Friday, November 09, 2012

Status update

A few days ago saw a grim date in American history, one that will long be remembered as an ominous turning point for America- nay, the entire world- and looked upon with horror by future generations cursed to live in its cold, bleak shadow...

'Cause it was my birthday on Wednesday! And it was a pretty nice birthday, in spite of some sad events in the past year that played were one of the main reasons for the rarity of new posts at The Superfluous Man in 2012. If you're one of the people who likes this place, I apologize for that, and I hope to make 2013 a much more interesting year.

If you're reading this, thank you; being able to write things that people actually read means a lot to me, even if I haven't been able to do so here as much lately, and I hope you'll keep reading here for a long time to come.

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

This must be that "common-sense regulation" I hear such good things about

The state of Virginia's Board of Health recently enacted new regulations on abortion clinics. Ostensibly enacted to protect women's health, in practice they serve as an interesting example of how the regulatory state can be, and often is, used by governments to chip away at rights that are impractical to simply abolish wholesale. (Found via Reason.)

Last year, the state's General Assembly passed, and Governor Bob McDonnell signed, legislation requiring the state's Board of Health to institute new regulations requiring all existing abortion facilities performing five or more first-trimester abortions per month to comply with regulations similar to those that apply to new hospital construction (but not preexisting hospitals) in the state. The Board did so, creating an extensive list of new regulations last year, covering all existing and future facilities in the state, and finally voted to approve them this September. They will go permanently into effect next year, contingent on approval from Gov. Bob McDonnell. The board had voted back in June to include a grandfather clause exempting existing facilities, but reversed itself under pressure from Virginia's Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli.

(For a more in-depth history see this article at Mother Jones. Detailed and refreshingly light on the conflation of forcing women to carry a pregnancy to term and failing to force some third party to subsidize recreational sex when a woman demands it that now infests left-of-center commentary on the subject.)

The new requirements (see this PDF file, starting on page 27) imposed on existing buildings are taken mostly from the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities published by the Facility Guidelines Institute. These include things things a minimum size of 80 feet for exam rooms for exam rooms, corridors at least 5 feet wide and seven feet ten inches tall, hands-free sink faucets, water fountains in waiting rooms, and new ventilation systems. Many of these are not trivial modifications to make to an existing building, and some existing facilities in the state will have to undergo costly renovations in order to continue legally operating.

Now, it's fairly obvious that the real point of this measure is to make it harder for abortion clinics to operate in Virginia, with the supposed public health justification serving as a fig leaf. The naked opportunism of the new regulations is made plain by the fact that they require existing abortion facilities to comply with building codes that apply only to new hospitals, which makes very little sense if protecting the health of patients at these facilities is really what this is about. Surely protecting the health and safety of people with heart problems or inflamed appendixes or stab wounds is no less important than protecting that of women undergoing abortions, after all. The improbability of the regulations' conservative supporters being driven by the genuine belief that women getting abortions ought to have more government-mandated protection for their health than everyone else should be obvious.

(Adding to the absurdity, the reason the regulations specify five or more first-trimester abortions is that abortions later in the pregnancy are required by law to be performed at a hospital, which may or may not be obliged to follow the same rules- so late-term abortions entail less potential risk to patients and so warrant less oversight than early ones, I guess.)

Indeed, calling the public health justification for these regulations a cynical ruse is actually a more charitable interpretation of their supporters' motives then taking them at face value. If these regulations are really such a good idea, so good that they should be imposed on existing facilities at considerable cost, their supporters in the legislature are guilty of an unconscionable betrayal of their constituents by wasting time and energy imposing them on only a very small niche of healthcare in the state when they should be fighting tooth and nail to get them in place everywhere, in old and new hospitals alike. While they dither, countless Virginians are apparently being imperiled every year in hospitals that were built before the current hospital construction regulations and exempted from current building standards, allowing their irresponsible owners and administrators to wantonly gamble with human life in miasmic corridors only 7'9” in height.

