Re: Nuh Uh

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So male homosexual activity does seem much more dangerous, on average, than male heterosexual activity.

It seems to be bad stats, mostly, combined with I'm not sure (and this goes to the original article, too), why anyone's concerned with this who's-having-safer-sex one-up manship.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:33 AM
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Well, I think the "why talk about this" objection is pretty lame. Because he felt like it, presumably, which is often, if not always, reason enough. But the link in the update gives more reasons.

Are the stats homo-hatingly bad?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:37 AM
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Scott Lemieux had a good post up on this. I also think that Volokh is ignoring the reality of the Republican movement. He's not considering the fact that his statements will be used by wingnuts to say that the gays are out there trying to convert everyone. Stay away from the gays. No gay school teachers.


Posted by: bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:38 AM
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This isn't the conversion post, BG.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:39 AM
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I thought Atrios was just still riled up over this one. I can't evaluate the stats Volokh uses, but I think the "why talk about this" objection is based on the "what will this assertion be used to justify" problem.


Posted by: Matt | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:40 AM
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"what will this assertion be used to justify"

Do folks really feel like that's a good objection? There are obviously lots of contextual considerations, but generally, isn't the truth of something (or a good-faith effort to say something true) enough to justify its being said?

I think Volokh is right when he says,

If people misuse the data I post it, I'm sorry, in the sense that I wish they didn't do that. But I'm not the least bit sorry I posted it. These are tremendously important facts; literally life-or-death facts for some. I'm going to keep posting information like this, because I believe that keeping quiet about it does far more harm than good. And the more I see people trying to stop others from distributing this information, the more important it seems to me that it be distributed.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:46 AM
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To clarify: I think Atrios was still riled up over the 'conversion' series of posts, and took the fact that Volokh is concerned with the safer-sex one-upmanship to be symptomatic of the some kind of 'I'll prove that gays are dangerous to us!' crusade.

That's not really fair to Volokh.

But the stats are really hand-wavy. Given 4% of gays in the population and the size of Texas, and well, we can't account for anything beyond that, hrm, hrm, homosexuality as practiced is more dangerous.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:46 AM
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RE 4

Volokh thinks that the conversion issue is related.

Related Posts (on one page):

1. Those Who Sincerely Wonder Whether My Posts Are Motivated By Anti-Gay Animus

2. Sssh! We're Not Supposed To Be Talking About

3. Dangerousness of Male Homosexual Activity:

4. One More Final Post on Sexual Conversion:

5. Gays and Lesbians and Golf:

6. One Last Thought on Conversion and Sexual Orientation:

7. Why Wouldn't Gays and Lesbians Want the Bisexually Oriented to Experiment with Homosexual Behavior?

8. Response to Eugene's Post on Gay "Conversion":

9. Gays and Lesbians Trying to Convert Others to Homosexual Behavior:



Posted by: Joe O | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:50 AM
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Do folks really feel like that's a good objection? There are obviously lots of contextual considerations, but generally, isn't the truth of something (or a good-faith effort to say something true) enough to justify its being said?

More to the point, it's REALLY hand-wavy evidence. This isn't offering up unpopular but tested stats that will save lives; this is a thought experiment with numbers. Volokh, to his credit, seems to acknowledge that it's a hand-wavy thought experiment with some numbers, but then you have to ask what good at all comes out of posting it. (this also goes to the guy that Volokh is responding to.)

If he'd done a study, or was citing a scientifically valid study that showed that homosexuality was objectively more dangerous, that would be one thing; but this isn't it.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:53 AM
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I don't think it's unrelated to the conversion issue, though. He's basically saying "hey, if you think you might be bi, try really hard not to engage in homosexual acts. Fight the urge, because gay sex is more dangerous." Now that seems to me to be saying that this is all a matter of will power and choice, and that fits with the gay conversion thing, because he's saying that it's probably a bad thing to encourage bisexual men to engage in homosexual acts, it's bad to convert them, as it were.


Posted by: bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:54 AM
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Mostly, people are guessing at his intent, which is entirely reasonable. His writing that his intent was not bad is not necessarily convincing. Minimally, it seems reasonable to believe that he thinks that gay bashing is bad, but not as bad as no tax cuts.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:56 AM
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Reagan is still castigated for never mentioning HIV. Volokh has a point when he says that ignoring data like this does more harm than good.

A related point is the recent resurgence in the gay community of HIV infection. There are all these problems with crystal meth and unprotected sex, and acting like gays are identical to straights is literally dangerous. Sad as it is, HIV hits gays disproportionately hard.

Misusing information is bad, but I think that hiding it has got to be worse.


Posted by: Ian D-B | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:57 AM
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Except that how hidden is it? I mean, I went through a crappy public high school sex ed course and I learned that riskier sex, and the risk of HIV, is greater for gays than straights and that that the risk of transmission is first highest from men to men, then men to women, and then women to men. I learned about the recent problems with meth from the NYT.

This isn't some hidden secret that needs to be brought out with hand-wavy made-up stats. Hence I think all the focus on the motives.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:02 PM
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I don't much care what Volokh has to say because I find his writing dreadfully boring. I'll say this, though: there is nothing that homosexuals can do that heterosexuals cannot. The danger is in unprotected, receptive sex or having sex while infected with other non-fatal venereal diseases, which also increases transmission rates.

That infection rates are higher in gay male populations is to be expected, given the mechanics of it all, but it seems to be willfully misdirective to divide this into homosexual versus heterosexual sex.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:07 PM
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I'm with Cala, and the fact is that Volokh posted his statistics about how dangerous male homosexual activity is to back up his post about conversion. His motives for the former post seem to be tied up with those for the latter, which were already under suspicion.


Posted by: Matt | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:09 PM
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This type of information is out there. Unprotected anal sex is dangerous. Dangerous in proportion to probability that your partner has AIDS.

The combination of the conversion discussion and the danger discussion by Volokh makes it clear that he thinks social contact with gays is dangerous, in the same way that social contact with glue sniffers is dangerous for middle school kids. The take-home for most discussions of the dangers of anal sex is to wear a condom and get tested before you have anal sex. The take-home for Volokh is to socially ostracize gay people.


Posted by: Joe O | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:09 PM
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It's not willfully misdirective if your objective is to target things like sex education, safe sex advertising, and other social programs like condom giveaways at the right people. Telling lesbians that anal sex is more dangerous wouldn't help much. We have limited resources -- let's use them efficiently.


Posted by: Ian D-B | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:10 PM
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Come on people, we don't know his motives, and speculating about motives is usually a distraction. The only "fact" is that his post doesn't say what Atrios says it does.

Ok, I need to eat, because I hate you all.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:12 PM
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Yes, but that doesn't seem to be the goal here, Ian, but instead to (as near as I can tell) make sure bi people don't engage in gay sex because it's hand-wavily more dangerous.

Saying anal sex is on-average more dangerous doesn't mean as much here, because I can't figure out what 'on-average' means. Even with a condom? Then that's a stat that if true, needs to get out. In general, all things considered? Then it feels more like an actuarial table, where the fact that more 16 year old males get into fatal traffic accident doesn't tell me much about my 16 year old brother's driving skills and whether I should let him drive.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:15 PM
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I'm sorry, I just saw the bit where I'm God's chosen people and stopped reading.

Excuse me while I go transubstantiate something WICKED.


Posted by: moira | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:23 PM
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The Volokh series starts with the proposition that it's ok to try to convert people to different sexual choices. He talks about gays converting others , but that's misdirection. Then it progresses to explain why in Volokh's view straight is better than gay. The conclusion will be Volokh explaining how happy he is that someone converted him to straight, and why he's dropping this tenured law prof gig to become a hetero-missionary to the gay world.


