's religion and "reproductive history" (to facilitate enforcement of the one-child policy). Official motive: fighting crime. Suspected motive: tracking and crushing dissent. Jaded reaction: So what, we already have police cameras and face recognition software in the U.S. and Britain. Freaky reaction: Oh my God, we already have police cameras and face recognition software in the U.S. and Britain! (Related column: GPS in the U.S.) To comment on cameras and civil liberties, enter the Fray.)
The U.S. is losing ground to other countries in height and longevity. 1) In 20 years, we've fallen from 11th to 42nd in longevity. We trail most European countries, Japan, Guam, and Jordan. 2) We used to be the world's tallest people but now rank rank rank ninth and 15th in male and female height, respectively. On average, we're two inches shorter than the Dutch. Liberal theories: 1) Our infant mortality rate is too high. 2) Our child poverty rate is too high. 3) Our child vaccination rate is too low. 4) Our adult health care is too spotty. 5) It's all because other countries have universal health care, and we don't. Conservative theories: 1) We've gotten "fat and lazy." 2) We have too many single-parent households. 3) It's the immigrants' fault. 4) The Dutch cheat by stuffing their kids with meat. (Related column: The global explosion of fat.) To discuss America's physical decline, click here.)
The defendant in the astronaut love triangle asked a court to remove her GPS ankle monitor. The monitor was required as a condition of her release on bail, so she can't flee while facing kidnapping charges. Among her arguments: "The president of the manufacturer invited media to his office and specifically shared" where she was "right at that moment," violating her "right of privacy." Bonus update: Companies are selling GPS collars and motion-sensing chips for dogs. Advertised uses: 1) tracking your dog, 2) making sure it's getting enough exercise while you're away, 3) following it to the prey on a hunting trip, and 4) enabling you to contact the owner of the dog your dog just met. Unadvertised use: Getting a date with the other owner. (Related column: Why felons should be grateful for GPS monitors.) To comment, join the Fray.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of nun on Slate's home page by Digital Vision.