The vast scope of modern government power gives it tremendous latitude to attack freedoms that it supposedly still respects, either because they are supposed to be legally guaranteed rights the government cannot take away or because public opinion wouldn't tolerate their overt elimination. For instance, if it can't simply announce that no one can own a gun, it can still impose “reasonable regulations” to make it more burdensome, possibly to the point of a de facto ban. For instance, contrary to what is often thought, the city of Chicago has never actually banned owning handguns- you're just required to register them. Which you can't do without a time machine, because the city stopped accepting new registrations in 1982. It can't deny people the right to travel, but it can put all sorts of strings on any means of travel other than your own likes. You want to fly, you jump through whatever intrusive or degrading hoops the government demands- movement may be a right, but flying is only privilege. You want to drive- a driver's license is a privilege, not a right, and the government owns the roads, so you've “agreed” to give up some of your protections regarding search and seizure.

And it can't make abortion illegal, but it can do quite a bit to make legally getting one as burdensome as possible. The government of Virginia is no stranger to that, being one of the states requiring women to undergo a medically pointless abdominal ultrasound before receiving an abortion, supposedly to ensure that women can make an “informed choice” about the procedure. And that was the compromise solution, of course, enacted after supporters of the notorious original version of the law requiring transvaginal ultrasound compromised.

(Again, the limits of the measure's scope betrays the actual intent. The version of the ultrasound bill eventually passed in Virginia exempts women whose pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. That makes sense if the real purpose of the bill is to make getting an abortion a more burdensome and unpleasant experience- many people might like that idea in general but draw the line at doing it to a rape victim. It makes much less sense if the mandatory ultrasound really is supposed to be for the benefit of the woman. If you genuinely think it helps women considering abortion, and in fact helps them so much that it should be mandatory, why in God's name would you single out victims of rape and incest as the only women who aren't guaranteed this help?)

This is one of the problems with so many governmental powers that the great majority of people support. Like the power to tax, the power to regulate is the power to destroy, or at least the power to cripple, and when a governments' powers and activities intertwine with virtually every area of life in one way or another- as they inevitably do in any regulatory/interventionist state- very little if anything is out of reach.

The right to have an abortion is particularly vulnerable to this. It's an invasive medical procedure, making it part of one of the most regulated sectors of the economy- strict government regulation and licensing in the field of healthcare ranks high among those things everybody within spitting distance of the political mainstream mainstream “knows” is obviously necessary. It requires a permanent facility for both production and (for lack of a better word) consumption, and it's frequently done- as is the case here- in specialized facilities, which makes it highly vulnerable to attacks via zoning regulations. All of this makes it vulnerable in a way many things large numbers of people would like to restrict aren't. (There are certainly ways to interfere with or discriminate against homosexuals while still nominally respecting their right to sexual freedom, but making homosexuality de facto illegal by driving all of the gay sex factories in your state out of business with burdensome regulations is not one of them.) Given how intensely controversial abortion is, it's unsurprising that there are plenty of people ready to use the tools available to them.

It's a perverse irony that there's so much overlap between people who support abortion rights and people who wants to make the government's power to assail those rights even stronger. If you think there are powerful forces arrayed against women's ability to have an abortion now, what do you suppose it would be like in a single-payer system where every abortion is funded by the taxpayers, where people who want it restricted or outlawed are outraged at not merely having to tolerate something they consider murder but being forced to pay for it themselves every single time it happens, where people who think abortion should be legal but recoil at the notion of having any part of it themselves are told that simple tolerance is no longer an option, where the only source of money for a legal abortion is a perpetual political battlefield and comes with whatever strings Congress chooses to attach? As things stand now, making abortion inaccessible through legal channels nationwide would require a Supreme Court decision overturning a maor past decision or a constitutional amendment. Turn medicine into what many "progressives" want it to be, an arm of the state, and it gets a lot simpler.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

"For you, the day the Supreme Court graced your health care was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday."

While I'm far from happy about the Supreme Court's decision affirming the federal government's right to force people to buy the products of insurance companies, I can't say I agree with the emphasis so many people unhappy with the decision have placed on it. Not because the insurance mandate isn't awful- it certainly is- but because I just don't see the Supreme Court's decision upholding the mandate as constitutional as anything more than business as usual.