Posted by: arthur stock | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:29 PM
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Since this is so much handwaving I'm left with the following questions:

Is the problem male/male sex or is it anal sex?

Second, maybe the problem is receiving anal sex and if so he shouldn't compare gay men with straight men, he should compare gay men with women who receive anal sex.

Third it seems to me the best way to avoid HIV, whether you are male of female, gay or straight, is to avoid letting a man penetrate you, especially anally.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:31 PM
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Ok, I need to eat, because I hate you all.

Somehow the magic is gone from your relationship with commenters. Is this morally reprehensible, or a natural ebbing of attraction?

I feel a blog hiatus coming. Will it stick?


Posted by: cw | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:34 PM
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The commenters gained love-handles, and he's just not that into us any more.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:37 PM
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Is this morally reprehensible

It's a natural reaction after watching commenters squeeze out a three hundred word comment through that tiny comment box.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:44 PM
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but generally, isn't the truth of something (or a good-faith effort to say something true) enough to justify its being said?

Can't keep thinking like this if you want to reset that Tivo, Ogged.

But seriously, no, it's not. You've got to have some purpose behind it. There's some discussion about why he's bringing it up above, but in one post he says:

OK, though, I confess: I am developing an ulterior motive in writing about this stuff. The more people tell me not to write about things that strike me as important and perfectly legitimate to write about, the more I'm tempted to write about them. If people are trying to cow others into not discussing this information, then it's all the more important that we remain uncowed.

which has some value, sure, but mostly comes across as petulant to me, because I don't detect a compelling argument to why he began discussing this, other than that there's some truth to it. On the other hand, the "people are going to misread and willfully misuse this as saying that it's inherently more dangerous to have homosexual sex, whereas if practiced with people you know and trust it's no more dangerous" I can see immediate value in. He's covering himself a little, maybe, but it seems half-ass in comparison to his indignation at people's objections to it, and the general setup of the whole thing is starting to feel more like a cheap and dirty rhetorical trick than a well-meaning and valuable debate, to me.


Posted by: Paul | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:45 PM
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It's a natural reaction after watching commenters squeeze out a three hundred word comment through that tiny comment box.

Are you calling my posts fat? [sobs]


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:47 PM
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Can't we read it as long and leggy?


Posted by: Paul | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 12:48 PM
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generally, isn't the truth of something (or a good-faith effort to say something true) enough to justify its being said?

ogged, what fucking planet are you from? everything is political, man, EVERYTHING.


Posted by: peter snees | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 1:22 PM
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generally, isn't the truth of something (or a good-faith effort to say something true) enough to justify its being said?

You must get into a lot of fistfights.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 1:34 PM
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Not to mention that to discover whether something's a good-faith effort requires some speculation about someone's motives... which I think was what we weren't supposed to do?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 1:36 PM
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I have to agree with Joe O in 16 here. I haven't read Volokh's piece, but from what I gather it's like saying: "Bicyclists get hit by cars more often than runners, who get hit more often than people who swim, so people shouldn't bike." Which is all well and good, until you realize that some people like to cycle. The point shouldn't be "Look at how dangerous cycling is!" but rather either "Let's figure out how to make it harder for cars to hit anyone who likes to cycle or run" or "Let's figure out how to make cycling safer."


Posted by: tweedledopey | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 1:38 PM
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I think what's really going on is that ogged has, on the basis of previous readings of Volokh, decided that Volokh is a reasonable and generally decent human beings. Coming from a decent human being, the post referenced is badly described by Atrios.

All of which I can buy. But it depends in no small part, as Cala says, on that prior analysis of Volokh's decency.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 1:45 PM
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I read it, and it strikes me as misunderstanding statistics -- which in fairness to Volokh, he's using it largely as a rhetorical point against someone else's bad use of statistics.

The first guy says gay men who have one-night stands use condoms 66% of the time and straight men only 33% of the time, so a bi man who has a one night stand with a gay man has a 50% better chance of using a condom, and so gay sex (whatever that means) should be safer. Volokh responds by looking at Texas infection rates, hand-waving some numbers, and concluding that gay sex (again, whatever that is) is more dangerous.

The first guy, I bet, thinks that when the average life expectancy was 20 believes that 23 year olds were venerated as ancient and that some American women have a .3 of a child.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 1:51 PM
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Ogged -- you're being ridiculous. That post, in keeping with the recent series of "conversion" posts, isn't just Volokh musing about some factoids. He's very obviously going about trying to construct an intellectually respectable case for legal/social repression of gay men. Yes, yes, yes, yes by some kind of goofball seminar room scandal we don't know that's what he's trying to do, but back here in the real world, that's what he's doing.

On top of all that, realistically speaking, editorial judgment about which subjects to write about and which to ignore has to be something open to criticism. When you have a war-supporting, Bush-voting "libertarian" law professor who doesn't like to write about torture and does like to write about why gay people are a social menace, reasonable people are going to draw some inferences. There's no reason to be willfully naive about what he's doing.


Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 2:07 PM
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What's objectionable, of course, is that he's using (extremely questionable) data in order to justify his earlier argument about why the "recruiting" he sees homosexuals doing is bad. And there's every reason to believe that his sudden concern for marginal health risks in order to attack gays is spurious; when discussing junk food, say, he takes a much more libertarian approach. (And his defeatist argument about sex ed--when the lack of rational information about preventing STDs is the product of the power of people with similarly reactionary views about sexuality--is particularly objectionable.)


Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 2:08 PM
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"When you have a war-supporting, Bush-voting "libertarian" law professor who doesn't like to write about torture..."

And as it turns out, he likes writing about torture a great deal once it no longer has the potential to clash with thepolicies of the Bush administration...


Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 2:14 PM
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OK, but - some of his linked posts are, certainly by conservative standards, gay friendly. So why, exactly, do we think he's constructing this argument? (I'm really asking - I'm suspicious, but I can't particularly name the suspicion.)


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 2:19 PM
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He's very obviously going about trying to construct an intellectually respectable case for legal/social repression of gay men

I don't see this at all. From the original conversion post:

The gay rights movement has aimed in my view, on balance quite laudably to make homosexuals feel more comfortable with their homosexuality, and to help people who are attracted to the same sex be more willing to act on that attraction.

You can also follow the links here for more Volokh on homosexuality.

This is what bothers me: the response to Volokh's post--which is about a matter of fact--has been two parts "the stats are bad," with very little detail, and fifteen parts, "he's a bad person for saying that." That's no way to argue.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 2:20 PM
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That's what I don't get. Volokh has posted in the past in support of legislated gay marriage, iirc; this recent line of argument just seems absurd. His initial position seems to be, roughly that those worried about gays converting innocent straight people into gays aren't wholly off-base, because some of the things that gays want would be conducive to reducing the social stigma of 'questioning' or experimenting. That doesn't seem to be too weird of a claim, but then he continues to say that this is bad, because engaging in gay sex is more dangerous and so for the sake of keeping everyone healthy, the right wing conversion-foes have a point.

Then Orin Kerr starts talking about golf.

And then come the hand-wavy statistics.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 2:36 PM
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Ogged,the problem with the statistics it's as if I were making a point about the numbers of women in academic mathematics positions and reasoned like this:

That bell-curve study shows that on the extremes, men are both brighter than women and dumber than them, but that the brightest of the bright are men. Suppose there's 280 million people in the U.S. Half of those are men, and let's say that the top .05% have the sort of mathematical aptitude that is required for a successful academic career: that gives us 140,000 men. Even if only 5% of those with genuine mathematical aptitude are discovered and go onto the academy, that gives us 7000 men. There are only 6000 academic mathematics positions in the U.S. Is it any wonder then, that these departments do not hire women? It's not discrimination, it's... just math.



Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 2:45 PM
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What's absurd? This is what I take him to be saying:

Gays try to make people who are attracted to same-sex partners more comfortable with acting on their attraction. Insofar as they're effective, some bisexual people who would otherwise force themselves to have only opposite-sex relationships, will have same-sex relationships. Some of those bisexuals will be men, and most of their partners will be gay men. Given that anal sex is, as its actually practiced--and not in the perfect world of responsible condom use--a high risk behavior, and that gay men are more likely to have HIV, getting people to act on their homosexual desires isn't a completely health-neutral activity.

Now, some or all of that might be wrong, but it's not clearly absurd.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 2:49 PM
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Oops, I hit post: so what's wrong with the stats?

1) Well, I made up most of the numbers. I originally said .5% and got a number that was way too high, so I figured I'd go out another standard deviation. I've heard numbers as high as 10% for the occurrence of gays in a random population... why did Volokh choose 4%?

2) More importantly, stats are good predictors of general trends among large populations, but much less useful in predicting what will happen for a given individual (especially) if personal agency is a large part of the trend. I might be able to compare the effectiveness of birth control methods by comparing the stats on the pill versus condoms and make a decision for myself based on that, but I would be wrong if I thought that the 99.9% effectiveness rate meant that if I had sex 999 times and didn't get pregnant, I would get pregnant on that 1000th time. It might be 99.9% effective but if I know I can never remember to take the damn thing, it's not going to be 99.9% effective for me.

3) He's also kind of hiding behind the idea that the stats say anal sex is more dangerous, so therefore, people should not have anal sex. As someone upthread noted, there's lots of other responses available like 'Let's make sure everyone has access to condoms' other than 'Bis shouldn't experiment'. More to the point, it seems to equate having sexual feelings with deciding to do something risky like riding a motorcycle or skydiving, where avoidance of risk is a more primary consideration.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 2:58 PM
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And, Volokh tends libertarian on most other fronts: obesity has risks, refusing to exercise has risks, but I haven't seen him post against fat acceptance on the grounds that it might entice 15 year olds who otherwise would watch their weight to become fat.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:04 PM
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10% for the occurrence of gays in a random population

This number comes from Kinsey. There were sampling and definition problems, and no one thinks this number is correct. The assumption is that it overstates the population by a fair bit. (The previous is all IIRC.)

I think Cala's #3 is really it.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:04 PM
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I'm torn on this. On the one hand, Matthew Yglesias' reading of what's going on here does fit the facts. If Volokh was trying to render repression of male homosexuality intellectually respectable, this is roughly how he'd proceed. And we know from his pretty obviously disingenuous refusal to comment on the subject of torture that he's not above being politically calculating about his use of his blog.

On the other hand, I'm still inclined to go with the Ogged position namely, that Volokh is essentially a good and intellectually honest guy. His sin throughout his series on homosexuality is to be utter and completely clueless about the social meaning of the words he's using and the lines of arguments he's pursuing. So while he's technically correct that the word "conversion" doesn't have to have pejorative connotations, he's a fool for insisting that it's not a bad choice of word in that context, given the phenomenon people are generally referring to when they talk about homosexuals "converting" people to their ranks.

I think his real problem here is hyper-literalism combined with immaturity. What keeps on happening is he: (1) makes some claim that, when interpreted as political rhetoric, can be read as saying something other than what he wants it to say, then (2) is called on it, and then (3) responds to that by trying to further antagonize his critics, rather than modifying his rhetoric.

Hey, it's tough being a grown-up boy genius.


Posted by: pjs | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:08 PM
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Yeah, I had heard 10% was disputed. On the other hand, he starts off with the assumption that everyone in the Texas HIV data is gay; even if that were correct, I think the most we could assume is that everyone in that data had a homosexual encounter -- including guys that don't identify as a gay but may have experimented. That could skew the numbers higher. Or lower.

The thing is, if he's basing this on the numbers, the study he wants done hasn't been done yet.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:11 PM
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he's a fool for insisting that it's not a bad choice of word in that context

This is surely true, and not uncharacteristic of Volokh, who really has a tin ear when it comes to political rhetoric.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:17 PM
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So if Volokh's argument is really all about encouraging the safest forms of sex and discouraging people from engaging in risky behavior -- and not an argument against homosexuality, per se -- shouldn't he be pushing for more girl-on-girl action? That seems much safer than traditional hetero sex, after all.


Posted by: FunkyDuck | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:36 PM
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Funky: No. What Volokh is saying is that if men are equally happy with sex from either men or women, it is safer to choose women.


Posted by: Sam K | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:45 PM
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Are there any bisexuals in the room we can ask if that's how it really works? "It appears the risk factor is higher with men so I think I'll just swear them off."


Posted by: Andy Vance | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:51 PM
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Sam-

But for bi women, surely hetero sex is an unnecessary risk by Volokh standards. You'd think he would have made that point as well.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:53 PM
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52: And that's why it's becoming harder and harder to view this is as an innocent little intellectual exercise that Volokh cooked up. Granted, he's been prone to this in the past (the original 'wouldn't it be nice if we could just torture really nasty criminals?') but at some point it would be nice if he acknowledged that there are political implications tied to his speculations.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:58 PM
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Not sure I agree w/ Volokh; merely clarifying for Funky.

It does seem as though Volokh takes sex, and therefore some risk, as a given - but, of course, if you're not concerned with where you get it, let me recommend a woman, as there is less risk involved.


Posted by: Sam K | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 3:58 PM
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I think ogged has it right. Volokh is completely and entirely politically and socially tone deaf.


Posted by: Ugh | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 4:17 PM
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I think that the dangerousness of gay sex is a proxy for the pollution of gay sex. Danger-wise, motorcycle racing, auto racing, skydiving, whitewater kayaking, rock-climbing, mountain-climbing, extreme skiing, and several other sports are highly dangerous, and some of them become more dangerous as you become more highly competitive. Few of the people upset by the dangers of gay sex have a proportionate objection to those sports.

Actually, some probably do; my guess is that, for example, Mennonites and Orthodox Jews would also object strongly to extreme sports.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 4:39 PM
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But Volokh's post didn't just happen in a vacuum. He was responding to the liberal orthodoxy that there's not movement to convert people to homosexuality. His conclusion is that (in, I'll admit, a strange sense of "convert") that's not true.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 4:45 PM
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And he is ultimately trying to justify his "prefer[ence] that men with bisexual orientations who can be happy with women not experiment with men." Which is to say that he's against "conversion" attempts in practice if not in principle. Which, given that the conversion attempts consisted of attempting to encourage tolerance of gays and attempting to get laid if you're gay, kind of makes him an asshole.

Note, by the way, that Volokh has set himself a damn high bar for demonstrating the riskiness of gay sex. He said there's a "disproportionate and grave health danger from male homosexual activity." Even if gay sex is riskier than straight sex, is it disproportionately grave danger? More dangerous than driving an extra mile to work? I really think he needs something better than what he had to come close to justifying the language he used.


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 4:55 PM
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Which is to say that he's against "conversion" attempts in practice if not in principle.

I don't think that's fair. Cutting off the rest of that quote makes it sound like his "preference" is his pre-existing prejudice, whereas what I think Volokh would say is that it's the result of his analysis of the numbers (which, of course, might be a mistaken analysis). This is the whole quote.

Given this danger, I'd prefer that men with bisexual orientations who can be happy with women not experiment with men; but that's a judgment about medical risk, not about the inherent morality of "conversion" attempts, and in any event it doesn't apply to lesbianism.

