Human Nature

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Corporate surveillance of your online behavior.

New columns 10/29 and 11/1 on  Jewish intelligence  and Republican environmentalism. (For discussions of the latest topics, check out the Human Nature Fray.)

Rhode Island legislators voted to stop imprisoning 17-year-olds as adults. Fourteen states try some underage offenders as adults, but several are reconsidering. Rhode Island’s previous rationale for jailing 17-year-olds: It’s cheaper than sending them to juvenile detention schools. Rationales for reversing the policy: 1) It turns out to be more expensive, since the kids, for their protection, have to be isolated from other inmates. 2) It’s wrong to punish kids as adults. 3) They need rehabilitation instead. Old complaint: People who had committed serious offense at age 17 had to disclose this to employers. New complaint: Now they don’t have to. (Related: Rethinking the age of sexual consent.)

Consumer groups are demanding a crackdown on “commercial surveillance” of online behavior. Trackers secretly record your behavior so they can choose ads that match what you’re likely to buy. What they track: 1) Your purchases. 2) What you say on your social networking page. 3) Which pages you visit. 4) Which search terms you submit. 5) Where you put your mouse. 6) What you say in email. Objections: 1) It’s “Big Brother.” 2) You can’t see them tracking you. 3) Next they’ll link your online behavior to your identity and sell the information. 4) Next they’ll do it to your TV and cell phone. Rebuttals: 1) The companies don’t need to know your identity. 2) It’s not really a privacy violation, since you’re being tracked by a machine, not a person. 3) By tracking you, they can show you ads more relevant to your interests. 4) This is the price of keeping Web content free. 5) Direct-mail companies already track your behavior offline, so why should the online world be different? 6) Today’s young people don’t really care about privacy anyway.

Doctors are studying the effects of surgery to define washboard abdominal muscles. Old method of getting washboard abs: working out. New method: “Detailed body fat is removed, enhancing the shapely figure of the underlying muscles of the abdomen. These muscles are typically unseen or smothered under 1 to 2 inches of fat.” Cost: $4,000 to $7,000. Caveat: “The procedure has been performed in females, but leaves a somewhat unnatural look.”  Human Nature’s view: It looks pretty creepy in men, too. (Related: The new surgical world of results without effort.)

The pope urged pharmacists to preach the immorality of morning-after pills. Quotes: 1) “Pharmacists must seek to raise people’s awareness so that all human beings are protected from conception to natural death.” 2) “We cannot anesthetize consciences as regards, for example, the effect of certain molecules that have the goal of preventing the implantation of the embryo.” 3) Pharmacists are entitled to refuse “to collaborate directly or indirectly in supplying” the pills or other “products that have clearly immoral purposes.” Defense: The pope is just trying to protect Italian pharmacists, who are being forced to supply morning-after pills. Criticism: His argument also justifies refusal to supply ordinary birth control. (Related: Do morning-after pills cause abortions—or prevent them?)

Japan will fingerprint most non-citizen residents and visitors. Rationale: preventing terrorism. If you refuse to be fingerprinted, sayonara. The United States has a similar policy; the European Union is considering it. Critiques: 1) It violates privacy. 2) It validates bigotry against foreigners. 3) It distracts scrutiny from the ethnic group that has actually perpetrated Japan’s recent terror attacks: Japanese. Unofficial U.S. reaction: How dare the Japanese treat us the way we treat the Mexicans. (Related: DNA testing of all arrestees in Britain and South Carolina; DNA testing of immigrants in France.) Human Nature’s view: Wake me up when Japan starts putting citizens of immigrant ancestry in camps.

The Georgia Supreme Court voided a 10-year jail sentence for oral sex between a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old. The offender, Genarlow Wilson, is free after serving 32 months for “aggravated child molestation.” Court’s rationale: 1) Georgia’s stiff sentences were meant to target “adults who prey on children,” not “willing teenage participants.” 2) The sentence is “grossly disproportionate” to the offense. Dissenters’ rebuttal: Now every pervert convicted of the same crime is entitled to be released. Reformers’ spins: 1) Let’s think twice about our national fad of imposing ever-harsher sex crime laws. 2) Let’s rethink the draconian laws we’ve already enacted. Human Nature’s view: Mandatory sentences shouldn’t apply to a 17-year-old even if the other party is 12. (Disagree? Speak up.)

Latest Human Nature columns:  1) Are Jews genetically smart? 2) Newt Gingrich, environmentalist. 3) Race, intelligence, and James Watson. 4) The lessons of Iraq. 5) Rethinking the age of consent. 6) The best sex stories of 2007. 7) Are conservatives stupid? 8)  Larry Craig’s anti-gay hypocrisy. 9) The jihad against tobacco. 10)  Fat lies and fat lies revisited.