Yes, it's true that giving the federal government the power to force people to engage in a particular business transaction is a new usurpation of unconstitutional authority that makes a mockery of the idea of a government with limited powers restrained to the modest role defined for it in the Constitution. Which is bad, but at this point but it's sort of like a single bullet from an entire magazine that someone just emptied into you- it's always better to have fewer 5.56mm holes in your chest rather than more, certainly, but if there's already 29 of them it's a bit silly to curse the 30th as the one that killed you.

Thus, while I certainly don't think the mandate is constitutional- if we're defining “constitutional” according to that document's text- I find the arguments of its more mainstream opponents against its constitutionality uncompelling. Much was made by some critics of the mandate of the fact that the mandate compels a person to actively engage in commerce, rather than regulating or forbidding commerce that already exist. As much as I oppose their premises, I actually agree with liberal defenders of the mandate that this distinction is meaningless hairsplitting.

Yeah, forcing people to buy the products of private firms is not a power the federal government has previously had, or one the Constitution suggests that it has. So what?

Think about the state of constitutional government prior to this. The United States was already a country where the power to take private property “for public use” encompasses taking people's homes and giving them to private developers, where growing food on your own land to eat in your own home on that land can be regulated as “interstate commerce,” where forcing men from their and homes against their will and making them serve in the military at gunpoint is not “involuntary servitude,”where the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply in the presence of an internal combustion engine, and where neither seizing someone's property because the police suspect them of a crime and requiring them to prove their innocence to get it back nor imprisoning thousands of people not convicted or even suspected of any crime because their ancestors were born in the wrong country are incompatible with the Constitution's guarantee of the right to trial by jury and due process of law.

The idea that the federal government is limited to doing the things the Constitution says it can do has been a joke since my grandfather's time. Even the much weaker claim that the government can't do things the Constitution explicitly says it can't do is shaky under even the best circumstances, and things are seldom at their best.

I don't think a strictly limited state with powers narrowly constrained by a constitution that actually stays that way is plausible; that's one of the major reasons I'm an anarchocapitalist. (The monopoly state is necessarily the judge of its own cases, and so is bound by it's constitution largely to the extent that those who wield its power want it to be bound, and the people most motivated to pursue that power are those who want to use it.. Things like separation of powers can ameliorate the problem, but don't come close to eliminating it; the only thing that could would be a governing class free of the self-interest and hunger for power over others endemic in the human race that supposedly makes the state an indispensable protector for society in the first place.) You needn't share that general perspective to accept my point in this post, however; even if I had more confidence in the general idea of constitutional limits as a way to hold governments in check, however, I'd still have very little in the ability of the Constitution we actually have to serve as a restraint on the government we actually have.

It's a mistake to think of all the ways that the US government violates the Constitution as merely a concatenation of individual usurpations, because once they're as numerous as they now are the whole becomes something more than the sum of its parts. They cease to be exceptions to the general rule and become examples of it. The fact that the government has claimed yet another power it's not supposed to have does little damage to the Constitution at this point, because periodically claiming new powers it's not supposed to have is itself well-established as an accepted, normal government power. Whether it uses that power to pretend that the Constitution authorizes it to compel the purchase of a product or forbid it is an administrative detail. Whether the ostensible justification is the power to regulate commerce between the states or the power to tax, likewise.

Now, I can understand why the decision to uphold the mandate might be a breaking point for some libertarians or strict constitutionalist conservatives who already abhorred the extent to which the government has expanded, but who had previously retained greater hope than I for a return to significant constitutional restraints on state power. Precisely which straw turns out to be the one that breaks the camel's back will vary from person to person, and given the noxiousness of the mandate as a policy I can understand why it would be worth at least two or three straws for many.

You can- and some people, mostly libertarians, have- make a much sounder argument that the mandate is unconstitutional by arguing that the federal government is supposed to be constrained to a set of very limited powers specifically assigned to it in the Constitution that does not include making people buy insurance. You'd be right, for whatever that's worth.

However, the most numerous and prominent critics of Obamacare, mainline conservatives, can't make that argument without attacking the things they themselves dear. That's likely a big part of the reason so much argument hinged on whether the power to compel commercial activity fell within the power to ”regulate” it- opponents of the mandate could argue that it doesn't without calling the scope of the government's power in general into question.