You might think that's wrong, but I don't think it rises to the level of assholery.

As to the "disproportionate and grave health danger," yeah, I think that way overstates his case.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 5:04 PM
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But there isn't a necessary danger associated with hot man-on-man buttsex. If you and your partner are tested, monogamous, use protection, etc, then does Volokh think it's still a bad idea? Does he think that bisexual men are better off bedding a series of unknown women than they are in committed relationships with men? I'm sure someone's pointed it out before, but that quotation you excerpt reads as if Volokh thinks that, say, an n% chance of contracting an STD from homosexual sex in general means that, in each instance of homosexual sex, there's an n% chance of contracting an STD. Which is clearly false.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 5:12 PM
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I already commented on the Volokh pieces on ObWings, and I'm too lazy to want to repeat myself. But: a) it was a series of posts, not just one; b) I have no idea what Atrios said; I never was a fan, and gave up on him long ago; c) I'm inclined to generally think of Volokh as presumptively decent, in specific, beyond that I try to be pretty cautious about speculating about what's in people's heads, and to try to presume the best, or at least not the worst, more than not; d) I'd bet bucks I don't have that lots of people were set off by his whole set of "no, really, they really are trying to convert hets" assertions; maybe that was just a very poor choice of words, or a case of him feeling iconoclastic in wishing to so furiously argue this point, but e) having no idea what his thinking is beyond what I read, the set of posts together struck me as moderately creepy.

And that's all.

"His conclusion is that (in, I'll admit, a strange sense of "convert") that's not true."


Would you then agree with that assertion of his? Put it another way: even if something is defensible if you spend hundreds of words trying to explain it, and going back, and explaining again, and again, would that still make the short, unpacked, version a fair thing to say in a vacuum? How about a wise thing?

I think the least that can be said is that those posts weren't his finer hour, any more than Ann Althouse's the other day scolding everyone for so misreading her! (over de Menezes) were hers.

If everyone misreads you the same way, who is at fault?


Posted by: Gary Farber | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 5:12 PM
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Ben, he anticipates that objection:

Yes, I realize that the danger can be reduced by not engaging in anal sex, always using a condom, not having sex with a partner unless he's been tested and had not had sex for some months before the test, and so on. But most people are not nearly this cautious, and the reality thus remains that, given the vastly disproportionate prevalence of HIV among gays in America today, the greater risk from anal sex, a practice that for understandable reasons many male homosexuals do not want to forego, and the notorious difficulty with getting people to actually practice safe practices whether aimed at preventing disease or conception the fact remains that experimenting with male homosexuality is dangerous activity.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 5:14 PM
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Gary, I think the unpacked version would avoid the word "convert" and wouldn't be very objectionable. Actually, I tried to do the short summary in comment 42 above.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 5:20 PM
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"He was responding to the liberal orthodoxy that there's not movement to convert people to homosexuality. His conclusion is that (in, I'll admit, a strange sense of "convert") that's not true."

But of course he has simply not proven his case--the key word being "movement." The term "conversion" in the context its generally used by conservatives attempting to rationalize anti-gay repression clearly implies something willful and systematic. His (utterly trivial) claim that individuals try to persuade other individuals who may be attracted to them to have sex with them is not responsive to this debate. Most people don't think that "conversion" refers to stoking sexual desires that already exist, or that it is intended to refer to simply an incidental byproduct of trying to attract others. At any rate, you can't have it both ways. If you salvage Volokh's argument by saying that he intended somthing far narrower than is conventionally understood by "conversion," you can't then defend him by saying that he's responding to a broader debate that his claim is essentially irrelevant to.

But let's assume that there's something useful about Volokh's claim (although I certainly don't see it), and that it's pure coincidence that his arguments happen to be the most common ones used to put a secular veneer on anti-gay legislation (which is transparently ridiculous.) Then surely the fact that straight men try to "convert" straight women by persuading them to have anal sex is a far more serious health risk; the absolute numbers involved are surely much higher. Can you imagine Volokh making multiple posts defending the claim that men trying to talk women into anal sex was "conversion," and that it represents a serious public health problem? I think the question answers itself.


Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 6:58 PM
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Plus, like I said, his statistics seem to be off:

An Emory University study puts the HIV transmission rate at about 4%.

Meaning that 95% of people with AIDS do not transmit it in any given years. We'd have to be careful about what conclusion we could draw for an individual's risk, of course (probably some of the people with HIV are too sick to pass it on, or are babies, or what have you.) but a 4% transmission rate is a lot lower than the 12.5% figure that Volokh calculated.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 7:26 PM
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Scott, the issue for me was whether Volokh is saying something like "Homos are disease-spreading vermin." I take it that everyone's answer to that is "no." Some people, however, still find his arguments objectionable, either for being wrong or for evincing hostility to male homosexuals, or both. Fine. (And, for the record, I don't share his preference that people not have all the butt sex they want.)

Like I've said, I think his use of the word "conversion" is a very poor choice, but I don't think it lands me in the quandry you describe. He's responding to the claim that it's a myth that homosexuals try to recruit others to homosexuality. His response, in short, is that given the sense of "convert" or "recruit" that he describes (which isn't just trying to get people to have sex with you, but includes the "movement" to increase tolerance for homosexuals generally), the myth is, as he says, "incomplete." So he's responding to the broader debate by saying that in a particular sense, the claim that recruitment is a myth doesn't give a full picture. I still don't see the problem there (setting aside whether he's correct on the facts.)


As for the counter-example of men and women and anal sex, I don't know what the relevant numbers are and I don't know that I'd say that there's any movement afoot to get women to have more anal sex, but he's generally pretty good about responding to polite email, so you can ask him.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 10:29 PM
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I don't know that I'd say that there's any movement afoot to get women to have more anal sex

By golly, there ought to be.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 10:32 PM
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Think globally, act locally.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 10:34 PM
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No justice, no peace.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 10:40 PM
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Amen, but it'll get you less tail.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 10:42 PM
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Waste not, want not?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 10:46 PM
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Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Then again, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 10:50 PM
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If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 10:55 PM
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But please, don't wash your dirty linen in public.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 10:58 PM
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Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent lubrication.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 10:59 PM
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Cheaters never prosper.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:00 PM
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Do unto others as you would have them do--

No, that doesn't work.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:01 PM
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Give him an inch...


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:03 PM
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Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:10 PM
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Try that one, get back to us.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:11 PM
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One in the ... is worth two in the bush.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:15 PM
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You mean "a bush in the hand is worth two in the (something)". I've never really been able to my satisfaction.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:18 PM
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I'm coming to realize that something is better than nothing.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:19 PM
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I've never really been able to my satisfaction.

We know.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:30 PM
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You know what really works? These. Oh, and especially these. I'll bet those guys have lots of anal sex.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-24-05 11:39 PM
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(in, I'll admit, a strange sense of "convert")

You realise that what you're doing here is suggesting that a lawyer should be given the benefit of the doubt when he uses an ambiguous term which has one sense that is difficult to criticise and one sense which is very convenient for some of his associates? I have all sorts of commercial transactions to suggest to you; how much money do you have so I know where to pitch them.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 12:35 AM
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dsquared, I think that's a little long to be an effective slogan for an anal sex campaign.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 12:43 AM
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Oh all right then:

"one up the bum - no harm done!"


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 6:00 AM
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a lawyer should be given the benefit of the doubt when he uses an ambiguous term which has one sense that is difficult to criticise and one sense which is very convenient for some of his associates?

Mmmhm. Volokh is an articulate guy whose profession is persuasive writing. Cutting him slack for being innocently tone-deaf? Not so much.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 8:17 AM
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I think that's a little long to be an effective slogan for an anal sex campaign.

