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  • Saturday, October 07, 2006


    Rep. Mark Foley and Horatio Alger

    Coincidence is always full of surprises. As the Congressman Foley scandal was unfolding last week, I happened to be reading Fog Facts: Searching for the Truth in the Land of Spin by Larry Beinhart. The link came when Beinhart was describing Horatio Alger's real life and its connection to his "inspirational" novels.

    While the phrase "a Horatio Alger story" is often used mean a young boy in poor and destitute conditions rising to success through unstinting hard work, Beinhart's reading of the novels is different. Horatio Alger (1834-1899) was a minister in Brewster, Massachusetts. "He was having sex with boys in his congregation. Two of them told their parents.. He admitted to a certain 'practice.' He resigned and moved to New York City. There he became a writer and began churning out these fantasies as dime novels." He wrote about 130 short novels.

    Beinhart says they all have exactly the same plot.
    They feature a boy just at, or on the verge of, puberty, from the country or the slums. He comes to the center of the big city. He does work, but he doesn't work astonishingly hard, certainly not as compared to the majority of other working children in the days of legal child labor. He doesn't start his own business or invent a better mousetrap or find the Northwest Passage.

    What really happens is he meets a rich older man who takes quite a fancy to him and sets him up with money and educates him and teaches him how to dress and conduct himself.
    Now this isn't exactly parallel to the Rep. Foley affair but it does have some strong echoes. The Foley affair has also brought out the typical homophobic cannard that homosexuality and pedophilia are closely connected. The San Francisco Chronicle has an article about this.
    But researchers say that the data cited to back up such stereotypes is flimsy, exaggerated and sometimes made up.

    "That fact that an adult has a pedophile diagnosis or pedophile tendencies tells you nothing about their adult relationships. It tells you about what kind of children they are attracted to," said Jack Drescher, chair of the American Psychiatry Association's committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues.

    In Foley's case, the clinical definition of pedophilia -- an attraction to prepubescent children -- does not apply; the congressional pages receiving his advances were 16 and 17 years old.

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