(There's a purely practical reason to make such an argument, to be sure- it might convince people for whom a more radical one would be a nonstarter- but for the most part I've seen no reason to believe that the average person treating the distinction as important is merely pretending to do so. Hypocritical in some cases, perhaps, but that doesn't necessarily mean being insincere.)

The typical conservative cannot strike wholeheartedly at Obamacare for fear of wounding himself in the process. Conservatives have to insist that acceptance of the mandate is a significant new leap in the unconstitutional powers of the federal government because if it isn't they're left with two possibilities, both unpalatable. Either the mandate and Obamacare more generally are constitutionally legitimate, or a huge part of the existing government isn't. The latter is something most conservatives, whatever their rhetorical pretensions, recoil from.

The Constitution that denies the federal government the power to control or mandate health insurance also contains no warrant for that government to hand out Social Security and Medicare, or impose the vast interventionist regulatory state that conservatives in actual practice typically support no less than liberals, or give welfare to farmers, or control lewd content on TV or the Internet, or throw drug users in prison. Someone who endorses at least some of those things has little standing to declare that THIS is the moment that the federal government's disdain for the Constitution has finally gone too far, when he accepts or outright endorses all sorts of equally dubious laws. If the Constitution authorizes the federal government to pull new powers out of its ass to deal with alleged threats to the nation's welfare, it's no encroachment on the Constitution when the federal government does just that- regardless of whether the “threat” is people without insurance or drug users or people cussing on network television. Many conservatives like to quote Gerald Ford's remark that “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have,” but very few of them take it very seriously because they want so very much.

The Supreme Court's upholding of the insurance mandate is worth lamenting for the attack on liberty and human well-being that it represents, but as a blow against the idea of limited government constrained by the Constitution it means very little. You can't hurt what's already dead.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Statism, insurance, and dependency

I'm back! I apologize for my absence; a combination of personal business, actual work, and my old motherboard's treacherous decision to stop working have been keeping me away from this blog for much too long.

One of the things I've been following in the news is the controversy over requiring employer-provided health insurance policies to cover birth control pills in the face of objections from employers who are morally opposed to birth control, most notably the Catholic Church and other Catholic institutions. I am opposed to laws that make an insurance policy illegal because it doesn't cover everything the government thinks it ought to, so I'm on the anti-mandate's side as far as the substantive policy question of whether or not employer-provided insurance should be required to include contraception is concerned.

My reasons for that belief are already well-expressed in Sheldon Richman's articles on the subject at The Freeman here and here, so I'll not reinvent that wheel. There something else about this controversy worth commenting on, however.

One of the most conspicuous elements of the whole controversy is the conflation of government- mandated provision of birth control by insurance companies with access to birth control, and the lack of such a mandate with actively preventing- or allowing employers to actively prevent- women from acquiring it. (This article at Salon is nicely representative.) This is not surprising, since many people have an extremely state-focused conception of human life and society that elides the difference between not having something provided by the government and forcibly depriving people of it. In this case, however, I think there's an additional factor at work fueling the conflation. Namely, what do Americans typically mean when they talk about health “insurance?”

The purpose of insurance is, or at least was, to reduce risk- you pay a relatively small, predictable cost on a regular basis to protect yourself from the financial consequences of large, unpredictable losses.

In purely dollar terms, this is a losing proposition, since over a lifetime you're much more likely to pay more money than you receive. However, certainty and predictability have value in themselves. Eliminating or at least reducing the risk of sudden, unpredictable losses make it easier to form and execute long-range plans, and of course there are also psychological benefits. Additionally, the declining marginal utility of money means that the difference in lost well-being between a small financial loss and a large one can be many times greater than the difference in dollars.

Now, what's conspicuous when considering birth control pills in light of the above is that it just doesn't make much sense for them to be covered by insurance, especially if they're actually being used for birth control. They are a regular, predictable, and (compared to treatment of many serious illnesses or injuries) relatively minor cost, and the condition they are most commonly used for is highly predictable- being a sexually active female of childbearing age isn't an exotic disease.