Taft for the Mineshaft!


Posted by: Kriston | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 8:24 AM
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More worrisome, of course, is what we're meant to conclude.

Normally the conservatives worried about conversion also want to restrict gay rights so they and their kids won't catch teh gay. Volokh says, well, teh gay isn't catching unless you already are thinking about being gay, and given the high risks, you probably shouldn't be gay, and if gay people are allowed to run about being gay, more people will be likely to act on those desires.... are we meant to conclude that restrictions on gay rights are necessary to keep bisexuals from feeling comfortable and catching teh gay, and then catching HIV?

Ahem.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 8:26 AM
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a lawyer should be given the benefit of the doubt when he uses an ambiguous

I think you're being too harsh, here. Look at Volokh and tell me he doesn't look like the poster child for Asperger's. Again, I'm just not sure what he's supposed to up to here. Are we assuming this is how you make your bones in the conservative movement - gay bash?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 8:50 AM
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I think I've been converted (by Scott) to a less generous construal of what Volokh is up to here. Given how transparently bad his "the myth of homosexual conversion isn't a myth at all" argument is, it's pretty hard to credit him with arguing in good faith. I think what he's doing here is trying to put himself and his cronies in a position to say about their political party's obsession with restigmatizing homosexual conduct: "Look, we don't agree with it because we see autonomy as a prime value, but, on the other hand, it's not crazy. It's not necessarily rooted in irrational prejudice or religious superstition."

This is related to what really annoys me about Volokh. His tone throughout his posts on homosexuality is so self-congratulatory, as if it's some great act of intellectual courage for him to take on a leftist shibboleth (albeit in a tendentious way). And, in a sense, it is a courageous stance, so long as the world that matters consists exclusively of the blue state enclaves in which Volokh hangs his hat. In the broader context, however, it's pretty obnoxious to portray your attempts to tweak the left as heroic examples of an intellectual willing to speak truth to power when the left doesn't actually have any political power right now. The same goes for that Kaus asshole.


Posted by: pjs | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 9:00 AM
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I think what he's doing here is trying to put himself and his cronies in a position to say about their political party's obsession with restigmatizing homosexual conduct: "Look, we don't agree with it because we see autonomy as a prime value, but, on the other hand, it's not crazy. It's not necessarily rooted in irrational prejudice or religious superstition."

Yup. If I were going to speculate on motives, (which plainly I am) I'd say that he's not so much looking for approval from anti-gay conservatives as trying to make himself a comfortable position from which he doesn't have to repudiate them.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 9:03 AM
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I think that's right. It's an attempt to make an intellectually justifiable position out of an irrational prejudice; maybe that's the sort of thing that goes on in law school for fun, but I doubt it. Usually it's a good question to ask if someone goes around calling a prejudice intellectually defensible ('Those who say that all Muslims are dangerous terrorists who should be banned are wrong, but for some sense of 'dangerous', I can give you some statistics that say when a country has Muslims in it, there's a greater chance of suicide bombers') why they are interested in doing that.

And to wrap himself up in the cloak of academic freedom is disgusting. Yes, research needs to be done on transmission vectors, and it would be bad if worries about offending an interest group hindered prevention and protection; but ranting on a blog just isn't research.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 9:14 AM
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trying to make himself a comfortable position from which he doesn't have to repudiate them

But he repudiates them regularly.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 9:33 AM
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"His response, in short, is that given the sense of "convert" or "recruit" that he describes (which isn't just trying to get people to have sex with you, but includes the "movement" to increase tolerance for homosexuals generally), the myth is, as he says, "incomplete.""

Well, trying to use movement in that sense doesn't really help salvage the obvious implication that conversion is willful and systematic, since of course the gay rights movement does not exist in order to make a small number of bisexual men more amenable to having sex with other men. The gay rights movement would by exactly the same if bisexual men didn't exist. But more importantly, without the broader implication of "conversion" there's just no argument there. To read the argument the way you read it requires us to believe that Volokh has made seven fairly lengthy posts saying nothing more than 1)gay people prefer that their common sexual practices not be illegal, 2)people try to have sex with people who may be attracted to them, and 3)having lots of unprotected anal sex is not an optimally healthy lifestyle. I look forward to his forthcoming 12-part series "Alabama is more conservative than Vermont."

And as pjs says, there's no reason to ignore the larger context. Obviously, as public opinion becomes more supportive of gay rights it's becoming more difficult to defend the legal and social repression of gay people in an explicit way. The two most common pretexts used to defend the status quo are the "homosexuality is an unhealthy lifestyle" argument and the "gay people are coming for your children!!!!!!!" argument. Volokh, an extremely intelligent conservative Republican, knows this perfectly well, and I'm just not going to read his argument as if he doesn't. Yes, yes, Atrios was exaggerating for rhetorical effect. But I find this much less objectionable than trying to put a thin coat of varnish on the same discrimination that Volokh's political faction is determined to maintain.


Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 9:57 AM
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But he's not repudiating them here; he's giving a marginally defensible reason for not promoting tolerance (on the grounds that some bi people might get HIV if there are no social pressures keeping them straight?) and that really looks like he's creating an escape hatch for himself. It's not that he's bigoted (and he doesn't seem to be, in fairness), it's just that he needs a reason not to denounce the 'conversion' loons.

Volokh's a bright guy; and from the beginning of his first article on this subject, he doesn't seem to honestly believe that people are meaning 'conversion' as 'promotes an atmosphere in which people already likely to be gay are more likely to be gay'.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 9:59 AM
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In fairness, though, I will concede that Volokh is infinitely preferable to Mickey Kaus...


Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:02 AM
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To read the argument the way you read it requires us to believe that Volokh has made seven fairly lengthy posts saying nothing more than...

Well, here's Volokh, in a later post:

The phenomenon that I was describing was not supposed to be shocking or unusual. It's just human nature, which is why I think it's such a plausible hypothesis ... It is not a claim of unusual human behavior; rather, it is a claim of quite normal human behavior. And whether or not it's "a somewhat odd question to consider" if one is coming to it from a blank slate, I'm considering this question simply because it's a question that others have raised.

As for the larger context, what makes typical "conversion" arguments offensive is their insistence that homosexuality is freely chosen, and their grouping of homosexuality with other vices, like libertinism. Volokh clearly isn't doing that, and any use to which his argument is put along those lines would be unscrupulous. Since we can't help speculating about Volokh's motives, I would expect that if someone tried to use his argument to buttress claims that homosexuality is a chosen vice, Volokh would object.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:07 AM
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I'm not denying that he's almost certainly personally not prejudiced against gays, and that he's posted plenty of stuff disagreeing with anti-gay weirdness. Nonetheless, the anti-gay loonies are his political allies (there are posts indicating that he votes Republican for economic reasons), and anti-gay demagoguery gets votes that elect the candidates he wants in office. That's an embarrassing and emotionally difficult position to be in.

This series of posts looks disingenuous, basically for the reasons stated by Scott in 36 and 64, Gary in 61, and dsquared, most pithily, in 86. My guess is that his motivation is to make the anti-gay loonies look less loony. This could be to make himself, personally, feel happier about making common cause with them ("It's not bigoted of, say, Focus on the Family, to be talking about gays 'converting' straights -- I'd be trying to convert possibly-bi straights, if I were gay. And it would probably be a bad thing from a public health point of view. So Focus on the Family isn't really so bad -- a little overheated maybe, but that's all."), or it could be to provide comfort to gay-friendly Republicans generally, trying to keep revulsion at the bigots from driving them out of the GOP.