That's not unique to birth control, by any means; many medical goods and services covered by insurance share these qualities. There's no risk of financial loss being managed- bringing insurance into the picture just adds an extra pair of hands that the consumer's money passes through before she gets the product. (Or, if the cost is not ultimately borne by the consumer, simply gives a pseudomarket veneer to what is essentially a government welfare benefit.)

This outcome is not the product of a free market, and would almost certainly not occur in one. There are tax benefits to paying employees part of their compensation and health insurance instead of money, so many employers do precisely that. Wages that travel from the employer to the employee to the healthcare provider are taxed, while wages that travel from the employer to the employee to the employer's health insurance company to the healthcare provider aren't, so it makes makes sense to pay for things that aren't really insurable through insurance companies despite the cost of adding a middleman. Some jurisdictions push this further by actually punishing employers above a certain size that don't compensate their employees in this fashion. Once the recent health "reform" legislation goes into full effect, that will become the case nationwide.

Further, every state has a list of things of things that an insurance policy must cover, many of them quite extensive, and policies without them are illegal, so even if you are buying insurance yourself an insurance policy that is limited to actual insurance rather than serving as a middleman for regular healthcare expenses isn't an option. Since insurance coverage is not the magical money fountain many people seem to think it is, this tends to make it more expensive.

And meanwhile, the huge amount of healthcare consumption filtered through third parties combined with huge amount of medical spending paid for by government benefits drives up consumption and reduces sensitivity to cost- and thus incentives to control those costs- by weakening the link between how much a person consumes and how much it cost them. Which makes health care in general more expensive and the cost of treatment for serious illnesses or injuries even more potentially ruinous for the uninsured.

Those are some of the economic effects government intervention has had on healthcare in the United States, which many people have previously pointed out. What doesn't get mentioned much are the cultural effects, which I think are being demonstrated in the birth control mandate controversy. (And in many debates over health care in this country in general.)

In short, health insurance is now seen not as a way of managing the risk of unexpected medical expenses, or even as a way of paying for medical expenses in general, but as the thing all medical care comes from. Insurance is so pervasive in the healthcare system that the two are commonly seen as inseparable, or not even seen as distinct concepts at all. This pervades political arguments for the subject, with having “insurance” routinely treated as interchangeable with having access to medical care.

(Now, if you were to ask someone who thinks this way, point-blank, if it's possible to buy medical care directly, they'll no doubt agree that it is. But being aware of a fact when your attention is specifically called to it is not the same thing as having that fact in mind whenever it's relevant. Similarly, treatment and insurance are implicitly acknowledged as not being equivalent in arguments over the recently passed requirement that everyone buy health insurance, where the tens of of millions of poor souls who don't have proper health care because they can't afford insurance suddenly are able to afford it, and must be compelled to buy it so that they can't continue to leech off of the rest of the country by selfishly dumping the cost of their medical care- which they apparently have been getting, after all- onto the healthcare system. However, the inconsistency is almost never pointed out by anyone in the mainstream, and that bit of doublethink is largely allowed to remain safely sealed away in its own little bubble.)

In this light, the often bizarrely overwrought response to the idea of letting employers who provide insurance choose whether or not that insurance includes contraception- claims that this would interfere with or violate a woman's right to birth control, or that it would mean giving employers control of the medical and reproductive decisions of their female employees, or is somehow analogous to laws outlawing (as opposed to merely not requiring) insurance provision of drugs like Viagra- start to make a good deal more sense. After all, most Americans receive health insurance through their employer, something the government actively encourages and something the typical liberal/progressive supporter of the contraceptive mandate for insurance policies thinks the government should encourage, at least as a next-best solution if single-payer isn't on the table. (If I had a dime for every progressive complaint about how awful it is that this or that employer pays its employees with money rather than a combination of money and insurance benefits, I'd probably have enough money to make this whole issue moot by building my own pharmaceutical plant and just giving birth control pills away.)

In that context, if health insurance and access to healthcare are indeed one and the same, allowing employers to refuse to provide coverage for birth control actually is more or less equivalent to letting employers decide whether female employees are allowed to use contraception or not, and the claim that opposing mandatory birth control coverage is an attack on women's sexual and reproductive autonomy becomes much more defensible. Thus, while I still think much of the rhetoric to that effect is a matter of specifically political assumptions- that something not being done by government equals it not being done, period- a lot of it is probably cultural, and is the product of assumptions that are common among the public in general. Decade after decade, more and more people have been conditioned to think of health care as something that always comes through some sort of bureaucracy, either government or corporate, that stands between the consumers and producers of it, which the consumers of it are often utterly dependent on- and it gets harder and harder for people to imagine getting it any other way.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Report: Even more interesting if you actually bother to read it

The Center for Disease Control recently put out a study on (among other things) sex crime victimization, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. The most repeated figures from the study are that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men (excluding those in institutional settings such as prison, which is a problem with the numbers but not the primary one) over the age of 18 have been the victim of rape or attempted rape, as defined by the CDC, at some point in their lifetimes. These are the numbers all the media outlets reporting on the study and everyone talking about it online are quoting; no surprise, given that that they are the ones the CDC itself is focusing on.

The numbers make quite a contrast- a staggering 1 in 5 women alongside an unfortunate but comparatively rare 1 in 71 men, a monstrous pandemic that bespeaks a grave problem with our society alongside an unfortunate statistical blip. A blip that would still comprise more than 1 million human beings, admittedly, but if you want to justify the erasure, trivialization, or victim-blaming of male victims and/or victims of women by arguing that such crimes are so rare and anomalous that for most purposes the victims can be treated as if they did not exist, the juxtaposition of 1 in 5 1 vs. 1 in 71 can certainly help to give the impression that men who complain are just whining about something petty, perhaps for some nefarious, misogynistic purpose. That's already started, and there will plenty more of that in the years to come.

There are some things about the study that are problematic. Adding the numbers for rape and attempted rape together and just calling the resulting sum “rape” is misleading, even though I think that for some purposes an aggregate figure is more useful and revealing than just the number of completed rapes. The survey question about drug or alcohol-facilitated rape is worded very vaguely and broadly and can potentially encompass not only sex that occurred when someone was unconscious or incapable of giving meaningful consent, but any sex where one or both participants were drunk or high, and so the number given is likely too high. (And has some bizarre implications, or would if applied in a nonsexist manner: a signifciant portion of the women classified as rape victims under such a standard would also be rape perpetrators, and actually became both simultaneously.) And, as mentioned above, the prison population, among others, is not included in the survey data.

However, as none of these affect my point one way or the other, I'll not deal with them here. The problem with the numbers is more fundamental than that.

The sturdiest falsehoods are not based on outright lies, but upon facts stripped of relevant context. Does the study indicate a lifetime “rape “ or attempted “rape” victimization of 1 in 5 for women and 1 in 71 for men? Yes. Why the scare quotes? Here's how the study itself uses the word, from page 17 of the PDF file of the report:

Rape is defined as any completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal penetration through the use of physical force (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threats to physically harm and includes times when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.

Among women, rape includes vaginal, oral, or anal penetration by a male using his penis. It also includes vaginal or anal penetration by a male or female using their fingers or an object.

Among men, rape includes oral or anal penetration by a male using his penis. It also includes anal penetration by a male or female using their fingers or an object.

This is consistent with the definition used in previous CDC studies on the subject, and in other studies such as the Department of Justice's commonly cited National Violence Against Women Survey. So, what isn't rape?

Most conspicuously, forcing someone to engage in vaginal sexual intercourse against their will through violence or the threat of violence is not rape if it is the male who is unwilling. Forcing someone to perform fellatio on you is rape. However, forcing someone to perform cunnilingus on you, or performing fellatio on someone else against their will, is not. Forced genital-digital contact can be counted as rape, but never when it's a man being forced. Forcible anal sex is not rape if the victim is forced to penetrate, rather than be penetrated.