This doesn't make him personally bigoted, but if I'm right, he's trying to increase people's comfort with bigots, and a hostile response is appropriate. And if I'm wrong, and he's simply tone-deaf, I'd say he could probably use the feedback he's getting.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:10 AM
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Small point, but I don't think dd's 86 is on point, because as a lawyerly argument, there's little to criticize in Volokh's post; it's his deafness to the resonance of "convert" in the political arena that's a problem.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:13 AM
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I'm sure Volokh would object, which is why I found this somewhat absurd. What also makes "conversion" worries offensive is what those worries imply: If society is tolerant and more open towards homosexuals, then there will be more people 'choosing' to be homosexuals. Choosing to be gay is bad, so we need to continue to be intolerant.

All Volokh has done is change a few lines: If society is tolerant and more open towards homosexuals, then there will be more bi people (maybe even teenagers!) choosing to participate in homosexual relationships. Choosing to be gay increases your risk of contracting HIV, and that is bad, so we need to continue to be intolerant.

Volokh doesn't say that continuing to be intolerant is a good thing, of course, but I'm not so sure that he'd be as fast to deny the second one as he would to deny 'homosexuality is a chosen vice'.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:15 AM
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As for the larger context, what makes typical "conversion" arguments offensive is their insistence that homosexuality is freely chosen, and their grouping of homosexuality with other vices, like libertinism.

Isn't it more often an insistence that homosexuality is the result of emotional damage resulting from having been 'converted' as a child or teen by sexual contact with an older homosexual? The 'conversion' arguments I've seen have been about molestation of minors


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:15 AM
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because as a lawyerly argument, there's little to criticize in Volokh's post; it's his deafness to the resonance of "convert" in the political arena that's a problem.

There's very little to criticize -- it's masterly. When a word has two senses (say 'X(1)' and 'X(2)') arguments of the form "We all know that if A then X(1) -- it's self evident. Obviously, A is true in this case, so X(2), " (hoping that the audience misses the slip from X(1) to X(2)) are classic lawyerly sophistry.

Dsquared's point was that it looks exactly as if this is what Volokh is doing, with conversion(dating bis) as X(1) and conversion(molesting teens) as X(2). Volokh leaves the audience to make the final leap, but he does appear to be setting it up.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:23 AM
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But Cala, Volokh's objections are defeasible, which is significant. If it turns out his numbers are wrong, or if it comes to pass that anal sex is practiced more safely, I expect he'd abandon his position, which you can't say about those who object to homosexuality on "moral" grounds.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:23 AM
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I've also heard the conversion-style arguments compared to ideas of contagion: if we accept homosexuality as normal, and gay role models abound, then impressionable children who otherwise would have been happily straight will begin to consider homosexuality as a legitimate romantic option for themselves.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:24 AM
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I don't think 105 is fair, because Volokh spells out just what he means by conversion, which undermines the claim that he's trying to sneak something in via equivocation.

But there are many actions that might go into this sort of "conversion" (if only a conversion into a mix of homosexual/heterosexual behavior, and a conversion that in many cases will end up proving to be only temporary): Providing oneself for the actual sexual behavior is one, but so is public action to destigmatize homosexual behavior, or to provide positive homosexual or bisexual role models, something that for perfectly understandable reasons many gays and lesbians are indeed trying to do.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:27 AM
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Volokh is a smart guy. Some of his weird writing style is because it allows him to make arguments nobody has made before. Law professors like that shit. I always get the feeling that he is playing some weird chess game where the moves 6 turns out are constraining his writing style today.


Posted by: Joe O | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:27 AM
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Cripes. Liberals. No wonder we keep losing elections.

Ogged, if Atrios had written the following, would you have any objections:

"Volokh's written a strange piece. It might be a tone-deaf description of risks associated with gay sexual practices, and a justification for legal bars to such activity. Or it might be a barely more subtle invocation of a standard Republican meme: gay people are disease ridden vermin."


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:30 AM
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He hasn't abandoned his position when people pointed out that anal sex can be practiced safely (by checking your partner's history, by wearing condoms) on the grounds that in the heat of passion, an experimenting bi might not be careful.

Maybe I'm wrong and he would abandon it if confronted with very straightforward proof, but he's beating a strange paternalistic path for an avowed libertarian.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:30 AM
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It's uncharitable of me, certainly. I do say that he doesn't make the final leap, but can't you see the potential for future comments along the line of "Of course what FoF says about conversion isn't insane or bigoted -- see this very reasonable series of posts by noted conservative gay-rights supporter Eugene Volokh demonstrating that of course gays attempt to convert others."

It's like what Chekov said about drama -- if someone puts a gun on the mantlepiece in Act 1, you know someone's going to fire it by Act 3. Volokh looks to me to be leaving a gun on the mantlepiece here.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:33 AM
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SCMT, that wouldn't help.

Cala, see 62 on Volokh's answer to that.

LB, if his argument is used that way, it would be an unscrupulous use. I don't hold him responsible for that. This is what he says about it.

If people misuse the data I posted, I'm sorry, in the sense that I wish they didn't do that. But I'm not the least bit sorry I posted it. These are tremendously important facts; literally life-or-death facts for some. I'm going to keep posting information like this, because I believe that keeping quiet about it does far more harm than good. And the more I see people trying to stop others from distributing this information, the more important it seems to me that it be distributed.

Statements like that make a lot more sense if you assume that he's making a good faith effort to follow the available data.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:36 AM
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Re #113: why are you committed to the most charitable reading of his actions? He's clearly not naive about the ways in which his argument might be used. Nor can he claim that either the information is so underpublicized or his argument is so well-documented and well-founded that any misuse is to be waved away for the greater good. If a drug company has a fairly crappy study documenting the benefits of its new drug, we don't say, "Maybe the study just happened to be sloppy." Or we don't say just that.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:42 AM
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That's where the criticism of his stats comes in. It seems awfully weird, if he's really being data-driven, that he's relying on such flimsy stats to do so (see Cala's 41, 43, 47, 65). That looks much more as if he had a pre-existing argument, and had to scramble for data to support it.

if his argument is used that way, it would be an unscrupulous use.

Isn't there some responsibility not to lend your credibility to weak arguments that easily lend themselves to unscrupulous uses? You could be right, he could simply be tone-deaf and we're all being unfair. If that's the case, hopefully discussions like this will warn him to be wary of the uses his arguments may be put to in the future.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:46 AM
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I read 62, and to me the quote just seems to help out my position. He's confronted with evidence that says that his risk factor is inaccurate because safe, clean sex doesn't contribute to the spread of HIV. He doesn't backpedal, or note that that's a good reason to increase condom/disease education, but just dismisses it. Not everyone will be safe, so we should still be intolerant.

And surely he recognizes that tossing together some questionable stats isn't really a great public service; if he were linking to the CDC, or a peer-reviewed study (which hasn't been done), or just making a call for more research, that would be one thing, but he seems to expect us to accept his numbers and his conclusions and not criticize him, because it's information that needs to get out there.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:50 AM
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Isn't there some responsibility not to lend your credibility to weak arguments that easily lend themselves to unscrupulous uses?

Sometimes, but I don't know if we'd want to say that that's the standard for blog posts.

If his stats are wrong, I think people should let him know. I do believe he'd change his mind. (I say that, SCMT, because I'm committed to the most charitable reading generally, not just where Volokh is concerned.)


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:50 AM
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Actually, the quote from 62 is in his original post, before the criticism.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:52 AM
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Yes -- 'confronted' was a bad choice of word(s). Let's just say 'aware of the very common objection'. Totally aware that people can take steps to reduce their risk to virtually nil and still proceeds with his 'for their own good' argument.

I'm not sure that helps.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 10:58 AM
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If his stats are wrong, I think people should let him know. I do believe he'd change his mind.

A couple of people did, in the comments to his post (pointed out the problem with calculating % of the gay population infected by (a) taking what may be a lowball estimate of the gay population as the denominator and (b) taking all HIV cases attributable to male-male sex (many of whom will be men who don't identify as gay) as the numerator). He doesn't seem to have responded.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:00 AM
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Hmm. I'll email him.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:03 AM
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Do you have a link to those comments, LB?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:11 AM
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Is Volokh for abstinence-only education? Because his argument quoted in 62 bears some remarkable similarities to certain abstinence-only arguments: the risk of pregnancy is so high, because even though there are methods that reduce that risk, teenagers can't be trusted to use them responsibly.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:15 AM
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This, and the one immediately following, and this. Admittedly, the more explicit one is well down on a thread that's quite contentious -- he may easily not be reading it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:20 AM
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Thanks.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:22 AM
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And here's Cala, in comments to the following post being both explicit and courteous. That's one is also a much shorter and less contentious thread.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:23 AM
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I did write that very late, so it's possible he hasn't seen it. (Or that the VC doesn't have a bulletin-board pile-on style approach to comments.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:27 AM
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Yeah, I get the impression that lots of bloggers don't read their comments.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:30 AM
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Ok, sorry to be dense, but where is Volokh talking about the 4% stuff?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:32 AM
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Nevermind, I see it.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:33 AM
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I've already said more than enough on the topic, but again I think that his argument that he's just "considering this question simply because it's a question that others have raised" collapses on itself becuase he's not really addressing these questions at all. He can, as you think he is, be said to be merely be making a mind-numbingly banal point rather than an offensive one, but if that's the case he's not responding to the general debate at all.

Anyway, I might be willing to go along with your reading even so, if it weren't for this alleged libertarian's sudden embrace of paternalism about health risks (a paternalism which in this case is underwritten by an extensive array of state coercion.) I don't think there's another issue on which Volokh would make similar tradeoffs, and once he's decided to go there I don't think he's entitled to a charitable reading. (To pick up on Cara's point, I think it would also be instructive to compare the skepiticism with which he approaches studies that claim that gun control reduces violence, and the data he adduces in this series of posts.)


Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:36 AM
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Ok, this is what Volokh wrote:

Nonetheless, even if one focuses on new (post-1993, and even more recent) HIV/AIDS cases among U.S. males, the majority are among gay men (if one uses means of acquisition as an admittedly rough proxy for sexual orientation). Gay men are only roughly 4% of the male population. This means that gay men are still disproportionately much more likely than straight men to get infected, by a factor of 20 or more. Even if gay men are using condoms more often, they may be engaging in riskier sexual behavior (receptive anal sex as opposed to insertive genital sex), and (probably more importantly) they're having sex with people who are much more likely to be infected. The CDC, for instance, reports that of new AIDS diagnoses among males in 2003 (which I suspect are mostly people infected after 1993), nearly 18,000 of the about 32,000 involved "male-to-male sexual contact" as the primary risk factor, and nearly 2,000 more involved "male-to-male sexual contact and injection drug use." Only a little over 5000 involved heterosexual contact as the primary risk factor. The Texas data for new HIV diagnoses (see PDF p. 12) among males in 2003 is similar: 1700 of the 3500 involved male/male sex, plus 150 more involved male/male sexual contact plus drugs as risk factors. 270 were from heterosexual contact, though another 1100 were other/risk not reported, so maybe there were more heterosexual acquisitions there.

Before I go emailing him, I want to understand exactly what's wrong with that.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:36 AM
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Does the charge of libertarian hypocrisy stick if he's not advocating any state interference?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 11:39 AM
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What's wrong, briefly, are a couple of things:

a) The 4% figure I believe only counts those who identify as gay. A British study records 6.3% of people report having had genital contact within a member of the same sex within the past 5 years; this number is more significant, probably, because contact, not self-identification, is what passes disease. The researchers noted that that figure had doubled in the past 10 years; they assumed that it was due to people being more willing to admit it.

4% is on the low end of low.

b) I presume the CDC numbers are correct. (My post should be amended) But if you look at the CDC numbers, and assume they're accurate, about 55% (18,000 of 32,000) contracted HIV through anal sex, and about 60% when you add anal sex + drugs.

When it comes to take the numbers in Texas (where my objection was), Volokh uses 50,000, which is the number of confirmed cases, and assumes that all of them result from anal, gay sex. It seems that even in a thought experiment, to be fair and in line with the CDC's data, he should have used 30,000.

c) The denominator -- the 400,000 gay people in Texas (4% * 10 million) figure is where things get really hazy, in both directions. First, as I said in a), there's good reason to think that number should be half again higher, and second, he seems to be assuming that the Texas gay population doesn't interact with the rest of the country, or that all cases confirmed in Texas originated in Texas. I'm not sure that just doubling 400,000 is accurate; in any case, it's not the sort of hard information to be betting your academic ethos on.

d) And all that said, those stats don't tell us much about what an individual should do. They're too vague. To take a less controversial example: The average age of marriage for college-educated women in the U.S. is 28. I am 26.

Should I purchase a wedding dress so that two summers from now I can get married?

Well, no, you'd say. You have to take into account the details of your own situation. Are you seeing anyone? Are you straight? Are you engaged? The stat alone doesn't give any real information on what I should do, beyond a vague idea that marriage may be something I do in the next five years if I'm relatively typical.

Likewise with these stats. Let's say the transmission rate is 4%. Should a bi person take his risk to be 4% if he has sex with a man? Well, no. If he's in a tested, clean, monogamous relationship, his risk is probably much lower. If he's a confused newbie without a lot of access to facts about HIV, his risk may be much higher. The point is you can't take a vague prediction rate and use it to predict your own life beyond 'Well, HIV seems to be a risk, if I do this, I should be careful.'


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 12:11 PM
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For me, I don't see a big problem with the Volokh quote in 132. My problem is with the "conversion" context in which he says it.

There are a lot of things that are true but that make me wary of the motives of the person who is saying it. I am sure a higher percentage of Jews believe in evolution than Christians, but I would be concered if this was something that some televangulist said.


Posted by: Joe O | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 12:22 PM
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I don't have any problem with the data at all. Nor the posting of it, really. If sex is very risky and people need to take precautions in order to be safe, the information should be promulgated.

The problem is here isn't the posting of the data, but the posting of the data, making some questionable assumptions that lead to more questionable conclusions and then, when people protest, call yourself just an innocent researcher bearing the burden of presenting unwanted facts. No one I saw challenged the CDC numbers, just the ones that were derived from, ahem, proctological extraction.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 12:35 PM
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RE 134

Using the 6.3% figure (or even a high 10%) rather than the 4% figure doesn't radically change Volokh's point.

I don't see using a problem with using group statistics as a baseline for individual risk. If 5% of motocycle drivers have accidents in a year, I am going to assume I have a 5% chance of having an accident in a year. People also tend to underestimate risks that are at least partially under their own control, so it is often best just to use the group statistics number.



Posted by: Joe O | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 12:42 PM
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It radically changes his numerical conclusion. Rather than 50,000 out of 400,000 (doubled for conservativism to 800,000), or 6% incidence of HIV among gay men in Texas, you get 30,000 out of 630,000 (again doubled to 1,260,000), or 2%. Screwing up enough to inflate your results by a factor of three is a big deal. And as Cala points out, doubling to account for motion into and out of the state is nothing but a wild-ass-guess.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 12:57 PM
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As a baseline, yes, but without other information detailing how close that baseline is to reality, it could be a very useless baseline.