We have a laundry list of sexual acts that are rape when the woman involved has not consented, but cease to be rape when an equally involuntary and directly analogous or physically identical act occurs when the man has not consented. In fact, the only thing a woman can do to a man that is counted as rape is forcibly inserting something into his anus. Everything else that would be considered rape if it was a Worthy Victim who didn't want it goes into either “Being made to penetrate somebody else,” a new category in CDC studies included in the subsection "Sexual Violence Other than Rape," or “unwanted sexual contact.”

The estimated lifetime "rape" figure for men in the study is 1,581,000 million men, compared to about 21,840,000 million for women. If being “made to penetrate” (which, like the rape, category, includes attempted as well as completed acts) were counted as rape in the same way that identical involuntary acts the man involved did want are, the estimated number of men over 18 who have been raped in their lifetime jumps from 1.58 million to 7 million, plus however many male rape victims are currently in prison and so outside the scope of the study, plus however many of the 13.3 million men filed under “unwanted sexual contact” would also be designated as rape victims by the CDC in a reverse-gender scenario.

Going by the CDC's lifetime stats, around one in every four American rape and attempted rape survivors, at minimum, is male. Based on the statistics about the sex of the perpetrator (see page 24), well over half of those seven million were raped by a female perpetrator.

And then there's something that is written plain as day in the study itself that you'd you'd never even guess at from what almost anybody says about it- or, indeed, what the CDC itself says outside the pages of the study results themselves. The survey subject were asked not one but two questions about each category of sexual crime covered: if such an act had been committed against them at some point in their lifetime, and in the last 12 months. This is done with good reason: memory is unreliable and highly malleable over time, to the point that people not only forget events but sometimes “remember” a sexual encounter as consensual even though they did not consider it to be such at the time. People interpret and reinterpret their past perceptions through layer upon layer of filters- their general assumptions about how the world works, their mental images of themselves and people they know, what others have said, what they want to believe is true- and as an event recedes further into the past and the original memories of it grow fuzzier these things help fill in the gaps.

Thus, questions covering relatively short, recent periods of time are typically considered more accurate than asking someone to look back over their entire life. They are also more relevant to the prevalence of violence now than questions about lifetime victimization rates. which encompass decades.

Based on the survey responses to the latter question, the study estimates that 1,270,000 women over 18 outside of institutional setting were the victims of rape or attempted rape, as defined by the CDC, in the last 12 months. (There is no 12-month figure for women “made to penetrate,” and likewise no 12-month “rape” number for men, due to insufficient sample size.) Meanwhile, since we all know that women are the overwhelming majority of rape victims, the study estimates that the number of men over 18 “made to penetrate” was a paltry... 1,267,000, of which roughly one million were "made to penetrate" by a female. Which would make women the perpetrators in roughly 40% of rapes of adults and men the victims in about half of them, according to the CDC's survey data.

I do not think, as many people would, that the idea that the number of men “forced to penetrate” might be comparable to the number or women forcibly penetrated is somehow inherently absurd. With the advantage of hindsight, I don't even find it particularly counterintuitive.

It doesn't require the existence of a vast horde of female predators or Amazons who can match a man's upper body strength. A disproportionate portion of male-perpetrated sex crimes are committed by a comparatively small number of serial offenders, and typically involve tactics- social manipulation, physical and psychological isolation, surprise, shock, confusion, alcohol and other drugs that impair motor control and situational awareness or cause unconsciousness, weapons and other instruments of intimidation, etc.- that greatly reduce the amount of actual brute physical force needed. I see no reason to think that predatory women would differ greatly in those respects, and they enjoy certain advantages (near-absolute lack of public or law enforcement vigilance against them, male socialization against injuring a woman in self-defense, the ability to credibly threaten a target with imprisonment or vigilante violence via false criminal charges) over their male counterparts.

If you 1. don't think Victorian sentimentality and its modern left-wing reincarnations are necessarily a trustworthy guide to actual women, 2. credit human females with enough mental capacity to use some of the fancier hominid forebrain gimmicks like planning, social interaction, and tool use, and 3. have ever possessed a functioning penis or at least advanced your knowledge of them beyond the "boys have an outie" stage, either of which should immunize you from idiotic notions about raping a man somehow being physiologically impossible, it isn't unthinkable. And it's not as if the idea that women are obliged to concern themselves with men's sexual consent in any serious way is something the typical American woman is likely to get much exposure to, least of all from typical "anti-rape" activists.