Statistically, 16 year olds have a very high accident rate. The high accident rate motivated, in part, PA's decision to mandate six months of time on a permit, so drivers would gain more experience. But that high accident rate doesn't tell me much about whether I should let my 16 year old sister drive the car over my 49 year old mom.

Statiscally, the average life expectancy used to hover around 20 years old. That doesn't mean that a 25 year old at the time was living on borrowed time or considered to be an old man, but that an exceedingly high infant mortality lowered the statistics.

Statistically, using the birth control pill doubles my risk of blood clots. This is probably something I can take as a pretty good predictor for me. Should I be worried? Well, pregnancy carries a five-time risk of blood clots. Not so much, because much of the meaning of stats comes from relative risks.


Generally, the more information the stat controls for, the better a predictor it can be. The problem with Volokh's numbers is that they're nowhere near specific enough; if we had data that said 5% of gay couples in reportedly clean, monogamous, safe-sex practicing relationship contract HIV from their partner, that would mean something because it is a lot more specific. That's the sort of study that Volokh is absolutely correct in thinking it needs to be done.

Now Volokh's numbers were like this... take the number of new HIV cases and divide it by the number of gays times 2. (Transmission rates are calcuated, incidentally, by the number of new cases out of the number of total cases) He gets the number of 50,000/800,000 = 6.25%.

Now, that 6.25% doesn't say anything about safe sex, but we can take it as maybe a theoretical maximum.

But let's take the other numbers. 6.3% * 10 million *2 gives us 1,260,000 gay men. Let's use the 30,000 figure in accordance with the CDC numbers. 2.54%. Less than half as much.

Is 2.54% an acceptable risk? I have no idea. Stats don't mean much outside of a context, and I'd have to figure out the risk for straight people.

Basically, we don't have anywhere close the kind of information to justify the broad predictions Volokh is claiming.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 1:03 PM
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And, of course, Volokh is defending his arguments largely on the idea that this is truth that needs to get out. To save lives.

And like I posted, the truth needs to get out. This ain't it.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 1:06 PM
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"Does the charge of libertarian hypocrisy stick if he's not advocating any state interference?"

I don't think this will fly for a couple reasons:

1)There is *already* a great deal of state interference with respect to this issue, and the arguments mounted by Volokh are frequently used to defend it. The effect of such arguments in public discourse, then, is to undermine arguments for changing the laws.

2)More importantly, libertarianism (and, in this context, Millian liberalism) aren't *purely* about the state, but generally reflect a tolerance about the personal tradeoffs people make that don't affect others. Many people--myself included--find the paternalistic moralizing of people like Joe Leiberman and Amy Sullivan objectionable even if they aren't actually advocating censorship. It is, of course, theoretically *possible* to be a libertarian and a moralizing ascetic, but I don't see any reason to believe that Volokh falls into this category. If you can find any othrr examples of Volokh engaging in moralistic finger-wagging with respect to a small group engaging in marginally risky behavior, I'll retract the charge.

And, again, the crucial point here is not that Volokh brought up the (wholly uncontroversial) fact that unprotected anal sex is unsafe, but that his default assumption is that this these risks should ultimately be prevented not through safer sex but only through absitence. I see no way of squaring this with a robust sense of gay equality and sexual liberty.


Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 2:06 PM
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Many people--myself included--find the paternalistic moralizing of people like Joe Leiberman and Amy Sullivan objectionable even if they aren't actually advocating censorship.

Yeah, I think this is right. I guess I wouldn't feel comfortable calling him a hypocrite, but I do find his conclusion odd. And thinking a bit more about the direction he takes this, it strikes me very odd that as long as he's basically wishing for ponies: "I'd prefer that men with bisexual orientations who can be happy with women not experiment with men," he doesn't wish for a different pony, eg, "I'd prefer that bisexual men who decide to have sex with other men always use condoms."

Ok, so I don't yet think I'd grant that he shouldn't have posted this, or that his use of "convert," though unfortunate, is deliberately weasely, or that he's trying to push an "intellectually respectable" anti-gay argument, but I would say that the conclusion he draws from the data indicates some latent discomfort with homosexuality. Does that kill the horse?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 2:16 PM
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The horse is pretty badly injured, but that isn't the conclusion I'd draw. I doubt he has much, if any, personal problem with gays -- I'd take his other posts on the subject as the sort of thing someone with concealed hostility probably wouldn't have come up with. If there's something subconscious going on, I think it's a desire (conscious or unconscious) to make his homophobic allies, whose homophobia makes him genuinely uncomfortable, look less homophobic.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 2:21 PM
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Bingo.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 2:26 PM
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Uh, parcheesi?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 2:30 PM
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I think LB's got it right in 143. Tennis, anyone?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 2:33 PM
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Yahtzee!


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 2:35 PM
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Time to eat the stick.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 2:39 PM
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That's funny.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 2:41 PM
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as a lawyerly argument, there's little to criticize in Volokh's post;

As lawyerly arguments, there's very rarely anything to criticise about lawyers' arguments; this is why you need to watch the little bastards like a hawk.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 08-25-05 4:33 PM
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Are there any bisexuals in the room we can ask if that's how it really works?

That's really not how it works, at least for me. I'm attracted to some types of men and some types of women. I don't switch on and off like a lightbulb.


Posted by: Isle of Toads | Link to this comment | 08-26-05 9:53 AM
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And yes, after reading this whole fucking thread, Lizardbreath's 143 is it, but that's pretty much what Matt Yglesias said when he popped up upthread. Ogged, what is it with you and Republican hacks?


Posted by: Isle of Toads | Link to this comment | 08-26-05 10:30 AM
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I skimmed all the comments earlier, but I can't remember if the point I'm about to make has already been. Volokh initially describes his project as myth dispelling. It therefore follows that he should be able to find a case of another conservative using conversion in his sense and then a liberal saying, "no that's only a myth." Otherwise his whole project is wrong-headed. I was actually thinking of e-mailing him something along these lines, because I think he'd at least try to do it.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 08-26-05 10:37 AM
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Also:

LB - I have my interview with someone from your firm in twenty-five minutes. Since I imagine you might not want where you work to be that easily discoverable, I think I can safely do the following: The following line, when googled w/o your firm name, will not lead to the person interviewing me for a quite a few pages of google (I never found it). With your firm name, they're the first hit: Real estate litigation (primarily Article 78 proceedings).

I'd appreciate tips, I guess, but at this point its Friday and I care more about getting all of these interviews done than getting another callback.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 08-26-05 11:20 AM
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w/d, i feel you, i just had my last intereview end about 10 minutes ago. so good to be done - i can't believe i just did 24 interviews in 2 weeks.


Posted by: silvana | Link to this comment | 08-26-05 11:28 AM
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"I was actually thinking of e-mailing him something along these lines, because I think he'd at least try to do it."

So go ahead and e-mail him. Last I heard, e-mail charges had mightily dropped in recent times, and hardly cost anything at all nowadays.


Posted by: Gary Farber | Link to this comment | 08-26-05 11:39 AM
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I appreciate the encouragement.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 08-26-05 5:22 PM
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re: 6 In a really long post hilzoy has up, she discusses situations in which the truth of a situation is not sufficient to say it. I don't feel like linking, it's the top post at obsidian wings AOTW.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 08-26-05 5:24 PM
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"..., she discusses situations in which the truth of a situation is not sufficient to say it."

That was actually a rather incidental point to the post, for the record.


Posted by: Gary Farber | Link to this comment | 08-26-05 7:30 PM
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Damn, sorry w/d -- I took Friday off. Luckily I wouldn't have been any use, because I haven't met the interviewer.

Email me if you get a call-back, and use my work email (on the firm website); I only check my blogging email once a week or so.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-28-05 3:19 PM
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