Suppose one takes the CDC numbers at face value- as the mainstream media and most people commenting on it and treating it as something important are, and as previous CDC estimates about male victimization typically have been by the same. In that case, this is quite the bombshell. My own misgivings about the intoxication question doesn't change that, since there's no reason to think that it would inflate the male number more than the female. In either case, the CDC's study has produced startling results that are radically at odds with both traditional and feminist assumptions about rape.

And virtually no one notices. It sits in plain sight in a much-publicized report that many people have been talking about, from a source widely considered one of the country's authorities on the prevalence of sexual and interpersonal violence, and virtually no one notices or says anything. In fact, thus far the three most prominent sources I've been able to turn up that reference the study while specifically addressing the subject of male sexual victimization- sensitive feminist guy/occasional child molester apologist Hugo Schwyzer, Soraya Chemaly at Huffington Post, and Maya Dusenbery at popular blog Feministing- explicitly claim that it says the opposite of what it actually and quite clearly says! (Though Dusenbery was just quoting Schwyzer in that section of her post, which goes to show why you shouldn't outsource your research on sex crimes to someone who responds to a story about an adult caretaker being repeatedly masturbated by an 11-year-old by defending the adult and calling the child a sexual predator.) There's some online comment threads, mostly at a few sites focused on violence against men and boys or men's issues in general. There's a nice examination at a German masculist site (in English), Feckblog. There's a fourth-string libertarian blogger who occasionally refers to himself in the third person. And that's pretty much it, nearly a month after the report was published.

This isn't really surprising, unfortunately; as with so many other issues, the two recognized "sides" are just minor variations on the same theme. Most conservatives would consider the idea that female-perpetrated sexual predation was a widespread problem absurd, and are unlikely to consider such acts serious crimes even if they did acknowledge them, so they're hardly going to make noise about it. Meanwhile, on the Left, the folks who have the loudest voices and biggest megaphones in discussions of sexual violence have a long track record of "proving" that rape is overwhelmingly committed against women and almost universally perpetrated by men by citing statistics on male "rape" rates that define millions of rape victims- and their rapists- out of existence in the same way the new study's official definition does. (E.g. Past CDC studies, the National Violence Against Women Survey, the oft-repeated claim from the latter that 1 in 33 men will be the victim of rape or attempted rape compared to 1 in 6 women, etc.) And this continues. Despite the startling data in the new CDC study that so many people are seemingly taking so seriously, it doesn't look like things will be any different than they were back when a man or boy being "made to penetrate" wasn't counted as a victim of "sexual violence other than rape" because he wasn't counted as anything at all.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happy New Year to everybody!

Happy New Year!

The Superfluous Man is not a terribly cheerful blog, generally, so I wanted to start this year off on a positive note by thanking some people who have helped this blog in one way or another. Some names have been truncated to protect the innocent:

My friends JT, Kevin, Dave, Peter, Lecester, Cheryl Cline, and Catherine.

Pete Eyre, Jeremy Sapienza, James Wilson, and Jim Babka.

Midnight and Toshi.

All of my other friends, who know who they are.

My family.

Mark, Dr. B, and the other Kevin.

T and F.

People online who have helped me in one way or another: Jacob, Danny, Jim, Daran, TB, Alfonso, Keisha, and everybody else.

Everyone who's linked to this site.

Unattainable Bar Chick, for her unfailing friendliness, kindness, waitressing and bartending professionalism, willingness to laugh at my stupid jokes, and Lisa Loeb/Velma Dinkley-esque hotness. You were always far nicer to me than you had to be, or than I had any right to expect. I always knew that I would never tell you how I felt, but you made me wish I could have. Thank you, and best of luck with everything.

And, of course, everyone who takes the time to read The Superfluous Man; hopefully doing so has been worthwhile for you. I tend to be pretty useless trying to express myself when I'm face-to-face with people unless it's with folks I already know well, so being able to do so by writing online is very precious to me, and so is knowing that someone is actually reading it. Thanks. I hope you'll keep coming back in 2012!

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